Google Need Another Holiday: October 2012

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Andalucia: Don't forget Jerez de la Frontera

Jerez de la Frontera was my first taste of real Spain.

And it tasted like Sherry.

Until Jerez, I’d only ever seen sherry in a dusty bottle, at the back of my parents drinks cabinet in our old family home. Occasionally that bottle was opened for a wee Christmas tipple.

Could I have imagined where this drink had its origins? Not likely.

There were also bottles of spirits with exotic sounding names in that cupboard. These were the drinks my childhood self imagined had come from far away places in my parents’ bid to bring the holiday home with them. I always liked the idea of that; being in your living room on a winter’s day and pouring yourself a glass of something that could instantly transport you back to somewhere fabulous.

These days, that’s how I feel about Sherry.

Visiting Jerez was a happy accident brought about by my sister’s year abroad whilst studying for a degree in Spanish. I remember her telling us where home for the next eight months was to be, much to our confusion. We knew about the Costa Brava and the Balearics but I have to admit we had no idea about Andalucia

A view of  Jerez

I visited Jerez twice while my sister lived there. First, I stayed in a rented apartment in the gypsy quarter of town. It was an atmospheric place to be, and I have a vivid memory of walking in the late morning, hearing the sounds of a Spanish guitar and catching a glimpse of a dancing silhouette through a curtain in one of the areas Flamenco schools.

This was the Spain I always wanted to know.
And that recollection still gives me goosebumps.

On my second visit, I stayed in my sister's Spanish home and got to sample genuine local life, off the tourist track. It was an excellent week in authentic Andalucia.

Jerez de la Frontera is the fifth largest city in Andalucia and is well worth a visit should you be staying in nearby Seville (it’s a convenient bus or train ride and a journey of about 55 miles). It’s rich in beautiful architecture and has a wonderfully strong identity.  Influences can be seen all around reflecting the city’s history as a town on the frontier between the Moorish and Christian regions of the country. And the sweet smell of Sherry stimulates the senses as it wafts gently around the city.

Things you should do in Jerez de la Frontera:

  • Visit the 17th century Cathedral. A stunning fusion of architectural styles
  • See the Alcazar, a Moorish fortress with gorgeous gardens
  • Get a 360 degree view of the city from the Camera Obscura
  • Explore the Museum of Equestrian Arts where you can learn about the history of the famous Andalusian horses
  • Go Sherry tasting. Open your eyes to the many different varieties and find your favourite; from dry and pale, to rich and nutty. Visit a Bodega such as Sandeman for a tour and a lesson in the making of this Spanish wine

A Jerez memory, on my living room wall

Of all the places I’ve visited, Jerez is one I long to go back to more than most. Perhaps that’s because I never planned to go there in the first place, unlike Venice or Rome or Barcelona. It was such a surprise discovery and a jewel that got hold of me in a way I’ll never forget.

There’s much more for me to say about Andalucia, with posts to come about Seville and Cadiz too. In the meantime, I hope I’ve got you interested in Jerez de la Frontera. If you’ve already been there, please share your thoughts with me…

We stayed in the self catering Riad on our first trip and some of our party stayed in Hotel Casa Grande – I’d recommend both; these opinions are purely my own


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Scotland: When Is a Lake Not a Lake?

When it’s a Loch!

I am not sure just how long it would have taken me to discover Scotland, had I not been swept off my feet by a Scotsman. And despite the fact that we met somewhere quite different, Scotland’s ruggedly beautiful landscapes would make a perfect setting for a romantic break, or indeed any sort of break at all.

Tranquil Waters, Scottish Summer Skies

Loch Lomond is a fine example of picture perfect Scotland, and with a journey time of less than an hour from the vibrant city buzz of Glasgow, it’s easy to get to. A few days in the delightful town of Balloch made me realise that by meeting my husband, I’d inadvertently been given the gift of a second home in Scotland, and a whole new world to explore.

My Scotsman skims stones on Loch Lomond

Balloch is small, but perfectly formed and surprising to boot. Who would have thought that there’d be a House of Fraser department store on the shores of Loch Lomond? You should rest assured however, that this is nothing like the multi floor mega shops you find in city centres; the tucked away Loch Lomond Shores complex doesn’t take anything away from the character of Balloch and has plenty more to offer visitors besides a shopping fix.

Somehow, this doesn't look like Scotland. But it is

There’s also a refreshing cosmopolitan feel here. As you stroll around and hear many different languages you realise that the appeal of Loch Lomond pulls in travellers from far and wide. I suspect they feel like I do; that Balloch is a both a picturesque and convenient base for discovering this part of Scotland, and a good starting point before taking in the other pretty places on the Loch including Luss and Tarbet, or before venturing further north into the spectacular Scottish Highlands.

The view from Balloch Castle

If you do get to visit Loch Lomond, be sure to support local businesses and stay in a B&B. You’ll be looked after, get great value for your money and the hearty Scottish breakfast will see you through the walk up to Balloch Castle where you can stop and admire the breathtaking views of the Loch. Then, you can take a boat trip and discover where the Wallabies live on the island of Inchconnachan, visit the Loch Lomond Aquarium and if you fancy a tipple, ride out for a tour of a nearby whisky distillery

Our boat for a leisurely cruise of the Loch

What’s not to love?

If you’ve been to Scotland, I’d love to know where you’ve been and if you haven’t yet discovered this part of the world, well it’s high time you did. 

We stayed in Time Out B&B - this recommendation is purely my own.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Making My Peace With Part-Time Travel

I thought it might be ever so slightly difficult for me to write this, because I’m still a little afraid to admit my truth. You see, much as I love to hear about the adventures of others and get a buzz from reading the thoughts of many a round the world travel blogger, I actually have no great wish to go backpacking.

I am proud to be a part time traveller.

My weekend "backpack"

I don’t know if you’ll take me seriously when I tell you that I never took a gap year because I never wanted to. Maybe you think this makes me a tourist and not a traveller? I hope I can be a bit of both. That’s my plan.

I don’t spend my working day wishing I could pack it all in and set off around the globe indefinitely. I just spend my lunchtimes taking on line inspiration from the experiences of others and planning where my next wave of annual leave or a forthcoming bank holiday weekend could take me.

You might think I’m mad for having a full time job; that it keeps me from seeing the world. I think it simply funds my exploits so that I can see the world chunk by chunk in my own style, and affords me a few home comforts along the way. Of course, I still have to cut my cloth according to my means, but I am sure all travellers would agree that you can go anywhere on any budget. Your experiences might be different to someone with twice as much, or half as little as you, but they’ll be your adventures (however adventurous you are) and they’ll be as rewarding as you want to make them.

So for now, I’ll keep recounting my tales and tips from my part time travels, but I’ll also keep looking to all you full time round the world nomads for my lunchtime inspiration.

For the record, my next jaunt is to fair Verona and I can’t wait to tell you all about it on my return.

Then, after that who knows?

The world is everyone’s oyster. How you see it is up to you.

How do you get to see the world? I’d love to know.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do Dublin. The Guinness Really Does Taste Better!

I might have left a small piece of my heart in the city of Venice, but Dublin will always be my spiritual home. I’ve been there enough times to believe that I am actually Irish now (Oh I’ve got the tenuous family links too, if you need proof!), but until this June, I hadn’t been to the Emerald Isle since 2007. Five long years. Another visit was well overdue.

I first went for a birthday weekend with friends and a love affair with this city began. I know how it sounds to describe a place as “friendly”, but I think it’s appropriate here.  

Dublin is a capital city without being too imposing, as many big cities often are. You can find your bearings pretty easily and I’ve always found that the locals seem happy to have you.

Even on my first trip, something about Dublin felt familiar – perhaps because for me it seems to have much in common with my native Liverpool

These days, it seems a shame that the Irish capital has become synonymous with hen and stag parties, and while it's true that they still come to enjoy the nightlife, I will always maintain that everyone can have fun in Dublin.

Here are some things to do on your trip:

1. Visit the Guinness Storehouse
Learn how the famous beverage came to be. Understand the history and discover that the Guinness definitely does taste better in Ireland, when you get a chance to drink it in the Gravity Bar overlooking the city.

So good, I had to have a swig before I could even take a picture

2. Drink at least one pint (preferably several) of the Black Stuff
Go into any pub.
Ask for a pint.   
Let it settle.
Then do it again.
Wander around the city from place to place and pub to pub, as the fancy takes you…Then stagger home.

3. Eat a hearty lunch
They say you don’t need to eat if you drink Guinness. But then you’d miss hearty stews and the tastes of tradition you get in places like Gallagher's Boxty House
Irish food is like a big hug for your belly.

4. Tap your feet to some live music in Temple Bar
There’s live music everywhere in the Temple Bar area. Mingle with tourists and locals alike and dance with a random while you sing about the Fields of Athenry.

5. Take a trip on the Dublin Bus hop on, hop off tour
Make sure you choose a bus with the live commentary and be prepared to hop off with your jaw aching from excessive laughter. The drivers are fantastic and you can use your ticket to get to and from all the major sights.

Besides these ideas, there's much more you can do in Dublin (when you're not marvelling at the bar staff; they serve about six people at once - pubs in England should take note).

Museums are plentiful. You can while away the hours watching the world go by on a park bench in St Stephen's Green, or you can shop 'til you drop  - whether you flash the cash in upmarket Brown Thomas, or buy souvenir nick nacks in one of the many branches of Carrolls

Put simply, there's plenty of craic to be had in Dublin

Listen to the Leprechaun!
For places to stay, try Blooms Hotel for good value,The Morgan for a posh, boutique feel (this is next on my list now I've tried cocktails at their bar), or push the boat out and stay in luxury at The Clarence.
(These recommendations are all my own)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

5 Things That Got Me Addicted to the Greek Islands

It’s no secret that I’m completely and utterly enamoured with the Greek Islands. I blame the Greeks, above everyone else, for my holiday obsession. And there are so many islands, you see, each with slightly different charms, so I have to keep going back again, every time a different place calls my name.

I am addicted to Greece.

Here’s what got me hooked:

Enchanting Elafonisi in Crete

  1. Beautiful BeachesThis one goes without saying, but I have to start here. There is no shortage of gently shelving, soft sand, sloping serenely into the sea on the Greek Islands. On a trip to Elafonisi in southwest Crete, I discovered that Europe can rival any tropical destination for coral pink sand and crystal clear waters. If you go to Greece just for the beaches, you won’t be disappointed. But there is so much more to enjoy.

  1. Home Cooked Greek Cuisine
    I will eat whatever you put in front of me if it’s Greek. Fact.Moussaka is an obvious choice, but my absolute favourite is Lamb Kleftico. I love the slight variations you get with this dish, depending on which island you’re on and whose wise old mother the recipe came from. I’ve had it on the bone, off the bone, wrapped in paper and served as a one pot wonder. I’ve even had it put down in front of me wrapped in foil and actually on fire. Flames and all. I’ve never not liked it.
    And given that I cannot help but clear my plate everywhere I go in Greece, there’s simply nothing quite like a wee drop of Metaxa, Raki or Ouzo to help your dinner go down and warm (or burn, in the case of Raki) your insides.

  1. Fascinating History
    I was nine or ten the first time I learned anything about Ancient Greece. I remember being enthralled by these extraordinary stories as they were absorbed by my consciousness. Visiting Greece later in life, I saw that you can’t go anywhere without being immersed in some of this wonderful history and mythology. From the ancient Palace of Knossos in Crete, to the Asklepion in Kos; the birthplace of Hippocrates and modern medicine. And not forgetting the volcanic island of Santorini, rumoured to be the origins of the legendary Lost City of Atlantis. 
    All this without me even mentioning Athens and the Acropolis. 
    Enough said.

Walking through the past in Knossos
  1. Family Values
    I’ve watched three generations of a Greek family dancing together; I’ve seen children following their mother with toy brooms as she cleaned the rooms in the little apartments run by their family; I’ve been told by a Greek tour guide in Crete how elderly parents and grandparents live with the younger generations of their families so they can be cared for, just as they cared for their own youngsters, before they grew up. All in all, the Greeks have taught me a lot about the importance of family and looking after each other.

  1. The People in General
    The last time we visited Crete, the owner of our accommodation gave us a bottle of wine from his village because we were still (relative) newlyweds. Unfortunately, it tasted kind of like I imagine petrol does (I really wanted to like it), but it was still a lovely gesture. When we left, we got hugs and kisses as though we were old friends. This year was much the same, as Costas told us how it makes him sad to see people go once he’s got to know them a little. The Greek Islands are bursting with wonderful people, just waiting to welcome you.

    What do you love about Greece? And which island should I visit next?