Sunday, 3 March 2019

What to do in Paphos, Cyprus

We visisted Paphos in February and whilst we expected the weather to be mixed - we were quite lucky. Here's what's best to fill your time...

Driving in Cyprus?

Firstly, book yourself a hire car before you arrive in Cyprus! The island is the perfect size for exploring independantly and there's plenty of places to visit. We used a broker called Zest Car Rental (who found us a deal with EuropCar). We paid £59, and then chose the top up insurance for £21 (just in case!) Considering airport transfers are usually about £50 each way, we thought this was good value. We got a Kia mini SUV and it was ideal. We picked the car up at Paphos (PFO) airport and began our straightforward 20 minute drive to our hotel.

Driving on the island is the same as driving in the UK. Road signs are all in English. They drive on the left. Roundabouts, traffic lights and zebras will all make you feel at home. The speed limit is slightly lower, but that's not a bad thing if you're a tourist. The hire cars have a different coloured number plate (red) so the locals tend to give you a bit of extra space and time.

What is the weather like in February?

We were quite lucky with the weather generally. In 7 days we experienced:
  • Day 1: High winds but sunny.
  • Day 2 - 6: No wind. Nice and hot with a day time temperature of around 17oC (sunbath-able). You still needed jacket/trousers once the sun had disappeared in the evening.
  • Day 7: Thunder storms and heavy rain.
I'd suggest packing for all weather. T-shirt/shorts/bikinis. But also take warm coats and waterproofs, just in case!

The local beer is Keo, but this stuff was decent too.

What to do in Paphos?

Aphrodite's Rock is a must see. For some Greek mythology, take the coast road from Paphos to find Aphrodite's Rock. There's a free car park just off the main road, plus a small souvenir shop with toilets. Just next to the shop are some steps which lead to a narrow underground tunnel which leads you under the main road and emerges on the beach with Aphrodite's Rock just on your right. To be fair, once you've seen it, it's game over. But if you go early enough it's really quiet and is a great place to spend an hour peacefully taking in the scenery.

Tombs of the Kings. This is well worth the €2.50 entry fee! You get access to a large archeological site which is filled with ruins and tombs. Again, go early to beat the crowds. There's no red ropes or restricted areas - it's a free for all.

Make a flying visit to St Solomons Catacombs, although we couldn't see it all whilst we were there. This is a small underground catacomb, but if it's been raining recently - part of it floods so isn't fully accessible (which was the case when we went). But there was still a bit to see. Look out for the tree with ribbons attached and it's below there.

Look out for the ribboned tree to find the Catacombs (or use the massive sign next to it!)

There's also the Old Town of Paphos... We were expecting a quaint old town with this one, but that's very different to what we found. It's pretty much a generic town centre. Nothing special at all. The only part vaguely interesting was a small car park where the walls had large artwork/murals. I wouldn't advise going out of your way to visit this unfortunately.

The highlight of Old Town
If you like cats, then definitely visit the Tala Cat Park. Take the short drive up the mountains and you're in "cat heaven". It's run by a woman from Leeds, who takes in the abundance of stray island cats (roughly 750+). All of them are surprisingly friendly (apart from a few nutters who were kept separately). There's no entry charge, but donations are welcomed (cash and cat food).

Cats. Cats. Cats.
For something a little different/eerie, head north towards Coral Bay to find the Edro Shipwreck. The bay itself, which the ship ran into, is really picturesque. The ship is really close and there are YouTube videos of people climbing aboard and investigating the ship - we weren't brave enough.

Edro Shipwreck

If you're into your fitness - then I'd definitely advise packing your running trainers for Paphos. There's a perfect coastal path which runs between the beach and hotels and must span a fair few miles. You'll notice lots of locals run this route early in the morning, before it gets too busy. It's also a nice walk too!

Where to stay?

We stayed at the Louis Imperial Beach hotel, which was decent. Mainly aimed towards pensioners and families but ticked all the right boxes. Slightly out of town, so it was a nice 25 minute walk along the coast to get to the harbour/town.

Enjoy Cyprus!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

USA Road Trip (everything you need to know)

In 2018, four of us set off on a road trip across the States. New York to San Francisco. East to West.

I'll explain our route, the tools we used to prepare for it, how much everything cost and any tips we picked up along the way.

If you have a poor attention span; skip halfway down to view a YouTube video of our trip.

To start off, here was our route (although, we did ditch the hire car and flew from Dallas to Las Vegas to save some time and to give us a break from the road):

New York to San Fran on Roadtrippers

The route
  1. New York (2x nights)
  2. Philadelphia (1x night)
  3. Washington DC (2x nights)
  4. Boone (1x night) to breakup the drive
  5. Nashville (2x nights)
  6. Memphis (2x nights)
  7. Dallas (2x nights)
  8. Las Vegas (4x nights)
  9. Lone Pine (Alabama Hills) (1x night)
  10. Yosemite National Park (1x night)
  11. San Francisco (2x nights)
The costs
There were four of us on this journey, so obviously this helped in bringing down some of the travel and accommodation costs. But... we roughly worked out the below costs:

Accommodation/flights £1400 ($1850) per person
Car hire £400 ($530) per person
Spends £1000 ($1300) per person
Total £2800 ($3700) per person

Obviously, we could have done this much cheaper (but also much more expensively). We feel we got a good mix of budget versus bourgeois experiences.

If we'd have known it would cost that much beforehand, we may have thought twice about the whole trip. But because we staggered our payments over about a year, it didn't feel too excessive - we tried to book a bit each month (a hotel here, a flight there...)

The Trip (in brief)
Here's the YouTube video...

New York
Nights: 2
Accommodation: We stayed at Millenium Broadway which was fine. Nothing of note about this hotel really. Generic hotel in a decent location.
Food/drink: Porterhouse Brew Bar, Ellens Stardust Diner, Carraghers Bar
Top Sights: Times Sq, Central Park, Dakota Building/Imagine Memorial, Greenwich Village, walk across Brooklyn Bridge, The Oculus, Ground Zero, the Friends apartment
Summary: We spent our time whizzing around trying to take in as many of the top-tourist-sights as we could. Unfortunately, we didn't do as much as we'd liked in the time we had as it's a big place.
Times Square is seriously busy. All day. All night. Watch out for the CD sellers around here too; they'll offer you a CD and if you're unlucky enough to even touch it, they'll try and charge you for it. If you refuse, they have a few "friends" who will appear out of the crowds encourage (threaten) you to pay.
We went in August and it was scarily HOT.

"Here it is, heart of New York City, Times Square. Named for the good times you have when you're in it." - Michael Scott (The Office)
On our last day in New York we picked up our first hire car. Tip: get your hire car early to avoid the queues. We waited almost two hours to collect our hire car. The queue was out of the door. Driving out of Manhatten was pretty crazy, but once you're on the freeway - it's all good.

We set off for Philadelphia on the I95. There were quite a lot of tolls on the east, but our hire car had an E-ZPass installed, so you can just drive straight through and any tolls get charged to your card.

Nights: 1
Accommodation: We used an AirBnB apartment in Old City Philadephia. It came with a rooftop area, which was great for evening drinks with amazing views. Old City had lots of craft beer bars and cool restaurants in this area. Parking was approx $30 per night.
Food/drink: 2nd Story Brew House. Go there for happy hour! We had to sample a Philly Cheesesteak too, so we grabbed one each at Campos.
Top Sights: Elfreths Alley is worth a look.
Summary: After the crowds of New York, Old City Philly was a welcome break. Things were a little more relaxed here, with lots of open space. We booked our first AirBnB "Experience" here too, which was a 5k run around the city labelled as the "Rocky Run". You get to take in all of the sights and learn a little history about the city and it ends with the 72 steps which feature in the Rocky film (I won the race up to the top!)

We left Philadelphia and drove 3 hours to Washington DC. We had booked to stay in a hostel here (Capitol View Hostel), but when we were only a few miles away, the hostel emailed us saying we no longer had our booking, but they'd accommodate us in their "sister hotel" which was a few miles in the opposite direction (Hostel DC Lofty). We decided to check it out. When we arrived at this alternate hotel it was nasty. As we pulled up outside there was an arrest being made. There was a guy taking a leak up the hotel wall. The rooms were disgusting. We werent going to stay here and luckily we hadn't paid for the accommodation yet. We all jumped on our phones and booked the first hotel we could find on Expedia.

Washington DC
Nights: 2
Accommodation: We completely struck lucky with the new hotel we booked on the fly. Kimpton Hotel Monaco was awesome. We arrived to happy hour where drinks and snacks were free between 17:00 and 18:00. Tip: load up on as many free drinks as you can handle at 17:55! This place was probably the best hotel we stayed in during our entire time in the states. We got it at a bargain price too; because Expedia hadn't sold the rooms we got them at about half the price (I think Expedia guarantee to sell rooms for hotels, and if they go unsold, Expedia take the financial hit - hence why it was offered so cheap).
Food/drink: Wok N Roll, District Taco, Dirty Habit (bar in the Kimpton)
Top Sights: Whitehouse (spot the snipers and constant helicopters), Washington Monument, Georgetown, US Capitol.
Summary: Washington DC was actually really good. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this city, but it was great. The first thing you notice is how clean the place is! It was strangely spotless. Our hotel offered free bike hire, so we cycled around the whole city and took in all the top sights on the bikes.

Lincoln memorial
After Washington DC we had our longest drive ahead of us... 6 hours into the Blue Ridge Mountains to a town called Boone. On the way we stopped off at Hampton Cherokee National Park for a dip in the lake. During this long drive we discovered how cheap gas is in the states!

Nights: 1
Accommodation: We used AirBnB again here and found ourselves a great little cabin in the woods.
Top Sights: We didn't get to explore the area much as our time was limited here. We simply chose Boone as it was a good halfway point between Washington DC and our next destination, Nashville.
Summary: Driving through the mountains was great and the scenery was unreal. This was the first time we had to be conscious of bears. Apparently they frequent the area, but we didn't spot any. However, we did notice some muddy bear prints on the AirBnB door when we arrived.

Our cabin in the woods and the hire car (which we loved!)

Nights: 2
Accommodation: Another AirBnB. This time we stayed in a condo with a pool which overlooked the Cumberland River.
Food/drink: Broken Egg cafe, Delano Pizza, HonkyTonk Central, Swinging Doors, Roberts Western World, AJs Karaoke
Top Sights: Broadway, Johnny Cash Museum (wasn't worth it though).
Summary: So far in our journey we had taken in a lot of sights, history, culture. When we arrived at Broadway in Nashville, it was time to get stuck into some drinking. The nightlife here was great! Just like one huge party. So many bars and all with live music. Excellent night  (dreadful hangovers though).

Nashville, Broadway (view from HonkyTonk Central)
It was a 3 hour drive to our next stop; Memphis. On the way, we stopped off at Natchez Trace State Park (Cub Creek Lake).

Cub Creek Lake

Nights: 2 (although one would have been plenty)
Accommodation: A 1960s themed AirBnB.
Food/drink: Silky O'Sullivan (bar with resident goats), Tap Room, Coyote Ugly (avoid), BBQ Central Downtown (awesome)
Top Sights: Shelby Farms Park (a huge nature area with lots of wildlife), Peabody Hotel (go and see the duck march), Graceland.
Summary: Memphis wasn't what we were expecting. It felt a little hostile. There was a large police presence everywhere (presumably to keep the tourists safe and keep some money flowing into the city). Lots of poverty here.

The main strip in Memphis. Like a poor mans Nashville really.

We left Memphis and started our 7 hour drive to Dallas. It was a long drive, but as I've mentioned - driving in the states is simple. The time went quickly, especially as we all took turns with the driving.

Nights: 2
Accommodation: A swanky AirBnB high-rise apartment with rooftop pool.
Food/drink: Big Guys Chicken & Rice (the best meal I had during the entire trip), The Woolworth (cocktail bar), Cloud 9 (rotating cafe at the top of Reunion Tower)
Top Sights: Reunion Tower
Summary: We spent most of our time here whizzing around on the Bird rental scooters. You can sign up on your phone, scan a scooter (which are left in various places around the city) and you pay per minute of travel. Excellent idea, but I think the locals hate them.
The view from the top of Reunion Tower
We said goodbye to our hire car and dropped it off at Dallas airport. We decided to fly from Dallas to Las Vegas to avoid a 10 hour drive of nothingness. It gave us a break from driving and bought us some extra time in Vegas.
We also had to say goodbye to our bag of ice and cool box which we picked up at the start of our journey and used all the way down to Dallas. This kept our food, water and beer cool and meant we could make sandwiches before long drives (to avoid the cost of roadside diners).

Las Vegas
Nights: 4
Accommodation: Luxor
Top Sights: The Gun Store (a gun range where you can shoot a variety of weapons, albeit quite expensive and doesn't last long), Cirque Du Solei LOVE (The Beatles show at Mirage). This was amazing. Highly recommend.
Summary: Gamble, drink, win, lose. Gamble, drink, win, lose. Occassionally sleep.
Also, it was crazy hot. There were some breezes though, but they were like having a thousand hairdryers shoved in your face.

We collected our second hire car in Vegas and spent a day visiting the Grand Canyon (West Rim). The drive out there was jaw dropping. Pure desert roads. We saw genuine cowboys, cows in the road, tumbleweed and dust devils.

Another long drive From Vegas to Lone Pine/Alabama Hills. It was here where we discovered how bad our latest hire car was. It had a slow puncture, so we constantly had to fill up with air. It also couldn't handle going uphill. This made our next 6 hour drive through Death Valley quite difficult.

Death Valley (Brisque View)
The scenery through Death Valley was probably our favourite driving experience. We stopped off at Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America (-85 meters below sea level). Brisque View was a fantastic unexpected stop off. Furnace Creek was red hot!

Lone Pine
Nights: 1
Accommodation: Dow Villa Motel. This was lovely drive in motel, with a pool which looked out on the surrounding mountains.
Food/drink: Seasons restaurant (great steak)
Top Sights: Alabama Hills
Summary: This is a place where a lot of wild west films were shot back in the day and filming still happens here. The town has a few awesome restaurants and bars. But the real attraction are the Alabama Hills which are a 5 minute drive away.

Life on Mars?
From Lone Pine we had another enjoyable drive to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park
Nights: 1 (would have loved to have stayed much longer)
Accommodation: Half Dome Village aka Curry Village/Camp Curry. We booked a 4 person tent and it was loads of fun.
Food/drink: The onsite bar and pizza place were decent.
Top Sights: We barely scratched the surface here as our time was limited, but we managed small hike to the top of Vernal Falls.
Summary: On our approach to Yosemite we were made well aware of the bear threat. We took this information on board, but didn't actually expect to be faced with a bear. Within 5 minutes of settling into our tent we were made aware that there was a bear in a tree a stones throw away from our tent! This was an incredible welcome for us!

Half Dome Village

The air in our tyre was getting seriously low when we left Yosemite, and the gas stations are limited here so it was a nervy drive. When we finally reached a gas station our tyre was down to about 20psi (down from 40psi) and to our horror the air machine was our of order. We had to continue our drive for another hour before coming across another gas station where we could finally top up and continue our final drive to San Francisco.

As we approached San Francisco we noticed that the drivers suddenly got aggressive and the traffic jams started. We hadn't hit any traffic previously during our entire drive, so this felt quite odd. We  battled our way through the roads and eventually dropped off our hire car and spent the last few days on foot.

San Francisco
Nights: 2
Accommodation: We struggled finding a reasonably priced hotel in San Fran, but we settled on Hotel Diva. Shortly after booking we were told it was located in the area of Tenderloin, which is notoriously dangerous. So we were fully expecting to be on the wrong end of a stabbing/mugging/murder, but in all fairness it was fine.
Food/drink: Fog Harbour Fish House, Bota Tapas (avoid), Honey Honey Crepes.
Top Sights: Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge.
Summary: The most fun we had was hiring bikes and cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. Probably took us roughly 2 hours to go there and back. Alcatraz was surprisingly interesting too - but you do need to book tickets for this well in advance. We got the first ferry over so the island was empty when we arrived - but was getting really busy when we got the ferry back.

...and that was the end of our journey.

Things to consider
  • If you're hiring a car, try to make sure the hotel has free parking.
  • Major attractions should be booked well in advance (e.g. Alcatraz becomes available to book approximately 90 days in advance and sell out pretty quickly).
  • You'll probably need an ESTA if you're non-American. The website doesn't scream "official", but this is where you can get it sorted beforehand. 
Driving in America (as a non-American)
It's easy.

We were a bit apprehensive about driving in America (wrong side of road, automatic, road signs) but it was surprisingly easy! The whole road system is so straightforward. Interstates are basically flat and straight (although a bit monotonous). It's worth bearing in mind that unlike the UK motorways, you can overtake and undertake on any side (i.e. there's no fast/slow lane as such). So you can happily sit in the middle lane and plod along happily.

General Road Trip Tips
Monzo - Seriously, get yourself a Monzo bank account. It's an online bank account which allows purchases all over the world with no fees! You can withdraw up to £200 overseas each 30 days, before you incur any charges. But making card payments are free and are as straight forward as doing it at home. It has a great app interface and lots of cool features too. Check it out here: (at time of writing this is available to UK users only).

SatNav - Get yourself an American one, or load USA maps onto your current one. Car hire firms charge a ridiculous daily rate to hire these, so works out loads cheaper to pack your own.

SIM/Phone - To save yourself lots of data roaming charges, unlock your phone and get yourself a Three SIM card. When you land on foreign soil, throw in your new SIM card and you're good to go! I got a 12Gb 30 day plan and only used about 4Gb of my allowance in a 3 week period (including using Google Maps/Spotify/social media on 3G connections). See 12Gb 1 month Advance plan (£23)

Travel Checklist
  • Print all flight/rental/accommodation/visa documents
  • Check and print travel insurance
  • Road map (in case Sav Nav fails or no service)
  • Pre-load iPad/device with films/music for flights
  • If your schedule is relatively "solid" then pre-book any tours in advance (i.e. Alcatraz needs booking months in advance)
  • Charge up your USB power banks

Check out a video of our journey below...

Friday, 9 February 2018

Travelling through Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and Rome

Whizzing around Italy in a week can easily be done.

Read on...

Where to visit?

With Italy, choosing to fly into one city and out from another can offer big savings. We flew into Naples and home from Rome.

Our itinerary consisted of:
Day one - Arrive in Naples, spend a few hours here - then head to Sorrento for the night.
Day two - Morning in Sorrento - then head to Pompeii for the night.
Day three - Morning in Pompeii - then head back to Naples, spend some more time here - then head to Rome for the night.
Day four - Another night in Rome.
Day five - Morning in Rome. Home.

How to get from Naples airport to Naples city centre?

There is no train line from Naples airport. So exit the building and look for signs for AliBus. This is a frequent bus service which stops outside the airport and hauls you into the city. They cram as many people as possible onto the bus, so don't expect a seat - or to be vaguely comfortable. The bus will stop at Piazza Garibaldi, at which point you'll be thinking you've arrived in a post-apocalyptic slum. First impressions of Naples aren't great. Nor are second impressions. More on Naples later.

How to get from Naples to Sorrento?

At Naples, grab a ticket for the Circumvesuviana Train (no need to pre-book). This runs from Naples to Sorrento. It stops at quite a lot of stations along the way, including Pompeii, and takes just over an hour. It's quite cramped and well known for pick-pockets, but as long as you keep your eyes open and bags close, you should be fine. We didn't witness any problems.

How to get from Sorrento to Pompeii?

From Sorrento, grab the Circumvesuviana Train (mentioned above) on its return journey (again, no need to pre-book). Be aware that there are two train stations in Pompeii: Pompeii Scavi and Pompeii. The Circumvesuviana only stops at Scavi. However, both are close to the entrance of the Pompeii ruins. You buy your tickets from the little tobacco shop at the station.

How to get from Pompeii to Rome?

You'll need to get yourself back to Naples on the Circumvesuviana. We pre-booked a train from Napoli Centrale to Roma Termini which takes just over an hour and cost €15 per person. This will be a better quality train, unlike all of the local bone-rattlers mentioned above.

Sorrento Port
Eat/drink/sleep in Sorrento?

A good place for a cheap meal, and coincidentally the best pizza I had during our week in Italy, was The Kiosk Bar. It's very basic - plastic tables and chairs, upcoming football fixtures are scrawled onto A4 paper and hung up around the bar area, the staff all appeared to be part of the same family and just mooch around sort of working/chilling out. But the pizza is fantastic! Try the Caprese.

If you're a fan of wine (or, if you're like me and think all wine pretty much tastes the same but will still guzzle it like a dog in the sun) then try Fuoro51. It's a cosy and intimate wine bar with a relaxed feel. The staff were really knowledgeable and offered different samples to get you started. Although, at £14 for two glasses of red, perhaps not the best place to spend a whole evening.

We visited PortaMarina Seafood for our final evening meal in Sorrento. This is a family run seafood joint located right by the waterside. It's pure and basic seafood with quick service. It's a fun walk to find this place, but offers great views.

PortaMarina Seafood can be found down there, somewhere.
We stayed at Casa Lucia which is a small B&B which has around 6 rooms. The rooms are bright, clean and offer decent views. It probably takes around 20 minutes to walk here from the train station (you walk straight down the main strip, then towards the end you dive into the myriad of alleys to find Casa Lucia).

The entrance to Casa Lucia.

Eat/drink/sleep in Pompeii?

We ate and slept in pretty much the same place in Pompeii (our B&B was above a pizzeria!). B&B Eco appears like it was originally a large apartment which had recently been divided up into private rooms and rented out. It was smart, clean and in a good location. The only downside was as this place only caters for a small amount of guests, the reception only opens at request. So upon our arrival, we had to call the hosts (which took a few attempts) and wait about twenty minutes for them to arrive and check us in.

The B&B owners recommended the pizza place directly underneath us called Pizzeria Alleria. The pizzas were nice and good value but I was more impressed by the delicious rice balls and good selection of draught German beers. The outside seating offers a good place to people watch.

Pompeii (the archeological site) tips:
  • Wear decent footwear (ideally trainers). You'll be doing a lot of walking across dodgy walkways. Children or coffin-dodgers might struggle with the amount of walking you rack up.
  • Aim to get there after the queues have calmed. We got there at 14:30 and it gave us enough time to explore for a few hours whilst not being too cramped. It took us about 15 minutes queuing. 
  • There's more than one entrance into the site. We used the East entrance (Piazza Anfiteatro).
  • Download an audio guide before you go and take your headphones. We didn't want the formality of a tour guide, so we downloaded the Rick Steve Audio Europe guide, and you can then download whichever particular city/attraction you're visiting and listen at your leisure.
  • Take water. It gets hot and I didn't notice any shops inside.

What to do in Naples?

Avoid it.


As soon as we got to Naples, this place felt instantly hostile. The surroundings are uninviting and noone seems approachable. You'll notice a huge lack of other tourists too, which is explains a lot.

Forget walking around taking photos, or using your phone for navigation because you'd be attracting unwanted attention.

We were actually nearly robbed on the street, but all our "goodies" were safely stored at the bottom of our backpacks. But unfortunately, the guy who tried to rob us (who was wandering the streets wearing a motorbike helmet, with no motorbike) then found another couple further back down the street from us and managed to get their bags and cause some commotion. A few locals tried to get involved and stop him, but the majority seemed to watch on unnerved, as if it was all too common.

We'd read plenty of visitor guides advising on the hazards which Naples presents, but we assumed that some people were too cautious, and we went anyway to find out for ourselves.

You'll notice that flights here are pretty cheap - there's a reason for this. Fly here by all means, but only use it as a connection point to the other attractions listed elsewhere in this post.

Below are the only two times I was briefly brave enough to get my phone out for photographs.

Ironic... as you're unlikely to spot any love on the streets of Naples

Naples equivalent of a street
We didn't stay here overnight, and instead we decided to head to the train station early to grab our train to Rome.

Eat/drink/sleep in Rome?

Firstly, Rome is boss! For me, it's up there with Paris (except that you can knock out most of the attractions without using public transport, as they're all quite central).

We stayed at Hotel De Monti, which was in the heart of Monti (definitely the cool part of Rome). The staff were some of the greatest I've ever come across when travelling - genuinely good people and very helpful. The only slight drawback was that as we were visiting outside of the peak tourists months, breakfast was being served at their partner hotel (Hotel Grifo) - which was a few minutes walk around the corner.

We ate at La Taverna dei Monti, which was a humble traditional Italian restaurant. Tip - don't wear a white shirt to dinner if your wife is sat opposite you eating spaghetti bolognese. Beer, wine, water, starters, mains and deserts came to €49.

For a quick midday snack/lunch, get yourself to Maccheroni Express! This is a little pasta place where they cook everything fresh, quick, cheap and tailored to your tastes (if you want something a little more spicy/mild, just ask). There are a few seats inside, but we chose to take ours away and ate in front of the Colosseum.


Obviously you have to visit the Colosseum...

Colosseum tips:
  • As mentioned above, we rarely bother with the tour guides and used the Rick Steve audio guide
  • Visit later in the afternoon to beat the queues (although it will still be busy)
  • We considered buying the Roma Pass to gain entry into the Colosseum, but as our time in Rome was limited, we wouldn't have been able to squeeze in the other included attractions in order to get our moneys worth. So instead, we got our tickets from Palatine Hill (which is round the corner, with shorter queues but the ticket entry into here works for the Colosseum too).

Enjoy Rome, ciao.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

What to do in Sifnos, Greek Island

Sleepy Sifnos...

Who to go with?
Sifnos is definitely aimed at families/couples who want a quiet retreat with few distractions.

How to get to Sifnos?
Short answer: Ferry. They run regularly from Piraeus (Athens). They're smooth sailings and they show continuous Mr Bean on the TV screens.

Where to stay in Sifnos? 
We stayed in the port town of Kamares and booked into Sifnaika Konakia Traditional Settlements. The "settlements" are only a 5 minute walk from the ferry port, but the owner kindly came to pick us up in her car which saved us the walk with our luggage.
Our apartment was located in the valley overlooking the bay and surrounded by mountains. A peaceful rest is definitely the main selling point for this area - which was only broken when one of the neighbours attempted to land their actual helicopter in the farm next door whilst we were watching the sunset - only a few metres away from us!

The view from Sifnaika Konikia

Cool things to do in Sifnos?
There's only so much reading, relaxing, sunbathing we can endure before we get restless, so we decided to walk to the top of the nearby mountain which had what we thought was a little church at the top of it. After some investigation, we discovered that the church was named Agios Simeon, so we packed some food and water and set off.

Apart from a few angry goats, we didn't see a single other soul during the two hour uphill walk in the blistering sun. The views from the top were a welcome reward and the church itself is worth a quick poke around.

The view from Agios Simeon

At the top we met some American tourists who asked where our rental car was parked as they couldn't believe we'd walked up from the very bottom. They were quite insistent that we accept a ride back down with them in their car but we fancied the challenge of the walk back downhill.

Inside Agios Simeon

The walk took approx 2 hours to get to the top, then about 1 hour to walk down. Ignore the Google estimation of 1:27 here, as it doesn't factor in the incline, heat or battles with goats.

Where to eat in Sifnos?
We decided to eat (and drink) at a restaurant called Absinthe as it seemed to be a little different to the other restaurants nearby (albeit not the cheapest option). The goat curry was excellent and instead of a dessert we opted for the extensive absinthe menu. Not being an absinthe expert myself, the waiter recommended an American pre-prohibition option. The absinthe is served in a small glass with a sugar cube placed on a sieve and a water dispenser tap left to slowly drip through to sweeten the drink. It doesn't take long for the drink to take effect... and that was the end of my night.

How long to stay in Sifnos?
As nice as Sifnos is, you don't want to spend a two week break here. A few days is enough. When you're ready to leave, there's an independent travel agent who, when he's finished his game of Solitaire, can sell you a ticket for the next ferry. 
I'd advise visiting Sifnos as part of some island hopping.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

One week in Santorini, Greece

For eye-gasms... visit Santorini.

Who to go with?

The wife/hubby - Absolutely. This is a big honeymoon spot. Go and watch the sunset and you're pretty much guaranteed to see a proposal.

The lads/ladies - Probably not at the moment. Although there were a lot of trendy bars beginning to establish themselves - so I wouldn't be surprised if it became a boozy-destination sometime in the future (unfortunately).

Where to stay in Santorini?

We spent a week in Santorini (early August) and split our time between two places; Firostefani and Fira. Only a short walk from each other but we wanted one accommodation with the views and another with a little more luxury.

We stayed at Agnadema Apartments for our visit to Firostefani. Amazing views of the sunset which you can watch from the hot tub or pool. It's located down a fairly long descent of steps, so away from the main drag of tourists - but does mean you're fairly knackered leaving/getting to the hotel. Probably best to avoid this completely if you're unfit or elderly. Although the hotel does usually send a member of staff to carry your luggage up/down (well worth the tip).

Views from the hot tub
We then moved onto Fira - away from the sunsets, but had similarly amazing views of the sunrise instead (although we only managed to drag ourselves out of bed for it once). Here we stayed at Astro Palace Hotel and Suites. If you email them in advance, they'll send their driver out to pick you up. This hotel didn't offer the views of the sunsets, but instead offered a relaxing and more luxurious stay whilst only being about a 10 minute walk away from the main drag. It's worth trying your luck and seeing if there's any free room upgrades available when you first check in. The staff are massively accommodating and whilst they didn't upgrade us for our first night, they did offer us an upgrade the next day when space became available.

What to do in Santorini?

Santorini is branded as a laid back destination; sunbathing and sunsets. However, if you fancy a bit of a challenge with some more amazing views on the way, tackle the Fira to Oia hiking trail.

Get up early. Have a good breakfast. Put on decent footwear. Stock up on plenty of water. Then follow the route from Fira to Oia, hugging the coastline.

You'll sweat, swear and catch sunburn - but the views offered are well worth it. We managed it in 2 hours 45 mins with a few breaks in between - but this could be done much quicker/longer depending on your determination.

When you reach Oia, there's plenty of places to eat/drink and recharge. You can then turn around and hike back the way you came (we didn't), or you can grab a bus back to Fira. However, the bus was quite difficult to work out. There was no clear bus station, or timetable, or advice. Just look for a mass of tourists who look exhausted and irritated - that'll be the bus stop. Be warned... when the bus does eventually arrive - don't be polite - make sure you get onto the bus and grab yourself a seat. We found that the bus couldn't accommodate everyone, so there were plenty left behind waiting for the next unknown bus arrival. It's a 15 minute claustrophobic-bumpy-ride-from-hell, but well worth it if you don't fancy tackling the hike home.

Fira (left) to Oia (mid-right in distance)
For evening entertainment, try the outdoor cinema at Volkan. Volkan itself is a cliffside bar/cafe with awesome views. But opposite the bar, they have an outdoor cinema. The film choice is fairly limited (we watched Rogue Nation: Mission Impossible) but the experience is quite fun. You get given some headphones and a little light - which you use to get the waiters attention for drinks/food. Apparently, booking is advisable as seating is limited.

Where to eat in Santorini?

Apart from the views, my favourite thing about Firostefani was the food. Particularly the Chicken Gyros. I pretty much lived on these for a week! Incredible. I'm sure you can find them all over Fira - but our favourite was Why Not.

For a casual evening meal, check out Chefs Garden. Admittedly, it is situated alongside a fairly busy dusty road. But the food is well worth it. We booked in advance and were glad we did as a queue began to form outside whilst we were tucking into our starters.

Chefs Garden

How to get to Santorini?

We sailed into Santorini on the local ferry from another island, but we flew home. It's worth pointing out that whilst Santorini has increased in popularity and has benefited financially from the tourist trade - the airport has not received any improvements over the years and struggles to accommodate the numbers which travel to Santorini. It was awful. Easily the worst airport I have ever experienced. Small, unorganised, hot and choatic. Good luck flying home!


Thursday, 18 May 2017

How to get free AirBnb credit

AirBnb is a fantastic tool. Here I'll quickly explain how to get £30* free travel credit in a few seconds (with no catches).

At time of writing, AirBnB were gifting this amount - but it can increase/decrease at their discretion.

I have no idea where I took this :(

If you don't have much patience and don't want to read the entirety of this blog - then to claim £30 off your first AirBnb stay - simply sign up via my referral link here.

There's no catches. However, it's only available to new users. Simply sign up, do your research, pick where/when you'd like to go and £30 is deducted from your final cost.

Why I use AirBnB?

You'll be paying less per night than you would when using a hotel. Especially if you travel in groups, which I do often.

You're usually exposed to different areas of cities which you'd never normally find yourself in. Live like a local. Staying in generic hotels usually mean you're based in the 'hotel district' of a city.

You can book single rooms if you really want to keep costs down. This just means you'll be sharing with the owners - who are usually very helpful in helping you navigating the city.

Or... you can rent the entire property. This is good if you're travelling in a group, so you'll have some shared spaces to drink/eat together (again, cooking for yourself is a good way to keep costs down).

You're likely to get a lot more living space in an AirBnB accommodation than you would from a hotel (i.e. a single bedroom).

There's quite a lot of AirBnB listings where you can find homes with pools, large gardens, rooftop terraces. You can even rent house-boats!

How to claim £30 free?

  1. Click here.
  2. Sign up.
  3. Find your ideal rental property.
  4. Watch the £30 get deducted from your final cost.

Friday, 7 April 2017

What to do in Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg. Germanys second largest city and home to the Reeperbahn.

Read on...

Who to go with?

The wife/hubby - Possibly? As long as you're not expecting an excessive amount of sight-seeing or culture...

The lads/ladies - Yes. Get yourself down the infamous Reeperbahn for a cracking night out.

How to get to Hamburg?

EasyJet Inspire Me
We only ended up going to Hamburg due to spotting cheap flights on EasyJets Inspire Me function, which allows you to enter the dates you wish to travel, and how much you'd like to pay... It then gives you a map of where you could go to in Europe.

We managed to get return flights for only £44 (flying from Manchester on Wednesday, returning Friday evening).

Where to stay in Hamburg?

I'd recommend St Pauli. It's central, has good metro links and the nightlife is mostly found here. We secured an AirBnB apartment on Hopfenstrasse, which was a street just off (and parallel) to the Reeperbahn. This meant it was close enough to the nightlife, but far away enough to get some peace when needed. It took us roughly 3 minutes to walk to the Reeperbahn area. First impressions of the area were mixed due to all of the graffiti and fly posters, but we soon found that this was normal, and it seemed there were very few walls/lamposts in the city which didn't have some sort of "art" scrawled all over it.

Brilliant bike shop name (note graffiti)

Cool things to do in Hamburg?

For great 360 views of the city get yourself up the Church of St. Michael. If you're in a rush (or scared of heights) take the lift up and down. If you fancy a challenge then take the stairs (apparently 425 steps).

Love locks at the top of St Michael

For a quick underground walk head to the docks and enter the Alter Elbtunnel which leads you to the other side of Hamburg with great views looking back at the city. Entrance is free.

Alter Elbtunnel

What to avoid?

Don't cross the road without waiting for the pedestrian signal. The Polizei will pull you up for it.

How much is a pint?

Expect to pay roughly €5 for a large beer and about €9 for cocktails.

Or... get yourself down the Reeperbahn and there's a bar called Bar 99 Cent where ALL drinks are 99cents (and come in a plastic glass - so you can imagine this is a classy establishment).

Where to eat in Hamburg?

For a cheap breakfast head to Cafe Klatsch. It's a little hidden and you have to go down some steps to find the entrance. Menus and pens are available on your table and you simply mark off what you fancy eating (you do have to do some guess work if you're no good with German). If in doubt, go for something expensive as it'll likely be a larger meal. The scrambled eggs and chopped tomatoes are worth a shot!

For a traditional-ish German lunch, head to Braugasthaus Altes Madchen. It's roughly a 20 minute walk from the Reeperbahn, or (as we found out later on) there's a train station right outside it. It has a massive amount of craft beers available and serves proper food. If you like to try a variety of food/drinks they offer a meat & cheese platter which you can wash down with a beer stick (small glasses of various beers which the waiter advises the order to drink them in).

Beatles in Hamburg?

The Beatles spent their early years here between 1960 - 1962. Being a big Beatles fan, I was expecting lots of Beatles themed attractions, but to be fair - Hamburg hasn't milked the opportunity. There's the Beatles Platz on the Reeperbahn which is some steel silhouettes of the fab four - pop there for a quick photo. Then there's the clubs they played at - Indra Musikclub and Kaiserkeller. If you head to 33 Paul-Roosen-Strasse, opposite a bar called Clockers, there's a house there (covered with ivy) where The Beatles lived during their time in Hamburg.

Here lived The Beatles 1960

Unique bars in Hamburg?

Throw some smart clothes on. Head to Empire Riverside Hotel. Grab the lift up to the 20th floor and you will find the Skyline Bar 20up. Getting a decent table is tough, so you'll either need to book in advance, or get there early. But you'll basically end up with a near-panoramic view of the whole city (great profile picture opportunity). The cocktails are €15+ and the service isn't the best... but the views are! Even the toilets have great views (gents only, apparently).

Skyline house cocktail

On the docks there is cool beach bar called StrandPauli. Nice wooden interior with good beers (although I misread the menu and ended up with a white wine, instead of a weissbier) and excellent guacamole. We ended up here on a cold evening, and it wasn't too busy, but I would imagine that when the sun is out it'll fill up quickly.

Back towards the Reeperbahn you can find a quirky bar called Drei-Zimmer Wohnung which translates as three room apartment. It's dimly lit with red lights and decorated like a retro apartment (the back room even had a bed in it).

Drei Zimmer Wohnung

How long to stay in Hamburg?

I'd suggest two nights in Hamburg. Spend one of them drunkenly staggering around the Reeperbahn. Then spend the following day working off your hangover by seeing the sights and filling up on currywurst.

Note: the entirety of this blog may be inaccurate as we were really drunk for most of our time in Hamburg. Danke schön.