Sent by Ben Hirst
Based in Stockport
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Hi there, my name is Mark and I am your local Travel Counsellor based in Woodley, Stockport. Welcome to my website, I appreciate you stopping by.
As a personal Travel Counsellor, my main aim is to not only help simplify the booking process for you but to use my extensive 25 years’ experience within the travel industry to ensure that your next trip will live long in your memory. I am here to offer my expertise across several different holiday options including weekend getaways, cruises, ski breaks, family holidays and multi-destination itineraries.
If you are looking for a personal recommendation, a friendly approach and a reliable service, look no further. I can offer you security with financial protection and a vast array of exciting itineraries to choose from. As we work together to source your next trip, I am certain that a long-lasting relationship between the two of us will be formed.
I also specialise in group travel and events. If you are planning a wedding overseas, a small event or you are maybe part of a local group looking for an overseas adventure, I would be happy to assist. Group travel can prove to be complex at times so please do let me take away those worries and be the main point of contact. I have established several great relationships over the years with various airlines and hotels which should ensure a very cost-effective solution for your next group booking.
Please do contact me to find out more about how I can help with your next trip. I very much look forward to hearing from you soon.
“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Andersen
I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.
09 November 2020
I first learned of Venice when I was a young boy. I'd listen to stories of the majestic palace-like hotels that lined the endless maze of canals. My grandparents visited Venice each year for a number of years and stayed at the same hotel each time without fail. They would return to tell me how the owner of the hotel now reserved the same room for them whenever they called to book and the excitement in their eyes was priceless as they boasted how they were now on first name terms. The Hotel Bucintoro still welcomes many visitors and stands tall and proud in the Arsenale district of Venice. You'll first lay eyes upon Venice and her beauty from above as you approach the runway at Marco Polo airport. From the skies its picturesque and postcard like but if you approach Venice by boat, it's a sight you'll always remember as the open mouth of the Grand Canal engulfs you as you enter the city. For those that prefer a slightly more cost effective but less glamourous transfer from the airport, there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the closest point that vehicles are allowed (Piazzale Roma) to which you can then hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) to your chosen stop. There are a couple of myths surrounding Venice which I will first put to bed before sharing with you a few of my favourite hidden gems within the city. The first myth is that 'Venice smells'. This is probably the most common myth and having been lucky enough to visit more times than I can count on one hand, I can honestly say, I have not once encountered a bad smell of any kind. On the contrary in fact, I have only enjoyed the smell of freshly baked pizza dough and the smell of fresh seafood whilst strolling through the famous Rialto fish market. So actually, maybe it's not a myth after all. Venice does smell - of all things nice! The second myth is that 'Venice is expensive'. Like any city in the world, and Venice is no exception, you do have to be careful not to be taken in by the 'tourist menu' which like anywhere sounds great on paper but in fact offers only a fraction of the portion size that the main menu may offer. As much as the tourist areas such as St Marks Square and the Rialto are beautiful, you will pay to dine around these areas so I would recommend heading away from these slightly and you will see the prices decline. There are many, many places to eat and drink in Venice that offer fantastic value. So now that the myths are out of the way, let's talk about the fact I have many hidden gems that i can share with you but for now I will concentrate on my top three. You may or may not have heard of the venetian style tapas called 'cicchetti'. The below picture is one of many walk in cantina's that you can visit in Venice that serve cicchetti. These small and very welcoming bars were originally opened to offer the many working venetians a cost effective place to stop for a glass of wine and a small snack on their way home from work. The cicchetti is a small piece of fresh bread with a variety of delightful toppings to choose from such as bacalau, prawns and zucchini. For around one euro per portion, these make for a fantastic early evening snack if you are planning a late dinner. Accompanied by a glass of wine for as little as two euros, you can see why these are very popular hangouts for both locals and tourists alike. Whilst in Venice, a visit to the colourful island of Murano is a must. Famous for its glass, Murano is a short twenty minute ride on the vaporetto from Venice and is well worth a visit. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Venice then Murano offers a much more tranquil setting and a stroll along the waterways amongst the colourful buildings should leave you feeling relaxed and raring to go again. Make sure you visit the glass blowing factory and the various small boutique style shops selling various shapes and sizes of Murano glass. Lastly, although at certain times of the day it can be extremely busy, St Marks square at night is something to behold. Cafe's surround the square and as evening descends, pianists, violinists and other very talented musicians, take to the stage to serenade their guests. As one orchestra ends, the next cafe along begins. The music brings the evening to life amidst the grand surroundings making for a very atmospheric occasion. One thing to be aware of is that it is obviously free to stand and listen outside of the cafe but anything but free if you choose to sit for a drink. I have heard that it can cost as much as fifteen euros for just a coffee! Exploring Venice is very easy indeed and one of the most popular ways to do this is by vaporetto. As mentioned briefly earlier in the post, the vaporetto is a water bus that travels up and down the main canals making stops along the way for visitors to embark or disembark. There are various routings on offer that will take you to the likes of Murano, the Lido and other islands and also the main number one service that travels up and down the Grand Canal. Three and seven day passes can be purchased and do work out more cost effective than the one day pass. These passes allow you to hop on and off as much as you like. I have many more secrets that i can share of my experiences and time whilst in Venice. This city is truly unique and unlike other cities that may have slight similarities with others, Venice really is like no other. You will be blown away and mesmerised by her beauty and no doubt be drawn into returning again and again. For more information, please do feel free to contact me. I would be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have before booking your trip to Venice.
11 January 2021
I had always been intrigued by the glamour of Los Angeles and the bright lights of Las Vegas. I am pairing these together as they offer a fantastic two-centre option for those looking to combine both in the same trip. First, let's jet off to the city of angels! There are many areas within Los Angeles and they all offer a different vibe. You have the beautiful coastline and golden sands of Venice beach, the small quaint town of Santa Monica, the glamorous Beverley Hills district and the well known movie hub of Hollywood. There are many more but these are the areas that I will concentrate on in this post. Whilst in LA, I stayed at the Marina Del Rey Hotel which is very central and relatively close to Venice beach. It is a lovely hotel right on the marina which is the perfect base to explore the surrounding areas. Like much of the USA, it is a good idea to hire a car which is precisely what my friend and I did throughout this trip. In fact, as a special treat, we hired ourselves a red, ford mustang convertible and I can still picture that car to this day even though our trip was some time ago. Venice beach is a hive of activity and the beach front is buzzing with skaters, musicians and bodybuilders eager to showcase their talents. Also known as 'muscle beach' Venice was the birth place of a Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bodybuilding days and boy has his legacy lived on. With bodybuilders pumping iron in the outdoor gym throughout the day, it attracts fans of weightlifting from all over the world. As night falls, it is worth visiting the small neighbouring town of Santa Monica. This area is full of lovely bars and restaurants and is only a stones throw away from Venice and Marina Del Rey. During the day, Santa Monica is also home to a number of boutique shops so if you are looking for a slightly more upmarket experience compared with Venice beach, make sure you head to Santa Monica - you wont be disappointed. Speaking of upmarket, Beverley Hills is a must. My friend and I visited on a tour which can be booked with ease locally. The majority of the tours take in a number of famous houses along the way and a cruise along the famous Rodeo Drive. If you keep your eyes peeled, you will more than likely spot someone you recognise! If you do get a chance to spend some time there on foot, be sure to check out the many boutique shops that line the streets but make sure you have plenty of cash with you or like most of us, you may be forced to stick to window shopping only. Last stop in LA, Hollywood. Again, we visited Hollywood by way of an escorted tour which incorporated Universal Studios. I would definitely recommend a visit to Universal Studios as it is such a great, fun day out. I am certain they must have added to the list of attractions since I visited but even then, it was a great experience. The tour also incorporated a trip down Sunset Boulevard and a photo opportunity close to the famous Hollywood sign (pictured here). And now it's time to jump in the back of our ford mustang as we take a drive across the desert to the bright lights of Las Vegas! I remember the drive to Vegas very clearly. It felt like we were driving through a never ending sea of sand that seemed to just go on and on and on. We drove to Vegas from LA at night so at times, it was only our headlights that lit up the nights sky around us as we crossed the desert. I remember approaching a light up ahead which got brighter and brighter. Our hearts racing with excitement as we got closer. To our disappointment, it turned out to be a single casino with nothing more than a gas station beside it. Laughing hysterically, we carried on back into the darkness. If we thought that the light we had previously encountered seemed bright, the light that appeared an hour or so later, could have powered a small country. As we rolled into Vegas, it completely took our breath away. How something of this magnitude could just appear before us in the middle of a desert, left us speechless. Once we were parked up, checked into our hotel and ready to explore, we hit the strip (the main road that runs through the centre of Las Vegas). As we walked along the road mesmerised by the huge hotels, bright lights and impressive roadside shows, it felt like nowhere I had ever been before. You will have heard of some of the more famous hotels like the MGM Grand, Bellagio and the Luxor but being a huge fan of all things Italy, one in particular caught my eye - The Venetian Hotel. Pictured here, the hotel is just incredible and is a very close replica of Venice. They even have their very own Rialto bridge and St Marks Square. There is so much to see and do in Las Vegas. Unfortunately we just had 1 night to play with but as well as the casinos and various shows on offer, I have heard that the Grand Canyon is well worth a visit. I had to leave something out just so I have a reason to go back! If you would like to speak with me further about these two amazing US cities or have any further questions, I would be happy to help. I have some great ideas for itineraries that incorporate these two cities so please do get in touch. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this post.
09 December 2020
Welcome aboard this trip to Malaysia. I visited this beautiful country quite a few years ago and would absolutely love to return to this lush, green paradise. Malaysia was in fact the very first long-haul destination that I have visited so at the time I remember feeling completely blinkered and open minded to what I was about to see and do whilst on this trip. I would say Malaysia was the beginning of a beautiful love affair with the Far East. Flight options from the UK are plentiful and I departed from London Heathrow with British Airways. First stop, the capital Kuala Lumpur. As a city, I loved the fact that KL was not only a metropolis of tall, looming skyscrapers and electrifyingly busy, but it is also very green which creates a lovely balance. You will notice a 'lush' theme throughout this post as Malaysia is famous for its heavy rainfall at certain times of the year and humidity which in turn has created a very green environment. As you can see from the picture below, Kuala Lumpur is almost a city within a jungle. Kuala Lumpur has a lot to offer and the city is dominated by the huge Petronas Twin Towers which you can see above. The observation deck is well worth a visit as the views are spectacular. The food on offer in the city is fantastic and caters for all tastes. The city is also full of history so I would recommend a 3 day stay in KL to take advantage of other landmarks and historical sights that are well worth visiting. Next stop on my trip was the island of Penang and its capital, George Town. I was lucky enough to stay in the Rasa Sayang hotel in Penang which is a beautiful beach hotel in an idyllic location on the waters edge. After the hustle and bustle of KL, it was lovely to relax and unwind on the beach. Penang has beautiful beaches and plenty of water sports on offer for those looking for something a little more active. Although Penang is predominantly a beach resort, it's capital George Town is a must for anyone visiting Penang. I visited George Town in the evening and it was by far the best time to visit as it's a city that comes to life after dark. It is a small city with some amazing street food on offer which is well worth sampling if you are partial to something 'different' shall we say. Apart from the crickets on a stick, I did try some incredible chicken satay which is the best satay I have tried to this day. Beware though, some of the options are very spicy indeed. I would also recommend a rickshaw ride around the city as this is an experience you will never forget, trust me! Last stop on my visit to Malaysia was the resort of Langkawi. This tropical resort is lush. green and totally immersive. I stayed at the glorious Datai hotel which is nestled in the rainforest with its monkeys lining the roads on the approach to the main entrance - almost like a welcome party celebrating an important arrival. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by my surroundings and for the first time in my life, I felt a million miles away from normal every day life. Langkawi is a quiet resort so it is the perfect end to a multi sector itinerary that has been non stop from the word 'go'. Its beaches are beautiful and like anywhere in Malaysia, the hospitality you receive and the welcome from the locals, is quite something. Malaysia is full of friendly smiles and in Langkawi, you'll notice a few more friendly smiles from a number of the slightly more fury locals! These beautiful creatures will grace you with their presence in a number of hotels in Langkawi but at the Datai, a few of them have become residents. As you lay by the pool listening to the sounds of the rainforest that surrounds you, you'll hear their call as they swing from tree to tree. It really is a heavenly sound if you've never experienced it before. Malaysia really is a beautiful, friendly, lush and captivating country. It has so much to offer every visitor and highlights what many destinations in the Far East have to offer. If you are looking for itinerary inspiration, have any questions or would like me to check availability and give you a rough idea of costs to visit this amazing country, please do make contact. As always, I would be happy to help. Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. Your continued support is much appreciated.
09 December 2020
I have been lucky enough to visit a number of countries and locations across the globe that have had a lasting impact on me and The Maldives are right up there in my top three, what I like to call, 'wow destinations'. I remember the approach to the islands from above having only seen pictures in brochures prior to my visit. I remember thinking to myself "surely they cannot be that stunning and that the pictures in the brochure must have been doctored in some way". I can tell you now that The Maldives is one of the only places in the world that I have visited that looks even more incredible in person than in the brochure - I never thought that would be possible. My first walk out onto the literally pink, sandy beach and that first dip of my toe in the crystal clear blue water, is an experience I will never forget. People have asked me what The Maldives is like on plenty of occasions but my response could not do the islands justice. There is only one way to find out! There are two ways to transfer to the islands from the main international arrival island of Male. Depending on how far away from Male your chosen island lies, you will either be transferred by boat or by seaplane - the latter is an experience in itself. I remember climbing aboard the 10 seater propeller plane from a small wooden jetty that was attached to the very small seaplane terminal at Male. Myself and the few passengers took our seats and buckled in and we were then joined by what I can only describe as 'Maverick and Goose'. These were possibly the coolest pilots I had ever laid eyes on. Wearing shorts, flip-flops and aviator sunglasses, they were beyond cool! Taking off and landing on water was a fantastic experience and one that id recommend if you are presented with the option. There are a number of activities that one can take part in whilst in the Maldives - the obvious activity is diving. I dived for the first time in the Maldives and it completely blew me away. It is paradise above water but believe me, there is an underwater paradise of equal beauty beneath the waves. I would strongly recommend an introductory dive if you do not have your PADI license or for the more competent, a night dive or a more adventurous option for which there is plenty of choice. There are also plenty of other water sports on offer as well as boat trips to neighbouring islands. Whilst in The Maldives, I was lucky enough to visit approximately 8 islands and all were very different. Whether you are looking for a more affordable option or a five to six star luxurious water bungalow, The Maldives has both. The hospitality and welcome that you will receive from those on the islands is second to none. You will always be welcomed to the bar or to dinner with a typical Maldivian smile. There is just one rule in The Maldives - no shoes! As always, if you have any questions about these beautiful islands, please do get in touch. I would be happy to assist in any way that I can before you book your next trip to paradise.
09 November 2020
I absolutely love the buzz of city life. Being born and raised in south London, I learned to not only live and work amongst the hustle and bustle, but I also learned to enjoy it. For me, there is nothing like the craziness of people darting here and there and car horns beeping from every direction. I love cities at night when the sun goes down and the lights come on. At Christmas time, cities transform into a magical wonderland with the smell of mulled wine wafting through the streets. I have visited quite a number of cities across the world both in Europe and further a field but there is one that I have re-visited time after time and takes my number one spot by some distance. I remember the first time I touched down in New York. I arrived at Newark airport which is some way out of Manhattan (central New York). My group and I board a coach transfer and left the airport for the city. I remember entering a tunnel, an exceptionally long tunnel which seemed to go on forever - a tunnel that I now know runs underneath the Hudson River which separates Manhattan and New Jersey. I can still feel how excited we all were. We were sat in complete silence anticipating what may come next. And still the tunnel continued. Just as we were all beginning to somewhat switch off slightly, music began to play softly through the coach speakers around us. A Frank Sinatra song so familiar to all of us gradually increased in volume as a light at the end of the tunnel became visible through the front windscreen of our coach. The light became brighter and brighter as the music became louder and louder and then….. BOOM! There she was in all her glory. It may sound dramatic but I honestly have a lump in my throat just typing this. The famous yellow taxi's that I had only ever seen in movies were suddenly whizzing past us as we hit Manhattan. It was like I had taken centre stage in the next Home Alone film or about to see Bruce Willis sprint past me in his famous white vest. As we drove over the steaming drain covers through the bright metropolis that is Times Square (pictured here), it was already safe to say, it was love at first sight. I belonged here. So that's my nostalgic moment over with - thank you for bearing with me. As with all of my travel posts, I like to introduce people to a hidden gem. New York has so many things to offer and a 5 night stay in this incredible city would still leave plenty of things on your 'to do' list giving you a good reason to return. As I am sure many of you are aware, the main sights in New York include the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, shopping on 5th Avenue and Broadway to name just a few. However, a real hidden gem of mine which I happened to stumble across during my first visit to the city, is Bryant Park (pictured here). Bryant Park sits at one end of 5th Avenue and is a popular place for New Yorkers to take a break from the fast-paced lifestyle that surrounds it. This small, lush green park has ample space to sit and relax and a small cafe with refreshments to cater for all tastes. Surrounded by tall skyscrapers that loom overhead, Bryant Park is a great place to recharge those batteries. In the winter, Bryant Park turns into a cute winter wonderland with its ice rink taking centre stage. I would check first however as I do not believe that the ice rink is a guarantee year on year unlike the other ice rinks in the city at the Rockefeller centre and Central Park. A must for any visitor to New York is a visit to see the not so hidden gem, the Statue of Liberty. You only really feel the full scale of her size and beauty when you are stood directly beneath her. She is breath-taking. Liberty ferries offer trips which circle the statue and dock at her base which allows for sufficient photo opportunities and also gives you a chance to take a walk around the grounds that surround her. I believe the cost of a ferry ticket which also includes a side trip to the neighbouring Ellis Island, costs around twenty US dollars. As far as eating out is concerned, New York has it all. Being a very multicultural city, you will find restaurants and eateries to cater for all tastes. Be mindful of the volume, most meals can feed two! One of my favourite breakfasts in New York has to be the pancake stacks - they are a must try. Getting around the city is very easy indeed. Taxi's are very inexpensive and New York also has a great subway that covers all areas of the city. However, by far the best way to see New York, and I would in fact probably say this about most cities across the globe, is on foot. Walk the streets, take in the smells, listen to the noise and soak it all up. By walking you will also stumble across those hidden gems like Bryant Park. In my opinion there is no better way to see a city. Contrary to popular belief, New York felt extremely safe and I have also heard the same revelation from a number of friends and colleagues that have also visited the city. It is a place that really does come to life at night and it literally never sleeps. It is not uncommon for the streets surrounding Times Square to be packed with tourists at one o'clock in the morning. Like any city, there are obviously a number of areas that you should maybe not be walking around at 1am but they are nowhere near the central area of Manhattan. I'll finish up by saying, please go. This city has so much to offer. New York is vibrant, exciting, dreamy and completely magical. If you have any questions at all or would like further information on flight options, hotels or excursions, please do contact me. I would be happy to help. 9/11 - New York, we will never ever forget. You are still in our thoughts and our prayers.