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
There isn't a lot a I don't like about the Trip Advisor travel map. There have been a few times over the years that I haven't been able to pin the places I've been to, but that is usually because they are more remote places we travelled through in Tibet for example, but apart from that its hard to find fault with it.
I LOVE the ability to pin cities I want to visit.
I usually only do the cities I am actively planning to visit, otherwise the whole map would be filled with green pins.. Using the green pins is a great way to plan journeys.
We have just booked flights for a trip in August to Sweden. I pinned all the cities we would drive through on our trip and then it was easy to see if there were any other cities nearby that we could easily get to, this is how we added Copenhagen and Oslo.
I zoomed into the map and printed it out and then using google maps I put in the driving distances between the cities to estimate how many days we would need. Easy Peasy.
I'm in the process of planning a 5 week trip to India early 2018 and I'm doing something similar. Hubby has gone through a few websites and come up with some cities or sights he wants to visit. I've pinned the map. I've printed the map and will write on the cities and using a guide book and various websites I will check to see what else is nearby each of the pins.
On my paper map I've added all the local airports and can start to come up with a rough 'plan'
I have also asked a few friends who have visited India several times to take a look at my map and suggest places I may not have thought about... I can see their travel maps and ask questions about places I can see they have travelled to... This only works if your friends keep their maps up to date too... but since its such a fun thing to do - why wouldn't you ??
There is something very satisfying about turning those green pins into orange ones :)
My Map tells me I have been to 750 cities and want to go to 43... and that I've only visited 43% of the world.... My Travel Map
I'm lucky that I've seen a lot more than many people... but also VERY aware that there is a lot of places I have yet to get to... and my list of places to visit is constantly grows.
Whilst I am still in the planning stage of both of these two trips - any advice or thoughts regarding any of my green pins would be most welcome :)
Do you use Trip Advisor or any other travel maps ?? I haven't really looked into any other Maps and would be interested to hear about any other sites or apps...
We have access to most of the airline lounges as I have my British Airways Gold Card (One World) and hubby has a Senator status with Swiss (Star Alliance). Access to these lounges make a HUGE difference to the whole travel experience, especially long haul.
On my recent trip I flew from Zurich to Melbourne with changes in Sydney and Singapore. On Arrival in Singapore after spending 13 hours in my pyjamas to be able to have a hot shower in the lounge at Changi Airport made a world of difference to how I felt. I changed into sweat pants and t-shirt for the leg to Sydney, grabbed a couple of more hours sleep and didn't feel too bad at all when I landed.
I went to the Quantas lounge on arrival, changed into normal clothes, did my cleanse, tone and moisturise routine and almost felt like a normal person again. I had a scrummy breakfast, charged up all my devices, updated my newspapers and checked my emails and Facebook before the short commuter flight to Melbourne.
On the return trip from Singapore my flight was an overnight one. I'd managed to sleep for most of the flight to London and just got off the plane in my pyjamas (the guys in the airport have seen much worse sights I'm sure). I headed straight for the lounge, had a long hot shower (lovely Elemis products in Heathrow T5 as an extra bonus) ordered a bacon and egg sandwich and curled up with a pot of tea until my short flight to Zurich was boarding.
The peace and quiet (usually there are no announcements) in the lounge is so much more relaxing for a few hours wait in the airport compared to the chaos in the main terminal building too.
On top of the showers and the food, most lounges have champagne too, and lots of it. In some lounges you have to ask for it, Manchester springs to mind, but is there a better way to start a trip ??
I love Airline Lounges. My Facebook friends know that most of my trips start and end with a photo of a glass of champagne in an airline lounge around the world. Some friends have now started tagging me in their FB posts in airline lounges too....
I'm going to post a review of some of the airline lounges as a separate blog post. My favourites being Heathrow T5, Qantas lounge in Sydney's International Terminal and the JAL Lounge at Tokyo.
If you are a lounge lover, where are your favourites ?
The downside of the great price was that I was that all my flights were separate and I was flying,
Zurich - London - Singapore- Sydney - Melbourne - Sydney - Auckland - Sydney - Singapore - London - Zurich....
whereas my husband flew....
Zurich - Singapore - Melbourne - Auckland - Singapore - Zurich.
As most of you know, I am not phased by unknown airports or travelling alone so I loaded up my iBooks, grabbed my bag and off I went.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I got to walk around the airports in-between flights, and after arriving in Sydney I had a nice shower in the lounge and changed clothes before the short hop to Melbourne. That made a huge difference to how I felt when I arrived.
I got my return to Sydney organised with a stopover in Singapore on the way home. It was a great price and the leg out was business class, so I knew I would arrive at least having had a good sleep on the BA flat bed. The ticket was only 300 Swiss Francs more than Prem Ecc so I jumped on that fare.
As things worked out I was also lucky enough to get a nice upgrade to business class on the return, proving that loyalty really does pay.
So again my husband had to travel for his job and if there is something most people know about me its that I'm not the type of person to sit at home alone for 3 weeks, so I jumped quickly on www.BA.com and got myself some flights. My husband flies direct and in Business Class and the cost of his tickets is way more than I am prepared to spend on myself so I've become pretty good at working out the best flight combinations for the price.
I've been to Sydney and Melbourne several times before so this trip was all about catching up with friends. I met up with an old college friend, a friend I used to work with, a friend from expat days in Singapore and also some new friends from Zurich who were there by coincidence. We tried out lots of great restaurants, and of course the Sydney Fish Market. I had such an amazing time.
The weather was perfect for being in the city and I got to take some lovely long walks and indulge in some retail therapy too.
New Zealand was a new adventure for me as I have never been before. We stayed in Auckland and at the weekend hired a car to drive along the coast and visit Hobbiton, where The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were filmed. I also took advantage of my husband's busy work scheduled and took a quick flight to Wellington for an overnight visit to another college friend.
Singapore was a nice 3 night stopover on the return home. For me the hi-light was catching up with friends from when we used to live here, and of course the food. Staying in a great hotel in the CBD with a lovely pool didn't hurt either.
I'm in the process of writing a few blog posts about the cities, restaurants, hotels and various airline lounges I have come across, so if you are interested, watch this space this space.
In January when I booked my flights for this trip to NYC I was expecting cold, maybe snow, but certainly not the -27 with wind chill factor that we got when we landed in JFK in the middle of February.
As with most of my travel my husband was working and having business dinners and lunches so I was mostly alone. My initial plan was to use the hotel gym to get back to being able to run for 5k and take advantage of the Mon-Wed Mani & Pedi for $25 that is the norm of all the nail salons in town. I also thought it would be nice to spend a few afternoons wandering around a few exhibitions and maybe a little time shopping for some new summer clothes........ well I did some of that, in-between bouts of being frozen, having a numb face and ducking in and out of stores to take advantage of their heating..... The temperatures in NYC were brutally cold. I managed to do some of the things I wanted to do but there was no desire to stroll around the city.
Instead, I spend my time catching up on some reading. I have a HUGE backlog of books on my iPad and I managed to read 2 in the first week alone. I also spent quite some time working on German Grammar. I am having SKYPE German lessons twice a week and so thought I would also take the holiday time to consolidate my learning and my old grammar work into one German 'Bible'.
Despite the cold there was one definite upside to the timing of our trip.
We were in NYC for restaurant week.
This was a bonus and completely unintentional. Lots of restaurants give special fixed price menus for lunch and/or dinner. We booked quite a few and it was also a great opportunity to try some restaurants that we would not normally visit.
On our list were, Capital Grille, DB Bistro Moderne, Russian Tea Room, Petrossian and L'cole Restaurant of the International Culinary Centre. Some of my reviews will be posted in The Restaurant Blog section of the site.
There were some successes and a couple of disappointments, but at least the disappointments were not expensive ones. The set lunches are $25 and the dinners $38. If you are planning to trip to NYC next year I'd definitely look out for when restaurant week is. If you can't avoid the cold in February then you can at least eat some scrummy food.
Whenever my husband comes home and tells me he has another business trip to Japan he barely has to finish the sentence before I am google-ing flight prices. Tokyo is one of my absolute favourite cities. From the very first time I went there I have been in love with the country.
We have been over 10 times and are always being asked for tips by friends who are going for the first time, so I thought I would turn those tips into a blog post.
The first visit to Japan can be a bit daunting. Its a big, busy, noisy city. There are signs written in Japanese everywhere and very little English is spoken outside of the tourist /ticket offices and hotels, but somehow it all works out. I've been to all of the tourist sites at least once, had mini adventures outside the city and eaten in many restaurants, most of the time I am alone, but I never really encountered any problems that couldn't be solved using a mixture of sign language and a big smile. My first bit of advice starts before you leave.... make sure you can use your bank card abroad.
A quick call to your bank should sort this out. When you arrive get cash out of Citibank at the airport. There are relatively few international bank ATM's in Tokyo. You can use Citibank and the Post Office Bank, but they are the only ones I've been able to use my assortment of credit cards at.......
Generally we get some cash and pay for everything in restaurants and shops with Visa/Mastercard.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is the "Friendly Shuttle Bus". The counters are in the airport just after you clear customs. The girls at the counter speak English and will point you in the right direction. Most buses do 5 or 6 stops and will drop you at the hotel door. The bus even has WiFi - though it is a little slow.
The whole area around Harajuku and Omotesando is great for people watching and shopping, especially at the weekend. Close by is Shibuya crossing and Yoyogi park with Meiji shrine. Both well worth a visit and fascinating for very different reasons.
Ueno Park is lovely to walk through, if you want to escape the craziness of the city or want to go to the Zoo.
Nearby is Ameyoko which is a great market area with some good food stalls and lots of good restaurants.
Sensoji Temple is a must see and the small gift shops on the walk to the temple are cute, despite being a bit touristy. Go early, as its on everybody's 'to do list' and it gets crowded.
Tokyo Tower near Rappongi - you can go up the tower and get great views to Mt Fiji if its a clear day. And afterwards maybe do a little bar hopping in Rappongi.
After these recommendations what you decide to see will really depend on how much you like to walk - there are several nice parks, if you are looking to go shopping - Tokyo Hands is amazing, or if you are especially into food and want to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.
There is truly so much to see in this amazing, vibrant city. You can spend hours just wandering around and enjoy just being there. The food is amazing too. If you are not a Japanese food expert I would suggest doing a little research before-hand. There are lots of different dishes available, but most restaurants specialise in one style of cooking. A sushi restaurant won't usually sell Tonkatsu or Ramen Noodles for example. This of course rarely matters to me as I don't have to compromise when I am out and about alone, but can cause problems if you are desperate to eat sushi and your dining partner doesn't like fish...... nothing a little forward planning can't solve of course.
I have written a review of a fabulous restaurant Andy's Shin Hinomoto. I can highly recomend this place, we have probably eaten there 8 or 9 times. Its excellent.
Japan Tourist Board
When arriving at the hotel ask the concierge for the free guide that comes from the Tourist Office. Its orange. Its fabulous. It has a page for each area with the major sights listed on the opposite page.
The next thing you should do is to get a PASMO card. You load the card up with money and use it throughout Japan on the trains and buses. its like the Oyster Card in London or the Metro Card in NYC. There are instructions for buying one and using the machines on the PASMO site.
If your hotel isn't covered by the Friendly Airport Shuttle service then you can buy the PASMO at the airport and use it on the train into the city.
Now you are set to explore all over Tokyo using the amazing train system.
Tokyo Metro map looks terrifying...... but its very easy to understand. All the lines are coloured differently and all the stations are numbered. You can even get a free app for your smartphone.
When you are on the train platform the next station the train will call at is written on the wall.
There are so many things to do in Tokyo that I could write pages and pages. Some of it will interest you, most of it not. I find sightseeing to be quite personal. I love taking photos, people watching, visiting temples and finding off the beaten track places to eat, but these things may not be your cup of tea, so I won't bore you with lists of things to do, I'll just make a few recommendations...
Well its the end of January and I've been busy booking flights. This year is going to be all about the travel.......
Last year I managed to get to Norway, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, USA and several times to London, so not a bad year travel wise at all... 2015 promises to be just as exciting.
It has already got off to a great start... because it started in London, which I think is a fabulous way to spend Christmas and New Year. I love London over Christmas, from the lights on Oxford Street to the cheery nature of the cabbies. It starts early December with the office Christmas parties and continues until early Jan when people return to work. We stayed for the whole festive season and had a fabulous time. Meeting friends and eating at some great restaurants. We had some great weather, a little chilly but blue skies and sunshine. It made for some great walks around the city and along the river.
My husband has to work in NYC several times during 2015 and has a trip in February for two weeks so I'm going to join him. It will probably be miserable weather but there will be the new collections in the shops and there are ALWAYS new things to do and exhibitions to see. Why would I even think of staying home alone when I can book middle of the day flights (read cheaper) and there is already a very nice hotel room booked.
Right on the back of that trip we are going to Australia and New Zealand in March with a 3 day stopover in Singapore on the way home. Again, Hubby has to work but I'm quite an independent traveller and I never pass up the opportunity to visit somewhere new. I've never been to New Zealand and its been on my radar for quite a while. So its an opportunity that can't be missed. I'm so excited I'm waiting for my guide book to download to my kindle as I type. I'm also really looking forward to going to back to Australia too. Its been 5 years since I was there last and I have some friends I'll be able to catch-up with. I love the Sydney Fish Market and know the city quite well, so it will be fun to be back there. I've only been to Melbourne once so I'm sure there are still lots of things to discover there.
The only other trip we have actually booked is to Cuba in May. After reading in the news about the discussions between Cuba and the USA we decided to book flights and get there before McDonalds and Starbucks take over. (as sadly we have seen happen in some parts of Asia). Its been somewhere we have wanted to go for a while, so I'm not only excited about seeing somewhere new but I'm excited because its a proper holiday. Hubby doesn't have to go to the office, or out for business dinners. We can relax and be tourists together. Also I heard the internet is terrible, so I won't have to share him with his work emails - as is usually the case. The only other time this has happened was about 7 years ago in Myanmar. There was no internet whatsoever, let alone mobile phone networks. Bliss - two weeks without the Blackberry !!
We have other trips in pencil but they won't really get booked until much nearer the time. We will have another trip to NYC later in the year, we're planning to stay with some friends at their villa in Phuket, a trip to Japan, maybe a trip to South Africa and hopefully a trip to Bhutan in November.......I'm sure we will be able to slot in some European city breaks too.....I have quite a list of those we want to work through.
I'd love to hear any city recommendations people have. Please drop me a message below .
I now have a lot of research to do trying to find the best places to eat and drink....... I'll post any good reviews in the Restaurant Blog as usual.
The drive from London took under 2 hours and it was a beautiful drive, despite the rain. the A roads from London towards the coast are beautiful to drive along. Especially if driving through central London where you rarely get out of 3rd gear is your norm.
We arrived in time to check out our rooms, park the car and walk to our spa appointment. Everything was running smoothly.
The Rye Retreat was the perfect way to start our trip. We had massages, facials, mani-pedi's and ended with a wash and blow dry. We walked in feeling a little stressed and frazzled and floated out feeling fabulous. We organised everything via email and it worked perfectly.
A very good friend of mine from when I first moved to London at the age of 21 recently hit quite a stressful point in her life.
I had also been quite busy recently and so we decided a little break away might be what we both needed. Although we always try to catch up with each other when I am in London we decided that instead of a few hours over dinner it would be nice to drive away and spend a couple of nights in a B&B and have some quality time away from daily life, relax, chatter, drink good wine, eat nice food and not have to worry about making the bed.
After a bit of googling we decided on Rye. Its cute old town and cobbled streets is not so big we couldn't walk everywhere and there were several good restaurants, pubs and hotels we could eat in. We also discovered Jeake's House B&B and managed to make a half day appointment at The Rye Retreat.
Rye has a good mixture of restaurants, coffee shops and antiques shops to occupy most people on a short stay. During the dryer months there are some beautiful walks nearby and the coast at Hastings is a short drive. There are also some great National Trust properties and even some vineyards nearby. What's not to like about Rye ??
The Rye Retreat 36-38 Cinque Ports Street Rye East Sussex 01797 222211
Jeake's House Mermaid Street Rye East Sussex 01797 222828
I chose Jeake's House of our two nights stay after reading some great reviews online and we were not disappointed.
It is a beautiful old building renovated into a B&B. It is right in the centre of town on an old cobbled street, so after abandoning the car we could walk everywhere.
The rooms were all individually renovated, beautifully decorated with very comfy beds. Breakfast was a great mixture of continental style fruit/cereals/yoghurt with additional cooked classics. Full English to Eggs Benedict. cooked to order and using fresh local ingredients.
They have an honesty bar that is a lovely place to wind down after dinner, with a selection of board games.
We were really please with our choice and are seriously thinking of making this an annual trip, including Jeake's House.
So one day my husband comes home and says - 'I need to go to the USA to work for at least a month - maybe two. What do you think?' I screamed from upstairs as I was digging out my suitcase that as long as he was planning to stay in NYC I was in!!
Well maybe I wasn't already finding my suitcase but I was certainly 'in' and spent the 4 weeks after we booked out flights planning exhibitions I wanted to see, making restaurant bookings and compiling shopping lists.
We have been to NYC many times as tourists when we were living in London and also as day trippers when we lived upstate for a short while. We've done the open top bus tour, taken photos on the Brooklyn Bridge, had a horse and carriage ride in Central Park and we've pretty much exhausted all the touristy things to do. So this was a great opportunity to really 'live' in NYC and enjoy just being there.
My first week started off with the necessary shopping. For most of my travels I only pack travel sizes of necessary toiletries and I never pack shower gel, mouthwash or toothpaste. I just make a stop off at a local pharmacy and pick up everything to need when I arrive. This time I didn't even bother with cleansers, or moisturizers. I brought a few sample sizes to get me through the first 2 days and they just headed to the Clarins counter at Macys and stocked up - this also has the added bonus that I also got a gift and several samples sizes that will come in very useful for further trips. We also left out vitamins at home and bought those here too as not only are they cumbersome to pack but they are so much cheaper in NYC than Switzerland - it's a no-brainier!!
I googled a lot before we left and I found a great Pilates studio Reforming New York that is only 5 blocks away from where I am staying. They gave my my first lesson as a trial and then the next 7 lessons for under $200. I signed up for the best class for my time schedule, 8.30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This class happens to be their quietest and so far I've had a lesson with one other person and one alone !
I also started to do a 'couch to 5K' using an app on my iPhone. The hotel has a gym so I'm going down 3 times a week in an attempt to counter-act the fabulous food I plan to eat whilst I am here.
Things on the dining out front have been pretty fabulous so far. I had already booked tabled at Marea and Gordon Ramsay at The London before we left home.... The food was fabulous at both! (You can read my reviews here) We discovered another excellent small restaurant by our hotel and we also met up with a couple of friends who were in town visiting from Hong Kong.
Shopping will also feature on the trip but for this week it was really the essentials I bought. New running shoes which were essential for my C25K routine and I didn't pack a handbag for the trip so a little trip to Michael Kors was needed... I couldn't turn up at a Michelin stared restaurant with my rucksack - even though it is Prada!
There are of course lots of exhibitions I want to see but the beauty of being here for so long is that I can do everything at a much more leisurely pace, whilst housekeeping takes care of the bathroom cleaning and sheet changing duties.
Last week my beautiful British Airways gold card arrived in the post. I’d definitely earned it as from beginning of January 2014 to the end of June 2014 I had already been on 45 flights.
Here it is with luggage tags just waiting to be used !! I am so excited about this I felt it deserved a blog post all to itself !!
My husband nearly always flies with Swiss Air. He usually flies direct and in business class. If I flew with him I’d be in economy (no premium economy on Swiss) so we wouldn’t actually be ‘together’. Also hubby usually has some work to do and so even if we sit together, as we often do for the short flight to London we don’t talk to each other anyway - sound familiar ? So he flies Swiss and I fly British Airways. I usually connect in Heathrow. I get a reasonably priced ticket, there is the option of premium economy which is perfectly acceptable for even a 13 hour flight and I get to collect both tier points and Avios.
Shopping in Heathrow is fabulous, there is everything from Prada to Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food and of course British Airways lounges. This is where loyalty truly matters….
I already loved the British Airways Silver Card, the quick check-in, the seat selection, the fast track at Heathrow, the extra luggage allowance and of course my favourite perk is the lounge access in terminal 5 Heathrow where I connect for all my long haul flights.
It is fabulous, I love these lounges.
Both the lounges in Heathrow T5 are busy, of course the airport is ENORMOUS, but you can always find a spot to unwind, charge you phone and catch up on emails.
They have showers that I use regularly after long flights. After sitting in your clothes for 10+ hours a hot shower with the fabulous Elemis products they have is priceless for me. (I often leave the plane in my jersey trs and t shirt and head straight for the shower. Afterwards I change into the clothes I first boarded the plane in - immigration don’t appear to care !!)
There is a great selection of food, my favourites are the bacon rolls for breakfast and the chicken curry at lunch, not forgetting the kettle chips and the cookies. There is a complimentary bar both soft drinks and wine. There is also a selection of spirits too but I never go there especially as I’m usually waiting for another flight,, however no lounge visit is truly complete without a glass of champagne. You do need to ask for this, but its not a problem, and it has become a little ritual for me.
So now I have my gold card I can’t wait until my next connecting flight in Heathrow T5 in September to see what the ‘Gold card lounge’ looks like. I have booked flights to New York, Tokyo and Boston for later in the year….. so I will be back to report on the extra benefits. Who knows maybe even an upgrade !!
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