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Lake Como

I went to: Bellagio, Lenno, Menaggio, Varenna

 

I stayed at: Pescallo Apartments in Bellagio (£££££)

 

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Mini Review:

I went here because…

We wanted to go somewhere beautiful with our parents for a long weekend to relax.

The best thing was…

The views from everywhere. I’ve never found it so difficult to choose photographs for this blog.

I’d like to change…

The area we stayed in. Beautiful apartment but it was a very steep walk to the local shops.

I wish I’d had time to…

Stay in other areas of the lake. There are some truly stunning, bustling towns I was in awe of.

 

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FACTS

Located in the Lombardy region, Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy located in the pre-alpine area. Shaped in a Y, with two branches, Lake Como is heaving with tourists in the summer months much like the other lakes in Italy.

 

Easily accessed from one of Milan’s three airports, Lake Como is about a 90 minute drive away, or a slightly longer train and taxi boat journey. A number of other towns surround the lake which are linked by hourly boats centred around the intersection of the branches where a triangular boat service runs between Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. A number of villas and palaces are dotted around the region, each with its own unique history, with varying numbers of tourists and tourist facilities.

OPINIONS

Firstly, it has been far too long since my last post. When travelling I often plan out what I might write- the odd observation or a mental snapshot of how I’m feeling. I want each post to be interesting to others but also capture fully my experience so that when I read back my posts in years to come, I can re-live those moments. I’ve learnt that I am completely reliant on my enormous catalogue of photographs, my notes, and the internet, and my memory on its own just cannot hold onto to everything. It is because of this that I build up my expectations of each post to a position where it feels like a monumental task, and it’s then put at the end of my to do list, even though I think of it daily and am jealous of all those posting so regularly.

So where to start. When planning a trip with my parents I consider a few things: places they have mentioned or commented on; food; weather; views. Not just to ensure high quality of all, but because they are notoriously and unbelievably fussy. Detailed planning ensues to ensure they aren’t disappointed, mainly because they do so much for us, and this is the way we can show our appreciation. For this trip, they requested an apartment so there would be more social time spent together. This definitely worked out and we chose a gorgeous apartment in Pescallo with stunning lake views, 10 minutes walk from the centre of Bellagio. We were warned, but I didn’t anticipate how steep the 100 stone stairs were into town. A real workout each morning when we walked to get fresh bread and our shopping for the day. Unfortunately, this meant my father wasn’t able to make all these daily walks and this was the first time I realised he isn’t the active man from my youth anymore. This somber realisation was met with the calming allure of the lake at sunset. So peaceful. So beautiful. Thankfully, my parents were more than happy with the local views and were able to see the town over the 5 days at various points.

Now for me, 5 days is a long time to spend in one place. Was I bored? Never. What did we do? Walks, coffee on the bench outside, hikes to the supermarket, boat trips, wine and antipasti evenings and so many other little treats. Bellagio was relatively bustling during the day and quiet in the evenings. However, I understand that summers are completely different and awashed with tourists from around the world. I did think some of the other towns felt busier, but perhaps that was because we were staying in an apartment rather than In a hotel where you would regularly see more people. I did miss it a little. I am far too much a city dweller.

 

A key highlight was our main boat trip day (we did two days of trips). A glorious sunny day after a night of continuous rain. Our trip culminated in a visit to Villa Balbianello in Lenno. A maze of a house, gloriously managed in the most stunning of settings. If I lived here, I would never leave. Except maybe to visit my friends in the other villas 🙂

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Restaurants:

This trip we mostly used fresh produce to cook in our apartment. I can recommend the following restaurants:

– Aperitivi

– Ristorante la Vista

– Nilus for pizza (service was poor however)

– Bellagio point for coffee

 

Sites & places of interest:

View along the pedestrian walkway to the boats

Villa Balbianello

Villa Balbianello

View from the apartment at dusk

Pre-alpine territory

 

Travelled in April 2014

 

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Darjeeling

 

I went to: Observation point, Happy Valley Tea Estate, Mountaineering Institute & Padmaja Naidu Zoo, Golden Tips Tea Shop and Tasting room, Darjeeling Ropeway, Ghoom Monestery, Bengal Natural History Museum, Kali temple (Hill Cart Road)


I stayed at: Mayfair Darjeeling Hotel (4*) £££££

 

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Mini Review:

I went here because…

I was looking for a destination for a short trip with my parents in India, where they were on holiday.

The best thing was…

The view of Kanchenjunga and the mountain range even though it was very cloudy.

I'd like to change…

How much time I spent looking around the city at some of the odd tourist attractions. I should stayed at the hotel, drank more tea and enjoyed the view instead!

I wish I'd had time to…

Drive around the city in a rubbish truck and give it a big clean!

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FACTS

Located north of the state of West Bengal, Darjeeling is a hill station famous worldwide for its tea plantations developed by the British in the 19th century. The city's station hosts the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO world heritage site. Many residents speak Nepali although Bengali is also spoken. The area is managed by Gorkhaland territorial administration but some affairs, including law, are under West Bengal's jurisdiction. There continues to be a strong will by locals for the area to be an independent state of Gorkhaland.


OPINIONS

I've been to West Bengal many many times, yet I've never made it to Darjeeling. An hours flight takes you from the area's capital Kolkata (Calcutta), to Darjeelings's nearest airport of Bagdogra. From there, a bumpy 3 hour drive of hairpin turns and narrow high altitude roads gets you to the stunning scenes and cool air of Darjeeling.


I spent my youth in car journeys with my head in a plastic bag swaying side to side with the tiredness of travel sickness pills. As an adult I'm completely the opposite. I love car journeys. I get to see others' lives through snapshots, through cities and villages, through changing climates and landscapes. In the 3 hour journey all of those things happened. We turned the air conditioning off and the heating on; the flat dry land became fertile hills and mountains; and I saw soldiers on huge army bases alongside farmers on their lands. If you're not a fan of planes, you can take the train from Kolkata very easily, but I would have rather taken a car the whole way (about 14 hours) if I had more time. It is advised by all however to take a local driver from the airport as they will have the best knowledge of the roads, as cloud can quickly cover over your path making the journey quite dangerous to the unskilled. It was completely pain free to get a car and driver- we went to the pre-paid taxi desk inside the airport.


We spent 3 wonderful nights at the Mayfair Hotel and the entire family loved every minute of our stay. Yes it was very cold at night with temperatures dropping to -10 at times, and yes the hotel doesn't have centralised heating. Instead we had a tiny electric heater which was not enough, but we did have a roaring fire in our room and we were welcomed by hot water bottles whenever we requested them. A lovely find when returning to the room after dinner. I have to say the hotel was probably a big highlight and we had both breakfast and dinner included in the rate every night. The hotel was not just a highlight due to the excellent friendly staff in restaurant, but because of its stunning position and views on the clear days. Glorious to see when you wake up in the morning.


We spent the first day doing a city tour arranged with the driver who brought us from the airport. Unfortunately, I'm spoilt by the Natural History Museum in London (my favourite museum) and the Bengali version was probably the worst museum I've ever visited! Dusty stuffed animals in a dimly lit room. My dad seemed to like like it though and persisted to read every single label there. The zoo was a more positive experience where I saw a brown bear very close up and a red panda! The mountaineering institute housed a very interesting museum and has some great pictures from early expeditions to the Himalayas. Unfortunately like many things I've seen in West Bengal, it was quite poorly maintained. Such a shame. The maintanance issues continued around the city. When I've spoken about my trip to others I've said the place is absolutely stunning if you keep your gaze above eye level. Anything below that as a pedestrian and your faced with piles of household waste at every corner. Thankfully our ride on the Ropeway high in the clouds was focused on beautiful tea gardens as far as the eye could see.


Unfortunately as it was not tea picking season, the tea estates were closed although Happy Valley welcomed us and gave a great informal talk about the processes despite the heavy construction work to modernise the factory (one of the perks of knowing people in a city). We then went to a tea shop where they were kind enough to let us sample a wide variety of tea including white and first flushes. We stocked up happily, especially given how much cheaper good tea is the compared to in England. As I type, I'm having a glass of stunning golden coloured caffeine free white tea.


Unfortunately we did have quite a bit of light rain and cloud cover during the stay which meant we weren't blessed with clear views of the mountain range from the observation point (a 5 minute walk from our room at the hotel). However there was a glimmer of hope on our last day and I happily spent a few hours waiting for the privilege of gawping at Kanchenjunga. I wasn't disappointed even though it wasn't a clear view. Well worth the wait. We also spent a while walking up to the Kali temple above the observation point. I'm not going to lie, I was out of breath but again worth it for the serenity and beauty of a temple in the clouds.


Pictures do not do this city justice. Next trip to India, Leh in Ladakh is my priority stop to satisfy my mountain viewing urges!

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Sites & places of interest:


 

 

 

 

 

Happy Valley Tea Estate tours

Golden Tips tea shop and tasting room

 
Buddhist flags at the Kali Temple
Carvings at the Buddha Temple

Mighty mountains

Travelled February 2014

 

Palma de Mallorca

 

I went to: Centre, Cort, Puig de Sant Pere, Portixol, Porto Pi


I stayed at: Palma Suites (4*) £££££



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Mini Review:

I went here because…

I needed a break to split the very long school term. Also excellent flight prices.

The best thing was…

The sunshine. Given it was nearly winter (November) we were treated to glorious sunshine everyday.

I'd like to change…

People's preconceptions about Mallorca.

I wish I'd had time to…

Visit north of the island and perhaps the wineries of Binissalem.

 

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FACTS

The largest of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea with Palma as the island's capital. Holiday makers continue to flock here in their hundreds. Palma intrigues with Roman, medieval and Moorish influences. It's gothic cathedral, La Seu takes prime position in the centre of the city and be sure to look out for Gaudi's work in a few other places.


OPINIONS

With wide eyes, I excitedly shared my upcoming trip to Palma with anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, the most frequent responses included a joke about revisiting my youth in Magaluf. Clearly these people hadn't been keeping up with the new and energised Palma, taking the limelight in many a travel magazine. A lot of love and investment has gone into making Palma the way it is now. I will definitely be going back!

With its excellent range of beautiful restaurants, bars and scenes, Palma has something for everyone. We stayed at the efficient and modern Palma Suites. Yes, it's opposite a soup kitchen; no it had no impact on the quality of my trip or stay (if it's still there). There are lots of cobbled streets which could prove a hinderence for older tourists, but the beautiful laid back Spanish approach means no ones in a rush to get anywhere. We pre-booked all the restaurants we went to as we knew they would be in demand and it was very necessary, especially if you want to eat at spanish dinner time.

I'm not sure I could spent a whole week in just Palma. I would certainly head up to Sóller or Deià for a different experience, and I would definitely be spending a few hours visiting the wineries of Binissalem. With 3 nights in Palma we ate in the bustling Santa Catalina area; wandered through the cobbled streets of Cort; sampled paella and local wine in Portixol; sat on the beach eyeing the sunset views of La Seu; and shopped excitedly in Porto Pi (I had a slight obsession with Oysho at the time). Time wonderfully spent.

 

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Restaurants:

Forn de Sant Joan

La Paloma

Wine Garage

Club Nautic Portixol (this meal was saved by the friendly owner as we were very very close to walking out due to rude staff and NO service)



Stayed November 2013

 

 

Photos and food

 

Photography like many other creative arts, often leaves me in awe. I have a decent camera but I haven't managed to learn everything (or anything,) it does yet. My passion is for travelling, but I try to take photographs of everything I do, mostly because I don't trust my memory for the experiences in 20 years time. I think of this blog like my own personal scrapbook.

 

Even though I'm not a photographer, I certainly appreciate the work and creativity behind it. I also am a very big fan of wildlife documentaries. I could watch them endlessly, especially with the voice of Sir David Attenborough commanding your attention in the background. I've been to the Natural History Museum countless times and it remains my favourite museum (followed closely by the Science Museum). Any opportunity to visit is very inviting!

 

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is a must on my calendar, not only because it breaks up the dreary start to the year. This years exhibit was just as pleasing. Despite the crowds, we spent a few hours appreciating the work spanning different countries and different landscapes. Wonderfully stunning and always makes me want to see those sights in person, although so well captured in a still image.

 

We followed the exhibition with a delicious Italian meal at L'Anima. Really well made cocktails, excellent wine list, enjoyable 3 courses and good friendly service. We agreed however that we should have had the pasta!

 

L'Anima

Value: £££££

Experience:4/5

 

Something for the winter blues

 

I've been wondering how to update my blog more often. I tend to take quite a few trips abroad in the year, but what about the rest of the year? Do I not do anything interesting unless I'm travelling?

 

Well the answer is yes. I definitely make the most out of opportunities in the wonderful city I live in. There is always something going on. New or old; there will always be something I'm yet to experience so I thought a page in ode to London was more than appropriate.

 

I have a thing about post Christmas blues. I don't allow them to set in.

 

I try to organise things for the start of the year, booking these in November and December. A preemptive strike against rainy days. I also have a number of my closest friends' birthdays in January, so fun is never that far away, whatever form this takes.

 

This year I struggled to to think of holiday presents for my family and theatre tickets seemed brilliant as all they ever want is time together rather than a tangible gift. I've been lucky enough to see a number of West End Shows: Chicago; Phantom of the Opera; Les Miserables; The Woman in Black; Lion King; The Book of Mormon and a few more I can't remember right this second!

 

Mamma Mia wasn't ever on the top of my 'must see' list. I don't know the exact reason why but I do know I've consciously avoided it. Having considered what other options there were for January, Mamma Mia seemed like a good option for the family. I've grown up on ABBA and it was only sitting in the theatre listening to my mum sing along aloud, that reminded me how much. I'm not going to pretend it wasn't intensely cheesy, but it did get better over the show, and most importantly, my parents loved it. I was actually quite busy looking around the theatre at times than focussing on the show. What beautiful buildings we have in this city.


Value: £££££

Experience: 3/5

 

San Sebastián

 

I went to: Parte Vieja, Urgull, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, Good Shepherd Cathedral, La Concha Beach


I stayed at: Apartment on Fuenterrabia Kalea booked via Air BnB (3 bedroom, 2 bathrooms) (£££££)


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Mini Review:

I went here because…

We were looking for a long weekend break (where none of the group of 6 of us had been), and we all LOVE good food.

The best thing was…

Where to begin… Yes it's all about the food, so which bit was best? 3 Michelin starred Akelare or Borda Berri in the Parte Vieja hub. Personally, it was definitely Borda Berri. Wow.

I'd like to change…

The apartment was beautiful but as it was an old building there was no air conditioning which would normally be OK with the window open- unfortunately the bar downstairs disposes of their glass bottles from 3 till about 5am!

I wish I'd had time to…

I wish we had another night in Parte Vieja to sample more pintxos.


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FACTS

As the picture introduces, San Sebastián is neither Spanish nor French. Located in the Basque region of northern Spain along the coast of the Bay of Biscay; the community prides itself on their autonomy. Also known as Donostia, they even have their own language. San Sebastián offers hilly walks as well as sunbathing on a beautiful beach. Having said this, it also has a very cloudy climate with high levels of rainfall. Take an umbrella and hope for one of the frequent snaps of sunshine.


OPINIONS

There was a lot of anticipation and excitement amongst us for this trip. It isn't a place I had heard a lot about growing up yet once the trip was booked, anyone I spoke to whether at work or outside seemed to have it on their 'list' or had already visited- more than once! Why it took so long for me to go I have no idea, but I will definitely be going back. The city has high number of Michelin starred restaurants compared to its size and is most known for its foodie background worldwide. We had an extremely long 'to eat' list and somehow balanced this with a few of the city's tourist treats.

Our apartment was about 10 minutes walk from the old town, giving a quieter atmosphere yet still close to everything we wanted. We had had many discussions about which restaurants to visit on our trip. My budget could not possibly afford more than one Michelin starred restaurant and many people had reassured me that this was not the end of the world. We decided to pre-book Akelare (3 Michelin stars) for our first night based on reviews of its food and it's stunning position. It really was a beautiful setting and we watched the sunset whilst we started our tasting menu paired with wines. I have to say, I love good food, but often I want just that-good food. Not something that has been moulded to look like something else, or been purified, dyed or from the part of an animal humans are repulsed by the sound of (e.g. throat). I'm more of a wholesome, taste first food appreciator. I'm all for utilising the whole animal and not wasting, but I'm pretty sure even these restaurants don't use the entire animal- just the odd bits! I did think the menu was very creative, food was beautifully presented and clearly used high quality ingredients. Was it worth £200 for one person? I think not, but as many would argue, it is about the food experience not just the items individually. I am glad I went, but happy with my decision to just visit one out of the many.

 

The following day, we had a wander in Parte Vieja, planning our pintxos stops at the weekend and generally soaking in the buzzing atmosphere. We decided to work off our previous night's dinner by walking up to Urgull to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful views of the bay. That evening we had booked a pintxos tasting tour with San Sebastián Food, and we did not regret this. In a small group of 9 we wove through the streets under the lead of our lovely guide. We had a huge range of Pinxtos, all so delicious and incredibly creative flavours packed into small portions. I'm very good good at ordering food in a restaurant, however selecting your pintxos, especially those that are fresh or need to be warmed is a bit more of a challenge within the crowds. I don't think I would have managed the first experience and had such a variety of pintxos and wine if we had not been part of a group. It definitely gave us the confidence to know what to do the next night, or if we visit again. Highly recommended for first timers.

We happened to visit during the week of the grand festival that meant there were amazing fireworks every night led by different countries. It was lovely to have a great time trying pintxos, drinking good wine, chatting and ending things with the fireworks by the sea. We also had time to walk along the beach as well as doing a little shopping, asking our taxi back to Bilbao to stop via the Guggenheim. A really wonderful short break.

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Restaurants:

Akelare

Borda Berri

Bar Nestor

Taberna Gandarias

A Fuego Negro

Bar Gorriti

 

Sites & places of interest:

San Sebastián Food

As above


La Concha

View from the table at Akelare

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus

View of Good Shepherd Cathedral from Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus

View of the city from Urgell

 

Parade during Semana Grande (Big week)

Amazing quality Pinxtos

Busy evening pintxos bar hopping

Last stop at the Guggenheim

 

Vienna

I went to: Vienna city centre


I stayed at: Radisson Blu Style (4*) £££££


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Mini Review:

I went here because…

It's the capital! Since we're going all the way to Austria, it seemed to appropriate to see Vienna.

The best thing was…

Bar hopping between sights with delicious Aperol spritzers.

I'd like to change…

We took the train from Salzburg to Vienna for a different experience. Clean and efficient, but in reality not much of the journey included the picturesque views I had imagined.

I wish I'd had time to…

We stayed for 2 nights which was sufficient, except I wish I'd seen a performance at the opera house.


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FACTS

The largest city in Austria, Wien, as it is known was once home to Sigmund Freud. It has a rich history displayed with beautiful architecture with medieval and baroque touches seen over the city including the wonderful Karlskirche church.


OPINIONS

Only a short burst of city break amusement after a very relaxing and beautiful longer trip to Salzburg. In comparison, the glitz and glamour of Vienna didn't compare for me with the rolling hills and lakes of the latter. This does not mean it's somewhere I wouldn't visit again. On the contrary, Vienna is a beautiful city full of wonderful eateries, trendy bars, historical landmarks and beautiful architecture. I almost forgot to mention its important musical history in addition. Perhaps next time it will be a single city trip so I can really soak in the city's own vibe. I imagine its a stunning pre-Christmas destination.


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Restaurants:

La Tavolozza (Italian). Lovely little restaurant with great service. Travelling with family with particular tastes meant it was a near to guaranteed success.


Sites & places of interest:

Schonbrunn Palace

Hofburg Palace

St Stephen's Cathedral

Rathaus (council building)

Karskirche Church

 

 

 

May 2013