Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Beauty of Barbados


Everyone who has read my blog will know by now that I have been to Barbados quite a few times, and it is one of my favourite places to chill out and relax.  Here is a piece written by my friend Nigel May and his take on his very first visit to this magical island .. it's always nice to see how others enjoy their time here.
Enjoy the read ....and don't forget to download his latest holiday blockbuster Scandalous Lies!


I’ll start this blog by being brutally honest. Barbados was never a holiday destination that I had really ever had any intention of visiting or desire to see. Not really sure why. Was it the thought of flopping around for a fortnight on a beach that put me off? Was it the thought of it being such a small island that there wouldn’t be a huge amount to see? Was it the fact that I thought I wasn’t the biggest fan of rum that put me off (that being the tipple of the island of course). Really I have no idea but any pre-conceived notion of what to expect from one of the most popular islands in the Caribbean was literally blown out of the clear blue waters of the Caribbean sea as soon as I landed at Bridgetown. Barbados is warm, welcoming and wonderfully alive and vibrant and a place that I could happily spend a lot of time in.

We stayed at a residence on Brighton Beach on the south west part of the island. Call it paradise, because that is what it was. The sand was powder soft, almost white in colour and the sea was iron-flat and the most tempting shade of blue. Crowsnest 2 (the home we stayed at) was to be our home for two weeks and I can honestly say that it was the most amazing place to rent. Check out the website (details below) but if you want the joy of hummingbirds flittering about as you eat breakfast in the morning and the view of an idyllic beach and the gentle lap of the surf sounding in your ears then this is the residence for you. There were nine of us and that was the perfect number to fill the two floors we occupied. The second-floor swimming pool for a cooling dip and a bake on the sand just a few yards away from your front door were a joyously hypnotic cocktail.

Barbados itself has many attractions that we were keen to visit. Hiring a car seemed essential (and as they drive on the same side of the road as the UK mercifully stress-free) so we ventured out to various destinations. Sandy Lane Hotel had to be done. I wanted to visit there as a setting for my fiction books and a personal tour from Ryan, one of the managers there, allowed us to check out one of the most luxurious hotels on earth. Chances are I will never stay there as I couldn’t possibly afford it but it was great to see how the other half lived. Just up the road from Sandy Lane is Holetown which was an eclectic mix of designer shops and sweet little eateries. We plumped for cake and coffee over couture and loved it.

For any party loving people on the island, then Friday night is your night, and there is only one place to go – Oistins. It’s a melting pot of food stalls serving everything from the classic spicy chicken through to the tastiest slabs of fish and the atmosphere is wondrous. People are filling their bellies ready to party as Oistins nightlife on a Friday is all about fun. Locals and tourists alike flock there to dance, party, smoke (a variety of things apparently as your nostrils will testify), drink and love life. Locals dance with tourists and if you’re not hugged constantly by passers by throughout the evening then I will be a very surprised man. The air was 80% proof with the heady aroma of rum too. It felt like a real slice of Bajan life and we loved it.

Sunday morning I would definitely recommend the Gospel Breakfast at The Crane hotel. Book in advance but the happy clappy nature of having a gospel choir singing away in the background as you plough your way through a sizable buffet was totally unique. As was The Cliff Restaurant. It’s not cheap (in fact quite the opposite) but if you fancy a real treat and what I call a ‘stick it on the credit card’ evening then The Cliff is the restaurant to venture to. The view from the terrace is simply breath-taking and the food was glorious. I recommend the barracuda and do not be put off by the word ‘dolphin’ on the menu. It’s not a Flipper steak you’ll be eating, but one of the local fishy delicacies, mahi-mahi. The Cliff is a one-off and a must-do for any visitor who likes to splash out and treat themselves.

A trip out to sea is definitely something else that should be on the menu of any visitor to Barbados. We chose a company called El Tigre who offered catamaran tours to swim with the turtles. A booze cruise with added extras if you like and it was well worth the money. You are supplied with drinks all day (alcoholic or otherwise) and snorkelled-up to swim with turtles and fishes of many different hues at two different drop off points. To see the turtles in their natural environment was a delight and to be able to stroke them, swim alongside them and be part of their world was beyond fabulous. Invest in an underwater camera beforehand to achieve some amazing shots. Talking of turtles, we were lucky enough to see turtles laying eggs on the beach outside Crowsnest 2. We never saw them hatch but many mornings we were greeted with the telltale signs of little flipper marks in the sand heading from nest to sea.

Barbados was a brilliant place to visit – cool places like Bathsheba on the west coast and the natural beauty of Welchman Hall Gully and Harrison’s Cave are all worth a look. But if you can, try and go for a fortnight because there are many, many days when all you will want to do is chill out, grab a lounger and rest to perfection under the idyllic Caribbean sky. I can’t wait to go back. It was amazing.








For info about The Cliff head to  www.thecliffbarbados.com
Crowsnest2 can be found at  www.crowsnest2barbados.com
For a day out sharing time with the turtles head to www.eltigrecruises.com
Experience nature at its best at www.welchmanhallgullybarbados.com

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Five days in New York - an itinerary


I originally created this for a friend of a friend who was visiting New York with her two children but it's great for anyone visiting for the first time or even again if you want to see the sights and go to some great places to eat! I have since shared with quite a few friends and thought I would share it with a wider audience! 
Here's some suggestions with the location of each in mind...

Lexington Avenue

 
Chrysler Building
DAY 1

Circle Line boat trip (3 hours around Manhattan on the Hudson and East River) http://www.newyorkcity.uk/boat-tours-in-new-york/
Pier 83 12th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Street - must book!

Lunch at the Empire Diner http://empire-diner.com/ (no need to book)
210 10th Avenue corner 22nd Street and 10th Avenue

Empire State Building – must book! http://www.esbnyc.com/
5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street

Times Square – “Times Square is a major commercial intersection and a neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It is located at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets.”


Times Square
DAY 2

Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Boat tour from Battery Park http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/

Lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner – famous novelty restaurant http://www.ellensstardustdiner.com/ 1650 Broadway and 51st Street - must book!

Fifth Avenue! Drop off at Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall same area. Walk up Fifth Avenue to the where the famous toy store FAO Schwartz used to be. It has unfortunately closed down. It has now been taken over by none other than Apple!  5th Avenue at 58th Street.  Walk across the road to Central Park – have a wander - there's lots to see!

DAY 3

Soho – shopping morning! West Broadway, Spring Street, Mercer Street, Prince Street – loads of high street and boutique shops

Lunch – Balthazar –  80 Spring Street
http://www.bing.com/local?lid=YN618x401681114&id=YN618x401681114&q=Balthazar+Restaurant+New+York+NY

Taxi to Bloomingdales (take passport to Customer Services for 10% discount on the day)

Serendipity - http://www.serendipity3.com/ 225 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue  -  Great ice cream!

DAY 4

Guggenheim Museum – 5th Avenue and 89th Street (closed Thursdays) 





Sprinkles Cup Cakes – use ATM outside shop for a fab experience – gorgeous cakes! http://www.sprinkles.com/cupcake-atm Lexington Avenue between 60th and 61st Street

American Museum of Natural History – Central Park West at 79th Street
Metropolitan Museum of Art - Fifth Avenue between 80th and 84th Streets
 


DAY 5

Highline and Meatpacking District 


“The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long New York City linear park built in Manhattan on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. Inspired by the 3-mile Promenade plantée, a similar project in Paris completed in 1993, the High Line has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park. It runs from Gansevoort Street – three blocks below 14th Street – in the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea”

There are numerous boutique and designer stores in this area.

Lunch or Dinner – Pastis http://www.pastisny.com/ 9, 9th Avenue.  Booking recommended – very famous

Little Italy and Chinatown to have a mooch.

Other attractions/alternatives
http://www.viator.com/New-York-City-tourism/New-York-City-Bus-Tours-tours-tickets/d687-t8635?pref=204&aid=m3253 Best to pre book

Check out the link below for discounts on trips and attractions around New York
http://www.newyorkpass.com/En/?aid=140&gclid=CProgIyd-8MCFfQatAoddQUAEg


These days can be swapped around to suit .. depending on which day you start out on!

 



Saturday, 20 June 2015

A week in Tenerife

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco bordering on the Western Sahara. It is a place I've never had any desire to go to .. it just didn't appeal to me until now.

Every year HQ and her pals take a girls' holiday for a week to somewhere in the Mediterranean or surrounding areas .. and preferably to an island. I had been given a recommendation by a friend of a beautiful resort - The Ritz-Carlton Abama Tenerife, located on the Guía de Isora coast so after checking it out on the internet I liked what I saw and convinced my friends to give it a try. It is a beautiful resort, very Moorish in it's architecture. In fact this post should really be called 'A week at the Abama Ritz Carlton'! Because that's all we did - stayed on the resort for the entire time. There is no need to leave if you don't want to. It is a large resort with a feeling of space spread out over a vast area with different types of pools and a variety of restaurants and bars.

The adult pool
Sometimes all you need are nice surroundings, good food, good service and plenty of sunshine .. and that's precisely what we got. We even had the pleasure of an adult-only pool perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean. I have nothing against children but when you've been working hard and need a break, the peace and quiet is a necessity and was most welcome.

Because of it's size, there are battery powered buggies (golf carts) to transport you to wherever you want to go on the resort, and a trackless train which runs every half an hour until 10.30pm to take you through the resort and down to the beach.

Spa cafe terrace
There are 13 restaurants and bars plus the Spa Cafe which you can use when you book one or more treatments from the myriad on offer at the spa! I opted for the Tui Na massage on day 3 .. a Hands-on body treatment that uses Chinese Taoist and martial arts principles in an effort to bring the 8 principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine into balance. The practitioner may brush, knead, roll/press, and rub the areas between each of the joints, known as the eight gates, to attempt to open the body´s defensive (wei) Chi and get the energy moving in the meridians and the muscles. I felt well and truly centered and relaxed at the end of that one! It was truly worth the time and expense - at €110 (GB£80/US$125) it's not exactly cheap - but I gave myself a well deserved treat, especially considering the day job that I do. They like you to arrive at least 45 minutes or more before your appointment. There is an astounding range of water facilities, an outside garden cabana, Deluxe couple and single treatment rooms, wet treatment rooms and Spa Lounge. My personal favorite was the rosemary scented hammam .. I could have stayed breathing in that wonderful aroma all day!

The M.B restaurant was closed for refurbishment so we opted for La Veranda for breakfasts, lunch at the pool bar, dinners at the Tapas and Wine bar, Verona (Italian), El Mirador for delicious seafood and sunset views over the ocean and the star turn on this trip - Kabuki - superb, mouth-watering Japanese fusion food.  

 
Sunset from El Mirador

Once again, another fabulous, relaxing week with my girlfriends - good company, sunshine, swimming, enjoying amazing food and wine and watching beautiful sunsets. Life doesn't get much better than this! 

I feel I must thank and mention the wonderful staff at the Ritz Carlton who couldn't do enough for us - from the Concierge to the interns to housekeeping. Service with a smile and they remember your name!


HQ chose to fly with British Airways from London Gatwick to Tenerife South. 



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Madrid, Spain and the day job .. and introducing Holiday Hound!

The last few weeks have been busy, busy, busy for HQ. Aside from my day job, there's also been the added distraction of the Holiday Hound and his puppy training regime. It won't be long and he'll be experiencing different parts of the country and then Europe .. what a life! He's lucky to have chosen me!

My day job has been varied lately .. lots of different assignments from light entertainment, a commercial, magazine shows as well as the usual daily shows I do, and a trip to Madrid for the Champions League .. which for those of you who don't know, is "an annual continental club football competition organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)." It was the second leg of the semi-final between Juventus and Real Madrid, which Juventus went on to win.

I flew in the night before and met with the crew who had arranged a dinner at a lovely Spanish (what else?!) restaurant Asador Donostiarra. The food was delicious with starters of mixed plates to share, the tastiest olives and a couple of bottles of wine followed by entrecote on hot stone .. meat you cook to your own liking. As we didn't have to be up too early for work, we then found ourselves in a small late night venue Moe Club with live music until 6am if you were prepared to stay up! Not for me on a school night!


The next day I had a few hours to myself so opted to walk a few miles around Madrid in the stifling heat to get my bearings and a sense of the city which I had visited many years ago whilst traveling in my younger days with school friends. I'm sure it has much to offer, but unfortunately I did not have the time to experience much of it. Later in the afternoon, it was off to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu for the match and my job of making the presenters look presentable! Not such an easy task in the oppressive heat! With 85,000+ fans and spectators in attendance, the atmosphere was to say the least, fantastic! 

In just over 2 weeks time, I will be off for a well deserved week's holiday again .. this time to Tenerife, Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa. I've never been before so it will be a whole new experience. Holiday Hound will not be accompanying me unfortunately, but he will surely be missed!  




Saturday, 11 April 2015

Beautiful springtime ..

I've been a bit lapse in my blogging of late .. a planned weekend trip to Milan a few weeks ago was abruptly cancelled thanks to an Italian air traffic controllers strike. Although it was last minute, all was not lost and we quickly changed our travel plans and replaced our girly shopping weekend for one in London.. with the addition of the theatre, cinema and galleries. There's a never ending supply of things to see and do. Alitalia were quick to refund my air fare and the Star Rosa hotel in Milan transferred our already paid for booking to August when we usually go shopping for the new season's winter collection.

Now spring is in full swing, beautiful bulbs, blossoms and blooms are bursting out everywhere. I love cherry and apple blossom, and the gorgeous camellia, but my absolute spring favourite is the purple magnolia flower.  There are a few varieties and all supremely spectacular when they are out in full flourish.

On another note .. HQ has a new travel companion .. a puppy! He will bring a whole new world of travel options with him as he grows up. It will be all about exploring more of the British countryside and road trips to the continent for him. I look forward to sharing our impending adventures with you!




Sunday, 8 March 2015

Magical Mexico and the madness of in-transit travel ...

HQ has been to Mexico a number of times now and can say categorically that the only acceptable way to travel there again is via a direct flight. (That is of course, unless the plan is to stop over for a few days.) The UK based airlines all go via the USA. There are direct flights available, but not every day ... at the moment. 
Rumour has it that Virgin Atlantic will be flying to it's own airport terminal every day .. watch this space!

We'd booked to go back to the Riviera Maya on a Friday to Friday availability and our best option was to fly from Heathrow with British Airways to Miami, lay over for a couple of hours and transfer with American Airlines to Cancun. (Virgin my airline of choice had no flights on a Friday unfortunately.) This all appeared doable .. the expected arrival at the resort (about 25 mins from the airport) would have been early evening giving enough time to check in, have dinner and hit the sack at a reasonable time after a long day of travel. However, as is often the case, things don't necessarily go to plan and HQ's holiday started off on the wrong foot from the very beginning.

On the day of departure, the alarm was accidentally set an hour later than planned but as luck would have it the body clock was working and we were out the door only a few minutes late. HQ's rule is to have a contingency of at least half an hour for just such eventualities so it wasn't a problem thankfully. Driving to the airport, a wayward driver almost wiped us off the motorway! Quick thinking and reflexes on my part meant that a nasty accident was avoided. Then, whilst sitting on the aircraft waiting for departure we were informed that 3 passengers had decided not to travel, having already checked their bags in, so we had to wait while said bags were removed. Eventually we left about 90 minutes late having lost our slot for takeoff. We arrived in Miami with about 2.5 hours to spare till our next flight.

The USA require that even if you are in transit, you must clear immigration, have a valid ESTA or visa otherwise your journey ends there. Luckily we possess these things but of course the waiting lines can be long and stressful. Again, we were fortunate to have had our luggage checked through (and boarding cards for the next flight on American Airlines - thanks BA!) to Cancun so after clearing customs we could make our way to our next departure gate. Our connecting flight was subsequently delayed by 3 hours .. We missed our hotel transfer so had to wait while they arranged for another meaning our arrival at the resort was around 10.30 pm. Speaking with other travellers who had arrived on earlier flights - they told us that it had taken them 3 hours to clear as there were so many arrivals at the same time. I think the saving grace was that because we arrived late at Cancun airport, the immigration process was relatively quick. Something to bear in mind if you're planning a visit.

The return journey a week later was no less fraught with similar issues. One thing to remember about Mexico .. they deal in 'Mexican minutes' .. we booked a cab to the airport for 1pm and it arrived at 1.20pm leaving us stressing about getting there on time. When we arrived to check in the machines couldn't read our passports so we had to get someone to help. My partner had also lost the exit part of the immigration form and had to pay US$30 for a new one. Remember to keep it safe if you go - and have your ESTA to hand .. it's very important!

The bags were thankfully checked all the way through to London and we went to the departures lounge to await our gate. It never showed up on the board and we wasted about half an hour trying to find out (no one knew) and finally heard an announcement 10 minutes before departure, so we ran to the gate to find other passengers looking bewildered. We were put on a bus and taken to the aircraft .. and although it left late, we made up the time to Miami with a fast flight time of 1 hour 15 minutes. Miami again was the same as before .. immigration, customs and exit this time to arrivals as we had to check in with British Airways. American Airlines do not have the facility to issue onward boarding passes. A pizza and a beer was the order of the day .. stresses over and looking forward to getting home.

After all of the drama, it was plane sailing (no pun intended) and the flight left on time, arriving early to a beautiful sunny day in London. The final straw was that one of our bags didn't arrive with us! The downside of travel. Thankfully, with the system they have in place it could be tracked and the courier company delivered the bag the next day. 

I'm thankful to say that the week spent at Vidanta Riviera Maya was fantastic and very relaxing -
they are now in partnership with the Cirque de Soleil although we didn't see the show on this trip. As this was a complete 'shut down' holiday it was all about the pool, beach and food. The weather was perfect, the food amazing and the accommodation second to none - what more can you ask for? As I've said before, the people are friendly and hospitable and can't do enough for you. I look forward and am planning a longer stay on next year's visit! I know I said the same thing last year! I still haven't visited Tulum, Chichen Itsa and the cenotes. So much to see and do.


lobster tail and stuffed tomato
fish and chips




As I have visited and written about this region before, you can refer to my blog post of December 2013 for more info.

My next trip is less than 2 weeks away .. a city break in Italy with my New York sister from another mister! Happy days!


Sunday, 1 February 2015

Getting rid of January blues ..

The start of the snow fall in NYC
Wow February has arrived, the days are getting longer and lighter and it's still very cold and grey .. why are we always surprised? Winter still has a few more weeks to run and now is a great time to dream and plan long weekends and vacations .. the dull, grey days disappearing from our minds as we look forward to fun in the sun or even in the snow .. just getting away is what it's all about. This time last year I was in New York which was under a mountain of snow .. and although disruptive to those trying to go about their business, was so beautiful to observe.

Riviera Maya at sunset
My next trip is in about three and a half weeks .. back to one of my favourite places .. Riviera Maya on the Caribbean Sea coast of Mexico. I'm also busy planning a long weekend in March, possibly to Italy and another weekend in Lincolnshire at a friend's B&B. I look forward to updating you about that!

Stay warm if you are in the northern hemisphere, and for those south of the equator, enjoy what's left of the summer.  Happy days.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Three days in Dubai

Flying over snow capped peaks in Iran
When I tell people I'm flying for 7 hours each way for a long weekend, some would say "it's not worth it, why not go for longer?" My reply would be that it makes no difference to me .. 4 days is all I have available and I'm not going to let a long journey deter me. People go to New York for long weekends all the time because it's New York! If you were to drive to the Lake District, West Wales or Scotland for example from London for a long weekend the drive is going to be a fair number of hours but because the distance is not so great it doesn't feel comparable. I always factor the journey time into my enjoyment if I can .. once I'm through security at the airport, I make sure I allow myself time for breakfast (or lunch) and some duty free shopping. Then on the aircraft I catch up with the movies (at least 3!) I haven't had time to see. It's all part of the experience.

I have just spent a wonderful weekend in Dubai. I have been before as you know so wasn't in the market for the touristy things like the Mall of Emirates, Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. It's a really good time to go as it's 'winter' and therefore the temperatures average around 24C during the day, with plenty of sunshine and a few degrees cooler at night. It's not quite my idea of beach weather but there are still people taking advantage of the pleasant sunshine. I opted to go swimming in the heated open air pool of the apartment block I was staying in .. such a great facility to have.

Driving from A to B in Dubai is a mission in itself .. the highways are multi-laned and there doesn't seem to be any rules that are adhered to .. everyone just intent on their own journey. We saw many luxury cars from Ferraris to Lamborghinis and the like to pimped up cars (left) with Swarovski crystals (or maybe they were diamonds!) on the petrol cap, logo badge and window trims .. as if you would ever do that in London! They would be gone the minute you stepped away from the car!


We wanted to see the city of Dubai as the sun set but unfortunately the evenings were a little foggy and cool. We went to Bar 101 at the One & Only The Palm for cocktails and tapas. It's a fabulous location, and we still managed to catch a view of the clearing skyline of the marina area before it got dark so all was not lost.

On Sunday .. which is like a Monday (their weekend is Friday and Saturday) we went to Jumeirah (Arabic for beautiful) Beach. There you will find hotels and apartment buildings and a shopping and restaurant area along the beachfront. All very tastefully done and spread out. We wandered through art galleries, home stores and specialty shops. I particularly liked Gallery One which featured a lot of middle eastern art. There were a myriad of beautiful prints to buy but as I don't have enough wall space, I came away with a small print of the hand of Fatima.

You can also hire loungers, towels etc for the beach but being as it was only 24C .. sunbathing wasn't on the cards for us. However, we did stop for burgers at Shake Shack .. nothing better than sitting outside eating tasty fast food with a view of the Arabian Gulf.

Other places we ate were Claw at Souk AL Bahar for fish tacos and delicious Mojitos and The Meat Co. at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. We sat outside and were lucky enough to witness 10 minutes of fireworks (possibly in honour of a Sheik's birthday) in the distance beautifully reflected off the Burj Al Arab. A fitting way to end a lovely long weekend. 




Thursday, 1 January 2015

As we welcome in 2015 here are some photo reminders of 2014

New York - February
Barbados - March

Dubai - May

Santorini - June
Santorini - June


Edinburgh - July

Cardiff - July
Hever Castle - August

New York - August/September

Gleneagles - September
Cotswolds - November

Saint Lucia - December




Plans are already underway for this year .. some places to revisit to see family and friends and some new ones .. choices, choices!  
 Happy New Year!






Thursday, 18 December 2014

So long, farewell, goodbye to 2014...

Wow 2014 is almost over and has just flown by .. the new year starts in just under two weeks! Looking back over the past twelve months I am truly grateful how very fortunate I am to be able to do the amount of travel that I do. Some of it was work related but the majority was definitely for pleasure even if only for a weekend or a few days at a time. I believe it's essential for our health and well being to take a break from the daily grind and the routine of every day life. 

If you love your work like I do it's still good to distance yourself, have fun, relax and come back fully recharged and ready to take on the challenges that present themselves in our busy schedules.

I'm taking a short break from writing and want to say that I really appreciate you all reading my blog and supporting me .. I love sharing my photos and experiences with you and look forward to many more opportunities to do so.

Thank you and see you in 2015!

Happy New Year
Buon Anno
Feliz Año Nuevo
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
سنة جديدة سعيدة   
Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος 
 
(the languages of the places I visited this year)