Top tips for visiting London for the first time … Part One

Get an Oyster card

 

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If you only buy one thing when you get to London, make it an Oyster card. ( £5 deposit is payable) These handy pay-as-you cards are issued by Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk) and make travel on London’s buses, trains and tubes much cheaper and easier. Using an oyster doesn’t just save time, but it saves money, a central London cash tube journey is £4.20, while using an Oyster card the fare is only £2.20. Can be picked up any tube station including Heathrow, and Oyster ticket shops.

Get a London A to Z Map Book

 

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Despite everyone owning a smart phone , nothing will replace the humble A to Z London map book.Long after your phone battery has died , the A to Z is worth its weight in gold with every London street clearly marked , you can pick one up at any bookstore.

Get good waterproofs

London is well known for its unpredictable weather. The day may start sunny & bright but by lunchtime there could be torrential downpours, ALWAYS carry a foldable mac or an umbrella you have been warned

Do your Web Research

There are a number of sites to check that will save you cash, & give you itinerary ideas here’s are a few of the most popular

http://www.lastminute.com – as it says on tin last minute deals for literally everything Hotels , trips , attractions , spa days , show tickets .

http://www.opentable.co.uk – a London restaurant discount booking site that finds the closest restaurants to your location or budget , discounts can be up to 50% off.

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com– not necessarily a tourist site , but sometimes they have great deals for all so worth checking out.

http://www.airbnb.co.uk
With the average London hotel room hitting £160 per night, AirBNB is an ideal solution to finding accommodation . Also by having an apartment, you can make your own meals saving more cash for that big night out. Just pick somewhere near to transport links and within zone 3 of the tube map as a rule so your not wasting time travelling back & forth.

http://www.southbanklondon.com – For all things cultural in London , theatre , gallery events , art , head to the the Southbank located steps from London Waterloo station on the river always good for an afternoon stroll.

See London from the River

 

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Cruising down the Thames is a great way to see London and rest your weary legs. Check out http://www.thamesclipper.com for times & routes and the good news is you can use your oyster card for a discounted fare.

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Check out the best free view in London

The Sky Garden , aka the walkie talkie building is London’s best kept secret , located across the river from the famous London Shard which charges an eye watering £32 to check out the views down the Thames, book into the Sky Garden for totally Free entry for the same view , plus you get a shot of the shard in all your pictures , the only catch is you need to book in advance at https://skygarden.london . There is also a cafe and restaurant at the top so maybe splash out on dinner with the money saved on entry fees.

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Check out Londons best Museums

Great activity for a rainy day there will be a few rainy days , no matter what time of year you visit, this is London it rains accept it. London’s museums are world class and more importantly most are FREE , here are the main ones not to miss ….

British Museum

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Where: Bloomsbury
Open: 10am-5.30pm every day, till 8.30pm Fri. Closed 1 Jan, Good Fri and 24-26 Dec.
Description: An always busy and always fascinating collection of over eight million objects. Themes include Leaders & Rulers, Animals, and Money.

Museum of London

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Where: London Wall
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.

Science Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-6pm, except 24-26 Dec.
Description: Vast museum of advancements in science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.

Natural History Museum

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Where: South Kensington
Open: Every day 10am-5.50pm. Closed 24-26 Dec.
Description: Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.

National Portrait Gallery

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Where: Just off Trafalgar Square
Open: Every day 10am-6pm. Thu-Fri until 9pm.
Description: Founded in 1856, it has over 195,000 portraits, from modern subjects to paintings from the 16th century.

For more ideas on what to do and what to see check out the official Visit London Website https://www.visitlondon.com

 

Qatar Airways #A380 London Heathrow to Doha Economy Cabin Flight Review

Qatar Airways, is the state owned flag carrier of Qatar, with a fleet of more than 180 aircrafts, all flights go throught their hub airport Hamad International in Doha, recently voted best airport by Skytrax. Qatar Airways was also awarded best ” Up in the Air Experience” in 2016 by the Future Travel Experience Awards, so my expectations were high from the off. Here’s my A380 Economy experience.

Flight: London Heathrow (LHR) to Doha (DOH)

Seat: 59k ( upper deck )
56 seats / 2-4-2 formation

Plane Type: Airbus A380

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Boarding

Upon boarding I made my way up the back stairs to the upper deck, there’s a galley and toilets located at the rear for the economy cabin, so there’s no need to venture back downstairs.

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Economy Amenity Kit

When I reached my seat, I was surprised to find that Qatar Airways are still giving out amenity kits in economy, as these seem to have been cut from a number of airlines economy cabins recently. It was standard stuff , but the eye mask was nice and thick so it made it home with me after the flight.

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Entrance to the Business Class Lounge is firmly roped off

One of the downsides of sitting on the upper deck, is that you get to hear the constant clink of champange glasses coming from the business class passengers in adjacent lounge, just the other side of the curtain, it was a proper FOMO moment. A rope was firmly fixed across the entrance, just in case any economy passenger decided to try and sneak in when the crew’s back is turned.

Cabin & Seat

With only 7 rows and 56 seats , in my humble opinion Qatars Upper Deck Economy Cabin is on par with some other airlines Premium Economy offerings.

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Theres only one tiny snag… , these seats are not bookable online, the official line is you’ve got to have status, ie be a frequent flyer to be offered an Economy seat on the top deck. My best advice is to ask Very nicely , if there’s any chance you can be moved to the upper deck . I managed to get my seat changed, but not until I got to the gate, and totally lucked out and got bulkhead seat 59k. The cabin was only at most only 50% full, so everyone got to spread out over the cabin.

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spacious upper deck economy cabin
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bulkhead seats
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Seat 59K aka Legroom for days

Entertainment

The Qatar Airways Oryx One entertainment system, has a 10.6 inch touchscreen TV screen with more than 3,000 entertainment options, in more than 30 languages. There’s blockbuster movies , full box sets to popular TV series, and music from around the world, there was more than enough to keep me entertained on a relatively short 7 hour flight. The screen also had a USB plug to keep everything nicely charged throughout the flight.

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Oryx One entertainment system

Food Service

When travelling in the economy cabin I usually try an order a special meal , this is to ensure that I get served ahead of the general service, ie no waiting ages to get served.

This flight I requested a low calorie meal , and whilst i would question if cod is really a breakfast food, the presentation was good and it tasted great. In fact I ended up skipping the mid afternoon snack as I was so full ( apologies, totally forgot to photograph it for the review ). I believe the afternoon snack was a sandwich, there was a couple of the usual drinks service , plus I also got a couple of tea’s on request. The upper deck had it’s own dedicated crew & galley , so the dinner service was pretty swift with a half full a cabin.

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Low Calorie breakfast

In My Opinion….

I have a confession , before this flight I was already a great fan of the A380. Getting a seat of the upper deck was the icing on the cake for me. Service was attentive, friendly and professional. As far as i’m aware Qatar Airways is the only airline that has an economy cabin upstairs on the A380, so it would definately be worth booking and trying to get upstairs. The Qatar Airways A380 economy cabin comes highly reccommended and I wouldnt hesitate to book with them in the future.

For more information fares and routes check out Qatar Airways website

Please note I paid for my ticket in full for this flight,and I was not compensated in any way by Qatar Airways to write this review, opinions are all my own as usual.

Five things to know before you go to Cape Town 

Known as South Africa’s ‘Mother City’, Cape Town sits nestled at the foot of Table Mountain. If you’re visiting for the first time, here’s five important tips to know before you go….

1. Download and register with Uber

Uber is king in Cape Town, as a lone female, I felt perfectly safe jumping into an Uber, the minimum fare is a tiny 20 rand (£1.25!! ).Grab an Uber from the airport into the center of Cape Town for around 200 rand (£12 ). There’s a designated Uber pick up spot in the airport, just ask at the information desk and they’ll point you in the right direction.

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Uber

2. Prebook major attractions
The weather in CapeTown is extremly unpredictable, despite having a reservation to Robben Island booked well in advance, the tour was cancelled due to rough seas. As I had the tour booked it on my last day in CapeTown,sadly I didnt make it to the Island. Try and book it in the begining so if need be, you have time to reschedule.

I nearly didn’t make it up Table Mountain either due to the high winds which constantly shut down the cable car. It took three visits to the cable station before I made it up. Pre book your cable car tickets and go early or late or you’ll be caught in the queues.

Table Mountain Cable Car

Robben Island official website

Table Mountain Cableway

3. Bringing the kids with you ? be prepared

If your travelling to South Africa with a child under 18 , you’ll need to produce the childs full long version birth certificate showing both parents details, along with their passport. These rules includes all UK passport holders , please note you need the original certificates, photocopies are NOT ACCEPTABLE.

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South African Immigration info

4. Take a Tep

Wifi in South Africa is notoriously expensive, to ensure you stay connected. Consider hiring a Tep, a mobile hotspot unit that fits in your pocket, and provides unlimited data for up to 5 devices from £7.95 per day.

Tep Wireless

Tep wireless

5. Hop on and off around the City.
If your not comfortable driving in Cape Town, the best way to get around the main sights is using the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop bus. With buses routes going to Cape Point , a mini wine route, a hour long pennisular tour and a stop off the Table Mountain cable way base station.

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City Sightseeing Cape Town

For more information on CapeTown and south Africa, check out the tourist information below.

South African Tourism

Cape Town Tourism

5 Reasons to fall in love with San Francisco 

If America were a school playground, you’d find all the cool kids hanging out in San Francisco corner. 

There’s just so much to love about Americas second biggest city, so I’ve picked my top five things, that’ll get you putting San Francisco at the top of your travel list. 

1. They have a great free walking tour 

Every day there’s a great free walking tour that leaves Union Square at 10am. You don’t need to book, and in 3 hours , Filip, the tours founder will uncover all of the cities hidden gems. From secret public roof spaces for an alfresco lunch, to a fortune cookie factory buried in the middle of the China Town district, it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. 

For more info check out  http://www.freesftours.com, although it is a free tour , tips are gratefully received.  


2. They have great vintage trams  

If you love vintage transport, San Francisco is the place to go. As well as being the only national historical monument that’s able to move, There’s a great tram museum located at one of the tram stops. you’ll be in tram heaven in no time. 

For more info on the museum check out http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/


3. They have great wine 

It would be criminal to visit San Francisco, and not visit a vineyard or two for tasting some great California wines. Instead of heading out to the Mecca of wine Napa , I went low key to avoid the crowds and headed over the Golden Gate bridge to Napa’s kid brother Sonoma. Located 45 minutes from San Francisco, and with over 400 vineyards to choose from you’ll be spoilt for choice, without the flashy price tags. 

I took a day trip with local tour company Green Dream Tours,  a wine tour specialist, which included a trip to 4 wineries for tastings as well as a picnic lunch, check out their tours here https://greendreamtours.com

 For more info on Sonoma county check out http://www.sonomacounty.com

4. They have great Art 

After being shut for major renovations for the last 3 years, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), finally reopened in May this year. 

It’s one of the worlds biggest modern art museums , with over 33,000 works. If your a fan of modern art , this is a can’t miss. To get the most of your visit , go on a Thursday when the galleries stay open til 9pm. It’s pretty goddam amazing. 

https://www.sfmoma.org

5. They have great views 

San Francisco is best seen by foot , from walking over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge , to hiking up the hill to get a glimpse of the painted ladies. San Francisco is definitely a city where you’ll be able to keep up with your fitness regime, just don’t forget your comfortable shoes or its gonna get painful. 

So these are my SanFrancisco favourites , what’s yours ?, is there something great that I missed? ,if so let me know !! 

For more info on SanFrancisco check out http://www.visitcalifornia.com

48 hrs in Budapest ….

Budapest, is hands down one of my favorite European cities, with great architecture, great food and a thriving nightlife, even on my second visit there was still loads to see. It’s a great place to explore on foot.

If your off on a weekend in Budapest, and wondering what to do, here’s a few of my favorite things to do in Budapest.

Jump on a tram…

Riding the number 2 tram is a ‘must’, from the parliament buildings, it travels along the Danube , past St Stephens Basilica to the Chain Bridge, with Buda Castle across the Danube in the distance , then down to the Liberty Bridge, where you can jump off for a stroll round the central Food Market. Free travel on the Tram is included with a Budapest Card

Budapest no2 Tram

Chain bridge Budapest

Eat strudel… 

My favorite place for strudel in Budapest,  is the Retesvar bakery up in the castle district, just steps from the Fishermans Bastion. It’s a great place for a quick cheap lunch of sweet & savoury strudels



Buy great chocolate…

Down by the Liberty Bridge tucked away on a side street is Rozsavolgyi Csokolade, a husband and wife chocolatier team, Conde Nast recently voted their chocolate in the Top Ten in the world, as if you need pursuading  http://www.rozsavolgyi.com


Take a Bath… 

Budapest is awash with thermal baths, It’s a great way to relax after a day of pounding the streets sightseeing.

There’s free entry into the Luckas Baths with the Budapest Card, which leaves plenty left over for a massage .

See some Art…

Get a culture fix at the Hungarian National Gallery ,  Hungary’s finest Art  is spread over four floors, including the ‘Hungarian Nabi’ Jozsef Rippl-Ronai. Free entry is included with the  Budapest Card.

Go for a posh cuppa…

Lotz Hall aka The Book Cafe , is located within the Alexandra Book shop on Andrassy Avenue. Possibly one of Budapests most grandest place to stop for a cuppa. If your lucky you might even catch a pianist having a tinkle on the ivories.


On my weekend, I used a 48 hr Budapest Card, check out more info at http://www.budapestcard.org

For more information on Budapest and Hungary check out http://gotohungary.com/

48 hrs in Gothenburg Sweden……  

As Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg is sometimes overshadowed by its more famous cousin Stockholm. But on my trip, I found Gothenburg has gems all of its own to uncover.

Coming into land  at Landvetter airport on a snowy morning, it felt like i was having a second Christmas.

My base for the weekend was Hotel Flora, a centrally located 4 star boutique hotel perfectly located for exploring Gothenburg.

With my Gothenburg one city pass in hand,  giving me free travel  on all public transport in Gothenburg, on top of entry to Gothenburgs main attractions , I headed out to explore .

With a good couple of feet of snow to contend with, it  definitely felt like I was getting a workout ,whilst having a wander round the city, no wonder those swedes keep so trim.

Gothenburg definitely wins the award for the most stylish public transport system, with their retro style trams, they blast through piles of snow effortlessly , and it’s easy to hop on and off .

Gothenburg is stuffed to the brim with culture , the museums are world class.  The Gothenburg museum of Art houses  all the greats from a Monet to a Deagas ballerina.


And the Natural History museum is small but perfectly formed .

The Gothenburg city museum is also worth a peek, with plenty of Viking artefacts from around the city.

Fish is big in Gothenburg , they even have their own ‘fish church’ known as  FESKEKÔRKA. There’s even a couple of excellent restaurants inside, if you get the sudden urge to eat fish.


There’s  also an indoor food hall, where you can hang out and grab a typical Swedish  lunch at Kages Horna

Or grab some chocolate,  from local producer Kanold.

The place for the perfect afternoon stroll is in Haga , the once dodgy part of town, since  rescued by the hipsters. With plenty of quirky independant shops, it’s a great place to pick up something Swedish to take home.

And when you fancy a quick fika stop , check out Cafe Husaren for a traditional gigantic cinnamon buns.

In the summer when the ice breaks ,  you can see Gothenburg from the water on a boat trip along Gothenburg’s picturesque canals.

Gothenburg was so much more than I expected , it’s a compact, easy to navigate city , with great public transport , I especially liked the trams, there’s more plenty to see and do on a weekend break.

Check out http://www.goteburg.com to plan your Swedish getaway. 

Please note my stay in Gothenburg was generously provided  by Gothenburg Tourist Board, but my opinions as usual all my own.

10 things to do with your teen  in Berlin, Germany.     

I really thought I was going to struggle, to find enough things to keep my 12 year old entertained whilst in Berlin. The plan was, that in the evening we would visit the Christmas markets, then in the day we would do family stuff. To be honest I could have easily filled another week, Berlin certainly gets the  family friendly seal of approval!!

Here our top 10 things to do in Berlin …… 

1. Learn about the Story of Berlin 
The story of Berlin, is a unique interactive museum where visitors can explore 800 years of Berlin history. In 23 themed rooms where visitors  can experience everyday life of the people of Berlin during different eras.

The highlight of the exhibition is a guided tour of an original nuclear bomb shelter from the Cold War below the museum,  which still can be used in case of an nuclear attack today.

http://www.story-of-berlin.de

Ideal for children aged 7+


2. Pop into the Natural History Museum and say hi to Tristan the T Rex 

The Museum für Naturkunde, now exhibits one of the best-preserved T Rex skeletons worldwide. The museum also holds more than 30 million items relating to zoology, palaeontology, geology and mineralogy, which are highly significant for science as well as for the history of science.

http://www.naturkundemuseum.berlin

Ideal for children aged 5+


 

 

   

3. Check out what life was like in the DDR 

The DDR Museum is located in the former governmental district of East Germany, right on the river Spree, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.

Its exhibition shows the daily life in Deutsche Demokratische Republik aka DDR. The museum prides itself in being totally “hands on” , kids will love the new interactive Berlin Wall with a chance to try virtual graffiti or belt up and drive a virtual trabant round Berlin.

http://www.ddr-museum.de

Ideal for children 7 +

 

 

 

 



4. Go all retro at the Computerspielemuseum

Computerspiele Museum is the first European museum for video and computer games, and a must see for any gamer . Containing over 300 exhibits, including rare originals, playable classics, from classic arcade games to a giant pac man. Be prepared to drag them out kicking and screaming.

http://www.computerspielemuseum.de

Ideal for gamers young & old




5. Step into the future at Game Science centre. 

The Game Science Center is an interactive Future Museum, run by a team of game developers. the exhibition presents a lineup of innovative technologies and playful projects. Where you can try out futuristic ways to interact with computers , where you can even try out controlling games with your eyes!!.

http://www.gamesciencecenter.de

Ideal for children 10 +


  

6. Strike a pose at Madame Tussaud’s 

Be whisked off into a star-studded world with interactive exhibition of fascinating waxwork figures getting up close to Hollywood stars, sporting heroes, famous figures from the past and present as well as new Star Wars figures.

http://www.madametussauds.com/berlin/de/

Ideal for children 7+


  

7. Find some animal magic at Berlin Zoo 

The Berlin Zoological Garden  is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany. Opened in 1844 it covers 35 hectares  and is located in the heart of Berlin’s Tiergarten. With about 1,500 different species and almost 20,500 animals the zoo presents the most comprehensive collection of species in the world.

http://www.zoo-berlin.de

Ideal for all children


  

    

8. Walk the Berlin Wall 

You can’t visit Berlin without a visit to the Eastside Gallery,  and check out a vital part of Berlin’s history. The wall was constructed overnight on 12 August 1961 and divided the city of Berlin until 9th November 1989.




9. Get your photo in a vintage  photomatic booth 

For €2, squeeze into the booth, close the curtain, and strike a pose and wait for your strip of black and white shots to emerge.

Two Berliners, came up with the idea of buying and restoring an old analogue photo booths in 2003. The first Photoautomat was stationed at the city’s central Rosenthaler Platz intersection , now there are machines dotted all over Berlin, a great unique souvenir.


10. Climb up to the dome of the Berlin Catherdral  

The Cathedral of Berlin is the largest church in the city, and it serves as a center for the Protestant church of Germany. The Dome walkway is reached by 270 steps (no lift ), and once you’ve made it to the top  your rewarded with a view of Museum Island, the synagogue, Gendarmenmarkt, the Reichstag. Please note unusually there is an entrance fee of 7 euros, but 3 kids go free per adult.

http://www.berlinerdom.de

Ideal for children 7+