Monday, 31 July 2017

24 hours in Seville

Whilst in the south of Spain, perhaps enjoying the beaches or Marbella, or the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, why not include a day in Seville

The capital of Andalucía is blessed with studding architecture, food and is even the home of flamenco!

Here’s our guide to the perfect 24 hours in Seville.


Hola Seville!

Start the day early to enjoy the cooler weather if visiting in the summer, and grab breakfast at one of the café’s around Calle San Pablo. If you can stomach churros at this time of day, get them from the Churros Y Patatas hole in the wall.

After, stroll towards Plaza Nueva and the winding streets to the north, before refreshing yourself with some gelato from Plaza del Salvador whilst enjoying the view of the church.

Next, head south towards the Giralda and Seville Cathedral and take time to enjoy their beauty and architecture. If you’re lucky enough to head the bells of the Giralda ring, you’re in for a treat!

Time for lunch? 

Check the queue for the Real Alcazar at the Lion gate, and if it’s stretching any longer that the end of the wall, bee line to Plaza de Alianza for a tasty lunch overlooking the fountain. On your way you’ll pass a cute ceramic shop which is great for authentic Andalucían style kitchen wares, so do your souvenir shop here.

After you’ve satisfied your tummy, join any line for the Real Alcazar, being sure to top up your water bottle, and re-apply sun screen. I’d recommend allowing 1-2 hours to explore the palaces and gardens which are one of Seville’s main attractions and a real contrast to so many of the architectural styles found around Europe. The North African influence is staggering and beautiful, and if the basis for much of the styles around the rest of southern Spain.

If you’re still on your feet afterwards, make for Plaza de Espana; a wide semi-circular space with ceramic tiling and a big fountain which was used as a filming location for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Seville by night

Seville is the home of flamenco, but is also home to some amazing restaurants. Eslava boasts some of the best tapas in the city and despite its modest decoration will be full from opening so be prepared to book or get your name on the list asap. The ribs, egg on boletus cake, and manchego cheese ice cream all come highly recommended!

Tata Pila offers a contemporary Andalucian and French inspired menu, as well as a delicious wine list. This popular local spot is a real treat with a great vibe and we loved the mushroom and truffle croquettes and beef tenderloin!

Great – now I’m hungry.

Monday, 1 May 2017

5 things no one tells you about running London Marathon

You're full of an unspeakable amount of pasta, drunk so much water you could drown, and trained for 3 months to get your legs ready. You're so ready to run London Marathon and so far everything they've told you is true; the queue for the loo IS insane, and the expo was great fun. But, caution runners, there are a few things no one told you. I'm here to spill some jelly beans...


1. The road will be sticky

Trying to grab a carbohydrate gel from your pocket, or the hand of a Lucozade stand stranger will mean a fair share of them end up on the floor, and trod on by one of the 39,449 other runners taking part. This gel explosion, combined with the heat of the tarmac will make the floor around fuel stations sticky, something you hadn't planned on facing and can't possibly train for unless you want to put double sided sticky tape on your shoes.

2. Inexperienced runners will fart a lot 

Some of your fellow runners will decide the day of the marathon is the right moment to give these gels a go, not realising the effects they can have on your unprepared stomach. Cue running through an endless stream of farts which you can't avoid. Just watch out for that one person who's fart actually wasn't a fart at all, not that they've noticed/care/can do anything about it. 


3. You'll run more than 27 miles 

Do yourself a favour and turn off your GPS. Yes the course is 26.2 miles, but unless you stick to those little blue lines on the floor the whole way, the likelihood is you will actually run closer to 27 miles, technically making you an ultra runner (but don't say that to an actual ultra runner). 

4. There's a lot of public peeing 

Before you start, you'll queue, and queue some more (especially if you're a woman) to pee. Then after the start line you'll see people quickly nip off to the dense shrubbery at mile 0.1 for a last minute tinkle whilst the residents of Blackheath pass by walking their dogs. It's ok as no one's looking; the cameras are still fixed on the watching the Royals watch you start the run. Farther along the course people will stop at the provided loos, queuing again, until the tunnels. The tunnels are where anything goes and apparently it's perfectly acceptable to head slightly to the left hand side and pee in the street. There's no cameras in the tunnels - this is why.   

5. Chaffing in places you didn't know you could chaff 

You've lubed up under your arms and (for some) plastered your nipples and the wonderful St. John's ambulance people have even been there to soothe fresh chaffing from your fuel belt - it's a warm day after all - who would have known! But, when the 26.2 miles are done, and you step into that hot, restorative shower, you'll feel the burn of 5 hours of salty sweat running into sore spots you didn't know you had, and are too stiff to Savlon. From your back to your butt cheeks, nowhere is off limits. It's times like this you need a friend - a good friend, perhaps with a memory impairment - to help you heal before you vow never to run a marathon again. That way they might not remember your vow when you announce you've entered the next years ballot just a week later. 

Good luck to everyone who has received a place in the ballot, or is running for a worthy charitable cause!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Memories of: A long weekend in Berlin

I'm walking down Under den linden, a soon to be leafy avenue and tourist highway in Berlin. It's still early in the year so the leaves aren't there yet and there's s chill in the air. It's a beautiful day, and the historic district of Mitte has something new around every corner.

It's not surprising to walk past a pop up book shop on a Saturday morning, especially as we'd passed an art market no more than 10 minutes ago, but the location of this one opposite Babel Platz, the sight of a Nazi book burning on 10 May 1933. As people dart across the road to see the small memorial I carry on towards Branderberg Gate which stands proudly at the end of the avenue, and former East Berlin.


Mitte is one of only 2 Berlin districts that straddles for the former East/West divide which split Berlin in two in 1961. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 families were reunited and historical East Berlin was open again to the public. Today in Mitte you'll find world class museums, the cathedral, Opera House and many other historical sights you'll read about in the guide book, but you'll also get a slice of Bavaria, excellent food and cool neighbourhoods

Thanks to the GDR welcoming other communist states, the Vietnamese population in Mitte and other formerly east Berlin districts is high and on the road between Alexanderplatz and Hackesher Markd you'll find plenty of great places to eat including Madami. Believe me, after a day of beer and currywurzt, a summer roll and bowl of pho is going to be exactly what you want.

Speaking of currywurst (fried sausage with chips covered in ketchup and curry powder) it's better than it sounds, and should always be eaten in the go. Grab some from Curry 61 near Hackesher Markd before walking to the riverside and enjoying the view of the Berliner Dom.



If there's one things Germans know (other than cars and roads) it's beer. The railway arches west of Alezanderplatz are bursting with trendy bars which range from pull-your-our-pint to table service beer houses. Brauhaus Lemke offers a tasting board for the perfect introduction to the cities offering, with everything from IPA to wheat beer in atmospheric surroundings with on site brewing.



Whilst exploring the usual sites like Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall or seeking out the Hitler bunker, stop by Nikolaiviertel for a small view into countryside Bavaria. This protected village is a stark contrast to the post war cement architecture found in much of Berlin, and Zum Nußbaum
 does great schnitzel and meatballs in very cosy surroundings. You're just as likely to be seated at a table next to a local smoking a pipe as a couple of other tourists.



If there's one thing to take away from a visit to Berlin, it's that it it can be whatever kind of city you want it to be. History seeker, nightlife reveller, or new hipster, there's something for everyone and a surprise around every corner!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

My Peru Diary

12 - 21 September

South America. Vibrant cultures, awesome scenery and high octane travel. We found it all in 11 days in Peru!

We arrive in Lima, having watched 5 movies, eaten 3 meals and gone for about 4 leg stretching loo breaks. We were tired but excited as we reached arrivals and looked for the man with or name. After about 10 minutes we realised he wasn't there. A quick call the hotel and soon enough someone appeared with our name and we were on our way.

Lima is an enormous and gregarious city. About 40 mins from the airport we arrived at our hotel, Casa Cielo in Miraflores, opposite a chocolate museum (was I dreaming?).

Soon enough I was, wrapped up in the down duvet and silky alpaca wool blanket, until the jet lag caught up with me at about 5am.

I could hear a chirping outside my window coming from the tree opposite our balcony. Once the sun had risen, I peeked out and saw a hummingbird fluttering around the flowers in the tree. I couldn't believe it; I was in Peru!

Cusco


Our friendly driver was a local tour guide and introduced us to the city as we made the short drive to our hotel in Cusco from the airport the following morning.

Eager to explore the city we headed to Placa de Armas, the centre of the historic city centre. The 2 churches dominate the square on the north and easterly side, and a fountain in the centre drew the crowds. The evening sun was illuminating the city in a terracotta glow; this was what we came for!

Placa de Armas, Cusco


Cusco was a pleasure, with friendly people, excellent food and a wonderful vibe. Its old town is small but perfectly formed and there's charm around every corner.

Our hotel, Rumi Punku, was a beautiful mix of a Balinese home stay and a Moroccan riad, with decorated courtyards and balconied room emerging from the walls. Our family sized room came with a spa bath, views of the hillside and 3 beds!

Whilst in Cusco we spent our days acclimatizing, exploring the Sacred Valley and rafting on the Urumbamba river. Before we knew it we were at our briefing for the Inca trail, which would start with a 4am wake up call ahead of 4 days of hiking to the iconic Machu Picchu inca site; the reason we'd come.



Lima


After the Inca Trail (and a well earned shower) we returned to Lima for a few days R&R.

With a bit of time in Lima, we were happy to explore the city at a snails pace, and whilst we didn't venture beyond the suburb or Miraflores, I think it had everything we needed.

Our first stop was Parc del Amor, adorned with an enormous statue of 2 lovers embrace, gaudi-esque mosaic terraces and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Couples were everywhere; their names carved into the trees, written into the tiles and their padlocks on the fencing. It was a small but beautiful place which offered much needed calmness in the busy city.


The following day we drove through the port town of Callao then to Palomino Islands by boat for a spot of wildlife spotting. We weren't disappointed, getting to see Pelicans, Blue-footed Boobys, Humboldt Penguins and Sea lions; which we even got a chance to swim with!

Much of the rest of our time was spent eating at the likes of Panchita, and Hencho en Casa, with a drink or two at La Emolienteria.



On our final day we indulged in a chocolate ganache and truffle making class at Choco Museum. In just 2 hours we learnt the art of tempering chocolate, how to create ganache and decorate truffles. Plus, we got to take away 12  chocolates handmade by us each!

Then all of a sudden our bags were packed and it was time to go home. Another trip ticked off the bucket list; another country to scratch off the map. Peru had been as colourful, mysterious and energetic as I hoped it would be. I'm not sure life will ever be the same!



Hasta luego!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru

We will get to the packing lists and how to prepare blogs on the Inca Trail in good time, but for now I'm just going to tell you, without giving too much away, my experience of the Inca Trail.

You might be reading this because you're thinking of doing the Inca Trail, or just because you're interested in hearing about it, but here's the honest truth.


The Inca trail is hard


Waking up before 6am and walking for 5+ hours isn't many people's idea of a holiday, and it's hard work to get yourself up, prepared and motivated each morning. If you're coming from the UK you have jet lag on your side, so take my advice and keep waking up at 5am before you start the trail.

The Inca trail is longer than it sounds


26 miles does not seem long - its a 30 minute drive. People run marathons in a matter of hours! Wrong. You tackle these 26 miles at a fraction of the speed you might normally. The combination of altitude, incline, the bag on your back and the prospect of 4 more days of the same mean you need to pace yourself, and if that means going 2mph - so be it. Enjoy the scenery, stop to breathe it in, then carry on putting one foot in front of the other.

The Inca trail is beautiful


Possibly never again will you feel like or be, just a tiny speck of a person in the middle of enormous mountains and deep valleys. The wildlife, the flowers, and clouds even are all the motivation you will need and with every meter gained or lost, your whole environment will change. From clouds and rock to humidity and orchids; it's a beautiful trail.

The Inca trail is major bragging rights


Nothing will make you feel more smug than reaching the outskirts of Machu Picchu and hearing the day trippers coughing and spluttering over the few steps they've climbed to reach the perfect selfie spot. Like the marathon runners finishing alongside the 5k runners, you admire the fact they've made the trip, but there's something extraordinary about the physical and emotional journey you've been on.

The Inca trail is worth it


It's so worth it. The biggest fear I had on the Inca Trail was that once I reached the end, it would be an anticlimax. But on that morning, after the 3am wake up call, the queuing, and the final hike, reaching Machu Picchu and seeing it emerge from the clouds, as we emerged from the trail, it all came together. The challenges of the trail are worth it, and the journey is the destination.

Watch our story of the trail below.