Last summer, I wrote a very brief holiday post on how being unprepared for our Spanish adventure, actually ended up being more relaxing than if we had been prepared. As I scrolled through posts on Spanish food snacks during last week’s #tapasday hashtag, I realised I hadn’t actually written anything at all about what we ended up doing.

There had been so much happening with both Mo and I in the lead up to going away we hadn’t even had a chance to register that our holiday was creeping up. The fact that we actually made it to the airport on time with any form of luggage was probably down to sheer luck more than anything else.

I remember us both falling into our plane seats and just exhaling huge sighs of relief that we were both there. This was going to be a multi-stop trip, starting with Madrid where we had planned to stay for the weekend before driving down to the beaches on the south coast of Spain.

So, the plan was to have no plan. We were just going to wander the streets and see where the ebb and flow of the city took us.

Usually, this would fill me with immense sadness. Anxiety. Distress. I suffer from serious FOMO (fear of missing out) especially when traveling and never like to visit a destination only to miss out on some of the most famous sights.

But this time I strangely didn’t care. It was so refreshing to throw the guide book out the window and think on the spot about what we wanted to do. I’m such a control freak, I regularly put Mo through lists and schedules when it comes to every day life, I think taking this planning time-out was a refreshing break for him too (I’m sure he’d be nodding furiously if he read this).

Surprisingly, we got through a fair bit more than we expected to:

 

Museo del Prado:

We came across the Museo del Prado and took the opportunity to explore some classical art, especially the work of the infamous Francisco Goya, one of the most celebrated Spanish painters of the 18th century.

 

 

Gran Via:

Perfect for shopping, window browsing or architecture admiring.

 

 

 

Buen Retiro Park:

My favourite part of the whole entire weekend was Retiro park. After strolling through the shaded tree-lined paths we stopped to enjoy lunch outside in a café overlooking the lake. After filling up on Spanish snacks, we spent time taking it in turns to row up and down the lake, soaking in the sun, having a laugh, enjoying the music from the buskers. There was such a great atmosphere and not having anything else planned meant we had nothing else on our minds and all the time in the world.

 

 

Palacio de Cristal:

There was a lovely exhibition on inside the crystal palace which was interesting, all about old school visual equipment. Such a great use of the space.

 

 

Madrid Atocha Railway Station:

If you get a chance, go have a nosy inside, a rainforest type treat awaits!

 

 

Puerta de Alcala:

 

 

There are so many beautiful buildings in Madrid, I could have happily walked round for hours just admiring them. We walked down the Gran Via all the way towards Banco Espana and back to the other side by the palaces too. We covered as much ground as we could on foot, stopping for tea and coffee along the way.

 

Plaza Mayor:

I loved stopping here for a snack and a drink in the sunshine. The restaurants were brimming with customers and the street entertainers were out in full force.

 

 

Plaza de Cibeles:

Love anywhere that makes statements as bold as this #refugeeswelcome

 

 

Mercado de San Miguel:

The food here was incredible! more on that later…

 

 

Fountain of Neptune:

He is there I assure you.

 

 

Plaza de la Villa:

 

 

Statue of the bear and the Strawberry tree:

Sorry bear, I realise this isn’t a very flattering angle. He was a lot smaller than I expected him to be.

 

 

Royal Palace of Madrid:

 

 

Recalling our trip back, I just realised I told a bit of a lie. We did have one thing pre-planned! It was a flamenco show at Corral de la Moreria. Watching dance is something Mo and I both love so when we first booked the trip Mo made sure to find the best traditional show in town. I highly recommend it! The venue takes you back in time to the original tablao flamenco. So popular with locals and tourists, I definitely advise booking in advance.

 

 

Of course this type of holiday doesn’t always work, especially if you’re not travelling solo. Luckily Mo and I were both feeling the same way so we didn’t have to deal with that annoying indecisiveness when the other has no clue what to do.

 

Some tips:

  • Keep some kind of map handy, one of those free tourist one’s are great as they helps you keep to the popular areas where you’ll be sure to find something to do, should you wish to of course. We also used google maps, but only whilst trying to navigate ourselves home or if we were looking for halal places to eat.

 

  • If there are a few things you have in mind that you want to do at some point, but don’t want to be tied down – always check the opening times. Some places close on certain days or have varied opening hours.

 

  • If you’re hungry – just eat! Don’t go walking around thinking you’ll find something better. If you’ve not planned anything it’s always best to just go for whats around you at the time. Keep walking around you could be making the situation worse and if one of you suffers from hangriness it’s not ideal.

 

 

 

Are you a planner? Or do you prefer to wing it on holiday?

 

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24hrs in Dusseldorf

 

Our options: spend hundreds of pounds on a concert ticket at Wembley, OR spend less than a hundred to spend a day in Dusseldorf and see the exact same concert.

Well as you can imagine, it was a no brainer.

We didn’t think too much into it, we just booked a flight in and out, reserved our arena seats and boom we were sorted. We figured anything else we came across on that trip would just be an added bonus.

Fast forward a few months and it was days before we were meant to depart and we decided it was time to see what there was to do for 12 hours.

Turns out there’s not loooads to do. Let me start again, there are things to do, but not a lot of free things to do. Not that we could find anyway. Everyone I knew who had visited had only been as part of a business stop over. So no one had any decent recommendations. Google was happy to announce that the airport viewing park was number 11 on the highlights of things to do in Dusseldorf. Didn’t really inspire much confidence.

After an intense security check at the airport (a kind of check that I found incredibly violating and questionable) we decided to discuss our days plans over breakfast.

The plan: was to not have a plan.

We landed early morning into Dusseldorf Airport and found ourselves, by chance, on TripAdvisor’s 20th most popular attraction, the Sky Train. It was actually pretty cool! More cities should have these air suspended tram systems. Felt like we were on an episode of the Jetsons.

After a few dramas trying to get train tickets at the station, swiftly moving away from the abandoned suitcase that had appeared beside us, we jumped on the first train into the city, straight to central station.

We wandered the streets, headed to Rheinuferpromenade, passing beautiful buildings old and new. We sauntered into a few quirky shops and explored a church along the way, one with an interesting amalgamation of traditional and contemporary design features.

 

 

Not long after, it was time for lunch and so far our options weren’t looking great.

Halal-wise, we could’ve indulged in kebabs and donners as they seemed to be everywhere. But all we wanted was something small and something ‘local’ (preferably not fried). Menu after menu it became clear that sausage played a big part of what was on offer (quelle surprise), with not many appetising vegetarian options. Perhaps just a little bit of research would have been useful.

We passed a Turkish restaurant and the friendly owner somehow managed to coax us in, charming us with the promise of suitable meat-free options. Turns out we had two – cheese ciabatta or cheese and tomato ciabatta.

 

 

Despite the overwhelming variety, we decided they actually weren’t bad options so we didn’t bother re-robing and stayed put, taking some time out from the slight bit of rain we had just escaped from.

I had obviously slept on the flight over, so I had been dying to find a spot for us to rest and to freshen up. But of course we had chosen a café with the smallest toilet in the world. I entered top speed mode, changed my top, brushed my hair and was nearly done with brushing my teeth when a smart dressed diner entered and caught me mid spit.

One of my less classier moments. Luckily she didn’t look at me in disgust and definitely saw the funny side. Turns out she was from Saudi Arabia and it was such a surreal experience to reminisce about my former home with a complete stranger in a dingy bathroom whilst she applied her expensive looking ruby red lippy and I continued to cover myself in deodorant and perfume.

Well-fed, we set off once again on our adventure only to stumble upon a food market. Go figure.

Tip number one: Perhaps take time to ask locals for food recommendations when you are in a new area. Instead of settling for the first person to invite you in.

We continued on to the riverside, aiming to check out TripAdvisor’s 4th most popular attraction, the Rhine Tower. A large happy french-fry-shaped figurine caught the corner of our eye.

It was the Chip Man.

We were full, but not that full. And this was the second one we had come across so it almost felt rude not to. This place literally served nothing BUT chips. Not hand made ones either, just standard frozen chips with a heap of weird and wonderful toppings. The guys behind the counter were dying to practice their English skills, one of them wanting to know if he was good enough to brave the move to the UK (Not sure if he was aware we have a Brexit situation going on but didn’t seem the right time to break it to him).

 

 

Two fresh (from frozen) chip trays later and we were off walking along the promenade, wind in our hair, headed towards the tower. Just another beautiful afternoon in Blackpool sorry Dusseldorf (it really did feel like we were having chips on the promenade at Blackpool though!?). By this point the sun decided to come out basking the shore line in sunshine and warmth, perfect timing for our stroll across the river bank.

Rhine tower, 240.5 metres concrete site towering above the city. For the first time ever on a city break we didn’t have to queue for an attraction. Couple of euros got us a ticket straight to the top in the super sonic lift.

 

 

The 360 degree observation deck and café area were pretty impressive. Again, it was refreshing not to be at a sightseeing stop that was swarming with tourists. We found ourselves a table to relax at and enjoyed a tea and pretzel break, whilst watching the world pass by below.

 

 

Back down to the bustling streets below, we casually strolled towards the far side of town where the arena was, stopping only for what was supposed to be a quick browse around Habitat, a shop we don’t have in the UK anymore but one which was always a firm favourite of mine. As we were about to leave the store, a comfy sofa in the window called out to us. Enticed by the soft fabric we decided to test it out and instantly sunk into it’s fluffiness.

What started as a quick test of a good looking couch ended in being approached an hour later by a shop assistant whether we actually required any help mid-way through our heavy conversation about politics. We casually assured her we were fine and then sprinted out of there as fast as we could.

 

 

Time had ticked on and we realised we didn’t have long to find a quick dinner snack and get ourselves over to the ISS arena. So we picked up the pace as we walked towards the North of the city.

An hour of walking and we weren’t going as fast as we needed to. We decided to settle for a kebab shop on route, after which we would hop on a tram or some other mode of transport to rush us down to catch the start of the show.

Wasn’t as great a dinner as we would have liked but it was fast, cheap and we were definitely full. My sister in particular was full from eating a large amount of ‘not-what-I-ordered’ onions that had been added to her bread dish.

Tip number two: Don’t just agree to have all the added extras in a restaurant just because you’re too scared to say no. It won’t end well.

Quick tram ride to Heinrichstraße and there it was, a bus labelled ‘Dusseldorf ISS Dome’. We ran at full speed to catch it, only to realise the driver wasn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon as he pulled on his cigarette, relaxed and nonchalant.

Finally we were there, the ISS arena and like every other concert venue it was time for bag search.

Tip number three: If you are travelling to a concert abroad and that is the sole purpose of your trip don’t bother taking your DSLR.

Of course my DSLR camera was not allowed inside the venue and I had to leave it at the entrance with the security team. It was placed in a plastic bag, and stored in a crate until the end of the show. Not the most secure set up – but I should stress it was there waiting for me just as I left it when we returned at the end of the night.

 

 

The fun well and truly started when it was time to head home. In all our wisdom, we decided booking a hotel room was a waste as we were catching an early flight out the next day so our next stop that evening was to go straight back to the airport where we would be camping out for the night.

Finding a train station was proving a fair challenge, especially as G had managed to get us rejected from the only bus around by asking for the airport rather than the train station resulting in the driver assuring us that he couldn’t help and we should carry on. A group on foot headed to their parked car kindly led us halfway down and then left us to navigate the dark Dusseldorf streets on our own.

We found the tram but had no idea where it was going and no one else was really able to help either, mainly because their English was limited and our German was unfortunately non existent.

Tip number four: Even if you are only visiting for a short time, learn or familiarise yourself with some key phrases or download a translation app.

Just before my sister was about to throw herself into her best impression of a choo-choo train, an English speaker piped up with instructions to help us continue our journey.

We boarded the tram, which was basically an extension of the concert, revellers singing and dancing in perfect Spanish, pretty ironic considering we were in Germany.

fifteen minutes and one spilt drink on my jacket later, and we were back at Dusseldorf Airport.

No overnight lounges, just the one coffee shop and we had just over five hours to kill.

It was a long, but fun-filled night.

 

 

I use the word fun-filled loosely of course… trying to sleep whilst cleaning machines and hoovers sound off at full volume and uncomfortable armrests are jabbing into your sides is not easy even for me, the self-proclaimed can-sleep-through-anything sleeper.

Tip number five: Do not forget to take a scarf if you’re planning on camping out like we did. Or a travel blanket like the one Mo and I bought for our Brazil trip (why I didn’t think to take it this time is beyond me)

We woke to the smell of fresh bread, coffees and the buzz of everyday hustle and bustle in an airport. Flight boards started filling up, our destination London Heathrow making the list, and just like that it was time to board that plane again.

Throughout the day my sister had voiced her appreciation for this City, the best cuisine shes ever had, the best long boats shes ever seen, the best views she’s ever seen…

G and I aren’t quite sure what she saw that we didn’t, but what we did all agree on, was that it was definitely one of our most quirkiest trips to date.

 

Have you been to Dusseldorf? Slept overnight at an airport?

 

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Video highlights of Myanmar

 

My mind is constantly all over the place! I have so many ideas, plans, they’re just constantly flowing through my brain.

I decided that from March, I would dedicate every Monday to posting something fun and fabulous about Manchester, but one week in and I am pushing that aside for now as I am dying to share my new video!!

I’ve never really made a video before, I take lots of them on my phone but this time I wanted to actually piece content together to bring to life an experience that meant a lot to me.

So I finally did it!

It’s not perfect, I’ve not quite got the hang of actually filming yet (I’m very unsteady!), but I hope it will give you a better feel and connection to my two weeks spent travelling in Myanmar:

 

 

What do you think??? Have you got any video creation tips??? Is there something I can do to make it better???

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the fishermen of inle lake

 

Whilst relaying my magical trip to Myanmar I have tried to keep myself focused and work through it day-by-day… but then I thought it’s throwback Thursday and I just cant resist jumping the gun 🙂

I LOVE surprises. Love, love, LOVE them! And my favourite kind of surprise, is when a destination completely catches me off guard. Inle Lake was one of those places.

Our first day out on the lake, we were separated into groups of four, and each group was assigned a long boat that would take us on a tour of life on the lake. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day out. We learnt from the many workshops, we went to the market, we saw Burmese cats… I’ll go into more detail another time but as we cruised along the river, I didn’t feel very connected to it all, I couldn’t quite engage with the moment.

The morning before we had set off, Min had talked us through the traditional way of fishing that had shot Inle to photography fame. The old fashioned nets and balancing acts of the skilled fisherman were infamous amongst tourists, and Inle is a hot spot on nearly every tour groups itinerary.

So when we then took to the water later on, there they all were, lined up ready to show off their skills. Except, they weren’t fishing 🙁 As this wasn’t a method commonly used anymore, all of the fisherman we encountered were all there for show. Don’t get me wrong, it still takes great skill to do what they do and the images people took looked incredible but I couldn’t help but feel slightly sad that we didn’t get to see them actually fish.

 

 

That evening, when everyone was planning the activities for the next day I was completely at a loss. Some people were off on bikes, some headed to the hot springs, others wanted to relax in town… I just wanted to get back on the water. Min kept trying to persuade us all to visit In Dein – a collection of temples he kept saying, assuring us it truly was a sight to be seen. We were all feeling very “templed out” and no-one was paying him much attention, all of us wanting to focus on finding something that little bit different.

I spent all night trying to find something else to do… nothing. Didn’t help that I wandered out for dinner and came back late and too tired to do any research.

Morning came, me and a couple of others, desperate to get back on the boat and with no other plan in mind decided to give in to Min’s advice and head towards In Dein. Min organised our long boat, instructed the driver on where to take us and off we went.

And it’s a bloody good job we did it. As we sped out down the narrow route up to the great opening, which yesterday had been filled with fisherman dressed up for photographs with fishing net props… well today we were surrounded by REAL FISHERMAN.

The reason there were a lot more tourists out the day before was because the market was on. A fabulous sight to be seen, the stalls, were so bright, so vibrant, it was hustle and bustle on every turn. A big part of the market was the fresh fish section. We were told that most fisherman don’t kill their fish when they are caught. Instead they keep them alive in bags that are hung under their homes, homes suspended above the water. This way they are taken to the market alive and killed fresh on purchase.

Today wasn’t market day, which meant all those amazing fisherman that had lined the market paths yesterday with their stalls, were now on the water.

Perfect.

Our boat driver (feel so awful not knowing his name) couldn’t really speak any English, but nevertheless he was extremely understanding and read our minds the entire time. He slowed down and approached a number of the men, stopping at some points to let us watch as they caught little snappers and threw them into baskets on the boat.

The fisherman weren’t in the traditional dress you see on the images, but this was so much better. This was everyday life and it was beautiful to watch.

 

 

The day got progressively better and better. Turns out all that whingeing we had done at Min for sending us to another temple… well it was completely misguided and In Dein was incredible.

In Dein is a collection of hundreds of stupas, some dating back to the 12th century. Some are perfect, some have been restored and others are in ruins. They all stand together in a compacted area, giving it that wow factor. We walked the long passage to the entrance of the main temple, passing stalls, lots of cute puppies, and catching glimpses of the stupa structures we were about to encounter.

 

 

We reached the top, packed up our slippers and out to the back, we were surrounded by them. hundreds of stupas, different colours, textures, materials. They stood tall, congested, pointing straight up to the bright blue sky above. The ground was uneven, rugged and the only noise was that of our gasps as we turned corners and discovered new angles and viewing points. OH wait, I lied, there were other sounds, a subtle twinkling of bells. Tiny metal bells that decorated the top of each pagoda tower, ringing delicately in the warm breeze.

We started at the top and weaved our way down, it’s the kind of place you want to get lost. To just wander around endlessly. A lovely surprise.

 

 

The small village around the temple was quaint and full of life. Well when I say full of life, there were a number of locals relaxing back, eyes closed enjoying the sunshine. We had a small wander, Libby and I were on the lookout for art so we had our eyes peeled for anything that looked like a gallery.

 

 

But it wasn’t long though before our tummies were beckoning us to get back on and head back out for lunch. On the turn in, we had seen a restaurant set back on the waters’ edge, surrounded by trees. We pointed, shouted, did all that we could to signal to the driver to stop for us, but he shook his head and carried on.

 

 

We sat back, completely at his mercy and he drove us ten minutes away to another riverside joint. One of Min’s recommendations, they had picked out a lovely table up high on a two floor floating property, with views of the river.

Once again…

Perfect.

We all looked at each other, nodding in unison, each possessing the same thought, that guide Min did good. He knew we would have liked this and we did! The food was great, the company was homely and familiar and the location was perfect. I was incredibly impressed by our boat drivers resilience in saying no to five women just to get us here.

Stomachs filled it was time to head back. Again we took our time, slowed at various sights, it was the first time I noticed the Gold monument, erected to symbolise where the  ship had sunk, a story we had been introduced to yesterday, by Min.

I knew this was my last boat ride on the water for a while. So I took the opportunity to soak it all in. I secured my camera back in its case, shades on, blanket out and sat back to watch the sunlight glistening on the ripples our boat made as we cut through the waves.

This whole day out had truly been a wonderfully special surprise.

 

 

Moral of the story? Trust your guide! He really did always know best…

 

 

What destinations have taken you by surprise???

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After a jam-packed first day on arrival in Bagan, the second was just as busy, but somehow, much more leisurely.

First things first, after a sensational sunset from the North Guni temple looking out over Old Bagan, we had an early start to catch another beautiful phenomenon, it was time to see the sunrise.

For this, we made our way to a different temple, one where we could not only watch the sun climb up into the endless blue sky, but also where we could witness hundreds of hot air balloons rise, float and then gently fall back down to earth. Bags packed with just a few essentials, Min arranged for our early bus pickup and with the help of torches and phone lights we headed up to the top of the temple in complete darkness. There was not as many people here this time (nobody likes to get up this early). The area was much more spacious at the top of this pagoda, I couldn’t wait to see the view unfold in front of us.

As the light started to creep over the hills in the distance, a couple in their wedding attire appeared with a photography crew, a full on pre-wedding photo shoot was about to occur, I couldn’t think of a more fantastic location!

We all sat together, watching the sun rise up as we chatted excitedly about the day ahead. The cool wind started to fade, the glowing morning light cast out over the land, but we still couldn’t see those balloons….???

We got up to explore and then there they were! to the left of where we had been looking this whole time, silently in the distance, floating up one by one, some of them carrying our friends. It really was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

 

 

The lovely Jonathon Phang had actually told me that the balloon ride over Bagan was the one thing I shouldn’t miss. As someone who is petrified of heights I couldn’t begin to imagine being in a basket in the sky. I did pledge to face my fears and as much as it scared me, I did try and book onto a balloon, however many of us found that bookings need to be made well in advance as it’s extremely popular. So, if you are wanting to experience the view from above – Book a balloon flight as soon as you can.

Nevertheless, the view from the top of our temple was just as spectacular (although I have nothing to compare it to haha!) and it was so nice to hear nothing but the occasional burner from a balloon floating past us.

 

 

Top Tip: Torches are essential if you’re heading out to watch the sunrise. There is no light whatsoever when you climb the steps in the temple, you’ll need something to help you see! 

 

After a relaxing morning and an indulgent breakfast at the hotel. It was time to join the group exploring old Bagan… on bikes. When I read ‘bike tour’ on the itinerary I was excited. When I saw the bike in front of me, excitement?? Errr, not so much. Grabbing the handlebars I remembered the last time I was on one of these things was at the Manchester Sky Ride in the city, where within just ten minutes of being on the road, my family and I had been part of a bike pile up which resulted in me falling flat on my back and weeks of agony and my sister suffering a serious knee injury and ending up on crutches.

Fear of breaking my back again aside, I sucked it up and tried my best to deal with it, without being the big baby of the group. Really hard when you’ve never cycled on a road with trucks flying past you every five minutes and the occasional sandy spot which I always happened to be the one to get stuck in.

My childish issues aside…. cycling in Old Bagan is the perfect way to explore the many, many temples. Min had arranged for a kind of guide to show us round, Coco was handy with bike repairs and knew the area. So he was going to lead the way, guiding us to the best temples and saving us the hassle of navigating and worrying about direction.

We stopped off first at the local market, and from there we went to a number of beautiful pagodas. I’m not going to talk you through each and every one, instead I’m going to share some of my snaps, of which there are many.

 

 

Top tip: Pumps make the perfect Bagan cycling shoe – sturdy enough to cycle with, but still a slip on – which comes in handy when you’re visiting so many temples! Also be sure to pack enough water. Cycling in the heat can be extremely dehydrating. 

 

After a spot of lunch, the group then split – half went on to continue exploration, and the other half of us decided to head off to enjoy a Burmese cooking class, where we spent the rest of the evening.. but that I shall save, as the cookery class warrants its own blog post for sure.

I will share a couple of sneaky pics though…

 

 

There you have it. Day 2 done and dusted. Long shower, comfy bed and a good nights rest ready for another early start to day 3…

 

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