Google Need Another Holiday: 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Weekend Picture Pick: Christmas in Munich

I know there was no weekend picture pick last week, but that's because I was too busy getting my festive buzz on by drinking mulled wine in Munich.

So while we're still in the middle of the festive season, here's a wee taste of Christmas in Bavaria, and a beautiful crib.

The crib in the Theatinerkirche, Munich 
I've got so much more to say about Munich, and my first visit to Germany (and it's all good).

So stay tuned and watch this space...

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Pondering Travels Past, Planning Travels Future and Packing for Travels Present

Reflecting is something we all do at this time of year, whether we intend to or not. We can't help it, and there's nothing wrong with that.

2012 will be a year I remember fondly as my biggest success to date in terms of travel. I might not have made it out of Europe, but that doesn't matter to me. The point is that I really feel like I made the best of my budget and my time off work.

In April, I returned to Venice to retrieve the piece of my heart I left there six years ago, only to decide that it belonged there, thus giving me a reason to go back once again.

A sunny sky, a beer in my hand and Venice. What more could I ever want?
In June, I made the short trip from home across the Irish Sea to my beloved city of Dublin. This time, I was on a hen party. I laughed until my face ached and the tears streamed down my face; I danced until my feet throbbed with agony and I had to limp back to the airport. I loved every minute.

Smiling (despite the clouds) one on of many visits to Dublin. Probably my favourite city in the world
In August, I basked in Greek sunshine on the Island of Kos; soaking up the sun, swishing in the sea and stuffing my face with glorious Greek food.

The perfect spot for relaxing. The Mythos Apartments in Tigaki, Kos
In October, I searched for secret sights in Fair Verona, and finally made it to Lake Garda, a place I have wanted to visit for so, so long.

Lake Garda. I made it. I loved it.

Now, in December, I'm preparing to pack light for a whirlwind 48 hours in Munich. We leave on Saturday morning for what will be my first visit to Germany; something I'm tremendously excited about. I'll be overdosing on Christmas spirit and getting to know the city by taking a walking tour.  I can't wait.

And of course, 2013 then beckons with all the optimistic promise a New Year brings. February will see me fly to Belgium for a trip to Bruges and Brussels, and in April I'm planning to visit Brighton for Traverse, my first travel blogging conference. I'll be nervous, but I'm really looking forward to it. 

Perhaps the most important thing about 2012 for me, is that I'll remember it always as the year I finally put myself out there and started my blog. 

My full-time job an electrical engineer is rewarding, and doing my bit to keep the lights on is something I love. 

But it's only part of my story. Need Another Holiday is the rest. 

And every single page view means such a lot. So if you're reading this now, thank you, sincerely. 

Here's to celebrating your successes of 2012, and making the most of every minute in 2013.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Weekend Picture Pick: When Santa Got Stuck Up the Chimney

This weekend's photo comes somewhat late, I'm afraid. But that's because I've mostly been in a frantic, festive shopping frenzy for the last couple of days. 

And that involved a visit to Manchester's Trafford Centre, one of the UK's largest shopping and leisure complexes.

The Trafford Centre Santa looks down over Manchester, from the 220 feet high Campanile

No matter how hard I try, I never seem to manage to avoid the mayhem of the High Street in the last fortnight before the Big Day. I must confess though, there's something quite exciting about being a last minute Christmas shopper. And once we're well and truly into December, I can submit myself completely to the season, unashamedly Christmas jumpered up to the max. 

Woolly reindeer hat and all. 

With bells on.

Have you done all your Christmas shopping?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Barcelona: The City That Brought Me Back to Life

I went to Barcelona the year after I never went anywhere. That was the year I suffered two prolapsed discs in my lower back, condemning me to four months stuck at home on a cocktail of painkillers and daytime television.

It's strange how being housebound can affect you. As someone who loves to travel, I still struggle to get my head around how fearful I became of leaving my own front door. 

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona,where I managed to forget about being in pain.

When you're getting over the type of physical pain that people tell you they can actually see on your face, it's easy to become frightened of simply bumping in to someone when you're out and about. You worry that the slightest thing will hurt you all over again. In my case, it meant that the real me went into hibernation. And despite being inactive for such a long time, somehow I managed to lose a lot of weight, because I just couldn't sit up to eat a meal.

Eventually boarding a plane and taking off on a trip to Barcelona, somewhere I'd always wanted to visit, was an unbelievable feeling. And it was there, in Barcelona, that the travel bug bit me again.

Feeling happy to be back out in the world. It might have been too cold for a dip in that pool, but I didn't care.

My lower back pain has never completely gone away, but I don't complain. Things can always be a lot worse. And it doesn't stop me travelling. I won't let it. Those flights can get uncomfortable, but a rolled up scarf tucked in to the small of my back (my fashion/ function saviour), works wonders.

Nothing will stop me from seeing the world

Not since Barcelona brought me back to life.

Has an injury or illness ever stopped you from travelling? Has any one place really made a difference to you, or brought you back from something? If you'd like to, please share your story in the comments.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Weekend Picture Pick: Inspiring My Inner Italian Chef

I chose this photo after spending lengthy periods of time this week pondering what culinary delights I might prepare this Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes there's nothing better than whiling away a winter weekend afternoon cooking up comfort food in the kitchen. 

And sometimes there's nothing more comforting than an Italian feast...

One of Italy's wonderful market stalls

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Travel Beauty Booty: 5 Skin Care Products You Should Pack

With age comes wisdom, they say. 

Well that may be true, but in my case, every passing year brings with it more of an obsession with skin care products. I might be determined to grow old gracefully, but I can't help believing that investing in a bit of good practise now, will saddle me up with the armour I need to ride into battle for the fight against wrinkles when they really attack.

Of course, plastering my face with a plethora of creams and serums is all well and good when I'm in the comfort of home. And a dressing table display of beautiful bottles and gorgeous glass jars is one of my indulgent little luxuries. But what horror befalls this beauty junkie when faced with a carry on case and a plane journey that means I'll be away from my lotion and potion loot?

I have to get ready for bed at 6pm to give me time to smother my face in all of this. And this is only half of it.

The variety of skin care I own is so shamefully vast that it would probably need its own suitcase in the hold if I packed the lot (along with my shoes; a whole other sore point). But I'm not daft, so I know that the skin care regime needs to be suitably streamlined when I'm ready for take off.

This begs the question:

What do women really need to look after their skin when they're away or on the road?

And what multi-taskers will see us through?

Here are my favourite five:

1) Vaseline - The skin saviour. Cheap and readily available. Plus, it doubles up brilliantly as a waterproof eye make-up remover and lip balm for even the most sensitive skin.

2) Cleanser - You need this. If I'm planning a long trip, I'll buy it in my destination. Otherwise I'm likely to pack a packet of cleansing wipes. Easy.

3) Toner - Not something I'm prepared to do without, this eradicates every last bit of face grime. Just decant as much as you'll need into a mini spray bottle and spritz it onto a cotton wool pad to use.

4) Moisturiser - At home I have a day cream and a night cream (needs must), but when I'm away I choose a good multi-tasker I can use around the clock. Something like Clinique's Dramatically Different would be a good bet.

5) Sun screen - Goes without saying! Much as we love it, the sun is our number one ageing agent. Be prepared in all climates!

And that's what I pack! I leave everything else at home, but I always leave room for duty-free beauty. Just in case!

(My current brands of choice are Vichy and The Sanctuary, but I do dabble in Chanel when I'm feeling flush!)

Do you have any travel beauty secrets or favourite products? Please share in the comments!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Mulled Wine and Magic in Manchester's Christmas Markets

As I peeled my gloves from my icy hands and curled my fingers around this year's Christmas market mug, I felt the exciting, yet comforting buzz of another December hit me.

First glimpse of the giant Santa, overlooking the European market in front of Manchester's Town Hall.

The warmth of the festive season seeped right under my skin with that first sip of mulled wine, rousing the kid who still lives inside me from her eleven month slumber. The season of goodwill has come round again, and I intend to enjoy every waking minute of it in a gluhwein glow.

My first sip of Christmas in this year's souvenir mug

The markets make a clear statement that Manchester just loves Christmas, and their annual appearance is a wonderful opportunity to soak up a bit of that festive spirit, or to buy quirky gifts which are just that bit more unique.

Fabulously festive hand made tree decorations for sale on one of the many stalls

We go to the Manchester Christmas Markets every year. It would be wrong not to. Sometimes it can be a battleground of eager crowds, but a couple of Christmas drinks generally mean you just sway along with the odd shove. It's worth it.

A view over the top of the market stalls. They get more impressive every year.

What started with a visit from a small group of German traders in 1998, has snowballed into a vast array of festive feasting and shopping opportunities. Now you can find numerous markets, aside from the main European extravaganza in Albert Square, all over the city centre, bringing a taste of Christmas to England's North West from all around Europe and beyond.

Bits and bobs and baubles, all so much prettier than in the High Street shops

We ambled our way around the various market locations, appetites growing with every step, so it's just as well there's no shortage of food options. It was difficult to choose between bratwurst, paella or goulash. Not to mention some more traditionally British options, like good old Lancashire hotpot. And then there was the sweet stuff. Crepes, waffles, chocolates and strudel. Winter foodie heaven. All washed down with whichever version of mulled wine you fancied. 

Me? Well, I had a mug of the traditional German gluhwein to start (complete with a healthy slug of rum - purely to fend of the cold, you understand), then I came over all Parisian as we strolled cheeks-a-glow back across town, taking in a taste of vin chaud after sauntering through the French market.

A little bit of Paris comes to upmarket King Street

And if hot, spicy red wine isn't your thing, there was beer galore and almost every take on coffee and hot chocolate you could think of. Something for every festive fancy.

The strudel I only wish I had room for, after my mammoth serving of paella

The Manchester Christmas Markets have become something of a local institution and a magnet for visitors to the city. So if you're planning a stint in the UK around the Christmas holidays, or you can hop on a train or jump in your car to get here, give it a try.

You might miss this year, but if 2012 is anything to go by, next year already promisies to pack a full-on, festive punch.

For more detailed information on the markets, facts and details on how to get to Manchester click here for the Visit Manchester website.

Are you planning on any Christmas market action? And have you been to any of the other markets in the UK? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Weekend Picture Pick: Mathew Street, Liverpool

This photo comes from the famous Mathew Street; birthplace of The Beatles, in Liverpool.

I've no doubt that the party is already in full swing down there right now, despite the bitter bite of this freezing November night.

The weather never stops a native Liverpudlian from glamming up and painting the town red!

The famous John Lennon statue

Have you ever danced the night away in this part of Liverpool?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Verona's Secrets

My recent trip to Verona presented me with so much to see that it meant one post alone was never going to cut it. Yes, there were the obligatory sights, like Juliet's Balcony, but there was so much to be gained from merely wandering the streets in this city.

If you've visited this blog before, you'll know I'm always a fan of just looking up, and never has it given me more to enjoy than in Verona.

Decorations adorning buildings and windows were a delight to admire. And it doesn't matter if I can't tell you where or when I saw each one here, because they are Verona's secrets. And if you visit (which I hope you will), you're bound to spot more than a few of your own. So take a sneak peak...

Verona's Louis Vuitton shop; more to look at than just designer window displays

Much like in Rome, there are so many shrines of devotion to the Virgin Mary in Verona. You'll find them anywhere and everywhere, in unexpected locations. They are works of art in their own right and a reminder of the influence of religion, in the best possible way. You can't set out looking for these, but keep your eyes open  and you'll be rewarded.

Turning a corner and finding a Secret Mary was one of the best things about roaming Verona's streets
These shrines were everywhere, still beautiful even when fading with age
It was special to see that some were so well tended to, even as people just went by, busy with their daily lives
The more city breaks I go on, the more I realise that my favourite sights are often not on the must-see list, and half the time I don't even know what I'm looking at, I just know that I like it. And that's enough. So I've decided... we should all set aside a day, or at least a couple of hours, whichever city we're in, to walk about, camera at the ready. You never know what you'll find.

This made me think about falling asleep on the job (of course, I'd never do that)!
Captivating colours are just one thing to admire on this building

I loved the serene look of this sculpture, sitting peacefully above a doorway

So remember, if you go to Verona, or anywhere else, make sure you go searching for the secret sights.

What's your favourite city for secret sights so far? Use the comments to let me know. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 26 November 2012

What Top 10 Things Will You Most Regret?

The other day, my husband told me about something he'd heard on BBC radio because he knew instantly that it would strike a chord with me.  

A recent study by the British Heart Foundation has found that the number one regret amongst us Brits is that we wish we'd travelled more.

Although a similar study found that number one on our to-do list was winning the lottery (it's good to have realistic goals!), none of us seem to end up on our deathbeds reminiscing about the time we were one number away from a big win.  

Instead we wish we'd seen the Pyramids, wandered around the canals of  Venice or floated in the Dead Sea

Venice's Grand Canal
And while we might have other regrets, like not keeping in touch with old friends, or not working harder in school, more than anything we wish we'd just seen more of the world. (You can click here to have a look at the full list).

When I was younger, travel for me meant a single fortnight away in the sun each year on a family holiday. As I grew up, I aimed to fly away from home more than once a year. But even once I achieved that goal, I still only ever booked one trip at a time and always waited until I got home before I attempted to line up the next one. In a peculiar way, I think it's because I felt guilty somehow. Like I should be spending my money on something else, even though I wasn't sure what.

Now I've decided life's simply too short. I know I already save for the future, so what's so wrong with spending the money I can, taking advantage of cheap flight deals when I find them? And instead of weighing up whether to click "book now" for a few days or even longer (and sometimes watching that cheap deal slip away), now I just do it.

The Sacre Coeur in Paris

I'm not planning on embarking on a round the world trip and giving up my job - it works for some and I admire them for it, truly enjoying a good read of  their travel tales. But this is my life, and my time. I'll do what it takes to make me happy, and I'm fine travelling around my work commitments. For me, this means I never have to work whilst I'm travelling and can always enjoy the experience as a holiday. 

It doesn't matter that I'm not travelling full time, it's just a privilege to travel at all. And I'm happy to say that I've started as I mean to go on, so when I breathe my last breath, I'll have a mind full of memories. And although I might not see all of the world in the end, I'll know I tried and I'll rest assured I won't be regretting all those cheap flights I booked.

What about you? As always, I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Postcards from Juliet

On my recent trip to Verona, one of the must see sights was Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's House). Despite being a somewhat token tribute to a fictional story, there's no way you could come to this fair city and miss gazing up at that famous balcony. Perhaps you'd also leave your mark on the walls, along with the many lovelorn and loved up, who have visited before you.

Have you ever been to Juliet's house?

Shakespeare - the scene we all know and love
Just a few of the many locks left by lovers

Messages from the many who feel the need to leave their mark
 Juliet may never have stood here in truth, but there's no doubt that this famous balcony looks the part

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Should You Go All In?

All Inclusive holidays are on the up, with companies like First Choice in the UK now offering nothing but All Inclusive breaks. But are they all they propose to be? And how do you know if going all in is the right choice for you?

I couldn’t write this article without having experienced All Inclusive holidaying for myself, so I’ll share with you my two experiences.

I’d heard many a good thing about All Inclusive hotels, particularly those in North Africa, from people I knew well enough to trust. And sometimes, I like the ease of booking a package for a true break from the plate spinning of everyday life. Given that I’m a part-time traveller with a full-time job, I don’t feel guilty about doing this at all. Trying the All Inclusive option just seemed like a logical step in the hunt for complete peace and a worry free getaway.

The All Inclusive beach - An extension to holiday paradise, or holiday prison?

Going All In

When I found a great price for a two week trip to Hammamet in Tunisia, I went for it. Limited means meant I was happy to be paying up front, safe (hopefully) in the knowledge that there wouldn’t be much additional money being spent in my destination. And apart from tipping in the restaurant and at the bars, there wasn’t. For the first week, things were pretty much great. Buffet food was plentiful and the beers could keep on coming whilst I did very little besides read and swish about in the silky sea. It was the escape I needed.

Unfortunately, as week two set in, so did a mild case of cabin fever. There wasn’t much variety in the food after a week, and I started to feel rather like it was Groundhog Day. This wasn’t helped by the location of the hotel (it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere), or the fact that our budget just didn’t really stretch to some of the excursions on offer (and it seemed that an organised excursion was really the only way to get anywhere else). Needless to say, I was glad to be home after the fortnight ended.

Note to reader: I never say that about Greece.

Alas, the following year, with a wedding approaching (mine, actually), I’d been trying to resist that unstoppable urge I get to book flights, in order to save the pennies. But it didn’t work and I found myself once again hunting for the ultimate bargain trip (I don’t call myself a holiday addict for nothing, you know). This time the answer seemed to present itself in the form of an All Inclusive week in Hurghada, Egypt. Well wouldn’t you know? I booked it.

Foolishly, I expected it to be the same setup as the hotel in Tunisia. But these places are never quite the same and this time round, there were limits as to where and when you could get your free drinks, with the evening buffet being more of a free for all, school dinner scenario. Then there were the endless interruptions to your breakfast to see if you wanted freshly squeezed juice (that’’ll be about five quid a glass). Oh, and did I mention one very sick other half? I was relieved that we were only there for a week.

And although we did venture out around Hurghada, it was much too purpose built for my liking. Plus, I felt like I’d let myself down when I came face to face with a McDonalds. Even more so by the fact that the hotel food actually made me want to go inside.

One of the main drawbacks of the All Inclusive for me, particularly in my Egypt experience, was that you couldn’t help thinking I’ve paid for it, so I’ll eat it! And I did eat it. Even when it wasn’t very good at all.

Would you do the "holiday dance"?

So, would I go All In again? It might not surprise you that my answer is no. However, I might reconsider if I had kids. But even then, there’s only a small possibility. I much prefer to self cater and dine out when it suits, trying a variety of eateries. But I do think there’s a place for these resorts and hotels and they will suit some people perfectly.

4 Tips for Trying All Inclusive

Read Reviews: Don’t book anything on a whim. Check the usual resources like Trip Advisor, and pay particular attention to food scores. 

Pick Your Location Wisely: And I don’t just mean the country. If you don’t mind staying put, then a remote location will be fine, but if, like me, you get itchy feet and like to venture out away from organised tours, you need to find somewhere that will meet your need to explore.

Check out the Family Entertainment: This works both ways. If you find somewhere with a great animation programme and plenty of child friendly activities, it could prove a fantastic holiday for Mums and Dads. On the other hand, if yours have grown up or you haven’t had them yet, bear in mind that other people’s children aren’t always much fun. 

Study what’s actually included: If you like your Gordon’s gin and expect to be drinking it past midnight, you need to weigh up whether it will cost you dearly, as often only local beers and sprits are included in your trip. Make sure you check all the details.

Other things worth bearing in mind...

I know someone who went into a travel agent asking about 5 star All Inclusive hotels. The reply was that true 5 star establishments hardly ever offer this option. Be sensible in your expectations. 

Spare a thought too, for the local tourist industry and small businesses. These large (and often chain) hotels usually end up on the fringes of established resorts, and there are constant reports of how local bars and restaurants, once flooded with happy holidaymakers are now closing or only pulling the odd pint for dwindling numbers of customers. Consider who you’d rather had your money in their pocket.

All in all, this type of holiday might be just up your street, but forewarned is forearmed, and despite the raving reviews I still hear from others, I know now that going All Inclusive is just not for me.

Have you been on an All Inclusive holiday? How was it for you? Or are you thinking of trying out the concept? I'd love to hear your views in the comments.