London Heathrow has been like my second home this year, but I must admit, I’d never thought to check out short stay hotel specialists Yotel, located in Heathrow’s Terminal 4.
Previously dismissing it as, paying to sleep in a coffin sized room, I was pleasantly surprised when the folks at Yotel, invited me to stop by, and check them out. With an early flight, long before the tubes started running, it was the perfect solution, as you book in blocks of time rather than the usual overnight, so if you only need 4 hours that’s all you pay for. Arriving around 10pm and checking out at 5am the next morning here’s my experience;
It helps, if like myself , you had a hotel stay in Hong Kong. The apartment I spent a week in, was twice the price and roughly the same size, so when I opened the door, the size of the room didn’t phase me. And whilst the room isn’t by any means big, there’s more than enough room for 2 adults to move around.
So what’s in the Room ?
The bed converts from a couch to a bed at the press of a button, when your ready to go to sleep. There’s a row of handy plug sockets and strong free wifi to keep Blogger HQ running, as well as loads of lighting opinions, including sexy purple for couples.
The bathroom is a normal sized wet room, my only gripe is , when you have a shower, and then want to go to the loo your going to get wet feet, as there’s nothing to contain the water.
With free hot drinks from reception aka Mission Control, I had a Blake Seven flashback when I was walking to my room , but you’ll have to be over 40 to get that joke .
Yes there’s no windows, bell boys or plush lobby areas like the Hilton upstairs, but it depends on what you want. If you can put the bill on your expense account, then Yotel is probably not going to be your first choice. But for your average traveller, looking for somewhere to grab 40 winks on a layover, or myself got a crack of dawn flight Yotel is a great option.
I could definitely spend a weekend in a Yotel , especially as I spotted that at the New York Yotel, some pods even have a deck and hot tub and presumedly windows or that would just be plain weird.
Yotel delivers what it says on the tin, its clean, efficient and comfortable.
I will definitely be giving their New York pad a look when I pass thru town, to give that hot tub party for one a whirl.
As Northern Ireland’s second city , Derry has certainly had a troubled past . But after being named 2013’s City of Culture and named by Lonely Planet’s as one of the top 5 cities to visit, things are certainly very much on the up for Derry.
Derry is a safe , vibrant city, rich in cultural heritage and more importantly compact with the help of the walls is easy enough to cover in an extended weekend break.
1. Walk the Wall
Built in the early 17th century, Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. The Wall celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2013 and has been listed as one of the ‘World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die (UNESCO)’. The wall is over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, it also boasts twenty-four original cannons , including the mighty Roaring Meg and is popular with the locals for an afternoon stroll to take in the great views over the River Foyle.
2. Have some Proper Irish Stew
An Irish staple, made with mutton, root vegetables, potatoes and lashings of gravy, be sure to make time to have an authentic Irish stew.
3.Discover Derry’s Story at the Tower Museum
The impressively Tower Museum tells the story of Derry’s history, from its geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city’s troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal. Well worth an afternoon visit.
4. Get the guided tour with Martin
What local man, Martin Mc Crossan and his team don’t know about Derry, just isn’t worth knowing . With 4 walking tours a day at 10am, 12 midday, 2pm and 4pm , there’s no need to book just turn up. Its a great way to get your bearing and an overview of the cities history. http://www.derrycitytours.com/
5.The People’s Gallery of Murals
The world famous open air People’s Gallery consists of twelve large scale murals by 3 brothers known as the Bogside artists. The People’s Gallery, is located in the Bogside neighbourhood of Derry and depicts the events surrounding sectarian violence and civil rights protests in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Well worth a look.
6.Walk the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is a cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle in Derry. It opened on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre. It was built to help to improve relations between the largely unionist ‘Waterside’ with the largely nationalist ‘Cityside’, by improving access between the two areas.
7.Visit the Bogside
Whilst Derry is now moving forward into the future, and trying to leave its previous troubles in the past. Its impossible to ignore what happened here, over 40 years ago on Bloody Sunday. There’s a Bloody Sunday Memorial garden, as well as the iconic, You are entering a Free Derry wall.
8. Visit St Columb’s Cathedral
St. Columb’s Cathedral was built in 1633 by William Parrot for the Honourable The Irish Society, The Cathedral has many fine stained glass windows, regimental flags, memorials and a large collection of historical items. And is the city’s most historic building
9.Check out the Peace Flame
Situated at the side of the Guildhall in the center of Derry, you’ll find this small park, In May 2013 a perpetual Peace Flame Monument was unveiled by Martin Luther King III and is one of only 15 such flames across the world. Great place to stop and take a breather on one of the benches.
10. Get out of Town
After taking in sights of Derry, its time to get out of town and on to the Causeway Coastal Route. Rated as one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide. The route runs between Belfast and Derry and follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, winding between various picturesque villages, deserted sandy beaches and unforgettable scenic locations. The route highlight is the unesco world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast which is approximately an hours drive from Derry. If you fancy taking in sights at a leisurely pace check out Causeway Campers, they have cute converted original VW camper vans, perfect for a few days on the road. http://causewaycampers.com/
If your heading to London in the next 6 weeks , here’s a round up of a few things, us Londoners like to get up to over the festive period. So ditch the tourist trail, and come and experience Christmas like a local.
1. See the Christmas lights
London’s christmas lights are some of the best in the world. A good way to see all the lights close up, is from the top deck of a London bus , so nab a seat in the front row and take in the sights. The best bus routes are 52 from Grosvenor Place to Knightsbridge. 10 or 73 from Knightsbridge, up Park Lane, along Oxford Street, get off at Oxford Circus.3, 88, 159 or 453 from Oxford Circus down Regent Street.
2. Spend an afternoon at Winter Wonderland
Kids will be spoilt for choice at Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland, which includes a giant observation wheel, Zippo’s Christmas Circus and the capital’s biggest ice rink. As well a Santa Land, with rides, games and food stalls. Where kids can meet Father Christmas then jump on board the Santa Express. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to buy tokens for the rides.
3 Grab a Santa suit and join SantaCon
SantaCon is on the 6th December, it involves a gang of Santas running around London, singing carols, giving out gifts, and encouraging strangers to sit on their laps. Why ? Well just like the real Santa, they want to celebrate Christmas and spread some festive cheer. Anyone can take part as long as they follow the 3 rules for participating All Santas must a) be jolly b) wear a Santa suit, and c) don’t get arrested. The meeting point and route is top secret and won’t be announced until. 24 hours in advance, so keep an eye on the website http://www.santacon.co.uk/ and make that appointment at the fancy dress shop now.
4. Check out the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, is a donated by the city of Oslo each year since 1947, In gratitude for our support during the second world war. The tree is on display in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until 6 January.
5. Go for a skate in the open air
Nothing feels like Christmas more than skating in open air, at an iconic London location. Choose from Hampton Court Palace, Somerset House or The National History Museum. Its also compulsory to have a post skate hot chocolate.
6. Exercise those vocal chords at a traditional carol service
From the end of November , carol services start popping up all over London. Check local listings magazines such as Time Out for that weeks services . Most are in aid of a specific charity , so are free to enter but donations are expected. All Hallows Church by the Tower , is one of London’s oldest church’s , they have various christmas services but for Carols by Candlelight head down on 18th December at 6pm
7. See a traditional Christmas Panto taking the kids to the pantomime is as much a part of Christmas as decorating the tree and giving presents. Pantomime dames ,heroes and villains ,its a british institution For a Panto near you check out http://www.bigpantoguide.co.uk/
8. Grab a meaty bargain for Christmas dinner at the Christmas Eve Meat Auction.
London butchers Harts of Smithfield, have held their annual Christmas Eve meat auction for the last 30 years, everything’s got to go , so get a wad of cash, a sturdy bag and be prepared for a load of yelling to secure that bargain turkey. It starts promptly10am, but for a prime spot in the auctioneers eyeline get there early.
9.Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey
All faiths are welcome to midnight mass at Westminster Abbey , the service starts at 11.30pm. Its a free service but you do have to book via http://www.westminster-abbey.org/
10. For the ultimate Christmas Day,
Christmas isn’t just about the presents, for the true meaning of Christmas head to St Paul’s Cathedral for their Christmas Day service. For the early birds there’s a service at 8 am, or if you fancy a lie in head on down for the 3.15 pm service. But there’s no public transport, so you’ll have to beg,borrow or steal a lift to get there.
Its official London, has been voted the worlds favourite tourist destination. With 18.7 million visitors expected this year, a whooping 8% rise from last year.
As a Londoner born and bred, sure its a bit manic sometimes, and yes the weather is lousy and its getting more and more expensive to live here, but there’s is no place else I’d rather call home.
So here are my top loves about London, and if your one of the 18.7 million making it to our fair city this year, be sure to check them out for yourselves.
There’s always something going on London is definitely a place you can never get bored, there is always something happening everyday of the week. An opening here, a pop up there and festivals galore. Check out ONINLONDON (www.oninonline.com) a great site for letting you know what’s on in and around London, also includes local events if you want to experience real London.
It always catches me out when I travel abroad,and I’m asked to pay to go into a museum. In London, we like to share the love with free entry for all. Here’s my personal faves. British Museum
fascinating collection of over eight million objects. Themes include Leaders & Rulers, Animals, and Money.
Museum of London
One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.
science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.
Natural History Museum
Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.
Londoners love a park , Green , Regents or Hyde even Hampstead are all great spaces, find a deckchair and do a spot of people watching.
There’s nothing better on a weekend than, getting up and having a wander round the local market. My personal favs are Columbia road Flower Market in Hackney on a Sunday morning from 8am and Borough Market in London Bridge open every day but Sunday is a Foodies paradise, and the smell around the market hall is sublime.
The place to hang out on a weekend , there’s always some festival, or event happening, or you can just hang out with a coffee. I also like popping into Festival Hall to check out the free exhibitions.
If you want a decent curry in London, its got to be brick lane, in the heart of Banglatown. Though be sure to do your research as there’s loads of restaurants to choose from, a rule of thumb is if its filled with Bangladeshi’s your usually good to go.
London is bursting at the seams with theatres, from long running thrillers to a feel good musical. In order to save the pennies, I usually head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Sq to check out what’s going cheap.
So these are some of my London Loves , leave a comment and let me know yours !!!
So you arrive in London ready to see the sights, but you don’t fancy the usual hop on hop off , bland guided tours on offer. Not only are they pretty expensive for a family, but theres no chances of mingling with us lovely Londoners.
Its possible to see London from the air from as little as £4.00, so avoid the daily scrum and huge queues at the London Eye and head to Monument Tower. Located round the corner from Monument tube station the 202 ft tower was building in commemoration of the great fire of London by Sir Christopher Wren. There’s over 300 steps to the top via 1 winding staircase so leave the buggy’s at home for this one but when you reach the top you get an excellent via of the Shard and all along the River Thames down to Tower Bridge. Open daily 9am to 5pm, go at the start or end of the day to avoid the dreaded tour groups.
If you have cash to splash, check out The London Helicopter http://www.thelondonhelicopter.com/
From £199pp for a 20 minute whizz over the rooftops of London, its great for that special occasion.
The best way to see London is either on foot ( that’s where the AtoZ is worth its weight in gold ) or from the top deck of a Red London Bus.
Whenever I travel,the first thing I do when I get to a new town, is check out the free walking tours. Now of course they’re not really free , you’d have to be a real scumbag not to leave a tip , though I did once in paris it was just so boring, I had to ditch the walk in the first 20 minutes. The great thing about the free tours, it hasn’t cost you a bean. If you are lucky to get a great guide and enjoy your tour paying £10/15 per head as a average tip,
here’s a few to get you started:
If you don’t fancy all the walk be sure to jump on the heritage route number 15 bus taking you from Trafalgar Square down to Tower Hill . Its pretty special as it’s the only route that still uses the original Routemaster buses, and you can you use your Oyster card as its the normal fare.
Sea (well river really but sea sounded better )
One of the best ways to see London and get your bearings is from the river, The Thames Clipper is mainly a commuter service stretching from Waterloo down to Woolwich Arsenal
but as a tourist the best stops are: Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum Tower Pier for London Bridge & the Tower of London London Bridge for the Shard & Borough Market and best of all you can use your oyster. The Thames Clipper thankfully has clean loos & you can even get a cheeky drink to sip out on the deck and pretend you on your own yacht , with 100 of your new friends. Fares from £6.12 single with your oyster or the best value for sightseeing is the RiverRoamer an all day ticket valid every day from 9am adult single from £16.50 Family Roamer (2 adults / 3 children) £36.00 total bargain !!
To find Londons best street art, you need to head to Shoreditch in east London. The best way to get there is to take the London overground line ( orange line ) to Shoreditch High Street.
when exiting the station turn left onto Sclater street and head for Brick Lane where you’ll find the majority of the street art on and Brick Lane itself and off hidden away on the side roads.
If your heading out for the first time I would highly recommend you join a tour, so you can note the routes and where’s the best places to spot new pieces and then you can come back again & again. I recommend http://www.streetartlondon.co.uk for the authentic street art experience , led by guides who really know their stuff and are passionate about the art.
unfortunately the street art around Brick Lane can be here today, gone in the next hour , the turnover is sometimes that quick on some popular walls that pieces don’t last the night. Here’s a selection of a few of my latest favourite pieces of street art
If your really lucky you might even stumble upon a street artist mid flow, the best time to see artists at work is usually early mornings on weekends, when the street are deserted and they can work in peace. Street art is still considered vandalism in the UK, unless the artist has the wall owners permission.
Street art spotting is hard work so if you get peckish, sure to pop into the world famous Beigel Bake the oldest bagel shop in London, that’s open 24-hour a day and produces 7,000 bagels every day, Its menu is focused on bagels baked in the traditional Jewish style with fillings such as hot salt beef with mustard, chopped herring, and cream cheese. Be warned queues can get long during the day, but the salt beef and mustard beigel is worth the wait.
Petra a unesco world wonder is undoubtedly Jordan’s most valuable treasure, and greatest tourist attraction. Petra is visited by tourists from all over the world, and a independent visit is easier to plan than you think, keep reading for practical tips for your first visit to Petra.
Getting to Petra
Start by flying into Jordans capital Amman, and then depending on your arrival time you’ll need to spend the night in Amman before catching the Jett Bus down to Petra at the crack of dawn the next morning.
The Jett bus, leaves the bus station in central Amman at 6.30am every morning ( returns daily at 5pm from Petra ) for 11 Jordanian dinar ( JD ) pp each way (approx £11/ $15 ) . The journey takes approx 3 hours arriving at approx 9.30am , with a short bathroom break halfway. The bus pulls in right by the Petra visitor centre, and seats can be booked online on the Jett website in advance , or in their office in Amman.
Entry into the site of Petra is only permitted to visitors holding valid tickets. These are available at the Visitor Center and can be purchased on arrival. Prices differ for foreigners and locals and a range of ticket types are available depending on the length of stay and number of visits to be made into Petra.
A 3 day pass for 60 JD is the best value for money due to the sheer size of the place. if your just visiting for the a day it’s a steep 90 JD entry especially as its impossible to see everything in a day. ** Please note you will need to show your passport as id so don’t forget to take it with you. **
Petra is not the place for the faint hearted, there is a lot of walking and step climbing to reach some of the attractions , the main trail is 5 miles long from the main gate and the attractions are all accessible off the main trail.
Licensed guides are available to hire at the visitors centre from 50- 100 JD on top of the price of your ticket (for the group not pp) as I was travelling alone, I couldn’t justify the expense, so I purchased a Petra easy guide via I tunes, which gave a short audio on each of the sights, a helpful map and it worked just fine for me.
The best time to visit Petra is as soon as the gates open at 6am. You’ll pretty much have the place to yourself, not even the Bedouin can be bothered to get up that early, to harass the unsuspecting tourist. It’s claimed that the ticket price includes a horse ride down to the Siq, what they don’t mention, is the horse owner will expect a hefty tip when its time for you to get off, soyou have been warned.
From the visitors centre it’s a 15 minute downhill stroll to the Siq, then approx 20 mins to walk through the Siq to the Treasury . This is the main hang out for horses & donkeys owners plying for trade, once you get past the hustle and bustle of the Treasury area there are clear signs pointing out the main trails.
Due to well documented animal abuse that goes on at Petra, I do not recommend hiring any animals whilst in Petra.
Most sites are up steps from the main trail but there are 2 sites which require a bit of extra planning . The Place of High Sacrifice is an 45 min upward climb, challenging but doable at a steady pace. The main and biggest climb, is to The Monastery the big brother of the Treasury, noticeably harder than the Place of High Sacrifice, at around 90 minutes of a continuous upwards climb from the bottom of the steps , so lots of water and sensible walking boots with a good grip are essential.
As the start of the trail to the Monastary is the furthest away from the main gate (at least an hour ) , I suggest going straight to it when the gates open. Then you’ll get the place to yourself when you reach the top. There’s even a cafe where you can grab a mint tea, and take it all in, but be warned I didn’t see a toilet, so maybe best to stick to just the one tea.
The Bedouins do offer donkey rides to the top, which I wouldn’t recommend due to the sheer drops and narrow ledges of the path and the questionable health of the donkeys.
Along the trails , you will be invited by the bedouin to stop to drink tea, which out of sheer exhaustion I stopped for a while to catch my breath. To their credit they were hospitable and the tea was delicious , I made sure to leave a dinar or two for their troubles before continuing on.
Petra by Night Tour
If you are overnighting in Petra, it’s also worth doing the Petra by nighttour, This is a magical way to see Petra by candlelight, the experience starts by walking the entire Siq to the Treasury, lit with over 1,500 candles. Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 20:30 from Petra Visitor Centre and delivers you back to the Visitor Centre around 22.30pm. The entrance fee for Petra by Night is 17 JD, children under 10 years are admitted free of charge.
Where to stay
With regards to accommodation, I stayed at the excellent Petra Moon Hotel, a solid 3 star hotel approx 5 minute walk from Petra’s main gates, and right next to where the bus from Amman pulls in . With free wifi , comfortable western standard rooms and a roof top pool, I highly recommend it rather than the pricier Movenpick next door. After a day at Petra, you won’t have the energy to do anything more strenuous than order room service for dinner anyway. http://www.petramoonhotel.com