Tag Archives: tips
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.)

Love it? Pin It!

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 🙂

Love it? Pin It!

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

October 6, 2017

My worst airport fiasco: forgotten perfume, luggage mix-up, irate passengers and stolen music

Washington Dulles International Airport - photo Joe Ravi

Washington Dulles International Airport – photo Joe Ravi

What’s the worst airport disaster you’ve had? Hopefully nothing TOO serious but I bet quite a lot of you have lost luggage, missed flights or been stuck at the airport due to a strike or major delay. These days, just getting through security can be a nightmare. One of my most memorable airport fiascos involved a flight to South Africa from Greece in the late 1980s. It started off badly. My boyfriend and I were flying from Athens; the old airport was on the way to Piraeus and we had left it late to get a taxi. I remember the smog-fuelled struggle to get out of the city and along the crowded, dismal road to the airport, fretting about missing our flight. We got there with just enough time for Mike to get some perfume from the Duty-Free for me and some alcohol for his family. It was not until we were getting off the plane at our stop-over that I realised I had left the bag with my big bottle of Chanel No 19 perfume AND body cream on the shuttle bus. Nice present for whoever found it …

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

However, the real problem was in Africa. Due to political instability in many parts of the continent, South African Airlines had to fly rather circuitous route to get to South Africa, still in the grip of apartheid. I can’t now remember which airport we had to stop in, but I THINK it was Luanda in Angola. We were one of the first off the SAA plane. We’d been told that our luggage would be transferred to the next flight on to Johannesburg and we were to wait in the airport terminal until that flight was called. In those days the airport was little more than a big shed, with lots of gun-toting soldiers who seemed to have little idea what was going on but were very big on looking important. There was a rather shabby little bar but we didn’t have any local currency so we just found a couple of rickety chairs and prepared to wait.

We’d been told by the cabin crew that the stopover would be for about an hour but that there had been some problems at the airport and we should listen out for announcements.  No-one seemed to know what was going on and there was no tannoy system. Every so often someone would shout out the name of a flight and there’d be a mad scramble of irate passengers trying to see if it was their flight that had been called. We kept missing announcements but, after about three hours our flight was called and we went to the exit to board the plane. As the flight attendant checked our ticket she said, “Did you get your luggage checked on board?” We said no, because on the plane we’d been told it was going to be loaded onto the plane automatically. “Oh no,” she replied. “Didn’t you hear the announcement? The porters are on strike so everyone has to get their own luggage and take it out to the plane.” We looked around and all the other passengers were nodding in agreement and looking amazed that we’d missed this vital piece of information. “OK, you have to go over there to that building and identify your cases. Then get a trolley and take them out to the plane.”

Luggage - old suitcases

Old suitcases

In a huge heap on the floor of a vast warehouse were hundreds of suitcases. It took us ages to find ours, wheel them out to the plane, an unnerving experience in itself and hand them over to the guys who were waiting to load them on. They’d had to hold the plane up for us. The engines were going and the pilot glared at us through us through cockpit window as we ran up the steps. Entering the cabin, the passengers were also looking really angry as we caused everyone to wait on the plane in sweltering heat for almost an hour as we had to wait for another departure slog. We slunk into our seats muttering apologies and keeping our heads well down. By the time we arrived in Johannesburg we were over fours hours late – and very tired.

At the airport

At the airport

These days, you can easily claim for flight delays and it’s worth checking before you fly what the terms and conditions are for your ticket. With airlines like Monarch going into receivership and companies like Ryan Air cancelling flights left, right and centre, make sure you have good cover.  Read my Top Tips for Stress-Free Airport Travel for more help.

PS. On the return trip from South Africa, my suitcase was broken into and all the cassettes (yes it was that long ago) of wonderful African music I’d bought were stolen. We didn’t have insurance cover … lesson learnt.

This article was written in collaboration with FlightDelayClaims4U. What’s your worst airport fiasco? Do share in the Comment below – with any tips for avoiding it in future!

September 30, 2017

Upper Canada Village: escape to another era where life is slower and more relaxed

Horses Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Carriage horses on Church Street

The children squeal with delight as a piglet clambers over the back of its brother to get a better place in the sun.  A huge sow slowly rolls over in the gloopy mud, grunts and flops back into contented slumber. A tussle breaks out as three youngsters nip ears and legs before deciding it’s all too much effort and collapse in a piggy heap on top of each other. Just another day of buccolic pleasure in Upper Canada Village, not far from Morrisberg in Ontario.

Pigs in sunshine - Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Happy pigs

Less than 60 miles (90kms) from Ottawa, Upper Canada Village is a unique visitor attraction depicting life in Ontario around 1866, when the pace of life was much slower. Many of the 40 historical buildings were transported here from nearby villages which were flooded to make way for the St Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. It gives a vivid idea of 19th century agricultural practices including caring for livestock, growing crops and harvesting vegetables. Attractive gardens showcase the plants and flowers that would have been grown in the summer. Staff dressed in clothing of the period carry out domestic tasks and discuss what social life, music, religion and politics would have been like at the time. They demonstrate how cheese, bread, shoes, tin jugs, brooms, furniture, dresses and hats were made.

Crafts at Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Demonstrating crafts and housework

I’m visiting Upper Canada Village with local travel blogger Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now on a day out from Ottawa. It’s a school trip day and lots of children run around the grounds, stopping to pat horses and watch sheep being shorn. Wandering along sunny paths and through shady nooks we pass the Woollen Factory and Saw Mill before reaching elegant yellow house. On the veranda a young woman in a vivid orange dress sits reading a book.

Robertson House Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Robertson House

Inside Robertson Home we learn how a well-to-do middle-class family would have lived. The parlour has ornate decor with family portraits and lots of knick-knackery typical of the Victorian era. Further on we find the Bakery where a young man is showing how the bread is made. Later in the day we see the baker’s horse-drawn cart collect the bread; it’s sold on site and served in the Village Cafe and at Willards Hotel.

Bakery Bread Upper Canada Village - collage Zoe Dawes

From bread oven to table

We have lunch at Willards Hotel,  with Customer Service & Corporate Communications Manager Susan Le Clair. Willard’s Hotel is one of the oldest buildings on the site, constructed in the late 1790s and restored to the style of the 1850s. It’s now a restaurant where we are served by costumed waiting staff with food from the period. I have the local bread and cheese platter – very tasty. Susan explains the philosophy of Upper Canada Village. “Our aim is to show what it was really like to live and work in the 19th Century. Many people in Canada have little idea of what that looks like and this place is ideal to teach visitors some of our important history in an engaging and fun way. It’s especially popular with families and people come back year after year. We have a diverse and interesting Educational Program that enable young people to discover their past in engaging and fun way. Although we’re usually closed in the winter months, we do have special events including our very quirky Pumkinferno at Halloween.” 

Susan Le Clair in the livery Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Susan Le Clair in the Livery

After a delicious meal, Cindy and I go off to explore more of the village. In the distance we catch a glimpse of some people floating by on some sort of craft. It’s the horse-drawn tow scow which pootles back and forth along the village canal from the dock behind Cook’s Tavern to the Tenant Farm. A tow scow is ‘ … a flat hulled barge that is drawn along the canal by a horse walking along the bank. Two villagers (one at the bow, and one at the stern) help steer the scow using long poles. In typical village life, the scow would be used to transport heavy goods to mills and other distant locations.‘ (Upper Canada Village website.)

Horse-drawn Tow Scow in Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Horse-drawn Tow Scow

We climb aboard and listen to the gentle shuck of the boat on the water as we pass the Pier Light. A flock of Canada Geese pecking around in the grass, honking as we pass and overhead birds swoop and dive across the clear blue sky. Time seems to slow down and the ‘real world’ fades away as we drift along. Beyond the canal, the wide open waters of the Saint Lawrence River glitter and ripple as ship sails past; an incongruous reminder of 21st century Canada.

Tow Scow trip Upper Canada Village Ontario

Tow Scow on the canal beside St Lawrence River

 The tower of white-painted Christ Church peaks out above the trees near the canal. On the front cover an excellent book, ‘A Village Arising – the Story of the Building of Upper Canada 1957-1961 and After‘ by Peter Stokes, there’s a photo of the church being hauled along the road from Moulinette to the site of Upper Canada Village on top of flat-bed trucks. We peak inside; the interior is similar to a Scottish Presbyterian kirk and includes box pews, a gallery and a cast iron stove.
Christ Church - Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Christ Church

Just round the corner from the church is brick built Cook’s Tavern, which serves Ginger Beer and Sarsaparilla,  based on the popular 19th century tonic made from the root of a South American plant (Genus Smilax).  Commonly referred to as “root beer”, these tonics contained a variety of roots, such as ginger for tang, sassafras for flavour and sarsaparilla to make it foam. Outside, a few people are waiting for one of the horse-drawn wagons to take them on a 20 minute drive round the village. It’s late afternoon and the school groups have left; the place is quiet, with a tranquil atmosphere very different from the frenetic excitement of the morning.

Cook's Tavern Upper Canada Village

Cook’s Tavern

Exploring some of the back lanes of the village we come across a farm with a large-horned cattle in the fields and a tiny calf in a paddock. I get up close to take a photo and the farmer asks if I want to buy him. We haggle a bit and then I seem to have bought him for a couple of dollars. “Now you can take him back to the barn.” I think the farmer is joking but no; the next minute, a rope is thrust into my hand and I am taking a calf for a walk …

Walking calf on farm Upper Canada Village - Zoe Dawes

Walking my baby back home

After a full-on day it’s time to go. On our way out, we have a quick look at the gift shop and exhibition centre, which tells the history of the area. Outside the little train that runs round Upper Canada Village is setting off on its last ride. We stop for a photo of the monument commemorating the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, a nationally significant battle in the War of 1812 that halted the 1813 invasion of Canada.
Upper Canada Village

As we drive onto the main road back to Ottawa I can still hear the sound of children’s laughter, feel the soft muzzle of the wagon horse and smell that freshly baked bread. Upper Canada Village is a charming place of sensory and historic enjoyment that magically encapsulates an idyllic moment in Canadian history …

Days Out from Ottawa

This is just one of the many day trips you can take from Ottawa. I also visited Merrickville, a pretty village on the banks of the Rideau Canal, Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, Fultons Pancake House and Sugar Bush and spent a very relaxing day at Nordik Spa-Nature, a luxury spa at the entrance to Gatineau Park.

Many thanks to Susan Le Clair of Upper Canada Village for showing me round and sharing stories about this unique attraction. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Check out Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Discover Ottawa, Canada’s charming capital city 

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the capital city

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Canada

Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

Upper Canada Village – LOVE IT? PIN IT!

Upper Canada Village Ontario - Pinterest - Zoe Dawes

August 29, 2017

Visit Ottawa and discover Canada’s capital city of colourful charm

Discover Ottawa - capital city of Canada

Haunting sounds evocative of another continent drifted around the busy streets, bringing a touch of the Orient to Canada’s capital city.  Strumming a curious-looking stringed instrument, the woman in the Japanese kimono seemed oblivious to the people scurrying past. She sums up Ottawa; a colourful mash-up of diverse sights and sounds in a historic setting.

Japanese musician at Byward Market Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

I was here for a week, part of a group of 14 UK Travel Bloggers spread out across the country, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Staying at the uber-cool Andaz Ottawa Byward Market put me slap bang in the heart of the city’s bodacious beating heart. On the evening of my arrival, I’d seen dozens of cool ‘hipsters’ ascending to the hotel roof bar to enjoy a Saturday night of cocktails and chat with one of the best views of the city spread out in front of them. Fortunately I had a very similar view from my bedroom. Dominating the skyline, the Parliament Building is the democratic symbol of this relatively young and very exciting country.

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel - photo Zoe Dawes

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel

On my first day out, Jantine Van Kregten, Director of Communication for Ottawa Tourism, took me out to Ottawa’s Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park. We stopped on the way to see the locks on the bridge  over the famous Rideau Canal, reminders of love and the bane of city officials as they weigh down the bridges around the world.

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Lansdowne Farmers’ Market is a part of the Savour Ottawa initiative that bring together local farmers and producers with chefs and consumers. Savour Ottawa works to develop and promote Ottawa and area as a premier, year-round culinary destination, with robust offerings of local culinary products and experiences for both locals and visitors.’ It’s everything you’d hope from a Canadian market, showcasing delicious produce, including fresh asparagus huge tomatoes, crispy apples, luscious rhubarb, early strawberries, artisan bread and cheeses, meat, pies, honey, spicy mixes and, of course, maple syrup in various guises.

Maple syrup stall Ottawa Farmers Market

Maple syrup stall

The Aberdeen Pavilion, built in 1898, is now a huge exhibition space. There was a Latin American festival going on in another hall, with salsa dancing lessons and lots of laughter.

Watch video – Lansdowne Farmers’ Market (spot the Huskies)

The following day I went on a boat trip on the Rideau Canal. In spite of torrential rain, I thoroughly enjoyed drifting along the canal, learning about its history from our guide, who injected plenty of humour into his informative spiel.

Rideau Canal boat trip Ottawa

Rideau Canal boat trip

The Rideau Canal freezes over in winter; people skate to work as well as enjoy it for recreation. In the summer pleasure boats cruise its tranquil waters. We motored alongside the University of Ottawa and luxurious mansions waved to people out jogging and dog-walking, passed by Lansdowne Park and turned round in the large basin of Dow’s Lake. I sat next to an American couple who had come to Ottawa specifically to ride on the Rideau Canal; it’s a well-known World Heritage site. They were staying at the Chateau Laurier, overlooking the canal and were clearly very impressed with the city. “A friend recommended we visit and we’re so glad we did. There’s so much more to see and do than we’d expected.

Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa

The Rideau Canal, Bytown Museum and Chateau Laurier

Being the capital of Canada, Ottawa has a world-class collection of museums and art galleries. You can read about the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada here. One of my favourites was the Bytown Museum. It’s housed in The Commissariat, the oldest stone building in the city, beside the lower locks of the Canal. An eclectic mix of exhibits tells the history of Ottawa and how it became the capital of Canada. There’s a copy of Queen Victoria’s Proclamation for uniting the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, into one Dominion under the name of Canada. It’s dated the 22nd of May, 1867 . Bytown, the original name for Ottawa, was clearly a bit of a ‘wild-west town’ in its early days, notorious for the riotous behaviour of the European settlers who came for the lumber trade.

Lieutenant Colonel John By - Bytown Museum Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Lieutenant Colonel John By

An imposing bust of Lieutenant Colonel John By lords it over the gallery. In the British Royal Engineers, he was,  ‘instrumental in the construction of the canal. The name “Bytown” came about, somewhat as a “jocular reference” during a small dinner party of some officers, and it appears on official correspondence dated 1828.’ [Wikipedia]

Byward Market Neighbourhood Ottawa

Byward Market and Andaz Hotel

I spent a lot of time exploring Byward Market neighbourhood, a popular hub for bars and restaurants, excellent foodie shops and cafes, performance artists and people watchers. I met up with Canadian travel blogger Cindy Baker (check out her blog My Travel Bliss which has a lot more on Ottawa), who showed me round. I especially loved the indoor market, originally built to provide supplies for the lumber trade. Suspended over the stalls is very quirky sculpture, McClintock’s Dream by Hungarian artist Victor Tolgesy. A lumberjack in a plaid shirt lies below a giant cloud, dreaming of all the thing he will buy from the market when he gets back home to Ottawa. Hanging over the cloud, vendors tempt him with strings of sausages, poultry, garlic cloves, apples and much more.

Byward Market sculpture McClintock’s Dream Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

McClintock’s Dream

During my week in Ottawa I did so many more things, including a C’est Bon foodie tour of hipster Hintonberg and a bus tour of the city, ate out in some of the best restaurants in town including Play, Food and Wine, listened in on politicians exchanging gossip and mingled with the beautiful people at the opening of a new bar. I admired street art in lively neighbourhoods, watched the Changing of the Guard at the War Memorial, had a guided tour of the Parliament Building and watched the sun go down over the Rideau River. Keep an eye out for my article on the food and drink scene.

If you’re going to Canada, make a date with Ottawa; you’ll be seduced by its friendly charm, low-key sophistication, impressive architecture and exuberant joie de vivre.

Ottawa city sculpture

Uplifting Ottawa

Visit Ottawa

Visit Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

Many thanks to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the capital city

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Canada

Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

Love it? Pin It!

Discover the delights of Ottawa, capital of Canada

 

August 5, 2017

The Langdale Valley, majestic heart of the Lake District World Heritage Site

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The hard work and commitment of a great many people has paid off and the Lake District World Heritage site now joins other renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, Mount Teide in Tenerife and the Rocky Mountains in Canada. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know how much I love the Lake District and also visiting World Heritage Sites, so to have this on my doorstep is VERY special. You can read more about the Lake District World Heritage site here. A few days after the result was announced I went to stay in the very heart of Lakeland, in the Langdale Valley. Here are some of its highlights.

Great Langdale Valley

Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Valley includes some of the most impressive mountains (called ‘fells’ in the Lakes) in England. These craggy peaks provide a dramatic backdrop to an area where man, beast and nature live together in relative harmony. Langdale means ‘Long Valley’ in Old Norse, a hint to the ancient history of this quarrying and farming area. Very often the fells are shrouded in mist in this valley, adding to its moody magnificence. Dry stone walls ribbon across the mountain sides, sheep meander willy-nilly and picturesque farm buildings create its architectural charm. The peaks of Crinkle Crags, Pike o’ Bisco and the jagged ridge of the Langdale Pikes are the grand masters of this landscape.

Elterwater

Elterwater Common Langdale Valley Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The village of Elterwater (meaning Swan Lake) spreads out across valley, vying for space with the Herdwick sheep which wander its lanes and graze on the Common.  An easy stroll takes the walker to Elterwater tarn; good flat path but can get very muddy if it’s been raining recently. The Britannia Inn is the hub of the village, serving excellent ales, an interesting choice of wines and superb food. There’s also a cafe and a bus stop, a couple of hotels, a large time-share property and plenty of self-catering cottages for all the visitors who come to stay here. Good Life Lake District Cottages has their main office here, housed in a quaint stone building which usually has a Herdy wandering about outside the door.

Chapel Stile

Chapel Stile village in Langdale Valley, Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Rambler (Bus 516) stops on the main road through Chapel Stile, dropping off visitors and locals in this tiny hamlet. A narrow lane of old quarrymen’s cottages wends it way up twards Silver Howe. The 19th c Parish Church of Holy Trinity was built on the site of the original chapel, in the local green slate which has been quarried here for centuries. Chapel Stile is well-served by the excellent Langdale Co-Op. This shop sells absolutely everything you could wish for, whether you’re camping, self-catering or out for the day. Tasty Cumberland sausages, Hawkshead Relish (I can highly recommend their Black Garlic Ketchup!), micro-brewery beer, tent pegs, wet-weather gear, fridge magnets, tea towels and oh so much more. Upstairs in Brambles Cafe, gossip is exchanged and walkers rest their feet whilst having a cuppa or more hearty meal. Every year they hold the Langdale Gala here, a classic Lake District show with Cumberland Wrestling, fell races and dog show.

The Old Dungeon Ghyll

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Langdale Valley in Lake District World Heritage site

Towards the end of the valley lies the Old Dungeon Ghyll, one of the most famous pubs in the Lake District. Tucked right up against the mountain side, this venerable old hotel was the meeting place for climbing clubs from around the country, drawn by the challenging peaks outside the door. I love the Hiker’s Bar, which has remained unchanged for decades and features the original cow stalls and stone floors.

Hiker's Bar Old Dungeon Ghyll - Langdale Valley

You can get a great pint, a coffee, lunch, dinner and if you’re lucky with the weather, sit outside and enjoy the scenery.

Little Langdale Valley

Little Langdale Valley in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

From the Old Dungeon Ghyll the road winds up towards Blea Tarn and into the charming Little Langdale Valley. Driving up here takes nerves and good brakes as the road has some steep, sharp twists and is very narrow. Kamikaze Herdwicks wander out in front of the car and the view is most distracting.

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

There’s a National Trust car park for Blea Tarn (tarn = little lake); it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with brown pike in the water, alpine flowers in spring and tiny orchids in summer. However, it’s the view of the Pike o’Bisco and the Langdale Pikes laid out for your delectation that tops all that. I’ve walked here a few times but Blea Tarn has never looked as lovely as it did that July afternoon with marshmallow-soft clouds reflected in the shallow water and sunlight flittering across the peaks.

Three Shires Pub

Three Shires Inn Langdale Valley

Voted Cumbria Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2017, the Three Shires Inn is at the conjunction of the three old counties of  Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, now bundled together as Cumbria. It’s a pretty pub with decent food and lively atmosphere, though limited parking which meant on this recent visit I had to give it a miss. The road heads off towards the twin passes of Wrynose and HardKnott; not for the faint-hearted. A short walk brings you to one of the most photographed sights in the Langdales, Slaters Bridge, an old pack-horse bridge and also enormous Cathedral Cave.

Stay in Church Gate Cottage

Church Gate cottage in Chapel Stile Langdale Valley Lake District

I stayed in Chapel Stile with Good Life Lake District Cottages in a charming holiday home called Church Gate. Tastefully restored and attractively decorated, it sleeps four people in two bedrooms. The kitchen has a large fridge-freezer, dishwasher and large oven. A cup of tea tastes so much better in one of the cute Herdy mugs. There are games and books in the dining area and a wood-burning stove for cosy nights in. The back door leads out to a sheltered little cottage garden, ideal for evening drinks outdoors. Impressive views can be seen from the bedrooms across the village towards the mountains. I slept really well in the very comfy double bed and on Sunday morning woke to the sound of church bells and sheep bleating in the field opposite – perfect.  More details and how to book Church Gate cottage here.

With the village shop just down the hill and a pub, Wainwrights Inn, five minutes’ walk away, Church Gate is an ideal place to stay and enjoy the Lake District World Heritage site. Many thanks to Natalie and the team at Good Life Lake District Cottages for another very enjoyable weekend.

More lovely places I’ve stayed in and around the Langdale Valley.

Daw Bank Cottage, Chapel Stile

Jonty’s Cottage, Elterwater

Braegarth Cottage, Elterwater

Knipefold Barn, Outgate 

Love it? Pin it!

Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage Site

 

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.

Love it? Pin it!

7 Romantic Hotspots in Croatia