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November 2, 2017

Great travel gadgets you really WILL use

Great Travel Gadgets - The Quirky Traveller

We live in an exciting and wonderful world. No longer are we expected to raise our kids, then sit back on a rocker and wait to grow old. It is a new day. We work hard, invest well, and take full advantage of our lives. There are grand adventures awaiting us and we are answering the call.

On the road with The Quirky Traveller - Travel Gadgets

More of us are taking advantage of our middle age years to travel and challenge the world. We want to see beyond the lights of a city or the peak of a mountain. We want to lay on sandy beaches that others miss. Sure, we may take a road trip through The Rockies, but you can bet, while we are there, we will visit lesser-known tourist sights and seek out more unusual travel experiences. This is our generation and we are claiming it.

How We Prepare

Preparation for trip - best travel gadgets

Of course, we do our research. We get an idea of the area we want to see and we look past the offered group tours to facilities and bespoke tours that are ours by design. Traveling with that mindset means we have to be prepared. We take care of our body, and we invest in the best hiking gear so when the opportunity arises, we are ready. There are times when special deals just land at our feet. Those are the times we check on the baggage allowance and use that as our guide as to what we will need. We are always ready with the basics at hand.  We always have ways to do more with less.

Great Travel Gadgets 

Great travel gadgets you must have

When we embrace this “live for the moment” lifestyle, you often improvise. We know that there will be something we don’t have and usually, there is something that will suffice. But there are some travel gadgets that we love so much we always have them in our suitcase or backpack. Here are a few of our favorites.

A UK/US/AU/Europe All-in-One Plug

International all-in-one plug adapter - travel gadgets

A compact universal travel adapter is a lifesaver. It fits easily into your luggage and it allows you to charge your electronics no matter where you are. You can pick one up on Amazon for less than £10.00.

Inflatable clothes hangers

Inflatable hanger - travel gadgets you'll really use

These are easy to carry and small when deflated. When you are hiking or traveling and need to rinse out a piece of wet clothing, just inflate a hanger. It holds the item open so it dries faster and you can hang it anywhere. This is one of the must-have travel gadgets, especially if you hike in wet areas.

Head-torch

Head Torch - travel gadgets

Yes, you have a flashlight or you use the one on your phone. But what if you are hiking and find yourself on slippery rocks, or trying to climb up a steep walk? What if you need to hold on to something to keep your balance. A head torch is perfect. The lamp is on your forehead and the band keeps it secure. Your light is always illuminating what you are looking at. Ideal for many travel situations.

Free Travel Apps That You Will Really Use

Travel App - travel gadgets you will really use

Okay, so this is not a gadget, but it is used on your expensive gadget-friendly smartphone. For travelers going to foreign lands, download the Duolingo app. This app makes it easy to communicate if the conversation goes beyond, “coffee please”. It will also help you learn a language via a free picture id game. You must conquer a level before you advance. It is a great way to brush up on your second language and kill some time at the train station.

Trip Whistle SOS is an app that tells you the emergency numbers when you travel outside your own country. In the UK, 999 is the emergency number. But, there are more than 70 different numbers in 196 countries. You can feel safe knowing the right number to call no matter where you are.

Sunglasses with built-in video recorder

Video sunglasses - travel gadgets you must have

 While you are out hiking in the wild or strolling along a beach and you want to capture the view that has opened in front of you, simply turn on your High-quality HD, video recording sunglasses. You capture the moment as you see it and you don’t have to carry a camera or your phone with you. 

World’s Smallest Espresso Maker

Minipresso coffee maker - travel gadgets you must have

Maybe the idea of hiking up the side of a snow-covered mountain doesn’t scare you. Maybe exploring a hidden cave behind a massive waterfall is child’s play to you. But, living without espresso will strike fear into your very soul! Minipresso is made by Wacaco. It is billed as the smallest and lightest hand-held espresso machine available. It features an automatic piston, so you can brew anywhere on the planet. You do not need compressed air or electricity and no cartridges. All you need is water and your favorite coffee beans.

Coffee beans and cup

There are a lot of travel gadgets out there designed to make your hike or holiday easier and safer. Just remember, what you carry – well, you have to carry! So keep your gear light and only take what you really need or really will use. Before long you will be a pro at living it up anywhere you lay your head.

Thanks to Wendy of  The Blog Frog for sharing her best gadgets. What’s your favourite travel gadget or app? Leave your suggestion in the Comment Box below. (Mine’s already there.)

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Best travel gadgets you really will use

October 25, 2017

Top 10 reasons to choose an escorted tour of India

Delhi Station porters

Porters at Delhi Station

“Here, ma’am, over here. Take your bag? Porter for you. I help you onto train …” A cacophony of voices ricocheted around Delhi Railway Station as we trotted down the stairs onto the busy platform. It was early morning and we were on our way to Kalka to join the Toy Train to Shimla. But first we had to navigate the chaotic melee that is to be seen at every big city railway station in India, find the correct carriage and make sure our luggage came on board with us. Fortunately I was on a Great Rail Journeys award-winning escorted tour and had nothing to worry about.

Ganesh Elephant God Shimla India - photo Zoe Dawes

Our wonderful guide, Farouk, had everything organised and it was a seamless, if noisy, transition from our hotel to the station and the Shatabdi Express. A coach had taken us from the 5-star Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel in the heart of the city to the station entrance from where our suitcases had been whisked away. The next time we saw them was on the train. All we had to do was follow Farouk, wait on the platform til our train arrived and take lots of photos of the lively scenes all around us. This was just one of the many advantages of being on an escorted tour in India.

10 reasons to choose an Escorted Tour of India

1.  Knowledgeable Tour Manager

Farouk Escorted Tour Manager Great Rail Journeys India

Having a dedicated tour manager who knows the lie of the land and can smooth away all the hassle of travel, is a huge benefit. They ensure your trip is hassle-free from the moment you come through customs, throughout your trip until you check back in at the airport. Farouk, our escort, dealt with a myriad of issues, from ensuring our hotel rooms were ready, booking meals, handing out train tickets, answering questions about Indian etiquette, liaising with local guides and keeping us all together as we wandered the streets of Shimla and scattered around the Taj Mahal.

2.  Smooth transitions from place to place

Agra street scene India - photo Zoe Dawes

Agra street scene

One of the biggest time-consumers on independent travel is getting from A to B and on to C. Travelling around a foreign country can be stressful, especially if you don’t know the language. India has many pluses, but public transport can be very challenging for some visitors. On an escorted tour everything is taken care of, so you can enjoy the journey, with transport, tickets and luggage all magically sorted.

3.  Accommodation organised in advance

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel Lobby Delhi India

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Lobby

With so much choice, choosing where to stay in India is a dilemma. Can you trust the web description? Is the Trip Advisor rating accurate? Where exactly is this hotel in relation to the sights you want to see? On a reputable escorted tour, this is all taken out of your hands. They will choose good hotels because they want happy customers. In Delhi we stayed at the excellent Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel. Great Rail Journeys only chooses the very top hotels so satisfaction is guaranteed.

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms Shimla

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms

In Shimla we had two nights in the delightful Oberoi Cecil, It’s famous not only for its local heritage but also because Mohan Singh Oberoi, the founder of Oberoi Hotels, started work here, rose through the ranks and eventually bought the hotel. The food, a combination of international, pan-Indian and local Himachali dishes, was superb and the service second-to-none.

TIC Mughal Agra banquet India

ITC Mughal – the biggest Indian bread you ever did see

The uber-luxurious ITC Mughal in Agra was another perfect hotel. We each stayed in a gorgeous suite and were treated to a delicious Mughal Banquet which included the biggest Indian bread I’ve ever seen. (even bigger than the Bradford Naan!)

4.  Value for money

Woman at the Red Fort Agra India- photo Zoe Dawes

Woman at Red Fort Agra

A trip to India is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday but, whatever your budget, you want to know you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck, if you’ll pardon the expression. Taking into account all your costs (see Point 5), an escorted tour can be the most cost-effective way of travelling. Whether you go for more economically priced tours, or splash out on a top-quality company like Great Rail Journeys, you can be sure that you are getting excellent value for money.

5.  Easy to budget

Closely linked to point 4, you can easily budget because just about everything is included. For example, on the Indian Golden Triangle Tour I sampled, scheduled return flights, 5-star hotel accommodation, superb meals and filling packed lunches, rail and coach travel, transfers and porterage, guided tours and dedicated Tour Manager are all included in the booking price. That meant we only had to pay for drinks, tips and souvenirs – which are a bargain in India.

6.  Tailored excursions to make the most of time and place

The Toy Train in the Himalayas Shimla India- photo Zoe Dawes

The Toy Train in the Himalayas

Good excursions should be a winning combination of stress-free organisation combined with well-informed local guides who take visitors rounds sites, share interesting stories and intriguing facts at a pace suited to the group’s level of fitness and interest. The major highlights of our trip included the Toy Train to Shimla, city tour of Delhi and to Agra for the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, which was more lovely than I had imagined. That visit was enhanced by our tour guide, who brought the love story of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to life with fascinating information about the building and the significance of the architecture.

7.  Bespoke experiences to enhance local knowledge

Raj Ghat Mahatma Ghandi Delhi - photo Zoe Dawes

Raj Ghat – memorial to Mahatma Ghandi in Delhi

All good tours will have some unusual experiences to enhance their customers’ enjoyment. It might be a cookery lesson, wine-tasting, sailing on house-boat, wild-life photography or joining  in a traditional festival. On our trip, we watched locals taking part in a temple blessing, saw the sun rise over the Himalayas and heard an excellent talk on Shimla and the history of the British in India from charming historian Raaja Bhasin.

8.  Relatively risk-free giving peace of mind

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas - India - photo Zoe Dawes

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas

The best tour companies have fine-tuned their holidays to ensure that customers have a smooth and risk-free trip. India is a vibrant, colourful country with a somewhat lax approach to health and safety … With guides chosen for their attention to detail and drivers chosen for their experience of the crazy Indian driving habits, we were in very capable hands, even on the exciting journey back down the mountain road from Shimla. Advice on what food and drink to try ensured that I for one, avoided Delhi Belly and was able to experience superb Indian cuisine with no side effects.

9. Freedom and flexibility

Marble sculptors in Agra Market India - photo Zoe Dawes

Marble Sculptors – Agra Market

Select your escorted tour carefully and you will get both free time and flexibility in the programme. These trips are often packed with things to see and do, which can be tiring.  I’m sure you will find plenty of options to suit your own tastes. I need a break to just wander around on my own. On our trip, we had some free time in Agra and I went off with a couple of others from the group to explore a local market. Others relaxed by the pool, chatted at the bar, read a book, slept or had a indulgent Spa Treatment.

10.  The company of like-minded people

Great Rail Journeys escorted tour Taj Mahal India

At the Taj |Mahal

This is one of the biggest selling points of an escorted tour. Because everyone has chosen the same trip, you can be sure that you will find plenty of people who share your own interests. On Great Rail Journeys a common denominator is often, but not always, a love of rail travel, for which India is rightly famous. However, many people go on their tours because of their desire to see famous sights, learn more about the culture and traditions of India and to experience these memorable moments with others.

I travelled to India courtesy of Great Rail Journeys; I am grateful them for enabling me to fulfill a life-long dream in such a marvellous way. Special thanks to our guide Farouk for his unfailing care and good humour, to all the friendly staff in the hotels we stayed in and to all the wonderful people we met along the way who made this trip so special.

If you’d like to go on a similar trip, take a look at Great Rail Journeys escorted tours of India, specially tailored for the 50+ demographic, and start planning your trip of a lifetime now 🙂

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Top 10 Reasons to choose an Escorted Tour - Pinterest image Zoe Dawes

September 3, 2017

Visit 6 of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan

Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto Japan - photo Martin Falbisoner

Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto – photo Martin Falbisoner

In the next in our World Travel Blogger series, tourism expert Scott Carruthers shares some of his favourite places to visit in Japan.

Japan’s most notable tourist destinations

Kyoto in Japan

Kyoto

Japan is a beautiful country with so much to see. The historical side of Japan creates a world of fascinating cultural elements, like Samurai swords, ancient artwork, and tea-ceremony experiences. The modern side of Japan will leave your mouth agape, as you gaze at high tech infrastructure and dazzling skyscrapers. Through out it all, you will see breathtaking natural landscapes, meet amazing people, and taste amazing food. Here are six of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan, which you should be sure to include in your itinerary.

1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is iconic and carries the great weight of history. When you visit this cite, which is a memorial to the WW2 bombings of Hiroshima, you might feel a sense of loss. However, as you take in the paper cranes and vibrant, colorful memorial decorations, you begin to feel a sense of resolution. This memorial is truly a celebration of peace.

2. Todaiji Temple – Nara

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō Temple Nara in Japan

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō in Japan

The Todaiji Temple in Nara was constructed in 752 as the central Buddhist temple of the time period. The main hall of the temple is giant, and holds a stunning Buddha statue and is is said to be the world’s largest wooden Buddha room. Feed the deer that share the temple grounds, and visit the adjacent Todaiji Temple museum in order to learn more about this historically significant monument.

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Fujisan from Motohakone Japan

Fujisan from Motohakone

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is home to Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain. The cone shaped and sometimes white-peaked mountain is a sight to behold! Hikers can attempt the daunting hike up this formidable 12,400 foot peak by traveling to a half way station and then managing the rest by foot. Though the peak is an active volcano, it has not erupted in over 300 years. The national park is a restful place to stay for several days if you need a respite from bustling city life.

 

4. Kinkaku-ji Temple – Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple Kyoto Japan

Kinkaku-ji – Temple of the Golden Pavilion

This widely loved and acclaimed tourist attraction in Kyoto is famous for good reason. Kinkaku-ji is also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and is a beautiful structure covered in gold leaf. This work of art is placed in a harmonious garden filled with natural beauty. The accumulated effect is a visual masterpiece. The temple sits on the edge of a pond, and the gold reflected in the water is a sight that you won’t want to miss.

5. Imperial Palace – Tokyo

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo Japan

The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace of Tokyo is a must-see when you visit Japan because of its stunning architecture, landscaping, and rich quality of the scene. You will not be permitted into the palace or in many of the grounds, but you can walk through the traditional Japanese gardens that surround the palace. Be sure to snap a shot of the picturesque Nijubashi Bridge.

6. Ueno Park, Tokyo

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park Tokyo Japan

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park – photo Bernard Gagnon

This is a large park right in Tokyo filled with natural wonder. For a real treat, try visiting when the cherry blossom is in bloom. Ueno Park is designed in a very aesthetically pleasing way, and even if you do nothing but walk the many paths and soak in the design, it will be well worth it. If you’d like a little added adventure, visit the park’s zoo or go on a ride at the amusement park.

D. Scott Carruthers grew up within a military family and was forced to move from country to country through-out his youth. Rather than find this disagreeable, like many would, he enjoyed it! He loved being immersed in a new culture and landscape each time the family moved. From this background was born a love for world travel that did not leave him as he grew older. He entered the Air Force, and then studied business. He then used his expertise to start a successful travel-based business Dennis Scott Carruthers Travel.

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6 must-see sights in Japan - The Quirky Traveller

 

July 18, 2017

Check out 7 romantic hotspots for couples in Croatia

Croatia, being one of the world’s most most romantic destinations, is sure to offer you the romantic break you and your partner deserve! Adventure into paradise and explore the wonders Croatia has to offer; from beaches to skilled winemaking, Croatia will not disappoint.  

1. Zesty Zagreb

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Zagreb

Located in the heart of Zagreb lies Kava Tava, home to the freshest pancakes, homemade burgers, and a variety of Italian and Argentinian foods. Kava Tava invites you to indulge in a burst of flavours to excite your tastebuds with your loved one, at the end of a day of exploring the stunning city.

2. Pula Paradise

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Pula

Discover Ambrela Beach, packed with adventure and excitement. Why not travel around the vast beaches of Pula and take a plunge in the cool waters? Alternatively, there’s plenty of fun to be had on a paddle boat or banana boat, ensuring an unforgettable day with your partner. Top it all off with a scoop of Croatia’s finest flavours of ice cream.

3. Riding the Waves in Dubrovnik

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Dubrovnik

Open a new chapter in your life by finding a new passion sailing the seas and riding the waves, with Dubrovnik Daily Sailing. Take your partner to the islands and sail the shores around Dubrovnik to find the perfect spot for a delicious homemade picnic. Why not have a peaceful swim and enjoy breathtaking views of the vast landscape, before enjoying refreshing drinks at D’Vino Wine Bar located right by the sea.

4. Pure Relaxation in Split

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Split

Indulge in a soothing spa retreat at the Radisson Blu Resort in Split. From swimming pools and stone beaches to a fitness gym and treatments, Radisson Blu is your own personal utopia awaiting your arrival. End the evening with an exotic cocktail at the late night bar, followed by a comforting stay at the hotel itself.

5. Fairytale Fortress in Hvar

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Hvar

Climb to the top of the town and experience a bird’s eye view of the vibrant city Hvar. The enchanted fortress has been around since 500 BC and is a popular destination for tourists, so why not spend a romantic day there with your partner?

6. Kistanje Kiss

Krka Monastery Croatia - photo Sonjabgd

A guided tour around the Krka Monastery, 3 km east of Kistanje, in central Dalmatia, will leave you breathless in awe of the tranquil lifestyle the monks live. Take an eye-opening day somewhere unexplored and so peaceful with your partner. It’s definitely a place like no other and and you can be sure that the two of your will enjoy it together.

7. The Island of Love

Galesnjak

Galesnjak is one of the most romantic places in Croatia, due to the fact that the island itself is shaped like a heart. Attracting a lot of attention from tourists and locals, Galesnjakknown as the ‘island of love’, is the perfect location for couples to spend quality time together.

Visit Croatia, the heart of romance and love, for the ultimate couples break away. Whether you’re looking for exciting explorations or a gastronomic adventure, Croatia is a magical and magnificent place to be with the one you love. 

This article is brought to you by TruTripper, where you can find amazing deals to get a romantic holiday for less.

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7 Romantic Hotspots in Croatia

June 30, 2017

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

In our latest World Travel Blogger series, hiking expert Rebecca Crawford shares her top tips for a beginner hiker/walker.

Hiking is so much fun, and can be therapeutic at best! You get to exercise and connect with nature at the same time, which unravels a world you had no idea existed in the first place. If you’ve never gone on hikes before, there are a couple of things you need to know before you actually get on that trail. Keep in mind that no one knows everything; but it sure does help having a few tips that will guide you through this awesome adventure and make your first trip a memorable one.

Beginners guide to hiking

Beginners Guide to Hiking

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you embark on your backpacking journey, as well as some tricks you can use to make things better and easier on the trail. Read on for a full guide on just what you need to know as a beginner hiker.

1. Do your Research

The moment you decide that you want to start hiking, you should start reading extensively on the subject, as well as watching online tutorials and documentaries so that you get a scope of just what it entails, and what you will need to look out for during your first hike. For instance, you can research on the best pocket knife to use during your hike. There is a whole wealth of information out there, especially on online platforms like YouTube. You can also join hiking communities that are made up of other hikers who will be more than willing to show you the ropes.

2. Plan ahead

Beginners guide to Hiking - map reading

For every successful hike, there was intensive planning behind it. You have to plan out your hike before you embark on it. Get a map and study the trail so that you can get a feel of the place. Get enough gear to last you the whole trip, including food and money. And most importantly, if you will be staying in hotels, make your reservations in advance to avoid the last minute rush.

3. Prepare your Hiking Gear

Beginners Guide to Hiking - walking boots

We all know that you can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going for a hike. It has to be after days or months of preparation, which also involves purchasing the right gear for your trip.You will need a large and comfortable backpack you can use to carry your clothes, food, sleeping bag, footwear and a camera if you are into photography or you want to capture every moment of your adventure.

For your sleeping bag, ensure that you purchase one that’s lightweight and can fit about two people comfortably, especially if you will be sharing it with your hiking partner. It should also pack small because you will be moving around with it for the rest of your trip. Since this is your first trip, we advise that you borrow a sleeping bag so that you can first try it out and know what to look out for when you will be buying your own.

Pack enough canned foods and water purifiers because you just don’t know the next time you’ll come across fresh drinking water or food. If you are hiking in a large group, it’s better if you carry a stove along with you, to heat food and water, and a large tent you can all sleep in.

4. Get an Experienced Hiking Partner

Beginners guide to hiking - walking

Even after watching tons of hiking documentaries and interacting with other enthusiasts, you should not think that you can handle going out on the trail by yourself. This is because nothing ever prepares you to face the real situation. We recommend seeking out an experienced partner for your first trip. They will help you manoeuvre the trail easily as they teach you the hiking basics that will help you on your subsequent trips

5. Safety First

Beginners Guide to Hiking - First Aid Box

You are going out in the wild and this makes you susceptible to animal attacks as well as diseases from eating contaminated foods and water. Safety has to be one of your key priorities. Ensure that you have a way to keep animals at bay,  especially when you are sleeping. Moreover, bring a hand sanitizer with you to use before handling foods and most importantly, always carry your first aid kit with you. This also means that you have to know basic first aid beforehand to be able to use the kit effectively when the time comes.

6. Keep it short

For your first trip, you want to keep it short because let’s face it, you are never quite prepared to be on the actual trail and even if you have planned for a longer trip, in most cases, you won’t last until the end. Always plan for a shorter trek and keep advancing to longer hikes, and with time as you gain confidence on the trail, you will find yourself going for days without even realizing it.

7. Avoid pitfalls

Snakes crossing Osoyoos Canada

During your research and interaction with other hikers, there are a couple of things you should avoid at all costs. For instance, there are trails you should avoid, plants you should not eat, and other general blunders you should not commit. Always stick to your plan.

8. Be Respectful

When backpacking, you have to learn to respect nature as well as other hikers trekking on the same trail as you. For instance, we advise that you always give the hikers trekking uphill the right of way. Another trick is to always have a plastic bag with you that you can use to carry trash with to avoid polluting the environment.

Also, do not feed wildlife you encounter on the way and never should you talk loudly or play loud music while on the trail. Keep in mind that people resort to hiking to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Hike Your Own Hike

The Paper Bridge Lake District

You will hear this a lot; especially among other hiking enthusiasts. It only means that despite everything you have learned from other people and sources about hiking, when on the trail, it’s all about you. You should focus on getting the most out of your experience with nature and not try to conform to standards that have been put out there by others.

10. Practice

Lastly, you will never be good at hiking unless you are prepared to put a lot of work into it. The first few trips will be tough and you will feel like giving up. Don’t! Keep going back to the trail and trying to be better at it, and eventually you will.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that you have learned a thing or two about hiking for beginners. We only give tips to improve your hiking experience and you should not feel pressured to get it right the first time. No one does. Just focus on having the best experience and everything else will fall in place.

Loved the tips given? Comment and let us know what you liked best and what we left out. Do not forget to also share this post with other hiking enthusiasts, family and friends.

Author Bio: Rebecca Crawford lives in USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favourite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28 days last time. Another of her passions is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for Hiking Mastery.

Read more:

Top 3 benefits of walking in the great outdoors

An ideal walking holiday in Yorkshire

May 12, 2017

5 tasty dishes that go perfectly with Black Garlic Ketchup

Black Garlic Ketchup - in Menorca

Black Garlic Ketchup – on balcony of my brother’s flat in Menorca

 

Have you tried Black Garlic Ketchup yet? Not heard of it? You soon will. Award-winning Hawkshead Relish have taken one of the latest must-have ingredients, Black Garlic, and turned it into a taste-bomb sauce that goes with a wide variety of dishes. They use only the best Spanish black garlic, made by ‘baking whole, fresh garlic bulbs for 40 days at a very low temperature creating an extraordinary flavour; rich, smooth & bursting with a balsamic sweetness.’  On a recent trip to Menorca I bought a bulb of Black Garlic; not knowing about this ‘baking’ process, I had a surprise to find its cloves a dark gooey texture.

Spanish Black Garlic - photo zoe dawes

I got my hands on a bottle of Black Garlic Ketchup a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with it ever since, including taking it out to Menorca for my brother to try. I’ve had it with a wide range of dishes, including steak – perfect, risotto – OK and pork casserole – different. All the dishes were cooked at home, although I also tried a couple on holiday. Here are my top 5 plus recipe tips (no measurements or detail) for your delectation.

5 ways with Black Garlic Ketchup

 1.  Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo Zoe Dawes

Fish and Chips with Black Garlic Ketchup

The umami-taste of the ketchup really enhances the flavour of beer-battered cod and goes beautifully with home-made chips and frozen peas.  I’m not a fan of tomato ketchup and usually have mayonnaise with fish and chips, but from now on I’ll be having it with Hawkshead Relish’s Black Garlic Ketchup. Try it with different fish; it could be too overpowering for more delicate types. A glass of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was my tipple of choice – because that’s what was in the fridge …

Cooking Tip: Perfect chips. Use a floury potato like King Edwards or Maris Piper. Cut into whatever shape and size you like. Par-boil them with their skins ON (for added fibre), pat dry then put them into very hot oil. Reduce the heat and fry for about 10 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon or basket, turn up the heat again and flash fry the chips for a minute or so to crisp them.

2.  Jerk Chicken with new potatoes and asparagus

Jerk chicken, new potatoes, asparagus and Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

My son really loved this combination. The slightly spicy flavour of the grilled chicken was enhanced by the ketchup and the buttery new potatoes got an extra oomph. It would also go well with Canarian Patatas Arrugudas (wrinkled potatoes)The steamed asparagus (which I have with just about everything when it’s in season!) coped well.  We also tried the ketchup with unspiced chicken which was fine, but preferred the Caribbean version.  I had it with a glass of chilled French Reserve de la Saurine white wine.

Cooking Tip: Jerk chicken. Coat chicken breasts with Jerk seasoning – buy it or make your own with dried chilli, ginger, garlic, onion, cumin, thyme. I use a tasty one from Aruba, a Caribbean island I visited last year. Heat a griddle pan until very hot and place chicken onto pan. Quickly sear one side then turn over and cook for about 3 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. Turn over again and cook for a further few minutes. Serve immediately.

3.  Sausage and garlic mash with peas and sweetcorn

Sausage and mash with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

Sausage and mash is my ultimate comfort food; I’ve loved it ever since I was a child. I prefer local Cumberland or Westmorland sausages, but any good-quality bangers will do. Hawkshead Relish, based in Cumbria, add tomatoes, spices and Anglesey seasalt to this ketchup, which may explain why it goes so well with this meal. I prefer my sausages well-grilled, not fried. My brother gave me a very special bottle of Gran Reserva Spanish Rioja 2005 which was just divine with this dinner.

Cooking Tip: Garlic mashed potatoes. Boil floury potatoes for about 20 minutes until almost falling apart. (I prefer to cook them with skins on.) Drain and put into a bowl with a little milk, butter and a few garlic cloves. You could use black garlic for a twist. Use an electric mixer (be careful not to over do it or the mash becomes gluey), a potato ricer or hand masher and mash until it’s voluptuously smooth.

4.  Black Garlic Ketchup Bolognese with Pasta

Black Garlic Ketchup Bolognese with pasta

For this dish I used Black Garlic Ketchup in my regular bolognese recipe. I also replaced the garlic I’d usually include, with black garlic cloves. THis definitely changed the flavour, adding a depth and intriguing sweetness to the sauce. I loved it but my son and his dad preferred my usual recipe so I will leave it to you to decide. Argentinean Malbec goes down a treat with this meal.

Cooking Tip: Black Garlic Bolognese Sauce. Fry the onions until golden. Remove from pan. Fry minced beef until browned all over. Drain any excess liquid and add fried onions along with a few black garlic cloves and red peppers. Stir in passata or tomato puree, a good glug of red wine (any plonk will do) and fry for a few minutes. Add some chicken stock and a hefty dollop of Black Garlic Ketchup. Cover pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Serve with pasta and grated cheese.

5.  Spanish Omelette with salad and sourdough bread

Spanish Omelette and salad with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

A marriage made in heaven; Spanish omelette, salad and fresh sourdough bread. Eating it reminds me of happy family holidays in Spain. Serving it with Black Garlic Ketchup brings together all the flavours in one deliciously harmonious plate of food. Of course, you should have it with Spanish beer, but I like Peroni from Italy. Any chilled white wine goes well too.

Cooking Tip: Spanish omelette, quirky style. Cut waxy new potatoes (skins on or off) into thick slices and fry gently in olive oil with thinly sliced onions, for about 30 minutes. Strain and return to the pan. Whisk eggs (one per person) and pour over potatoes, with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes then, if you feel brave, turn over omelette and cook a couple more minutes. I finish it off under the grill and serve with a grating of Menorcan cheese.

Spanish omelette in frying pan

Finally, for something quite different, check out this recipe for Aubergine and Black Garlic hummus. You can buy Black Garlic Ketchup online or at their Hawkshead shop in the heart of the Lake District. Many thanks to Maria at Hawkshead Relish for giving me a sample to try; the views (and recipes) are my own.

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5 ways with Hawkshead Relish Black Garlic Ketchup

Read more food-related articles:

Tasty Fun at Kendal Food Festival

Delicious Food and Drink in Dundee

Food Photography Top Tips

January 18, 2017

7 top holiday places – with a difference

7 top holiday places around the world

Dreaming of getting away from the grey skies of Britain for some sunshine? Fancy a classic road trip adventure? A wildlife experience second to none? A city break closer to home? If you’re planning your next holiday, here are 7 top places to inspire you to travel differently this year.

1.  Gorillas in Rwanda, West Africa

Gorilla family in Rwanda West Africa - photo zoedawes

Gorilla family

There are many reasons to visit Rwanda, including its stunning scenery and friendly people but undoubtedly the main attraction is the mountain gorillas. To be close to a huge silverback and his young son munching on bamboo right in front of you is to totally unforgettable. You have to book well in advance, get a permit and be prepared for a hike up a fairly steep (extinct) volcano, but it is well worth the time, effort and yes, expense, for a genuine ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.

Read my memorable encounter with gorillas in Rwanda.

2.  Idyllic beaches (and flamingos if you’re lucky) in the Caribbean

Eagle Beach Aruba

Eagle Beach

Tyuly turquoise sea, really white sand, virtually guaranteed sunshine, enormous cocktails, a dash of history and a little light entertainment. Perfect ingredients for a relaxing sunshine holiday. Aruba has everything the hedonist could wish for, plus a sense of fun that livens things up every day. When you get bored with lying on a gorgeous beach, you could learn to paddle-board, go on a 4×4 safari or take a wander through their desert-like National Park. It’s very popular for weddings and couples. There are plenty of top-class hotels to choose from and some great package deals to be had all year round. (If you want to see the pretty flamingos you’ll have to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino so you can visit their private island.) Check out my Top Fun Things to Do in Aruba.

3. Explore the ancient city of Lancaster

Lancaster Castle tour

Lancaster Castle

Take a break in one of the UK’s known cities, Lancaster, in the north west of England. Lancaster Castle is one of the most interesting castles in Britain because, until recently, it was used as prison and still functions as Lancashire’s Crown Court. With a 1000 years of history it is the most popular sight in the city, but the rest of the city is worth taking time to get to know. Visit the Judges Lodgings to see where legal eagles used to reside, wander along the Lancaster Canal and have a drink at the Water Witch or walk up to the Ashton Memorial for superb views across to Morecambe Bay. Nearby Leighton Hall is home of the Gillow family, famous furniture makers. Find out about the Light Up Lancaster Festival here.

4. A road trip through the Rocky Mountains, Canada

RV by Medicine Lake Jasper Canada - image zoe dawes

RV by Medicine Lake

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago what I’d think of driving a motorhome anywhere, never mind through the biggest mountain range in Canada, I’d have probably laughed and said, ‘No Way’. But when I was invited to go from Vancouver to Calgary in an RV (Recreational Vehicle) last year, I was persuaded that I could, and I’m so glad I did. It was the best fun ever, and now I’m a total convert! The roads are easy, the scenery stupendous and you’ll probably get to see some amazing  wildlife along the way. It really is an unforgettable holiday. Find out more in my 10 most memorable moments on a Canada road trip.

5. Take a selfie at the most popular landmark on Instagram

Paris - infographic cewe photoworld

Paris – cewe photoworld

And now for something completely different. Do you know what the most popular #hashtag landmark on Instagram is? The clue in the photo. With its famous steel girders standing proud over the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has been instagrammed over 3 million times. Take a lift to the top and join the ultimate selfie crowd on the ultimate French icon. In this infographic by cewe photoworld you can find the Top 10 Most Instagrammed Places in the World.

6. Discover the Causeway Coast of Ireland

Portstewart Northern Ireland at sunset

Portstewart at sunset

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll already be familiar with the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland as it features in many episodes, especially in the first few series. However, there is so much more here than the spooky Dark Hedges (aka The King’s Road). It’s a culinary treasure trove of fresh and imaginatively cooked food and home to renowned Bushmills Whiskey. You mustn’t miss the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site or the beautiful beaches along the coastal road. Still need persuading? Here’s my Top 10 places on the Causeway Coast – go on, go on, go on – you’ll love it.

7. Take time out in Western Australia

Tip holiday ideas - Perth Harbour - Western Australia - photo zoe dawes

Perth Harbour

Planning on visiting relatives in Australia? Consider lengthening your holiday with a stay in or around the lovely city of Perth. Capital of Western Australia, Perth has a relaxed cultural scene, beautiful harbour and lively cafe society. Nearby Fremantle is now a focus for hipsters, foodies, artists and history buffs. Popular holiday destination Rottnest Island with its quirky quokkas is a short ferry-ride away. Love wine? Further south you’ll find some of the world’s top quality wineries in the very attractive Margaret River region.

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Top Holiday Places with a difference

This article is brought to you in collaboration with cewe photobooks. They make a wide range of photobooks , calendars, cards and prints so why not upload your travel photos and create a lasting souvenir. Find out more about the CEWE Photobooks here.