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

 

24hrs in…. Casablanca, Morocco

I travelled with Royal Air Maroc, to their hub airport in Casablanca, With time to kill between flights , here’s is a mini guide in what to Eat, Sleep, See & Shop… stopover guide to making the most of your time in Morocco’s capital city.

RAM Aircraft

EAT

For sweet treats in Casablanca there is only one place to head , Pâtisserie Bennis
2 Rue Fkih El Gabbas, Quartier Habous, Casablanca.

Casablanca’s best bakery

Patisserie Bennis is Casablanca’s most famous bakery, they have been delighting the locals with their speciality of cornes de gazelle (marzipan-filled pastries) and plenty of other traditional Moroccan sweets since the 1930’s. They sell by weight so grab a box and get some munchies for your hotel room.

Anyone for cake …. ?

For an authentic traditional Moroccan meal , I recommend dropping into Cafe La Sqala, in front of the Casablanca Marina.

La Sqala

Situated in an 18th-century fortress, go there for brunch served daily between 8am to midday.Be sure to grab a table in their shaded garden area for the best seat in the house. , I would recommend pre booking during peak months as it gets very busy with locals, foodwise its as authentic as it gets .For further info check out the La Sqala facebook page https://m.facebook.com/lasqala

Traditional Moroccan Breakfast

SLEEP

If your only stopping over for one night , I highly recommend blowing the budget and staying in the best place in town. The Four Seasons Casablanca is the ultimate in five star luxury.

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well worth blowing the budget ….

Located right on the oceanfront and a 10 minute taxi ride from the centre of town, be sure to ask for a room ( or suite !) with amazing views of the Atlantic .If you fancy it there’s also direct access onto the beach from the hotel.

View from the terrace

If you like being pampered the service here is nothing short of impeccable, I genuinely didn’t want to leave. For more information check out their website https://www.fourseasons.com/casablanca/

Four Seasons Casablanca Suite Bedroom

SEE

The major sight to visit in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque, its the largest mosque in Morocco, and second largest in Africa and fifth largest in the world. Its Minaret is the world tallest at 210 meters.

There are daily tours inside the mosque available for non muslims several times a day, as its located right by the sea front , so its a great place for a wander whilst you lust after the amazing tiles.

Guided tours are from Saturday to Thursday at :

9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 or 14:00, or daily at 14:30 in the summer.

Tours cost 120 dirhams and visitors should be aware before visiting that knees and shoulders should be covered when entering the mosque and shoes need to be removed.

SHOP

For authentic Moroccan souvenirs the place to head for is Quatier des Habous.

Here you can pick up tourist staples such as good quality handmade rugs , olives, leather goods and traditional moroccan slippers at a fraction of the cost you’d pay in Marrakech.

The souk is a great place to pick up amazing handmade rugs
Authentic Moroccan Slippers

For more information and ideas about what to do on a visit to Morocco , check out the national tourist board website https://www.visitmorocco.com/en

Please note I flew to Morocco courtesy of Morocco’s national carrier Royal Air Maroc , but as usual all opinions are my own.

For information on Royal Air Maroc’s routes, fares and stopover programme check out their website https://www.royalairmaroc.com/int-en/

Gulf Air A330 Bahrain to London Heathrow Economy Cabin Flight Review

gulf air economy flight review

Gulf Air is the principal flag carrier of Bahrain, the airline operates scheduled services to 41 destinations in 23 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe, all flights transit thru their hub airport in Bahrain. Gulf Air operate two cabins of service , Economy and their aptly named Falcon Gold Business Class cabin.

This is my Economy cabin inflight passenger experience from Gulf Air’s Hub airport in Bahrain to London Heathrow.

Time to fly …

Flight: GF0003 10.10am

Route: Bahrain (BAH ) to London Heathrow (LHR )

Duration: 7 hours 35 mins

Seat : 20A ( Economy Cabin )

172 seats / 2-4-2 configuration

Airbus A330

A warm welcome aboard

Boarding

Boarding started promptly approx 40 minutes before take off , Falcon Gold passengers boarded first and then there seemed to a bit of a scrum for everyone else.

The Crew welcomed everyone on onboard at the door, even those of us turning right.

I note that economy passengers are permitted to pre book lounge access for approx £49 per person when booking your flight.

Falcon Gold Lounge – Bahrain
Falcon Gold Lounge – London Heathrow

Seat & Cabin

When flying in the Economy Cabin with Gulf Air on the A330 , If you want legroom for days, I highly recommend you to consider paying to reserve a seat in row 20 ( approx £40 per person per leg ) As a frequent flyer never have I seen the legroom that Gulf Air offers in their bulk head seats, like never ever. If your beaten to row 20 , you can try row 40 , but as these are exit seats there are strict rules as to who is & isnt allowed to occupy these ( ie no under 12’s ).

Gulf Air A330 Economy seat map

When arriving at my seat to the envy of the other cabin passengers who not been quite so diligent with their seat choice research ( check http://www.seatguru.com for the best seat info ) , there was a small but adequate pillow , but sadly no blankets or amenity kits are given out in the economy cabin.

Seat 20 A/C
Bulkhead rear seat view
Leg room for days
Economy cabin view

Entertainment

This is the area in which Gulf Air could improve the most. I had flown out two weeks earlier and was disappointed to note that they were still showing the same movies as on my outward journey. The movies are extremely limited ( approx 10/15 current block buster movies) , and a number of bollywood movies. The TV offering was also quite limited, so probably best to load up the i pad with your favorites shows. On the plus side the tv monitor had a USB charger point which is always useful in keeping things charged.

side mounted tv screen

If your sitting in the bulkhead seat the tv screen is located down the side of the seat, which again restricts the width of the seat some what.

Sealed headphones were handed out upon boarding , they were perfectly fine to use and were promptly collected before landing.

sealed headphones

Food Service

The first drink service was approx 30 minutes after take off , with a drink and a small snack.

first drinks service

After my excellent Falcon Gold experience on my outbound flight ( Read about it here https://wp.me/p4AB93-25T ) I knew that the Economy food offering was always going to be a bit of a come down. I have a criteria in regards to plane food , can I identify it ? , Is It edible and is it hot ? If It passes all that I’m good to go.

Approx half way into the flight lunch was served, I was surprised to note that there were three meal choices on offer, chicken , fish and veggie. I plumped for the chicken & mash which despite it’s appearance was both hot and edible, this was the only meal served on the flight.

There was another drink service after the meal, and crew were happy to serve individual drinks when requested.

Main Economy Meal

In My Opinion……

Economy plane travel is never going to be a particularly enjoyable experience, more like something to be endured. With some careful planning, the right seat choice and a loaded i pad, the Gulf Air experience was certainly bearable. Whilst I personally found the seat width quite snug around the hips (18 inches ), the legroom more than compensated and I was perfectly comfortable on a relatively short 7 hour flight, and I would certainly consider Gulf Air for long haul journeys. I also note that its possible to bid for an upgrade prior to the flight, so you could strike lucky and grab a cut price upgrade.

For more information and fare details, check out the Gulf Air website http://www.GulfAir.com

Please note my flight was kindly hosted by Gulf Air in order to write this review , but as usual all views & opinions are my own.

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.

Cape town sightseeing bus

City Sightseeing Cape Town

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

South African Tourism

Cape Town Tourism

Ten Photos to make you fall in love with Cape Town… 

10 shots that will make you fall in love with cape town, south africa

As I craned my neck to look out of the plane window, there was no mistaking the moment I had my first glimpse of Table Mountain out of the plane window.

After years of seeing Cape Town on the telly and pictures in a book, I was worried that I’d be bitterly disappointed with the reality on my visit to Cape Town. I needn’t of worried , it was everything I’d hoped for , a wall to wall smorgesboard of sights, sounds and vibrant colours everywhere, but none more that in the lively Bo Kaap district where I based myself for my whistle stop tour of the city.

Here’s ten of my favorite shots that I captured during my time in Cape Town ….

View of Table mountain from the plane
Great view from the Plane

1.Table Mountain

If your lucky enough to visit Cape Town in the future, be sure to ask the flight crew, which is the best side to sit to capture this magnificent view.

Walking in the Bo Kaap
The Colourful houses of the Bo Kaap

2. The Bo Kaap

Be sure to bring your sunglasses, it really is that bright, a fun vibrant neighbourhood, a short walk from the main area of the city , a great place to base your stay.

Grilled Crocodile
Getting exotic with Grilled Crocodile

3. Eat something “Exotic”

Cape Town is a city of meat eaters, in fact Capetonians joke that chicken is classed as a vegtable in Cape Town. I reluctantly tasted Crocodile, despite my reservations, it really did taste like chicken !!!.

View from Table Mountain
View from Table Mountain over the Lions head

4. The Cableway

Getting up Table Mountain was no easy task , during my stay I tried three times to get up the mountain. I learnt that the weather is extemely tempermental in Cape Town , the wind regularly shuts down the cable cars. But on my last morning my luck was in, and up i went.

Capetown Street Art
Capetown Street Art

5. CapeTown Street Art

Cape Town has an exciting emerging Street Art scene, if you fancy spotting some for yourself, then head to Woodstock or Salt River areas.

Charlys Bakery Cape Town
Best cakes in town at Charlys Bakery Cape Town

6. Charlys Bakery

Its cake , damm good cake what more is there to say ?

CapeTown Wine
Wine is always a good idea in CapeTown

7. Cape Town Wine

See above and replace cake for wine, CapeTown has some of the worlds best wine , and at a fraction of Uk prices. There are wine shops all over the city, offering tastings and wine tours.

8. Hit the Road

Within an hour you can be out in the winelands of Stellenbosch or whale watching in Hermanus. Or go a bit further and watch the road unfold in front of you, on a drive along the Garden Route.

District Six Museum
District Six museum

9. Make time for a history lesson

District Six was a multi cultural area in Cape Town that was dismantled by the goverment during apartheid. The District Six Museum attempts to recreate a picture of the community, well worth a visit.

10. Take a Tour

I’m a big fan of the free walking tour. Its a great way of getting your bearings in a city, and I usually make It the first thing I do.

Fallen in Love ?, then it’s time to plan your own Cape Town adventure

My flight from London Gatwick direct to Cape Town was kindly provided by Thomas Cook Airlines For flight and fare information go to

Http://www.thomascookairlines.com

For more information on Cape Town contact the tourism board

at http://www.capetown.travel

Etihad Airways A380 Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow Business Class Review…

etihad a380 business class inflight review

Last year I wrote about my very first trip on an A380 with Etihad in economy,check it out here http://wp.me/p4AB93-y8

After that, it was love at first sight for me and the A380 , instead of dreading flying , I actually began to look forward to the flight, as much as the actual trip.

So I was particularly excited, when I finally got the the opportunity to climb the stairs to plane heaven, and not just to sneak a peek either.

This is my Etihad A380 Business Class experience, travelling from Adu Dhabi which is their hub city to London Heathrow.

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Check In

When travelling business class, there’s none of this dragging in the main entrance with the rest of the world. You pull up to your own dedicated business class, kerb side check in area. Your bags are magically whisked inside, and your escorted to the carpeted check in desks, and after the most pleasurable of check in experiences , there’s a dedicated business class security area, where every lanes a fast track and your through security in less than 5 minutes.

No Queues here ….

Boarding

Heading for the plane , I had not one, but two Etihad escorts to guide me to the gate, I felt like a total rock star , as they cleared a path through the crowds to the gate. At the time, it felt like a total extravagance, but in hindsight, as someone who regularly gets lost in airports, it was helpful when your cutting things a bit fine.

My Rock Star Moment …
This way to plane Heaven …

The Cabin

Taking the gangway straight to the top deck upon boarding , I noted apart from the Residence and Nine First Class cabins right at the very front of the plane , that the Business Class cabin takes up literally the whole of the top deck . The Business Class cabin has 70 seats and is split into front and rear cabins in a 1-2-1 formation. On this flight the cabin was totally full.

Etihad Business “Studio “

The center two adjoinining seats are perfect for couples and friends travelling together while the solo traveller would be suited to the single window seats. Its also worth noting that seats face both forward and rearwards . I was assigned a rear facing seat which I can confirm was a very strange experience upon take off and landing , but when your in the air it doesn’t make any real difference.

Top deck Business class A380

The Seat

This is where where Etihad earns their 5 star airline status in my opinion. The Business Class seat aka on the A380 “Business Studio”, is 6ft 8inches long when flat, and 22 inches wide. The seat is tan cloth, with a signature Poltrona Frau leather headrest, and an Etihad branded pillow. There’s lots of concealed personal storage space to store your stuff, and plenty of space for your handbag under the foot rest.

The seat is totally lay flat with a great vibrating massage feature, and now you can even get to choose how firm or soft you would like your seat, and all controls are within reach of your finger tips.

I found the headphones extremely fiddly to connect up to the console , so much so I had to get a crew member to connect them up, but after that they were fine, and they even managed to drown out the engine noise.

I have a thing about airline blankets , most offerings are way too thin , so much so when I’m travelling on a night flight, sometimes I bring my own. The Etihad blanket was lovely and thick like duvet, with cosy fleecy lining ,and I found it very comfy.

I loved the new LUXE of London city themed amenity kits , ( this one pictured is the AbuDhabi one) which contained mini travel guide along Scaramouche and Fandango products ,including a lip balm, hand cream, toothbrush , toothpaste, ear plugs, a sleeping mask

More video choices you could ever hope to watch …

Entertainment

The tv screen is a massive 15 inches in Business Class , you can control it by touching the actual screen or by using the remote control handset .

There’s more than plenty to watch from the latest blockbusters to tv series to Bollywood more than enough to keep me entertained on a relatively short 7 hour flight.

Food

So once your settled in your seat the food and beverage manager comes round to discuss the menu , theres two menus to choose from one a la carte and the other is a casual anytime menu if you don’t feel like a full meal. There’s also a very good wine list. As I was driving when I got to back to Heathrow, sadly I was unable to indulge.

After eating a full breakfast before boarding, I wasn’t particularly hungry , but I was determined to put Etihad’s in flight chef to the test. Usually reserved for the requests of First class passengers, Our chef Valad gracefully agreed to show me how he manages to cook from scratch, with just an aircraft oven. I decided to keep it simple with a couple of fried eggs

Later on I was also a bit peckish so went for a steak sandwich from the all day menu which was delicious.

And the staff bought me almost hourly refills of tea & cake to keep me going.

The Lobby

The Lobby, is the hotel inspired hang out area on the on the top deck of the A380. Located between the rear of the First Class cabin, and the front of the Business Class cabin, for all top deck passengers.

I doubted if people would actually leave their seat and use it, but I was proved wrong, it was positively buzzing with people hanging out, and sharing a glass of champers with their fellow passenger.

Hanging with the Business Class Crew ….
“The Lobby”

In My Opinion …

Contrary to belief , I’m not a regular in Business Class , and it’s a real treat to fly up front. With a round trip Business Class ticket between London & Abu Dhabi normally costing in the region of £3,000, with a saver Business Class fare booked well in advance it can be as low as £800.00 each way.

I feel the A380 definitely gives you more wow for your buck in Business Class. The separate deck , the newer seats , The Lobby area which is not not on the 777.

For overnight flight, flying, Business Class allows you to have a shower before you board in the lounge , even having a full meal, so the moment you get onboard you can go straight to sleep . It definitely beats squashed up in economy where’s it impossible to get any sleep unless the cabins half empty.

If you can get a saver fare , it’s definitely worth considering mixing and matching cabins getting a business seat on a night flight and bearing economy on a day flight.

For more fare information and booking check out Etihad’s App or go to http://www.etihad.com

Please note I was travelling as a guest of Etihad Airways , but my opinion as usual are my own.

Are pay to enter airport lounges, worth the money ?….. 

I hate to travel , If I won the lottery tomorrow I’d be down to the Lear jet showroom in a shot . For me it’s  the whole rigmarole of dragging to the airport , going through numerous security checks then having to trawl round the terminal looking for a spare seat away from the crowds with a plug socket and some free wifi is like mission impossible. 

So when the lovely folks at Plaza Premium  Lounges offered me the chance to check out their Abu Dhabi pay airport lounge on my way back home to the UK this week, I was more than happy to stop by and take a look. 

  
Usually in order to enter the world of the plush airport lounge you either have to shell out  megabucks on a premium ticket or amass a squillion airmiles to step over the threshold. But not anymore , with lounges in 35 airports including a brand new opening in Heathrow T4 just this month, Plaza Premium are bringing a bit of luxury to the masses. 

So after getting airside , I made my way to the Alreem Lounge. I was greeted at the entrance desk desk, and with a quick scan of my boarding pass, I was rest assured that even if  I was having a good time I wouldn’t miss my flight which was reassuring.

 
Inside, the lounge is on 3 levels, with zoned areas for eating , watching the big screen TV , a bar and most importantly a quiet zone ideal for grabbing a snooze on one of the lazy boy chairs. 
 

  

   
As with a traditional lounge there was plenty of  food on offer from a snack to a full hot meal with a an alcoholic bar.

 

  
   
As someone who usually avoids plane food,  eating in the lounge is the perfect solution, I would normally pay to eat in one of the airport restaurants before my flight , where here a meal is already included in the entry fee. As well as a constant supply of tea,  I had a lovely Thai green curry which was excellent. 

  
And with plenty of plug sockets to go round and fast wifi access, my 2 hour stay flew by. 

  

But Is it worth it ? entrance  here is 150Dh so roughly £25 or $40 for a 2 hour stay. For me its a small price to pay to escape the crowds in the terminal , especially when your travelling in economy on a long haul flight, I found it the perfect way to relax, so I’ll certainly be looking out for Plaza Premuim’s other 34 locations in the future.
For more info on Plaza Premium lounges and their locations check out their website https://www.plaza-network.com

Please note I was given complimentary access in order to write this review  

Qatar Airways, 777 Doha to London Heathrow Business Class Flight Review 

onboard review of Qatar Airways 777 business class experience.

Flight: QR1 12.55pm Doha, Qatar ( DOH ) to London, Heathrow (LHR)

Seat: 1A ( Business Class )

42 seats / 2-2-2 formation.

Plane type: Boeing 777-300ER

In July 2016 Qatar Airways won three awards at the 2016 Skytrax World Airline Awards , including World’s Best Business Class, so I was expecting great things when I boarded my flight home after a weekend in Doha.

This review is of my in flight experience flying from DOH to LHR in Business Class on Qatar Airways Boeing’s 777-300.

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Seat A1, unofficially the best seat on the plane obviously …

Boarding

Upon boarding there were two separate boarding jettys one for business & one economy passengers, so with only 42 seats in business everyone was on board, packed away and seated swiftly, without waiting for all 316 economy passengers to traipse through the cabin.

Boarding in the front Business class cabin

There was already a pillow & blanket on my seat waiting for me, the pillow was nice and firm and the blanket was decent quality and kept out the onboard drafts.

Seat & Cabin

Seat A1

legroom for days …

Upon taking my seat , the Cabin Services Director came over and introduced herself to me, addressing me by name which I thought was a nice touch.

The flight attendant then came round taking drink orders and handing out hot towels , unfortunately I’m not a frequent visitor to business class, so I thought I’d push the boat out with a glass of pink champagne before take off .

Enjoying some pre take off Champers

I was happy to see that despite being on an older plane, that the seat was wider than normal and the seat reclined totally flat as well a great vibrating back feature.

Lots of buttons to play with …

A genuine flat bed

Entertainment
I found the entertainment system disappointing , the film selection was the same on both legs of the flight, so I’d already watched what I wanted on the flight out.

I struggled to find anything to watch on the flight back, and in the end I resorted to watching BBC i player on my I phone. It was also impossible to use the handset with my false nails !!.

Great comfy headphones

Oryx on board entertainment system , fiddly to use with nails !!.

Food Service

Qatar Airways has an anytime dining menu, so as soon as your ready to eat the crew will prepare your meal in approx 10 minutes. the service was prompt , professional and there was an extensive food choice considering your on a plane.

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One of the things I love about business class is the dinner service. I started my meal with the Arabic mezze, it was beautifully presented with generous portions. Just because your on a plane, you still get the full resturant service, with metal cutlery and a crisp white table cloth.

Dinner is served ….

For my main I went for a low calorie option of plain chicken with wild rice & vegtables , it was a tad bland, but I think this was to do with my what I chose, rather than the actual food.

Even on a plane you can keep it healthy

after saving calories on the main course , I decided to splurge on some icecream & fruit for desert, which was of course divine.

After the dinner service, just in case you had a spare inch of stomach space left , some fancy chocolate were handed out to munch on.

Posh chocs

In My Opinion …

How anyone could ever complain about a business class flight I dont know, as I usually sit alot further back at the rear of the plane on my travels, this was a rare treat. I almost wished they’d fly around a bit longer so I could enoy a few more hours in aviation heaven. The main thing that stood out to me on the flight was the service, I staged my own experiment by ringing on the bell for the attendant, usually a big passenger no no, the flight attendant was there in less than 5 seconds!, it seems the skytrax world airline award for best staff service in the middle east was richly deserved. And just when I thought the dream was over , as I disembarked, I got handed a fast track card to get me through immigration in record time , just what you need when your trying to fight through the queues in Heathrow.

For route information and fare details check out http://www.qatarairways.com

Please note my flight was kindly provided by Visit Qatar in order to write this review , but my views & opinions are as usual all my own.

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

Norwegian Airlines Dreamliner London,Gatwick to Oakland,California Flight Review

Low cost air travel , it’s enough to strike fear into the most seasoned traveller, I mean no one wants to travel low cost, unfortunately it’s a case of having to for most of us, if we want to be able afford a long haul break away.

But that was then, now it’s positively trendy to go low cost , and thus the rise of Norwegian was born. Voted best low cost operator in Europe for the past 3 years in a row , CEO Bjorn Kjos had his eye on a bigger prize , the coveted transatlantic routes and in 2013 Norwegian launched their first low cost long haul route, and Norwegian now serve seven US cities soon to be eight with the latest route Gatwick – Las Vegas due to start on the 31st October 16

Now over 2.2 million transatlantic passengers later, and us Brits can finally enjoy and more importantly afford that cheeky weekend in New York for less than £400 return. But what’s it like ? surely for that price your packed in like a sardine , clinging to the wing with only a packet of peanuts for your 7 hour flight.

Here’s my Norwegian in flight experience on one of their longest flights of 11 hrs , from London Gatwick to Oakland California, in both economy & up front in premium class.

Firstly, here is the essential fare information, Norwegian has 4 fare categories.

Low Fare
This is the basic fare, it gets you an economy seat & 10kg of hand luggage with 31 inches of legroom.

Low Fare Plus

This is the enhanced basic fare with a few extras in addition to the Low Fare, that you would usually expect to be included on a traditional carrier, such as, 20 kg of checked luggage, all meals on board , plus a drinks service, including alcohol. It also includes free seat reservation when booking.

Premium

Booking a seat in premium gets you in the front 5 rows in a separate cabin of just 32 seats. The seats are bigger, more legroom at a whooping 46 inches, plus reclining seats. You also get increased checked baggage allowance of 2 pieces x 20kgs each , fast track entry through airport security and in some places there’s even lounge access. All meals & drinks are included through out the flight.

Flex tickets

If your plans are likely to change, getting a flex ticket allows you free changes or cancellation at no charge, though tickets are more expensive. Flex tickets are available in both cabins and also include meals, 2 pieces of checked baggage up to 20kg of checked luggage , fast track thru airport security and seat reservation.

Upgrades
If there’s seats available in premium , it is possible to upgrade your low fare ticket at the airport from £250 each way.

On Board

Economy

The economy cabin is split into 2 on the 787-800 , rows 6-23 in the main cabin and rows 24 -35 in the rear , the seat configuration is 3-3-3 .

Norwegian airways Dreamliner seat map

If you can’t nab the bulkhead seats in row 6 or 24 , and you don’t mind being at the back, rows 34/35 have a seat missing between them, so there’s a bit more room but you are on top of the toilets, so there’s a trade off. I’d advise choosing a seat in the rear cabin, purely as there’s less people, which equals less noise, and you’ll get served quicker by the crew.

Norwegian airways economy seat

I’m 5ft 7 , and though I’m not particularly tall, leg room on long flights is always a concern. Whilst there wasn’t much to spare, thankfully my knees weren’t jammed into the seat in front and I was able to stretch out ish .

Norwegian airways economy seat legroom

I was beyond ecstatic to see there was a USB port in my seat , which as a I phone user always in need of power , it kept everything nicely charged up during the long flight. You will need to bring your own headphones or you’ll have to buy a pair on board for £5, it’s a normal headphone plug so standard headphones will fit.

The one area I was disappointed was the entertainment offering, there was only a merge 10 ‘new movies ‘ on offer to choose from , and they were the same on my way back too, a week later. There were some classic movies and tv series available, but not really enough choice for a long flight. Luckily I always load up things to watch on my BBC iplayer / Amazon app before I travel, so I’d advise you to do the same.

If you opt for low fare plus, food is included , there was 2 servings on this flight , dinner was served within an hour of take off .

Norwegian airways inflight meal

Dinner was sweet & sour chicken , with a cous cous side and a chocolate pudding. I’m not the biggest fan of plane food , it was pretty bland , but it was edible and it filled me up . The highlight was naturally the chocolate pudding ….

The 2nd food serving was approx 2 hours before landing , and was more of a packed snack, I could have easily eaten 2 of these to be honest, I was wondering if I got a child’s snack by mistake, not really enough to fill an grown adult in my opinion.

If you opt for the Low fare option , as well as bringing your own food ( highly reccommended ), you can purchase food from the on board snack bar , though it only opens after the food service has finished, and it’s for limited times, so if your starving, you might be in for a bit of a wait.

It’s important to note, they don’t accept cash on the flight , it’s card only. You swipe your card on your tv screen at your seat, and then your order is brought to you in a matter of minutes.

For the AV geeks they had some pretty cool maps & flight info to follow during the flight, if that’s your thing.

Economy – The Verdict

I’ll be honest, I was dreading this flight , 11 hrs in economy is not my idea of a fun time , but I really noticed the difference, the larger windows and the higher ceilings inside the cabin helped with not feeling quite so crammed in.
The lower flying altitude of the Dreamliner also helped with the jetlag , and I arrived in Oakland in almost perfect condition.

Premium
Unsurprisingly I was really looking forward to this leg of the trip, the Premium cabin is in the front 5 rows of the plane in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Norwegian airways premium seat

Upon boarding, your offered a non alcoholic drink, and after take off the curtain is pulled across from the main cabin behind. There are two toilets at the front exclusively for the premium cabin, so no waiting in long lines for the toilet.

You get a blanket to use during the flight and free headphones are offered ( to keep). For this flight I was sitting in seat 3C , I’d keep away from the dreaded seat E in the middle section at all costs unless your travelling in a three.

The legroom is stated to be 46 inches , this actually bigger than every other airlines premium economy offering, where the standard leg room is 38inches. Even with my legs stretched out, I didn’t quite manage to touch the seat in front, and there was plenty of wiggle room in the actual seat also.

The seat does recline and there’s a foot rest , whilst it’s not flat, it’s was perfectly good enough to get a good night sleep, though I found the foot rest a bit annoying so I left it flipped up for the flight.

As soon as we were in the air the crew came round with the drink trolley , with the usual wine and sprits on offer. I’m not a big wine drinker but I believe there was a couple of decent white & reds to choose from.

In premium, food is included in the ticket, there was the same two services as in economy, but the food was significantly better.

I was served beef with polenta & green beans and mushrooms , and it was actually very tasty, so much so I finished the lot. There was a delicious coleslaw side and another chocolate cake for dessert, But I got so carried away I ate them before remembering I should have taken a picture!!.

As it was a night flight, the second meal serving was breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of a lovely warmed bagel , with smoked salmon , capers and cream cheese, which was a build yourself job, which was preferable to coming ready made. It was served with juice and tea or coffee and was perfectly adequate.

The entertainment was sadly the same as in economy , and the film choices hadn’t changed since my outbound flight a week earlier .

Premium – The Verdict

For me booking a premium ticket is really all about the extra space. As someone who was lucky enough to have travelled long haul in BA’s Club World cabin for a number of years , I would pitch Norwegians premium class in terms of space offered, between Premium Economy & Business class for a fraction of the price. Yes they don’t have all the bells and whistles of a traditional carrier, but you have to remember, it’s all these thing push up the ticket price.

If you book well in advance it’s possible to get a Premium return for less than a £1,000 , which is granted still a lot of money for effectively a plane seat, but on a long haul flight, I would definitely consider buying a premium ticket on a night flight to ensure a decent nights sleep.

Norwegian has only been flying long haul for 3 years and I’m sure that service in both cabin will improve with time , but so far they have already been voted the best low cost long haul operator by Skytrax for 2015, so I can’t wait to see what they come up next , I just hope that the ticket prices stay affordable.

Low cost fares to the US start from £135 one way from LGW to Boston, for more info regarding routes and pricing check out their website http://www.norwegian.com

Please note, my ticket to Oakland was kindly provided by Norwegian in order to write this review , but as usual, all opinions are mine.

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/

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+


  

10 Must have photos of Greece 

This summer I was lucky enough to Discover Greece, check out my top ten must have shots that every photographer should have for the album. 

1. The classic whitewashed street avalible on every island 

  

2. Boats it’s got to be small and greek 

  

3. Classic churches a bell tower and a blue roof are essential  

  

4. The perfect Greek Sunset  is happening everywhere not just in Oia !! 

5.   The Foodie shot a perfect summer salad, as long as it’s Greek.

 

6. The Locals fishermen,  grandmas in black ,  but it’s gotta be candid 

  

7. The Shirley Valentine under 40?  ask your mum  

    
   

8. Sweeping Skylines  head for the hills for the perfect view 

 9. Iconic History  wall  to wall history,  just there for the taking 

  
   

10 Animals  cats, dogs,  donkeys you names they just look cuter in Greece … 

   

   
 

 

Etihad Airways #A380 London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi Economy Cabin Flight Review …. 

Etihad airways A380 flight review

So after months of trying to get on an A380, I finally managed to nail one down for my flight over to Abu Dhabi .

Here’s my In flight review….


A friendly welcome from the etihad crew 

Prior to my flight I’d pored over the seat map, with all the premium seats upstairs and the whole lower deck all economy, there was definitely a touch of  them and us. The  stairway to heaven was firmly  roped off during the flight,  lest one of us commoners should manage to stumble our way upstairs for a peek.


etihad a380

This way to plane heaven ….. 

I hit the jackpot when I managed to bag seat 76k , it’s a window seat in the rear section of the plane, where the seat in front has been removed on both sides so A or K is a winner. The rear section only has 9 rows so it felt far less crowded than the front cabins,  plus you got served food & drink faster so I would definately pick the back section again.

etihad a380 economy cabin

The rear cabin 

seat 76k etihad airways a380 

Magic seat 76k , legroom for days …. 

So once I got settled in my seat , it was time to check out the in seat entertainment ….

inflight tv screen
A massive 11 inch screen with in seat power 

The inflight entertainment has piles of channels than I could hope to get thru in a 7 hour flight , there was plenty of choice from the usual latest blockbusters to a good choice of classic favourites. Plus due to the USB seat power you can keep your own devices fully charged throughout the flight. The noise cancelling headphone are pretty nifty too, complete with a nick proof adapter , I mean where is the trust these days ?. 

etihad airways in flight headphone 

Kleptomaniac proof headphones 

I also found the onboard camera fascinating, and got a bird eye view of one of the best takeoff’s, I’ve had like ever , I found the A380 unbelievably quiet and smooth on both take off and landing . 

Take off A380 style 

Food wise I was kept well fed & watered, I ordered a low calorie meal and it was delivered promptly to my seat at the start of the meal service , consisting of steamed cod and bizarrely mushy peas,  but it was tasty and hit the spot and drinks and snacks were availible on demand unlike some other cost cutting airlines who think you can sit on a flight for 10 hours with only 2 drinks services, no such problems here.

 etihad airways low calorie in flight meal
So in review, my first A380 experience was pretty amazing , it was great to watch the plane in flight on the cameras and service was prompt and efficient what more can you ask ?. As a regular visitor to the Middle East,  would definitely reccommend giving Etihad a try.

 for more info on getting on board check out http://www.etihad.com

Visiting Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi – The etiquette  guide  

Rihanna got asked to leave mid a sultry photo shoot, whilst Selma Gomez got blasted for flashing an ankle. The Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi  is the biggest mosque in the UAE, and 3rd in the world , it’s a must see for any visitor to Abu Dhabi. Everyone  is welcome to visit, but here’s some essential information to know before your visit.

   

There is a dress code and it is riguarously enforced so it’s good to check it out what’s acceptable before your visit.   

As a woman visiting the mosque you are required to wear an abaya, no abaya no entry, it’s as simple as that, so if you not happy to comply there is really no point turning up. 
  

As soon as you arrive at the mosque,  you’ll  be directed downstairs to the dressing room. You need photo ID ( driving licence is ideal they don’t take passports ) which they will keep, until the abaya is returned. Everything  is drycleaned between lending so there’s no hygiene issues, though I would advise you to bring your own scarf to cover your head. 

 

I highly recommend arriving in time for one of the ‘behind the scenes ‘guided tours , it’s free of charge and you don’t need to pre book, you get to see a lot more of the mosque plus someone is on hand to answer questions and provide explanations. 

  

The tours are held at 10am, 11am and 5pm sunday to Thursday, on Saturdays there is an extra tour at 2pm though due to Friday prayers the mosque is not open to tourists until 4.30pm on Fridays. The meeting point is in the main lobby entrance. 

You enter the mosque via the main courtyard, be careful if your wearing sandals or flip flops, the marble floor is extremely hot and can burn your feet,  I speak after a very painful experience !!. 

 

Once you’ve made your way across the courtyard you will need to remove your shoes before entering , luckily there’s mats down to save the aforementioned burning feet. 

  

Once you get inside, unless your on the tour you just follow the ropped off path round, it takes approx 15-30 mins to check out the inside, heres a sneak peek Enjoy !!! 

   
       
For further  information check the Mosque website http://www.szgmc.gov.ae or Visit Abu Dhabi http://www.visitabudhabi.ae 


Sky Gardens London’s best views for free  

Visiting Londons best free view at the sky garden

It’s been criticised for feeling like an airport terminal, perched on top floors of London’s walkie talkie building.

 Sky Garden london

The Sky Garden is officially London’s highest public garden , and the waiting list for a free entry slot is now rumoured to be over 3 months long, the word on London’s best new freebie is certainly out of the bag.

 

As soon as you step out of the lift on the 35th floor, there’s an airport terminal feel about it., but don’t let that put you off. To be fair the garden part is pretty sparse , but this is totally forgotten when you catch sight of the view.

sky garden london
Londons best free view

 

The Shard is slap bang in the middle of your eye line. You can be smug in the knowledge that you’ve saved yourself the Shards pricy £25 entry fee,  and the angle is perfect for that Shard Selfie from the outside terrace.

 

Shard selfie time …

 

With the Gherkin and Cheese Grater building to the rear , and a birds eye view on the Tower of London to the left, the view is pretty amazing from all angles.

 

View down the Thames

 

Great views from all angles …

And with the entry money saved you can splash out a glass of wine from the Sky Pod, located on the atrium floor which serves coffees , wine , and bar snacks . 

 

Great spot for a glass of wine

My top tip is to book a late afternoon slot, when the day trippers have all gone home then you can watch the sun sink into the Thames. So hurry and book your slot now , and you might get in before the summer !! Highly recommended.

Book your free slot through http://www.skygarden.london  

 

Night time at the Sky Garden

 

Ten Things To Do in Derry, Northern Ireland 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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/

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10 ways to enjoy Christmas like a Londoner…

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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/

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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.

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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/

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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.

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What I love about London , and you should too…

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Museums
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.

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Museum of London
One of the world’s largest urban history museums. Exhibitions include the story of modern London from 1666 to today.

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Science Museum
science, medicine, technology and industry. Suitable for young and old alike.

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Natural History Museum
Life and earth science specimens in five collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology.

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Parks
Londoners love a park , Green , Regents or Hyde even Hampstead are all great spaces, find a deckchair and do a spot of people watching.

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Markets
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.

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The Southbank
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.

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Brick Lane
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.

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Theatre
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.

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So these are some of my London Loves , leave a comment and let me know yours !!!

Sightseeing in London by Air , Land & Sea … 

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.

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If you really want to see the real London , firstly it helps if you’ve ready my Top London Essentials post, just case read you haven’t, read it Here https://eatsleepshoottravelblog.com/2014/07/28/top-london-tourist-essentials-hometown-tourist-project/
Armed with your Oyster card & AtoZ London is your oyster, hence the name I presume. London here we come ..

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Air

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.

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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.

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Land

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.

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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:

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http://freelondonwalkingtours.com/

http://www.freetoursoflondon.com/

http://www.newlondon-tours.com/daily-tours/royal-london-free-tour.html

http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-walking-tours/

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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.

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Sea (well river really but sea sounded better )

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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 River Roamer an all day ticket valid every day from 9am adult single from £16.50 Family Roamer (2 adults / 3 children) £36.00 total bargain !!

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First timers guide to visiting Petra, Jordan.

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.

 

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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.

http://www.jett.com.jo

 

Entry into Petra

 

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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. **

For more info check out the Petra visitor Centre website http://www.visitpetra.jo

 

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Petra’s main trail

 

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, so you 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 night tour, 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.

 

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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



 

For more information on Petra and Jordan check out the tourist board website http://www.visitjordan.com