A fly-by trip to Florence

We visited Florence as part of our grand tour of Italy and to be honest it was the place I was looking forward to visiting least, as I was really excited about finally getting to visit Rome and Venice. It turns out I was completely blown away by this beautiful place and it ended up being my favourite out of all the places we visited in Italy during our trip!

We did a walking tour of the centre of Florence with a local guide who was brilliant – he really enjoyed talking to us about his amazing city and was so knowledgeable. Our walking tour around Florence included stops at these wonderful places:

The Church of Santa Croce

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The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the burial place of some of the most famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, and it is therefore also known as the “Temple of the Italian Glories.”

The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, started on 12 May 1294. The Basilica became popular with Florentines and it became common practice for greatly honoured Florentines to be buried or commemorated there. As time progressed, space was also given to other notable Italians from elsewhere. For 500 years, monuments were erected in the church including those to:

  • Leonardo Bruni (15th-century chancellor of the Republic, scholar and historian)
  • Dante (buried in Ravenna)
  • Galileo Galilei
  • Giovanni Gentile (20th-century philosopher)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli by Innocenzo Spinazzi
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The tomb of Galileo
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The tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci

You can read more details about the Church of Santa Croce here.

Outside the Church of Santa Croce you will find the statue of Dante. Dante was a major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages and the statue was erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600 anniversary of his birth. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. 

You can read more about Dante and his work Divine Comedy here and here.

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Dante Museum

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The Casa di Dante is a three floor museum which shows the life and works of the great Italian poet. The original building was rebuilt in the first decade of the twentieth century right where the family homes once stood and where in 1265 Dante was born.

The First Floor covers the life of Dante and medieval Florence, the Second Floor continues with the life of Dante and his exile and the Third Floor covers the Divine Comedy, including original editions of this amazing work.

It’s a very interesting museum, and the entrance fee is only €4 per person!

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

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I will always remember the first moment I saw Florence Cathedral and Bell Tower. We had walked through the winding streets of Florence with our local tour guide learning about the city’s history when we turned a corner and walked into an open area with this beautiful building right in front of us with the sun beaming down on it. I remember gasping aloud and turning to my Mum who was a few paces behind me and saying “oh my god!” She looked at me for a second and then walked forward into the view of the cathedral and then said exactly the same thing! The Duomo Cathedral and Bell Tower along with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are probably the most breath taking buildings I have encountered on my travels!

The camera I had with me for this trip was rubbish but believe me, I think even photographs taken with a top of the range camera would not do this building justice! It has to be seen to be believed!

The exterior of the Cathedral is covered with marble bands in various shades of green and pink and bordered by white. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto’s Bell Tower.

The Cathedral was the location of the murder of Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici. He was assassinated on Sunday, 26 April 1478 by Francesco de’ Pazzi and Bernardo Baroncelli as part of the Pazzi conspiracy (a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the de’ Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence).

Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower)

Giotto’s Campanile is a free-standing Bell Tower that stands next to the Cathedral and the Baptistry of St. John. The structure is square with 14.45 metre sides and it is 84.7 metres tall. You can read more about the Bell Tower here.

The Dome

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The Cathedral’s dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This huge piece of work (3,600 metres² of painted surface) was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and wouldn’t finish until 1579. 

The Baptistry (Battistero di San Giovanni)

The Florence Baptistry (also known as the Baptistry of Saint John), is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. The baptistry is an octagon shape, which was a common shape for baptistries since early Christian times. The number eight is a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, signifying the six days of creation, the Day of Rest, and a day of re-creation through the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of incredible bronze doors! The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo the “Gates of Paradise.” These doors consist of 28 panels, with the twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence. They are really beautiful but you can only get so close due to the gates – I’m sure up close the detail on them would be all the more incredible.

Dante and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised in this baptistry.

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The Academia Museum (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze)

The Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is an art museum which is most well known for being the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. The Academia has housed the original sculpture since 1873. It also holds other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.

I really wanted to visit the museum but we were very rushed for time and the queues to the museum were very long so we didn’t get the chance to visit. The museum itself is very vast and so we would have needed a good few hours to get round and see everything inside. Very disappointing but a good reason to go back again one day!

There were, however, some great statues outside the museum which we thoroughly enjoyed looking at, including a replica of the statue of David, and the Fountains of Neptune.

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Replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David
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The Fountains of Neptune

Florence is such a beautiful place full of fascinating history and is definitely somewhere I would love to re-visit to spend more time here. You could spend days just visiting the fantastic museums and even more time absorbing all the wonderful culture and friendly and relaxed atmosphere! It is worth going just to see the incredible Cathedral and Bell Tower, if Florence is not already on your bucket list then I highly recommend adding it – and placing it somewhere near the top!

When in Rome…

I have always wanted to visit Rome, it is definitely another place I need to re-visit so I can spend more time exploring (and to take better quality photos than the last time I went!)

It was only when I was researching Rome to write my blog that I realised how much I had missed during my short trip. I think, unlike other places in Italy like Venice and Florence, it is partly due to the fact that many of the attractions are quite a distance apart, and not within walking distance of each other. Here’s some of the amazing places I visited during my time in Rome –

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city. It is built of concrete and sand and is the largest amphitheatre ever built. It is certainly very impressive to look at! Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor, Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).

The Colosseum is estimated to be able to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was originally used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles, however it ceased to be used for entertainment purposes during the early medieval era.

It is easy to see why the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions! 

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Arch of Constantine

I can’t believe I took such an awful photo and didn’t get in a better position so the arch wasn’t blocked by the trees! I’m so annoying sometimes!

The Arch of Constantine was built on the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, in 315 AD. The arch was built to honour the victory of Constantine following the Battle of Milvian Bridge that took place in 312 AD.

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The Domus Augustana

The Domus Augustana is the modern name for the so-called domestic wing of the Roman Palace of Domitian (92 AD) on the Palatine Hill.

This was the principal residence of the emperors in the city from the late first to the third centuries A.D.

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Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a beautiful fountain in the Trevi district which was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing just over 26 metres high and 49 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company Fendi would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain – the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history. Restoration work began in June 2014 and the fountain was reopened on the evening of November 3, 2015. The restoration included the installation of more than 100 LED lights to improve the night time illumination of the fountain – the main reason I want to re-visit Rome is to see the results of these amazing restorations! I bet the night time photos of the fountains with these LED lights will be spectacular! 

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Vatican City

Vatican city (Citta del Vaticano) was built over the tomb of Saint Peter and is the smallest state in the world.

Inside the Vatican city you can find 11 Vatican Museums which include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and Vatican Gardens – a place full of large and small gardens, fountains, a fish pool and an enclosure for rabbits!

Arguably the most important building in Vatican City is –

St Peter’s Basilica

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, more commonly known as St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. 

Catholic tradition claims that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first Pope – Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. Construction of the present basilica, which replaced the Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

St. Peter’s is famous for its public worship functions, especially those attended by the Pope. These events have been known to attract audiences of between 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s is one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica – all four of which are in Rome!

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The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was top of my list of the places to see when we visited Rome but the queues were so long we just didn’t have the time to fit it in so I was really disappointed. I do hope to see this beautiful creation one day!

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michaelangelo between 1508 and 1512, and particularly “The Last Judgment” which was painted between 1535 and 1541.

Many people visit Rome for a long weekend but after doing all my research I don’t think a weekend is long enough to see everything that this amazing place has to offer! Definitely one for the “re-visit” list  – I’ll have to ask hubby if he fancies paying a visit!

Eastnor Castle Firework Championships

If any of my readers like fireworks then I’ve got the perfect event for you! Needless to say, the photographs just don’t do these fireworks justice, but then, I’ve always argued that you could say this about any photograph you take!

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I came across a leaflet about Eastnor Castle in my local sandwich shop believe it or not! I thought it looked like a brilliant day out so when I got home I had a look at the Eastnor Castle website. Whilst I was on there looking at ticket prices etc, I came across this fantastic looking event called the Eastnor Castle Firework Championships.

Hubby and I love fireworks but unfortunately we seem to miss out on attending any fireworks night events, either because they start too early and we can’t get there in time after finishing work, or because we have to stay at home to look after our poor dogs who become quite distressed by the loud bangs and whizzes!

This event seemed ideal – it is in September so the weather would hopefully still be mild, and we could go to the event leaving the dogs unsupervised knowing there wouldn’t be a load of fireworks going off in our local area at the same time which would upset them!

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The event is organised by MLE Pyrotechnics and involves three professional firework companies who compete for the title of Eastnor Firework Champions. MLE do a fourth display after the three competitors have finished and whilst the votes for the best display are being counted.

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Gates open at 5pm, we arrived at around 7pm because we wanted to grab something to eat and get a good spot before the show started. I would recommend getting here as early  as you can – parking takes a while and as we were sat down ready to watch the show at 9pm, cars were still queued up and trying to get into the event, so no doubt they missed the beginning!

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There’s a small fairground with a few rides and games to keep kids entertained whilst you wait for the fireworks and they encourage you to bring along picnics to enjoy whilst you watch the shows (although they don’t allow barbecues).

If you don’t fancy bringing your own picnic, food and drink is also available on site, but to be honest, we weren’t that impressed with the selection and wished we had brought our own picnic. There’s a pizza place (I love pizza but they didn’t look very appetising and I overheard a guy say he had waited ages but his pizza was cold when he got it), then there’s a burger and hotdog place (their cheesy chips were nice!) and a wrap place who did a choice of lamb, chicken and hallumi in a tortilla wrap (in my opinion the best of the three but also the most expensive!).

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The evening started with a small firework demo at 9:00pm and then the competition displays begin at around 9:30pm. Each team fires a ten minute show which is choreographed to music and the winner is decided by audience SMS voting. The evening then closes with a larger scale finale by MLE Pyrotechnics.

Camping is available on the Friday or Saturday night if you fancy it. You do have to buy permits for this which are available on the website, but on site parking is free.

This years competing teams are:

Shockwave Pyrotechnics

This was my favourite show and was this years winning team! I especially loved the part which was choreographed to the song “Hallelujah”. The show was amazing – some really big fireworks which completely lit up the sky – absolutely stunning!!

Skyburst Fireworks

Another amazing display with the best soundtrack so far (Feeling Good – Nina Simone!) but the fireworks on this display were smaller on the ground fireworks rather than the big “light up the sky” types and just didn’t quite take your breath away like the other two displays.

Firework Crazy

Another fantastic show and a very close second for me – I loved the part which was choreographed to Bruno Mars! They had some really unusual fireworks I have never seen before – especially some amazing side to side fireworks! This one was hubby’s favourite!

Tickets for the championships are £18.00 per adult and £8.00 for child if you pre-book online (on the gate prices are £20.00 per adult and £10.00 per child).

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I would highly recommend this event if you are a firework fan so put a reminder in your calendars for next year to check it out! Other dates at other locations are also available from the end of July onwards if Eastnor Castle is too far for you to travel – locations which include Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire and Arley Hall in Northwich, Cheshire.

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After such a great event hubby and I can happily say we attended a brilliant firework display this year once November comes back round again!

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Mardi Gras!

Hello fellow travellers and wanderers! Welcome to my latest travel blog which is about the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans!

I have always wanted to go and see the Mardi Gras parades and spend time in New Orleans – amazing history, culture, architecture, food and one of the biggest celebrations on the planet – what more could you want in a destination??

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Lundi Gras

We arrived in New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras (otherwise known as Lundi Gras) and the streets were already alive with people preparing for the big day. We ventured out in the early evening to watch the Uptown Route parades and the streets were already really crowded. We thought we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see much but every  person we encountered was so friendly! People moved aside and made space for us to see the floats going past, and a couple of hours into the evening there was a group of eight of us who stuck together and took it in turns to buy rounds of the world famous Hurricane cocktails!

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We watched the 20 float parade of Krewe of Proteus which depicted the theme of “Ancient Elements of Alchemy” followed by the 32 float parade of Krewe of Orpheus, whose king of the parade this year was none other than Quentin Tarantino! The Krewe of Proteus is the second oldest parade Krewe in the New Orleans Mardi Gras and was founded in 1882. The parade floats still use the original chassis from the 1800’s! The Krewe of Orpheus was founded in 1993 and takes its name from the son of Zeus and Calliope. The Krewe of Orpheus were the first super crew who allowed both male and female riders on the floats.

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One of the most well known Mardi Gras traditions is the throwing of beads and other trinkets.  The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and as well as beads, throws include doubloons, cups, stuffed toys and even coconuts! Doubloons are aluminum coins and come in many different colours. They depict the parade theme on one side and the Krewe’s emblem on the other and are collectors items, particularly ones from the Bacchus parade which includes the image of the celebrity king on one side! By the end of the evening we were already laden down with a huge stash of beads, cups, and doubloons! Check out just some of the stash we came away with:

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After a rather long cocktail filled evening we crawled back to the hotel to prepare for next day’s big event!

Mardi Gras 

We were up nice and early for the day’s celebrations – we had pre-booked tickets at the Royal Grandstand in Lafayette Square on St Charles Avenue, directly opposite the Gallier Hall. Tickets were $50 per person but it meant we had a great view of the parades and for an extra $5 each we were given VIP access which included easy access to toilets (you’ll understand how important this is if you ever get the chance to go!).

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The parades started early (around 8:00am) and Mardi Gras starts with the Zulu Parade (keep your eyes peeled for the very special most-prized golden coconuts which are handed out as part of this parade!). “King of Carnival” Rex follows the Zulu parade and is the oldest Krewe of New Orleans and also the founder of the Mardi Gras colours of purple (justice) green (faith) and gold (power). Following Rex was the Truck Krewes of Elks and Crescent City.

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I would highly recommend booking tickets for the grandstand – it gives you a brilliant viewpoint and great opportunity to take photos and also gives you the best chances of catching all the amazing throws and trinkets from the parades! Tickets for the grandstand sell very quickly so book them as quickly as possible!

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After watching the amazing parades we ventured over to the French Quarter to continue the celebrations – if you are a cocktail fan then this is the place for you! Try one of New Orleans’ famous Hurricanes and be sure to have a Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiri – any flavour daiquiri you would like served in an amazing Jester cup! Other drinking options in this part of town include “the strongest cocktail in the world” – so take things steady!

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Things were relatively quiet this year in general as unfortunately the year we chose to go  was the coldest year for 100 years! A couple of extra jackets were bought and as you can see from the pictures, the streets were rather empty and the umbrellas and waterproofs were out!

The majority of people who attend Mardi Gras wear masks during the celebrations and float riders are required to wear masks by law! During our wander around the streets of New Orleans we came across some amazing shops selling the most beautiful array of masks, ranging from simple to elaborate! Some places also sell handmade Italian masks created in the old traditional Venetian style. I had to have one, it would be rude not to!

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Another tradition I knew I wanted to partake in was to try a King Cake!

As part of New Orleans’s Christian faith, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. We refer to this as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night. Today, the tradition continues as people all over the world gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. A popular custom was and still is the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings, called “A King’s Cake.”

Each king cake has a tiny baby inside (generally plastic now, but it’s possible the baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The tradition of King Cake Parties have evolved over time, and the “lucky” person who receives the slice of cake with the baby is asked to continue the festivities by having the next King Cake party (or at least purchasing the next cake for the office!).

Originally, king cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s king cakes are much more festive. After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.

They were sold out in most places but I finally managed to get my hands on one! Yummy!

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What an amazing couple of days in New Orleans for Mardi Gras! We spent a couple more days in New Orleans afterwards and because we saw and did so much I’ve written a separate blog on this which I should be able to publish quite soon!

I would love to go back, I loved it so much but also hopefully the next time the weather wouldn’t be freezing and throwing it down with rain!!! Despite the dreadful weather, this was one of my all time favourite trips and favourite destination!

Barcelona Bliss

***Update 18/08/2017 – Thinking of everyone affected by the horrific terror attacks which took place in Barcelona yesterday. We all stand with you – there’s no place for terrorism on Earth. Sending you all love and best wishes.***

I have been to Barcelona twice now with two different sets of people and ever since then I’ve been trying to persuade my sister, brother and law and hubby to come back with me for a third visit!

Barcelona’s influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world’s major global cities.

I spent four days in Barcelona both times I visited, and easily filled all of my time with the amazing sights and activities this fantastic place has to offer! Some of the highlights of my trips to Barcelona include:

Barcelona Cathedral (The Gothic Cathedral)

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia is the Gothic cathedral and and is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen. It was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century. The roof features some incredible gargoyles of a wide range of animals, both everyday animals and mythical creatures.

The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of Barcelona, a young virgin who, according to Catholic tradition, suffered martyrdom during Roman times in the city. The body of Saint Eulalia is entombed in the cathedral’s crypt.

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The inside is very grand and ornate, but also very tasteful and beautiful.

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The Columbus Monument

The monument is a 60 metre tall monument to Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla, but in my opinion is relatively easy to overlook! It was constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888) in honour of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. The monument serves as a reminder that Christopher Columbus reported to Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V in Barcelona after his first trip to the new continent.

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Port Vell

Port Vell translates to ‘Old Harbour’ and is part of the Port of Barcelona. It was built as part of an urban renewal program prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. and is now a huge tourist attraction, containing shops, bars, restaurants and a cinema. It also holds Europe’s largest aquarium containing 8000 fish and 11 sharks!

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Sagrada Família

The main reason I wanted to visit Barcelona was to see this incredible building!!

The Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882.

Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, in fact, when Gaudí died in 1926, the basilica was only between 15 and 25% complete.

In October 2015 it was announced that construction is now 70% complete and has entered its final phase (the building of six huge towers) The towers and most of the church’s structure are to be completed by 2026, which marks the centennial of Gaudí’s death. Visitor entrance fees currently finance the construction, which has an annual budget of 25 million euros!

Gaudí’s original design was for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. The Evangelists’ spires will be topped with sculptures of their traditional symbols: a winged bull (Saint Luke), a winged man (Saint Matthew), an eagle (Saint John), and a winged lion (Saint Mark). The central spire of Jesus Christ is to be topped by a giant cross with a total height of 170 metres. The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.

The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South.

Nativity Façade

Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. The three porticos are separated by two large columns, and at the base of each lies a turtle or a tortoise, to represent both land and sea. In contrast to the figures of turtles, two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade, and are symbolic of change.

Each portico represents a theological virtue of Hope, Faith and Charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot).

Passion Façade

In contrast to the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is plain and simple, with bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton. Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker.

The Passion Façade is supported by six large columns. Above is a pediment (triangular part of the façade), made up of eighteen bone-shaped columns, which form a large cross with a crown of thorns. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle (James, Thomas, Philip, or Bartholomew).

The scenes sculpted into the façade may be divided into three levels. The lowest level depicts scenes from Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, including The Last Supper, Kiss of Judas, Ecce Homo, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus. The middle level portrays the Calvary, or Golgotha, of Christ, and includes The Three Marys, Saint Veronica, Saint Longinus, and a hollow-face illusion of Christ. In the third and final level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ can be seen. 

Glory Façade

The largest and most striking of the façades will be the Glory Façade, on which construction began in 2002. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while Hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will. Purgatory and death will also be depicted, the latter using tombs along the ground. It will include seven large columns dedicated to spiritual gifts and at the base of these columns there will be representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and at the top, The Seven Heavenly Virtues.

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Interior

I don’t even know how to begin describing the inside of Sagrada Familia! The ceilings are high and the decoration and designs made me feel like I was walking through a beautiful forest, with the canopies of the trees protecting me from all the elements. It was absolutely breath-taking…

 

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It has been a while since I have visited so I can’t wait to go back again to see what progress has been made on Sagrada Familia!

Park Güell

The park was again designed by Antoni Gaudí. The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. 

From the park’s high point it is possible to view the city, with the Sagrada Família and the Montjuïc area visible at a distance.

Within the park you can find:

Gaudi’s House

Casa Museu Gaudí was the residence of Antoni Gaudí for almost 20 years, from 1906 till the end of 1925. On 28 September 1963 it was opened as a museum.

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Hansel and Gretel Houses

The amazing Hansel and Gretel style houses, again designed by the famous architect  Antoni Gaudi.

Hypostyle Room

The great entrance stairway leads to the Hypostyle Room, which was designed to be the market for the estate. It is made up of 86 columns and the ceiling is formed of small domes constructed using the traditional technique of clay bricks decorated with original tile-shard mosaics.

The Salamander

Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander, popularly known as “el drac” (the dragon), is at the main entrance.

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Other places in Barcelona also worth a look are:

Casa Batllo

Casa Batlló is a renowned building located in the centre of Barcelona and is another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces.  The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a skeletal organic quality.

The Olympic Stadium

Originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition in the city (and Barcelona’s bid for the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were awarded to Berlin), it was renovated in 1989 to be the main stadium for the 1992 Summer Olympics. The stadium has a capacity of 54,000 (67,007 during the 1992 Olympics), and is located in the Anella Olímpica, in Montjuïc, a large hill to the southwest of the city which overlooks the harbour.

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Camp Nou

Camp Nou has been the home stadium of FC Barcelona since its completion in 1957.

It is the largest stadium in Spain (seating for 99,354), is the largest in Europe and the third largest football stadium in the world in terms of capacity.

As part of your tour around Camp Nou you visit the changing room, pitch, presidential box, press room, and the FC Barcelona Museum.

You can book your tickets for tours of Camp Nou here.

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Palau Real de Pedralbes (The Royal Palace)

The Royal Palace is a building in the district of Les Corts. From 1919 until 1931 it was the residence for the Spanish Royal Family when they visited the city. It houses the Museu de la Ceramica (ceramic museum), Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària and Museu de les Arts Decoratives (interior design museum), and is the permanent seat of the Union for the Mediterranean.

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Isabella II showing her son, Alfonso XII, by Agapit Vallmitjana i Barbany

As you can see, Barcelona is a wondrous city full of amazing architecture, fascinating places to visit and incredible photo opportunities! Make sure to add it to your bucket list! I’m going to keep on trying to persuade someone to come back with me again for a third visit!

Simply beautiful Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia is the perfect destination, whether you’re after romance, rejuvenation or adventure. A genuine, natural landscape of gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, miles of unspoiled rainforest and the majestic Piton Mountains, are sure to indulge every taste.

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During our visit to Saint Lucia we stayed at the beautiful Coconut Bay Resort and Spa on an all inclusive basis. The hotel is divided into two sections – the Harmony section which is for adults only, and Splash, designed especially for families.

We wanted to see as much of Saint Lucia as possible during our stay so we booked a trip through Viator called the Soufriere Island Delight half day trip. This trip was fantastic – we had a scenic drive to the town of Soufriere through traditional Caribbean fishing villages, tropical rainforest and banana plantations along the way.

We had beautiful views of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed twin Pitons. The Pitons are two mountainous volcanic plugs (also called a volcanic neck or lava neck). The Gros Piton is 771 metres high, and the Petit Piton is 743 metres high and they are linked by the Piton Mitan ridge. Saint Lucia’s local brand of beer made by the Windward and Leeward Brewery is named after the Pitons!

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As part of the half day trip we also visited:

Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens and Mineral Baths 

The Diamond Botanical Gardens (also known as the St. Lucia Botanical Gardens) is a 6-acre area with a river running through the estate called Diamond River. The river is black through the volcanic mud and there are mineral deposits on the river’s banks.

The centrepiece of the gardens is the colourful Diamond Waterfall. This beautiful waterfall is approximately 17 metres in height and is a mixture of rainwater and volcanism fed by the Sulphur Springs. The water is laced with minerals, sulphur, copper sulphate, magnesium, iron, manganese and calcium, all which contribute to the kaleidoscope of colours that appear in the rock behind the falls. The rock face changes colour depending on the mineral content at that point in time.

Superman, in Superman II, flies between the Pitons and then pauses before Diamond Falls and picks the beautiful bird-of-paradise plant to give to Lois Lane.

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Diamond Waterfall
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Diamond Waterfall

Sulphur Springs

Sulphur Springs (described as the World’s only drive in volcano!) consists of mysterious boiling pools of dark water which emit the pungent smell of sulphur. Sulphur Springs were deemed by folklore as a place where one’s soul meets death.

The creation of the sulphur springs, came from a weak spot in the crust of the enormous collapsed crater creating an upheaval of lava 410,000 years ago. The water located at the center of the springs boils at roughly 340 Fahrenheit (170 Celsius) creating large plumes of steam. The water coming out of the spring is blackened by a chemical reaction between the high content of sulphur and iron. The spring water also contains large deposits of copper, iron oxide, alkaline, lead, calcium oxide, and carbon.

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The Sulphur Springs are a popular tourist destination in St Lucia due to their ability for tourists to literally drive up to the edge of the springs. Up until the mid-1990s, tourists were able to walk right up to the end of the tar-colored pits however following a terrible accident where a local tour guide fell through the crust into a pit and received second degree burns, the formation now has restricted viewing to a platform a few hundred feet away.

A couple of hundred yards downstream from the springs, the water temperature is still hot (around 110 Fahrenheit or 45 Celsius), but cool enough for tourists to enter and give themselves mud baths!

 

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After our amazing trip to the Botanical Gardens we went for lunch at a restaurant high in the hills with beautiful views of St Lucia. Lunch was shortly followed by a trip to a rum distillery for some rum tasting!!

Speaking of rum… on the way back to the hotel we passed this beautiful place where some scenes from the film Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed…

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A truly beautiful place to relax with loved ones with lots to see and lovely friendly people to show you around!

A Mexican Adventure

Mexico has always been a really popular destination for a lot of my friends, and some of them revisit year after year. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the destination itself but Chichén Itzá has always been near the top of my bucket list!

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We stayed in the Occidental Grand Xcaret hotel in Riviera Maya on an all inclusive basis. We choose this hotel because it’s full of animals and tropical plants in spectacular gardens, and has two Mayan ruins and a cove where you can swim with tropical fish.

Those who know me very well know that I absolutely love lizards and iguanas so I was in my element in Mexico!! Great big huge lizards EVERYWHERE!! Wish I had brought them home!! Hubby and brother in law weren’t so keen though!

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We also had a couple of really lovely parrots living in the hotel!

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Located next to the hotel is the Xcaret eco-archaeological park. The park features river formations, five outdoor pools (three of them fresh-water pools, one adults-only salt water pool and one kids’ pool), a swim-up bar and a private cove with soft white sand and so much more it would take too long to list here! Find out more information here.

Whilst we were here we saw tropical birds, huge marine turtles, jaguars, and manatees. We did the tropical jungle trail and admired the paradise river. There is so much to do here we were kept occupied for the entire day!

In the evening we attended the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular which was an amazing performance depicting Mexico’s rich culture and history from pre-historic times all the way to modern day times through dance and other performances. The show was well worth a watch!

The best part of the holiday was our trip to Chichén Itzá which we booked through Viator.

Chichén Itzá is a world-famous complex of Mayan ruins, a massive pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the six and a half square kilometre ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200’s. The city may have had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site. Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico; an estimated 1.4 million tourists visit the ruins every year!!

El Castillo (The Kukulkan Pyramid)
Possibly the best known construction on Chichén Itzá is Kukulkan’s Pyramid – a pyramid approximately 75 feet tall. Kukulkan Pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. This causes 7 triangles to form, imitating the body of a serpent roughly 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway!

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The Great Ball Court – Archaeologists have identified thirteen ball courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichén Itzá, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres to the north-west of El Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica and it measures 168 by 70 metres! A whisper from one end can be heard clearly enough at the other end 500 feet away and through the length and breath of the court as the sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day and also night. Legend says that the winning captain would present his own head to the losing captain, who then decapitates him. While this may seem very strange reward, the Mayans believed that this to be the ultimate honour!

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At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated; the wound emits streams of blood in the form of wriggling snakes.

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At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man. This small masonry building has detailed carving on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair.

Built into the east wall are the Temples of the Jaguar . The Upper Temple of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. In the entrance to the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, which opens behind the ball court, is another Jaguar throne, similar to the one in the inner temple of El Castillo, except that it is well worn and missing paint or other decoration.

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Tzompantli – The Wall of Skulls
The Tzompantli structure at Chichén Itzá is very interesting structure, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed. The platform walls of the Tzompantli have beautiful carvings – the skull rack itself, scenes with human sacrifices, eagles eating human hearts and skeletonized warriors with arrows and shields.

Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
The elaborately carved platform is located on the central plain between the Temple of Venus and the Platform of Skulls. The pedestals that top the platform are crowned with serpent many heads, over which it is believed that there had been standard bearers in the form of jaguars. The figures of jaguars and eagles devouring hearts are said to represent the warriors who were responsible for obtaining victims to sacrifice for the gods. The “Eagle Knights” were archers who attacked the enemy before all other soldiers fought hand to hand. The aggressive eagles which sculpted on the walls of the platform are the symbol of these elite vip group of archers who stood out on the battlefield because they wore clothing of feathers from the bird for which they were named.
The “Jaguar Knights” were believed to be the army fiercest members, modeled after those found elsewhere in the Central Mexico. They fought hand to hand, with wooden clubs tipped with obsidian knives. They covered themselves with armor made of jaguar skins and also helmets of jaguar heads. The figures of jaguars represented the soldiers who were often charged with obtaining prisoners for sacrifice to the Gods of city.

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Platform of Venus
There are two different structures with this name at Chichén Itzá, the first is located at the Great Plaza and the second one is located near the Grave of the High Priest. In the corner of one of its panels, there is a Serpent Bird Man, which is considered to be the Quetzalcoatl-Kukulkan’s representation as the ‘Morning Star’. The Round Platform, one of the few buildings so shaped in Chichén Itzá, held a small stone-paved area and a container with offerings. The function of these buildings was probably as podiums for rites, ceremonies or dances.

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The Temple of the Warriors is one of the most impressive and important structures at Chichén Itzá. It consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of around 200 carved columns depicting warriors. All square columns are carved with Toltec warriors; in some places they are cemented together in sections, painted in brilliant colors and covered with plaster. The Temple of Warriors has a broad stairway with a plain, stepped ramp on either side, and each ramp has figures of standard-bearers to hold flags. On the top there are serpent columns which had S shaped supported wooden lintels (which are now gone) above the doorways. Astronomical signs and decorative features on the head of each serpent are carved over the eyes. On the top of each serpent head is a shallow basin that could have been used as an oil lamp.

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El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure. El Caracol means ‘snail’ in Spanish and is so named due to the spiral staircase inside the tower. It is suggested that the El Caracol was an ancient Mayan observatory building and provided a way for the Mayan people to observe changes in the sky due to the flattened landscape of the Yucatán with no natural markers for this function around Chichén Itzá. The observers could view the sky above the vegetation on the Yucatán Peninsula without any obstruction and Mayan astronomers knew from naked-eye observations that Venus appeared on the western and disappeared on the eastern horizons at different times in the year, and that it took 584 days to complete one cycle. They also knew that five of these Venus cycles equaled eight solar years. Venus would therefore make an appearance at the northerly and southerly extremes at eight-year intervals.

Of 29 possible astronomical events such as eclipses, equinoxes and solstices believed to be of interest to the residents of Chichén Itzá, sight lines for 20 can be found in the structure. 

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The High Priest’s Grave is the name given to this pyramid because it contains an ossuary (which is a communal graveyard) beneath its foundations. The High Priest’s Grave includes a pyramid about 30 feet high with four stairways on each side, with a sanctuary in the center and a gallery in the front. The sides of the stairways are decorated with interlaced feathered serpents.

Between the first two pillars is a square stone-lined vertical shaft in the floor which extends downwards to the base of the pyramid, where it opens up on a natural cavern. The cave is 36 feet deep and when it was excavated, bones from several human burials were identified along with offerings of jade, shell, rock crystal and copper bells.

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After our visit to Chichén Itzá we were lucky enough to visit the Ik Kil cenote. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The cenote is open to the sky with the water level about 26 metres below ground level. There is a carved stairway down to a swimming platform and the cenote is about 60 metres across and about 40 metres deep. There are vines which reach from the opening all the way down to the water along with beautiful small waterfalls and there are also black catfish which swim in the cenote.

Hubby was very brave and jumped into the sinkhole but seeing as I am not a good swimmer I thought it best I just stood back and took photos! A very beautiful and calming place despite the huge amount of tourists passing through!

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I’m so pleased I got to go to Mexico and see Chichén Itzá! A really lovely location and great hotel! The only downside to our visit was the scores of mosquitos we encountered! Even the locals and the lovely people working at the hotel said they had never known there be so many at that time of year and the sprays and creams were just not keeping them away! It was frustrating at the time but looking back at all these amazing memories and adventures I think it was well worth being bitten for a few days!

Our anniversary in Prague

I’ve been meaning to visit Prague for ages now, everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited says it is a beautiful place with lots to see. I originally toyed with the idea of visiting during December for the Christmas markets but as we are moving home in the next few months we settled on a long weekend away for our eight year wedding anniversary instead.

I’m so glad we made this decision – the weather was beautiful during our visit and we stayed in the Prague 1 area which meant every place I wanted to visit was within walking distance.

Some of the lovely places we visited during our visit included –

Prague Castle

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Prague Castle is a castle complex dating from the 9th century. It is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres. The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.

The history of the castle began in 870 when its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded under the reign of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia and his son St. Wenceslas in the first half of the 10th century.

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The view from Prague Castle

During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace and new defence towers were also built on the north side of the castle.

The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Following his abdication in 1848, and the succession of his nephew, Franz Joseph, to the throne, the former emperor, Ferdinand I, made Prague Castle his home.

The Black Tower

The Black Tower is one of the oldest existing buildings in Prague. It was built in 1135 as an eastern gate of the Romanesque fortification of the Prague Castle. You can still see the former gateway there in the ground floor, it is walled up now.

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The Black Tower belongs to the area of the Supreme Burgrave’s House at Prague Castle. Its name “Black” originates from the time of the big fire of the Prague Castle in 1541 – its walls remained black for a long time. The tower had also been called “Golden” in the era of Emperor Charles IV in the 14 th century as its roof was covered with gilded plates of lead.

The Black Tower was mainly used as a prison, as well as most of the towers at Prague Castle and many inscriptions written by prisoners can still be seen on the walls of the tower.

The Black Tower looks almost the same as it did after some modifications in 1538. The depository of the archaeological discoveries of the Prague Castle is kept here.

St Vitus Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert is a Roman Catholic metropolitan cathedral and is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Until 1997, the cathedral was dedicated only to Saint Vitus, and is still commonly named only as St. Vitus Cathedral.

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This cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the largest and most important church in the country.  The cathedral is located within Prague Castle and contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors. 

Construction of the Gothic Cathedral began on 21 November 1344 and King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. The patrons the Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice, and Charles IV, King of Bohemia and a soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor, intended the new cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom, and the last resting place of patron saint Wenceslaus.

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The entire building process came to a halt with the beginning of Hussite War in the first half of 15th century. The war brought an end to the workshop that had operated steadily for almost a century, and the furnishings of the cathedral, including dozens of pictures and sculptures, suffered heavily as a result. As if this was not enough, a great fire in 1541 substantially damaged the cathedral.

Golden Lane

Golden Lane is a street situated within the grounds of Prague Castle. Originally built in the 16th century, to house Rudolf II’s castle guards, it takes its name from the goldsmiths that lived there in the 17th century. 

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Golden Lane consists of small houses, painted in bright colours in the 1950s. The street originally had houses on both sides, but one side was demolished in the 19th century. A fee must be paid to enter Golden Lane, and many of the houses are now souvenir shops. There is also a museum of medieval armoury which runs along the top of the small houses and is really fascinating so is well worth a visit.

House number 22 used to belong to the sister of writer Franz Kafka, who used this house to write between 1916 and 1917. Jaroslav Seifert, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984, lived there in 1929.

Dalibor Tower

Golden Lane is connected with Dalibor Tower, which used to be a dungeon. Dalibor Tower is also well worth a look!

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The community of prisoners condemned to live in Dalibor Tower varied greatly over the centuries. Apart from wrongdoers from the nobility, there were also burghers, craftsmen and serfs from the countryside who were serving sentences here. From the beginning, the burghers of Hradcany served as guards in performance as part of their duties subjects. They were not relieved of this task until King Ferdinand II issued a mandate on 22 September 1628, commanding the Royal Chamber “to have the offenders at the Dalibor Tower guarded by an artilleryman or craftsman serving at Prague Castle, should the need arise”.

The first and perhaps the most important prisoner at Dalibor Tower was the knight Dalibor z Kozojed. Dalibor was imprisoned in 1496 shortly after the tower was built, not only because he had backed the rebels against Adam Ploskovsky z Drahonie, the merciless feudal lord of Litomerice, but also because he had illegally confiscated the property for himself. After two years of bread and water he was sentenced to “the forfeiture of his chattels, his honour and his head”, and on 13th March 1498 he was executed on the courtyard of the Lord High Burgrave. Only much later did the romantic legend of Dalibor and his fiddle arise…

Out of boredom, so it goes, Dalibor learnt to play the violin so masterfully in prison that people came far and wide and listened, enraptured, to his soul-stirring playing. It is in the chronicle of Jan Frantisek Beckovsky of 1700 that you first come across the Czech maxim “necessity taught Dalibor how to fiddle”. The reality of Dalibor’s musical talent was, however, quite different: the “fiddle” was a nickname for an instrument of torture, a sort of rack on which the convicted man was stretched until “out of necessity” (under pressure, in suffering), the victim began to “fiddle” (change his tune, confess). A considerably altered version of the story of Dalibor appears in Josef Wenizig’s libretto for Bedrich Smetana’s Dalibor. The opera premiered in the Provisional Theatre on 16th May 1868, the day the foundation stone of the National Theatre was ceremoniously laid.

Frantisek Tengnagel z Kampu, Chancellor, Privy Councillor of Arehduke Leopold of Passau, and an intriguer at the court of Rudolf II, was condemned to an especially harsh imprisonment for his political plotting and in particular for his part in planning the Passauer invasion of Bohemia. After repeated torture he was eventually released and banished from the country.

Count Frantisek Antonin Spork, a liberal nobleman, patron of the arts and sciences, and builder of Kuks, was imprisoned in the Dalibor Tower in the winter of 1720 because of disputes over an inheritance. To spite his opponents, he had the cell in which he spent almost three months decorated with numerous maxims and religious thoughts. They were then printed and disseminated throughout Prague. After serious illness Count Spork was released. To commemorate his confinement in Dalibor he founded a charity for burghers of Prague who had been condemned to prison for not paying their debts.

The noblewoman Marie Katerina Zahradkova z Eulenfels – one of the few women residents of Dalibor Tower was imprisoned here in February 1732 as an accomplice to the murder of her husband. The great age difference between her and him, as well as his violent nature, led the young Marie Katerina to contrive an attack by robbers, in which her husband was killed. After four years imprisonment in Dalibor she was taken, half mad, to the prison in the New Town Hall, where she spent another 20 years. A contemporary, the knight Jenik z Bratric, mentioned in his memoirs how this unfortunate woman often cried out at passers-by from the window of her cell on the ground floor, desperately rattling the bars from her window “acting mad in every respect”.

The last prisoner left the Dalibor Tower after the introduction of the new judicial system in 1781. With this Josephinian reform the old provincial court and the court of the burgrave were abolished, and with them the towers at Prague Castle ceased to be used as jails.

Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall or John Lennon Wall was once a normal wall, but since the 1980s has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs.

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In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Lennonism”!

The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Even when the wall was repainted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of global ideals such as love and peace.

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Love Locks

Love padlocks (also known as Love Locks) are a custom by which padlocks are attached to a fence, gate, bridge or similar public fixture by sweethearts to symbolise their everlasting love. If you walk along the Lesser Town, very close to the Lennon Wall,  you will see small locks on the gates over the canal.

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Legend has it that when you find your true love you carve your names on a lock and lock it onto the gate and then throw the key in to the canal – so we did! On our 8th wedding anniversary too which was very apt!

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Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge is an historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river. Its construction started in 1357 under King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century.

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The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. This new bridge was originally called the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge but has been the “Charles Bridge” since 1870. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas. This “solid-land” connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.

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The bridge is 621 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues originally erected in around 1700 but all now replaced by replicas.

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The Old Town Bridge Tower

Old Town Bridge Tower is a gothic monument located at the Old Town end of the Charles Bridge.

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It was built in the late 14th century, during the rule of the Emperor Charles IV. It was designed by the architect Petr Parléř and is one of the most astonishing gothic-style buildings I’ve seen.

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Clementinum

The Clementinum is a historic complex of buildings which originally hosted the National, University and Technical libraries. The Technical library and the Municipal library moved to the Prague National Technical Library in 2009 and it is currently in use as the National Library of the Czech Republic.

The Baroque library hall inside Clementinum is known for its interior, including the ceiling artwork by Jan Hiebl, and has been described as the most beautiful library in the world. I was absolutely devastated when we arrived here because it is currently closed for restoration and isn’t open to the general public…. it was right at the top of my list of things to see in Prague too….Google the images of it and you will see why!

Powder Tower

The Powder Tower or Powder Gate is a Gothic tower which is one of the original city gates. It separates the Old Town from the New Town.

The Powder Tower is one of the original 13 city gates in Old Town and construction began in 1475. The tower was intended to be an attractive entrance into the city, instead of a defensive tower. The foundation stone was placed by Vladislav II and the city council gave Vladislav II the tower as a coronation gift. 

The gate was used to store gunpowder in the 17th century, hence the name Powder Tower or Powder Gate. The gate suffered considerable damage during the Battle of Prague and the sculptures on the tower were replaced in 1876.

Church of our Lady Before Týn

The Church of Mother of God before Týn, often translated as Church of Our Lady before Týn, is a gothic church and a dominant feature of Old Town. It has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church’s towers are 80 metres high and topped by four small spires.

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By the beginning of the 15th century, construction was almost complete; only the towers, the gable and roof were missing. The roof was completed in the 1450s, while the gable and northern tower were completed shortly thereafter during the reign of George of Poděbrady (1453–1471). His sculpture was placed on the gable, below a huge golden chalice, the symbol of the Hussites. The southern tower, however, was not completed until 1511, under architect Matěj Rejsek.

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After the lost Battle of White Mountain (1620) began the era of harsh recatholicisation.  Consequently, the sculptures of George of Poděbrady and the chalice were removed in 1626 and replaced by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, with a giant halo made as a result of melting down the chalice.

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Old Town Square

Old Town Square is a historic square in the Old Town quarter. It is located between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge.

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The square features various architectural styles including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, and a medieval astronomical clock located on the Old Town Hall.

The Baroque St. Nicholas Church is another church located in the square, while the tower of the Old Town Hall offers a panoramic view of Old Town. An art museum of the Czech National Gallery is located in Kinský Palace.

At Christmas and Easter, markets are held on the square which resemble medieval markets. The Christmas Markets on the Old Town Square are the largest Christmas markets in the Czech Republic and are visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors from the Czech Republic and abroad. In 2016, CNN rated Prague’s Christmas Markets among the world’s best!

Town Hall

When I came home and started reading about the Town Hall, I wished I had taken more pictures of it as I couldn’t believe how much history it had! You can read more about Old Town Hall here.

Astronomical Clock

The Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating.

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The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself has three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. 

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The astronomical dial has a background that represents the standing Earth and sky, and surrounding it operate four main moving components: the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon.

The background represents the Earth and the local view of the sky. The blue circle directly in the centre represents the Earth, and the upper blue is the portion of the sky which is above the horizon. The red and black areas indicate portions of the sky below the horizon. During the daytime, the Sun sits over the blue part of the background and at night it sits over the black. During dawn or dusk, the mechanical sun is positioned over the red part of the background.

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Written on the eastern part of the horizon is aurora (dawn in Latin) and ortus (rising). On the western part is occasus (sunset), and crepusculum (twilight).

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Golden Roman numerals at the outer edge of blue circle are the timescale of a normal 24-hour day and indicate time in local Prague time, or Central European Time. Curved golden lines dividing the blue part of dial into twelve parts are marks for unequal “hours”. These hours are defined as 1/12 of the time between sunrise and sunset, and vary as the days grow longer or shorter during the year.

Inside the large black outer circle lies another movable circle marked with the signs of the zodiac which indicates the location of the Sun on the ecliptic.

The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 and especially May 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising, when the Germans fired on the south-west side of the Old Town Square from several armoured vehicles in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy one of the centres of the uprising. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the clock and the calendar dial face. After significant effort, the machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored by Vojtěch Sucharda, and the Orloj started working again in 1948.

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As you can see the building is still undergoing extensive ongoing restoration work.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square is one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings. The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. 

Formerly known as Koňský trh (the Horse Market), for its periodic accommodation of horse markets during the Middle Ages, it was renamed Svatováclavské náměstí (Saint Wenceslas square) in 1848.

Wenceslas Square is lined by hotels, offices, shops and fast-food joints. Wenceslas Square is also a popular location for stag and hen parties.

Food and Drink

I’m afraid for our anniversary meal we visited Hard Rock cafe – not very authentic I know but I love their twisted mac and cheese!! Plus we’ve made it a bit of a tradition to visit Hard Rock cafes all over the world – so far we have visited New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Miami, Marbella and Barcelona Hard Rock cafes!

Whilst exploring I was delighted to learn that fried cheese seems to be a bit of a speciality in Prague! I took full advantage of this tradition of course!

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You also must try the goulash if you get the chance – hubby had some for his dinner which I managed to dip a few of my chips in and it was delicious!

Before we even arrived in Prague I knew I had to try a Vetrnik! This picture does not do it justice – it was absolutely HUGE! Three attempts and I still couldn’t finish it, but it was worth feeling sick for hours afterwards!

A Vetrnik is choux pastry with vanilla cream and caramel cream inside, topped with thick caramel flavoured fondant….

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Although these are spotted all over the world nowadays, I finally got the chance to try a Churro cone! An ice-cream shaped cone made from delicious sugar sprinkled fried dough pastry with a dollop of yummy ice-cream on top – need I say more??

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The drink Prague is most famous for of course is beer, and there’s certainly no shortage of places to go to partake! For those who prefer a sweeter taste than that of normal lager, try the Czech dark beer. Other beer brands you will find in the local pubs and bars include Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice, Bernard, Staropramen, Budweiser Budvar and Velvet.

If spirits are more your thing, try the Becherovka, a herbal liquor made out of several secret plants which is said to be good for digestion and to have medicinal properties. Becherovka is also used in some cocktails.

Fernet is another herbal beverage which comes in different variants, Stock (bitter), Citrus (lemon) and is best served  cold or with ice.

Also give Slivovice a try – an alcoholic beverage made from plums, but you can also find different flavours of this drink such as pear and apricot.

Prague is a beautiful city full of amazing history, beautiful architecture, and delicious food and drink – this years wedding anniversary will certainly be one to remember!

Hello Oahu!

Oahu, Hawaii – one of the best places I have visited over the years! I can see why people continue to return here year after year! The people are so friendly, the weather is beautiful, the food is amazing and no matter which island you stay on, there’s plenty to see and do!

We struggled to decide whether to visit Maui or Oahu on our first visit to Hawaii but eventually settled on Oahu – it did not disappoint!! The name of Oahu translates as “the gathering place”.

We stayed in a hotel very close to Waikiki Beach and just over the road from the International Market Place.

There are so many amazing places to visit whilst staying on Oahu. Some of the highlights of our trip included the following:

Pearl Harbor

You don’t often expect to burst into tears on holiday but the tour was so so insightful and incredibly moving and very tastefully done. During the massive attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the ships that sank was the USS Arizona, and as part of the trip you can stand above the wreckage of this incredible ship, and visit the monument to the men who were killed in this ambush. You can also tour the Battleship Missouri.

On December 7, 1941, Washington intercepted a written message from Japan threatening war. The United States did not appreciate the full implications of the 7:30am Hawaii deadline. A last minute warning was sent to the Pacific commanders, however General Short did not receive the message until hours after the attack. Poor communications between Washington and Hawaii helped the Japanese achieve the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese began their air attack. The first wave arrived over Pearl Harbor at approximately 7:45 am to find seven U.S. battleships moored along “Battleship Row”, on the east side of Ford Island. Other moorings which the Japanese believed might include battleships, or the equally important aircraft carriers, were at the Navy Yard’s 1010 Dock and along Ford Island’s western side.

The Japanese initially hit the airfields, destroying many aircrafts located on the southern tip of Ford Island. This attack was the World’s first notification that war had begun in the Pacific. Moments thereafter, torpedo planes attacked from the west hitting the USS Helena, USS Utah and USS Raleigh, all on the west side of Ford Island. From the east, torpedo planes came in and hit the USS California, the USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma and West Virginia located on the east side of Ford Island.

As the torpedo planes continued the first wave attacks, additional bombs were dropped on “Battleship Row”, hitting several ships. The USS Arizona received a death blow followed by a huge explosion. As the first wave departed, the Japanese telegraph operator taped out Tora, Tora, Tora: the code word for surprise attack achieved.

The second wave of planes further attacked some of the ships already hit, further destroying the Navy Yard. The battleship Pennsylvania and three destroyers were bombed in dry dock. Other bombers went after the Nevada, which had left her berth and was trying to get to sea. Anti-aircraft gunfire met these ships, causing losses which were far greater than those of the first attack wave.

You can find out more about Pearl Harbor here.

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Tour of Honolulu – Ko’olau Mountains

It is not a mountain range in the normal sense, because it was formed as a single mountain called Koʻolau Volcano (Koʻolau means “windward” in Hawaiian). What remains of Koʻolau is the western half of the original volcano that was destroyed in prehistoric times when the entire eastern half slid into the Pacific Ocean.

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Iolani Palace

The ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty, founded by her brother, King David Kalākaua. On a more modern note, it as where the most recent series of Hawaii 5-0 was filmed!

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Eternal flame memorial 

The Eternal Flame is an abstract sculpture erected just across the street from the Hawaii State Capitol Building in Honolulu. It is a lovely memorial which honors those who have served in the armed forces of the United States.

The Honolulu State Capitol building

The Hawaii State Capitol is the official statehouse or capitol building of the U.S. state of Hawaii. From its chambers, the executive and legislative branches perform the duties involved in governing the state.

Wedding Vows!

The hotel we were staying in organises a complimentary renewal of vows ceremony on Waikiki beach every week and so we took full advantage of this during our stay! It was a lovely event hosted by a real Kalu (priest) complete with Hula Dancer. It was really magical and a lovely memory to add to our holiday!

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Learning to surf

Hubby also couldn’t wait to take advantage of the waves of Waikiki beach and had soon signed himself up for a surfing lesson. As you can see from the pictures, he is one of those irritating people that attempt something for three minutes and then somehow seem to master it! I sat on beautiful Waikiki beach and worked on my tan and played the part of paparazzi whilst he showed off his new found skills!

Paradise Cove Luau

As soon as we had booked our trip to Hawaii the one thing I knew I wanted to do was to go to a luau!! After a bit of research we decided on booking tickets to the Paradise Cove Luau.

Your Paradise Cove Luau begins with a Mai Tai greeting. You then stroll through the Hawaiian Village and learn the Arts and Crafts of the islands and play traditional Hawaiian Games such as:

  • ‘O’o ihe: Spear throwing. ‘O’o ihe, which once trained young warriors in hand-to-hand spear fighting and helped develop skills for food gathering, is frustratingly difficult. A target, sometimes the stalk of a banana plant, is set up. Contestants stand 15 feet away and attempt to stick a lightweight wooden spear into it!
  • ‘Ulu maika: Rolling stone disks. ‘Ulu maika or ‘olohu was one of the most popular sports in early Hawaii. It consisted of rolling carefully crafted playing stones, resembling modern hockey pucks, on specially prepared courses. The stones were rolled between stakes to test a player’s skills or rolled down long courses to show strength.
  • Moa pahe’e: Dart sliding. A player slides a moa, or wooden dart, between two stakes or for long distances much like the competition in ‘ulu maika.

After the delightful Shower of Flowers, where men climb trees and sprinkle beautiful flowers onto the beach and crowd below, you can learn about the net fishing techniques of old Hawaii.

Later you can witness the time-honored techniques of underground oven cooking at the Imu Ceremony. An imu is an underground oven that uses a combination of hot coals, stones and layers of leaves and cloth or mats to steam food.  For a luau, the imu is primarily used to cook the delicious shredded kalua pork, a staple on any luau menu. The ceremony consists of removing the layers of cloth and leaves from the pit oven to expose the cooked pork. The pork is removed from the pit and taken to the kitchen for shredding.

After watching the beautiful sunset, the evening then continues with a traditional Hawaiian feast and an unforgettable display of songs and dances by amazing performers (including fire in some performances!)

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Byodo-In-Temple

The Byodo-In Temple is a temple located at the Valley of the Temples. It was dedicated in August 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The temple is a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple at Uji in Kyoto prefecture of Japan. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a functioning Buddhist temple in the proper sense as it does not host a resident monastic community nor an active congregation.

The TV series Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, P.I. featured several episodes where the temple is incorporated into the plot. The temple and its vicinity also served as a stand-in for South Korea in one episode of the ABC series Lost and as the Presidential Villa in an episode of seaQuest DSV.

The temple was also used in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor as a replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Japan.

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Chinaman’s Hat Island

Mokoliʻi, commonly known as Chinaman’s Hat, is a basalt islet in Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaii. Mokoliʻi is part of Kualoa Regional Park and is located 13 mile offshore of Kualoa Point, Oahu. 

Mokoliʻi translates from Hawaiian as “little lizard.” According to Hawaiian mythology, the island is the remains of a giant lizard’s or dragon’s tail that was chopped off and tossed into the ocean by the goddess Hiʻiaka. The common name of Chinaman’s Hat derives from its likeness to the Asian conical hat.

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La’ie Point

La’ie Point is tucked away behind a neighborhood in Laie, a small town on Oahu’s north shore. This small strip of land is called Laie State Wayside Park but most people just call it Laie Point. The iconic landmark of Laie Point is this small islet with a big hole in the middle. La’ie Point is apparently a popular cliff jumping spot! Rather them than me!!

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Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is on the North Shore of Oahu and is known for big wave surfing during the winter season. The original Hawaiian name for this place is Paumalū. Today Sunset Beach is home to the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which is part of the World Cup of Surfing.

Like many beaches on Oahu’s North Shore, Sunset Beach is considered dangerous for inexperienced surfers, due to extensive coral formations near the surface! All the surfing contests take place in the winter around December and January, that being the time of the largest and best waves for surfing.

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Turtle Bay

The area which is one of the last undeveloped areas on Oahu is recognised for its rock formations, wild coastal beaches, threatened green sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seal habitats. The beach is sandy but the swimming conditions are very poor at Turtle Bay because the ocean bottom near the shore is very rocky. There is a large limestone shelf that spans almost the entire length of the bay.

Due to its still largely unspoiled landscape, natural beauty and large waves along with its proximity to Honolulu, it is a popular area for filming. The area was the setting for the 2008 Universal Pictures film Forgetting Sarah Marshall and also served as a backdrop for the ABC TV series Lost.

Anyway, down to the real reason I wanted to visit this amazing place – check out these beautiful guys who were there to greet us on our arrival!!

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Dole Plantation

Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience” in 1989. Today, Dole Plantation is one of Oahu’s most popular visitor attractions and welcomes more than one million visitors a year.
Dole Plantation provides enjoyable activities including the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze. And, before you leave you can purchase fresh pineapple to take home!

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic cone on the island of Oahu and was given its name by English Sailors who mistook the calcite crystals on the adjacent beach for diamonds. Diamond Head is estimated to be around 400,000 to 500,000 years old and was created after a series of eruptions from the Koʻolau Volcano.

A 0.75-mile (1.1-km) hike (!!) leads to the edge of the crater’s rim. The hike is not a casual one: the mostly unpaved trail winds over uneven rock, ascends 74 steps, then through a tunnel and up another steep 99 steps!! Next is a small lighted tunnel to a narrow spiral staircase (43 steps) inside a coastal artillery observation platform built in 1908. From the summit above the observation platform both Waikīkī and the Pacific Ocean can be seen in detail, and the views really are spectacular and well worth the climb (although – highly recommend not doing the climb in the midday heat, in flip flops, like I did!!)

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As you can see, an incredible place with so much to see and do and so much history to learn about! I would highly recommend paying a visit – if I was offered the chance to go again I would absolutely jump at the chance!

CocoChlo in San Francisco

San Francisco – what a fabulous place!! Another place I visited which I wish I had visited for longer! We only visited for three days but what a fun-filled amazing three days it was! During our trip we saw the following places:

Union Square – the central shopping, hotel and theatre district of San Francisco! Pack a credit card! Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s and plenty of other high end stores await!

Coit Tower – also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower. Coit Tower was paid for with money left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Lillie Coit was one of the more eccentric characters in the history of North Beach and Telegraph Hill, smoking cigars and wearing trousers long before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. She was an avid gambler and often dressed like a man in order to gamble in the males-only establishments that dotted North Beach. Lillie had a special relationship with the city’s firefighters. At the age of fifteen she witnessed the Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 in response to a fire call up on Telegraph Hill when they were shorthanded, and threw her school books to the ground and pitched in to help, calling out to other bystanders to help get the engine up the hill to the fire, to get the first water onto the blaze. Lillie’s will read that she wished for one third of her fortune “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved. “Two memorials were built in her name as a result – one was Coit Tower, and the other was a sculpture depicting three firemen, one of them carrying a woman in his arms.

Alcatraz – Be prepared to spend a good few hours at this fascinating place! During your tour you can expect to see, amongst many other things, the morgue, the showers, the cells, the dining area, the recreation yard, the lighthouse and the prison office! I think hubby was keen on locking me in a cell and leaving me there though!

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Also while at Alcatraz they cover the amazing stories of those who have escaped the prison, the most famous escape being the June 1962 prison break. More info can be found here.

San Francisco Cable Cars – the worlds last manually operated cable car system and an icon of San Francisco! Only three routes now remain – two routes from downtown Union Square to Fisherman’sWharf (Powell-Mason line 59 and Powell-Hyde line 60) and the third along California Street (California Street line 61).

We travelled on the Powell-Hyde line which I was told was the best one to take to capture pictures of the fantastic hilly streets of San Fran. The route also takes you past the infamous Lombard Street – a street with eight hairpin turns and described as “the most crooked street in the world”.

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The Golden Gate Bridge – The bridge has been described as the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world. As you can see, unfortunately on our trip to the bridge we were the victims of San Francisco’s well known microclimate and the majority of the bridge was covered in fog! Such a shame!

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Presidio Park is a park and former U.S. Army military fort and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park is characterised by many wooded areas, hills, and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It was recognized as a California Historical Landmark in 1933 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

The Painted Ladies Victorian Houses is the row of Victorian houses at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square park, sometimes known as “Postcard Row.” The houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived next door in the 1892 mansion at 722 Steiner Street. This block appears very frequently in media and mass-market photographs of the city and its tourist attractions and has appeared in an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads. 

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The Financial District serves as San Francisco’s main central business district. It is home to the city’s largest concentration of corporate headquarters, law firms, insurance companies, real estate firms, banks, savings and loans, and other financial institutions. The city’s tallest buildings, including 555 California Street and the Transamerica Pyramid (see below), and many other tall buildings, such as 101 California Street and 345 California Street are located there. Montgomery Street (sometimes called “Wall Street of the West”) is the traditional heart of the district.

The Transamerica Pyramid is the second-tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline and on completion in 1972 it was the eighth tallest building in the world. The building no longer houses the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, but it is still associated with the company and is depicted in the company’s logo. It’s a very fascinating building!

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China Town centered on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia!! Since its establishment in 1848, it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. There are two hospitals, numerous parks and squares, a post office, and other infrastructure. China Town is also a major tourist attraction, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge!! Well worth a visit whilst you are in San Fran!!

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Pier 39 – also worth a visit whilst you are here! At Pier 39, there are shops, restaurants, a video arcade, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, virtual 3D rides, and views of California sea lions hauled out on docks on Pier 39’s marina. California sea lions have always been present in San Francisco Bay and they started to haul out on docks of Pier 39 in September 1989. Although fluctuations in the number of sea lions at Pier 39 are dramatic, (as many as 1,701 in Thanksgiving Week in 2009, have been officially reported at one time) many of whom are recognisable and some of whom have been unofficially named! 

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An amazing city unlike anywhere else! If you get the chance to visit then do so – my only other piece of advice is to check the temperatures before you go – the weather is very unpredictable and for the majority of the three days we were there, hubby and i were absolutely freezing when we were out at Alcatraz and near the pier! Speaking to some locals, they said that local traders make the most of their profits through tourists mis-judging the weather! Apparently the most popular items purchased from local stores are hoodies and sweatshirts!! Travel prepared guys and wrap up warm!!

Chatsworth House

We visited Chatsworth House in December as part of a trip through Newmarket Holidays, we spent one day at Chatsworth House and then spent the evening in a nearby hotel and the following day shopping in Chester.

Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family.

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Today, Chatsworth contains works of art that span 4,000 years, from ancient Roman and Egyptian sculpture, and masterpieces by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Veronese, to work by outstanding modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash.

There are over 30 rooms to explore at Chatsworth, from the magnificent Painted Hall, regal State Rooms, restored Sketch Galleries and beautiful Sculpture Gallery.

Chatsworth House is built on sloping ground which is lower on the north and west sides than on the south and east sides. The main entrance was on the west front, which had four turrets, and the great hall was on the east side of the courtyard, where the Painted Hall remains the focus of the house to this day.

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Chatsworth has 126 rooms, with nearly 100 of them closed to visitors. The house is well-adapted to allow the family to live privately while the house is open to the public.  The family occupies rooms on the ground and first floors of the south front, all three floors of the west front, and the upper two floors of the north front. Staircases in the northeast corner of the main block and in a turret in the east front enable them to move about without crossing the public route.

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The Garden and some of its features

Chatsworth’s garden attracts around 300,000 visitors a year. It has a complex blend of different features from six different centuries and covers 105 acres!!

The Cascade and Cascade House is a set of stone steps over which water flows from a set of fountains at the top. It was built in 1696 and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1701. In 1703 a grand baroque Temple or Cascade House designed by Thomas Archer was added at the top. In 2004 the Cascade was voted the best water feature in England by a panel of 45 garden experts. It has 24 cut steps, each slightly different and with a variety of textures so that each gives a different sound when water runs over and down them.

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The Canal Pond, dug in 1702, is a 287 metre long rectangular lake to the south of the house.

The Seahorse Fountain is a sculptural fountain in a circular pond on the lawn between the house and the Canal Pond.

The Willow Tree Fountain is an imitation tree that squirts water on the unsuspecting from its branches!

The First Duke’s greenhouse is a long, low building with ten arched windows and a temple-like centrepiece. It has been moved from its original site overlooking the 1st Duke’s bowling green to the northern edge of the main lawn and is now fronted by a rose garden.

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Flora’s Temple is a classical temple built in 1695 and moved to its present site at the northern end of the broad walk in 1760. It contains a statue of the goddess Flora by Caius Gabriel Cibber.

The West Garden—now the family’s private garden with modern planting in a three-section formal structure.

The Emperor Fountain: An eight-acre lake was dug on the moors 350 feet above the house to supply the natural water pressure. The work was finished in just six months,  and the resulting water jet is on record as reaching a height of 296 feet (90 m)!!

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Although it was magical visiting in December, the house was decorated inside from top to bottom with Christmas decorations which was lovely, but it was also a shame because in some places you couldn’t see the traditional decor and ornaments, so in my opinion it would be good to visit at another time of the year in order to view the “real” Chatsworth House.

The house is open mainly from 11am until 5pm but double check the dates you are going for more accurate opening times depending on the season. Pre-book your tickets here. My suggestion is to get there as early as possible as there really is so much to see and lots of ground to cover, especially as you will need to stop for some lunch at some point!!

You can read even more information on Chatsworth House here.

 

 

Welcome to Miami!

My only regret about visiting Miami was that we didn’t visit for long enough! We travelled to Miami as part of a multi centre trip and only ended up spending three days here which was no where near enough time!!

We arrived in MIA airport in the afternoon but due to the ridiculous queues we encountered in customs we didn’t arrive at the hotel until the early evening! Be prepared to allow plenty of time to clear customs before making arrangements!!

Our first full day in Miami started at the Miami Seaquarium where we got to see Dolphins, Manatees, Sea turtles and Sea Lions and of course the infamous Killer Whale. We visited here before all the controversy surrounding the treatment of Orca Killer Whales in captivity (which came about as a result of the Blackfish Documentary) and although it was amazing experience to see all these incredible animals, and they all appeared to be well looked after, I’ve made a conscious decision to boycott these types of places from now on…

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The following day we took part in a full day tour of Miami, I usually like us to explore most places by ourselves but because our time was so short here in Miami this day tour was absolutely perfect to fit as much in as possible.

The tour started with a Miami city tour which included sights such as The Versace House,   Ocean Drive, Biscayne Bay and even the cemetery where the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller was filmed!

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The Versace House
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Ocean Drive

The second part of the tour was a boat trip around Biscayne Bay which was absolutely brilliant! We had excellent photo opportunities of Star Island (where all the celebrities live) and the amazing Miami Skyline. We even got the chance to see the infamous house where Scarface was filmed (and just in time, as it was very sadly demolished shortly after our visit) and the houses where Bad Boys 1&2, Cocoon, Addam’s family and Miami Vice were filmed!! Throw in Madonna’s and Robert De Niro’s house and all in all it was a real star spotting afternoon!!!

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The Scarface House
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The Addams family House

The third part of our tour was a trip to the Miami Everglades!  We started off with an airboat ride through the everglades which was windy and extremely loud but a fantastic experience!! The guides talked us through the different animals and birds we encountered along the way, including baby alligators and GIANT toads!

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After our airboat ride, we sat down and had talks from the guides about alligators, toads, parrots and other animals they encounter on a day to day basis. Check hubby out with the baby alligator named Larry!!

We finished the evening off with a visit to Miami’s South Beach to catch it when it was relatively quiet and to see the sunset. If we had had more time in Miami I would have definitely spent the day here!

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Miami is somewhere I would love to visit again, and to spend far longer here as well, particularly as a few months ago I ended up binge watching the series Dexter on Netflix which is filmed entirely in and around Miami! Watching this series has only made me want to return to Miami even more!

A Magical Trip to Iceland

In December I was lucky enough to spend four days in Reykjavik, Iceland to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Each of us have chosen a place to visit on special birthdays (my husband and I choose Vegas – I know, very cliche! And my brother in law chose St Lucia for his).

I must admit when my sister said she wanted to visit Iceland for her special birthday I was rather surprised and not particularly keen. I’d always visualised holidays as being somewhere hot, and as someone who hates the cold, visiting a place with an even colder climate was not particularly appealing! However, after spending four days in such a magical place I really had to eat my words!

We flew with WOW airways – I don’t normally mention the airline that we flew with for our trips but they really were outstanding! They gave my sister some chocolates and a mini bottle of fizz to celebrate her birthday and wrote her a lovely note wishing her a Happy Birthday. PLUS the pilot had to land the plane in a pretty bad storm! We hadn’t even realised how bad it was outside until we were told to take hats and scarves off as we left the plane as they would be blown away! I really do highly recommend them as an airline!

We stayed in the centre of Reykjavik – ideally situated near to all the restaurants and supermarkets. We got there late in the evening and were then picked up from the hotel early the following morning to go on a full day tour of Iceland and its amazing sights!

When we woke up in the morning we were delighted to discover that it was snowing! We had been told it was unlikely we would get snow in the centre of Reykjavik but yet my sister had her own personal Birthday flurry! It really made her day!

We visited the Friðheimar Greenhouse Cultivation Centre first – what a fascinating place! At Friðheimar, they grow tomatoes all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, under artificial lighting in greenhouses.

We then visited the Haukadalur valley area which is a geothermal area near the Hvítá river (white river).

We came here to visit the Strokkur Geyser, one of Icelands most famous geysers, which erupts on average every 6 to 10 minutes. It’s usual eruption height is 15 to 20 metres but it has been known to erupt as high as 40 metres!

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We then went on to visit the Gullfoss (Golden Falls) Waterfall – what an amazing sight! The wide Hvítá river rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages into a crevice 32 metres deep. As you approach the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth! The pictures really don’t do it justice!

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We then visited Thingvellir National Park – a place I was delighted to visit as lots of scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here!! An absolutely breathtaking place, again the pictures really do not do it justice. The tour was fantastic as it was timed so that we were here to watch the beautiful sunset over the park – an amazing memory!!

Later that evening we were collected from the hotel again and taken out on our mission to try and hunt down the Northern Lights! They are of course completely weather dependant and we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing them due to the snow we had had that day, and the tremendous storm which had happened the day before that.

We hadn’t got very far when the coach driver said we were going to pull over because he could see the Northern Lights in the distance! We got out and stayed here for well over an hour and it was absolutely spectacular! My only regret – I had not learned to work my camera correctly in order to capture them properly and had forgotten to bring my tripod so the photographs I managed to get were very blurry, but I did better than those who were trying to capture them on their phones in the middle of a pitch black field with no lighting!

The following day we had a casual day exploring Reykjavik and visited the Hallgrímskirkja church. The Hallgrímskirkja church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and it really is a spectacular piece of architecture!

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Iceland really is one of the most amazing places I have visited and one of the very few places I would love to re-visit! I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list! My sister had a really magical Birthday in Iceland – here she is frolicking in the snow – isn’t she cute??

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A visit to Harry Potter Studios

The Harry Potter studio tour has a new feature for 2017 – the Forbidden Forest! I visited the studio originally a few years ago but after the latest additions and the amazing time I had the first time round I thought it would be worth paying it another visit sometime soon!

Always pre-book your studio tour tickets online. You need to select not only the appropriate date but also a time you will be arriving for the tour, and tickets do get pre-booked months in advance! Don’t worry if you are a little bit late – we go lost on the way and ended up being half an hour later than the time we had booked our tickets for but it was fine, the timings are purely to try and control the amount of people flowing through the studios. Be warned – tickets are expensive! Adult tickets are £39.00 each, child tickets are £31.00 each, and if you are taking a child under the age of 4, although tickets are free you do still need to pre-order them a ticket. Family ticket packages are available for £126.00 for 2 adult and 2 child tickets or 1 adult and three child tickets.

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When you arrive at the studio you will be absolutely overwhelmed by the amount you will see – imagine how many props were used throughout the making of all the films and the majority of them are available for you to look at during the tour!

Just some of the highlights of the tour include:

The Great Hall

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Hagrids Hut

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The Wand Room

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Diagon Alley

Dumbledore’s Office

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Gryffindor Common Room

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The Knight Bus

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Privet Drive

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The Creature Effects Department – including Goblins and all time favourite Dobby the House Elf!

The Costumes Department – including Quidditch robes and Hogwarts Uniforms

The Forbidden Forest – new for 2017! Filled with 19 trees each with a diameter of over 12 feet, you can walk beneath the giant roots and can even control the weather whilst in the forest! Keep an eye out for Buckbeak and Aragog…

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You can also buy yourself a glass of Butterbeer! One of only three places in the world you can drink a real Butterbeer! An absolute must!

And finally, the Studio Shop! Normally I do battle my way through the gift shop of most places I visit and dart out the exit as quickly as possible, but I am such a big Harry Potter fan I couldn’t resist having a look! There are gifts galore in here – from T-shirts and Sweatshirts to wands and broomsticks to scarves and owls right up to a wide variety of sweets from Bertie Boots sweet shop!

Although a visit to the studio is expensive it really is a must for every Harry Potter fan! There is so much to see you could spend all day here! Highly recommended – I can’t wait for my next visit! Keep a look out for special events such as Hogwarts in the Snow (from 18th November 2017 to 4th February 2018) where the Great Hall and Gryffindor Common Room are filled with Christmas trees and decorations, and the Dark Arts event (from Sunday 1st October to Sunday 12th November) where Diagon Alley becomes far spookier and the set is patrolled by the followers of he-who-shall-not-be-named!!

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CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Four

I was so sad to leave after our final day in London but I think I need a holiday to get over this trip away!

Our first stop this morning was the London Eye. We only stopped to take a few photographs as all three of us are terrified of heights so it wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience actually going on it!

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After this we walked over to the London Dungeons. My sister has really been looking forward to visiting here as she loves her horrible history! We played an absolute blinder with these tickets as they cost £30 on the door but good old Tesco Clubcard saved the day again as we got an entrance ticket in exchange for £8 worth of Clubcard vouchers! Best deal of the trip I think!

When we got there and read all the warning signs about the dungeons (“not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition”etc) we all started to panic and wondered what on earth we had got ourselves into! In the dungeons you work your way through several different scenes from different eras such as Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some parts of it were quite scary and several people jumped and screamed throughout but the actors were fantastic and it was a really good experience in which you learned a lot about the history of London (and some awful torture devices!!)

After a couple of hours at the London Dungeon (which was absolutely amazing!) we had lunch at All Bar One . The menu was lovely, they had tapas available, 3 dishes for £15 or 5 dishes for £25.

After a big lunch we went over to the London Eye Pier and caught the Thames River cruise. I think there are several companies that you can book river cruises through – we pre-booked our tickets with City Cruises. The thing I liked about City Cruises was that they say although you pre-book a ticket for a cruise at a particular time, if you miss the pre-booked time you can use your ticket for another time that day, which takes the pressure off if you are over-running at another place prior.

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We caught the cruise which went from the London Eye Pier to the Tower Pier. During the journey we passed:

  • The London Eye
  • The Golden Jubilee footbridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • BFI Southbank Theatre
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millenium footbridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • London Bridge
  • HMS Belfast
  • The Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge

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After our river cruise we arrived at the Tower Pier and walked to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

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After this we walked over to The Shard to have a couple of drinks in the cocktail bar – AquaShard. I thought it would be a lovely way to finish off our London visit and the views from the Shard are SPECTACULAR.

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If you are coming in for just drinks, you can’t reserve tables as they are on a first come first served basis but we had no problem getting a space in the early afternoon. Check out their wine, champagne and cocktail sample menu here.

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After a couple of very extravagant and very expensive cocktails we caught an Uber back to the hotel to collect our cases and wandered down to the Victoria Coach station to catch our coach home.

What an amazing trip! I think we did so well to fit so much in during such a short space of time! Of course there are still many other places I would like to come back and see but so pleased I got to see all these incredible places! I really do think that the key to such amazing visits is in the planning – if you group the places you want to visit and then plan your different days around a certain area, you really can pack loads and loads into your day!!

Off to plan my next city visit now – Prague in June for four days for our 8 year wedding anniversary!!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Three

Special day in London today as it is also my Birthday! What a brilliant way to spend it!

After another hearty Hutton’s Hotel breakfast we took a walk over to Westminster Abbey. We’ve pre-booked entry tickets for the Abbey – prices are £20 per adult and £17 concession. Looking at the on the door prices and online prices it doesn’t look as if you save anything by pre-booking them online but we have so much to do today and by pre-booking them and being able to skip the queue it bought us a bit more time!

Westminster Abbey is beautiful – well worth a visit despite its quite expensive entrance fee. Guide books are £6 each if you want to buy one to remember your visit as you are not allowed to take photos inside the Abbey.

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After our Westminster Abbey visit we wandered around and took photos of:

Big Ben

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The Palace of Westminster 

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Horse Guards Parade

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Trafalgar Square

 

After all this walking it was time for the event we had planned a whole visit to London around – the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! The play is in two parts and is being shown at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We watched Part One at 2pm and then we went away and came back to watch Part Two at 7:30pm later in the evening.

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The first Part of the play was absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t wait to go back to watch the second part! I can’t say too much about it (as per a request by J.K Rowling herself) but I will say to any true Harry Potter fans – do all you can to get hold of these tickets, you wont be disappointed! The actors were brilliant and the special effects were out of this world – unlike anything I have ever seen on the stage!

During the gap between Part One and Part Two of the play we paid a quick visit the famous Snowflake for some ice cream. Way too many flavours to mention but amazing gelato and waffles, milkshakes, sundaes and desserts as well. There are a few Snowflakes across London (including within the Selfridges food hall) so pop in to one if you get the chance. An alternative to Snowflake is Snog Frozen yogurt if you would prefer a lower fat alternative! I ended up having three scoops – one each of coffee, creme brûlée and stracciatella!

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We had an early dinner tonight before Part Two was due to start, we chose to go to Bella Italia (another one of my favourites) but the main reason for choosing it was because we managed to exchange £10 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £40 worth of Bella Italia vouchers to put towards our meal due to Clubcard Boost (thanks again Tescos!)

 

Part Two of the play started at 7:30pm and finished at around 10:15pm – Part Two was well worth the wait! The play is designed to be watched on two separate occasions but I don’t know how people who watch Part one go away and then come back days or weeks later to watch the second part! The suspense would have killed me I think! An incredible play which had me in tears by the end, highly recommended!

Overall what an amazing Birthday! Definitely one which will be remembered for years to come!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Two

We got up early this morning as we have a busy day ahead, the Hutton’s Hotel cooked breakfast this morning was brilliant, we had a choice of eggs (scrambled or fried), sausages, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, cheese, fruit, cornflakes, muesli, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and orange juice – just what we needed to start us off for day two!

First thing this morning we walked over to Harrods to visit the food hall – I have been several times before but the items you find in there still never cease to amaze me! There are cakes and pastries and bread and biscuits and macarons…. the list goes on.

 

 

 

Whilst we were there I bought a (very expensive!) bumper sized pack of La Duree macarons as they are my absolute favourite and all other macarons I have tried just do not compare to these! You can order them online however be aware because they are fresh and very fragile, shipping is expensive so bumps the price up even more!

 

I also bought some amazing Unicorn cupcakes! How cute are these??

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After spending way too much time (and money!) in the Harrods food hall, we wandered down to the Science Museum. The museum opens at 10am and closes at 6pm and is free entry. We spent a couple of hours here, the museum is not as big as we had imagined but is full of really interesting sections such as the energy hall, exploring space, agriculture and atmosphere. We didn’t spend as long here as we thought we would and in all honesty we didn’t enjoy it as much as previous visits we had paid to the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, but I have friends who have been here and have really enjoyed it. The other thing to bear in mind, if you go during the week, the museum will be chokka with school kids which makes it difficult getting close to some of the exhibits!

After over-working our brains at the science museum for a few hours, we caught an Uber over to the place I have really been looking forward to during our visit – Camden Market!

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There really are so many amazing places to visit and eat at that we couldn’t possibly visit (and eat at!) them all, but here are a few of the places you can try:

Chin Chin Nitro Icecream – AMAZING ice cream which is frozen using liquid nitrogen. We had cream cheese flavoured ice cream on top of a warm red velvet cake with cinnamon crunch toast – it was the best ice cream I have EVER had! Follow them on Instagram @Chin Chin Ice Cream.

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La Churrerialdn – I have always loved churros so this was one of the must visit places on my list! We bought 6 large warm churros rings with caramel sauce and tiny marshmallow sprinkles – delicious! Follow them on Instagram @lachurrerialdn.

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The Mac Factory – THE BEST mac and cheese I have ever tried!! All three of us had the “Nostalgic” which consisted of a blend of mature cheddar and mozzarella with a thyme and parmesan crumble topping. There are also lots of other choices including the “Super Mario” which includes sautéed portobello mushrooms, truffle oil and wild garlic and the “Lobster Mac” which includes lobster poached in a garlic and parsley butter with a lemon garnish. Yum! More info is available on their website.

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Hallumi Fries – One of the main reasons we visited Camden Market is to sample these amazing things!! I spotted them ages ago on Instagram and have been looking forward to trying them ever since! £5 a box is well worth it – pieces of hallumi are deep fried and then covered in za’atar yogurt, pomegranate molasses, mint, sumac, turkish chilli and pomegranate seeds. Incredible.

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Half Hitch Gin – I am not a gin drinker but my Mum and sister love it so they bought a bottle each. Although I didn’t try any, the small of it was delicious! The key botanicals for Half Hitch Gin is black tea, bergamot, wood, hay and pepper. For more information, visit their webpage here where you can also order bottles online.

 

South East Cakery – Award winning brownie bars including Oreo and Honeycomb, I settled for the Salted Caramel version! I took mine away for later but you can have them made up then and there to include whipped cream, salted caramel popcorn and pretzels too!

Also well worth a visit whilst you are here – the statue in tribute to the amazing Amy Winehouse. The statue is a really beautiful tribute to her as she stands amongst the market crowds.

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I ate way, way too much today! Could really do with going on a long, long run tomorrow morning to burn off just some of today’s calories!!

Later in the evening we visited the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to go and watch Thriller Live – what an amazing show! Every singer and dancer and musician was outstanding and we were lucky enough to get seats only 5 rows back! What a brilliant day and evening!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day One

I’ve been wanting to visit London properly for years but it’s one of those places that you put to the bottom of the list because in the back of your mind you think to yourself that you can visit any time because it’s only a couple of hours away, so the more exotic locations usually win the “where should we go this year?” argument!

I’m visiting London with my sister and Mum so we needed to book a triple room for the occasion (much more difficult to find than I expected!) but we eventually settled on The Hutton’s hotel in Victoria, as we were travelling by coach and the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Victoria Coach Station. When we booked we also managed to get a  cooked breakfast included in our stay so thought we did quite well! For the triple room we paid around £390 for 3 nights so it worked out to be £130 per person in the end.

 

 

Once we had arrived we travelled over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We bought tickets online as they were slightly cheaper (£16 instead of £18). Pre-booking the tickets online also provide you with fast track entry to the Cathedral and as we were fitting so much into such a short space of time, any time spent not waiting in huge queues is a bonus!

The Cathedral is a really beautiful place, but I was most disappointed that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside! As you aren’t allowed to take photos,  I’d recommend getting a guide book to remember your visit, they are £4.50 each. Book your entry tickets to the Cathedral here.

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After our visit to the Cathedral we caught an Uber to Brick Lane to visit the Cereal Killer Cafe. What an amazing place! I highly recommend paying a visit! LOADS of cereals to choose from with a huge variety of milks and toppings to have with them. They also have a selection of pop tarts and hot drinks. Make sure you also try the cereal cocktails they have on offer! While we were there we had Unicorn Poop cereal (£4.90 a bowl) and a Salted Caramel malt shake! The friendly staff will help you if you don’t know where to start and can recommend cereals, milks and toppings which compliment each other. AMAZING!

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We then walked to the famous bagel shops Beigel bake (159 Brick Lane) and Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane). I’ve heard great reviews about both of these places but my main reason for visiting was because I have been trying to track down some world famous rainbow bagels for ages and I had heard that I could find them here! The bagels did not disappoint – my Mum and sister had a lovely smoked salmon bagel and I left with a bag of 6 rainbow bagels for me and my friends (only 50p each!).

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Next was the Tower of London! You can book Tower of London tickets online here, but to be honest you don’t save much (£25.00 on the door vs £23.10 online). We found the best deal was to spend our Tesco club card vouchers and, due to Clubcard Boost, in exchange for £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers we got £10.00 back to spend on entry fees at the Tower of London! We paid for the vast majority of our entrance fee costs using Tesco Clubcard vouchers so only had to pay a couple of pounds to make up the difference! Bargain! You can read more about Clubcard Boost here.

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The Tower of London was fantastic and well worth a visit! You could easily spend a day here, there is so much to see. The Crown Jewels are incredible, we went round three times so we could keep looking at them over and over again, and the views of Tower Bridge and The Shard are spectacular on a clear day. I highly recommend waiting for one of the tours which run approximately half hourly – your Yeoman Warder guide is full of amazing facts and information and makes your visit to the tower far more enjoyable.

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After a  few hours at the Tower of London, we crossed Tower Bridge for our next stop – Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, you don’t need tickets to get in and tours of the Cathedral start from £3.00. By the time we arrived, the Cathedral was closed so we didn’t get to go in which was a shame.

 

We then wandered over to see Shakespeare’s Globe (my sister is a big Shakespeare fan!) and had a well deserved drink in the bar. We didn’t have tickets to tonights show and we were disappointed we couldn’t go into the theatre, but the views of the Thames and the London skyline from here are absolutely stunning, especially at night when everything is lit up!

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Finally we caught an Uber back to the hotel, ordered a takeaway and collapsed in bed! What an amazing day full of spectacular things! Looking forward to day two of our London adventure!

Five Days in Dubai

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I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai and around this time last year an amazing offer came up on Travelzoo to stay in Atlantis, The Palm so I couldn’t resist booking it!

I knew the weather would be ridiculously hot in June and it would be relatively quiet as it was Ramadan during our trip but we’d got such a busy year ahead (and only a few select dates were available as part of the offer) so the beginning of June was the only time we could go.

We travelled from Birmingham airport and flew direct to Dubai with Emirates.

At The Atlantis we stayed in a beautiful Ocean Deluxe room but were given the opportunity to upgrade to a different room for an additional fee if we wanted to.

The Ocean Deluxe room was beautiful and we had an amazing view:

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You can choose an Ocean Deluxe room with either a king sized bed or two queen sized beds and the room has a minibar with cable TV, a walk-in shower and a separate bath.

The hotel really does live up to its reputation and is absolutely beautiful. We stayed on a half board basis which included breakfast and evening meal and there was no shortage of places to eat! The hotel has over 20 restaurants, the Atlantis Hotel website has more details but here are just a few of the restaurants you can enjoy:

  • Bread Street Kitchen and Bar by Gordon Ramsay – We ate in here and really enjoyed it, although there have been mixed reviews on the internet. Find a copy of the A La Carte menu here. For my starter I had Tagliolini with lobster, spring onions, chilli & parsley which was lovely and for my dessert I had Chocolate Parfait with salted caramel icecream – perfect!
  • Ayamna – Lebanese cuisine – Lovely friendly staff willing to talk you through the menu and recommend what they think you will enjoy, and the restaurant also has hookah pipes with a large menu if this is something you fancy!
  • Ronda Locatelli – A delicious Italian, we ate in here and had three courses each which were all really tasty! The freshly made pizza and delicious tiramisu come highly recommended!
  • Nasimi Beach – Closed when we went and throughout the summer, I assume because of the high temperatures. Nassimi Beach offers beachside dining in the cooler months and is an adults only beach which hosts regular beach parties and serves amazing cocktails. Private cabanas, sunbeds and tables are on a first come first served basis so get there as early as you can!
  • Saffron – South Asian buffet restaurant with a huge choice of dishes and live cooking stations. Saffron is also one of the places you can go for your buffet breakfast and again, the choice is huge. Out of the two places you can eat breakfast, Saffron was my favourite.
  • Kaleidoscope – International buffet with themed nights and the other restaurant to go to for your English and full continental breakfast. Kaleidoscope had a huge range of very good food, I just preferred the atmosphere of Saffron compared with Kaleidoscope.
  • TBJ – aka The Burger Joint – Tasty burgers quick and easy if you fancy dining a little more casually, as there is no dress code in TBJ.

There are also other restaurants available, although some of them charge extra to dine in if you are staying on a half board basis – Nobu (Japanese Cuisine), Ossiano (you can eat with stunning views of the Ambassador Lagoon!) and Seafire Steakhouse are some of the restaurants which charge this uplift. Platos and Illy’s cafe offer coffees, teas, pastries and paninis but had very limited opening hours when we were there due to Ramadan.

Outside dining is also available in the cooler months at The Edge (casual poolside restaurants serving pizza, salads and burgers), The Shore (poolside restaurant serving fajitas, nachos and steaks) and in other selected restaurants such as Nobu. You can also dine under the stars on Royal Beach with champagne and a set menu if you want to push the boat out!

If cocktails are more your thing, Barazura is the place for you! I’d recommend the Strawberry Daiquiri, Pimms Royal and the Frozen Blue Sky!

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The Atlantis has over a kilometre of beautiful beach front and two huge swimming pools (the Zero entry pool and the Royal Pool). We did visit both pools during our stay but couldn’t stay outside for very long due to the intense heat! Whilst we were sunbathing, staff members came out regularly to give us cold towels, ice creams and bottles of cold water which was a lovely touch. As it was so quiet whilst we were there, we even got extra ice cream! The Zero Entry Pool is designed for families and the Royal Pool has beautiful views of the Dubai Cityscape.

Included in the price of your stay at the Atlantis is unlimited entry to the Aquaventure Water Park and the Lost Chambers Aquarium.

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The Aquaventure Waterpark is brilliant and well worth visiting – there’s something for everyone. We would have stayed in the park longer but the heat got pretty unbearable in the afternoon, to the point where the soles of my feet were burning through my flip flops!

There are waterslides and river rides and activities such as ray feeding, and there’s a relaxation beach as well. The waterslides include Aquaconda, the Leap of Faith, Shark Attack and Poseidon’s revenge (which looks terrifying – you climb into a capsule and the floor falls away so you drop at around 60km an hour! Hubby was brave enough to do it but I worked on my tan instead!) You can find videos of most of these rides on YouTube if you want to judge them for yourself before taking the plunge!

There’s also Dolphin Bay and Sea lion point to check out – dolphin encounters are available but are subject to an extra fee.

The Lost Chambers Aquarium is worth checking out (keep an eye open for their baby albino alligator!) In here you will find over 65,000 marine animals and they offer free hourly myth tours.

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We were only in Dubai for 5 days so didn’t have much chance to explore, however on one of the days we visited the Dubai Mall. The mall is the largest in the world by total area and you really could spend days in here if you enjoy shopping! It was very quiet when we visited due to Ramadan, and the restaurants and food halls normally open within the mall were closed; however they had set aside a large area on the top floor in the food hall where you could still choose from a wide range of restaurants and fast food outlets. The choice really is endless!

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The main reason I wanted to visit the Dubai Mall was to visit the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa, known as At the Top, Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa is a metal skyscraper with a total height of 829.8 metres, making it the tallest structure in the world! The At the Top observation deck is on the 124th floor so as you can imagine, the views are spectacular. It is highly recommended that you pre-book, tickets are available here. You can either book tickets for levels 124 and 125, or tickets for the At the Top Sky which includes levels 124, 125 and level 148. Whilst you are at the Dubai Mall (and on the observation deck!), it is also worth checking out the Dubai Fountains, the worlds largest choreographed fountain system.

I really loved Dubai and I would definitely go back – I can see why people continue to go back year on year – it’s an ideal place for couples to get away for a few days and enjoy the luxury that Dubai and The Atlantis has to offer.

Travelzoo do have a similar offer on at the moment to the one I booked, although this latest offer is through a different company – happy holiday hunting!

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