Tag: city break

3 days in Dubrovnik

As I gear up for my next holiday (3 nights in Athens and 7 nights in Santorini, starting Saturday, whoop!) I realised I haven’t blogged about my last trip, to Dubrovnik. It’s not like I haven’t had time or anything, the trip was 2 months ago and I’ve been off work for 5 weeks now <<sore point>>. But I didn’t so I’m going to correct that fact and tell you about it now.

I’m not sure when and why going to Dubrovnik became one of my travel priorities, but it was definitely already right up there back in April 2016 when I wrote a list of places I wanted to visit. The architecture, city walls and coastal location made it a really appealing city break; small enough to get around in a few days but enough to do and see to fill the time and feel the city. Of course, later we started watching Game of Thrones, some of which is filmed in Dubrovnik, and my interest was piqued.

We stayed outside of the city walls, in the Ploce area of the city, which means we woke up to the iconic city view of Dubrovnik from our terrace each morning.

Dubrovnik city view from our apartments

This, to me, was more important than being right in the city centre, because it meant we could choose accommodation with outside space (more of a rarity in the city), enjoy a sea view, get dropped off and picked up right outside our accommodation (no taxis or private vehicles are allowed inside the city walls so you could face quite a walk with your luggage) and it was cheaper too.

Looking right from our terrace was a view of Lokrum island.

Lokrum Island view from our apartment

I’d recommend the Ploce are for the above reasons BUT do be aware that it is very steep with hundreds of steps; think about it – to get those iconic city views you need to be quite high up. Walking down is tough enough, but walking back up in the heat of the day (in fact, at any time of day!) is a killer.

Steps from Ploce to Old Town

I’d read before we went that Uber taxis are plentiful and cheap so, after doing the walk once, we used a cab every time. Most phone providers allow you to use your phone plan including data in Croatia, so just download the app and let them take the strain. It usually cost about £3 for a one way journey, which was nothing between the three of us, and in a short break it doesn’t really add up too much. Plus, steps. Seriously. Without the cab I’d have spent a lot more time in the apartment, with broken hamstrings.

Speaking of the apartment, I found it on Booking.com which has a good range of accommodation of all types. Ours was a 2 bedroom apartment with a lounge, kitchen diner, bathroom, and a huge terrace with those city views.

Suzy Apartments terrace

Suzy apartments covered terrace

It made the trip feel a bit more like a holiday than just a city break, because it meant we could eat breakfast outside in the morning, or sit and relax in the afternoon and evening sun after a day of sightseeing. From what I saw during my research, much of the accommodation in Dubrovnik is in private independently owned apartments which are quite dated in style. Don’t be surprised to find a blue bathroom suite or 80s décor. The larger, more cosmopolitan hotels are further away from the Old Town. Inside the City Walls expect to have to carry or wheel your suitcase over bumpy cobbles, and potentially up many narrow stairs if you’re staying on one of the steep side streets.

So, the city itself. As I said, the main part of Dubrovnik is inside the City Walls, accessible from Ploce Gate on one side and Pile Gate on the other. Ploce Gate was, in our experience, the lesser used of the two entrances and a more dramatic (therefore enjoyable) experience.

City Walls and Ploce gate

Ploce Gate Dubrovnik

You have views of the sea, and the old harbour, and Lokrum Island, plus of course the steep walls surrounding the city and back towards Ploce.

Dubrovnik harbour view from Ploce Gate

View through Ploce Gate wall

Dubrovnik Old Harbour looking back to Ploce

Pile Gate is the one used by most cruise ship arrivals (of which there are many in high summer) and is so busy there’s an operational one way walking system for in and out. Don’t be confused about entering the City Walls (to get into the city centre, which is free), and visiting the City Walls (which is a walk around the summit of the walls and is chargeable).

The Old Town is fairly compact and it’s easy to get your bearings and to get around. The main street (Stradun) runs from the Ploce Gate side to the Pile Gate side, and the smaller streets mainly form a grid system, with narrow passageways crammed with eateries which occasionally open up into larger squares. It’s incredibly clean with beautiful architecture.

Dubrovnik Centre

Dubrovnik church

For a different view of the city, take to the sea! The ferry to Lokrum Island (more on that another time) will give you a different perspective on the port, but it’s also worth going on a speedboat trip which takes you to the other side of the city walls along the coastline.

Speedboat City Walls from the sea

Speedboat trip City Walls from the sea

Speedboat trip Dubrovnik City Walls

It then heads out to and and all the way round Lokrum (the Lokrum ferry only goes to the port, so you won’t see the “back” of the island, including the stunning cave below with crystal clear water) before sailing back along the Adriatic coastline.

Speedboat trip looking back at the City Walls

Speedboat trip heading towards Lokrum Island

Lokrum Island inland cave

Adriatic Coast

Speedboat trip Adriatic Coast

We paid 40 euros total for a private 45 minute trip for 3 people (it was 30 euros total to share with other people, and we don’t really like other people so it was a no brainer!) There are lots of boat trips available from the Old Town harbour. You’ll see from the pics you can also do sea kayaking over to Lokrum, but no thank you!

Dubrovnik is just as beautiful by night. Everything is lit up and reflections twinkle in the water. The white marble floor of the main street (Stradun) glistens; there’s almost an other worldy glow about the city.

Nighttime in Dubrovnik Old Town

Stradun at night time

Dubrovnik old town harbour by night

Dubrovnik by night

Dubrovnik city walls by night

Stradun by night

In my next Dubrovnik post I’ll talk about visiting the city walls (hint, there were a lot more steps!) and the cable car to Mount Srd.

Have you been to Dubrovnik? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

A visit to Port de Soller, Majorca

When we started planning our long weekend in Palma, I began researching feasible day trips that would compliment our visit without taking up too much time. It’s nice to get out of a city and see some of the surrounding areas if your visit permits (like the time we went to Cannes and Antibes while staying in Nice, or when we took the train to Annecy on the French Swiss border from our base in Lyon). I read a blog post by Stephanie at Priceless Life of Mine singing the praises of Port de Soller, and another by Sima at The Curious Pixie and Port de Soller became art of our travel itinerary.

What we didn’t bank on was a last minute change to our itinerary thanks to rain on our arrival, then road closures in Palma on the morning we planned to take the open top bus tour because of a public running race meaning we brought the train journey to Soller forward a day. Which is why we missed an earlier train than I would have liked!

The trainline from Palma to Soller has been operational since 1911. Port de Soller was starting to boom in the late 1800s but, being quite isolated on the other side of the mountains, links to the capital Palma were slow and limited. The trainline tunnels through the mountains, making the journey a palatable one hour long, with some lovely scenery along the way. The train itself is old and wooden and leaves from the Ferrocaril de Soller station in Palma just 6 times a day. It’s a popular tourist attraction with a limited number of carriages, so arriving early to book your ticket is recommended (we actually just missed the previous train, because it was fully booked).

Inside the train there are no real comforts! Seats are bench style on either side of the carriage and there are opening windows. That’s pretty much all you can say! No air con, no toilets and no refreshments. And it’s wonderful for it.

Inside the train

Wooden train to Soller

As I mentioned, the journey takes around an hours, during which time you snake through countryside, alongside the Serra de Tramuntana mountains (a world UNESCO site) and through tunnels before emerging on the other side at the inland town of Soller.

Now, the original plan (in my head) had been to have a wander around Soller – there isn’t an awful lot there but the architecture looks pretty and there’s a nice church and some botanical gardens. But, as I said, we were already later than we’d have liked to be, plus there appeared to be a cycling race happening in Soller (more plan scuppering healthy people!) and, in truth, we were hungry, so we hopped on the first tram which took us down to the port.

Wooden tram to Port de Soller

The trams are also wooden and run on electric from the town in the hills about 3km down to sea level and along the beach front. It pays to keep your eyes open to avoid finding yourself in the path of one (ears are less useful as they’re very very quiet).

Open tram at Port de Soller

There isn’t an awful lot to do in Port de Soller really, but sometimes that’s nice, don’t you think? We ambled along the front, watched people braving the sea (although it was a beautiful day the water is still cold in early May), looked at the boats and found a nice place for lunch where I had Majorcan aubergines and 2 large glasses of sangria.

I’d already decided that we should get the bus back, because the return train timetable to Palma is as intermittent as on the way there, with long waits between trains if you miss one. It also afforded us some different views as we snaked along the mountain paths.

The bus stopped off at the mountain village of Valldemossa, you can see how high it is in the mountains by the clouds hovering over the top of the buildings.

Again I would have like to have had a walk around, but it was getting rather late and we’d already walked quite a lot that day (my Mother in Law was with us, so I had to be considerate – not my strongest point when we’re sightseeing!) so we stayed on the bus back to Palma.

Imagine living in this house! Beautiful, until you get home and realise you’ve forgotten the milk (or wine!)

House in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains Majorca

It was great to see another side of Majorca; it has a reputation for being just a beach destination but I hadn’t realised how green and mountainous it is away from the coast, which is a great draw for hikers and mountain bikers.

Missed my other Palma posts? Read an overview of our visit here and about Palma cathedral here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Palma Cathedral

Building work on Palma Cathedral or, to give it it’s full name, the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, started in 1229 and wasn’t finished until 1601. It’s Catalan Gothic style has undergone work and changes throughout the centuries to bring it to the point it’s at today. It has one of the largest rose windows in the world (known as the Gothic Eye) and is the main focus of Palma’s coastline, overlooking the Parc de la Mer and the port.

As often happens with me and tourist attractions, I got so engrossed that I couldn’t stop looking at it and taking photographs. Even though we passed it multiple times during our short stay, I never tired of marvelling at the detail or the sheer scale of the building.

Palma Cathedral in the sunshine

In truth, for me, the outside was probably more impressive than the inside, purely from an aesthetic point of view. I mean, just look at that detail! The intricate carvings and turrets are incredible. But the Gothic Eye and other stained glass windows are very beautiful and bathe the light stone interior in lots of colours, and for just 7 euros entrance fee it’s certainly worth a visit.

It’s also possible to book a tour of the cathedral terraces, which aren’t open to the general public, but we didn’t get chance on this occasion.

There’s always next time…!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

My first…part 3

Wowsers, another first of the month. Where is the year going?!

Continuing my series, and as I’m currently in Lyon, I thought I would talk about my first city break abroad.

I’ve been holidaying overseas since I was a little kid, and the excitement of those 2 weeks a year in a big hotel in the sun was always immense. But as I got older travel started to become more accessible, with low cost airlines and the internet opening up all sorts of possibilities that would previously have been much more expensive and complicated.

The first city break I ever went on (by which my definition is not a holiday with the purpose of sunbathing!) was to Prague. It was also the first holiday that the husband and I ever went on where it was just the two of us. We travelled at the end of November on a cheap as chips flight. I remember vividly when the flight landed, at around 8pm, that there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which I was so excited by!

We stayed in an apartment on the top floor of a stunningly ornate old building which had an aged charm and an eccentric owner. The small terrace was too cold to sit out on, but you could see the beautiful roofs and domes of the city, all glistening in the cold frosty air.

After dropping our bags we went straight out to have a look around and get some food. Our apartment was 5 minutes walk from Old Square which was buzzing with people, despite the cold. Restaurants had outdoor seating with patio heaters, and people were eating and drinking al fresco bathed in the lights of the square and the bars.

We fell in love with it instantly.

Over the next 4 days we wandered around the city, visited cathedrals, crossed Charles Bridge many many times, drank cheap beer, went on the funicular railway, cried at the Jewish war museum and cemetery, marvelled at synagogues, did a bit of shopping, ate hearty winter food, drank absinthe in an underground bar and went to a sex museum!

Prague

But, best of all, was on our last day. I was really upset to see that the Christmas market was being set up in old square but wasn’t yet open. As a firm Christmas fan, I was bereft that we hadn’t planned better.

And then, on our last night, the Christmas tree was lit and the market opened! I was beside myself (and very vocal!) It was the best end to a stunning break I could have asked for.

It was bloody freezing (as you’d expect) but we’d planned accordingly and wrapped up in multiple layers, hats, gloves and scarves. I’ve always thought of Prague as a winter city anyway so wearing chunky boots and a furry russian hat epitomised what I had anticipated in my mind.

Prague is an absolutely amazing city and I would love to go back, perhaps at a different time of year. I’d avoid summer due to the unfortunate proliferation of stag parties looking for cheap booze but I think springtime would be very beautiful.

I can honestly say that trip opened my eyes in terms of short breaks and seeing a different side of the world, and we haven’t looked back since.

Have you been to Prague? Do you love city breaks? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Packing for a (non) spring city break in France

When I booked our trip to Lyon, I had visions of wandering cobbled streets in maxi dresses and sandals and sitting at riverside cafes sipping cold wine.

The weather has other ideas.

Despite being May on Sunday, Lyon seems to be suffering with same crap weather affliction as the UK. I’ve trawled multiple forecast websites to find something more favourable, but all of them seem to be suggesting cool evenings and showers.

Arse.

In a confusing state of mind though, in the past two days it’s improved slightly, with the temperatures creeping upwards. Not one to miss any opportunity to make the most of the sunshine, this now means I have to pack for two types of weather, just in case. As I don’t have two lots of luggage allowance (damn you Flybe) I’m going to have to get creative.

Love trips hate packing

I’ve come up with a list of jeans, boots, maxi dresses, tops, maxi skirts, leggings, scarves, a hat, sunglasses, hi tops, sandals, a leather jacket and a denim jacket.

That’s pretty much every eventuality covered!

Now all I need to do is persuade the husband he doesn’t need a 50% share of the luggage space…

I’ll probably be sharing some pictures via Instagram whilst I’m away (free wifi dependant, obvs) so if you want to see what I’m seeing then give me a follow.

Thanks, as always, for reading ! x

5 top tips for booking a bargain overseas city break

I’ve worn down persuaded the husband that we need to book a city break in early May to take advantage of the bank holiday and “free” time off work. Last year we went to Nice, which you can read about here, here and here. I love an intense short trip to soak up the feel of a city, have a wander round, look at good architecture and of course eat!

Aeroplane

Here are my 5 top tips for planning and booking an overseas break as cost effectively as possible.

1) Have a look where you can get to cheaply. I usually start with the low cost airlines, type in my departure airport and date, and see where they go to and how much it costs. Then have a look on travel sites and find out what there is to do there, and if it interests you. I’ve been to some great places like this that I might not have considered before.

2) Consider travelling a day either side to save money. This is especially true on bank holidays where prices can be expensive to take advantage of the fact that people want to travel Saturday to Monday and not use any extra annual leave.

3) Use Trivago to find the best hotel for your budget. Search the city you’re going to then do a combination of sorting by price and distance from city centre to find out what works for you.

Trivago logo

Are you willing to pay a little more to be closer to the attractions, or are you happy to walk/use public transport in order to get cheaper accommodation? What I would say for this type of break is that there really isn’t any point in booking a fancy hotel. On a short break you need to cram in as much sightseeing as possible and so you won’t spend much time in your room.

4) Use cashback sites to earn money back on your bookings. I use Quidco and have earned quite a lot back over the years – not just on travel but also on general online shopping. You can set notification so that when a retailer increases their cashback rate you’ll get an email. Sometimes a hotel that is slightly more expensive on one site can work out cheaper when you apply the cashback. Hotels.com is a favourite of mine, as they often have 12% cashback offers and, on many of their hotels, you earn a free night for every 10 you stay (you can build them up as you go and the value of the free night will be the average of the 10 booked and paid nights).

5) Remember to add in additional costs – luggage (if you need to check bags in), transfer from the airport, and public transport for getting around your destination all add up. We got to Marseilles once on a really cheap flight, and then found out at the airport taxi rank that a cab to our hotel was going to be about 70 euros, oops! No point getting a bargain flight and then paying double that for your transfer.

Are you a fan of city breaks? Any other top money saving tips I should know about?

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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.

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.

Nice 2

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.

Nice port

Nice 3

Nice cathedral

Nice old town

Nice port 2

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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