Sent by Barry Moore
Based in Didsbury
Hi! Thanks for taking the time to visit!
I live, breathe and sleep travel and as an independent Travel Counsellor I’d love to be able to share my passion and expertise with you. Whether you want a family, solo or group trip and are travelling for pleasure or business, I'm available daytime, evenings or weekends to offer advice and I'm just a phone call away.
I pride myself on providing outstanding customer service, will be with you every step and can offer access to 24/7 travel helpline support, ensuring you’ll enjoy a truly memorable holiday or business trip - and all at no extra cost.
I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years and have been lucky enough to work, live or holiday in over 89 countries, my wanderlust even took me to New York for 12 years!
I’ve travelled extensively throughout the US, Caribbean and Latin America, most European countries including Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia and Turkey, plus The Baltics and Russia. I’ve explored Jordan, UAE, Egypt, Israel and Morocco, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa and fell in love with Japan, The Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, India, China, Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach stay or cruise, an adventurous multi country trip, a cultural or sporting city break, a UK staycation, or a more specialist ski, safari or diving holiday, I can help. I also specialise in tailor-made holidays for special occasions – so if you're looking to celebrate an important birthday or anniversary, want an amazing honeymoon or that once in a lifetime round the world trip, I'd love to help create the perfect trip for you.
As a personal Travel Counsellor, I take the stress out of travel planning – with all the options available today, it can get confusing, not to mention time consuming – who has time these days to spend hours comparing websites or sitting in a high-street store? That’s where I come in.
The buying power of Travel Counsellors allows almost unlimited possibilities and great value for money. I can offer everything on the high street or online but also have access to many other options – and as I’m impartial I can provide the perfect holiday to suit your needs and budget.
With ATOL and the Travel Counsellor’s Trust, you also have complete financial security with every pound you spend being 100% financially protected.
Ready to explore your next holiday destination or organise your next business trip? Simply call or send me an email and I’ll get right back to you!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta
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.
29 September 2023
Historically known as Siam, Thailand is centrally located in South East Asia and is bordered by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia After being given a place on the Travel Counsellors Gold Trip which is awarded to the top performing travel agents, I was keen to extend my stay to see as much as possible of this diverse country My 12 day itinerary allowed me to visit 5 key destinations, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khao Sok and Khao Lak, taking me from bustling cities to the dense jungle and finally to golden beaches. Travelling around Thailand is really easy, their domestic flights are extensive, trains, metros and buses are efficient and tuk tuks or cabs are easy to secure, and with English widely spoken and signs in both Thai and English in the major tourist areas you can’t go far wrong. Bangkok is the main getaway and while it can get a seedy rap, I loved exploring the busy capital. I stayed in the Banyon Tree Hotel with a gorgeous rooftop pool and easy access to the main attractions. Don’t miss sights include The Grand Palace and the beautiful temples of Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun which is across the river and easily accessible by the local ferry. If shopping is more your style, you will be spoilt for choice with huge malls sitting side by side local street vendors. Food lovers you’ll soon realise Pad Thai is just one of 100’s of delicious local dishes – but watch out for the number of chillis as your tongue can soon go numb! If you want to escape the city for a day and get out into the countryside, I can recommend a visit to the Meaklong Railway Market where the vendors have to pull back their goods 8 times as day as the train passes through and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where you take to a paddle boat and weave through a myriad of waterways where the locals sell all manner of goods direct from their boats. Chiang Mai and its smaller neighbour Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand are a short 1hr 30 minute flight. Located in the mountain region, Chaing Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom until 1558. I stayed in the Old City in one of the many cute boutique hotels. Known for its infamous night and weekend street markets and Thai boxing stadiums, the city also has a plethora of stunning temples, including Wat Chedi Luang dating back to 1385 with its 80m high chedi, the immaculate golden Wat Phra Singh and Wat Sri Suphan completely covered in solid and painted silver. For a fascinating cultural day trip head north to the Chaing Dao natural cave temple and visit some of the local tribes like the infamous Karen Longnecks to learn about their way of life. Next I flew down south to Phuket Island, a mountainous island Phuket offers some of the finest beaches along its 90 miles of coastline combined with lively towns. I was staying at the new Melia Phuket Mai Khao a short 15 minutes from the airport and known for its serenity and wellness programs, perfect if you want to get away from it all. For my fourth stop I wanted to experience Thailand’s rainforest so headed into the Khao Sok National Park to Elephant Hills, a luxury tented jungle camp for 2 nights. This animal welfare and sustainable camp is all about taking care of rescued elephants and educating people about these gentle giants. In addition they offer unique nature activities from mangrove explorations to kayaking and jungle treks and offer one of the only floating tented camps in the world. After all the excitement of jungle life, my final destination was the luxurious beach retreat, the Devasom Khao Lak. Built between the natural lagoon on one side and the stunning sandy beach on the other, this beautiful boutique hotel with Michelin star restaurant, a whole program of local experiences from cooking classes to sound bathing, features fabulous accommodation including the jaw dropping Two Bedroom Sky Villa Pool Penthouse. Thailand is the perfect beach stay destination, but also offers so much more!
04 August 2023
With the world now fully open and ready to be explored, lots of clients have been asking me to create their bucket list trips for them, from safaris in Tanzania, Australia and New Zealand combo’s to touring around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. One of my favourite trips from a few years ago was my 12 day tour of Peru and now that the political unrest from start the year had died down, its now back on people’s radars. The biggest pull is of Machu Picchu, standing at 2, 430 metres above sea-level in the middle of a tropical forest in the mountainous Andes region, the complex dates back to the Inca Empire and is definitely one of the greatest architectural achievements anywhere in the world. With over 200 structures hugging the mountain and divided by steep stone terraces, this ancient city combines a mix of residential, ceremonial, religious, agricultural and astronomical buildings. Best visited in the dry season (May to October) when you can enjoy sunny days and clear, the peak tourist season is June through to August and the best time to do trekking and the infamous Inca Trail. But Peru also offers so much more. Most people will fly into Lima (“The City of Kings”), the capital while offering all the trappings of modern day life is a World Heritage Site with a historical centre and while its been severely damaged by earthquakes it still offer great colonial buildings, museums and the Government Palace and it’s the only South American capital on the coast! Make sure to also visit the archaeological sites of Huaca Pucllana and Huallamarca with their pyramids and excavated mummies. After spending 2 days in Lima, I flew to the red roofs of Cusco which is the historical capital of Peru to start to get acclimatised. With it’s open plaza and cobbled winding streets, this beautiful town has history around every corner. Make sure to visit Andahuaylillas known as “The Sistine Chapel of the Americas” – you will be blown away with the inside décor, gold is literally everywhere! If you like souvenir shopping, head to the San Blas neighbourhood, here you’ll find every type of artisan craft. Cusco is also a great stepping stone to fascinating archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman with its gigantic boulder walls. From Cusco, I headed into the Sacred Valley which runs through the Urubamba mountains, again this area offers a plethora of archaeological sites and picturesque villages such as Pisac renowned for its Inca architecture and handicraft market plus chance to try roasted guinea pig! As you continue through the verdant valley, make sure to stop at Ollantaytambo built over 3.500 year ago to see the imposing fortress and climb to the top of the terraces for wonderful views. From here you can then take the train to Aguas Calientes with its thermal baths, plethora of restaurants and the gateway to Maccu Pichu. From here you have the choice of taking the bus up (about 30 minutes) to the site or walking the 9km (about 2 hours).
08 July 2023
Just back from a marvellous cruise on the Rhone River in the South of France where for 7 days we enjoyed fabulous sights in Burgundy and Provence. We flew into Nice and then had a two hour transfer to Avignon where we boarded the MS Shakespeare. Multiple operators offer the Rhone but I wanted to try Riviera given its staterooms offered full sized sliding windows and all the excursions were included, plus my mum wanted a hairdresser onboard! River cruises are the perfect introduction for clients not sure if they’d like to cruise. Great for multi-generational families, you unpack once and get to visit lots of interesting places 15 minutes from where you dock, all while enjoying gourmet cuisine and making new friends along the way. Our cruise started in Avignon, a medieval city anchored by the imposing Popes Palaces, the largest Gothic palace in the world and the Pont d'Avignon immortalised in the French song. Next was Arles, home to the magnificent Roman Colosseum and multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus the inspiration for Van Gogh's Sunflowers and The Night Café. The next day we took a coach ride to the beautiful Ardeche Gorge featuring sheer 1,000 ft limestone cliffs, expansive forest and a snaking blue water river with the infamous Pont d'Arc natural arch. The Rhone River offered views of chateaus, red roofed villages and vineyards aplenty before we arrived into Tournon, home of the first suspension bridge over the Rhone and then Vienne, another Roman stronghold with well-preserved amphitheatre and temple dating back to 10 BC. From here we continued upriver to the very cute Chalon-Sur-Saone with its cobbled streets and half timbered houses and birthplace of the inventor of photography. Our final stop was Lyon, the 3rd largest city in France built on the back of the silk industry, has a lovely Old Town with antique shops and traboules (narrow passageways enabling merchants to transport goods to the river without getting wet), it's also the gastronomic capital with over 20 Michelin starred restaurants.
15 May 2023
Japan has finally removed its Covid travel restrictions and bookings for this country that had its borders closed for so long are now booming! I was lucky enough to explore this fascinating country as part of a two week small group tour, given I was travelling solo for this trip I thought it would be more fun to join a group of like-minded adventurers to discover a new country. Our itinerary was jam packed but allowed me to immerse myself in 5 key destinations, Tokyo, Tsumago, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Kyoto, taking me from urban jungles to mountain villages. Japan is a complex mix of ancient traditions and modern wizardry and it was so fun to see the juxtaposition of these in the main cities. To travel around Japan, you really need to leverage their highly efficient train system, which allows seamless connectivity from the metro to the local and rapid express trains to the high speed Shinkansen “bullet trains”. I can also recommend their bus service and in places like Kanazawa there’s even a tourist bus that offer two loops to the main attractions and is very easy to use. As expected, English is not very widely spoken especially outside the main tourist areas but you can get by with some sign language and residents were always pleased to try and assist, plus lots of signs are in dual language. Like any modern country, the array of accommodation is extensive with all the major brands having hotels, plus lots of local Asian companies, however one of the things that is unique are ryokans – these are traditional Japanese guesthouses where you sleep on a futon on tatami matting and for a fun experience, I’d definitely recommend staying a night or two to experience. For foodies, get ready to experience a taste overload, from sushi, udon and ramen to dumplings, shabu shabu and okonomi-yaki Japan’s best soul food, and for dessert lovers try strawberry sandwiches and red bean paste pancakes! There is too much to put into this short article but here are some don’t miss highlights: For Tokyo, visit the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and also the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuka, while one is in the bustling centre the other is located in a beautiful park. For entertainment, head to Shinjuku and the neon, then explore Kabukicho with its love hotels and Golden Gai a district of 200 small bars. Tsumago is a protected cultural town dating back to the Edo period where motorized vehicles are prohibited. To get to this charming location we had to walk through the countryside passing rice paddies and waterfalls. Enjoy soaking up the atmosphere and don’t miss the heart pumping walk to the Tsumago Castle ruins. Kanazawa served at the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan up until 1870 and became a centre of culture with gold leaf, tea ceremonies and lacquerware all having significance. Make sure to visit the Nagamachi Samurai Residence District with preserved houses and compact but fascinating museums Shinise Kinenkan and Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiroykan. Also worth visiting is the Myorinji “Ninja Temple”, Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa Castle and the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Centre. Hiroshima is famous for the devastation caused by the very first atomic bomb. Pay your respects at the minimalist designed Peace Memorial Park and thought provoking Museum. For a great day trip head to Miyajima Island with its Itsukushima Shrine, iconic floating torii gate, free roaming deer and cable car accessed Mount Misen. Kyoto the old capital is great to act as a base, take a trip to World Heritage Site, Himeji Castle widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle, stroll through Gion (the Geisha District), visit cute, pedestrianised Sannenzaka and the Yasaka Shrine. Finally, don’t miss the Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, the Samurai Museum and Kinkakuji “Golden Pavilion”. Japan is back on the tourist map and it really won’t disappoint!
01 April 2023
I just got back from a fabulous 4 days in Palma. Mallorca is a popular Mediterranean island for beach holidays, but if you’re looking for a city break that is rich in culture, has an amazing food scene and is compact enough to explore in a long weekend...the island’s capital is perfect! We stayed in the old historic centre at the 5* Nivia Boutique Hotel just off the Passeig Des Born which is similar to Barcelona’s Ramblas (although Palma also has its own Ramblas too!) and is the main promenade flanked at one end by the fountain, lined by shops and scattered with outdoor dining options. A great way to get your bearings is to book the Hop On Hop Off Tour, with 18 stops when all are operating, it operates a wide circuit around the city and allows you to jump off when you want to visit a particular point of interest. I used the bus to get to Castell de Bellver which is perched on a hill about 3 miles from the city. Built in 1300 this royal residence and fortress, later became a prison. It’s a Gothic circular design, features an interesting museum and offers amazing 360 views. Two more iconic buildings are the Le Seu (Palma Cathedral) and Palau de L’Almudaina, standing next to one another and overlooking the bay of Palma, these imposing buildings date back to the 14th century. The cathedral dominates the skyline and you can clearly see Gaudi’s influence. One of the most impressive sights are the giant stained glass “rose” windows which cast beautiful rainbow reflections across the interior. The palace once an Islamic fort with its beautiful interior courtyard, imposing Gothic Hall and quaint chapel is still used today by the Royal Family to host state receptions. If you love architecture, don’t miss Can Casayas and Pension Menorquina, a charming pair of buildings designed by Francesc Roca i Simo or Can Roca, which was one of the first Modernista buildings to use ceramic decoration on its façade. One of the nice things about the city is the number of pedestrianised shopping areas, so starting in Plaza d’Espanya, head down Calle Sant Miquel to Placa Major and from here walk in any direction to enjoy local boutiques and stores selling traditional goods - for popular El Corte Ingles and high street shops it’s an easy 10 minute walk over to Avenida Jaime III. After all that exploring, make sure to enjoy tapas in one of the hundreds of local restaurants and finish off your meal with an ensaimada, a typical Mallorcan pastry. Missing the beach? Don’t worry, stroll east along the seafront promenade and you’ll arrive at the city’s urban beach with beach clubs at either end!
13 December 2022
If you're looking to jet away for some winter sunshine and enjoy active day trips as well as relaxing on beautiful beaches...then look no further than Mauritius! Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of east Africa and is just 61km long and 45km wide. You can fly direct from London or from Manchester connect in Paris or Dubai. I was lucky enough to spend 8 days here in December and one of the first things you notice is just how genuinely friendly and helpful everyone is. There’s a fantastic array of accommodation on the island from deluxe villas on 5 star resorts to smaller eco-friendly all inclusive properties. The resorts are of a high standard and while it might be tempting to simply lie in the sun on your lounger all day, there’s a wealth of fascinating places to go and explore. If you’d like a quick snapshot of the island, I’d recommend taking a north or south east island tour – lasting a day you can do this in a small group or as a private tour. The north and north west is the more developed and touristy part with the capital Port Louis and Grand Baie town. Port Louis was larger than I expected and had a vibrant downtown area with a great Central Market with wonderful fruit and vegetables and a new Caudan Waterfront area with international stores and craft market. On the outskirts it’s worth a quick visit to the old stone Fort Adelaide built by the British with its impressive views over the city and then drop down to Aapravasi Ghat to learn about the 500,000 indentured labourers who came to the island to work on the sugar plantations between 1834 and 1920. Don’t miss L’Aventure du Sucre, a former sugar factory restored after 200 years into a fascinating museum with 10 interactive areas and the chance to taste local products. The north is also renowned for its lovely sandy beaches, swimming and watersports and it’s worth visiting Mont Choisy, Trou aux Biches and Cap Malheureux which also has the iconic red roofed Notre-Dame Auxiliatrice church. For a completely different experience of the island, head to the centre and south west for beautiful natural landscapes including the Black River Gorges National Park. The centre has a much slower pace of life and as its higher the temperature is cooler. Trou aux Cerfs offers a stunning view of the island and is the dormant volcanic crater. From here you pass the huge Mare aux Vacoas reservoir and can head to Ganga Talao also known as Grand Bassin. This was one of my favourite places and is important for Hindus being a place of pilgrimage for the Maha Shivratree festival which brings 500,000 Lord Shiva devotees to the area for a week long celebration. There’s a traditional temple on the crater lake surrounded by colourful Hindu gods and you won’t miss the gigantic 33 metre high Lord Shiva and Lord Durga statues. Finally make sure not to miss a visit to La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, which offers thrill seeking activities from quad biking and ziplining and the opportunity to view the unique volcanic 23 coloured earth attraction.
19 November 2022
I’ve just been fortunate to spend an amazing 4 days in Verona. A short flight from Manchester, this beautiful Italian city and UNESCO World Heritage Centre is definitely well worth a visit. In terms of attractions, this city can offer something for everyone. For foodies, enjoy crispy pizzas and al dente pasta with every topping under the sun, 100 flavours of gelato and this is Prosecco and Aperol Spritz territory! The most popular tourist attraction is Juliet’s House, the fictional home of Romeo’s amore. Shakespeare never actually travelled to Verona but based his tragedy on a local tale. The city dates from Prehistoric times but rose rapidly in importance in the 1st century B.C and there are a number of Roman sights from the Verona Amphitheatre which used to host 30,000 for gladiator battles, to the smaller Roman Arena across the river, plus the remains of old city gates including Porto Borsari. Verona was a strategic location on the road between Milan and Venice and allowed access to up into Germany so had a turbulent past. The city thrived in the 13th and 14th century as noble families including the Scaligers vied for power. Their legacy still lives today as you can visit the Castello (fortress), uniquely designed Castelvecchio Bridge and even the Scaliger Tombs. Church lovers will be spoilt for choice, I enjoyed visiting Santa Anastasia which was built in the 11th century and is adorned with amazing works of art. If you prefer palaces, walking down Corso Cavour every other building is adorned with marble sculptures, from statues of gods to coats of arms. For people watching, head to Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe, Bra is by far the largest with cafes lining the outside, the town hall and a park in the centre, while Erbe is smaller but more picturesque and is surrounded by stunning historical buildings with original fresco’s and has a lovely fountain. Here you can find the Torre Del Lamberti that dominates the skyline and you can climb the 368 steps to the bell tower for commanding views. Alternatively cross the infamous Ponte Pietra (bridge) and take the funicular up to St Peter’s Castle that sits 781 feet above the city.
19 November 2022
If you’re looking for a weekend break but don’t want to travel too far, I can highly recommend the beautiful city of Lincoln, just over a 2 hour drive from Manchester. Probably one of the most under rated city breaks, Lincoln is a small city that packs a big punch for tourists. The most popular draws are Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral. While smaller in scale to places like Windsor, the castle built in the late 11th century by William the Conqueror is well preserved and as well as exploring the grounds, you can visit the Victorian Prison and walk the medieval walls for some great views over the city. This is also the only place in the world where an original 1215 Magna Carta and 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen! Lincoln Cathedral an easy 5 minute walk from the castle has a history spanning over 950 years. First built in 1072 you’ll be blown away with its Gothic architecture and intricate stone and wood carvings. If it looks familiar, this is because it’s served as the backdrop for a number of movies including The Da Vinci Code. I was staying in Bailgate one of the most historic areas, with cobbled streets, quaint independent shops and some of the city’s best restaurants. Look out for the crooked house on Michaelgate and then defy gravity walking down Steep Hill to the new part of the city. Other points of interest include The Guildhall which was built in 1520 and is still used by the local council and the 16th century Stonebow arch over Lincoln High Street. After all that history, its nice to know the new part of the city also doesn’t disappoint. There are multiple shopping centres with all the major high street brands and the Brayford Waterfront offers a whole host of restaurants and bars with great views across the water. This area is also home to the University of Lincoln. If you prefer guided tours rather than self exploring, you can hop on the sightseeing bus or book one of the popular walking tours that commence in the Castle Hill area.
24 April 2022
I just got back from a fabulous 5 days in Seville. If you're looking for a city break that has one of the best sunshine records in Europe, wonderful architecture, amazing food, great shopping and easy access to explore Andalucia...this is the place for you! The city has such a lovely warmth and charm, from the old Jewish district Santa Cruz to the lively and authentic Triana district home to flamenco dancers and matadors, just across the river and connected via the Bridge of Isabel II. With outstanding historical buildings from the Royal Palace (Real Alcazar) which is the oldest palace in Europe and has stunning interior filigree decoration and an amazing garden complex complete with maze, to the striking 104 metre tall The Giralda which is the present day bell tower of the Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral. One of the most recognised attractions is the Plaza de Espana built for the 1929 World Exhibition with central pool and stunning ceramic tile benches that represent each region in Spain. Down by the river visit La Maestranza Bullring and the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) which previously was an observation tower and prison and now houses a maritime museum. Then for something more contemporary, Metropol Parasol or "mushroom" as it’s known locally features a panoramic terrace offering amazing 360 degree views over the city. If you fancy a day trip from the city, coastal Cadiz with its lovely urban beach flanked by a traditional white pavilion and two ancient fortresses, the old Roman city of Cordoba with its wonderful labyrinth of streets filled with brightly coloured plant pots and the Mezquita-Catedral, The Great Mosque of Cordoba dating back to the 8th century, and Granada with its infamous Moorish Alhambra fortress complex are all well worth a visit.
24 April 2022
New York, New York…so good they named it twice! I was fortunate enough to live here for 12 years and I’m actually writing this article from my hotel room as I’m visiting to see how the city is post Covid. New York is such a fantastic place to visit and there’s something for all the family. For this trip I was staying in Chelsea, it’s a great neighbourhood being very centrally located without being in the middle of the usual tourist traps. In terms of accommodation the city offers so many wonderful options, from 5 Star hotels with Michelin starred restaurants through to good value 3 Star chains. It’s critical to plan your trip in detail as the number of tourist attractions is mind boggling, from standard ones like the Empire State, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, Times Square, Grand Central, Rockefeller Centre, Central Park, South Street Seaport, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial the list goes on and on. There are also a number of new attractions I’ve just visited that are also well worth adding to your hot list, Hudson Yards features The Edge (an amazing viewing platform) and the Vessel (a funky interactive sculpture), the extended Highline (an old elevated railway line that stretches down to 12th Street), Little Island (an urban park on the Hudson River), Summit One Vanderbilt (an interactive viewing experience) and The Colour Factory (perfect for Instagram moments). But one of the great things about New York is just simply exploring the neighbourhoods, from Soho and Little Italy, Chinatown to the Lower East Side, Meatpacking to Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, part of the cities charm is how the city changes between blocks. I like to walk as much as I can, but the subway is easy to navigate or simply hop in a cab. Ready to explore?
07 March 2022
Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India. With a fascinating albeit turbulent history, it’s a great destination whether you’re a beach lover, culture vulture or thrill seeker. I recently returned from a 12 day tour visiting some of the top tourist attractions. We flew from Manchester with Qatar Airways who we couldn’t fault and had to transfer at Doha, the airport is huge and immaculate given the recent investment for the upcoming World Cup. We arrived in the early morning and after having our PCR test, health form and vaccination certificates checked we headed to the arrivals hall. You can’t take Sri Lankan Rupees into the country, so the easiest thing is to change your money at one of the counters in arrivals hall (and then change any extra currency back at one of the lenders before you check in for your return flight). Given the expanse of the country it’s a good idea to hire a driver/guide for your trip, so we were welcomed by Roshan who would be with us for most of the trip and was invaluable and a true joy to be around. Our first stop was Negombo a bustling, fishing town on the west coast, close to the airport and ideal as a resting point before the start of any tour. We arrived early morning so we were staying at one of the JetWing properties for one night to rest after the overnight flight and acclimatize (Sri Lanka is 5.5 hours ahead of the UK). Leaving the next morning we headed to the northern Matale District and the village of Sigiriya, best known for its proximity to the magnificent ‘Lion Rock’ ancient fortress which rises 200 metres from the jungle and offers a breath-taking climb to the top. En-route we headed to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, an archaeological treasure trove with countless fascinating ruins. This was the second capital of Sri Lanka for three centuries, the kingdom of Great King Parakrambahu and is now a World Heritage site. It’s an expansive site and highlights include the Gal Viharaya which features three huge stone monoliths of the Lord Buddha, in a sitting, standing and reclining position. We were staying at the stunning Aliya Resort & Spa in Sigiriya for two nights, nestled in the middle of the countryside with wonderful views of the distant mountains. The hotel has a grand staircase entrance, jaw dropping infinity pool and was decorated with an elephant thematic, with one off paintings and sculptures. The next day it was an early start as I wanted to climb the rock fortress and to avoid the crowds and hot sun we wanted to be there for the opening at 6.30am. Considered the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya was built in 5AD by patricide King Kasyappa and at one time had 500 hand maidens living in the palace. Leading up to fortress you pass through landscaped gardens before starting your climb. There are over 1,000 steps and it’s not for the faint hearted, the metal staircase has open treads and is quite narrow in places but if you keep looking up when you get to the top the view is well worth it! On the summit are the remains of the ancient civilization including old bathing pools and even the King’s throne carved in rock, and then part way down you get to see the famous cave frescos which amazingly still retain their colour after all those years. Late morning we headed to Anuradhapura the 1st chronicled capital of ancient Ceylon and a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site due to the Bo Tree and the 2nd Century Ruwanvaliseya Temple, one of the world’s tallest monuments (100m tall, 77m wide and 300ft in diameter). It’s one of Sri Lanka’s premier ancient attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and really does live up to its reputation. The sheer scale of the site where all you can see for miles are giant white stupas in every direction was awesome. To enter any religious site in Sri Lanka you have to take off your shoes, our guide advised us to keep on our socks as the ground was absolutely scorching especially as we’re not used to walking around barefoot! We were lucky enough to be there for the local pilgrims chanting prayers and reciting mantras and giving offerings to the Bo Tree, you have never seen so many plates of fresh fruit and flowers. The sacred tree was planted in 288BC and legend says that this tree grew from a branch taken from the holy Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which Buddha became enlightened. For the afternoon, we decided to take a break from history and we went on safari in the Minneriya National Park – the jeep was a little rustic but the 3 hour trip was really fun. The driver/guide was ex military and had a real passion for wildlife, we saw over 60 elephants including calves and a huge pregnant female, plus mongoose, peacocks, crocodiles and too many birds to name.
07 March 2022
The next day we headed south to Kandy which is at an altitude of 500m and is the cultural centre of Sri Lanka. En-route we stopped at Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery consisting of 5 giant caves is the best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, there are paths but they are very steep before plateauing out. Standing on a rock mass at 350ft the series of caves were turned into a magnificent rock temple by King Valagambhau. The highlight was the 47ft long Buddha cut out from the rock, hundreds of deities on the walls and ceilings dating back to the 15th century and no less than 150 life size statues of gods. Truly impressive! After Dambulla we continued on to Kandy, the capital of the last Singhalese Kingdom and a relaxed hill station that was once captured by the British. The town is dominated by a huge lake and the royal palace complex which runs alongside. Security was very tight here and we had to go through scanners and show passports as it attracts a lot of important military and political leaders. Its home to the infamous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (brought from India around 310 AD, the tooth is the symbol of Sri Lankan Kings and preciously guarded in a special shrine within the royal palace). The temple is stunning and adorned with intricate carvings of silver, gold and ivory, it attracts thousands of visitors every day and we timed it perfectly to watch the traditional drummers announce the opening of the shrine and devotees carry out a pooja ceremony. Our hotel for the next couple of days was the beautiful Amaya Hills Kandy, right at the top of one of the mountainous switchback roads it offered stunning views over Kandy and the surrounding area. The service here was unbeatable with a glorious welcome ceremony and amazing food. For our second day we decided to go shopping and I think my credit card wished I’d stayed by the pool. Kandy offers everything you can desire, we picked up beautiful wooden handicrafts and masks, the brightest batik work and gold jewellery adorned with sapphires (Sri Lanka is known to have the highest quality in the world). Our final destination was Kalutara, a 4 hour drive away and a major city sited just south of Colombo. It’s one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sri Lanka and is known for its picturesque beaches and historic buildings. Most of our time here was spent relaxing by one of the two pool at our gorgeous hotel, Anantara Kalutara and being waited on hand and foot. The grounds of the hotel are extensive with the lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other, there’s activities to do on site including a zip line, watersports and a giant chess set and the rooms were fabulous – ours was one of the largest rooms I’ve ever stayed overlooking the ocean and the secluded beach. We did enjoy one day trip out as I wanted to see a little more of the south coast. We started off driving to Galle, which is an old fortified city founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and known for its fort, lighthouse, Dutch church and lovely boutique shops and restaurants. Then we headed off to pay a visit one of the local turtle sanctuaries where they protect the eggs and allow them to hatch before releasing the baby turtles into the sea. Turtles are caught by local fisherman to be sold for eating, so the sanctuaries pay the fishermen over the asking price, tend any injuries and then release the turtles back. Our final stop of the day was Ambalangoda, a small town famous for its ancient devil dancers and traditional wooden mask artisans. There’s a really cute little museum here, where the 5th generation owner takes you through the history of mask making and you can even have a little go at wood carving in one of their workshops. Then all too soon it was time to head back to Colombo Airport for our flight to the UK.
29 September 2019
There are so many rivers in Europe to choose from, from the Danube and Volga to the Loire and the Elbe. Selecting which river to cruise on really depends on what type of destinations you’re looking to visit. We selected the Rhine, home of medieval towns, castles and wineries. This river is also critical to the European economy, moving over 500MM tonnes of coal, cars and other goods along its 766 miles, from its source in the Swiss Alps through Germany and the Netherlands to the North Sea. Our cruise was to take in some fascinating ports of call: Amsterdam: A cultural kaleidoscope that offers something for everyone. Dozens of excellent museums and historic buildings, a winding maze of canals and exciting nightlife. We enjoyed a narrated canal boat ride, passing beautiful merchant houses, Ann Frank House and ended up at the Gasson Diamond centre. The rest of the day we people watched in the red light district, visited museums featuring artwork by Van Gogh and Vermeer, saw beautiful churches like Westerkerk and marvelled at the scale of the Central Station. Arnhem: Set in wonderful countryside, while only small, the town has been well preserved and features lovely independent shops and quirky art installations. The Battle of Arnhem directed by Montgomery was part of Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Despite scores of British parachutists dropping into the town, the bridge of Arnhem was never captured and the troops suffered devastating losses. In the area museums tell the dramatic WWII stories and the town proudly displays flags to remember the valiant efforts of the British soldiers. After sombre moments, we moved onto Doorwerth Castle, a beautiful medieval castle with gardens and moat built in 1260, it’s worth an hour exploring. Dusseldorf: Today we joined a walking tour. Setting off from Rheinpark, we passed one of 26 museums, the Kunst Palast which has a fun sculpture of a Rhino, saw the rotund Town Hall and one of Wolfgang Kliege’s lovely sculptures. Next up we wandered around Altstadt (Old Town) nicknamed “the longest bar in the world” due to its hundreds of pubs, explored Hofgarten and then Ko-Bogen, featuring upscale shops in striking, modern architecture. Finally, we ambled back along the Rhein Promenade giving a great view of the Rhine Tower. Cologne: Infamous for its Cathedral, this bustling city offers over 100 art galleries, 12 Romanesque churches, multiple museums and a history that harkens back to the Romans. Cologne is also well known for two liquids, Kolsch (a local beer) and perfume. Cologne Cathedral or Kolner Dom is simply stunning with its 13th century Gothic interior and the golden “Shrine of the Three Magi” (1220). Street after street offered glimpses of lovely architecture, medieval alleyways, fun statues and of course pubs galore! Our tour touched on only a part of the city, but we enjoyed strolling through the Old Market, past the Town Hall and the old Roman road before ending up at the imposing cathedral. Koblenz: A 2,000 yr old city formed at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, the city was occupied by France during WWII and heavily bombed. First up was a visit to German Corner and the giant monument of German Emperor William I astride a 14m high horse. The statue was destroyed by US artillery but replaced by the German president. Next up we passed the Jewish Monument, the Ludwig Museum and St Castors Basilica, before walking through the historic old town and seeing the beautifully preserved Jesuit College and the Schangelbrunnen “spitting boy” Fountain (watch out you don’t get wet!). In the afternoon we took the cable car up to the imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, 118m above the Rhine, the castle features extensive grounds, battlements and high walls. There is a museum on site but the best reason to visit is for the incredible panoramic views. Rhine Gorge: The top of the Rhine isn’t that pretty to be honest, think lots of industrial scenery and freight vessels. However, the Middle Rhine Valley (65km) is chocolate box pretty, think narrow gorges, imposing hillside fortresses, quaint villages and rambling vineyards. A UNESCO World Heritage site, on average there’s a castle every 1.5 miles, most being constructed to collect tolls from traders during the 12th century. Lots of castles suffered severe damage in 1689 by Louis XIV troops but were since restored, we especially loved Marksburg and Stolzenfels Castles. Rudesheim: This is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited, renowned for its wine, vines have been cultivated here for two millennial! There’s a plethora of shops selling local wine and you can also visit the Asbach Distillery, plus don’t miss having the speciality coffee made with flaming brandy and whipped cream. The town’s made up of cute houses and cobbled streets and is also known for its Museum of Mechanical Instruments and Christmas market. Eltville am Rhein: Quite simply beautiful! Street upon street of timber framed houses in immaculate condition on cobbled streets leading down to the river. Known as the “City of Wine and Roses”, this was the perfect place to sample a few of the local specialities from dry Riesling through to sparkling wines. The Electoral Castle is one of the town’s highlights, erected in 1345 the castle was home to the archbishops of Mainz and features a well tended rose garden. Mainz: Our final stop, the city was a key stronghold for the Romans who recognised the potential of the surrounding region for growing vines and as a critical trade route. Mainz’s most famous resident is Johannes Gutenberg who combined several innovations to develop a printing press using movable type that made the written word available to everyone. There’s a fabulous museum that takes you through his techniques and displays samples of his priceless Latin Bibles. Across the square (that houses a fabulous daily local produce market), is the vast 12th century St. Martin’s Cathedral. A huge, red sandstone edifice, the original construction started in 975 and 45 archbishops are buried here. One thing not to miss is the Nail Men tower, a form of propaganda and fundraising for the forces in WWI, these wooden statues had nails driven into them creating works of art in exchange for donations. In the afternoon, we took advantage of the large pedestrianised shopping area and enjoyed a few hours spending our last Euro’s. The Rhine was amazing and certainly didn’t disappoint!
29 September 2019
Cruising is now the fastest growing holiday sector in the UK and there’s a plethora of cruise ships and destinations to choose from, so I knew I wasn’t going to be spoilt for choice, it was more a case of how do I pick the right one for me. Given river cruising is the new comer and I’ve always been fascinated with castles and medieval cities, I plumped for a cruise down the infamous Rhine. There are a number of operators who offer tours, but I was enticed by Avalon’s full width sliding windows and the fact she offered an “Active Discovery” cruise so there were lots of great trips included as part of the price and in addition we could pre-pay for gratuities. My mum was coming along for the holiday, and cruising is perfect for multi-generational family holidays as it offers something for everyone, no matter what your age or interests. We flew to Amsterdam direct from the UK, a very quick flight and once you land it’s only a short taxi ride to the port. Once you get to the docks it’s a little confusing as there were a number of river cruise ships all docked but we finally spotted our ship and took our cases up the gangway. I think the first thing that struck us about the Avalon Panorama was her size, she was much bigger than expected, especially for only having 148 passengers on board and at no point during the course of the cruise did we ever feel crowded by people. In addition to two dining areas, there was a choice of three indoor/outdoor lounges and multiple areas to sit, we loved the expansive top deck the most with lots of chairs and loungers, a hot tub, giant chess and backgammon game plus a small pitch and putt area. Check in was quick, we enjoyed a complimentary drink while our room was prepped (if we hadn’t had booked our excursions there was an excursion desk where we could have sorted them) and then the staff brought our luggage down. The room was lovely, twin beds facing huge 12 ft windows, bedside cabinets, under bed storage for your luggage, a desk, full wardrobe, mini-bar, great sized bathroom with shower and a lovely settee and chair in front of the balcony. Later that afternoon once everyone was on board, we all met for a Welcome Drink, said hi to the crew including the captain and went through a mandatory safety briefing. Each evening thereafter, there would always be a Port Talk and Disembarkation Brief by the Cruise Director so you understood what was happening the next day, where to meet etc. As with all cruises all your meals are included, so get ready to indulge on a daily basis, full cooked breakfasts with a buffet fit for a king, multiple buffet options for your 4 course lunch and then al la carte 5 course dinners with waiter service. Plus if you were peckish in the afternoon, they also served cakes and hot drinks at 4pm to help you bridge the gap until dinner at 7pm. The nice thing was you also enjoyed wine, beer or soft drinks with your meals so it meant our bar tab was really very small at the end of the trip. It was also great to see that it wasn't fixed dining, so you could decide when to eat (between a couple of hours) and were free to sit at whichever table you wanted - so we ended up dining with different people each evening and made some wonderful friends from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have to praise the staff on board, what a wonderful group of people from all over Europe, always friendly with a welcoming smile, nothing was too much trouble and they worked so hard. Some of the staff had some really interesting backgrounds , for example our waiter one evening was the Hungarian youth kayaking champion. Prior to the cruise Avalon give you access to a cruise personaliser (this isn’t as comprehensive as an ocean cruise) but allowed us to input our emergency contact details, gave us access to pre-select not only the included excursions and any optional excursions, gave us details on which dock the ship would be harboured at and also instructions of how to download the Avalon app (a nifty little app that gave you local maps for each port of call, attraction information and a ship finder). Every night in your room you also received a printed Daily Newsletter, this was brilliant as it gave full details as to what was happening the next day, what time the ship was sailing, meals times, excursion options etc. Our cruise was to take in some of the best ports of call, starting off in Amsterdam, next we’d visit Arnhem, followed by Dusseldorf, Cologne, Koblenz, Rhine Gorge, Rudesheim before disembarking in Mainz. See my next blog for some of the great sights we saw. The excursions were really well organised, at the start of the week we received lanyards and ear pieces and then every day collected a newly charged speaker unit so we could listen to the local guides. Walking sticks were on offer for anyone needing assistance as were giant umbrellas for any rainy days. It was nice that there were multiple tour options each day which meant that the group size was never larger than about 20 people, so it was conducive to making friends and logistically easy to enter all the various attractions. Disembarkation day was really smooth, while we had to be out of our rooms for 9am (as the ship was taking on new passengers for its return journey to Amsterdam), we were able to leave our cases on the ship and have another day exploring Mainz before the reception team arranged for a taxi to the airport for us. If you’re unsure about cruising, taking a river cruise is the perfect introduction to this popular type of holiday. Being able to unpack just once and yet be able to visit multiple destinations was fantastic, enjoying 5 star service and fine dining every day, being able to relax on board or go off ship and explore each port of call made the trip extremely flexible. I can’t recommend cruising enough, so much so I’m already researching where to go for 2020.
23 June 2019
The Maldives located in the Indian Ocean is an archipelago of over 1,000 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls, less than 2 metres above sea level. Historically known as a luxurious retreat for the rich and famous, given expansion of the airline network and resort offering, this beautiful part of the world is now available to discover for a whole range of visitors. Flying from the UK is easy with an Emirates regional departure to Dubai and then a quick layover to catch the direct flight to Male. Male is the entry point for everyone to catch their speed boat, domestic flight or seaplane to their island home. The Maldives are divided into North and South Male Atolls, so it’s important to understand where your island is located and how best to get there. I took a 35-minute speedboat to my first destination, the trio of Anantara resorts, Dhigu, Veli and Naladhu Private Island. Arriving after the hair blowing boat ride, you’re warmly greeted at the jetty and the first thing you notice is the sheer intensity of the colours, the bright white sand, the azure blue ocean, the striking greenery. Quickly whisked off to your room, you know immediately upon entering your beach villa that this is going to be a wonderful holiday. Dhigu offers 110 beach villas and the iconic over water suites and is targeted at families. The hub of the resort centres around Aqua Bar and the large infinity swimming pool with sandy walkways leading off through tropical jungle to your accommodation. The beach villas are ideal for 2 adults and 1 or 2 children, offering a private sun terrace and direct access to the beach with your own reserved sun loungers. The wow moment was opening the bathroom door and entering the luxurious garden courtyard which featured a giant outdoor bath and rain shower. If you’re after rest and relaxation, this resort is perfect. Despite 97% occupancy the resort felt extremely spacious and quiet, often I was lying on the beach and it was completely deserted. Anantara Veli is the hideaway adult only resort and is slightly smaller with 67 over water and ocean bungalows. A favourite for honeymoon couples, the island fringed by a turquoise lagoon and golden sands can’t help to inspire romance. The over water villas are located on a walkway to one end of the island, if you’re looking for a special treat, these are for you, with spacious terraces leading to your own steps into the ocean you really don’t need to leave your room. Out of all the resorts, Naladhu was my favourite. This small and exclusive private island is home to just 20 stunning houses all with private pools, 24 hour dedicated butler service, private dining and in-house spa service while still offering access to all the facilities at the sister resorts. The resorts dining facility, the Living Room is open 24/7, its ethos is that the resort is the guests’ home and as such they are able to access what they want, when they want. As most guests come to the island for privacy and relaxation, it’s common for guests to stay in their large and luxurious villas and therefore you really feel like you’re the only ones on the island. If guests want to explore, they can walk over the bridge to Veli but only Naladhu guests can gain access back to the island. The resorts offer 6 restaurants and 2 bars between them, while each offers a different menu, they all offer spectacular views and the finest dining you could wish for. I enjoyed a sumptuous 5 course dinner at Sea.Fire.Salt located at the water’s edge, with Asparagus Cappuccino as an amuse bouche and Maldivian Tuna Fillet on the menu you know this is going to be a great dining experience. The next night we decided to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at Dhoni Bar and then to dine at Origami, a modern Japanese restaurant on Veli which provides live theatre with its teppanyaki kitchen. If you’re celebrating a special occasion the resorts “dining by design” program offers you a choice of unique and intimate dining experiences from torchlit beach side dinners with movie for 2 experience to an on the water private floating pontoon. If you’re not the type of person to just sunbathe for 6 hours a day, the resort offers a range of activities. Whether you’d like to try water-skiing, wake or knee boarding, take a snorkelling trip to look for turtles or sharks or sail off on a sunset cruise, enjoy a game of tennis, the gym or a meditation session, there’s something for everyone. Children don’t miss out either with the Dhoni club offering an exciting indoor and outdoor playspace while for under 3’s, babysitting services are available. One of the highlights at Dhigu is the spa, located over the water I can attest that the Signature Massage is 60 minutes of pure bliss. What sets these resorts apart are their service levels, Thomas the Resort Manager at Naladhu and his staff go above and beyond, whatever you want or need, however weird and wonderful, at whatever time of day, they will provide. With over nearly 40% of their guests being repeat customers and some guests returning for their 20th visit, you know they’re offering something special. After a blissful three days, unfortunately it was time to leave and head back to Male to catch the seaplane to our next destination.
23 June 2019
Once you arrive in Male, the seaplane check in desks are right outside arrivals and the actual terminal is only a 10-minute drive away. You simply check in, drop your cases off and the next time you see them they’re in the room at your hotel. I’ve always wanted to experience a seaplane journey but wasn’t sure what to expect. Relaxing in the hotel's private lounge, I enjoyed some lovely refreshments and got the chance to use the complimentary wi-fi, then we were called to Gate 1 and quickly whisked on board. The planes seat around 15 people, it is a little cosy inside, with a very narrow aisle and your luggage is stacked at the back of the seats. Also don’t worry about the pilots being barefoot, that’s completely normal! Seaplanes are more expensive than speedboats, but I promise the views more than make up for that, it was like I was in the middle of a Yayoi Kusama painting, random paint splats of ice-cold blue, gold and green scattered amongst the vast expanse of ocean. Niyama is a much bigger resort. Spread over two islands interconnected by a wooden bridge, “Play” (aimed at surfers and families) and “Chill” (aimed at couples and larger families) offer a wealth of activities for all the family. Niyama is a much more active resort, with a daily calendar of activities ranging from aqua Zumba and beach volleyball, to coconut painting and bracelet making. With one of the largest water based offerings, you can gain your Padi qualification, go snorkelling, parasailing or jet skiing to name a few, plus it’s one of the only resorts in the Maldives with a surf school, the chance to try a Seabob and even the new craze; jet packing. There’s a 24/7 fitness centre on site, a games room with everything from Xbox stations, pool table and table tennis to a mini cinema and even a golf simulator (both for private hire). For children, the kids club is extensive, with a water zone, climbing wall, stage and trampoline etc. At USD $20-30++ per hour it’s not cheap but with children accepted from 12 months and babysitting also available, it offers a nice respite if mum and dad need some alone time. One of the strong points about Niyama is its restaurant offerings, they’ve been creative in developing unique environments. Epicure is an airy indoor restaurant that's perfect for a leisurely breakfast and then there's a fantastic outdoor beach restaurant called Dune that offers a wide-ranging menu at lunchtime. Fancy dining on elevated walkways in the rain forest? Try “Nest” with its eclectic Asian influenced menu, visit an African village setting at “Tribal” and enjoy a 72-day dry aged steak. How about dining offshore at the seafood restaurant “Edge” and then going 6m under water and having cocktails at Subsix. For late night drinks you can also relax in the rooftop lounge Fahrenheit which features live music and DJ's in the evenings. I was lucky to be spending 4 nights in a beach pool villa and I have to say I was thoroughly spoilt. A humongous main room with king sized bed, private deck and pool with direct beachfront access beautifully screened behind masses of vegetation. The outdoor bathroom once again was beyond words, Bali inspired with two outdoor showers, soaking tub and lovely amenities. There’s a huge array of accommodation on the islands, from water villas to beautiful two-bedroom pavilions. Larger families will love the 3-bedroom beach pool pavilion with secluded beach, two giant pools and spa treatment room. For large groups (up to 14 adults and 8 children), you can even rent The Crescent, 5 overwater secluded villas with their own walkway, private chef and 2 dedicated butlers plus a whole host of other benefits. With a whole host of celebrities and royalty known to frequent Niyama, you know you'll be in great company. I always knew that a trip to the Maldives was going to be special, but my preconceptions of this being for honeymooners only has been well and truly turned on its head. The Maldives is the perfect luxurious holiday destination for anyone, whether you like complete relaxation, fun packed days, crave seclusion or are part of a group, there’s an island and a resort to suit you perfectly.
05 November 2018
If you want a short break away in a picture postcard city, then Bruges has to come top of the list. The capital and largest city in West Flanders, Bruges is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and a 90-minute train ride away from Brussels Airport. The city centre is so picturesque, think cute winding streets, cobbles galore and a network of canals that criss-cross the city and give it its nickname of “Venice of the North”. The historic city centre claims the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can still see today why it was once one of the world’s greatest commercial cities. My accommodation was the beautiful 4 Star Grand Hotel Casselbergh, created from three historical residences known as “Cassellbergh”, “Zeven Torens” and “t’Fransch Schildt”, which were previously owned by local aristocracy. For the first day I’d booked a walking tour and was meeting in the main market square (Grote Markt) close to the iconic clock tower or the “Belfry of Bruges”. Originally housing the treasury and town’s archives, today you can climb the 366 steps up to the top (warning the staircase is narrow and steep) for wonderful views. Make sure to get there early though to miss the crowds. The main square is flanked by the Provincial Government Palace, the Historium and cafes selling all your traditional Belgium favourites like Flemish Stew. The Historium is a fun, interactive experience that takes you back to the golden age of Bruges through seven historically themed multi-media rooms. Wandering past the belfry you come to the old cloth halls, where market traders used to sell their wares, from here it’s easy to get lost as a lot of the winding roads all look the same with pretty, red brick coloured houses. One of the many interesting buildings is the Gruuthuse Museum, while currently being renovated (opens Spring 2019), this luxurious city palace houses an amazing collection of silver, furniture and sculpture. A few minutes round the bend you come to Sint-Janshospital, over 800 years old, the hospital used to be managed by monks and nuns who took care of the sick and poor. It’s definitely worth wandering around the complex and visiting the old dormitory and pharmacy. From churches, monasteries and abbeys the city has an amazing ecclesiastical heritage. Two of note well worth seeing are the Church of Our Lady and St. Saviours Cathedral. Crossing the canals, you come to a lovely little street called Wijngaardstraat with the old horse head fountain and some of the prettiest houses. Crossing the bridge you come to Beginhof, a walled community inhabited by the Order of St. Benedict nuns featuring a serene garden and white coloured houses. On the return pass by the masses of infamous swans chilling out by the canal side. Swans are revered in Bruges but the reason for their existence is subject to debate. The most gruesome tale is that of Pieter Lanchals, the right-hand man of Emperor Maximillian of Austria. The story goes that the emperor lost his wife in a hunting accident in Bruges and as such heavily taxed the city. On visiting the city years after he was taken captive and was forced to watch the beheading of his advisor, whose surname meant “long neck” in Old Dutch. He eventually was released but ordered the city to pay penance by decreeing they must always keep “long necks” in its canals. The city continues to honour this tradition and ensures the number never drops below 100. Looping back, it’s worth a quick visit to the De Halve Maan brewery, down a little alley there’s a glass window where you can see the beer pipes under the ground and you can taste the locally brewed Zot beer. A fun way to see the city is to take a horse and carriage ride (€50) or a boat trip (€8). I took to the water and enjoyed a leisurely 30-minute tour of the canals with a comedic Belgian captain. Bruges features a wealth of outdoor sculptures, some of the best I came across were by Rik Poot, created 1981 – 87, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are simple yet striking bronze pieces in the museum quarter. Also not to be missed is “Skyscraper” (The Bruges Whale), a gigantic sculpture sited in the canal near the Jan van Eyck statue. Constructed from waste plastic collected from Hawaii beaches, US artists Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang are trying to raise awareness of the universal problem of ocean pollution. Make sure to visit Burg Square if you love architecture. The buildings are in a wide variety of styles from Neo-Classicist to Renaissance and dating back to Gothic and the beautiful Town Hall or Stadhuis that was built in 1376. The square was one of the earliest inhabited areas of the city and also features the Old Civil Registry/Old Court House, the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, my favourite building of all with its gorgeous golden statues and medallions of the Flanders Counts. Bruges features some of the best restaurants in Belgium and its fast food is also a cut above the rest. With lovely crispy fries, golden waffles available on every corner topped with fruit and cream or dripping with chocolate sauce, and arguably the best (and in some cases the strongest) tasting beer in Europe, not to mention the sumptuous chocolate shops selling everything from truffles to chocolate tools, it’s definitely not good if you are on a diet! For the final day we decided the explore the east side of the city. Our first stop was St. Anna’s Church, built in the 17th century, the architecture reflects its simple Gothic influence but surprisingly holds a wonderful Baroque interior with carved wooden panels and the largest single painting in Bruges – courtesy of past wealthy patron’s donations. Just round the corner you can stop at the Kant Museum (the lace centre is housed in the renovated old lace school) and the Folklore Museum (housed in a row of cute, whitewashed 17th-century dwellings, you can explore an old pharmacy and classroom and even see old costumes). We continued further east to our final destination. Close to the old city walls four windmills line the river bank. There used to be 29 mills in Bruges, the majority being grain mills. Sint-Janshuismolen is a hollow post wooden mill and was constructed on the orders of 26 bakers in 1770! If you pay €4, you can actually climb the steep steps and go inside to see the millstones and giant wooden cogs. Bruges you’ll be in my memories and on my waistline for a long time!
05 November 2018
Zanzibar or "Spice Island” is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and located 25kms off the mainland in the Indian Ocean. The area is made up of the main island “Unguja” or Zanzibar, Pemba Island and lots of smaller islands. I was staying at the Zanzibar Serena Hotel, located in Stone Town about 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel has been lovingly transformed from an old colonial building and it’s got one of the best swimming pools in the town. For day one I booked a walking tour to understand a little more about the history of this World Heritage Site. First stop was Freddie Mercury’s place of birth and where he lived until age 7, unfortunately you can’t go inside but it was cool to see where this amazing musician got his start in life. Next up was the Old Fort (Arab Fort), it's mainly ruins with a couple of turrets but worth a quick visit as it’s also the site of the Zanzibar Film Festival. Close by is Forodhani Gardens, the site of the original port and behind is the House of Wonder, once owned by the Sultan and used for ceremonial duties while next door is the Sultan’s Palace, you can go inside and take a short, guided tour. Moving along the seafront you’ll pass the Customs House, used to collect customs duties from merchants and then the Old Dispensary which are now government offices. Across town the Central Market, trades all manner of products from spices and cloth to fruit and vegetables. The most interesting area were the meat and fish sections – while the stench of live butchering was not for those with weak stomachs, it was interesting to see the auctions taking place. The Slave Market and Cathedral are main tourist sites. The museum explains about the slave trade and its impact on the local people and culture of the island. Originally developed by the British, they later pushed for abolishment with Dr Livingstone being one of the key advocates. Outside in the grounds is a thought-provoking statue of oversized slaves in chains, you can also go down into the cellar and see the holding pens where slaves would have been held prior to sale. The Cathedral is built on the site of the market square where the tree stood which the slaves were tied to. The tour ended at Tipu Tip’s house, the famous Arab trader who built up a large empire in Eastern Congo on the back of slave trading. To lighten up my mood after all the deep and dark history, I took a stroll down Kenyatta Road and Gizenga Street to purchase some lovely handcrafted souvenirs. Zanzibar has such rich history that it seemed a shame to just lie on one of its stunning silver sand beaches for the duration of my holiday so I hired a local driver to explore the island's West coast. Our first stop was the Mtoni Palace Ruins located just north of Stone Town. The name which means “place by the river” is the oldest palace in Zanzibar and was built between 1828 and 1834 for Sultan Said. The palace is in ruins after a fire in 1914, but large walled areas still remain and a guide showed me photos and floor plans as to what the palace would have been like in its heyday. Up to 1,000 people would have been linked to the palace and the Sultan used the property to entertain VIPs. At the back of the palace is a large enclosed grassed area where the Sultan’s daughters would have taken pony rides and where peacocks and flamingos roamed. Circling this area were the Sultan’s bathhouse, aqueduct and outside lavatories. Close by are the Kibweni Palace Ruins, the building looked lovely but unfortunately, it’s now Presidential Offices so you’re not allowed to visit. Carrying on up the west coast you pass through Bububu, a fairly lively town, whose name is derived from the noise of the railway locomotives that ran between 1904 and 1929 covering the edge of the clove plantation to Stone Town. 20 minutes further up the coast close to Mangwapani (Arab Beach) is Coral Cave. After the British made slave trading illegal in 1845 with a treaty with Sultan Barghash, several slave traders were determined to keep their livelihood going in secret. The cave is a very deep, natural underground chamber, the entrance has been widened now for tourists to enter and handrail added to the steep stone carved steps. We took torches down as it was absolute pitch black at the bottom, my guide took me down through the slippery coral rock to the tunnel that led underground to the sea, so that the slaves could be secreted away without being seen. A few minutes away are the Slave Chambers, a man-made concrete prison where illegal slaves were held in same-sex pens with only small skylights to let in some light. You can still see the holes on the wall where their chains were attached. Both these places were chilling but fascinating to visit. We continued north passing Mikokotoni, a bustling fishing village with a market was in full swing selling fruit and vegetables. Our final stop was the idyllic Kendwa Beach which stretches for miles, offers pure golden sand and is extremely clean. There are your usual hawkers selling all manner of goods and the beach is lined by high-quality hotel complexes. Kendwa has become known as the place to come for the monthly Full Moon Parties. Just a word of warning, the beach is not accessible at high tide so make sure you get back to your location as otherwise you’ll be stuck trying to navigate the back roads or paying out $20 for a boat trip back. On my final day I visited Cheetah’s Rock located near to Kama Village. This once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done! Cheetah’s Rock is a rescue and conservation centre, in addition to meeting rescued wild animals, you also get in-depth information on their welfare, wildlife conservation and get an insight into the work the team are doing around the world helping to protect and conserve endangered species. What’s different about this centre is that you actually get up close and personal with the animals. Imagine hand feeding a 290lb male lion and hyena, sitting in a white lion’s enclosure as Savannah a 90lb lioness prowls around brushing your legs or sat in the enclosure with Maktoum and Sharqi, two Cheetah brothers as they showcase their hunting skills. None of the animals have been drugged, declawed or defanged – they have had hours of time spent with the team learning that with 100% positive reinforcement man and animal can get close without either party being stressed or come to harm.
05 November 2018
There aren’t any direct flights from Manchester, so I flew with Emirates to Dubai and then onto Kilimanjaro. I’d pre-arranged transport and after a 70-minute drive reached Arusha – my home for one night. I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in the centre of town near the Clock Tower, which marks the spot halfway between Cairo and Cape Town. A good-sized town, Arusha’s Central Market is a hectic but interesting place to visit, here you can find unusual spices and foods or if you enjoy bargaining, visit the Masai Market. If you enjoy shopping, there are three main malls with food courts and entertainment. I would recommend visiting the Cultural Heritage Centre which is on the outskirts; there’s a host of curio shops here selling jewellery, antiques and local crafts. I was picked up at 8am to head out on the long drive to the Serengeti. I was pleased to see the Land Cruiser was robust with a raised ceiling for great game viewing and cushions on the seats to prepare for the rocky roads ahead. On the way you pass through small town after small town of ramshackle shops and ladies wearing the most beautiful and bright outfits you’ve ever seen. The first national park we hit was Lake Manyara known for its large flamingo population. We continued onwards, climbing steeply through rainforest and along bumpy roads up to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. This national park has one of the highest density of animals in the world. The crater is a huge depression in the landscape and jaw-dropping to see. After a quick photo stop we continued to a picnic site and bumped into a giant marabou stork and watched a Belgium couple get dive bombed by a black kite! After lunch we continued around the crater, passing Masai tending to livestock and saw our first few game sightings – a group of zebras and a giraffe. Continuing along uneven terrain we finally reached the gates of Serengeti and entered for an amazing 4-hour game drive. From giant impala to warthogs, buffalo and elephants to crocodiles and baboons we were spoilt. The two best parts of the day were the hyena who were stopped in the road and the pride of lions we saw cooling off in the shade. The dirt tracks can be pretty precarious so expect to be bounced around but it’s all good fun – we actually ended up rescuing a pair of honeymooners whose jeep had broken its chassis and dropped them off at their lodge. I stayed at the Sopa Lodge with amazing views over the Serengeti plain – the rooms were large and comfortable, the restaurant served high-quality food and the staff could not have been more welcoming. After an early 7.30am start, the animal viewing started pretty much immediately with a herd of over 30 elephants passing by the vehicle. From there around the next bend we came across zebras and multiple types of antelope. We were out for a full 11 hours today so I hoped that we’d see a lot and the Serengeti didn’t disappoint. We were fortunate to see a lioness with four cubs resting under a bush, a group of 10 lions hanging out on a rock and then a couple of hours later we spotted a cheetah and her two cubs with a fresh kill. Next up were herds of water buffalo which can be fairly intimidating when staring right at you! We drove around various water holes and saw some amazing birdlife from the giant secretary to plovers, storks and a kori bustard to name a few. We also spotted groups of hippos wallowing in the mud – at one point there had to be well over 50. We saw a hyena chase a baboon and jackals, at least three types of monkeys including the velvet monkey, plus a ringed mongoose and tree hyrax. An unbelievable day today! Set off from the lodge and immediately came across two male lions and a short distance away the remains of a water buffalo carcass that was being attacked by vultures and a hyena. Next up was a herd of elephants that were busy breaking tree branches and surrounded the jeep as they walked across the road. We had a quiet spell as we drove around the vast plains but then the driver’s walkie-talkie blasted to life – he spun the jeep around and we got there just in time to see a leopard lounging in a tree before he took over after a group of gazelles. Then we had another call and raced over to a small river to watch a group of lions who headed our way and came within two feet of our vehicle! The rest of the day we saw plenty of other animals and birds including an eagle and watched c.400 water buffalo take ownership of the plain as they headed to a waterhole. In the afternoon we headed to the Ngorongoro Crater where I’d be spending one night. We stopped at a Masai village on route which was something I’ve been longing to do. After a $50 donation to the village, I was thrilled to watch a welcome dance and song by both the village, then I was taken around by the chief’s son, and he explained how the Masai live, showed me inside their huts, I met the children in the school house and then purchased some handmade souvenirs. The hotel was perched on the rim of the crater with amazing views down into the game viewing area and only 15 minutes from the descent road. The crater has a much different weather pattern than the Serengeti so heavy mist/cloud cover hangs over the area and makes the temperature very cool with a good chance of drizzle. The crater is home to an amazing collection of animals, that thrive with the great vegetation and constant access to fresh water. As soon as we entered the park we came across a family of baboons busy grooming one another, then close by we had to stop the jeep to allow what seemed like 1,000 water buffalo and wildebeest cross the road. While the variety of animals we saw in the crater didn’t seem to match the Serengeti, the sheer number of animals we came across was immense. From large dazzles or herds of Zebra, groups of roaming elephants and at least five different prides of lions (including a poor male who had been in a recent fight). The birdlife was amazing with pelicans, grey-crowned cranes and masses of flamingos. You won’t find giraffes actually in the crater itself, but we saw three amble across the rim way above us. The highlight of the day was spotting a black rhino and her baby, while too far away to take a decent photograph, just being able to see them in their natural habitat made my day. After a great final game drive, it was then time to head the three hours back to Arusha to rest up and get ready for the next part of my Africa adventure.
15 July 2018
My favourite artist Ed Sheeran was playing in my home town, but I just wasn't quick enough to secure tickets, hence why I'm now at Stockport Station and in less than three hours I’ll be in the land of the Toons. Newcastle. One of the most iconic cities in the UK with its industrial heritage, scenic bridges and lively nightlife. I'd booked a three-day weekend – plenty of time to explore the sights and sample the infamous Geordie hospitality. My hotel, Hampton by the Hilton was literally across the street from the train station and while it’s 1970’s dreary façade was a little off putting, inside the friendly staff, clean and modern bedroom, 24/7 bar and help yourself breakfast made up for it. I’d brought along my mum for the trip and promised her an afternoon of shopping. What’s nice about the city is that everything is close by and very walkable – a quick 5-minute walk to Grey’s Monument and you were in the middle of shopping heaven. Whether you prefer the big high street retailers on Northumberland Street or in the Intu Centre at Eldon Square, the infamous Fenwick or the independents in Central Arcade or Grainger Market you’re spoilt for choice. Newcastle is known as a creative hub so make sure to look out for local street artists work. Check out Sean Henry’s “Man with Potential Selves” consisting of three bronze, 2.5m tall statues. Admire the region’s “Famous Faces” mural by miner turned artist Bob Olley and don’t miss “Nine Things To Do On A Bench” glass etchings on the back of various benches, a lovely collaboration between Cate Watkinson and Julia Darling. Being on holiday gives you license to dine out and the difficult part was deciding where to go. Newcastle offers every type and price range of dining option. Given it’s a university city there’s the usual plethora of fast food joints but also fine dining establishments. We dined at Jamie’s Italian, Mr Oliver’s franchise and then found a great hole in the wall Italian joint called Roberto’s La Dolce Vita. The décor was typical, and it needed a spruce of paint but what amazing food and service – huge portions (pizza’s like flying saucers!), fresh ingredients and quick service. After dinner, we hit the row of bars on Westgate Road/Collingwood. The area is made up of the usual UK big city chain pubs so don't expect anything unique but with a mix of lovely stone facades, outdoor seating, live music, fruity cocktails and hearty pub food you can’t go wrong: The Mile Castle – A Wetherspoon’s pub, in the imposing Grade II former National Savings Bank, download the app so you can order drinks from your table. The Waiting Rooms – a modern narrow style pub stretching nearly a whole block, eclectic seating, known for specialty gins and award-winning pies. The Union Rooms – with bars set over two floors this venue packs in a crowd with its Sky Sports offering. The Laundrette – a Manchester implant, think cocktails and carbs, more of a restaurant, you have to order food if you are drinking. Revolution Bar – another bank conversion, 30ft ceilings, marble pillars and leather banquettes with a lounge like atmosphere. On Sunday I’d booked a tour through Newcastle Gateshead Tourist Information with a local volunteer, meeting outside the JG Music Store. Brilliant value at £5 for a 90-minute walk with a wonderful narrative of the local history. My “avourite sights: Grainger/Grey Street Grey’s Monument – Grade I listed monument built in 1838 for Charles Grey, ex British Prime Minister who gave his name to Earl Grey tea! You can climb the 164 steps to the top on a guided tour but book early as slots sell out quick. Grainger Town – beautiful development of 1830’s classical buildings that are part of Newcastle’s Central Conservation Area. Built by Richard Grainger, the 450 buildings are mainly four storeys high and feature a mixture of turrets, domes and stone columns. Theatre Royal – designed by brothers John and Benjamin Green, the theatre opened in 1837 but was sadly ravaged by a major fire in 1899, now restored to its former glory the theatre hosts national British tours. Old Newcastle St Nicholas Cathedral – Over 900 years old, this Church of England place of worship is the seat of the Bishop of Newcastle, look inside at the wonderful craftsmanship of the alter carvings and stained-glass windows. Castle and Keep – Dating back to Roman times, the site has seen a turbulent past evolving from a timber fort to its current stone incarnation built by King Henry II. Today you can visit the Black Gate and Castle Keep, which have been lovingly restored and it’s a great place to learn about how the city got its name. Old City Walls – the defensive walls date back to the 13th century and helped secure the town from Scottish invasion, originally 2 miles long, large areas were demolished over time but check out the remains on the western side near Stowell Street. Bessie Surtees House – close to the quayside, this 16th century Jacobean merchant’s house holds the tale of requited love as high society Bessie climbed down from the first-floor window to elope with John Scott, a lowly coal merchant’s son who eventually became the Lord Chancellor of England. The Quayside Sage Gateshead - you can’t miss the imposing silver snail like structure that dominates the skyline and is one of the premier live music venues in the UK, offering a whole host of concerts, festivals and workshops. Millennium Bridge – the winning design from a council competition in 1996, is the world’s first and only tilting bridge. Spanning the River Tyne, the bridge allows pedestrians and cyclists access to the Gateshead’s Quays arts quarter. Make sure to get quayside for 12noon to see the bridge in action. Baltic Centre – a former flour mill, now a centre for contemporary art, featuring frequently changing exhibits from international and local artists alike. Don’t miss the 6th floor rooftop restaurant for amazing views. Sunday market – check out the artisan market selling all manner of tasty local treats and handcrafted goods. Highly recommend New Vintage Boutique where I picked up a lovely summer top. St James’s Park Football Stadium – home of Newcastle’s Premier League Football Team. The 52,000-seat stadium is only a 10 minute walk from the centre and as well as football matches, also hosts major international music acts and conferences. You can even don a hard hat and enjoy a rooftop tour! And as they say up north “seeya, gan canney fre noo!”
Greater Manchester 02/06/2023
Colorado, USA 10/04/2023
Texas, USA 22/03/2023
North Yorkshire 07/02/2023
North Yorkshire 07/02/2022
Texas, USA 29/05/2021
South Manchester 20/11/2019
Seattle, USA 06/11/2019
Bramhall, Cheshire 25/04/2019
Bolton, Lancashire 14/03/2019
Bramhall, Cheshire 11/03/2019
Greater Manchester 13/02/2019
California, USA 27/11/2018
St. Helen's 26/11/2018
New York, USA 19/11/2018
East Sussex 27/08/2018