Bring me sunshine! Total relaxation in Gran Canaria

When I was 19, around £200 each bought us a week, self catering, including flights (!) to the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries.  We were met at the airport by a tour operator, crammed onto a coach with mostly retired couples, and dumped outside the resort, which was located basically in the middle of no-where, surrounded by sand dunes.   I remember the weather veering between hot and windy to very cool and overcast.  The island was pretty much a building site.  It didn’t matter, as it was still an incredible adventure for a teenager, 1000’s of miles away from home.

Most British people will also have memories of holidays to the Canaries in your teens, excitedly looking through travel brochures (yes, actual brochures!) in Thomas Cook on your local High Street.  Or your first thoughts may be the tourist trap resorts of Playa de las Américas or Playa des Ingles, choc full of British tourists and their kids grabbing a cheap package holiday in the sun.

Fast forward a few years (maybe more than a few 😆), and I have returned to the Island of Gran Canaria several times over the past two years.  I was pleasantly surprised to find how much the island has developed and matured, and it’s now one of my go to places for a luxury poolside holiday.  We steer clear of the crowded beach resorts, and head further into the hills, finding beautiful and luxurious resorts to enjoy spectacular food, decadent relaxation and – if you can tear yourself away from the pool – incredible hiking trails.  This is Gran Canaria for grown ups!  Read on for my recommendations and reviews of this beautiful island paradise (unfortunately you’ll need a bit more than £200 these days 😉)

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A perfect morning in Kilauea, Kauai

Coffee & bagels, a picture perfect lighthouse & a secret beach

Aloha!

If you’ve read my previous posts about the stunning “Garden Island” of Kauai, you’ll know that its definitely my favourite of the Hawaiian Islands (so far!), and that I can’t recommend it enough as a magical and idyllic escape.. especially during the winter months.

Continuing my journey around the island,  I thought I’d write a bit about one of my favourite ways to spend a morning on the North Shore.  What could be better than perfect coffee and bagels, a spot of shopping, clifftop views, then sunbathing on a beautiful secluded beach?  You can tell I’m getting excited for my next visit in December!

Continue reading “A perfect morning in Kilauea, Kauai”

Come fly with me! Magical Kauai from the air (doors optional)

“We invite you to escape the ordinary; to leave the byways of man and immerse yourself in the wilderness grandeur of the Garden Isle. Only by exploring its natural wonders can you truly capture the meaning of this
glorious island.”

Jack and Bev Harter

Everything but the doors! An open helicopter experience with Jack Harter

As I mentioned at the end of my previous Kauai post, In a land called Hanalei, if you are at all uncomfortable with heights, this will be challenging!  That would be me!🙋 Put a tarantula on my hand, a snake round my neck, or a torch on my head and send me underground and I’m fine.  I also love flying.. but I am not good with heights – especially cliff tops, or huge expanses.

That said, in my opinion, seeing Kauai from the air is a must do in order to fully appreciate this beautiful island.

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Trying to look relaxed at the beautiful Waimea Canyon  – glad that fence is there!

I’m glad to say I lived to tell the tale of the helicopter with no doors!  And here it is…

Continue reading “Come fly with me! Magical Kauai from the air (doors optional)”

Adventures in beautiful Venezia; part due

St Mark’s Square Museums (Piazza San Marco): Doge’s Palace, Correr Museum & a visit to Murano

Benvenuto! In my previous post, “What news on the Rialto?” adventures in beautiful Venezia; part uno, I talked about the opulent Boscolo Venezia hotel, my recommended eateries around Venice, as well as the “must do” operas by Musica a Palazzo.

So, after all that incredible seafood, pasta & opera, you’ll be in need of a nice relaxing day wandering the galleries and palaces of this beautiful city… of course avoiding the queues where possible 🙂 Continue reading “Adventures in beautiful Venezia; part due”

In a land called Hanalei

I’m really excited to be writing this post.  Kauai is perhaps the most beautiful, serene, untamed and magical place in the world. A land of stunning (often deserted) beaches, wild surf, lush forests and hidden waterfalls.  Of rolling hills and fiery sunsets and untamed wilderness.  I can’t imagine anyone visiting Kauai and not wanting to just stay there forever.  You have to go if at all possible.  End of post.

Of course I’m going to write more.. but I can’t do this island (or Hawaii) justice in one post.. so this will be my first intro to Kauai and Hanalei, including where to stay, getting there and practical tips to ensure you enjoy the island as much as I do.

Continue reading “In a land called Hanalei”

Bike adventures in Amsterdam; Muiden & Weesp

Following on from my previous post on the seaside town of Noordwijk aan Zee, today I’m concentrating on two smaller rides (around 10 miles each way), to two pretty towns, easily accessible and just over an hour from Amsterdam. If you love beautiful countryside, quaint towns, historic castles and great food.. these are a must do!

Muiden Castle/Muiderslot

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“the most beautiful and best kept Medieval castle in the Netherlands”

Originally built by Floris V in the 13th century, then later destroyed, the castle was re-built and restored on the original foundations in the 14th century.  It has a fascinating history of reinvention, reaching its “Golden Age” when P.C. Hooft (a well known poet and playwright from Amsterdam) became sheriff (drost) of Muiden, and guardian of the castle.  After more restorations, it became a national museum in 1878.

Getting there 

The route to Muiden starts off by taking the tunnel to the left of Amsterdam Centraal station (as you look at it), then turning right around the back of the station and out along Piet Heinkade towards Zeeburg.

Just over 4 miles out of Amsterdam, you’ll turn right onto the Nesciobrug suspension bridge (below)

For those of you who are interested – the longest single cable suspension bridge in the Netherlands with an award winning design.  Try and appreciate this when you’re struggling up hill in 1st gear ; ).  Once you get to the top of the bridge, the fun starts, as you coast down the other side and turn right straight onto Diemerzeedijk.  Then it’s a nice cycle through the countryside, with hedgerows on either side.

Its around 5.5 miles to Muiden from here through pretty countryside, over the odd cattle grid, with stunning views to the left across IJmeer lake to Fort Pampus.

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You’ll see these guys everywhere, and they have absolutely no reaction to bike bells, so be prepared to work around them on the cycle path!

Once in Muiden, we usually lock our bikes up on Herengracht, to the left as you come over the bridge, then walk to Muiderslot itself.


Visiting the castle 

The castle is open most days until 5pm from April to October.  After the 1st November it’s only open at weekends.  Full details of the castle, tours, & planning your visit are on the website, here.

We didn’t do a guided tour, but there is so much information and a lot of interesting artefacts in the castle, it’s fun to walk around at your own pace.  There are lots of steep (and well-worn!) staircases, but it’s worth the climb for the view across the grounds and to watch the yachts coming in and out from the windows and the battlements.

The castle is well set up for children, with loads of interactive games and adventures they can take part in, as well as falconry displays in the summer. 


Where to eat

We’ve visited Muiden about 3 times, and each time we’ve had drinks and food at Brasserie Herengracht.  In the summer, they have a lovely terrace across the street, serving snacks (Bitterballen of course!), light lunch & drinks.

On our visit yesterday, we had dinner for the first time in the restaurant.  The food was excellent and the staff are always extremely friendly and great at what they do!  One of the waitresses has lived in Muiden all her life, and another waiter has known the chef since childhood so it has a nice family vibe.  The chef cooks up some really interesting and tasty seasonal dishes (I had an incredible pate with sweet toast, followed by beet risotto), and there’s a good wine list.

We were told that in the winter it is very quiet in Muiden.. which sounds to me like the perfect time to go for a brisk bike ride and cosy dinner! The restaurant gets busy with locals & tourists depending on the weather, so they suggest booking ahead if possible. 

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We had a lovely Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc with dinner

Weesp

Weesp lies South of Muiden, and is another great ride from Amsterdam, around the same distance, taking about an hour each way.

It’s a pretty little town which dates back to the 14th Century, and is famous for the production of cocoa (which gives the area its chocolatey smell :)), and its many listed National Monuments.  I’ve only visited at night time (we like to do evening rides to dinner and back), but I will be going back at some point to properly explore the town and the buildings – watch this space!. You can read about the town on the Iamsterdam website, here.

Getting there 

The bike ride to Weesp starts off on exactly the same route as Muiden, but instead of crossing the Nesciobrug, you continue South East onto Kanaaldijk, and onto Weesp.

Kanaaldijk is a tree lined avenue which seems to go on forever! It’s quite surreal to be riding below the waterline of the Rijnkanaal (Rhine Canal) on one side, with huge cargo ships sailing by.

Word of warning – if you do this trip at night, make sure you have some good working lights on your bike.  The path along Kanaaldijk is pitch black, and it’s hard to see where you’re riding!

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My ride to Weesp…courtesy of MapMyRide.. easily burning enough calories for an extra glass of wine 🙂

While we’re on the subject of cycling apps..this is my indispensable phone holder (green of course!) – I can have maps and apps visible while cycling, and it keeps my phone very secure (you can still tilt it up and down but the phone won’t be going anywhere).  I researched a few before I bought these in two colours.  Not recommended for answering calls while riding! Also, try not to leave it (and the phone) on your bike when you’re just popping into a shop…ooops!).  You can click the image above to link directly to Amazon 🙂

Where to eat 

Café-Diner ‘t Weesperplein

This is a lovely restaurant, right in the centre of town, with an interesting interior – there’s a tree “growing” inside, giving a feeling of being in a cosy courtyard. In warmer weather, they usually have the large windows open, and there’s an outside dining area (although we’ve usually been in the winter!).

The staff are really nice, and the food excellent.  They have a nice “lady” sized steak, and we’ve had a lovely German Pinot Noir a couple of times (Peter & Peter).

Recommended for a cosy dinner after an evening bike ride – and I’m sure just as good for lunch!


So, I hope this post inspires you to hop on your bike and go exploring!  There’s so much to see around Amsterdam, and all very accessible by bike.  I’ll be posting more ideas and recommendations for trips in the future – follow my blog below to be automatically notified of new posts.

As always, if you have any questions, things to add, or recommendations about other day trips from Amsterdam, I’d love to hear from you!

Safe travels 🙂

The Good, the Badlands & the not too Ugly

Adventures in Dakota, Rapid City & The Badlands

Any trip to the Dakotas would not be complete without a visit to the awe-inspiring Badlands National Park (apparently so called because both native tribes and later French Canadians referred to it in their own languages as “land bad” or “bad lands to travel across”).

It’s understandable that this seemingly barren and endless landscape of sharp rocky formations would have been seen as a hostile area, especially for settlers and native Americans.  But for today’s visitors, it offers an incredible experience of beautiful landscapes, fantastic hikes and for me, it’s one of the most peaceful, relaxing and untouched parts of the world that I’ve visited.  If you want to escape back to nature for a while.. and experience real quiet.. this is the place. 


Getting there and things to see on the way 

We base ourselves in Rapid City with a hire car, which is the perfect starting place to explore the most popular Dakota sites (Rapid City is also my favourite airport in the world so far.. clean, welcoming and passenger-friendly :))

The drive out to the Badlands is just over an hour on East Interstate 90.  On the way to and from the park, there are a couple of sites we found worth stopping for;

Prairie Homestead, 21070 Sd Highway 240, Philip, SD 57567

An authentically restored sod house, the original home of Mr & Mrs Ed Brown, who arrived in Dakota in 1909 to homestead 160 acres (it makes me exhausted just thinking about it.. I find Homesteading my roof terrace enough)…

When you first go in, it seems like a cosy little cottage.  But you soon realise that no running water, spiders running around the walls, living in basically one room with your whole family, not to mention having to walk to the outside “toilet”, would make it pretty miserable!  On top of this, factor in a winter of constant snow storms and temperatures of -40°C, and I soon decided that Homesteading wasn’t for me!

There’s a nice visitor’s centre where you can watch films about the harsh life of Homesteading.   I found it a really interesting stop on our trip.

Wall Drug Store, 510 Main Street • PO Box 401 • Wall, SD

You literally cannot miss Wall Drug Store on the way to the Badlands, due to the hundreds of roadside billboards advertising it for miles and miles before you get there!  By the time you get there, you feel like you already know it.

It has an interesting history, which is detailed on their website, here, and is basically a huge shopping centre and tourist trap.  It accounts for half the space in the town, but, sadly for me, I still couldn’t find any chocolate milk, which I had a craving for!

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Blending in like a local @ Wall Drug 

It’s worth a pit stop to have a wander in the souvenir shops, where they have interesting Native American crafted items, as well as authentic cowboy boots, hats and tack.  

Minuteman Missile Site 

Again, full details are on the National Park website, here

Visiting a missile site wouldn’t normally be first on my list – given that; a) I’m not a boy and, b) I’m not hugely into military history.  But it’s actually a very interesting site, and the visitors centre taught me a lot about the Cold War and the dissolution of the USSR which I didn’t actually know.  It’s also a very interactive centre (you can get a picture of yourself turning the keys to launch a missile!)

You can then continue onto the missile control centre, and then the actual Missile Silo itself, where you can stand right over the top of the weapon which would have been on alert during the Cold War.


Where to stay 

Cedar Pass Lodge, 20681 SD-240, Interior, SD

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Badlands National Park twice, and we’ve stayed at Cedar Pass both times.

It comprises various log cabins, which have been recently renovated to a high standard.  Furnished with handmade log beds, chairs and American quilts, you feel as if you’re in Little House on the Prairie – luxury style!  The bathrooms are spotless and well designed, and the cabins have ceiling fans and effective air-conditioning, as well as requisite mosquito screens.  I literally sleep like a “log” here!!  The only sounds are crickets and the occasional rustling of small creatures outside.

The porches back right onto the Badlands, and sitting in one of the handmade Adirondack chairs with a cold beer, watching the sun go down, has to be one of the most  idyllic and relaxing things you can do.

 

There isn’t a kitchen in the cabins – only a small fridge, coffee maker and microwave, and no utensils.  After our first visit, we were better prepared for the next one, stocking up on microwave meals and noodles, as well as coffee and milk (and of course champagne!) on our way.

There is a small grocery area in the main reception centre, which has the basics, as well as first aid items, but I would recommend you bring what you need with you.  

If you don’t want to fend for yourself, there is a restaurant next to the reception area.  We tried it once for dinner and weren’t overly impressed, but as we’ve only had one meal, it’s maybe not fair to discount it.  Be warned though, if you order an Indian Taco, they are huge!  I only managed about half of one.

I recommend Cedar Pass for anyone staying overnight in the Badlands National Park.  It’s  an idyllic log cabin experience not to be missed 


Hikes & rattlesnakes!

Of course, one of the main reasons for visiting the Badlands is to see them on foot, just as early settlers and explores would have done.  Now, there are well signposted trails to make it easier!

On our last visit, we did two moderate hikes (around 4-4.5 miles each).  For your first hike, I’d recommend the Medicine Root Loop, which gives you some really fantastic views of the rock formations, as well as some good elevation for stunning views across the lower valleys and grasslands.  The vista spread out below you really looks like something out of a dinosaur or sci-fi movie.. as though humans have never existed on the plains.  You’ll also walk through some of the mixed grass prairie, so you’ll really get a feel for the different terrain.

NB the initial climb up the rocks at the start of the hike (and coming back down at the end!) is tricky – even in hiking boots, as the ground is slippery. 

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The stunning view from the Saddle Pass trail 

I’ve attached a link to the hiking trails here, to give you an idea, but you’ll pick up a map etc when you arrive at the Badlands visitors centre.

Rattlesnakes – You’ll see warnings in the visitors’ centre and signposts all around the trails in the Badlands to be wary of rattlesnakes.  At first I was taking the warnings pretty  lightly… then I walked off the trail to get a better view for a picture… almost stepping on a sunbathing snake!  I changed direction pretty quickly and I’ve been incredibly careful about where I put my feet ever since!

It was bizarre luck, or not, that I came across a rattlesnake as soon as I got to the Badlands.. you probably won’t see one as they try and keep out of our way… but you have been warned!

Snakes aside – the only footwear I would recommend for going to the Badlands are proper hiking shoes or boots!

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Be very afraid…note to self: denim mini dress not the best choice of outfit for the Badlands!

So I hope this post has given you a bit of an insight into the incredible Badlands area.  As Dakota is a very important place for me, expect more posts on recommended activities and where to stay.. including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial – the very thing that drew me to the Dakotas in the first place.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments if you’ve been to the places I’m blogging about, or any questions you have if you’re intending to visit.

Thanks for reading & travel safe!

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That’s all folks!