Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik: Travel Tips and Suggestions

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

Open from 8.00am until 7.30pm every day, the Walls of Dubrovnik (Murrales de Dubrovnik) are one of the most spectacular ways to see Old Town and beyond, offering stunning views of the iconic terracotta roofs (added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Series in 1979), Fort Lovrijenac, neighbouring islands and Adriatic Sea. They are considered to be one of the greatest fortifications of the Middle Ages.

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10 Inexpensive Things to See and Do in London

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London is known for being one of the most vibrant, interesting and, ultimately, most expensive cities in the world, and The Bloke and I are lucky enough in that we get to visit several times a year.

There are certainly no shortage of things to experience, but many of the more popular attractions can be quite costly. Last weekend, as our budget was tight, I decided to plan an adventure around the city that consisted of free or inexpensive things to see and do. It turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever had!

Note: The key to saving money is to plan specifically in advance what you would like to do and see – buying tickets for things or aimlessly wandering around until you find something will usually result in spending money that you hadn’t budgeted for. It may also be a good idea to pack a lunch in advance to save money on food during your trip. Continue reading

Tips When Visiting Barcelona

Barcelona TipsChoose your hotel wisely. When going on a city break, it’s more than likely that you will spend most of your time outside, but, for me at least, it’s important that the room is clean and you feel safe to leave possessions behind while you are out exploring. We did very little research on this, but were extremely lucky with what we booked. The Hotel Sant Augusti was exactly that – clean, safe and in a fabulous location, being right next to one of the main metro lines, La Bouquiera Market, the beach, The Gothic Quarter and La Rambla. It also served a buffet breakfast every morning from 7.30am – 11.00am and had free wi-fi, which was useful when keeping in contact with loved ones.

Work out in advance what it is that you really want to see, and where possible, book tickets online before you go as there are enormous queues and long waits for the main attractions. For example, we arrived at La Sagrada Familia early, but had to queue for about half an hour to buy a ticket and then waited a further three hours before we were allowed in as there were timed entrance spots. It may be also useful to take a guidebook and print off maps of the areas you wish to travel to in advance – we had to buy a map when we were there and soon discovered that it was poorly labelled and many of the sights were in the wrong place. Continue reading

Barcelona Awaits…

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Barcelona: make it so!

Tomorrow, The Bloke and I will be jetting off for our first holiday in five years. We took the opportunity with my new change in circumstances to book the trip during term time, something that our jobs have prevented us from doing previously, and as a result we found a brilliant deal in Barcelona for considerably less than what we would had paid if we had done the same trip during the summer.

Even after several days of packing and organising, I’ve still got a heap of things to do, and therefore haven’t been able to catch up on all of the comments I’ve received. For that, I’m sorry – I appreciate every single one and I’ll do my best to reply to all as soon as possible. However, for the next week, I am hoping to be fulfilling several items on the Bucket List – exploring La Sagrada Familia and The Gothic Quarter,  visiting the Picasso Museum and eating authentic tapas in particular – but I’m mainly looking forward to spending time with The Bloke with peace and quiet and no time limits or demands. And after spending a large percentage of the summer being green with envy at my friends and family’s photographs of their holiday adventures in all sorts of exotic locations, I’m going to take a slightly vindictive delight in posting pictures of my view from the beach. On Monday. When they’re at work. I imagine it will look like this:

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Love the hat…

However, the blog won’t be completely ignored. I have WiFi at the hotel and a number of wonderful bloggers to introduce you to during my absence – it’s always good to share the #bloglove.

Thank you for all your support, your kindness and your friendship. I hope you all have a wonderful week!

xx

How a Natural Disaster Gained Me an Invitation to the White House

At the very top of my Bucket List was one thing:

‘Visit New York.’

I had spent my teenage years watching American programmes like Sex and the City and Friends, and had started to develop a little obsession with going there, to the point where I had books and posters all over the house.

After I qualified as a teacher I started working at a secondary school. I had only been there for about a year when I heard that the history department were planning an American History and Politics trip to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and after several months of nagging and annoying the trip leader he eventually agreed to let me join.

And so it was I found myself stood outside a hostel around the corner from Madison Square Gardens at 3.00am during the Easter holidays of 2010, accompanied by seven other members of staff and 56 children, all of whom were tired and clutching suitcases that were stuffed with far too many items of clothing for a week – long trip.

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Times Square at night

The itinerary had been planned right down the the minute with the plan to see and do as much as possible in the three days that we had scheduled. We kept to it – we went up the Empire State Building and the ‘Top of the Rock,’ visited Times Square (several times), took the Staten Island Ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty, played volleyball on Coney Island, shopped at Macy’s, the Apple Store and Bloomingdales, and we walked. And walked. And walked some more. We walked through Central Park, paid our respects to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields, we walked around Wall Street and through to Ground Zero, where the new tower had just started construction, we walked around Washington Square and listened to the amazing street performers. I saw works of art that I had previously studied at the MOMA and The Met. In our bright red waterproofs with the school logo printed in the front we were the ultimate tourists – my feet were swollen and blistered but it was absolutely worth it.

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A very happy doorman at the Empire State Building

On the fourth day we travelled by coach to the National Constitution Centre in Philadelphia, stopping along the way to run the the ‘Rocky’ steps. Unfortunately, I was quite a heavy smoker at the time and so my running consisted of ‘run halfway, stop to avoid passing out and then run the rest.’ We then travelled to Washington, where we were staying at a hotel in the centre of the city.

After spending half a week in a bunk bed in a hostel I was delighted that my room not only had a double bed, but a bath. It was dark by the time that we had checked in, eaten and unpacked, and so we went for a walk to see the White House and the Washington Monument. We didn’t get back until late and so it was decided that the next day would be a lazier start to the morning. I woke up early and while everybody else was getting ready I went in search of some cigarettes, and managed to buy some in a waffle store opposite Ford’s Theatre.

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Washington Monument

We spent the next few days following the itinerary as scheduled – we visited the Smithsonian museums, sat in the gallery during a congressional debate (during which our trip leader was told off for falling asleep) and the older students were delighted to see some of the politicians that they had been studying as part of their course. We visited the ‘Newseum’ where I says the antenae from the Twin Towers, sections of the Berlin Wall, John Dillinger’s death mask and some of Elvis Presley’s costumes. We played rounders on the grass, during which lots of Americans stopped to tell us that we were playing ‘baseball’ wrong. At night we visited the memorials. One of the greatest experiences of my life was sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, overlooking the Washington Mall – it was dark, clear and warm and I found it almost impossible to take in the sheer significance of where I was.

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The Lincoln Memorial at night

On our final day, when we were eating breakfast, our trip leader received a phone call. The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull had erupted, causing all planes to be grounded, including the one that was supposed to fly us back to England. We weren’t going anywhere. In fact, the travel insurance company couldn’t tell us when we would be able to leave, and had paid for us to stay for another week in the hotel.

Awesome.

After spending the previous week following a strict itinerary, we decided to relax a little. We visited things that we could have only dreamed of before – the Holocaust Museum (which I had to go to the toilets to stop myself from crying in front of the students), we went to Alexandria and Georgetown, and we visited Arlington Cemetery. It was the best possible situation – the travel company paid for our food and accommodation and the hotel allowed parents to wire over more money to students, even though they didn’t need it.

One morning I received a phonecall in my room at the hotel:

Him: Hi there, could I speak to Mr … (Our trip leader)

Me: I’m sorry, you have the wrong room, but can I pass on a message?

Him: my name is B, I am calling from The White House.

I almost dropped the phone. We had tried to get into a tour previously but were disappointed to discover that this needed to be booked several months in advance.

Me: erm… Good morning!

Him: We saw your story in the Washington Post and we would like to invite you and your group for a tour of the White House…

It turns out, the Washington Post had heard about our situation and had written a short article about us. The next day we were lined up outside the White House entrance with our passports, excitedly waiting to go in. Some of the students were convinced that we would see Obama, and were sorely disappointed when we saw his helicopter taking off.

And there I was, walking around the lower floor of the White House, staring at portraits of Presidents gone by that I had only seen previously on the television or in books. What an experience.

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Outside the White House

We discovered later that the ash cloud had cleared and we would be on a flight in two days time. Not before, however, we attended the ‘Earth Concert’ on the Washington Mall, during which we watched Jimmy Cliff, John Legend and Sting perform.

Our return to the UK was just as eventful. Only one coach showed up, leaving a small amount of the group behind to wait several hours for another coach, and on our return to school we were faced with local TV crews who did news reports on our American adventure.

Oh, and the final thing we were told upon our return after only nine hours sleep in two days and a 5000 mile journey? We had an OFSTED inspection the next day…

What about you guys? Have you ever been stranded anywhere?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

Paris Adventures

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The Eiffel Tower, taken from the Bateaux Mouches

Paris was a surprise trip for The Bloke. I’d been a few times before when I was in my late teens on various college trips, but they had only been for a day each time we went. I knew that he’d always wanted to visit, so six weeks before the summer in 2010 I booked five days in a little hotel near Montmartre and got some great deals on flights. I was so excited. The initial plan was to tell him that we were going to London for the weekend and then when arriving at the station for Birmingham International Airport (the London bound trains always stop here) I was going to reveal our actual destination, but he attempted to buy train tickets for London in advance to save some money, so I was forced to tell him a little earlier than I wanted to.

Paris is beautiful. Everything about the city is stunning – the food, the architecture, the history, the people – if I ever won the lottery I have promised myself that I will buy a tiny little flat so me and The Bloke can go there for half the year. It’s sophisticated, romantic and exciting – I’m a little in love with the place and I was really excited about the opportunity to see it again.

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A view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

As we knew it was probably the only time for the forseeable future that we could visit, we crammed in as much as we possibly could into those five days and we were lucky that the weather was gloriously hot throughout the trip. I worked out how to navigate the metro system, which was fairly easy as it is almost identical to the London Tube, but was a little intimidated by the travellers that jumped on the trains to play music and ask for money, even though they were incredibly talented. We went up the Eiffel Tower (which is never a pleasant experience for me as I have a real issue with heights), saw the Sacre Coeur and walked right up to the top of the steps to see the fabulous views, we toured Notre Dame Cathedral, The Pantheon, Concorde, we walked down the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, we stood at the Trocadero at dusk to see the Eiffel Tower light up (The Bloke didn’t know about this and his look of surprise was an absolute delight when it happened), walked through the Jardin de Luxembourg, saw the Moulin Rouge, travelled down the Seine on the Bateaux Mouches and at night we sat by the Seine and watched the sunset over the Eiffel Tower.

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Concorde

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Inside the Pantheon

I think my favourite experience of all was the Bateaux Mouches – we were able to travel down the Seine on a tourist boat and were given information about the different buildings as we passed by. The weather was gorgeous, the breeze was beautiful and we were able to relax and enjoy the beautiful views.

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Jim Morrison’s grave, Pere Lachaise

While this may seem quite morbid to some, we also visited Montmartre and Pere Lachaise Cemeteries where we saw the graves of Nijinsky, Berlioz, Rossini, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Stephane Grappeli and Chopin. As we approached Jim Morrison’s resting place we were greeted by some die-hard The Doors fans, wearing The Doors t-shirts and playing their music. It wasn’t what I expected – it was quite small and unnassuming and it was hidden away in the middle of lots of graves, although it was adorned with flowers and notes. A friend who had visited the week before told me that someone had placed a bottle of Jack Daniels on the grave when she was there. We spent a ridiculously long time looking for the grave of Maria Callas, only to find that it had been moved several years ago.

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Attempting to see the Mona Lisa

We also had to visit the Apple store below the Louvre. The Bloke is an ICT Technician and is an enormous fan of all things Apple and quietly stood in the store with his iPod trying not to show how giddy he was. We visited The Louvre and saw the Venus D’Milo and what must have been thousands of beautiful paintings. This was the first time I had visited and had recently developed an interest in art history thanks to becoming friends with a lovely art teacher at work, and I was desperately looking forward to seeing the Mona Lisa. However, attempting to get to it was about as difficult as getting to the front row of a Bon Jovi concert – it was extremely busy and I had to be quite rude and push my way through to see what was essentially a much smaller painting than I had imagined. After I we left I realised that we missed the Botticelli. Gutted. However, as we walked back towards the Champs Elysees I saw this, which cheered me up:

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Haaaaaaa!

Sometimes, I can be incredibly childish!!

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Notre Dame Cathedral

At the back of Notre Dame on the Pont de L’Archeveche it has become a tradition for visiting couples to put ‘love locks’ on the bridge. They write their names on a padlock, clip it to the fence and drop the keys in the Seine. After locating a hardware store (which is more difficult than I originally thought), The Bloke and I carved our initials into a small silver lock and clipped it onto the bridge – it was incredibly romantic, even more so that it was his suggestion.

It’s a perfect excuse to go back and see whether it’s still there…

You can also find me on Twitter @suzie81blog