Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Our travel highlights for 2015

Following our career break in 2014, when we spent 7 months travelling around South America, 2015 was always going to be a little less travel-ey. However, we still managed to get in some great trips. 

Here are our highlights:

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Where we stayed - Naples, Capri & the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Our recent trip to Italy wasn't quite as 'budget' as some of our other travels. We paid somewhere between £70 (US$105) and £100 (US$150) a night for accommodation for the two of us, which for Western Europe ain't bad for what we got! 

Here's where we stayed:

Following a recommendation by Anglo Italian, we chose Hotel Micalò for our stay in Naples. From the outside, the 17th century building that houses this boutique hotel looks tired and not particularly appealing.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Top tips for visiting the Amalfi coast

We spent 3 days in the beautiful town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast in the middle of October 2015. We had arrived from Capri and used Positano as a base to explore the surrounding area. 

If you're heading that way, here's some tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

24 and a bit hours on Capri

Crossing the sea
From Naples our next stop was the island of Capri, just a 50 minute boat ride away from the main Molo Beverello port.

Pulling out of the port in Naples
Unfortunately, as is not entirely unusual in October - although we mostly had good weather - it was raining.

Capri in the rain

Being vegetarian in Italy

When I wrote the 'Being vegetarian in India' post, I said I had considered leaving the entry blank, as its so easy to be vegetarian in the sub-continent. 

Italy is similar. 

The Italians love good ingredients and good food and make delicious meals regardless of whether they include meat or not. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Getting to Pompeii and Vesuvius on a day trip from Naples

When I was researching our trip to Italy, I struggled a little to find clear information on getting to the Pompeii archaeological site from Naples independently. And more importantly how easy it would be to get from there to Vesuvius and then back to Naples.

Luckily, when we got there, it was, (as you can imagine for trip done every day by thousands) very easy. This post describes just how easy.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Exploring Naples

I had little to no real expectations of Naples, before we visited. I knew very little about the city and we were only really going there as it was the entry point for us to visit the Amalfi coast from the UK.

As our departure date neared and I started to do a little more research, I found quite mixed reviews of the place: some people seemed to love it and others reported that it was dirty and dangerous. 

Happily, what we found when we got there was a very real and lived in city, with beautiful architecture (even if some of the paintwork was peeling or fading) and some fantastic food.

Marinara Pizza from Fresco Pizzeria
And no we didn't find it dirty or dangerous. A bit chaotic and resistant to modernisation perhaps, but friendly and interesting and we never felt threatened,

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Staying refreshed in South America

Following on from our earlier post on the drinks to unwind with/get a bit tipsy on in South America, this post looks at the hot and soft drinks that you should try (or avoid!) while travelling across the continent.

1) Coca Tea
Prolific in the high Andes, Peruvians and Bolivians swear by the properties of the coca plant (yes of cocaine fame) to prevent altitude sickness, for pain relief and to suppress hunger. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Weekends away: Yurt life!

This was our home for two nights in early August - a yurt in a field in East Sussex, about 20 minutes north of Eastbourne on England's south coast.

Gurt the yurt
It was a beautiful setting. We had the whole field to ourselves - no other yurts or buildings - with a beautiful view of the surrounding East Sussex countryside to enjoy while sipping our wine on the wooden veranda outside. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

5 things every traveller should know about India

1. Watch out for the Indian paparazzi!
As a (white) westerner travelling in India and particularly when visiting sites that are popular with Indian (rather than foreign) tourists, you will at some point become a tourist attraction yourself. 
So it starts ... with one baby

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Being vegetarian in India

I considered leaving this blog post blank, as its so easy to be veggie in India that unlike some of our other posts on eating as a veggie (particularly in South America), I wasn't sure what I'd actually say, other than 'go forth and eat'.

However, I did really enjoy the food we ate for our two weeks in Bangalore and Tamil Nadu and so I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk food! So, without further ado, here's a selection of some delicious foods that we'd recommend you try on a trip to India.

1) Masala Dosa
A staple of South India, dosas are a type of pancake made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. They are served filled with vegetables and/or alongside various chutneys or sauces. Commonly, they are served stuffed with a mix of potatoes, onions and spices. This is known as a masala dosa. It's really very tasty and became a firm favourite of ours, while on the road in India.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Destination guide: Snooty Ooty

In the time of the British Empire, Ooty in the Nilgiri hills was the hill station where the British administration in Chennai - then known as Madras - headed to in the summer to cool down. 

Nilgiri Hills
Being in India during the heat of summer ourselves, we could understand the attraction.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

24 hours in Mamallapuram

Arjuna's Penance relief
From Pondicherry, we caught a local bus 2 hours north to Mamallapuram.

Buses leave really regularly from the bus station in Pondi. Practically as soon as we got to the bus station, we were pointed to a Mamallapuram bus that was just pulling away. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Our Pondicherry Top 5

1) Walking the streets of Pondi
The French Quarter of Pondicherry is where most tourists spend most of their time while in town. The streets are lined with pretty colonial buildings, mostly white or yellow, with ornate gateways and doors. Many of the buildings are also adorned with pretty plants and flowers. 

Pretty doorway

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Bangalore Palace: In pictures

Owned by the Mysore royal family, the Wadiyars, Bangalore Palace was particularly used the Maharaja in the late 1800s and early 1900 as a getaway from the bigger and fancier Mysore palace. 

The audio guide includes stories from family members who have fond memories of intimate summers at the palace.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Introducing Pondicherry

Pondicherry, affectionately known as Pondi, is a large town on the East Coast of India, about three hours drive south of Chennai.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Highlights of Bangalore

Bangalore is not a city filled with must-see tourist sites. Instead, it is a vibrant, lively and fairly modern place where people live and work, rather than visit and sightsee. And this was why we were here. Not to live and work ourselves, but to visit some friends, Sara and Mike, who are working out here and to see a snapshot of their new lives, living in India.

Eating out!
They looked after us very well, taking us to some of their favourite bars and restaurants, introducing us to their friends, hanging out with us by their rooftop pool and lending us their slightly bonkers dog, Joey, to play with.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Photo Friday: the birds at Guatapé

While visiting Guatapé in Colombia on a day trip from Medellin, as well as enjoying the amazing views from La Piedra, we also enjoyed a spot of bird watching.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Drinking craft beer in Tallinn

The craft beer scene in Tallinn is alive, well and worth a sample!

The most obvious place to try out Estonian beers and to sample beers from around the world is in Pudel Baar in the Telliskivi Creative City, in the Kalamaja area of the city.

This laid back, relaxing small bar has a great range of different beers and a good method for choosing your perfect beer - a flowchart on the wall leads you through to a beer choice, based on musical and film preferences. I went for light IPA, while James as ever went for something a bit darker.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

South American craft beer

The craft beer industry is booming in Europe and the US. During our trip around South America, we were pleased to find its popularity on the rise there too. So, during our 7 months in South America, as well as supping on the national drinks of each country, we also spent some time seeking out the local craft beers. Here our our favourite beers, microbreweries and places to drink.

1) Bogota Beer Company (BBC), Colombia. We found the BBC bar in the Candelaria area of Bogota on our first night in the city and were impressed with the range of different beers on offer from a porter to a honey ale to an amber ale. I particularly enjoyed their 'Candelaria Clasica' - a kölsch beer, which was a bit fruity but not too hoppy and gentle on the tongue. It was also very refreshing in the Colombian heat.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The big fat guide to South American bus travel

Long distance bus travel is likely to form a central component of any South American trip. 

For cash-strapped backpackers, an overnighter also helps save money as it gives you a nights accommodation as well as the means to get from a to b.

The level of comfort (and safety) of South American buses depends on the country you're in and the bus company you go for. On one bus, we were served champagne (yes! champagne) after our meal (yes! we were served a meal), while elsewhere, there wasn't even a toilet to use on the bus and the freezing temperature on board meant that we had to seriously layer up (and were still a little cold). 

Here's our guide on how to know what to expect and where! The countries are shown in the order we visited them in.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

KGB museum in Tallinn: A short review

Looking out to the port from the balcony of the Viru hotel
The Viru Hotel - a conspicuous high rise overlooking Tallinn's old town, just outside the city walls - has a secret.

The Viru hotel - how many floors does it have?
It has a hidden 23rd floor. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Introducing Tallinn

Medieval Tallinn
I (Sarah) had had the pretty Estonian capital of Tallinn on my wish list for a number of years after a former housemate had headed off to the Baltic state for a short break. I had looked at photos of the walled and turreted old town and my wanderlust was ignited! 

St Catherine's passage

As the 2015 long Easter weekend approached, I was searching for cheap flights for a short break and Tallinn kept coming up. So now was the time!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Being vegetarian in Tallinn

Sitting on the plane on the way to Tallinn, reading my guide book, my heart started to sink. 

"The idea of anyone willingly giving up meat is fairly baffling to the porkchop-loving Estonians", it declared. Those vegetarian dishes that do exist "range from fairly uninspired concoctions of stir fried veggies or grilled cauliflower", read the next sentence.

There was also a warning that any soups or salad that may appear meat-free by reading the menu were likely to include bits of ham. Hmmm ... I thought.

Fortunately, either the guide book writer did not look in the right places or a lot has changed in the two years since the book was written.

When we arrived, our Air BnB host talked us through her recommendations of where to go and one of her top tips was to go to the vegan restaurant. "It is vegan, but the food is still very good", she told us. And away from the vegan restaurant, we found some very good veggie options. 

Here are our recommendations for eating well in Tallinn as a vegetarian:

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A walk around picturesque Castle Coombe

While visiting Sarah's family in Bristol, in the South West of England, we spent a long morning in the picturesque village of Castle Combe.  The village has been used as the setting in a number of films and TV programmes, including Dr Dolittle, Poirot and more recently Warhorse.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Visiting the island of Menorca

Which way to the beach please?
After our 6 and a half month trip around South America, we were ready for a holiday! So we went and surprised James' family who had rented out a villa on the Spanish island of Menorca. This also gave us the opportunity to meet James' new niece for the first time!

James' niece and sister enjoying the Mediterranean Sea
at the beautiful Arenal d'en Castell beach
They were staying in Na Macaret in the north east of the small island - a 25 minute drive from the capital Mahon. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Being Vegetarian in Colombia

Like everywhere else in South America, vegetarianism isn't particular popular in Colombia and most traditional fare involves some kind of meat or fish. However, with a little shopping around, you can find vegetarian friendly Colombian food. And of course, in the bigger cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena there are also a range of international options.

Here's what we ate:

Colombian food
1. Arepas: An ubiquitous lunchtime snack or side dish in Colombia, arepas are a type flatbread, made with a pre-cooked cornflour. They come with different types of filling and topping, some with and some without meat. I particularly enjoyed the arepas de choclo, made with sweetcorn, giving them a creamy taste. 

Favourite arepa stand in Cartagena

Friday, 20 February 2015

Photo Friday: Viewing the moon

Looking through our photos from our South American trip, I found these amazing pictures that we took of the moon! 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Where we stayed - Colombia

Bogotá: We'd advise booking ahead for hostels in Bogotá. We booked through hostelworld 4 days in advance and really struggled to find vacancies in those places we'd been recommended or which had the best online reviews.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Visiting the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal first opened over 100 years ago in 1914. Since then more than a million vessels have passed through.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Being vegetarian in Brazil

Like the Argentinians, the Brazilians do like their meat, meaning that for our just over two weeks in the country, we found that Brazil was not a particularly vegetarian friendly place.

As in Argentina, we found that 'by weight' self- service restaurants, where you are charged by the kilo for the amount of food you put on your plate, are a good option (particularly if you like beans and rice!).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Crossing Borders: In pictures

We crossed a number of land borders throughout our 6 and a half months in South America - quite a novelty for two Brits! Here are some of our border crossing photos. 

Leaving Peru, we were pleased that the border crossing was well marked with the iconic Peru sign and a big bottle of Cusquena beer!

Monday, 26 January 2015

The 'ultimate' guide to getting a sail-boat from Cartagena to Panama

Sunset on the boat
On a map it looks like it would be relatively straightforward to get from Colombia to Panama. The two are linked by land and so you’d think that there must be regular transport between the two.  But you’d be wrong! The Darién Gap is an area of dense jungle and swampland of 160 kilometres in length that links the two countries together and there is no road that goes through it.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

South American top tipples!

Pisco Sour: Peru and Chile
One of our favourite foodie discoveries from South America was the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a grape brandy made in both Peru and Chile. In Peru, lemon, angostura bitters, sugar or syrup and egg whites are added to the brandy to make a Pisco Sour. Traditionally in Chile, the egg white and the bitters are not added. 

First Pisco Sour!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Where we stayed - Brazil

As one of the most expensive countries in South America, you do have to shop around for a good deal on accommodation in Brazil. We paid around £10 ($15) more a night in Brazil, compared to Argentina, mostly staying in private double rooms.

Here's a breakdown of where we stayed for our just over two weeks in Brazil and what it was like.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Out and about in Medellín

Plaza Cisneros in the centre of Medellín
Once home to the brutal drug lord, Pablo Escobar, and known as the most dangerous city in the world, Medellín has really cleaned up its act in the last 5 to 10 years. 

In 2013, it was named the most innovative city in the world in recognition of its remarkable turnaround, notably through regeneration projects, such as the building of cable cars to improve transport links up and down the mountains.