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Monday, 12 December 2016

A guide to Barcelona

Barcelona is the perfect place for a long weekend away in the sun. It is a charming and vibrant city rich with culture , art, music , food and shopping.

Where to stay
Barcelona has an eclectic mix of luxury hotels , boutique hotels , modern budget hotels plus a great selection of places to stay through Air bnb. We stayed in an apartment just 150 metres from la rambla in a little street called `passatge del rellotge`. The building is old with traditional spanish decor , the apartment itself is modern and super spacious , it has 2 bedrooms with double beds and 1 bathroom. There is also a sofa bed so the apartment can sleep up to 6. The kitchen is really spacious and has beautiful doors that open out to a view of the courtyard below.
The apartment is in a fantastic location right next to all the main bars and restaurants on la rambla and if you turn to your right when you exit the building you can explore bars and shops in the old towns cobbled streets.

The booking website for the apartment we stayed in is under construction at the moment but you can find out full details by emailing Pancho , Pancho looks after the apartments and will be able to confirm availability / send you a quote via email , email pancho@therooftops.net to book your stay . After a date and price is confirmed you just need to pay a small deposit then the rest on arrival in Barcelona. Pancho will greet you on la rambla when you arrive and guide you to the apartment.

Beach & Marina
The beach makes the perfect place to cool down in the hot summer months. It does get really busy so it is best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, most people bring their own towels rather than renting beds but there are a few available . From la rambla it is a 10-15 minute walk to the beach.

In the marina you will find some fantastic restaurants from the restaurant group Moncho's. They offer delicious fresh seafood in their restaurants near the marina, it is the perfect location to stop on the way back from the beach for a light meal and drinks. View the menus and book online through here  http://www.monchos.com/en/home

Barcelona is a foodies paradise. If you want to sample some fresh local produce head to Boqueria market , find out more info on the market here http://www.boqueria.info/index.php?lang=en .
In the local food markets you will find an array of cured meats , vegetables , fresh seafood and a fantastic selection of spices for a fraction of the cost that you would pay in the UK. Amongst the food stalls there are small eateries and bars which are perfect for a quick bite to eat.

If you are staying in a self catering apartment a great idea is to buy your own ingredients and try cooking some traditional tapas recipes!
As you explore around the city stop along a few bars along the way to sample a couple of tapas in each place , it is a great way to try out a wide variety.
It can be frowned upon to order a lot of tapas in one sitting as the Spanish reccomend that 1-2 dishes are best enjoyed as a snack with a drink. In one restaurant we visited the waiter was adamant that we could not have more than 6 tapas between four of us but this may have been the personal preference of the Chef there.
Lots of bakeries offer a wide range of deli snacks , fresh loaves and cakes , one bakery worth checking out during your stay is Baluard  http://baluardbarceloneta.com/.

Montjuic Castle
Montjuic castle is an old military fortress situated high above the city of Barcelona. It offers some of the best views of the city , it also houses a military museum and some beautiful gardens.
You can walk up to the castle but it is very steep!! Alternatively there is a tram followed by a cable car that will bring you there directly.

Sagrada Familia
The Gaudi landmark is a must see if you are visiting Barcelona. Six new towers are being added at the moment so there is some construction going on although it does not detract from the experience of seeing the beautiful interior and detailed exterior. It is best to arrive between 8 or 9 am before the queues build up.
We visited the re-known club Razzmatazz on our stay , the club is huge and compromises of 5 clubs in one so it definitely suits all tastes of music! The drinks are cheap and the atmosphere is good , its worth a visit and makes a nice change from the bars of the city centre after a few days.
It is located outside of the city centre , you can walk within 20-30 mins from la ramblas but I would advise getting a taxi if it is late at night.

Parc De La Ciutadella Park & Zoo
The central park is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It boasts some great spots to eat , a zoo , fountains and a lake where you can rent a boat for an hour.

The Gothic Quarter
This is a great area to wander around , it is filled with lively tapas restaurants , independent boutiques and patisseries .
You will find Gaudi's architectural wonders across the city , find a full guide here https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/gaudi/barcelona-gaudi.html /

Whilst exploring the city you will no doubt come across artists along the streets selling paintings and crafts and street performers.
Every spring Barcelona host a great laid back music festival called Primavera Sound ,  the full line up for Primavera Sound 2017 has been released , view the line up here https://www.primaverasound.com/?lang=enhttps://www.primaverasound.com/?lang=en .


Sunday, 11 December 2016

A guide to Fiji

Located in the south pacific Fiji is a romantic destination filled with beautiful beaches and coral reefs . It makes it the perfect location for a holiday filled with relaxation or outdoor adventure.

When you arrive off the plane you will know you are in Fiji , mosts flights are welcomed by a traditional Fijian band in hula skirts who will dress you in a floral necklace / Lei. There are two main airports in Fiji ,Nadi and Nausori it is worth making sure that your accommodation is close to the airport you are flying into on Fiji as it can be a long trip from one side of the island to the other.

Getting Around
There are old school yellow taxis available at the airports without pre booking , although I would advise booking in advance so that you can travel in one of the more modern cars with air con.

Fijians are very proud of their country and the welcome all visitors with open arms. You will no doubt bump into a few native fijians during your stay that will invite you to their home or village to meet their family to see how they live.

The food is colourful and fresh , Fiji menu staples are root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and Fish chargrilled on open fires. If you are staying at a resort you will find the same menu options are available every day alongside a few mixed buffets. The benefit of having so many resorts on one island means you can easily stroll down the beach to the next resort to explore and try something different. There is a large indian population on Fiji so you will find lots of curry houses in the main towns and some of their influence in Fijian food too.

What to do
When you check in to your resort they will explain whats on offer as they are keen to get some business for local travel operators. There is lots on offer such as hiking around the beautiful terrains , scuba diving and pearl hunting! Fiji has a network of stunning coral reefs rich with colourful fish , rather than rent snorkelling gear buy your own .Almost every beach in fiji has a reef worth exploring so you will definitely get your monies worth!

Surrounding Islands
Fiji is compromised of more than 300 small islands , only 1 in 3 are inhabited. From Nadi port you can book on a day cruise or travel to another island to stay for a few days.

The Wellesley Resort
We stayed at the Wellesley resort which was a great base . http://www.wellesleyresort.com.fj/
The resort was very relaxing and serene , although it is very remote so if you like to be next to all the action this is not the place to stay. There are 10-15 bungalows in total , all modern but finished with a fijian feel.

There is a beautiful pool which looks out to the sea , the beach is within footsteps of your bungalow so you don't have to walk far to go exploring or snorkelling.

The owners are a really friendly couple who will help assist you during your stay. You can also walk up the beach to visits other resorts , it's quite nice to explore away from your hotel as you can find some interesting gems and other resorts are really welcoming to visitors.

Wifi is not included here , you can walk up to the next resort to use the computers but this really is a place to go if you want to disconnect otherwise even though it is a beautiful place to stay I would recommend staying at a livelier resort.

Beachcomber Island
One of the most popular islands is beachcomber island , worth a visit if you like to party. It costs around $30 fijian dollars to catch the ferry from Nadi to Beachcomber. You can go for a day trip , overnight stay OR buy a one way ticket and decide when to book a return ticket when you get there.
The island itself is non stop and every one is in party mode. Every evening there is a huge buffet in a canteen like surrounding with long tables and benches. 
It is relatively cheap to stay at the hotel on beachcomber but it offers basic rooms and amenities , I guess the rooms aren't built for spending much time in as there is so much else to do! You can escape the party to a quiet beach by walking 5 - 10 mins away from the resort , quite a contrast!
At night the main bar comes alive with a band and traditional fijian fire throwing dancers , the party never stops hence maybe deciding when to book the return ticket after you arrived on the island as you may want to stay for longer.
The local travel agency `Fiji-hotels` are fantastic at organising day trips and excursion during your stay. http://www.fiji-hotels.com.fj/ . 

Nope it's not bubbly. Kava is a traditional fijian drink made from the powdered root of plant called Piper methysticum mixed with water.Most hotels hold Kava ceremonies for no extra charge. To create the Kava they mix the powdered root and water in a big bowl then fill wooden cups , followed by the question high tide or low tide?That is up to you! Kava is numbing and relaxing but I wouldn't recommend drinking too much of it if you have plans that evening.

Flying from Fiji to LAX on a connecting flight? Read our Dainty Kane guide to Los Angeles here 


Saturday, 10 December 2016

A guide to Los Angeles

Los Angeles has an overwhelming choice of things to do! There are so many events , places to see , restaurants to try  it can be hard to choose what to do with your time.  Here is a run down of things to try out whilst in LA.

Celebrity Home Tours
If it is your first time it is always worth doing the hollywood homes tours , you can find a tour bus anywhere along the walk of fame. Some vendors charge more than others so don't agree to the price the first driver offers it is worth checking with the others towards the end of the main walk as they tend to be much cheaper. The tours also take you through the main bars and club of Beverley Hills which is useful for scoping out where you might like to visit in the evenings.

Hollywood Sign Tour
No tour operator can take you right up to the Hollywood sign, however you can walk which is the best way!
Eco tourism is a big thing in LA at the moment and there are many private tour providers that offer walking tours up the old Hollywood hills to see the sign in all it's glory , they will also explain about the history of the sign , homes in the area and you will also come across a hidden park!
The old hollywood hills is where the rich and famous lived years ago before most moved to Beverley Hills so there is alot of history here. Whilst we were on the walk the tour operator pointed out Moby's castle like house (which had the front door open) , it was tempting to call in and say hello!
If you would like to book a walking tour , have a look here http://bikesandhikesla.com/tour/hollywood-hills-daysunset-hike/

Get Free tickets to be apart of the audience at live talk shows such as Jimmel Kimmel through here http://1iota.com/Tickets. The studio is right on the walk of fame strip so it is really easy to get to.

Theme Parks
You are spoilt for choice for themes parks when staying in LA , Universal Studios , Disneyland  & Knotts Berry Park to name a few. Disneyland & Knotts are situated near Anaheim so if you thinking of visiting and you are staying in LA make sure you get an early start to arrive on time so you get the most out of your park day tickets. Buses to Disneyland / Anaheim are available from downtown LA , they bring you directly to disneyland for much less than coaches than tour operators . The last return bus is around 10/11pm so you have plenty of time to catch the disneyland world of colour show!..A must!

No one walks in LA. It's quite surreal walking around the city and not seeing many pedestrians , most people drive in LA and that explains why. Taxis offer decent fares and are really easy to find so if you would like to travel across town fear not.

The Subway
The subway is a great way to get around on the cheap during the day. You can quickly hop on and hop to key locations like universal studios. I would recommend the subway during the daytime only or in the early morning when other commuters journey to work , it is not as safe late at night for tourists.

Downtown LA & China Town 
There are a few attractions worth seeing downtown such as the courthouse , the cathedral  and the Walt disney concert hall.

From downtown you can easily walk over to china town (you will also be able to see it from near the cathedral).As above LA residents don't do walking so don't be surprised if you are the only person walking over the bridge but it only takes 5-10 to walk.

Food - Highlights
The Cut Beverley Hills is something special , it sits within the Beverley Wiltshire Hotel where Pretty Woman was filmed. The setting and service was impeccable and so was the food! For the main I had a steak which was the best steak I have ever had , followed by a a dessert which was a lava style pudding filled.After dinner take a walk through the grand lobby into the main hotel bar for a cocktail and enjoy the settings , it feels proper old school Hollywood here.

There are  great mix of wine bars and cafes along Melrose Avenue that offer tapas , organic produce that are worth checking out. Don't be mislead by the cupcake shop that promoted zero calorie cupcakes ...they sell t-shirts. Although it is still worth checking out this novelty store http://johnnycupcakes.com/

You will also stumble upon fantastic food trucks parked outside office blocks that cater to office workers. You will find authentic cuisines from all around the world such as  thai , mexican , american , korean for a fraction of the cost that you would pay in a restaurant.

LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is a real must.
I hadn't planned on visiting but we had a free evening so thought we would check it out. It doesn't disappoint. The exhibitions change on a regular basis and there is something for all tastes. They also run some pretty cool events , check out their calendar to find out what's on , http://www.lacma.org/.

Shopping - Melrose Av , Rodeo Drive & Santa Monica
LA is a every shoppers dream! For edgy high end clothing boutiques such as Paul Smith & Vivienne Westwood visit Melrose Avenue. (You will also find the Kardashians boutique DASH on this street where a bottle of water is $10..)

Downtown Santa Monica is a great place to shop high street labels and department stores/

Along Santa Monica beach you will find cheap but interesting finds mixed with some high street shops such as Amercian apparel.

On the main walk of fame strip there is a shopping complex full of choice.

For a great day out visit the grove , it has a fantastic selection of shops , restaurants and a cinema too http://www.thegrovela.com/. The Barnes & Noble book store does celebrity book signings almost every day.

For luxury designers such as Prada , Gucci , Beverley hills is for you!

On my first trip we stayed in Hollywood and on the second at the Loews Hotel on Santa Monica, I would recommend Santa Monica if you want a more laid back environment in the evenings. The Loews Hotel is a great base for a trip to LA  , it is right beside the beach and in walking distance to all the local bars & restaurants.

There is a great chilled , laid back atmosphere in Santa Monica . There are some great cafes and restaurants near by such as the shutters cafe along the beach.  Near downtime there is also a great English pub called Ye Olde King's Head  which is often visited by ex pat celebs such as David Beckham.

Long Beach
If you fancy something a bit different? Try an evening dining experience on the Queen Mary. The ship is steeped in history and there is no better way to find out more than go on a guided tour followed by a meal & entertainment in the historic art deco style rooms.

LA Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo has lots of rare animals that you usually wouldn't find in the U.K. The animals seemed to be really well looked after and it makes a great afternoon out.

The Walk of fame
Take a walk in the same footsteps as hollywood acting legends. Graumans Chinese Theatre also hosts movie premieres so keep an eye out for what's on when you visit. Morning / early afternoon is the best time to visit this area.The day we visited there was a star ceremony for the director of the cars movies , can you spot Goldie Hawn in the photo?? To find out if there are any star ceremonies during your visit , find out here http://www.walkoffame.com/pages/upcoming-ceremonies.http://www.walkoffame.com/pages/upcoming-ceremonies


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