Ok, Its not 'easy' to get to, especially if you live in Europe... its also not a 'cheap getaway' but since we were in Australia already I used some miles to book the flight - the most expensive bit and off we went.... in search of paradise... and we most definitely found it !!!
Etu Moana in The Cook Island of Aitutaki was most certainly the closest to paradise I have even been (and I get about quite a bit!)
We were greeted as we landed and driven, wearing flower lais, for about 10 minutes to Etu Moana.
Our villa on the beach front was exactly as it was described online. We were in Villa 3 which gives an unobstructed (unless you count our sun loungers) view of the water.
During low tide the reef/coral is visible above the water but at all other times all we could see was the stunning aquamarine water with the waves breaking a short way away on the edge of the reef.
On the first day we took the resort cycles for a spin to get our bearings and to buy some supplies of water, wine and potato chips - just the essentials.
That first night we slept well and woke up to beautiful sunshine and blue skies. This was repeated everyday for the rest of our stay. We are incredibly lucky with the weather.
There isn’t really a lot to do on the island. You can go on a fishing boat and go fishing or on a boat the takes you to some of the smaller islands for a BBQ and snorkelling. The island is so small you can cycle around it in under 4 hours, and as you can see from the picture, the roads are almost empty.... or you can do NOTHING.
Doing nothing was exactly what I Had in mind when I booked the trip. I knew that mobile phone coverage would be limited and that wifi would be patchy even in the resort and so I loaded up our kindles with books and put some movies on a hard drive and was prepared to just completely relax.
The three places we ate were Tamaru Resort, Puffy's fish and chips and Cafe Tupuna.
On the strength of a delicious a la carte meal on our first night we reserved a table for the BBQ evening the following night and were very disappointed. I am not a big buffet fan, so maybe not the best person to judge, I'd rather order one plate of food and have it arrive cooked how I like and hot... so If you do find yourself in Aitutaki I would suggest having the a la carte menu at Tamaru Resort...
Puffy's Fish and Chips was a low key, plastic tables and chairs kind of place. Its family run and the fish and chips were fabulous.
The chips are frozen, but its an island with limited fresh produce, but the fish is fresh - whatever has been caught that day. They did run out of fish when we were there - thankfully just after our order, so I guess if you rock up late in the evening you might not be quite so lucky...
We went back on our last evening and got a take-away which we enjoyed on our terrace with a bottle of white wine whilst watching the sun set.
Cafe Tupuna is in the middle of the island, so no sea view, but the food more than makes up for that. The guys at Etu Moana organised a car to take us to and from cafe Tupuna so we didn't have to concern ourselves with cycling on the unlit roads.
The views of the island were fantastic as we flew out as you can see from the photos below. Much better than the day we arrived which was a little overcast.
We had a truly memorable and completely relaxing time in The Cook Islands... I hope we will find our way back there again.
Etu Moana Website
Tagging along on my husbands business trip is a great way to travel and catch up with friends around the world... this time I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney.
On these tag-along trips I don't actually see a lot of my husband, he usually has meetings from breakfast at 8am working right through the day often having business dinners too.
If you are not comfortable travelling, eating dinners and sightseeing alone then tagging onto a business trip probably isn't for you....
Luckily, I still have great friends in Singapore so it was nice to be able to see them and spend some quality time with them. I also have some fabulous friends in Melbourne and co-incidentally this trip my travel buddy was also going to be visiting Sydney so it was a very social 2 weeks with lots of eating and drinking.
To the amusement of most of my friends Hubby and I don't actually fly together. He flies direct as time is precious to him. I get the best deal I can and usually do a connecting flight as they are cheaper. Often I fly British Airways as I am a gold card holder and get preferential treatment, extra baggage allowance and can book seats in advance at no charge... Also their premium economy offer is a nice compromise between economy and business.
This trip I actually did a mix of Qatar Air and Qantas. Qatar Air offered a very good price on a business flight to Singapore, returning from Sydney, and the Qantas bits in the middle I managed to use my British Airways avios points for. Both airlines are part of the One World partnership so I also collected more avios points and tier points.
I had been hearing some great things about the skincare brand SK11 and I bought some products on a recent trip to Japan and so I thought I would treat myself to a nice facial at the SK11 salon in Millennia Walk in Singapore. not only did my skin look fabulous afterwards but I floated out of the salon feeling totally relaxed. It was the perfect way to spend a few hours out of the heat and humidity that I hated when we lived in Singapore.
When you go back to visit a place that you have lived in (or maybe just a place you have visited many times before) there isn't really the need to race around sightseeing so on this trip I booked up spa treatments, foot massages, and went for a mani-pedi weekly.
A hi-light of the Singapore trip was getting to taste the new menu at Cé La Vie restaurant at Marina Bay Sands. A good friend works for the company - based in Hong Kong and was in Singapore to meet with the chef and see how their new menu was working out. He invited me to lunch and we got to taste some AMAZING food.... pictures below.
There is not a single thing that I ate that I would not recommend. The flavours and combinations were truly delicious.
The restaurant is on top of the Marina Bay Sands complex with amazing views over Singapore and is a great destination for visitors to the little island. There is a outdoor bar where you can also order food, but the indoor restaurant - with air-conditioning is my suggestion, maybe having pre dinner cocktails or champagne outside to enjoy the view.
After Singapore my husband flew for meetings in Brisbane and I flew to Melbourne where I spent a few days with a girlfriend before he arrived for more meetings. My friend and I used to work together when we both lived in London many moons ago. We aim to see each other at least once a year often in NYC or London if I don't get to Melbourne. We had a very relaxing few days, hanging out at the hotel spa, doing a little shopping the the sales and enjoying some of the fabulous Melbourne restaurants. I have written a few Trip Advisor reviews for some of the places we visited, but Lucy Liu stands out in my memory. The Asian fusion food was excellent, tapas sized plates for sharing, great atmosphere and good staff.
I really enjoy Melbourne, The free trams around the city centre are a great help to tourists. The city centre is quite compact and the restaurant and bar scene is fabulous... much better than Sydney in my opinion, but maybe I am biased as I have lots of friends to go out with when I am there.....
Our time in Sydney was quite short. My husband only had 2 days of meetings and so we were only there for 3 nights. The weather wasn't great so that was just as well.
I did a lot of walking as we were staying centrally, visiting the Opera House for a performance and the National Museum for a photography exhibition. There was one day when it rained a lot and so I was only too happy to take refuge by the roof top pool of the hotel.
A friend who I have taken a few city breaks with was also in Sydney at the same time and so one afternoon we got to meet up and enjoy some fish and oysters at Watsons Bay... luckily the sun came out for that afternoon.
This was one of those parts of the trip where I only saw my husband when he got into bed in the evening and in the morning when he left for breakfast.... but it wasn't too bad as the best bit of the trip was yet to come. I had managed to convince hubby to add on a week of holiday time and we flew out of Sydney for a week in the Cook islands..... we got to spend 6 whole days in paradise, with no business meetings to interrupt us. More on that trip in the next post...
My third attempt at using Air B&B was another success.
The apartment was on the top floor of an old building in the very centre of Budapest.
It had been beautifully renovated and despite being small it had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms,
Everything we needed was there, incl a Nespresso machine. The owners had thoughtfully left fresh milk and water for us in the fridge.
The only downside was that being an old building there was no lift, so thankfully my travel buddy was kind enough to carry my suitcase up the 3 flights of stairs.
I'm looking forward to more Air B&B adventures in the future....
The Main Attractions.
Parliament Building was definitely worth visiting. It was spectacular inside, very ornate, lots of gold and simply breathtaking. I thoroughly enjoyed the guided tour, it was very informative.
Its best to book online but I don’t think all the areas are accessible all the time. I guess when parliament is sitting there are some restrictions.
Of course booking online means you don’t have to deal with the queues.
Dohany Street Synagogue - or The Great Synagogue, was very interesting. I’d never been inside a synagogue before, since this one was designed by a catholic I’m not sure it was a good example of typical architecture, but it was a great place to visit.
It is the largest Synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world, and in the top ten sights in Budapest, but it didn't feel 'busy'. THey organise the guided tours well so that the groups are staggered.
Our guide told us some of the quite distressing history of the jewish people in Budapest during the second world war and during the communist rule. it was quite an education.
A must see for visitors to Budapest.
St Stephen's Basilica was simple stunning. A Roman Catholic Cathedral in the centre of town is one of the main attractions and was very busy.
There are still regular services held here and also concerts in the evening.
We bought tickets to one of the concerts and thoroughly enjoyed it, although we were a little disappointed that the organ music wasn't from the cathedral organ...
Where we ate.....
We stumbled upon Borkonyha Winekitchen as it was literally downstairs from our Air B&B. We arrived from the train too early to meet with our host and so decided to head over to the flat and then find somewhere nearby to have lunch… I’m not sure how we got so lucky, but not only were they convenient but they had availability and their food was spectacular.
It turned out that this restaurant has 1 Michelin star.
I had boar tenderloin and boar cheek with polenta which was excellent. Full of flavour and cooked perfectly. My dessert of artichoke and white chocolate mousse was heavenly. I shared one portion with my friend and regretted not ordering my own. It was so good we booked to visit again for dinner before we left.
Cafe Elysee was opposite parliament it's the perfect spot for breakfast before a day of sightseeing.
Since we had 9.30 tickets for the Parliament tour we dropped by for breakfast which we enjoyed outside in the morning sunshine.
They had a good breakfast selection. Service was very good and the staff cheerful. What more do you need....
Evidens Bistro was another spot we were lucky enough to have within 20 paces of the entrance to the building our apartment was in.
We had lunch of beef goulash and chicken in paprika and both dishes were delicious. Very tasty, hot and substantial.
One thing is for sure we did not struggle to find good food during the trip.
A visit to some Ruin bars is a must. These are housed in run down buildings or literally the ruins of buildings. One of the more popular sites that we visited had over 20 different food and drink sellers within the ‘ruins’ and looked like it was quite well established, kind of like a food court inside an old warehouse.
We had a fabulous few days in Budapest. Its a 'second tier' city so not as busy as others like Vienna, Paris, London etc which we really enjoyed. Of course there were still lots of people around, but it wasn't so crowded that we couldn't easily get to visit the places we wanted to nor did we have any problems getting tables at nice restaurants for dinner or lunch.... it was also relatively cheap when compared to those other cities.
I'd highly recommend a visit to Budapest. The people we met were all helpful and friendly, there were enough interesting things to do and it was a really easy city to get around..... what more do you need for a short break?
Belvoir Park is the hotel and restaurant training school in Zurich. I’m pretty sure the guys who work here have already reached a good level before they decided to let them loose on the public because everyone we came across greeted us with a smile and a hello, service was excellent and nothing appeared to be too much effort.
They were happy to answer questions and looked like they were genuinely happy to be there… which was like a breath of fresh air.
We have eaten here before in the evening when the whole building is beautifully illuminated. there is a lovely atmosphere inside this stunning building which also plays host to all kinds of events from corporate dinners to weddings.
We arrived on a sunny Saturday afternoon and enjoyed the shade in on the terrace. It was a beautiful day and the terrace was a little hot but we didn't mind too much...
The lunch was either A La Carte or buffet. We all decided to choose the buffet option as there was a good selection available as you can see from the photos....
The food is quite traditional, smoked salmon, beef tartare, salads, mozzarella, parma ham etc for starters and the mains were roast beef, veal, or lamb, served with roti or gratin potatoes and vegetables. Everything was really delicious, well presented, well cooked and so good that we went back several times for more helpings... ahh the beauty of the buffet !!!
Desserts are brought to the table on a big trolly. Again, quite traditional for example - creme slice, chocolate cake, strawberry tart, mixed fruit and carrot cake... and again, everything was just perfectly presented and tasted delicious... and the best bit... you can select several desserts... so we all got to try exactly what we wanted with no 'sharing' issues...
We had a thoroughly fabulous afternoon... 3 hours.. eating wonderful food and drinking delicious wine in a lovely setting on a beautiful summer day in Zurich. We rolled away and didn't eat for the rest of the day......
I would highly recommend a visit to Belvoir Park to anyone without any hesitation....
Belvoirpark Hotelfachschule Zürich
Telefon +41 44 286 88 11
Bratislava has never really been on my radar to visit and although it is a charming city with a lot of history there isn’t really enough to see or do that I would want to spend a whole weekend there, but a day trip was perfect.
Since we were so close (staying in Vienna) we used Uber to get there for a day and a river boat to return in the evening. We were dropped off in the Centra square where we quickly organised to do the city bus tour. These tours operate small open busses and are very well organised. There is enough space that you are not squashed with only around 12-20 seats per tour.
There were some lovely churches to visit (too many if you would ask my husband who has a low tolerance for churches and temples) and a small compact centre with plenty of food and drink options. There is a national museum on a hill overlooking the city.
We had lunch at Slovak House where we ordered stroganoff with spätzle for my husband and friend and I had pork ribs washed down with a few beers.
Service was very good and food was not expensive.
After lunch we stumbled upon Patisserie Konditorei Kormuth which is absolutely the best place in Bratislava for cakes, coffee and ice cream.
We had rhubarb cake, chocolate and raspberry cake and choc and raspberry ice cream.
Everything is made with high quality ingredients and it shows in the taste. AMAZING. It was possible the best ice cream I have ever eaten.
The mint tea came with a beautiful egg timer to judge the time. Everything was beautifully presented an pretty delicate crockery.
The manager and woman behind the counter were clearly very proud of the fact that their cakes and ice cream were made with pure ingredients without additives colours or any other nasties. They also had completely justified confidence that their cakes and ice cream were fabulous.
After a hearty lunch and cake we headed towards the ferry point on the river for our journey back home. We booked seats on the ferry the night before via phone. It was very busy and we got the last seats available, so I guess booking ahead is essential especially if you plan to return after dinner.
In May my husband and I took a 4 night trip with a friend to Vienna.
They had been before - a long time ago - and I had never been and it was on my ’to visit’ list so we took a long weekend during June. In hindsight maybe the middle of the summer wasn’t the best time to travel as everywhere was quite busy, but I guess like a lot of European cities its busy all year round. Regardless of the crowds we had a brill time. We had fabulous weather, the people were really friendly and relaxed and the architecture was simply stunning.
As soon as we had settled on dates my friend booked tickets online for the Vienna Opera and we saw Das RosenKavilier. (I LOVE travelling with people who are as organised as I am.)
They were not exactly cheap, around 120 euro each, but the chance to see an opera in such an amazing building was just too good a chance to pass up.
Not only is the exterior quite spectacular but the interior is also amazing. We dressed for the evening, thankfully, as although my husband and friend wore trousers and jackets and I wore a dress and heels we were by no means the best dressed there. Some of the women looked spectacular in full evening gowns. It was quite special and I love to have the occasion to get dressed up.
My husband wisely pre ordered interval drinks and canapés to be set up on a table on the main balcony and so we had a fabulous spot to enjoy during the break.
Pre ordering interval drinks is something we always do if there is an option at the theatre/ballet/opera as the queues are usually very long and the bars usually understaffed.
This trip was my second Air B&B experience and I booked a 2 bedroom flat right in the centre of town, literally a 2 minute walk from Stephansdom. For 3 people it was a more affordable option than 2 hotel rooms and we had the additional benefit of being able to make a coffee and toast in the morning. I’d recommend giving Air B&B a try if you haven’t already, in some of the big cities it can be more expensive than budget hotels but generally it offers a nice alternative to hotels if you need more than one room.
We tried few of the ‘famous’ / ’tourist’ restaurants whilst we were there Sacher Cafe at the Sacher Hotel, Zum Schwarzen Kameel and Plauchtta and I was generally quite disappointed with all 3 of them. The Sacher Cafe was just mediocre and quite expensive. they didn’t manage to get all our orders right which for only 3 people at breakfast was not good, and service was really not what I expected. Kind of sloppy, I shouldn't have to ask for butter with my toast should I ??
Der Schwartzen Kameel was recommended by a friend who is from Vienna. Sadly, although the food - when it arrived - was good, the service and attitude of the waiters was just shockingly bad, which really let the restaurant down.
Last in this list was Plachutta. This was recommended by another friend and so we made a booking in advance, as we did with the other two places. My husband and friend had Tafelspitz which was good but I had a beef tips in mushroom and cream sauce that was just revolting. I sent the first dish back because it has so much salt it was completely inedible and the second attempt wasn’t much better. Again the staff were just surly and looked like they really didn’t want to be there and they certainly didn't even attempt to apologise for my over salted dish..
On the positive side we visited Cafe Central (made a reservation) for lunch and had great service and a delicious meal. The building has loads of history and is stunning. It is VERY popular though so reservations will cut down a ridiculous wait for a table.
I had a very good schnitzel and my friend had saluted calves liver with apple bacon and fried onions was perfectly cooked. The photo on the left here is from the interior. It was quite spectacular.
Another success was 3 Hacken Restaurant and their sister restaurant 3 Hacken Magazin over the road. We walked up to 3 Hacken Magazin in the evening and were very lucky to get a table outside. It was a beautiful temp and a clear June evening and luckily we arrived just as some people departed. Service was very good, our waitress was very friendly and offered some good wine suggestions. I ordered bone marrow and beef stroganoff and both were excellent. My husbands schnitzel (and he has a high standard) was also a success.
Following this success and given the other restaurant disappointments we decided to book the 3 Hacken Restaurant for our last evening and had a delicious dinner of Tafelspitz with good service and lovely recommended wines.
There are lots of things to see in Vienna. In fact you could just wander the streets enjoying the beautiful architecture that surrounds you. Here are some of the things we did....
Schönbrunn Palace is a ‘must see’ when visiting Vienna… its also a ’must book in advance’ if you want to avoid the crowds. It is a stunning example of baroque archetecture from the 17th century. you can see loads more photos online at their website.
We did the grand tour which took a little over an hour to complete and was really interesting. the audio guide was very user-friendly and gave a thorough explanation of what we were seeing and the history of the palace.
You can easily spend a day here, there are beautiful gardens to walk around, and a exhibition of carriages that is quite spectacular too.
The grounds for the palace are free to enter and it was nice to see locals just using them to relax and enjoy the sun in, chatting with friends and also as a jogging path for quite a few.
Its a little way out of the centre so we just arranged an uber and arrived for our 9am ticket time. It was already busy, but nothing like how busy it was when we had finished the tour. The queues as we left were really long and given how hot it was I felt quite smug that I’d organising the advance tickets.
Belvedere - both Upper and Lower were also quite fantastic. Again stunning Baroque architecture and worth a visit even if you don't want to pay to go inside.
Upper Belvedere has a fabulous art collection of some of the most famous Austrian Art as well as International artists, including Gustav Klimt, Van Gough and Monet.
Lower Belvedere plays host to temporary art exhibits. When we were there they had an exhibition ‘The Vulgar - Fashion Redefined’. Surprisingly both Upper and Lower Belvedere were not as busy as Schönbrunn Palace. Again there is loads more info on their own website.
Stephansdom is a huge imposing cathedral and although it is quite dark inside it is still simply stunning. Right in the centre of town so you can’t miss it.. however as with most attractions I would get there as early as possible as after lunchtime it gets quite busy…. and there are lots of touts selling tickets for ‘music performances’ hanging around outside that you have to almost fight your way through to get to it....
In advance and after consulting the weather forecast I arranged a private floating Island - Meine Insel.
I got this idea after seeing an episode of The Travel Man on TV. It was a bit of a trek to get to it.. maybe in hindsight an uber would have been a better way to get to it. Regardless, it was such a fun thing to do in the sunshine. Basically, you hire a floating motorised island to ride along there river on. Ours consisted of a table and sofa with a sun shade that was plenty of space for 3. I guess it would comfortably seat 6 too.
There is a bar / restaurant right next to the pick up point who do an amazing job of catering for the floating islands and although we only had a bottle of wine and a bottle of water there is the option to have a fully prepared meal delivered to your island.
The bit of the river where this is located is very popular so there were lots of people swimming in the river and on a variety of boats and canoes etc. The sun was shining and everyone including us had a fabulous time. I have never seen this type of thing anywhere else, and I have no idea why, it was great fun, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.
During this trip we also took a day trip to Bratislava and at the end my friend and I took a train to Budapest for 4 days. more on those trips later. it was a fantastic trip.
I absolutely loved both Vienna and Budapest and would certainly recommend both cities for a short break away...
To say that the last 3 months have been busy would be an understatement... its been a crazy few months for travelling... but as that is often the case I have become almost blasé about it... something I'm working on changing. I try to plan new things to do in all the cities I visit often to keep the trip exciting. Travelling exhibitions in galleries or cooking classes add something 'new' to any city visit... I mean how many times does one person need to visit Sydney Harbour Bridge?
The end of April saw hubby and myself in NYC. He had quiet a lot of work stuff to do (as is usually the case) and I tagged along taking advantage of the hotel room. During this visit I did some great pilates reformer classes. I also managed to hook up with several friends who were coincidentally in town at the same time from London and Melbourne.
As usual I bought a cheaper flight and travelled via London on British Airways to make my trip 'affordable'.
We returned home to three lots of visitors, a girlfriend from London stayed for a week, followed immediately by a couple from Singapore and literally on the day they left my travel buddy arrived as we were going off on a trip to Amsterdam. We had a great 4 night trip to Amsterdam where we also managed to meet up with some friends who were visiting from Singapore. (I'll add a post about this trip and what we did shortly)
Returning from Amsterdam I had a quick turn around as hubby and I had been invited to a corporate golf event in Inverness. We decided to add a few days on the trip so we could get in a few practice golf games before-hand too.
Almost immediately after we got back to Zurich my husband had to fly off to K.L. for just over a week, again for work. This did give me some nice downtime at home and I was able to get through to the bottom of the laundry pile.
He came home and spent a whole 48 hours in Switzerland before we headed to the airport again to fly to Tokyo. Hubby had to work but I can never decline a trip to Tokyo so again I managed to get a good premium economy fare via London (where I had a nice long weekend with friends) and I headed out to meet him there. We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend who was visiting from Hong Kong so that made the trip a bit special.
When we arrived back from Japan there was a flurry of activity as we were expecting a friend to come and stay and my husband and I travelled with him to Vienna for 4 nights. My husband had to return home to work after Vienna, but I travelled with my friend on to Budapest or another 4 days. (I'll be adding a post about this trip too later)
I had 5 days at home to recharge my batteries (and do the laundry) before heading out to Singapore where I met hubby, (he had already been there for 2 days). We stayed for 4 nights before heading to Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne I enjoyed a couple of days doing girlie stuff with a friend I used to work with in London and also met some other friends for a few dinners.
Again in both Melbourne and Sydney my husband was working hard, in fact I rarely saw him even for dinner.... BUT the best bit was that I convinced him to add on a break to Etu Moana in The Cook Islands as a short holiday. He has been working and jetting around so much I thought a 5 day break with no internet, T.V. or even cell phones would be just the tonic to help him re-charge his batteries...... and also give us some time together to pencil in our travel plans for 2018...
Although I live in a country where fresh herbs are readily available I have the luxury of having a nice space in my garden with a watering system set up and custom built to be a kitchen garden.
Last year after we moved into our new home I rapidly threw some shop bought potted herbs into the space... this year with time on my side I've planted some herbs from seed... in little biodegradable pots that can then go directly into the kitchen garden space.
So, what have I got in there..... I've got sage, tarragon, Parsley both curly and flat.
I have two pots with Peppermint and spearmint (they need to be in pots otherwise that will TAKE OVER !!)
I've got a bunch of chives that are loving the morning sun, rosemary for the kitchen and pre-dinner Gin & Tonics.
I've got basil in abundance and Thai basil that is just about managing to hang in after a cold spell in April.
I'm waiting for the second lot of dill seeds to sprout and I'm currently hunting for some Vietnamese Coriander or Laksa Leaf seeds to give an authentic taste to my husband's favourite dish from our time in Singapore -laksa.
The photo above was taken a few weeks ago before I took a trip to Japan which was quickly followed by a trip to Vienna and Budapest.
I had a day to switch luggage and certainly no time to maintain my herb garden... this a photo from today... there is a lot of trimming back needed, but I don't think I'll be running out of herbs this summer...
There is nothing quite as satisfying as making a chicken and tarragon dish with your own herbs or a nice pesto from your own basil...... even if you only have a small window box growing fresh herbs even if its just fresh parsley to add to scrambled eggs DO IT... you won't regret it.
I love to plan our trips myself, wether they are just a weekend break or as is the case with the trip I am currently planning - 16 days away.
I haven't used a travel agent for years, and in fact the last time we did quite a few things went wrong and they always happened when the travel agency was closed so we had to deal with it ourself.... I vowed never to use them again... and to be honest when it is so easy to do everything online myself I can't see a reason to use them again.
Also, in my experience, if a flight is delayed or cancelled it is a lot easier to get re-booked onto another flight if you are the person with the credit card and the reservation number.
First things to do is of course book the flights..... I always do this directly with the airline. I've rarely seen a better deal online and as we have good status with Swiss - Senator (Star Alliance) and British Airways - Gold (One World) I think booking direct is better. Whenever I've missed a connection because of a delayed flight I've been taken care of and put on the next available flight, often before I have disembarked the flight that we delayed. Also, I like to be able to see easily if I can upgrade with miles, which I often find is often the best use of them.
So flights booked, whats next....
For the particular trip I am currently planning we will fly in and out of Stockholm and drive a big loop taking in all the towns and cities in the image above. I used Google Maps as a tool to help me decide where we would spend the evening... I tried to keep the number of driving hours down to under 4 hours as hubby will do all the driving and although he enjoys it, I want him to relax too.
I've also used the Trip Advisor forum to ask questions and to read about other peoples experiences of the cities and towns we want to visit. There is nothing like local knowledge to help plan a trip. You have to take into account that people have differing taste and expectations but the info I got from TA was invaluable in the planning stages.
After deciding where we would be stopping overnight I started the process of finding hotels, B&B's and Air B&B's.
If there is a Starwood hotel in a city I want to stay in then I check their rates first. We are lifetime platinum members and so we quite often get a good upgrade and more often than not lounge access and breakfast as a perk. As long as the rate isn't a HUGE difference from the other places in town then I book it... the perks often make up for the price difference...and lets not forget the loyalty points you can earn that all add up to free nights too....
Next, with my city map on my screen I have a little read through Trip advisor reviews, only really paying attention to reviewers who have at least 20 reviews under their belt. I also read a few of the other reviews people have written too.... If someone rates a Premier Inn as luxury I have to seriously question wether they are on the same page as I am. Likewise if someone complains that the Ritz Carlton was basic I'm not sure I trust their opinion either.... This logic extends to reading restaurant reviews too.... I'm sorry but in my opinion anyone who writes a review saying Olive Garden is a great Italian Restaurant can not be trusted.
When I have decided on a few places I'd like to stay I then have a look at Booking.com or Trivago.com and also the hotels own website to see what the best rates available are.
The rates on some of the hotel booking sites are not always the best available.
Alongside this I have a look at Air B&B to see if there is something available in the same area at a competitive rate. Since using Air B&B for the first time this April in Amsterdam, I plan to use them more especially for long trips as the accommodation often gives the convenience of being able to do some laundry half way through the trip.
OK, so accommodation booked now its on to major attractions and restaurants.
I have a good network of friends who travel extensively for work and pleasure and it almost never happens that I am visiting somewhere that none of my friends have already been to.
This is where I turn to Facebook. I post an outline of my trip and ask for suggestions from the people who know me. Anyone who knows me is never going to suggest Pizza Hut as somewhere I might like to go for dinner....
I also google newspaper articles on new restaurants and if Time Out have information I have a read of that too.
I'm happy to stumble upon restaurants, but often some of the best restaurants with hot new chefs or recent Michelin stars need to be booked weeks in advance - especially in the big cities. Also at this stage I buy online timed tickets for major attractions to save any queuing when we arrive. I HATE to have to stand in a queue for tickets for an attraction and then queue to get in... I'm an early morning person so like to have big gallery visits over with before lunch so I can relax over lunch and enjoy a city on foot if possible.
I think when you break a trip down into small sections like this it becomes manageable. I don't do all the planning at the same time, that would feel too much like a chore, and I often save links to newspaper or magazine articles so I can read them at a more leisurely pace when I am on the train into Zurich or relaxing in the bath for example.
Planning doesn't cost anything and I get a good idea of the lay out of a city centre just from a few hours preparation beforehand.
If you normally use a travel agent, why not try planning a small trip yourself. Its not nearly as scary as some people think, and who knows what interests you better than you yourself??
Do you already book all your own trips? Do you have anything to add to this?
I'd love to hear about it.
We went up to Inverness to meet with some of my husband's colleagues to enjoy a spot of 'corporate hospitality' and decided to spend the weekend before so we could have some relaxing time, play a round of golf and do a little sightseeing around Inverness. I have been to Inverness before but it was for work and a long time ago so I was quite excited to go back and actually enjoy being there.
We stayed in an apartment, which gave us a bit of flexibility and included a washing machine so we didn't have to take too much luggage too. I am looking more and more for apartments and air b&b's for trips longer than 4 days as i do enjoy having the ability to make my own breakfast.
We ate at a few local restaurants but one particularly special one was at Chez Roux at Rocpool Restaurant.
The restaurant is in a boutique hotel a short walk from central Inverness. We booked in advance online but actually on a Monday evening in April it was fairly quiet. We were offered beautifully presented amuse bouche in the bar where we enjoyed gin and tonic before dinner..
My started cheese souffle was very tasty, the cheese had a beautiful flavor. My main dish of lamb with sweetmeats ravioli was just delicious. My husband's asparagus starter and rabbit main were also declared to be perfect. We shared a cheese plate for dessert as we were both so full that a dessert wasn't an option... The cheeses were as you would expect mostly local and served with a nice basket of crackers. All the staff were exceptionally friendly but professional.
The wine list was good, and not at all overpriced. In fact the whole meal including wine was very reasonable.
Chez Roux at Rocpool
Culduthal Road Inverness
We played a round of Golf at Castle Stuart Golf Club to get us warmed up for the games we would play with my husband's colleagues. I'm not an especially good golfer so I was worried that I might crumble under pressure. We LOVED Castle Stuart. The staff were VERY friendly. The pro shop was well stocked (and even had a great sale when we were there).
The course is VERY challenging. The fairways are very open but the greens were very fast, very wavy and quite challenging. A great game of golf, It wasn't cheap, but I'd go back again. Oh and the hotdogs in the halfway house were very good too.... I'd love to go back and play again....
The golf that was organized by my husband's colleagues was at Royal Dornoch Golf Club. I played twice and both days it was quite windy. The fairways on the course were quite easy and I didn't loose a single ball, but the greens were tough to read. There are a lot of brambles so if your ball does go astray you are not going to recover it.... As happened to my husband a few times.
The staff were very friendly in the pro shop. There is also a good halfway house where you can enjoy a small shot of whisky too.
There are some beautiful views of the sea and beach too on the way around. I'm definitely looking forward to going back again.
The whole group of colleagues stayed at Links House in Dornoch. During this time we ate breakfast and dinner in the hotel restaurant which was closed to the public for the whole of our trip. We were treated like royalty.
They even raised the Swiss flag in honor of my husband and I being there.
Everything was absolutely fantastic. The staff were fabulous, nothing was too much trouble for them..
The food was amazing. Lots of local produce and fantastic flavours.
The menu changed daily and on the third day we had a BBQ with a big selection of items from the grill including salad.
The rooms were lovely, we stayed in Beauly which was a good size with a big walk-in shower. The bed was extremely comfortable with crisp cotton sheets.... It was difficult to drag myself out in the morning... There was a good supply of toiletries and fluffy towels.
We had an absolutely fantastic time, gained several pounds, but can't wait to go back again.
All the guys played golf for the whole 3 days but the 'partners' were offered the option to sightsee and do some touristy things in the area. I opted to take one day out and see some of the local sights and I fully enjoyed it. I had a driver who took me to Cawdor Castle a small but lovely castle to visit. Not too big that it became boring and it is still used today as the owner lives in a apartment inside the castle.
The gardens are beautiful too, I could spend hours just sitting and enjoying the sounds of nature and the smells in them. If you are in the area is definitely recommend spending a few hours here.
Lunch was arranged for me at the fabulous Culloden House Hotel.
All in all we had an absolute blast. It was a lovely place to visit, we ate amazing food, stayed in a fabulous hotel, played fairly good golf on great courses and were with an extremely nice bunch of my husband's colleagues.... Someone mentioned that they might repeat the event every two years..... I've already got the dates in my diary.
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