Posts tagged ‘perfect places’

May 22, 2010

fun stuff {happy weekend}

This weekend I would like to be here thank you please…

I have always had a bit of an obcession with Mauritius and the luxury cabins you see over the water.

For now I will have to keep on dreaming… but one day I will go!

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May 8, 2010

perfect places {Cádiz, Spain}

During my student days and my living abroad phase I spent a total of about 2 years living in the beautiful Province of Cádiz in the south of Spain so it is like a second home to me.  Far from the touristy and built up coast of Malaga, Cádiz still maintains it´s rustic charm.  Its coastline has not been exploited like that of Malaga and the people who live there are renowned for their good sense of humour and generosity.  If you want to escape the crowds of tourists that swarm the coast of Malaga in summertime, experience real Spain and meet some great people along the way this is definitely the place to come to!

About the accommodation – Where to stay depends on what you are looking for.  There are numerous fabulous little villages tucked away in the hills such as Arcos de la Frontera or Zahara de la Sierra and some great coastal villages such as Tarifa (the kite surfer´s paradise).  However I would recommend being based in the beautiful Capital, Cádiz.  Cádiz has it all; from beautiful white beaches to history and charm.  From here you can hire a car and explore the surrounding area.

As it is not a very touristy city there is only a small choice of hotels.  If you are looking to splash out I would suggest staying at the splendid Hotel Playa Victoria.  The hotel is based in the new part of town but at only 5 minutes taxi ride from the bustling cobbled streets of the Old Part (Casco Histórico) and offering fantastic views it is definitely worth it.  On the other hand, if you would prefer to be in the Old Part, you could stay in the Hotel de Francia y Paris where you will be right amongst the hustle and bustle.  Top Tip: if you are hiring a car make sure you reserve a parking space when you book your hotel – parking in Cadiz is practically impossible!

If you are looking to do things more on a budget there are several good hostels in Cádiz.  Make sure you book in advance as they are always very booked up.  I would avoid Casa Caracol as it is always full of Americans – not real the traditional Spanish vibe you are looking for.

About the sights – There is an endless list of things to do and see in the Province of Cádiz and it would take me all day to write about them, so instead here are my top 10 things that you must see and do during your stay.

(1) Take a day to wander around the Old Part of Cádiz.  Take in the awesome Cathedral that took over 100 years to complete and demonstrates Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical elements.  Watch the boats passing by and the washing flapping in the wind while listening to a detailed tour of the city at the Camara Obscura. As evening draws in, eat tapas and soak up the atmosphere in the Barrio Pópulo and then make your way to the most famous ice cream parlour in Cadiz in Plaza Mina (you will know you have found it because of the queues).

(2) Visit a White Village (pueblo blanco) or 3.  Each white village has its own charm and personality – (I could happily explore every single white village in the whole of Andalusia).  Those that have “de la Frontera” in their name were part of the network of fortresses that were built to keep the Moors out.  Generally built on the top of a cliff they offer fantastic views and intriguing histories.  Among some of my favourites are:  Arcos de la Frontera, Castellar de la Frontera, Zahara de la Sierra and Rota.

(3) Have a go at Kite Surfing, hang out in the trendy bars and wander the historic streets of Tarifa.  At the most southerly point of Europe and the place where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, the high winds and long beaches make it the ideal spot for Kite Surfing.  However, even if you are not much of a water sport fanatic Tarifa is definitely worth a visit.

(4) Whale watching.  You can book your tickets over the internet or in one of the many little shops that you will find dotted around Tarifa.  If you are visiting at the right time of year this is a must-do and you will not be disappointed.  Sightings are guaranteed!  Check out the website for more details.

(5) Visit the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre (The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art) and attend a show where you will see the maginificant purebred Andalusian horses dance.  Even for the most cynical non-horsey people this show will take your breath away.

(6) The word “Sherry” comes from the name of the Andalusian city “Jerez” which is located at the heart of the Sherry Triangle.  The Sherry Triangle is the only place in the world that produces the fortified wine that can be officially named “Sherry”.  Visit the Tio Pepe Bodega where you can have a detailed and interesting tour of the Bodega in English followed by a tasting session!

(7) Hop in the car and explore the innumerable beaches, coves and caves that line the coast from Cádiz to Tarifa.  Don´t plan where you will go – just explore.  Keep the coast on your right and stop at anything that takes your interest.  Highlights will include the awesome Caños de Meca, the Sand Dune at Playa Bolonia and much more!

(8) In the months of June – August each village and city in the Province of Cádiz takes its turn to hold their local fayre.  The fayre normally starts on Tuesday and finishes on the Sunday evening.  There are 3 main parts to the fayre; the rides; the music tents (casetas); and the horses.  The best time to go is early afternoon when you will see the Spanish women in their traditional flamenco dresses and the Gentlemen in the traditional suits parading up and down the main stretch on the beautiful Andalusian horses and towing carriages with a glass of rebujito in their hand (a mix of sherry and lemonade).  As the evening draws in the crowds move into the casetas where they continue to drink and dance.  Some casetas play only traditional flamenco music where the women and men go to dance in their traditional outfits, while others have more of a modern twist.  My favourite fayres are the Feria del Caballo (Jerez) and the Feria del Puerto de Santa Maria.  The Feria de Sevilla is the most famous but the casetas are private whereas in all the others entry is open to anyone.

(9) Try the “pescaito frito” (fried fish).  This is the most typical dish in the Province of Cádiz.  You can order raciones (a whole plate), media raciones (half a plate) or tapas (a very small portion).  There are numerous different varieties of fish so if you are unsure what to order simply order a mixed dish with a bit of everything.

(10) Make sure you take time to enjoy the beaches.  Visit the Caleta on a Sunday in the Old Part of Cádiz and marvel at the way the Gaditanos (people from Cádiz) picnic (tables, chairs, beer, Spanish omelette, bingo…and more!)

About the transport – The public transport system in Cadiz is actually fairly good.  Local buses run regularly between all the main cities and villages.  Portillo and Comes are the main bus companies and you can find timetables and other information on their websites (although if you don´t understand Spanish it could be a bit difficult).  The local train services are also excellent and very reasonable, check timetables here.  However, in my opinion the best way to explore is by car – hire a car from any of the local airports or you will find offices based in all the major cities.

To sum up – the Province of Cádiz is one of the gems of Spain.  Still largely unaffected by the mainstream tourist industry you will find the real Spain here!  Take the time to explore and get to know the locals who are always up for good laugh with the guiris (foreigners).

May 4, 2010

happiness {picnics}

My wondering imagination and the gorgeous Cath Kidston hamper that featured in my blog yesterday got me thinking about how to organise a great picnic on a budget and avoiding the usual soggy sandwiches and warm Fanta.

Here´s what I came up with:

Take one:

4 Person Picnic Hamper, £45 from Next online:

Set contains 4 porcelain plates, 4 acrylic wine glasses, 4 napkins, 4 stainless steel knives,
forks and spoons, bottle opener and an insulated cool section.

Add one: Waterproof picnic blanket, £25.95 from The Pod Company

Chuck in one: Pink Ice Bag Wine Cooler Champagne Bucket, from £1.85 on Ebay

Mix together: a selection of finger foods including cold meats, cheeses, olives, foccaccia bread (follow Miss Cay´s recipe on the Domestic Sluttery website)

Treat yourself to a bottle of Lanson Black Label Champagne (OK now I´m really dreaming but it could always be substituted with more bank-account-friendly alternatives)

And to finish off nibble on some: Green And Black’s hazelnut And Currant Dark Chocolate (or your preferred alternative)

And there you have it – one squashed sandwich and warm drinks free picnic that doesn´t break the bank!

April 30, 2010

perfect places {Brussels}

This week I had to go to Brussels on business.  Normally I am thrilled to have a trip paid on expenses; a few nights in a nice hotel; dinner on my boss and a chance to see a new place!  Yet this time I don´t know why but I really didn´t want to go.  Furthermore, I left booking a hotel until the last-minute due to the ash cloud (I think I was secretly hoping that my flights would be cancelled) and there was not ONE single hotel with a free room in the whole of Brussels, so I ended up in a hostel that supposedly had a “hostel” part and a “hotel” part: Sleepwell (I think the name speaks for itself)

About the accommodation – one thing is for certain in this hostel one does NOT “sleepwell”.  For the first two days I was supposedly in the “hotel” part of the hostel but all of the rooms were filled with school kids who were running around the corridors until about 1 am.  The curtains did not block out the light and the hotel room was so hot that I had to sleep with the window open and was subjected to the chatter of teenagers in the courtyard until 1 am and was then woken by the noises of the building site next door at 7am.  However the price is reasonable and the location is excellent – about 10 minutes walk from the Grande Place and all the must-see sights.  If you are looking for somewhere cheap and central Sleepwell is great, however if you’re looking to relax and be pampered this hostel is not for you (Top tip:  Have a look around Place Rogier for good hotels).

About the sights- as I was on business I did not get to explore much, however I saw the main things that one must see if you go to Brussels.

*Delirium café: A great spot for a pre/post dinner drink this funky bar set in an 18th Century Cave boasts over 2000 varieties of beer.  There is something for everyone even if you´re not that keen on beer – I tried a cherry one and it was delicious!  Check out the menu before on their website so you know what you´re ordering, or if your feeling risky simply pick one on the day and hope for the best.

*Mannekin Pis: This is a small statue of a boy weeing designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in place between 1618 and 1619.  There are several legends about what the statue represents.  They change his outfit several times a week… I caught him in some kind of army uniform…

…there is also now a girl version nearby so have a wander and see if you can spot her.

*La Grande Place:  This is the hub of all things touristy.  Surrounding the square you will find the Town Hall, the Breadhouse and numerous Guildhalls.  In the nearby streets there are innumerable bars, restaurants and chocolate shops.  Obviously the prices will be hiked up, but it is worth it to soak up that atmosphere and try the infamous “Mussels and Chips” (Moules et frites).

*Atomium: This is the final place on the must-see list.  I only saw it from as distance as the event that I was attending was based in the rather spectacular grounds of the Brussels Exhibition Centre but I did not enter.  Each sphere contains a different exhibition, some that are permanent and some that are changed regularly.  There is also a haute-cuisine restaurant at the top – so if you are looking to spoil that special someone, or you have saved money on accommodation by staying at Sleepwell and feel that you deserve to splash the cash – book a table here!

Of course there is much more to see in Brussels including the European Quarter where the European Parlement is based and also the surrounding villages.  Check out the Lonely Planet website for more ideas.

About the Transport:  Public transport in Brussels is fairly well-run.  The metro system is excellent and fairly cheap (make sure you carry some coins on you as the ticket machines don´t accept notes and they wouldn´t accept my card).  It works pretty much the same way as the Underground in London.  A one trip ticket will cost you 1euro 70cents and you can go as far as you like, however it may be worth buying a multi-jump ticket for several days sightseeing.  Taxis are also fairly reasonable, I ended up getting one to the airport for 25 euros rather than taking the train for 7 euros 50 and a taxi to the train station for 10 euros.  If there are several of you it is definitely worth chipping in and saving yourselves the hassle of public transport with all your luggage.

Warning:  beware of the taxi drivers trying to scam you.  Make sure you check with your hotel roughly how much a journey should cost and then agree the price with the taxi driver before you set off.

To sum up:  I enjoyed Brussels, it is an extremely vibrant, multicultural and cosmopolitan city that is worth seeing – however I think if I was paying for the trip as a weekend city break I would much rather see Rome or Prague.