Category: Travel-tastic

Final day in Nice – time to soak up everything about the city

Our last day in Nice was all about seeing every last bit of the city – revisiting parts we’d already seen and enjoyed as well as discovering more nooks and crannies. We hadn’t been to Castle Hill, and the steps looked steeper than ever after 2 days of walking, so we went touristy and got the little train from the seafront.

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It covered a fair bit of the Old Town that we were already familiar with, before going back out to the port and ascending the hill up to get views across the city roofs and the coast line.

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Back at sea level, the gardens run through the middle of the city. The Jardin Albert 1er – the oldest gardens in Nice are a green oasis and very well used by residents and tourists alike. Fountains, mist coming through the floor, a sculpture and beautiful flowers and trees combine to make a perfect escape space.

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On the Promenade du Paillon sit the fountains – I was rather taken with this as shown by the number of photos (and this is the cut down version!)

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After all that that walking it was time for an ice cream! Pamplemousse (grapefruit) and menthe (mint). The grapefruit was refreshingly sorbet like.

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Look at the colours and flavours!

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After the hard work of an ice cream, it was time for a cocktail – frozen daiquiri for me and an old fashioned for husband.

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Quite a pleasant view!

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Some more piccies of the stunning architecture before we left

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Place Massena underwent a 13 million euro refurbishment in 2007. The buddhas on the lampposts light up at night. There are 7 of them, each representing one of the continents,

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The windows and balconies on the side of tis building are painted on – not real. The attention to detail is fantastic.

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Some last minute pics of the coast, taken from the pebbly beach

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And so it was Au Revoir to Nice!

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A day out by train, because we Cannes! (and Antibes, too)

While researching Nice and all the nice things to do, I read that it was easy to get out and about for the day by train. Blessed with almost 3 full days and being located about 5 minutes walk from the train station, we set off for Cannes.

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Just half an hour along the coast, we arrived there at around 10.45 and found our way to the seafront. It’s evidently an area with money, noticeable by the proliferation of designer shops. Designer collage

Luckily, with it being Sunday, everything was closed, or I’d have gone on a shopping spree (ha, ha, RIGHT!!! £1500 for a bag? Never! Although the window display at D&G was very pretty.

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Unlike Nice, the beach in Cannes is soft white sand, and there were lots of people sunbathing and children playing. The sea is just as blue as in Nice, and the waves lapped gently at the shore as we meandered along.

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I’m very partial to Birds of Paradise flowers – I had them in my wedding bouquet.

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The most imposing hotel we saw was the Carlton – a drinks menu showed 11 euros for a Coke!

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The town is gearing up for the film festival, and there was evidence of staging being built in preparation for the town coming to life. I’m sure there’ll be more and more yachts arriving this week, but those that were already in the harbour were pretty impressive.

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Not being overly enamoured with Cannes (I know it has an old town but we had already walked miles) and wanting to squeeze in Antibes on the way back, we headed back to the station for the 3 short stops to our next destination, where we had promised ourselves lunch. The graffitied trains were something to behold!

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Antibes is much prettier, more French and less touristy, but still with the same blue sea and another well stocked port.

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A small and pretty cathedral is at the centre.

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I couldn’t resist a picture of this well lived in decorated van at the street market

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After a lunch of chorizo and ratatouille crepe with copious amounts of rose wine it was time to catch the train back to Nice. Double decker trains – such a novelty!

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Nice Ville station is very ornate.

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We walked around 10 miles over the course of the day, but everything was so pretty we hadn’t even noticed. My feet certainly felt it once I took my sandals off though.

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Nice is more than just nice…it’s bloomin’ beautiful

A 4 o’clock alarm is a wicked wicked thing. Although it is slightly easier to get out of bed when you know you have a flight to catch!

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It’s been an age since we flew from Birmingham airport. Considering Birmingham is the UK’s second city (supposedly) we seem to get less choice, higher costs, and general short changed-ness when it comes to air travel.

Unusually, Nice was an exception. A 7.45am Saturday morning departure and an 8pm Monday night return meant making the most of pretty much every moment of the long awaited bank holiday weekend.

The day started (of course) with a holiday breakfast (yes, a 2 night break counts as a holiday)…a sausage, egg and bacon bagel and a glass of rose. Tea drinkers were definitely in the minority, even at 6.30am.

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Uneventful check in, boarding, flight, arrival and transfer meant that we arrived in Nice Ville (town) feeling stress free and ready to go by 11am. 5 hours door to door (accounting for the 1 hour time difference) is pretty good going, especially when you consider the contrast between home and away.

Too early to check into our hotel room, we stored our bags in the lobby and set off on foot to explore. Our driver from the airport had told us that Nice was an easy city to get your bearings in and get around, and he was right. It’s large enough to feel cosmopolitan and spread out, but not so much that you fear never finding your hotel again. There’s a good vibe about it.

Nice is the fifth most populous city in France after Paris, Marseilles, Lyon and Toulouse.

Heree come the photographs…

Stunning architecture, fountains and wide open squares

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Churches

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A bright, clean and spacious promenade

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Boutique shops, along with some UK high street flashbacks

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Wonder why the region is called the Cote D’Azur? Wonder no more! These are the views from the Promenade de Anglais. The sea is bluer than a camera can capture. It’s definitely one for the most developed lens in the world – the human eye.

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As planned we decided to get our bearings by taking an open top bus tour. At 22 euros each and lasting 90 minutes, the tour started on the seafront and meandered along the coast, out to the port and then back up into the hills. Fabulous buildings were everywhere – from neoclassical styles and colours through to the modern art museum and the very quirky blockhead; La Tête Carrée (the first habitable sculpture in the world).

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Considering we had such an early start, at an ungodly hour, we more than did justice to the city on our first day. We were left tired, but looking forward to more…

 

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London Calling? I can’t hear it!

I know that to some people – many people – living in London is the epitome of cool. It’s very rare you hear of country kids growing up with a dream to move to Manchester, for example. It’s always London. The capital city; centre of culture, home to theatreland and the geography of our Monarch.

Me? I’ve never seen the appeal. It’s expensive, crowded and full of tourists. Plus it’s pretty big. So living “in” London is actually about living in one of many boroughs, all of which have their own individual high streets, postcodes and local pubs. All the “great things” that people quote about living in London – the museums, the art galleries, the chance to see different bands every night of the week and a different play in the West End – aren’t really on your doorstep. Sure, your own borough might have stuff going on, but probably not every day, You’ll invariably need to travel to suck up everything that London has to offer, which means an overcrowded tube, an overpriced taxi, or a walk that will be more suited to trainers than those new strappy heels that match so well with your dress.

Because you wouldn’t drive. Good god no! Traffic jams and parking nightmares and one way systems, plus the fact that you probably couldn’t afford to run a car because of your extortionate public transport costs (plus paying through the nose to rent a flat the size of a shoebox). That’s why women can be seen traversing the pavements in business suits and sneakers on their way to offices where they’ll change into heels when safely at their desk.

The reason for my vitriolic London rant? Today! I had a meeting in London today, for work. I had to catch a 6.30am train (that’s not London’s fault, I know). There were issues with my pre-booked tickets (also not London’s fault). Here’s the bit that’s London’s fault.

The underground. Queuing to get on an escalator to get to correct platform.

Temperatures increasing the lower you get, so that even in winter when you’re wrapped up against the elements it’s too hot. Standing crammed against strangers in an overstuffed carriage and hoping everyone remembered to use deodorant that morning.

Tourists. Everywhere! Wheeling suitcases, taking up space, stopping without warning or running over your feet.

How do people do it every day?!

And of course things weren’t helped by the fact that the Victoria line – the one and only tube line that would get me to where I needed to be – was closed. So, all of a sudden, the life source of London – moving people around seamlessly and methodically, away from the unpredictability of traffic jams and delivery drivers and all those things which can slow a vehicle above ground – came to a halt. Not so bad if you know what the alternatives are. A pain in the ass if you don’t.

Now, I’m not completely callous and heartless, so the fact that the line closure was due to a fatality on the line did temper my annoyance somewhat. But being told I needed to catch “the number 24, from behind that building” wasn’t exactly the hand holding I needed. “That building” didn’t have an obvious “back”. It had sides, which I had to wander around. It also had many many bus stops on it’s perimeter.

The upshot was that I found the bus stop. The bus turned up quickly. The driver looked at me like I was trying to pull a fast one when I explained that the Victoria Line wasn’t working and told me that I would have to justify this to the ticket inspector if he got on the bus, but he didn’t charge me. And, unlike being underground, you get to see more of this great city.

Like the building work.

Oh, and some more building work (seriously, it’s everywhere you look).

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The great range of well thought out and well appointed apartments, where you can sit outside and admire the building work while breathing in genuine London smog.

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The bright red double decker buses, snaking across the city at a snail’s pace.

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Of course there are some great sights too, although how much notice you would take if you were seeing them on a daily basis is questionable.

Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column

The cenotaph in Whitehall, covered in fresh wreaths following the Battle of Gallipoli memorial parade at the weekend

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Beautiful and imposing buildings with architectural influences from across the centuries

 

Good old London boozers.

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Quite a lot of photographs for one bus journey, yes? That’s because it took a whole bloody hour instead of what would have been a 10 minute tube journey. It took 8 minutes to get across one set of traffic lights when there was only one vehicle in front of us. The bus driver squeezed in a space alongside a lorry that was so tight the two vehicles were touching each other. And neither driver acknowledged the bump or challenged the other one.

Presumably because, well, that’s London for ya.

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Malaga – way more than just an airport

My travel retrospective yesterday got me thinking about past travels and city breaks.

I love getting away for a weekend. Short breaks concentrate your efforts in terms of seeing everything and doing stuff. Whilst not the most relaxing of times, I always feel fulfilled and satisfied by just how much I’ve managed to do. No time for having a lie in or an afternoon nap. It’s all about cramming it all in.

Quite often a city break for us can stem from seeing a cheap flight and investigating whether the destination is worth visiting. Which is how we ended up in Malaga 5 years ago.

For most Malaga is a gateway to the Costas. Brits who have holiday homes in Spain flock to the airport, or through the airport, from the beginning of the sunny season through til the end. Families on their two week escape looking for sea, sun and sand will land at the airport and be whisked away by tour operator coaches to their coastal destination of choice. But there is so much more to Malaga.

I don’t recall what made me look into it as a destination in itself, but I was so glad I did. Husband wasn’t convinced but I implored him to trust me. In mid April, flying out on a Thursday, flights were still reasonable and we got a basic but modern, adequate and well situated IBIS hotel at a steal. The actual trip cost us around £100 each for two nights.

First things first…Malaga is very Spanish. Which seems a case of stating the bleeding obvious, but it’s true. Because it’s not a tourist destination there is no “need” for everyone to speak English. As a result (and refreshingly so) Spanish is the first language. There is a need to communicate via pigeon English and pointing at menus when ordering food. Shops don’t have English signs. There’s a real feel of being in Spain, despite the influx of Brits through the vicinity on a daily basis.

Malaga, for me, has it all. The climate (it was 25 degrees in the day and around 15 degrees at night, and that was end of April), the food (bars and cafes serving authentic tapas, and tiny backstreet alley restaurants delivering the best paella ever for about 10 euros), the architecture (white washed buildings, cathedrals and a castle in the hills) and the sea (it’s on the coast. Who knew?!)

Oh, and when we arrived, they’d had a film festival in the city, so there was a red carpet running through the pedestrian area. And not to welcome us, as I thought might be the case.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking,

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Malaga is all about timing. Due to it’s popularity for reaching coastal destinations flights can actually be prohibitively expensive in summer. But time it right early or late in the season, with a mid week flight, and it’s well worth a visit.

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The French Coast – a look back and a peek forward

2 weeks today I’ll be on a plane to France, hurrah! Invariably it will be wet and dull in the UK, in true bank holiday style, so I’m making the most of it by jetting off for 3 days in Nice, on the French Riviera.

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Living in land locked Birmingham, it’s always good to get to the coast, especially when it’s as stunning as this. The Cote d’Azur has a micro climate and 200-250 days of sunshine each year, so I’m hopeful that early May will be warm and pleasant, and I might even get to dip my toes in that stunning blue sea.

As well as a stunning coastline, Nice has beautiful architecture, lots of greenery and a colourful Old Town that I’m looking forward to wandering around.

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It’s 5 and a half years since I was last on the French Coast. We went to Marseille for a our first wedding anniversary, and totally fell in love with it. Just 6 hours door to door, from home via Birmingham airport, it’s a gem of a place and we immediately declared it our weekend bolthole when we fancied getting away. Unfortunately Ryanair had other ideas and cancelled the route soon afterwards so we haven’t been back since, but I would definitely return.

Here are some snaps.

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Persistent petals and seeing the sea

A couple of weeks ago I bought some pre-potted bulbs. I never think to plant bulbs; partly as I only have balcony pots to put them in but mainly because I always forget until it’s too late. With the job of potting some up already done by the shop, along with the fact they were starting to sprout, I invested in some red tulips, hoping for a sunny day to get them outside.

I carefully transferred them home in a carrier bag…and promptly forgot about them.

So, now that I have remembered them, they’re ready to be thrown away, right? No water or sunlight for more than 2 weeks, stifled in a plastic bag in a corner. They’re bound to have withered and given up.

Wrong! Look at my beautiful tulips!

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Not only have they miraculously continued to grow, but they have done so in the most peculiar way; obviously growing towards the air and trickle of light that was available. Searching out the life force to not only survive, but flourish. That’s pretty bloomin’ special.

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I’ve now popped them on my kitchen window sill, flooded them with water, and hopefully they’ll straighten out and grow upwards towards the sunlight; after which I’ll transfer them to my balcony.

I still have some snapdragons from a couple of years ago that refuse to throw in the towel; I thought I’d cleared them all out at the end of the summer but they sprouted back up in November and came into bloom.

Here’s a couple of pictures from the North Welsh coast from my weekend trip.

 

It all looks rather gloomy, but I quite like the power of a wild and windy seaside in cloudy weather. Not as much as I like a clear blue sky and white sandy beach, but the chances of that in Wales in March are slim to none.

And how quaint is this cottage?

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Its one of the holiday park rentals; looks like something from a fairytale.

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Travelling light? Not if I can help it!

I like stuff. And I like choice. I also like to be happy with my appearance, because not being happy with the way I look can affect my enjoyment of an experience. Sad but true.

So, when I go anywhere, I take as much stuff with me as is feasibly possible. So that I have choice when I get there. None of this capsule wardrobe/one colour palette/3 outfits for 3 days nonsense.

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Case in point was this weekend. Travel Thursday / travel back Sunday. Leaving only 2 full days to dress for, and 3 nights out. Here’s a summary of what I took:

  • 2 vest tops for layering
  • 4 jumpers
  • A hoodie
  • 2 70s style blouses (hate that word, but not sure how else to descibe them?!)
  • A t-shirt
  • 2 pairs of leather look leggings
  • 1 pair of standard leggings
  • 2 pairs of skinny jeans
  • 1 pair of coated skinnies
  • Pair of white skinnies (in March? What was I thinking????!!!!)
  • High waisted black denim shorts (to wear with tights, I’m not completely barking)
  • Leather look sleeveless top
  • Sleeveless oversized band tee
  • Sleeveless chiffon top
  • A dress
  • Long sleeve chiffon shirt
  • 70s style fluffy knit waistcoat
  • Pair of tartan trousers
  • 4 pairs of boots (1 for daytime/3 for evening)
  • 4 coats (leopard fur/leather bomber/heavy jersey military/lightweight leather biker)

Plus the t-shirt/boyfriend jeans/hi-tops I travelled up in on Thursday.

Ridiculous, no? That’s the trouble/bonus of travelling by car – no weight or space restrictions, so you can cram EVERYTHING in!

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A good point I think?

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Old England and an orange face!

Today I had a meeting in Stratford upon Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare; steeped in culture and history. Half way there, I noticed that my face was an unfortunate shade of orange! I had used new bronzing pearls this morning and evidently they were too effective. Rather than a warm glow I had a look of an oompah loompah (with a pale neck); not ideal job candidate material. Cue frantically rubbing my face with a tissue while navigating country roads.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time for a wander round Stratford. I did, however, make an unexpected stop in Wootton Wawen.

My only prior knowledge of this place was going through it on a train, and laughing because I thought the pronunciation sounded a bit Jonathan Woss-esque (I’ve since found out it’s pronounced Warn, which isn’t nearly as much fun). But today I drove through, and was thrilled by it’s prettiness, even on a grey day.

The Bulls Head pub was built in the 17th century – those are original beams and real thatched roofs.

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St Peter’s church is one of the oldest structures in England’s Midlands. Its tower dates back to the 900s, if not earlier.

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The building in the distance is Wootton Hall, and the grounds are home to a residential caravan site, aimed at “mature residents”. I couldn’t see any of the homes from the road, but what a picturesque place to live.

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There’s also this weir waterfall, I think it’s connected to the lakes in Wootton Hall. I do love the sound of coarsing water; so powerful and nature-ish.

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 Oh,and I saw my first crocus of the year! And this sweet sign outside the village shop.

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Wootton Wawen is probably only about 30 minutes drive from home, but couldn’t be more different. I’m going to head back in summer when the trees are in bloom, and maybe have a cheeky vino and some lunch in that wonderful pub.

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Reviewing my reviews!

I’m a big fan of TripAdvisor. I always check it when booking hotels – it has a big impact on my travel plans. Of course some reviews are just ridiculous (marking a Spanish hotel down because they don’t serve chips, for example), but it’s usually a good indication of whether a place is going to meet your travel needs. Sometimes you want luxury, sometimes just a place to sleep. Things like location are usually key points I pick up on from reviews, plus breakfast quality of course!

I also love the feedback you get from TripAdvisor on your own reviews! Almost 30,000 readers. Wow!Tripadvisor

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