Category Archives: Cb Travel

How to Prepare for Vacation

When it comes to vacationing, it can be a breath of fresh air to finally get that much needed break from work or school. After all, we’ve waited a whole year for this much needed break, so when it finally arrives, it’s like all your troubles just wash away. However, vacations don’t just happen. You’ll need to take the necessary steps to make sure it happens, and you’ll need to do so in such a way as to ensure the best possible vacation for you and your family. I can’t tell you what kind of location, or what destination, will be the right choice for you, minf you, as this is an incredibly subjective matter that will depend on you an your loved ones. However, I can offer you some advice on planning your trip. Here are some suggestions.

First and foremost, you’re going to want to make all of the necessary arrangements far ahead of the trip, itself. This way, you have plenty of time to back out of plans change, for example. You can also be worry free as your transition from your normal every day life, because you will know that everything is and has been taken care out in advance. If your hotel cancels on your due to unseen circumstance you can alter your plans with ease given all of the extra time you’ve have. So, you’ll want to book your hotel room or motel room, for starters. Then, you’ll need to book a flight and a rental car, if the need arises for your unique needs. Going to a site like Priceline can help tremendously, as it pools of the travel arrangement resources all into one place, making it easier to book everything in a timely fashion. And, you’ll probably save some money while you’re at it.

Then, it’s time to pack. As for packing, there are a wide variety of things you’ll need to make sure you bring with you. And, you’ll want to make sure you get all of these essentials, lest you be stranded without that crucial something. Therefore, you’re going to want to pack early. However, this presents a problem, as you’ll need many of the things you’ll be packing on a daily basis, including the day of your departure, so consider buying duplicates of some items that you can leave your bag at all times.What to pack includes your toiletries, such as your tooth brush and tooth paste, for example, as well as deodorant. You’ll also need clothing. A good rule of thumb is to carry enough clothing for at least one outfit a day, but it’s also prudent to carry extra clothing items just in case. Lastly, you’ll need some ID. You’ll need your driver’s license, for one thing, but you’ll also need a passport in the event of an international flight.

The most popular holiday snaps

It’s the height of the summer holidays so you can expect a deluge of “look-at-me” holiday pictures showing up across your Facebook and Instagram feeds. And most will not only look familiar but may have inspired you to do the same. There’s even a top ten trend list.

Once upon a time it was all about “hotdog legs”. We must have got bored with that because according to research by travel agency sunshine.co.uk, it’s the snap of “heart fingers” that we all want to capture, presumably in a romantic situation. We also love “holding the sun”. The latter is presumably another take on holding up the tower of Pisa snap so popular in the early nineties. Before that, well it was about finding the right postcard and having something to write home about.

Today, it seems, anything goes and the average holidaymaker returns home with a staggering pot of 316 pictures on their phone and camera combined. And many make their way into the ethernet.

But we cheat. Half of holiday photos uploaded to social media will have had a filter or some sort of doctoring applied to them before first appearing on Instagram then later on Facebook.

Follow the Jane Austen trail across Britain

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and Britain is celebrating. Even the Bank of England has produced a new £10 notewhich features a portrait of this most prolific writer.

After all who has not heard of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. two of her all time greats that have inspired generations of readers and indeed TV viewers.

We suggest ways to follow in this great author’s footsteps.

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

Jane Austen House (c) Visit Hampshire/Laura McCready

Start your trip at Jane Austen’s House Museum (her former home) and Chawton House Library in the village of Chawton, which is hosting changing exhibitions, talks, activities and other special celebrations up until December.

In the meantime, Winchester Cathedral is running “Tours and Tea” every month until November exploring Jane’s life and in Basingstoke.

You can follow a downloadable sculpture trail called “< =”http://www.sittingwithjane.com/app/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Sitting with Jane” made up of 25 “BookBenches” until 31 August. Each bench is uniquely designed and painted by a professional artist with their personal interpretation of a Jane Austen theme.

Follow in Jane’s footsteps in Bath

The South West Spa city of Bath is a great place to get to know Jane Austen, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. The city’s perfectly preserved Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Visitors can step back in time with a free downloadable audio walking tour of the city In the footsteps of Jane Austen, that includes extracts from her novels and letters, which brilliantly describe Bath as it would have been in its Georgian heyday. Be sure to stop off at the Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived and home to an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips to bring the author’s world to life and explore the city’s influence on her work, as well as the all-important Regency Tea Rooms (£11 per adult and £5.50 per child).

Norway: 680-mile road trip from Stavanger to Trondheim

I knew it would be a nutty exploit driving 1,100-kilometres (around 684 miles) in two days along Norway‘s coastal road. So why did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t for the weather. It drizzled most of the time with the sun taking a sneaky tantalising peak through the clouds every so often. The elements teased right through to sundown at 11pm – a late sunset is a a quirk of Norway’s daylight cycle during the summer months.

It wasn’t a boozy trip either as a humble pint of beer knocks you back £12 and with just over 5 million people in a space as large as the UK, the nightlife was not exactly heaving.

And forget about the romance of negotiating winding roads at speed – the 80km/h (50 miles) limit is strictly adhered to and without any specific fine range, a speeding fine could empty the bank coffers.

Yet there are some compelling reasons: the roads are utterly superb – a sure sign of the expense and attention paid to the infrastructure – the scenery of fjords, waterfalls, mountains and lavish greenery is exceptional and with six road-ferry combo experiences peppered throughout the road trip from Stavanger to Trondheim, you get to see different perspectives of the scenery from the water.

So, I  picked up my 2-wheel drive Mazda CX-3 in Stavanger the evening before – a car which for a mildly nervous driver like myself – seemed solid enough to steer me through some hair-pin strewn mountain roads and narrow tunnels.

With so much daylight I explored Stavanger that first evening. It’s a handsome town with a pretty harbour, wavy streets lined with white clapperboard homes. There’s a pretty lake too replete with swans, seagulls, ducks and some loitering sparrows that broke out into a frenzy at the mere hint of any bread being thrown their way.

In the morning I awoke with the birds around 5am for an early 6am start for the first leg of the trip to Loen. I braved the drizzle and got into the car with a trusty breakfast pack in hand, which I learned was a highly-prized provision since there was not a single eatery along the way other than at the odd petrol station and possibly at campervan resorts.The ferry crossings were regular and efficient and my early start meant being able to avoid the deluge of campervans and inevitable queues that hit the road slightly later in the day.

The roads were incredibly smooth and I passed miles and miles of rocky or lavish emerald green terrain and mountains rising into low hanging clouds. It was haunting yet beautiful all at once.

Festival Glam Rock afternoon tea

K West Hotel & Spa, once a BBC building, in London’s trendy Shepherd’s Bush area has launched a brand new Festival Glam Rock Afternoon Tea. There was a time when rock greats such Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bowie, The Kinks and Roxy Music spent time here.

On this day it was just me in search of an afternoon cuppa.

And I got to enjoy a a most unusual cuppa. Tea was served in gorgeous electric blue and pink teapots and teacups on vintage record covers of different artists – mine was a Rod Stewart cover.

The food was a colourful extravaganza, almost psychedelic. Making my way up from the  bottom rung of the tier I started on mini-clubs sandwiches of avocado, red pepper and mozzerella and ham, chicken, mustard and cream cheese – and there were no crusts.

Interspersed with these were the rainbow brioche sliders which came with beef, guacamole and mustard mayo and halloumi with piquilo peppers and tomato salsa.

There were also mini buns with carmine and poppy seeds, chlorophyll and polenta. Amazingly when I asked for gluten free, they were able to oblige.

The next tier had the “rolling scones”. They came with clotted cream and various flavours of homemade jams. And sorbet cones. I don’t care much for clotted cream so I used the creamy cheesecake that was served in a white chocolate bowl instead. When offered a second helping of the scones, more rolled in.

The top rung had minted strawberry and watermelon mini-slushies which turned out to be a most unusual flavour – one worth getting used to as minted watermelon is the trend these days. There was also lovely selection of macaroons.

There are several teas on the menu and I tried their bespoke tea – Tea Rex. This is a mighty blend of strong black tea leaves and mellow green tea leaves, peony flowers, rose petals and more than a dash of peppercorns and cherry flavouring; a flavour the fiesty rock star Marc Bolan may well have liked.

Now imagine this as part of a cocktail infusion. There were six to choose from and I tried the “Little Miss Mystery”, a blend of Gordon’s gin infused with the strongly flavoured Tea Rex tea, Quinta Tempranillo, agave syrup, raspberry and strawberry puree. It’s a bit of a wow and the flavours blasted me out of my comfort zone. For more familiar sensations I ended the tea with a trusty Prosecco.

The tea lasted an entire afternoon and offered plenty of eye-candy, novelty and new adventures for the palate. An enjoyable experience especially for couples.

What’s it like to travel in the BA i360 Observation Tower?

Last year the Brighton Eye (akin to the London Eye) was replaced as a seafront landmark in Brighton by the British Airways i360, a 162-metre-tall vertical tower. It is located on the site of the derelict West Pier that was burned down by fire in 2003. You can still see the ruins of the pier straggling in the water just beyond.

Some have dubbed the observation pod the “donut” due to its shape, while others have been known to refer to it as something far cheekier (best left unquoted). However you call it, there is no doubt that this is a huge feat of engineering.

This is, afterall, the world’s tallest moving observation tower with an observation pod built around a central column. It is in fact a fully enclosed futuristic glass observation pod that gently lifts (the movement is hardly discernible) up to 200 people to a height of 138 metres.I couldn’t wait to have a go in it when it first opened but whenever I happened to visit Brighton, the i360 was closed on some technicality or other. The gremlins are long gone and I finally got to experience the BA “flight” last week.

Checking into the BA i360

Like any flight, you have to check in, collect your ticket and go through security – a sort of airport light version – a process that is guided by staff dressed in BA livery. Once passed security you get to sit on deck chairs as you watch the previous flight land. It’s quite extraordinary.

Inside the BA i360

Straddled by two BA staff, the doors slowly slide open and passengers are shown into a very spacious 360 degree observation deck. There are some banquettes for those that need to sit but most like to walk around and visually drink in the views over Brighton from various perspectives. As the pod rises the views inevitably become ever more expansive across the sea, both sides of the beach and way into the city and beyond over the Downs.

It is a serene experience with the odd chatter in the background unless, of course, you get on with groups of kids, so be sure to ask which flights are free from school outings.

Though the flight lasts around 20 minutes, it seems all over far too soon and I hardly had enough time to sip the champagne I liberated from the pod Sky Bar.

Airport delays in Europe

It may be the busiest time of the year, yet the EU have chosen this moment to enforce tighter border controls. As a result thousands of British holidaymakers are facing longer airport queues and delays with some even missing their flights homes, especially those travelling home from Spain.

Why is this happening?

Following the terror attacks in Paris and Belgium the EU has put in place new security measures on April 7. The rules require countries to carry out more stringent checks on travellers entering and leaving the Schengen area, a no frontiers” zone comprising most EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but excluding UK and Ireland.

Up to now Brits have been able pass through passport control easily, sometimes being waved through by merely showing the passport. Now every passport needs to be compared against the “Schengen Information System” and also against Interpol’s list of stolen and lost travel documents.

Which airports are effected?

Airline lobby group, Airlines 4 Europe said passengers can expect the longest delays in popular tourist destinations where travellers enter or leave from outside the Schengen Area. The worse hit airports are likely to be:

  1. Palma, Majorca, Spain
  2. Malaga, Spain
  3. Paris (Orly), France
  4. Lyon, France
  5. Brussels, Belgium
  6. Lisbon, Portugal
  7. Milan (Malpensa and Bergamo), Italy

The organisation also warns of long queues at Madrid, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris-Orly, Milan and Brussels.

What are the new procedures when flying through the Schengen area?

Standard security procedures are still in place but the extra checks take place at the passport desks. Lack of resources is being blamed to cope with the demand created by the new rules – especially at peak times.

Blanco Beach Club review, Portimão, Algarve

The Algarve is loved by holiday makers for its light blue skies, amazing sun light (I swear it has its own shade) and its golden beaches. And tranquillity.

But now you can ditch the peace and quiet and pump up the volume at the Blanco Beach Club. This newcomer to the Portimão beach adds a new dimension to day life and indeed the al fresco night life with its house-party-within-a-beach-club scenario that Nathanial  the oh-so trendy head host says “will be the local answer to Ibiza”.

This is a top notch beach club looking fresh in its white-washed decor created by the elusive entrepreneur Maximillian White – hence the name Blanco. There’s a “guest” list and if you are on it (easily done; you pay the entry fee or hire a bed in advance) and you get to enter into another world armed with a defining wrist band.

There are security guards (bless them for being diligent) and a doorman-cum-bouncer. All necessary stuff in a place like this, but perhaps tone down the bouncer act a bit?

Inside, white leather round beds are dotted around the 20-metre blue-hued pool on attractive wood decking. There’s a bar at one end, sunken arcs of seating, the DJ’s stage and at the other end of the pool there are a few cabanas that have their own jacuzzis big enough for six people.

But these are expensive (1,500 euros for six people) to hire. The cheapest option is a bean bag on the sandy area which, after an entry fee, are free to use.

It is quite a beautiful scene to walk into and one that shines in the daylight. At night it is lit up in pinks and purples and looks good against the night sky.

There are plenty of easy-to-spot waiters as they are all dressed in white. They mill around and as the beds have a waiter service you never need to wait long to place an order for a cocktail. It’s a simple menu of sushi, pizza, salads and burgers, but tasty enough.

There’s large DJ stage churning out tunes all day and as the alcohol-fuelled hours slide away, flirting couples canoodle to the sway of the music while others take to the pool, cocktails in hand to frolic, refresh underneath a fountain or simply dance adding movement to the shimmer of the blue water.

Some spend the afternoon flaked out on the bed just snoozing under a white parasol and sunbathing. While others, perhaps they were hens and stag groups, stayed by their beds drinking, nattering and giggling.

As the sunsets and the moon rises, the ambiance changes. The parasols are tied down and the music heats up for the night party. Sometimes there are famous acts such as American rapper Ace Hood and Serge Devant strut their stuff to packed houses.

Kerala, India – is this really “God’s Own Country”?

“God’s own country” is a phrase which has been bandied around, used for locations from Yorkshire to Zimbabwe to New Zealand. But whereas in many of these locations it might be wishful thinking, in Kerala, an Indian province in the south of the country, it seems a perfectly reasonable description.

The Malabar Coast and lush backwaters certainly look like paradise, the population has the highest life expectancy and literacy rates in India, and the melting pot of different religions happily coexist. God, we can guess, would be very happy indeed.

Kochi International Airport, the gateway to Kerala, is the first airport in the world to be powered entirely by solar panels. This is quite a technological feat. The journey back in time, and to a simpler life, begins the moment you step outside the terminal building, however, as in the parking lot there are Hindustan Ambassadors (the iconic Indian car modelled on a Morris Oxford), auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and even an occasional wandering cow! Traffic on the roads is just as eclectic. The buses have to swerve around bullock carts, and if there’s an elephant in the road then everything grinds to a halt.

Kochi was historically the port of Cochin, a city of international traders on the Arabian Sea. Spice merchants came here from Portugal in the early 16th century, and the Dutch and British came in their wake. It retains a cosmopolitan feel, with numerous different communities having left their mark.

The Cochin Jews trace their own history back to the time of King Solomon and have their own dialect of the local Malayalam language. There are only two dozen Jews that still live there but you can visit India’s oldest functioning synagogue in the trinket-lined Jew Street in the pretty Mattancherry neighborhood, dubbed “Jew Town”. There are also Syrian Catholic churches; and festivals such as Holi, Eid, and Christmas are all celebrated with great fervour.

The city wears its rich and eclectic cultural heritage lightly. I pay my respects at St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India, because it was here that Vasco da Gama — the man who first sailed the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope to reach India from Europe — was buried. His body was later taken back to Lisbon, but the cemetery is still divided between Portuguese and Dutch graves, a reminder of Kochi’s colonial past.

Perhaps the real beauty of Kerala is outside the cities. The Western Ghats, the north-south mountain range which runs through South India like a spine, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of its biodiversity. There are 20 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and forest reserves in Kerala alone, not to mention the swathes of jade green tea, coffee, and spice plantations.

Perched in the mountains near Munnar, the confluence of three rivers, is Ambady Estate, a mist filled valley of cardamon plantations and rainforest. It’s an exceptional site for wildlife spotting: there are macaque and barking deer, Malabar giant squirrel, and, at certain times of the year, millions of butterfly.

The treetops are alive with the twittering and singing of birds. Binoculars will help you see them up close, but even with the naked eye you can identify bulbul (forest songbird), barbet, whistling thrush, vernal hanging parrot, and sunbird. Thanks to the altitude, the air is moist and cool, making it the ideal environment for a hike through the Parvathy Hills or a wander around one of Munnar’s many tea estates.

True tea aficionados should make time to visit Munnar’s Tea Museum as well. It is on the Nalluthanni Estate and is run by Tata Tea. If you’ve ever wondered what makes black tea different to green tea, or how the tea gets from the plant to your cup, this is the place to find out. You can follow the entire manufacturing process, and the story is further elaborated upon with photographs and various bits of tea paraphernalia. Tea tasting, of course, is a must, and the local Keralan black tea is especially refreshing.

Kerala’s lushness, its ever present greenness, comes from the monsoon rains and the backwaters which crisscross the state, bringing their life-giving water. The most fertile agricultural land is, of course, along the riverbanks, and therefore so too are the majority of Kerala’s colourful villages.

The best way to see rural life up close, whether it is women planting in the paddy fields or washing their clothing on the riverbank, is to take a boat and sail through the backwaters of Alleppey and Kumarakom. Plenty of kettuvallam — traditional rice boats — have been converted into comfortable houseboats. They are made entirely of natural materials, from the wooden hull held together with coir ropes, to the curved thatched roof, shaped like the ribcage of a whale.

Kerala’s houseboats are remarkably spacious, and in some cases even luxurious. 100 feet in length, there is typically room onboard for three bedrooms, these days with en-suite bathrooms as well. A private chef will cook up mouthwatering meals from local produce for those onboard, dishes which are seasonal and fresh.

The boats move slowly, allowing plenty of time to watch the world go by, read, fish, or even have an Ayurvedic massage onboard. It’s a slow yet romantic way to travel, and you’ll see a very different side of Kerala than when you are travelling by road.

God may or may not have made Kerala. But if you’re searching for a taste of heaven on earth, a place where you can be as healthy and happy as can be, it is certainly a good place to start.

Dunkirk, France: in the footsteps of its military history

The heart-thumping, beautifully executed film Dunkirk, covers the grim days in May and June 1940 as the invading German army drove the British Expeditionary Force from Belgium and into an area around Dunkirk eventually surrounding the vast army of Allied troops.

Defences, manned mainly by French troops, allowed the soldiers to assemble in the city to await rescue from the harbour and beaches. And 400,000 of them were rescued in a daring rescue mission called “Operation Dynamo” named after the dynamo room in the Dover cliffs where their operation HQ was based. Some refer to event as the Miracle of Dunkirk.

The operation saw hundreds of little boats owned by ordinary people sail from UK ports on the south coast to ferry  soldiers to larger naval vessels as they could not approach Dunkirk. This is where the phrase “Dunkirk Spirit” comes from.

Around 200,000 men were picked up from the Dunkirk Mole – a long stone and wooden jetty at the mouth of the port.

Christopher Nolan’s film was shot during summer last year. The set was a reconstructed harbour and waterfront to portray the beaches which extend into Belgium and employed over 1300 local extras. While their uniforms and weapons were recreated, real warships were involved and real Spitfires and Messerschmitts were filmed. In fact the final scene featured a real Spitfire landing on the beach at Dunkirk.

There are still remnants of German occupation. If you visit the Fort des Dunes, a well preserved 19th century military installation you can witness the scars of the battle of 1940 and the German occupation.

There’s also a very well set up museum in the former “Operation Dynamo” French command post, which has relics from 1940 and clear descriptions and images of the evacuation. You can also visit the imposing sail training ship that’s moored by the Maritime Museum, the military cemetery and a display of the film sets.

There are also tours to “the mole” – the long jetty from which big ships loaded the troops – walking tours of the beaches and even a flight over the beaches.

The latter tour is a 15-minute flight in a 4-seater Robin from Dunkirk airfield. It not only offers great views, a wonderful flying experience at a height of 1,000 feet, but at €120 for three passengers must be one of the cheapest trips available.

However Dunkirk is more than its military history. The seaside town has a great range of sporting and leisure activities, a modern art gallery and good hotels and restaurants. A paddle steamer The Princess Elizabeth was one of the rescue ships and has a starring role in the film.

She now offers fine dining in the domestic harbour with a strong 1940’s flavour. And you can eat at La Cocotte, a beach-front restaurant frequented by the cast.

The wide sandy beaches, where once tens of thousands of dejected, hungry soldiers queued for boats, is now the scene of fun and familial frivolity.