Top tips for air travel

People are often asking me for advice on flying as I have travelled extensively probably taking on average 7 return flights a year – a mixture of long haul and short haul destinations.  I have travelled solo and with family including young children.

Here are my top 10 tips –

  • Look out for when airlines release their new season of dates, by booking in advance as soon as seats are released to get the best deals.
  • If flying to North America tie in a cheeky few nights in Iceland en route as Icelandair offers up to 7 nights stopover with every long haul flight for no additional air fare. The same now applies to a few other airlines including Finnair with their flights to Asia where you can opt to stop off in Helsinki and with Turkish airlines stop over in Istanbul on any of their long haul routes.  For more information see http://www.icelandair.co.uk/stopover, http://www.finnair.co.uk/stopover or http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-int/corporate/announcements/announcement/discover-istanbul-on-a-stopover.
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The Pond in Reykjavik, Iceland

  • Carry a drinking bottle with you empty when you go through security then fill it from a water fountain before you board your flight & pop a Berocca in to revitalize during your journey.
  • For long haul flights pack a pair of disposable hotel/spa slippers that you can slip on to use during the flight and then bin afterwards as you don’t want to be walking the plane and onboard bathroom in socks but it is nice to be able to take your shoes off.
  • Toiletries must pack includes Evian face spray (buy in Boots in airport duty free), miniature body spray, lip balm and miniature hand cream that you can use on the face and body too.
  • Hand luggage must pack would be a portable phone and i-pad charger with cables as not all airlines have USB chargers on board.
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Some in flight essentials I always remember to pack

  • Chewing gum is a great way to not only freshen breath at the end of a journey but a perfect cure to help stop ears from popping on take off and landing.  Chewing is more effective than swallowing.
  • If flying with a baby or toddler then make sure you have a bag with baby wipes, a change of clothes for yourself and baby plus some toys & snacks in a bag under the seat in front of you in case the seat belt sign remains on for the large part of your journey.  I have heard tales of passengers having to travel for hours covered in baby vomit and been unable to change clothing or clean up because of air turbulence.  Likewise if a toddler is forced to sit still for a long period without entertainment or snacks they, you and others will go stir crazy.
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It’s important to have things to amuse your children on a flight even sunglasses can do the trick!

  • Pack a pashmina in your hand luggage as you never know how chilly air conditioning can be and it can be folded to be used as a pillow too.
  • If you are flying to an airlines hub airport then ask the air hostesses on board your flight where you should dine and for bar recommendations as most will be only to happy to suggest somewhere that perhaps no tourist has been before!

If you would like any advice about an upcoming trip or any suggestions for your next holiday then feel free to drop me a line as I’m only too happy to help.  If you would like specific tips about travelling long haul with a baby then see my previous post here https://intoleranttraveller.co.uk/2016/04/18/top-tips-for-flying-with-a-baby/

Ely, Cambridge

On our way back up North from the Essex coast we decided to break the journey up with a city we have never visited before but that has the most amazing cathedral. It is also the third smallest city in the UK with a population of just 15,102.

Ely is a cathedral city located approximately 15 miles from Cambridge, is built on a 23-square-mile (60 km2Kimmeridge Clay island, which at 85 feet (26 m) is the highest land in the fens.  An abbey was first built on the site of the current cathedral in 673 AD. We were keen to explore this beautiful little city.

We headed straight for the famous cathedral and approached it from the back via some beautiful gardens where we stopped for a pot of tea and cake. The Almonry restaurant has tearooms, that was the original almonry belonging to the cathedral and now hosts a stunning arched restaurant that would make a glorious venue for a wedding reception.

The Almonry’s café also impressed us with a wide range of cakes including some that were vegan and gluten free too. Soya milk was also an available option for a latte. We enjoyed our mid-morning cakes in their floral English garden accompanied by some local ducks that had swooped in to take advantage of the bowl of water left out for thirsty dogs.

After our pit stop we headed through a little gate in the stonewall and towards Ely cathedral. Inside we were blown away by its sheer size and elaborate stain glass windows within the many little chapels inside. For those with more time to explore, than we had, the cathedral is also home to the Museum of Stained Glass which is accessible within one of the turrets.

Interestingly we discovered after we left the cathedral that my husbands late-Grandfather as a vicar had been based at Ely Cathedral during the Second World War where apparently he had had a birds eye view of the Blitz unfolding in London from the top of Ely Cathedral’s tower. We were disappointed on hearing this that we hadn’t plumped for the tower tour at the cathedral so it is now on our list for a second visit!

More information on Ely can be found here http://www.visitely.org.uk

Details about Ely cathedral are here http://www.elycathedral.org

The first Capital of Britain – Colchester

Considering I have a husband who went to school in Colchester I had strangely never visited this town in Essex, the very first capital of Britain.

I was given the guided tour by hubby and mother-in-law both keen to show me around their town; the weather for once being exceedingly good helped us to wander and explore comfortably.

On our way into the centre of town we passed a beautiful ornate water tower, a red bricked army garrison and some rather gaudy 1970-80s architecture. I discovered a magnificent mix of ancient and more modern architecture.

We headed to Colchester castle where we plumped for a guided tour of the historic landmark.  Our guide although rather frail was very knowledgeable about the entire region and we even discovered he was a fellow alumni from my husbands old grammar school!

He explained the castle was built by the Normans on the foundation of a giant Roman temple that was built to honour deceased Emperor Claudius, back when the town was the official capital of Roman Britain.

Apparently Colchester was soon replaced as capital once the Romans discovered another place at the end of a great tidal river that they named Londinium what is now London. The reason Colchester was usurped as a capital was that the River Colne that passes through the town was tidal and ships could only pass along it at high tide so restricting sailing times. The River Thames on the other hand although tidal was so vast that the centre of the river remained deep enough for ships to sail down it even at low tide.

The temple fell to disrepair once the Romans were finally driven out and this castle was eventually built in 1076 in its place. This is the biggest and best-preserved Norman keeps in Europe. It was even used as a prison during the 13th-16th centuries where it held notorious witch trials amongst other atrocities.

The views from its ramparts are truly spectacular and you can also see evidence from the years it was used as a place of residence as there’s a lovely stain glass roof !

We were also taken into the cellars underneath the castle to look at the foundations close up and also the vast spaces once full of sand, that were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. Worryingly our guided highlighted that what appeared to be rocks cemented into the walls of the foundations of the giant castle, were in fact just congealed dried mud from the river bed and large cracks are visible in the basement’s arched ceilings – thank god the council thought to add in concrete supports at the end of the 20th century!

Colchester castle is home to the Castle Museum today that reveals many fascinating layers of history to visitors. Archaeological collections of international quality covering 2,500 years of history are beautifully showcased, including of the most important Roman finds in Britain.

For more information see www.cimuseums.org.uk

For information on visiting Colchester see http://www.visitcolchester.com/

 

Florence – The City that celebrates the art of living well

After our binge on culture and trek around the amazing city of Florence we stopped for a glass of Chianti in the sun by the river Arno in a little bar called “Il Borro Tuscan Bistro” that served it’s family’s own produced wine.

A quick refresh and outfit change at the hotel then our “Happy Hour” glass of prosecco and we were off to our Valentine’s evening dinner. We discovered one of the restaurant highlights of our trip was the amazing Sesto on Arno, situated at the top of the Westin Excelsior hotel. The views were breathtakingly amazing as was the delicious food.

We were welcomed with cheeky prosecco cocktails that had adorable fruit birds perched on them. We enjoyed a fabulous bottle of Chianti wine. The 4 course menu with appetisers was delicious especially the desserts that were the highlight. The refresher course pre-dessert consisted of a champagne sorbet and mango coulis that had been sealed in a permeable pouch that made it resemble an egg yolk served with a meringue wafer. Hubby’s dessert was a white chocolate ball filled with strawberry and raspberry ice cream with fresh berries. My dairy-free dessert was an amazingly exotic fruit salad with raspberry sorbet and meringue pieces.

We ate a special set menu for Valentine’s but the restaurant regularly offers dinner tasting menus from 92 euros a head and lunchtime set menu for just 30 euros.

A walk along the Arno River followed by a nightcap cocktail in famous Harry’s bar finished off a wonderfully amazing Valentine’s evening.

Links to restaurants are –

http://www.ilborrotuscanbistro.it/?lang=en

http://www.sestoonarno.com/en

http://www.harrysbarfirenze.com

In Florence, even the graffiti is ancient

We began our first proper morning in Italy with a trip to see the “Duomo” or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore giving its full name and for our morning exercise, instead of climbing up the inside of the cathedral’s dome, we ascended up the Giotto’s Campanile tower next to it. This gave us stunning views of the city of Florence and also more importantly of the Duomo itself.

I immediately regretted not bringing water and snacks with us as the ascension was much steeper and narrower than expected. Clearly the narrow staircases were only designed for a bellboy to go up and down not huge numbers of tourists, that somehow had to pass each other on the steps, travelling in both directions. At one point I found myself hugging the stone pillar in the centre of the staircase for over 10 minutes as a stream of larger than life tourists squeezed passed me on their way down; one lady slipping almost taking me down with her. There are no handrails or ropes to grab hold of here so if someone slips…. I don’t recommend this venture to anyone who is claustrophobic or afraid of heights and certainly not if you have high blood pressure or heart issues but the view you get from the top is truly amazing!

Once we descended from the Campanile we visited the Baptistery located opposite and still within the Piazza Del Duomo. The Baptistery is one of the oldest and I believe finest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style. The interior is truly divine and it formed the basis for Renaissance architecture. The east doors of it were actually dubbed by Michelangelo as the Gates of Paradise.

Following a busy morning we stopped for lunch in Trattoria San Lorenzo and it was warm enough for us to sit outside in the sunshine while we ate bruschetta and drink their house Chianti.

After lunch we had a look around the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore then we wandered to look at Palazzo Strozzi and then the Basilica Santa Croce.

Basilica Santa Croce is the burial place of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo and as such it is known as the Temple of the Italian Glories. Primo Chiostro is the main cloister of Santa Croce and houses the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house, completed in the 1470s and designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Florence syndrome

“Have you heard of Stendhal syndrome, that supposed illness that causes sufferers to grow faint at the sight of great beauty? It also goes by the name “Florence syndrome,” as it was first coined after 19th century visitors to Florence were overcome.” (source Italylogue) Well I was soon about to experience this for myself…

We flew with Lufthansa from Manchester via Frankfurt to Florence airport and apart from a slight delay in Frankfurt we arrived into Italy at approximately 7pm.  We jumped into a taxi from the long line waiting outside the airport and with a set fee of 24 euros into the city agreed it was a time effective way to make the most of our first evening.

The trip was a Christmas/Valentine’s and anniversary gift in one so my hubby had pushed the boat out by booking us into a Tower Suite room at the 5 star Golden Tower hotel. The spa hotel was situated in the heart of the Florence a stones throw from the Arno river, approximately one bridge down from the world famous Ponte Vecchio.

Florence city centre has complete UNESCO World Heritage status. The hotel was architecturally stunning itself in keeping with its location featuring beautiful stain glass windows and unique artwork situated within the public areas. Our room had original exposed stone arches, an ornately painted ceiling and an original restored 16th century large wooden door.

After checking into our hotel after a quick freshening up and a welcome glass of prosecco, the hotel offered this every evening along with appetisers as part of their welcoming happy hour 6.30-7.30pm, we headed out for a low-key dinner within a 5 minute stroll from the hotel.

We dined in Restaurant L’Parione that was recommended by the hotel concierge, a charming traditional Italian restaurant where we were seated in the wine cellar that had been converted into an extended dining area that gave it a special ambience. The only negative is that there was an ever so slight odour of drains as we were close to the toilets but I don’t think anyone else in there noticed this.

I was very impressed with the menu in the restaurant, as I had thought a trip to Italy combined with an allergy to cows milk would be a disaster for me but the English menu had clear details of allergens so it was a breeze.

I had a simple ravioli pasta dish with a traditional ragu source that tasted of fresh basil, black pepper and garlic. My husband ordered wild boar tagliatelle and it was a rich delicious dish.

We followed this with a cheese board that comprised only of sheep and goats cheese, which was how it came! A big surprise for someone who usually has to request no cows milk. It seems Florence is more impressed with its sheep and goat cheese than the traditional mozzarella touted in other Italian cities such as Rome. One of the sheep cheeses was with black truffles and it was the nicest cheese I have ever eaten in my life!

A bottle of their local fruity Chianti topped off our first dinner in Italy and after a nighttime stroll along the Arno river with stunning architectural views finished our first night in this most magically beautiful city.

Further Golden Tower hotel information can be seen here http://www.goldentowerhotel.it

Parione Restaurant details can be found here http://www.parione.net/en

Part 4 – Nevis with kids

There are lots to do for families on Nevis and the island is such a family friendly place that children are welcome wherever you go.

Half of Nevis Island has the Caribbean sea and other half has an Atlantic coast so make sure you select your swimming beach carefully. Great beaches for swimming and water sports are Pinney beach less than 5 minutes drive from the capital Charles Town and Ouailie beach that has water sports with stunning views across to St Kitts.

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Ouailie beach, Nevis

Activities include horse riding, sailing, hiking, cycling, quad bike tours, jeep tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and other water-sports.

A must see for families is the authentic Nevisian home farm and inn – Lindbergh Landing named after Charles Lindbergh’s Trans-Atlantic flight of 1927. The land Lindbergh Landing is on was purchased by Ernest Hasting Hanley in 1929, who was the first Nevisian born laborer to earn Certificates of Title to land on the Hamilton Estate. The resort, now run by his son Spencer and wife Jacqueline, consists of Nevisian cottages are nestled in lush rainforest 1,200 feet above sea level with breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. Children can watch Green Vervet monkeys at play in mango trees and meet a plethora of farm animals including a pair of colourful peacocks.

Restaurants that are kiddie friendly include –

  • The Yachtsman bar & grill is located right on Paradise beach so perfect for spending a leisurely lunch there as kids can play on the beach while you watch them with a cool drink in hand.
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Paradise beach, Nevis

  • Chrishi beach club is another good one for families as again it is situated with tables right onto the beach. This small beach also has volleyball nets and with a large grassy area off the beach too it’s perfect for ball games.

The best historic plantation inns for families include –

  • Montpelier for the pool and bar/restaurant area for lunch is lovely for children.  If it’s good enough for Princes William & Harry then it’s good enough for yours!
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Montpellier plantation resort pool

  • Hermitage has a pizza evening every Friday that’s family friendly even the owners bring their children along to join in with playing with the other children in the beautiful lawn and gardens.
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Hermitage plantation inn

  • Nisbet plantation has a bar/restaurant right on Nisbet beach which is a lovely sandy cove perfect for a game of beach cricket but as the sea is the Atlantic the currents are far too strong for swimming. Paddling would be perfect and the beach great for picnics especially when you can watch the brown pelicans diving in the shallows for fish.
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Nisbet beach

For more information about things to do on Nevis for families see the tourist board website here http://www.nevisisland.com

Nevis – Part 3 – Plantation inns

There are many old plantation inns on Nevis that have been renovated and turned into boutique hotels that can be visited if only for a spot of lunch.

Once the site of Horatio Nelson’s marriage to Fanny Nisbet (the tree they wedded under still stands there today), now it is a luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel. It has the remains of a mill tower now restored and turned into a private dining room; I’m told it is popular for weddings. The original plantation house and buildings have been turned into luxury accommodation and a bar/restaurant area with amazing panoramic sea views. This was the hotel Princess Diana chose for her first holiday with the little Princes following the announcement of her divorce over 20 years ago and you can see why as it’s tucked away in the hills. A haven of luxury and the food was amazing too. They understood the meaning of “dairy-free” perfectly.

This plantation has been family owned and run for generations. Also tucked away on the side of Nevis peak Volcano, surrounded by luscious gardens and rainforest it still retains the feel of it’s historic past. When you visit this place it feels as though you’ve stepped back into the best from Britain’s colonial past. All the accommodation is in small wooden Caribbean huts that are brightly decorated lovingly by the owners wife who also owns a gift shop on site called Fanny’s Closet full of arts, crafts and original gifts made by local people. Their Friday evening pizza night is a must if you have children as this is relatively informal and even the owners own children join the guests for games on the lawn.

Once owned by the famous Nisbet family and childhood home of Fanny the wife of Nelson; this plantation sits on Nevis’s Atlantic coast and is situated right by the beach. The resort has its pool facilities practically on the beach with a gorgeous raised decked area that offers panoramic coastal views from your sun lounger. There’s also a lovely bar/restaurant right on the beach that has shuttered open windows so you can feel the salty air breezing through whilst you eat local and international dishes. We sat and watched a local fisherman line fish stood in the waves competing with diving brown pelicans for his catch. This beach was much rougher than the ones on the Caribbean sea coast so I wouldn’t advise it for swimming but it certainly had breath taking views and a heavy dose of drama.

All the plantations on Nevis are unique in their own way and Golden Rock is no exception. This plantation was once completely reclaimed by the rainforest and the current owners renovated the old stone buildings and mill tower cutting away the forest and replacing it with amazingly tropical botanical gardens. The gardens and grounds extend for a great distance and there are a variety of different styles of accommodation to choose from including staying in the original mill tower or a small Caribbean wooden hut or even a quaint stone cottage. The main bar/restaurant area is set in a large stone courtyard area that’s multi-level, containing designer pools containing koi carp and other fish with waterfalls and gentle fountains. It’s an architectural delight but not advisable if you have any mobility issues or young children as steep drops abound! The staff here also seemed a little less friendly than elsewhere on the island and unable to understand allergies too which was a surprise as the guests we met that were staying there seemed to be mainly American.

There are also several old ruins of sugar mills that are clearly being renovated but can be visited

  • New River Estate is situated a five minute drive from Golden Rock just outside a town called Brick Kiln and has lots of stunning ruins that are very accessible to look around but you might want to do your research before hand is there is only one historic sign about the site.
  • Hamilton estate was and is the largest plantation area on Nevis. There was a plan to restore the buildings and turn them into a visitor centre but apparently this has now been shelved. The mill buildings from this estate can be found almost exactly inland from the capital city Charles Town as you head up the side of Nevis Peak. Follow signs for the popular bar/restaurant Banana’s and you will pass the ruins now overgrown by rainforest on your way up the hill.

 

If underwater ruins are more your thing then there are also lots of famous shipwrecks off the Nevisian coast so perfect for those who love scuba diving.

For more information go to the tourist board siteNevis tourist board

Paphos today officially became European City of Culture 2017

Tonight there was a grand opening ceremony marking the European Capital of Culture – Pafos2017 in the Town Hall square in centre of Paphos.

The opening ceremony showcased the history, the multiculturalism and the modern culture of Pafos as an integral part of wider European culture. The ceremony was designed and produced by a Creative Team of Cypriot artists and intellectuals, working with Walk the Plank.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.pafospress.com

Inspired by the myth of Pafos, it has at its heart the founding myth of Pygmalion, the Artist and his creation, Galatea.

The celebratory performance attempted to portray the core concepts of the Open Air Factory, such as creativity, originality, artistic excellence, and also multiculturalism, diversity, as well as the hope for a unified country in the future.

Young people, children and volunteers from all over Cyprus joined professional performers from all over the island. Both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot musicians and singers sang in unison with a Danish choir and a Jazz Orchestra from Aarhus, the partner Capital of Culture. As Pygmalion invoked the spirit of Aphrodite to breathe life into the statue he had carved, light and fire illuminated the sky above Paphos’s newly restored city centre.

Original compositions, as well as adaptations of music, choreographies and projections were brought to life by actors, dancers and hundreds of children who illuminated the moment of Pafos’ birth and marked the opening of the European Capital of Culture – Pafos2017.

For more information on events planned for the rest of 2017 see pafos2017.eu   Or for more information call +357 2693 2017, info@pafos2017.eu

For more details of Paphos, Cyprus and a great house you can rent there to enjoy the European Capital of Culture year long festivities please see http://www.bellavistacyprus.com