Google Need Another Holiday: November 2012

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.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Walk Around Liverpool's Waterfront

Although my quest is always to visit new places and look at new things, there is one destination that pulls me to it and envelopes me in a warm welcome whenever I visit. That place is Liverpool.

One of Liverpool's iconic Liver Birds sits atop the Royal Liver Building

I haven’t lived in Liverpool for nearly 14 years, and although it’s an easy distance from where I live now, I can no longer honestly call it home. Still, although I left the city, it has never left me and it never will; if you’re familiar with our accent, you’ll know why! I only have to open my mouth and let a few words fall before I’m identified as hailing from the city of Liverpool. They don’t speak Scouse like us anywhere else!

If you've never been to Liverpool, it’s time you gave it a go. The city is thriving and there's never been a better time to visit. I may be completely and unashamedly biased, but these days it’s a city filled with visitors, and for good reason. Oh, and if you're only thinking about The Beatles, think again. Liverpool is also rich in art galleries, museums and is a shoppers paradise. You'll hear more on what there is to love about Liverpool here, in coming posts (and, yes, you'll hear about The Beatles too - we are born knowing the words to every song by the Fab Four in this city)!

It's worth noting, too, that Liverpool is also a city that has come a long way. In 2012 it became the UK’s fastest growing economy outside of London, and in 2011 it was voted the UK’s friendliest city by Condé Nast Traveller for the second year running (see, we’re a friendly bunch! So don’t be afraid to ask us to speak more slowly if our Scouse accent gives you problems)!

And if I haven't convinced you to consider it  for a city break yet, well let me take you on a walk around the waterfront...

The Albert Dock: history, shops, bars, restaurants and luxe living

The old pump house. Now the perfect place for a pint and a pub lunch

Liverpool's memorial to the hard working horses from its dockland heydey

The city's new icons: Love a Superlambanana! See them outside the new waterfront museum
A view of Liverpool's "new" waterfront
The memorial of Captain Frederick "Johnnie" Walker, looks out over the Mersey
The Church of  Our Lady & St Nicholas stands proud among the more recent additions to the skyline
Historic buildings make this a stunning place to stroll around

So if you plan on visiting the UK, give Liverpool a chance to impress you and the locals a chance to welcome you. Be prepared to be impressed and possibly to party into the early hours. It can be a Hard Day's Night after all (I know, I know - I couldn't help it)!

Have you been to Liverpool? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments. As always, I love to hear what you think.