Travel

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Sorrento and Amalfi Coast Itinerary

A few people have asked me how we planned our recent trip that covered Sorrento, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast so I thought it would be easier to point people to this blog post and show how you can make this dream trip a reality without breaking the bank.

Tour operators and travel agents will try to convince you that trips like this are too hard too plan on your own and you should be paying around £1,200 per person to let someone else do this for you, but it really isn’t unrealistic to book a holiday like this for around £900 (or less) per couple in June which makes this beautiful trip much more affordable.

Depending on where you are located in the UK, your first job is to secure cheap flights to Naples and you need to do this sooner rather than later, but once you have your flights, the fun part of planning the trip can begin.  (more…)

marrakeche

3 Nights in Marrakech

Back in January, I was browsing HotUKDeals during my lunch hour and came across a 3 night break in Marrakech for two people with a mouth watering and tempting total price of £259 . This price included flights and accommodation at the Las Palmeras Hotel in a deluxe room that also offered free breakfast and Wi-Fi. Could I afford this trip? Probably not, but this a bargain that I couldn’t walk away from and it was all booked up before I had time to talk myself out of it.

Everyone has a guilty pleasure of looking up destinations and accommodation on the infamous website Trip Advisor where it never ceases to amaze me how so many people like to complain at the smallest thing and how you can read through 100 positive comments but only pay attention to the handful of negatives.

Our booked accommodation the Las Palmeras Hotel gets very mixed reviews on Trip Advisor that can be summed up by the following.

Positives

  • Quiet and Peaceful allowing you to escape the madness of Marrakech at night.
  • Mustafa and Martine go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your stay.
  • Rooms are clean and comfortable.

Negatives

  • 20 minutes from Marrakech and expensive taxis to get anywhere.
  • No shops or restaurants nearby.
  • No actual restaurant or even menu.

I don’t go on holiday to sit around and complain about my accommodation because it’s essentially just a base that I return to after spending the day seeing as much as I can of the chosen destination, and for this reason, I try not to pay too much attention to some of the Trip Advisor but simply take a few pointers.

We had 2 full days to make the most our time in Marrakech, so there wasn’t time to argue with taxi drivers or hotel owners about the lack of a shower curtain and figured if Taxi’s were going to be expensive anyway we will book a few tours and trips in advance of our visit to avoid all of the usual bullshit that some people appear to walk into on every trip they take.

Click Excursions ticked all the boxes with great prices and reviews, so we booked a full itinerary a few weeks before travelling and didn’t even need to leave a deposit, so simply has to pay for everything when we embarked on this exciting trip.

So with everything booked, nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?

Day  1

Arriving at around 5pm and feeling a little tired and hungry, we quickly regretted not packing a few cheeky bags of crisps, biscuits or emergency chocolate bars and understood how isolated some previous visitors have felt, with no handy shops nearby to stock up on a few nibbles.

It’s worth pointing out that the Las Palmeras is not a hotel in the traditional sense but a ‘Riad’; this is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. I see this as a positive though and a small family run guest house that feels homely is much better than just another soulless 5* hotel chain that looks exactly the same no matter what city you stay in.

Las Palmeras...

Las Palmeras…

A quick chat with Martine and she advised that the evening meals start at 8pm, so after a few hours of anticipation, we were now ready to eat whatever was available which was quite handy as things suddenly got quite bizarre.

There was no menu, prices or even told what we were eating so opted to simply eat what we were given, our starter was a soup and to this day, we have no idea what was in it but it was very nice. Main course was Chicken b’stilla (we Googled), a classic Moroccan dish that is a pie with chicken, eggs, almonds, caramelised onions and saffron. Finally desert was served Moroccan Sliced Oranges with Cinnamon, Sugar.

Traditional Moroccan food, home made with natural ingredients was hard to fault but we still left the table a little confused. Why no menu or choice? What had we just eaten? How much did it cost? I asked Martine the following day as the cynical traveller in me, thought we were going to get stung but the 3 course meal with a bottle of wine for two people had cost 400 Moroccan Dirham’s which although was a little more expensive than restaurants in the city, it wasn’t too bad.

Day 2

Half Day Tour

Abdullah picked us up at 9am, and drove for 20 minutes into Marrakech before handing over to Jamal as we embarked on a 3 hour tour of the city. Jamal is the perfect guide who spoke with great knowledge about the history of Marrakech and we learned more from him than we ever could of from a guide book.  When we reached the Souks, I don’t mind admitting it was nice to have Jamal escorting us because it was just as crazy as you could ever have imagined.

Snake charmers, monkeys in dresses and traders are all desperately trying to get your attention but with Jamal by our side, we could concentrate on exploring and learning about Marrakech.

Horse and Carriage Ride

Horse and Carriage Ride

We bid farewell to Jamal and now it was time to escape the madness and enjoy a romantic Horse and Carriage ride through the city and could just sit back and soak up the many sights on offer that we could never have covered on foot alone before stopping for a nice hour in a place of serenity and shade, at the Jardin Majorelle.  Wandering within the paths of this small garden full of palms, bamboo, cacti, coloured pots and buildings, birdsong and pools is quite a contrast to the souks just a few hours earlier.

Camel Ride

Camel Ride

obligatory camel-ride…

After the gardens, our new friend and driver Abdullah drove us to our camel ride adventure at La Palmeraie which is on the north side of the city in a very peaceful surrounding. This was the moment I get to ride a camel like Peter O’Toole and the perfect end to or day.

Abdullah had one more surprise for us tough and that was introduction to Morocco’s national drink: Berber whiskey, but he cheekily advised “whiskey without alcohol…its mint tea” and this wouldn’t be the last time that I would get to enjoy this national drink either.

As we head back to our accommodation, I ask Abdullah if he could stop somewhere so we can buy some snacks for our room. He selflessly said shops were too expensive but stopped somewhere that we could get a “Special Moroccan Price”

We returned to our Riad armed with snacks a plenty and many stories.

Day 2

Ourika Valley Tour

Once again our new friend Abdullah picked us up at 09:00am and we headed out to Ourika Valley for a day trip/adventure.

ourika atlas mountains

Another opportunity to escape the madness of the city and head for the Berber villages located 46 kilometres away. You will be rewarded with scenic landscapes and photo opportunities aplenty before being greeted by our guide Mohammed who will take us up to the Sitti Fatma waterfalls. There are seven of them but only the adventurous and fit tourist hikes to the top so make sure you take sensible shoes.

As we return home with many crazy stories, great photos and happy memories of enjoying Moroccan Whiskey with our friend Abdullah, our short time in Marrakech will always have a special place in our heart.

PRAGUE, VIENNA, BRATISLAVA, BUDAPEST

Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest – 4 Capital Cities in 8 Days

After a moment of madness and maybe too much Google one night, I discovered that it was potentially quite easy to take in 4 European Capitals in around 8 days, quite comfortably.

When I returned from the trip, a few people have asked me for the details and how easy it was to organise. It was a fantastic holiday that believe it or not did not feel rushed and only cost around £450 per person for the entire trip. Considering many operators charge around £900, I thought I would post just how easy it is on here for anyone that is interested in seeing 4 capital cities in 8 days.

trip

All I needed was to make the most of online resources such as Seat61 and Trip Advisor, before planning the trip I always start with the most important aspect which is the flights, so I booked a flight into Prague and a flight home 8 days later from Budapest. That’s the easy part sorted; now it was time to plan our trip.

As we are only spending a couple of days in each city, I only ever have three rules to follow and that’s to book a hotel with free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and most importantly located within a 5 minute walk of an underground or rail station. (more…)

Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome

Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days

For our honeymoon, we planned our romantic dream trip of covering Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days without spending a fortune, by using a budget airline flight from the UK into Venice and making our way through the Italian Cities via train before returning to the UK on a flight from Rome.

Venice (2 days)

Our Italian Trip began with a cheap flight to Venice from Birmingham in the UK and after leaving the airport, our first task was to find our hotel in this floating city with a few lines of instructions that you could write on the back of a cigarette packet.

Upon leaving the airport, we hopped on the Alilaguna public boat service (blue line) and disembarked at the Fondamente Nuove stop and which is less than a 5 minute walk away from our accommodation, the Ca’ Zanardi.

If you are the kind of person that enjoys luxury in a soulless corporate hotel where you could be in any city in the world as they all look the same but don’t mind because it’s right by the main tourist attractions then this is not the hotel for you.

However, if you want to soak up the real Venice with an authentic stay complete with a perfect host in a 16th century palace full of character at a reasonable price then look no further than the Ca’ Zanardi.

As you arrive at the giant door, you enter into what feels like a completely different world before being greeted by the perfect host Andrea. When he found out we were on our honeymoon, he upgraded us to a room overlooking the canal and even presented us with a bottle of wine.
The location is simply perfect and you are far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the tourism area but equally at the same time within easy walking distance to everything.

A short 5 minute walk from the tourist area and you are back in a quiet patio garden area where you enjoy a bottle of chilled wine, as Andrea lets you use the fridge in the main kitchen.

venice

People who have given poor reviews seem to be completely missing the point of Ca’ Zanardi, it might not be luxury tourist hotel but it all the better for just that. If you are a fan of history, art and want a unique Venetian experience then will want to come back for more.

Special mention to Andrea who is always armed with helpfulness and cheerfulness and really gives the impression that he enjoyed his guests enjoying themselves.

We spent three days in this beautiful city soaking up sites such as St Mark’s Square, Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bridge of Sighs but the biggest magic of Venice is simply wandering aimlessly through its streets and alleys. By wandering (especially if you point yourself in the exact opposite of the direction where the herd is going) you can find Venice’s many charming and often-empty squares and streets, which goes a long way toward helping you appreciate the city.

After 3 days of zero traffic and wandering through the endless alleys Venice we said goodbye to Andrea and a 15 minute walk later we arrived at the train station for a 2 hour journey to Florence for only 19 Euros.

I strongly recommend that you purchase a ticket a few months in advance if you can to secure this low fair, and if you have any problems making the payment, you can always use Pay Pal.

Florence (4 Days)

In less than 5 minutes from getting off the train, we crossed the road and were settled in our room B&B Il Cielo. Greeted with the incredibly helpful Elisa who made us feel welcome and passed on the all-important free wi-fi password to plan our trip.

The B&B itself is a lovely, cosy and artistic only a short 10-15 minute walk to Piazza del Duomo
The daily breakfast consists of coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, pecorino and pears, pastries was excellent and I guarantee you will walk away loving the taste sensation of pears and cheese.

florence
Lovely people, artistic b&b and a perfect location ensured we have a wonderful time in Florence and many happy memories were made soaking up this beautiful city and ticking off the sites such as Uffizi Gallery, Giotto Bell Tower, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Centro Storico and the Statue of David.

Pisa (Half a day)

With a day to spare, we crossed the road from our B&B in Florence and hopped on a train to Pisa which is only just under an hour away.

pisa

Pisa is quite small so recommend you avoid looking for further transport and take a steady stroll to the tower which is around a mile away but gives you chance to soak up the city too.

After securing the obligatory tower photos it was back on the train for an evening meal in Florence.

Rome (4 Days)

The final leg of our trip involves a 2 hour trip on the train for around 19 Euros to Rome for 4 days, once again I strongly recommend buying the tickets in advance from Trenitalia using the guide at Seat 61 where the tickets are much cheaper than buying from any travel agent or UK based ticket agency.

Once in Rome, you can pick up a Rome Travel Passes  for 1,3 & 7 days that is valid on the Metro, Buses, Trams And Some Train Services and will save your feet from getting tired when there is so much to see and do.

rome

Our biggest annoyance of our trip in Rome was the seemingly omnipresent salesmen on the street, offering umbrellas, scarves, knock–off purses, parasols, and—the biggest scam—“free roses.” They can be quite insistent by putting a rose in your hand and then tried to charge you for it. Just avoid direct eye contact, say no, and keep walking.

The only other tip is if you are visiting the Vatican, make sure you get there very early to avoid coach loads of people and very long queues along with being stopped every 30 seconds asking if you want a personal tour guide.

You will be very busy soaking up the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and so much more, so I won’t bore you too much as I’m sure you already have a good idea of what you want to see and do.

This trip cost just over £400 each to arrange for travel in June to enjoy Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome in 10 days without feeling hurried. Itineraries like this are often seen in holiday brochures for £800 each and it really is the easiest trip to organise and is very romantic to enjoy a journey like this with someone special.

If you can arm yourself with Google, Trip Advisor, a cheap flight checker and Seat 61 you really can book a trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank.

Travel Expert Simon Calder

Travel Chaos is something that the media love to exaggerate in this age of 24 hour news channels that have too much time on their hands so spend most of the time looping the same footage for hours at a time. However what has amused me over the last few years is that when a travel crisis hits anywhere in the world, there is only one man that will know the answers and that mans name is Simon Calder.

The name on its own probably means little too most of you but I can guarantee that you will know his face. It would appear if you a run a newspaper or TV Station, the name that must be in your phone is Simon’s number filed under “Travel Expert” and he will be in the studio before you can say “Volcanic Ash”.

It has been a source of amusement to me for sometime how he seems to be the only “Travel Expert” that we have so thought it was about time I delved into this man’s past to see exactly who he is and how is able to get the entire British Media eating out of his hand. (more…)

Snow, a nation of wusses?

We do not handle “weather” very well here in the UK, in fact despite what the 24 hour news channels and certain newspapers will have you believe, we never really have extreme weather of any kind. After many warm winters, there has been a generation of people that grew up without even seeing snow, so when the white stuff decides to make an appearance again as scheduled in winter, the nation seemed to get its knickers in a twist.

In February we were told that the killer snow was the worst in 18 years as terms such as chaos, arctic conditions, snowpocalypse and snowmageddon rapidly became the norm. Snow in winter who would have thought it? But gone are the days of winter weather being the norm, in fact in these health and safety obsessed times, Royal Mail bosses even stopped postal workers from delivering the mail due to the harsh weather conditions which were literally a few inches of the white stuff.

UK media stretches the truth a little.

So yes it may have been the worst weather in over 20 years but twenty years ago people just got on with things but now everything comes to a standstill which begs the question what would actually happen if we had seriously bad winters like they do in Eastern Europe or even the United States? (more…)