A Dream Holiday Win: A Week In Crete

Thanks to the very generous people at Silver Travel Advisor and Simpson Travel, we’ve just spent an amazing week in Western Crete at the GK Beach Hotel.  As you know, I’m a keen comper and I always have my suitcase packed for my next trip, so I was able to combine my travel experience with my comping hobby by adding several reviews onto the Silver Trip Advisor website and I ended up bagging this wonderful prize.

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First thing first.  Let me tell you about the first class pre-departure service we received from Simpson Travel.  A personal booking service, the offer of car hire or private transfer to our hotel, a generous 20kg luggage allowance each, proper luggage labels and meet and greet at Chania airport on arrival with a cool bottle of water.

On arrival at GK Beach we were met by Chris and Sev, our Simpson Travel reps who showed us personally to our junior suite (room 1A) and gave us a run down of the facilities.  It was fabulous to have such a personal touch.  Simpson Travel also provided us with a gift of Cretan honey, lavender oil and some oregano (handy for those Greek salads).  As we were on a B&B basis, they also provided a very generous 50 euro voucher towards dinner and drinks at the hotel.

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The hotel is small and friendly.  All the communal space is outdoor and is, in the main, shared with the general public (with the exception of the pool and certain designated sitting areas and sunbeds for Simpson Travel guests only).

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Our room was bright and spacious with a mini kitchen area so we were able to knock up a quick lunch…..well, until, that is we discovered the village bakery at Kalyves, then it was pies all the way (spinach, feta, potato and burger!).

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Breakfast was an absolute delight and included Greek yoghurt, thyme honey from the owner’s hives, feta cheese, a selection of fruit and veg, a cooked selection (eggs, bacon etc), pastries, excellent quality coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, PG Tips, and the yummiest sourdough bread.

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The location of GK Beach couldn’t be better.  It is right on the beach, five minutes to the local supermarket and 20 minutes walk to the centre of Kalyves with its many tavernas and shops (oh and the aforementioned bakery).

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We dined at GK a couple of evenings. The food is fresh and made to order.  We both had this very tasty sea bream.

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We spent our days walking into the town which has a lovely little harbour, mooching about and generally doing nothing.  There is of course much to see in and around the Souda Bay area, but as we are in the process of moving house, we just wanted to chill out.

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The evenings we didn’t spend at the hotel, we tried some of the local tavernas.  In Provlita, right on the seafront, I had the most delicious lamb chops I have ever tasted in my life. The Greek salad served there was a jewelled masterpiece too!

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My favourite thing to do the whole week, was to sit under this tree in the main square in Kalyves, reading my book, and drinking coffee.

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We had a fabulous break!  Thanks so much to Silver Travel Adviser and Simpson Travel for such a wonderful experience.  Crete has worked its magic on us.  We submitted to the gentle pace of life and have come home refreshed and ready to move house!

 

 

 

Marrakech for Softies

I have wanted to see Marrakech since Michael Palin’s Sahara programme back in the nineties.  This desire was fuelled by Pinterest pictures of fabulous architecture and blog posts about getting lost in the souks.  I finally got my way last month and we touched down in the amazing modern airport full of excitement.

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Our excitement was tempered somewhat by a two hour queue to get through passport control (yes, seriously) and by the time we got to the hotel we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for.  However, the next morning, the city was revealed in all its shabby chic glory.  Here are my best bits:

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The Marjorelle Gardens

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I’ve written a full blog post about this which you can read herehere.  So inspirational and it has given me lots of ideas for my own garden.

The Artisan Market

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Next door to our hotel and perfect for shopping if you don’t like haggling.  I bought most of my stuff here.  The tiles in this place are just gorgeous.  You pay a little bit more than the souks, but saves a lot of hassle if you are a hopeless haggler like me.  They did a mean mint tea too.

The Souks

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Amazing warren of tiny alleyways – we toured with a guide as I wasn’t adventurous enough to risk getting lost.  You can buy almost anything here including wrought iron, leather goods, spices and clothing.

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The main square is a cacophony of people shouting; trance like music; and people approaching you with anything from snakes, to monkeys to henna tattoos.  Kids pestered us to buy tissues and were quite persistent.  We escaped to the Café de France to watch the chaos from afar with a mint tea.

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The storks at the Badi palace

At about 25 minutes walk from our hotel (with quite a bit of pestering along the way) this was an easy DIY option.  We had a pop out map with us, but the huge storks’s nest on the ramparts could be seen from afar, so no danger of getting lost.  I loved this place with its souk and these huge amazing birds just flying around above you.

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The whole experience was memorable to say the least – despite us taking the easy option!

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Zurich City Break

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If you were to ask me what my ideal city break involved, it would go something like this: fabulous architecture, amazing history, a river running through it, a strong sense of identity, foodie heaven, cute coffee houses and quirky shops.  Well, Zurich has all of these things in abundance.  In fact, it is so pretty I’ve had difficulty in choosing photos for the blog as the temptation to just photo-bomb you with pretty squares is huge!  On top of that, we are in the run up to Christmas, so the city’s festive vibe (think hot chocolate, sheepskin seat covers in outdoor cafes, sparkly window displays) only enhanced the experience!

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Not only did my Lonely Planet competition win include flights with Swiss Air and a fabulous stay at the Atlantis by Giardino, we were also given a Zurich City Pass which gave us 72 hours free transport in and around the city.

Steve is drawn to water so the first thing we did was jump on a boat for a lake tour.  The autumn colours were breath-taking!

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The trip takes one and a half hours and is free with the Zurich card.

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The city is right on the waterfront, so it was only a short hop into town to see the Fraumunster and its amazing Chagall windows.  We were very lucky to have popped into the cathedral just as an orchestra was rehearsing for that night’s performance of one of Bach’s cello suites, so we took a pew (literally) and enjoyed the music.

Next was a coffee shop recommended by the hotel: Schobers.  It’s like a winter wonderland in there, with the most amazing cash register I’ve ever seen.

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There are squares in abundance, each with multi coloured buildings that are just so typically European.

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We visited the very grand Metropol Café, famously frequented by Albert Einstein, who, it is said, developed his revolutionary theories in the early 1900s whilst sitting here with a drink.   Just look at those impressive columns.

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We also enjoyed a hot chocolate in café Odeon, where, in the first half of the century, writers, artists and intellectuals would hang out to discuss politics and culture.  The décor is grand and the place just oozes history.

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One of the prettiest areas is the Fisherman’s district where long, low houses lie along the water’s edge.  This district is crammed with antique shops and individual boutiques.

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Split across both sides of the river Limmat, the city is ideal for a city break because it is easily covered on foot.

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The architecture is a real mix of traditional and modern, with some lovely old squares having quite unusual pieces of art.

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You didn’t have to look far for traditional houses though, many with flowers spilling over the balconies.

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This was such a beautiful place to visit in the run up to Christmas.  I’ll leave you with a photo of this fountain in one of the many impossibly pretty squares.

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Celebrity Reflection: My Favourite Places On Board

Celebrity Reflection is a whopper, so I have decided not to do a tour of the ship as we’d be here all day.  Instead, these were my favourite places to hangout.

The open deck – lots of space to sit and have a drink in the sunshine.

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The solarium – a quiet place for a dip or Jacuzzi.  It houses the Aqua Spa Café where you can grab something healthy to eat. It was beautifully lit at night so you could swim in the moonlight should you wish.

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The Martini Bar – the counter top is frosted ice, so you can write your name, or indeed your favourite pop group on the bar while you drink your martini.

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Café Al Bacio – the best place for cappuccino, posh teas, reading in the afternoon and people watching after dinner.  The cakes were fab too!

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Our cabin (6155) which had an extended balcony -perfect for watching the waves – we even spotted dolphins one day.  It was classed as ‘obstructed’ but as you can see, our view was not impaired by the lifeboats below us.

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The Atrium – a huge space where there was always something going on.  The lifts were pretty impressive too.

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Finally, the library – I was in here all the time browsing and picking up books to read.  I hope you enjoyed this little snoop round!

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Celebrity Reflection: Eastern Med Cruise

Back from our ten day cruise in the Eastern Med on the 126000 tonne Celebrity Reflection and I have so much to tell you I don’t know where to begin!  I’m not going to offer a traditional review of the ship and the ports as you can get all that on Cruise Critic. What I am going to offer is a personal insight into our experience with posts on destinations, food, our favourite hangouts on the ship, fashion and anything else that springs to mind!  I hope you will enjoy reading the upcoming blog posts over the next few days!

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As you can see, she is a massive floating hotel and it’s fair to say we have been indulged and cossetted from the moment we boarded in Civitavecchia.

This is a quick overview of ports:

  • Civitavecchia Italy
  • Messina, Sicily
  • Mykonos
  • Kusadasi, Turkey
  • Rhodes
  • Santorini
  • Piraeus, Greece
  • Naples

Just a few pictures for starters – I took so many!

Messina: the most gorgeous architecture

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Messina

Naples: the scruffiest, but full of character

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Naples

Mykonos: the prettiest place

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Steve in Mykonos

 

Beautiful Bardolino

Bardolino, on the southern part of Lake Garda, Italy is an absolute gem.  We were so lucky to have a really hot week in August which lent itself beautifully to sitting outdoors and watching the world go by.

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Our favourite lunch spot was the Mirabella, where you can sit right on the lake and even get splashed from passing boats!

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I was under strict doctor’s orders to rest, so no lake trips or long walks, but from here you can easily walk to Lazise or Garda, and take a boat across the lake to Malcesine, Limone or Sirmione.

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We managed to squeeze in a visit to the opera at Bardolino which was set in an old church and so atmospheric!

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Dinner every night was taken in town and we tasted a fair amount of seafood and pasta.

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Everyone seemed to be drinking Aperol spritz so we joined in too!

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Bardolino is famous for its wine and the local rose was delicious.

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I also managed to sneak in just one cake!

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We had some amazing thunderstorms while we were there – the lake is famous for them.  Somehow we didn’t get wet!

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I’m definitely going back again when I’m feeling better so that we can do more sightseeing.