Giana Spiteri

Giana Spiteri has 9 articles published.

First Time Visitors Guide to Thailand

in Features

Where to go

Thailand has officially removed all of its restrictions for vaccinated tourists, so If you have been itching for a big trip this year, you’re in luck! The great thing about Thailand is that it suits every type of traveller. Whether you’re looking to go with your partner, with a group of friends, with your family or on your own, Thailand has something for everyone. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my guide on where to consider going on your trip depending on your interests.  

Bangkok

This will no doubt be in your itinerary for the simple fact that it’s the easiest and cheapest airport in Thailand to fly into. People have mixed opinions about Bangkok, and personally I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 2-3 days there, but there are a lot of things to do in the area. Temperatures in Bangkok can soar, so I recommend starting your day early and then relaxing by the pool in the afternoon. If you plan on temple hopping, my top recommendations are The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Muang and Wat Arun. In the evening, head to Cielo rooftop bar for great food, cocktails and amazing views of the Bangkok skyline. To end the night, walk through Khaosan road which is very popular with backpackers. Just expect it to be loud and very crowded! 

Ko Samui

Ko Samui is the second largest island in Thailand, and is a popular choice for families as there are a lot of resorts in the area. Personally I don’t think it’s the nicest island, but we did have the best excursions from Ko Samui and we loved the night market in Chaweng. Who wouldn’t love a pad thai and dumplings for £3? During your time there I recommend a day trip to Mu Ko Ang Thong Park, where you’ll get the chance to snorkel, kayak and visit the blue lagoon. Other sites of interest are the Wat Plai Laem Temple, and the Overlap Stone.  Just make sure your Grab driver fills up the tank before heading up there! 

Koh Phangan

There is one primary reason why people go to Koh Phangan, and that’s for the monthly Full Moon Party. To get here you can get a 30 minute speedboat from Ko Samui, which I recommend buying in advance from 12go asia because the boats do fill up. My advice for the full moon party is not to go with the expectation that it is going to be great music and a sophisticated atmosphere. Buy yourself a famous bucket drink and try to make the most of the experience! In terms of dining, our hotel restaurant Sand & Tan is situated right on Haad Rin beach and has the best Pad Thai I have ever tasted. 

Koh Tao

Koh Tao is the best spot for adventurous travellers who want to have a go at scuba diving. There are plenty of diving schools scattered around the island, but if you would rather just snorkel at your own leisure then I recommend heading to Shark Bay, Freedom Beach or Sairee Beach. You will also find some great viewpoints in Koh Tao, my favourite being the John Suwan Viewpoint. 

Phuket 

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, and arguably the most famous. It is also the gateway to the Phi Phi islands, which was the filming location for The Beach, which Leonardo Dicaprio starred in. When in Phuket, explore the Sunday Walking Street Market for some cheap food and to purchase some buddhas and bracelets to bring back for your friends and family. When you’ve had enough of tanning on Pa Tong beach, you can climb a hill for 5 minutes to see the 45 metre tall White Buddha. 

Chiang Mai

Once you are done exploring the south, fly north to experience a different side of Thailand. Chiang Mai is a great place for street food, and one of the typical dishes in northern Thailand to try here is khao soi. It consists of either chicken or beef, in a coconut curry broth with boiled and fried noodles. Here is where you will also get the chance to visit an Elephant Sanctuary. We gave the elephants a mud bath, fed them tons of bananas and made medicine balls for them. The company we went with were called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, who have a no riding policy. You could genuinely tell the elephants were happy here. From Chiang Mai you can also take a day trip to the nearby city of Chiang Rai, where you can visit the famous White Temple. 

Pai

From Chiang Mai, you can take a 3 hour minivan ride to the town of Pai for a real authentic Thai experience. Word of warning, I suggest taking an anti sickness tablet because there are more than 750 twists and turns to get there. You won’t need more than two nights in Pai but we loved the fact that you could walk everywhere, and it is also a great place to meet other travellers. Here you can visit the Pai canyon, try ‘tipsy tubing’ down the river, visit the hot springs and swim in the Pam Bok waterfall. Another traditional Thai dish you can try here is the Kaeng Hang Lei, which is a slightly spicy pork curry. 

Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’ for a reason, and you will find the locals to be so friendly and helpful. It’s definitely a place that I will visit again in the future, and if you have the time and annual leave, you can definitely see all these places in the space of a month! 

Travel Insight

in Features

The fat one

Feeding your belly and your soul in Bologna, Italy’s foodie capital.

When it comes to Italy, different cities and regions of the country are pretty universally “known” for certain things. Milan is known for fashion. Tuscany is known for wine and gorgeous countryside. Venice is known for its romantic canals. Florence for art. Rome for history.

But if you love food? If you love food, you go to Emilia-Romagna.

Emilia-Romagna is a region in northern Italy known for its medieval cities and fertile lands. This part of Italy gives the world delicious things like Parma ham, the best balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Ferrari. 

And at the heart of Emilia-Romagna is the city of Bologna. Known as La Dotta (“the learned one” for its world-renowned university), La Grassa (“the fat one” for its delicious cuisine) and La Rossa (“the red one” for its red rooftops and leftist political views). 

Bologna is one of the larger cities in Italy (7th Largest) – and even though tourism is a fast-growing industry there – it barely ranks in the top 25 cities in Italy in terms of actual tourist numbers. In 2018, more than 60 million tourists visited Italy, but only a little over 2 million of them made their way to Bologna. Another bonus is that the historic city center isn’t all that large. You can walk from one end to the other in less than 45 minutes. Meaning that you can really see (and eat) all the best things in Bologna without feeling too rushed.

Walk the Porticoes

One of Bologna’s most distinctive features are its porticoes – pretty arches that shield the streets from both the sun and rain. There are 666 archways in total (but I certainly didn’t count) built to the height of a man on horseback, and today constitute yet another of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage sights.

Bologna Fact: the porticoes were created during Bologna’s Middle Age, when the city needed extra space for housing. By building over part of the sidewalks, the city avoided narrowing the streets, while creating extra room for living spaces.

Piazza Maggiore

Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna and the heart of the historic town. Dating back to 1200, and one of the first squares in Italy built after the fall of the Roman Empire, citizens would once congregate to hear new laws and watch public executions.

Today, the Bolognese come here to eat ice cream, listen to concerts and scoff pizza in the arteries that feed of Piazza Maggiore. It’s a great place to hang out and explore the mishmash of architectural styles that have developed over the years around the square.

San Petronia Basilica

Bologna still feels like a work in progress and there’s no better way to admire the unadorned character of the city than by visiting San Petronio Church. Construction began in 1388 but after a series of complicated amendments, Pope Pius IV deemed it a pipedream and diverted funds to the university instead. As a result, San Petronio remains unfinished with the top decorated in marble and the top half simple old brick.

While the inside is plainly decorated, it contains a meridian line paved into the isle by the astronomer Giovanni Cassini in 1655. With phenomenal precision, the meridian line allowed Cassini to calculate the tilt of the earth axis and the timing of the equinoxes.

Towers of Bologna

Pisa may be more famous, but Bologna has its own leaning towers. In fact, old prints show that the city once had more than a hundred towers, as noble families would compete to build the highest structures.

17 towers remain today, the two most famous of which are the Torre Garisenda and the Torre Asinelli. Built in the 12th century, the Torre Garisenda leans even more dramatically than Pisa and is so famous throughout Italy that Dante mentions it in his Divine Comedy. 

The Torre Asinelli is taller at 90 meters, and is climbable. Pay the entrance fee for a beautiful view over the city – you’ll get a first hand look at the red roofs which give Bologna its nickname La Rossa. 

Taste the Best Gelato in Italy

Gelato lovers, you’re in luck. Homemade gelato in Bologna is an institution and there are several ice cream shops in town that each make delicious sorbets and ice creams.

For those who like to try quirky flavors, we spotted Gorgonzola cheese gelato and even Risotto alla Milanese gelato.

Go Food Shopping in the Quadrilatero

Bologna’s food markets are quite famous and one of the most charming sections is the Quadrilatero. Home to markets and food stalls since the Middle Ages, this grid of narrow streets south of Via Rizzoli is the place to try flaky pastries, aged cheeses, delicious charcuterie and inexpensive but fantastic wine.

Grab a little of this and that to make your own picnic! Or, have lunch at one of the many street side restaurants where you can enjoy a meal on the sidewalk tables.

Santuario della Madonna di San Luca

Saint Luke’s sanctuary is one of the most famous churches in Bologna and occupies a secluded place on its own forested hill southwest of the city center.

The best way to visit is to walk along the long roofed arcade where the annual procession marches but it’s also the most challenging way! 666 arches line the path (about 3.8 km) and you might find yourself cursing the devil as you near the home stretch.

The Motor Valley

If you’re a motorcycle or race car fan, chances are you’ve heard about the Motor Valley – the industrial district situated in Italy’s Emilia Romagna region specialized in the automotive industry. This area, mainly concentrated in Bologna, Modena, Cento and Argenta,  is renowned worldwide for being the birthplace of some of the world’s leading automotive brands: Ducati, Ferrari and Lamborghini.  In addition to the industrial activity, the Motor Valley is also characterized by museums, racetracks, factories and sports competitions, making it an authentic “land of engines”. Which means you can visit the Lamborghini, Ducati and Ferrari museums, racetracks and factories during your stay in Bologna!


There is so much delicious food in Bologna it can feel overwhelming. Especially if you’re there for just a short trip. This list of Bologna foods is quick guide on what to taste while visiting the area. 

TAGLIATELLE AL RAGU (A.K.A. PASTA BOLOGNESE)

When it comes to Bologna food, the famous Bolognese tagliatelle al ragu is a must! And you won’t find spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna. For one, you’re in Bologna, so the sauce will simply be called “ragù.” Second, the Bolognese don’t eat spaghetti, they prefer a thicker, egg-based tagliatelle because it holds the sauce better.

RICOTTA AND FIG GELATO

Bologna has a long history with Italy’s most famous dessert, gelato. Three of Italy’s top-rated gelatarias in Bologna! But if I had to pick one flavor for you to try, it would be ricotta and fig, or “ricotta e fichi.”

TORTELLINI IN BRODO

This pasta dish is another must-taste when it comes to Bolognese Food. Bologna is known for tortellini and tortelloni, the small and large versions of a pasta dumpling that’s shaped a bit like a hat. Tortellini, is typically stuffed with seasoned ground meat and is most commonly served in a broth as a soup.

LASAGNA BOLOGNESE

Lasagna is originally from the Emilia Romagna region, of which Bologna was the center of commerce. But lasagna Bolognese is a little different that what you’re used to. It is layered with a rich and flavorful meat-based ragu, but what makes it different is that it’s typically served with green pasta. 

PASSATELLI

Passatelli is one pasta you typically won’t find back home. This rustic pasta from the Emilia Romagna region is made with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, eggs bread crumbs, and nutmeg. You can find it in a broth or served with a simple sauce.

MORTADELLA

Mortadella is a lunch meat made of cured pork and spiced with black pepper, and sometimes pistachios! Mortadella typically sliced thin and served with other charcuterie or on a piadina. It’s a cured meat you’ll see quite a lot in Bologna.

PIADINA

Piadina is a rustic Italian flatbread made with flour, lard, and salt. Some piadina can be made with olive oil too. You’ll see piadina sandwiches, and torn piadina served with meats on a charcuterie board. You can get Piadina with Nutella for breakfast or your  bambino. If you want a classic then go for Mortadella and fig.

PARMIGIANO REGGIANO

The King of cheeses! Parmigiano Reggiano is a regional cheese you’re probably familiar with. It’s a hard cheese that’s usually grated on pasta, but in Bologna you’ll also find served as bite sized crumbles. Sometimes Parmigiano Reggiano is also served with a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar on top.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR

Just a short drive north of Bologna is the town of Modena, known for making balsamic vinegar, or Balsamico di Modena. This balsamic vinegar is the real deal! Balsamico di Modena is aged in wood barrels called a battery and tastes bitter sweet. You’ll often see balsamic vinegar served alongside other Bologna foods as it’s a staple at most dining room tables. The most common way to serve it is drizzled on Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.


How to spend 3 days in Dubrovnik

Day 1 

Breakfast: Cele

Located right at the end of the Stradun (main street), you’ll find Cele. It’s a great spot for people watching and you’ll get quite a range of breakfast options here. I opted for the french toast, my sister went for pancakes and my mother went for eggs benedict.

AM: Walk around the city walls

Here you will find some of the best views of the city and it is a great way to get your steps in. The first thing you’ll notice about Dubrovnik is that 80% of the Old Town is made up of steps, but most of the walk around the city walls is relatively flat. The walls take between 1 – 1.5 hours to walk if you go at a leisurely pace. You can enter from Pile Gate and entry for adults is around 30 euros. 

Lunch: Barba

One place that popped up a few times when looking for ‘best eats’ was the small restaurant Barba, and specifically their octopus burger in a squid ink bun. A local had also recommended this place on our tour so it was definitely worth the hype! You can’t book, but we went for lunch at 2:30pm and managed to get a table by the windowsill.
 

PM: Kayaking Tour

For £21, you can take a 3 hour kayaking tour that takes you around the city walls at sunset and will also take you around the ‘cursed’ island of Lokrum. You’ll also have a guide who will tell you about the history of Dubrovnik and some urban legends. You will also get 30 minutes on a private beach. Informational, relaxing and you’ll also work off that octopus burger! 

Dinner:
Taj Mahal (Bosnian Food)

I definitely recommend reserving your tables in advance for dinner because most of the popular places will be fully booked on the night. Don’t let the name fool you, as Taj Mahal is actually a Bosnian restaurant! If you have any vegetarians travelling in your party then this probably isn’t the restaurant for you as their menu is very meat heavy. We opted for the ‘genghis khan plate’ which consisted of cevapi, chicken kebab, pljeskavica, suđukica, rumsteak and chicken. 

Day 2 

Breakfast: SNEK

This place had a number of healthier options on their menu such as chia pudding and protein pancakes, and it cost us between £5-£10 depending on what you were eating. They also had an extensive cocktail list, so it’s a great place to come back to in the afternoon. 

AM:
Game of Thrones Walking Tour 

If you’re reading this travel guide, chances are you still haven’t got to Dubrovnik. Meaning there is still time to watch the show so you can experience this tour and know your Khaleesi from your Cersei. My mother and sister hadn’t seen GOT but still found the tour entertaining as the guide has plenty of pictures, funny anecdotes and non-GOT related stories about the city to share. 

PM: Visit Lokrum Island

The small island of Lokrum is a 30 minute boat ride away from Dubrovnik, and here you can see some peacocks roaming, an Iron Throne replica and a lake that you can sunbathe by and swim in. You’ll likely spend 2 – 3 hours here.

DINNER:
Gradska Kavana Arsenal

The food here was delicious and moderately priced. They serve a mix of seafood, meat and pasta dishes. I had the fish stew, my mother had squid ink risotto, and my sister had the truffle and mushroom pasta. 

Day 3

As I mentioned Dubrovnik is a relatively small city, which means that it gives you the chance to explore neighbouring countries. There are day trips available to Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We decided on the latter because it’s somewhere we wouldn’t necessarily do an exclusive trip to. 

Day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina 

We were picked up at 7:30am and we drove for around an hour and a half before reaching a waterfall where we had an hour of free time, and then we continued on to the city of Mostar. I didn’t have any prior knowledge of Mostar or the Bosnian war in the 90s, so it was interesting to get the perspective from our Croat tour guide, and our bosnian guide in Mostar. You definitely get the sense that people still feel very strongly and divided about what happened. 

Lunch: Restaurant Sadrvan 

This place was recommended to us by our guide, and a plate of meat, pita bread and chips cost us less than a fiver. They had a terrace so we got a great view of the bridge and river. 

Dinner: Mex Cantina 

The tour will have you back in Dubrovnik for dinner time, and if you fancy a change of cuisine then I recommend Mex Cantina. Half the menu was mexican and half was pizza, so we got a bit of everything and thoroughly enjoyed it. 


10 Tips for surviving a long-haul flight

With the world opening up again and more and more countries removing entry restrictions entirely, flying out of the continent is something we can start planning without so much hesitation and anxiety. Even though I have had the chance to take a few trips recently, it has been a long time since I have done a long trip. I can however remember how gruelling they can be if you can’t sleep or if you keep checking the flight tracker on the screen to see only 15 minutes have passed by. I have an 11 hour flight coming up this month to Thailand, so I thought I’d share some of my tips for surviving a long-haul flight

1. Book an evening flight

We all know how time zones and jet lag can mess with our body clock and sometimes even get in the way of our holiday. So the best thing to do is get a flight that departs in the evening so you can have your lovely aeroplane meal, watch an hour or two of Netflix and then sleep through the night like you normally would at home. 

2. Get as comfy as possible 

A lot of fashion brands have pages dedicated to ‘airport attire’ because as you have probably spotted in departure lounges, a lot of people still want to look cool when they are travelling. That being said, when you are going to be spending more than 3 hours on a plane, you want to make sure your bottoms are baggy/stretchy, you have layered a t-shirt and a jumper to adjust to the plane temperatures, and you have got a pair of flip-flops in your hand luggage to switch into. On the contrary, if you are travelling in sandals make sure to keep a pair of socks handy as the plane can get chilly once everyone starts blasting the aircon. 

3. Invest in a good neck pillow 

Most airlines will provide a mini pillow if you are flying long-haul, but I usually use that as a rest for my lower back instead. An innovative pillow I own is the ‘FaceCradle Adjustable Pillow’ which can be altered to suit your napping preferences. 

4.
Save the good Netflix shows for your trip

Even though most airlines will have in-flight entertainment, it is always a good idea to download your own shows and movies on Netflix in case you don’t like the selection, or you have bought a £150 ticket from London – Dubai and this is not even an option. If there is a binge worthy show coming up or that’s on your to-watch list, save it to watch on the plane. 

5.
Take natural sleep
supplements

Melatonin tablets have been a lifesaver for me when doing long coach trips or flights. I even zoned out so hard on my 8 hour coach trip to Sydney that my head was bobbing all over the place. Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone so it is perfectly safe to carry on the plane, and it will allow you to fall asleep easier and adjust to the new timezone. Pair it with a blackout eye mask and you will be good to go. 

6. Have an in-flight book club

One of my favourite airport activities is browsing through books at WHSmith, but now that I have a kindle I just take down the titles I like and purchase one on there. Mostly because it saves space (and money)! If there is a group of you travelling, find a book you can all agree on to read on the plane so you can have something else to discuss in the 10 hour journey. 

7. Choose your seat wisely 

We are lucky that on our upcoming trip, I prefer the window seat, my friend prefers the aisle and my other friend doesn’t mind sitting in the middle. If not I think I would have to sit apart from my friends because I can only sleep on planes if my head is leaning on the window #longneckproblems. On the other hand, my friend likes to get up frequently to walk around and use the bathroom, so the aisle seat is best for her. 

8. Stay hydrated

Flying really dehydrates your skin, so it’s important to drink water, and pack a lip balm and face moisturiser in your bag for the flight. Just make sure to drink in small sips so you’re not running to the toilet every hour!

9. Avoid caffeine 

We all love getting to the airport and buying an eccentric flavoured coffee from Starbucks before our flight. Depending on how hard caffeine hits you, I would leave the caffeinated drinks for when your airline serves you breakfast or else you are going to find it hard to fall asleep. 

10.
Remember to stretch and keep your circulation going!

Not that there is much room for movement on a plane, but making sure that you stretch your legs and back every few hours will do wonders. Use the time whilst you are waiting in the queue for the toilet to do some lunges if the space allows for it! I also recommend taking a pair of compression tights with you for the duration of the flight, especially if you are prone to spider or varicose veins. 

Personally, I enjoy flying as it really gives us time to disconnect from social media and really be present. Whether it’s with your companions, the movie you are watching, the book you are reading or even with your thoughts and emotions. Use this time to actually make it a pleasant journey for yourself!


Cunard

As one of the oldest and most respected names in cruise travel, the three ships of this heritage line offer a classic cruise experience, recreating the golden age of steamship travel.  With their opulent art deco style and unique signatures of afternoon tea, grand gala evenings and White Star service, Cunard’s three Queens guarantee memorable moments at sea.  The entertainment and enrichment programmes onboard are highly prized by their guests who like to return form their travels not only refreshed but also improved in some small way.

Cunard was also the first cruise line to pioneer a world voyage back in 1923 and since then no cruise line has operated more round world voyages or taken more guests on these exotic long sailings.

 The iconic RMS Queen Mary plies the transatlantic route between Southampton and New York.  As the world’s only ocean liner and built specifically for this purpose, she maintains a schedule of seven night crossings from spring to autumn.  The transatlantic crossing is unlike any other experience at sea and one that all dedicated cruisers aspire to do at least once.

Queen Victoria spends her summers sailing from Southampton to all over Europe – the fjords, the Baltic capitals and down into the Mediterranean.  In the winter she embarks on a 101 night westward circumnavigation of the world, carrying her passengers to some of the world’s most remote and exotic destinations.

Queen Elizabeth divides her time between Australasia, Japan and Alaska sailing a series of itineraries in these amazing destinations.  From the majesty of the New Zealand fjords to the exotic culture of Japan during the cherry blossom season to the spectacular beauty of the Alaskan glaciers, the ship will reveal what a truly spectacular and diverse world we inhabit.

For guests choosing a luxury cruise, there is a world of choice but for those seeking a truly
iconic experience at sea, there is but one. 
Cunard – The fine line.

Please contact MHB Travel Services for more details on any Cunard cruise.  See details above.


Visit London

At some point or another, most Gibraltarians have wondered the streets of old London, whether for a nifty weekend break or as part of forging a career in England and the UK’s capital.

Of course, the pandemic did much to disrupt even a simple flight to Heathrow or Gatwick, but now things are easing back to a sense of normality, is it time to tread the Big Smoke’s streets once again?

London, like other global cities, almost feels like it has a life of its own. An inanimate construct of dwelling with a vibe all of its own. During the pandemic, construction continued apace in many areas, and any visit back could take you by surprise. Waterloo, for example, has gleaming new buildings where tired ones once stood.

London, is of course, massive. A core of small settlements/villages foisted together through economic necessity. Everybody knows Covent Garden, Camden and Greenwich, but there are also other wonderful nooks and crannies worth exploring.

For years, “South of the River” was a place frowned down upon, but the area from Waterloo through London Bridge and round the Thames peninsula is not only full of history, it is a delightful walk on a sunny day.

South Bank in particular has an array of quirky pubs, shops and architecture and the Thames Path is one of the best ways to see this. Take this all way round, making sure to check out the many blue plaques, or perhaps download a podcast walking tour. Fascinating gems like the Clink Prison (from which the common use of “clink” was taken) and the replica of the Golden Hind are things that not everyone knows about and well worth a visit. On the road to Tower Bridge from London Bridge, stop and relax in Potters Field Park and take in the views of moreLondon on the left and the Tower of London across the water. Shad Thames, right on the doorstep, is awash with hints of history and movie filming locations. The sense of wonder there can transport your mind back to a distant time.

Beyond Shad Thames, the postcode changes from SE1 to SE16. While the “famous” Docklands in the Isle of Dogs steals the limelight with its bold North American-style skyscrapers, Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks is a much more placid affair and is home to one of the best pubs in London, The Mayflower. It is here that the famous ship’s captain Christopher Jones lived, and he is buried in the churchyard at St Mary’s Church. Expect a rustic feel in the pub with a good atmosphere and excellent dining upstairs. The outer deck/jetty juts out over the Thames where you can take in the other historically significant ale houses on the North side of the river. Some with a darker past than most. The Captain Kidd and The Prospect of Whitby are must-sees.

Taking the tube from Rotherhithe to Wapping is a simple affair underneath the river in the Brunel-engineered Thames Tunnel. In Wapping you will find more of the olde world side of Docklands with throwbacks to previous times. One of the best places to take in more views is in Limehouse. The Narrow is operated by Gordon Ramsay, so the food quality and experience is second-to-none.

Of course, another reason to head to London is simply for shopping. Westfield in Shepherds Bush remains an excellent all-in-one experience opportunity and the mall has widened its appeal with the addition of new brands such as South African fashion boutique Kingsley Heath. The old BBC HQ over the road on Wood Lane is now home to high-end apartments and dining/bars, as well as a branch of Soho House.

London offers so much so close and it’s definitely worth exploring the road that’s less travelled in a wonderful city. 


Castles & Cathedrals

IF YOU’RE STILL NOT CONFIDENT ABOUT TRAVELLING TO FAR FLUNG DESTINATIONS, THERE ARE NUMEROUS INTERESTING AND CULTURAL DESTINATIONS TO EXPLORE BY CAR.

AS PART OF A TEN DAY ROAD TRIP AROUND PORTUGAL AND SPAIN, WE LEFT PORTO AND HEADED FOR SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA DRIVING PAST BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINOUS LANDSCAPES, VERDANT VALLEYS AND ALONGSIDE LUSH FORESTS. AS WE DROVE ACROSS THE RÍA DE VIGO ESTUARY WE NOTICED WHAT LOOKED FROM A DISTANCE TO BE HUNDREDS OF BARGES MOORED IN THE WATER, BUT THEY WERE IN FACT MUSSEL FARMS AND FROM THOSE BIG WOODEN PLATFORMS (BATEAS), LINES OF ROPES HUNG FROM WHICH YOUNG MUSSELS ARE SEEDED. AS WELL AS MUSSELS, GALICIA IS FAMOUS FOR ITS OYSTERS AND SCALLOPS.

Santiago de Compostela

Spain is full of walled villages, castles, churches, cathedrals and old squares and our first stop was to visit Santiago de Compostela and the majestic Romanesque style architecture of the Cathedral, one of Spain’s most iconic buildings and also one of the most important religious structures in the whole of Spain. The city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, was built around the discovery of the remains of the Apostle Saint James which has led it to becoming the final point of the Camino de Santiago and the place to which pilgrims have flocked for centuries to pay their respects to St. James. 

On arrival in Obradoiro Square on a Friday evening we could hear the sound of bagpipes in the distance. This is apparently a traditional welcome from a Galician busker playing the instrument under the Arco de Palacio stone archway for weary Camino pilgrims after their arduous journey.

Gazing up at the impressive western façade of the cathedral and then looking down at the smooth flagstones worn down by the pilgrims who once stood in the same place gives an understanding as to their spiritual connection with this special place that has permeated the atmosphere for more than eleven centuries. 

Obradoiro Square is flanked on three sides by the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos (now the Parador), the Palace of Rajoy currently home to the city council of Santiago and on its left side is the College of San Jeronimo. 

Entry to the Cathedral is free and you will be amazed by the grandeur as you wander through from chapel to chapel, taking in the magnificence of the art and architecture, the gold and silverwork, the detailed sculpture work and the magnificent organs that sit either side in front of the high altar. 

Don’t forget to look for the ‘Botafumeiro’, the famous giant incense burner hanging in the form of a pendulum from the ceiling that has been used since the Middle Ages to clean the air after the pilgrims have completed the Camino de Santiago. 

Not only was this a cultural trip, but it turned into a gastro tour as well and we enjoyed an array of Galician tapas with a seafood focus. The scallop shell is the most well-known and iconic symbol associated with the Camino de Santiago, so it seemed only fitting to taste some delicious scallops with langostinos at one of the many local bars. Breakfast at the historical Casino Café, the oldest and most traditional coffee house in Santiago, once the meeting point of bourgeois and aristocrats, with its original interior from 1873 including dark wood panelling, carvings and Art Deco glass door panes, was an interesting experience. The décor took us back to a bygone age, and the contemporary giant grotesque sculptures were certainly a talking point! A delicious treat found all over the city and beyond in Galicia is Tarta de Santiago, a traditional artisan almond and lemon cake sprinkled generously with icing sugar in which the cross of St. James has been stencilled.

Moving on the next day we drove to the small but charming village of Villafranca del Bierzo where we stayed a night in the Parador, explored the historic quarter of the nearby city of Ponferrada (a twenty minute drive from our hotel) and the imposing and extraordinary Castillo de los Templarios with origins that go back to an ancient Celtic fort, but which it gets its name from the famed Knights Templar who protected the town in the 12th century. As we crossed the moat on the drawbridge and gazed out from the entrance between the two large crenelated towers, we enjoyed stunning views of the snow-capped mountains that surround the municipality. 

Salamanca

Salamanca, home to Europe’s third-oldest university, is a spectacularly beautiful city and it is no wonder that the historic centre is a UNESCO heritage site. We were lucky to have an amazing panoramic view from our room at the Parador that was even better at night when the old and new Cathedrals were lit up in all their glory. The cobbled roads and streets look attractive, but comfy flat shoes are a must when you are sightseeing.  Plaza Mayor, one of the largest squares in Spain, is the first place to stop for a drink, tapas and some people watching, and because it is a university city there is a great atmosphere with plenty of students bustling around amid the tourists.  

Architecturally, Salamanca is full of incredible buildings carved from golden sandstone with many of them displaying intricate carvings. Look out for the frog that is carved into the stonework above the main entrance of the university, or the astronaut carving on the walls of the Catedral Nueva. 

Segovia

Another city and another cathedral and castle to explore within the medieval centre of Segovia which is packed with impressive historic monuments including one of the best-preserved elevated Roman aqueducts. This time we were particularly bowled over by the beautiful Alcazar de Segovia. Built upon a large rock promontory shaped like the bow of a ship, the Castle looks as if it has stepped straight out of a fairy tale and is, in fact, said to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World. To us, with its picturesque turrets, pink hued stone and enchanting spiralling towers the exterior resembled a Bavarian castle and there is no doubt that children will be enthralled as they step inside. Don’t forget to look up at the elaborately carved and painted ceilings, especially the one in the ‘Galley Room’ in the shape of an inverted ship’s hull.

There is no doubt that Spain’s cathedrals, churches and castles are veritable treasure troves full of some of the best art, sculpture, ornately adorned interiors, lavish ornamental woodwork, decorated ceilings, tapestries, and astounding gold and silver work to be found anywhere in the world… and it’s all just a drive away!


Exploring Travel Anxiety

Who among us hasn’t dreamt of travelling? Home grown gems or far away exotic locations. But travel anxiety is also very common. Some people experience a significant amount of anxiety when they travel. Those with persistent generalised anxiety and panic attacks are also prone to travel anxiety simply because travel represents change and distance from comfort. Certain people fear travel but are not completely aware of this fear because they avoid booking their ticket or come up with other excuses in order to not leave their homes.

Whatever the situation, travel anxiety makes it much considerably harder to travel, be it for work or pleasure. 

It is helpful to explore the concept of travel anxiety and discover strategies and techniques as to how to reduce our fear.

Travel anxiety is unlikely to have any single specific cause. Many people experience travel anxiety their entire lives. Others develop the anxiety either because of past experiences relating to travel which were anxiety provoking. Others seem to have travel anxiety for no apparent reason at all. 

You may not even know the exact reasons why your travel anxiety developed. It is possible – and important – to understand what your specific worries are. However, it isn’t always possible to know why you have those worries. Travel anxiety affects many people and it can have a disruptive influence on your life.

Pre-travel anxiety can be helped if you plan for certain scenarios. Most often stems from the “what if” aspect of travelling. While no one can plan for every possible worst-case scenario, it’s possible to have a battle plan for some of the more common ones, such as:

• What if I run out of money? I can always contact a relative or friend. I can bring a credit card for emergencies.

• What if I get lost? I can keep a paper map or guide book and my phone with me.

• What if I get sick while on the trip? I can purchase travel health insurance before I leave or be sure my insurance will cover me. Most insurance policies include access to a list of healthcare providers in different areas of the country or the world.

By preparing for scenarios like these ahead of time, you’ll see that most problems have a solution, even while traveling. 

Karen Dwyer, is a neuro coach, speaker and corporate wellness trainer. Karen is best known for reversing MS and runs an award winning company providing health and well being programs in over 22 countries globally.

Karen believes ‘Anxiety can disrupt daily life anytime, but it is even more frustrating when you have a trip planned and you’d like to enjoy it along with your companions but you are stuck, full of fear and dread. 

I hear a lot of clients as we approach the summer season say ‘Is it even possible to be present and enjoy the holiday?’

As soon as we hit book on that flight or hotel, one expects an excited feeling but right now, this may have an opposite effect with extra concerns about travel and the anxiety that comes with 

Travel anxiety can show up as stomach pain, headache, fatigue, emotional upset, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, trembling or muscle tension/pain. 

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress and stress is not a bad thing if we are in danger, it gives us the fuel we need to take some rapid actions but when this happens in daily life and if our bodies are on high alert more than we need, we need to have some strategies in place that we can practise at a moments notice.

Here are some of my most successful travel anxiety tips;

In advance of travelling:

1 – Future pace of your journey – mentally go through what it looks like on your trip. See yourself packing, in the mode of transport, arriving at your destination and feeling that all is well. Rehearse the joy in your head so that it becomes positive and comforting

2 – Download some familiar films and songs or meditations on your phone or device so you can still feel comforted and not have to worry about signals. 

3 – Call and confirm all details before you leave and have a physical print out of confirmations and location. If travelling to a foreign language destination, use google translate for some local phrases and have them printed so you can easily point to them or if your phone dies you are not trying to remember or pronounce.

4 – Feeling in control plays a huge part when travelling. After possibly being out all day, being able to fully charge multiple devices, and maybe even your hair straightener/shaver etc will be important and rather than have to sacrifice one for the other, pack an extension lead with multiple sockets so you only have to use one universal plug adapter.  

5 – IF you are concerned about using packed transport and germs, pack a few KN95 masks. Even just knowing you have them can be comforting. They have a 95% particle filtration system so it keeps you a lot safer from travel germs than most other masks.

6 – Do some box breathing. Breathe in for count if 4. Hold for count if 4, breathe out for count if 4, hold that for count if 4.

Do this for a minute or 2 and feel your heart rate start to regulate to go back to your own normal breathing pattern.

7 – People laugh when I tell them this but it works. If you feel an anxiety attack coming on, clench your butt cheeks. It is a pattern interrupt and will send your concentration elsewhere rather than your anxiety. Try it, might feel strange at first but scientifically prove to interrupt anxiety.’

Beyond these travel anxiety ideas, you’ll also want to focus on reducing your overall anxiety. Anxiety is a cumulative disorder. When you experience anxiety in one area of your life, it can cause more anxiety in other areas of your life. If you have anxiety on a daily basis, reducing that anxiety will provide you with a powerful advantage when it comes to managing your anxiety on the whole.

Karen Dwyer :: www.karenwyer.com

instagram.com/iamkarendwyer/

linkedin.com/in/karen-dwyer


Holiday Checklist

Passport, tickets, money, phone – these are most probably the list of things that we check we have with us before we leave home to go on holiday, and unfortunately the older we get the more we seem to have to repeat this mantra!

Once you’ve booked your flights, or whatever mode of travel you have chosen, and your accommodation, there are a few other important items that you should consider before you leave to ensure that your holiday is stress free.  

Passport

It sounds obvious, but you should make sure that your passport is up to date, as well as those of anyone travelling with you. Remember that child passports don’t last as long as an adult one, so check the expiration date. Some countries refuse entry to tourists whose passports are less than six months from expiry. You should also check in advance if you need a visa for your destination and bear in mind that the time it takes to apply and receive a visa can vary, and that in some cases you can’t apply for a tourist visa more than three months before you travel. 

Travel

Insurance

Checking whether you need to renew your travel insurance is another priority. It can provide extra reassurance as it may cover you if you need to cancel or change your trip before you depart, for missed or delayed flights, or for lost or stolen luggage and other belongings such as passports and cash. Most importantly, it may cover your emergency medical costs if you get sick or injured and need attention or hospitalisation while away.

Medication

It is always good to be prepared, so taking a mini travel health kit with you can often be useful if you don’t want to end up searching for a 24 hour pharmacy in a foreign country. Apart from any prescription medicines, consider the following: thermometer, over-the-counter pain relief (such as ibuprofen or paracetamol), antibiotic cream, steroid cream (such as hydrocortisone) to treat rashes, oral antihistamine (to help reduce itchiness and inflammation caused by allergies and insect bites) and anti-diarrhoea medication. Don’t forget to take sunscreen – with an SPF 30 or higher – and after-sun cream to soothe your skin after a day in the sun. Some countries have a list of controlled medicines such as painkillers, so it’s a good idea to consult the embassy website of your destination and to keep any medicine in the original packaging and bring a copy of the prescription.

Documents

A good tip is to make photocopies of all your important documents and paperwork and leave one copy at home, save an electronic copy to your phone and take another paper copy with you. 

Vaccinations

Travel vaccinations can very and are totally specific to wherever you are travelling. Most vaccinations are best started 4-6 weeks before departure. Some countries still require proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative COVID-19 test, so it is best to check beforehand.

Making a holiday checklist and having an organised approach to your packing can help you enjoy a relaxing break, although for peace of mind it doesn’t do any harm to repeat that mantra!


A Quick guide – South Africa

South Africa is open again and if you’ve always dreamed of hiking Table Mountain, diving with Great Whites or ticking off the ‘Big Five’ then now might be one of the best times to visit the rainbow nation. 

With barely a time zone change from the UK (South Africa is GMT+2) there’s no jetlag to speak of, and direct overnight flights with British Airways put Cape Town or Johannesburg within easy reach of a long weekend. Add to this the great exchange rate for travellers with Euros or Pounds and you’ll struggle to find a reason not to book. 

In one South African holiday you can stand in a desert, climb a mountain and relax on a sandy beach backed by tropical forest. Add to this the vast abundance of wildlife to view from land, sea and air, some of the best wine in the world, and a fascinating cultural heritage to discover and you have a country that will change you forever. 

The Mother City – Cape Town

Cape Town boasts an enviable coastal position and holds a reputation for its exceptional food, beautiful scenery and luxurious accommodation. It is home to a number of interesting museums and galleries including District Six and Heart of Cape Town, and you can end the day at one of the high quality restaurants at the V&A Waterfront. Surrounding Cape Town are some of the most dramatic coastlines in Africa. The rugged Cape Point Peninsula, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, lies within the Table Mountain National Park. Although raw and windswept, it’s a pleasure to explore its little tucked away beaches and coves with their spectacular views.

Stand in Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

At Nelson Mandela Gateway catamarans departs for Robben Island. It takes around half an hour and during the journey a video is shown giving an introduction to the history of the penitentiary. The prison museum includes tours, which are conducted by former inmates to give you an unrivalled insight into their harrowing personal experiences. It’s particularly fascinating to see the cell where Nelson Mandela spent much of his incarceration. He was held here between 1964 and 1982, when he was transferred to two further prisons before finally being released in 1990 after serving a total of 27 years behind bars.

View the city from the top of Table Mountain

It’s rare to find a mountain right in the middle of a city, especially one towering to 1,000 metres (over 3,500 feet) as Table Mountain does. In my opinion, no first trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to the top — either on foot with a guide, or by hopping into the cable car that travels up and down its side. On a clear day, when the ‘table cloth’ (a bank of cloud that sometimes shrouds the summit) dissipates, the view extends across Cape Town and out past the Cape Peninsula.

Feast In the Winlands

The Winelands is a beautifully scenic area around an hour’s drive from Cape Town, with gently rolling green vineyards blanketing the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch valleys. Day trips to the Winelands are easy to really take it all in book a couple of nights. You’ll thanks us when you’re sitting on your room’s private terrace watching the sun go down over the silent vineyards with a cool glass of Cap Classique (a premium South African sparkling wine) before heading out for dinner, you will experience the tranquillity of the area.

The restaurants here are world-class and a three course meal can cost a fraction of the price of a similar dining experience in other countries. The here has a colonial French feel; it is fresh, contemporary cuisine which offers a stark contrast to the meat-heavy, traditional South African fare that you typically find in rural towns and on safari.

Once in the Winelands, if you’re planning on sampling the wines on offer, you can take the vintage wine tram that winds its way through the Franschhoek Valley. For a slightly different experience you could also join a horseback wine tasting trip, or, if you are a real wine connoisseur, take a private tour with an expert wine guide.

Safari in the Eastern Cape Game Reserves

The most famous national park in South Africa is the Kruger, but if you’re visiting Cape Town then I’d suggest the Eastern Cape Game Reserves as a great alternative. They’re easily accessible from Cape Town, have all of the Big Five animals, are non-malarial and also experience their best weather at the same time as Cape Town between October and March. During the height of summer in January and February, when Cape Town is at its warmest, we recommend avoiding the Kruger as it is rainy at this time.

Drive along the Garden Route

The Garden Route stretches between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s southern coast and is an area of mountain passes, coastal roads, seaside towns, and lush green landscapes. 

Along the Garden Route are two national parks, Wilderness and Tsitsikamma. They boast a combination of coastal landscapes, lush forests and beautiful beaches. 

Highlights include sea kayaking in the Knysna lagoon, hikes around Plettenberg Bay, surfing at J-Bay and bungy jumping at Bloukrans Bridge.  

Whale watch from the clifftops.

Most whale watching requires you to wrap up warm, don waterproofs and board a boat, but in the Cape it’s an entirely different story. At Hermanus the cliffs drop steeply into the ocean, allowing the whales to come within 30 metres of the shore.

The migrating southern right whales use the calm waters and steep shores of False Bay and Walker Bay as sheltered locations to calve and rest up before heading south toward Antarctica with their young. The whales can be seen between of June and October in this area, however September and October are the optimum months to visit.

Spot the Big Five in Kruger National Park safari

The Kruger National Park has a well-deserved reputation for offering an outstanding South African safari. The park is simply huge, covering over 20,000 square kilometres and supporting 147 species of mammal (including the Big Five) and over 500 species of bird.

When deciding where to base yourself for your safari you can choose from a huge variety of accommodation options ranging from simple self-catering chalets to some of the most opulent and exclusive safari lodges in Africa.

Before booking your safari to South Africa, it is important to think about the sort of experience that you would enjoy. Some lodges focus on romantic seclusion with private game drive vehicles and dining, whilst others are more sociable, allowing you to share a vehicle with other guests and dine with them in the evenings.

For groups of four to six people it is possible to hire a private safari house, which comes complete with your very own private pool, vehicle and expert guide.

Which ever way you decide to go you will be guaranteed holiday of a life time and memories that will never fade. 

5 cheap European destinations to add to your bucket list

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With most of Europe having already opened their doors to tourists, and a bunch of bank holidays to take advantage of this spring (thanks Lizzie!) now is the perfect time to start planning your next city break. Some of the cities on the list are probably some of my favourite places d’ve ever visited, probably because of their unique architecture and being able to eat like a queen for half of the cost of what it would be back home. df you’re looking to head away soon, these are my top cheap European destinations.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Prior to booking our trip to Bratislava, the only knowledge I had about the city was how it was depicted in the movie Hostel and EuroTrip. Let’s just say both movies painted a very negative picture of the slovakian capital, so much so that tourism dropped 75% after these movies were released. After doing our research, we realised that in fact it’s quite a charming place and has a great selection of brunch spots (which is always a winning factor). I highly recommend trying Urban House and Cafe Mondieu. 

In Gratislava:

• Take a walking tour of the old town with Sandermans

• See St Elisabeth’s Chirch, known as ‘The Blue Church’ 

• Visit the cute stalls and shops in Kapitulska Street

• Check out modern art at the Nedbalka Gallery

• Explore Bratislava Castle, which is often compared to an ‘upside down table’. 

• See the other side of Bratislava with an evening ‘Spooky Legends of Bratislava’ tour

• Try a slovakian three course meal consisting of Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup with sausage) for starters, Haluski (gnocchi with sheep’s cheese and bacon) and Medvedie labky for dessert! ⁣

Krakow, Poland

I wrote an article a couple of months back about how underrated Poland is, and I’ll include it in most lists because it really is one of my favourite European cities. Krakow has the best of everything – cheap eats, great nightlife, rich in history and plenty of instagram photo spots. This would be a great choice to visit in Easter as you’ll also get to see all the Easter markets and stalls in the Rynek Glowny central square. 

In Krakow:

• Take a day trip to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. ⁣

• Try all of the bread bowl soups – Zurek (sourdough/sausage), Borscht (beetroot) and Berdytchov (meat/honey). ⁣

• Pierogi is also a popular dish of stuffed dumplings/ravioli. ⁣

• Get 140m below ground in the Wieliczka salt mines, where you can actually lick the walls. Not sure if that’s been put a stop to now with Covid and all. 

• Take a ‘7 Deadly Sins’ night tour of Krakow and learn about some infamous locals throughout history. ⁣

• Try local beer and meet fellow travellers on a ‘Krawl Through Krakow’ pub crawl. ⁣

Bucharest, Romania

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Romania, is Dracula. At least it was in my case! You can actually take a day trip from Bucharest to Dracula’s Castle (officially known as Bran’s Castle) which takes you around 2 hours to get to. Aside from that, Bucharest is a place that is full of history and I actually thoroughly enjoyed learning about communism in the country and how things have changed throughout the years. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Killing Eve, some of the scenes were actually shot in Bucharest. 

In Gucharest:

• Get to know the history of the Arcul de Triumf, very closely modelled to Paris’ Arc de Triumf. 

• Take a Rroma Heritage Tour to learn about the minority communities in Romania

• Book a communist tour and learn about what the country was like under the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife.

• Relax at Therme Bucharest –  which consists of several thermal pools, unique sauna rooms and other wellness treatments, all for 15 euros. 

Sofia, Bulgaria

In Sofia: 

Sofia was the last destination I visited in 2021 and it was quite a spontaneous choice. I had searched for flights from Malaga to ‘Everywhere’ on Skyscanner and saw that Ryanair were doing flights for £40. I was then even more surprised that a 3 night stay in a 4 star hotel would only be setting me back another £50. So it was a no-brainer really! 

• Snap your pics of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

 • Sit in one of the glasshouse restaurants in Vitosha Street

 • Visit the 7 Rila Lakes

 • Followed by the Rila Monastery

 • Make a day trip to the city of Plovdiv where you’ll also see roman ruins

• Try a Mekitsa (fried dough) with Nutella and banana

• Visit the Red Flat to learn about Communist Bulgaria

• Take a free walking tour to learn about the history of the city

Budapest, Hungary 

Did you know that the city of Budapest is actually split into two parts? ‘Buda’ is the more hilly area whereas ‘Pest’ makes up two-thirds of the city and is where you will find most of the tourist attractions. To get around I definitely recommend taking advantage of one of the Hop On, Hop Off buses. 

In Budapest: 

• Visit the famous landmarks of Heroes Square, Fisherman’s Bastion and the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial

• Take a river cruise in the evening and see Parliament lit up

• Try Hungary’s famous dish, goulash stew

• Eat your way around the Great Market Hall

• Head to the House of Terror museum to find out about the history of facist and communist regimes in Hungary

• Relax at the Széchenyi Baths, or make it more eventful by attending one of their pool parties in the evening. 

Useful New Year’s Resolution Ideas for 2022

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The first thing most of us do after Christmas and New Years Eve is think about all the things we want to achieve or change about our lives in the new year (or run to the gym). More often than not we make these long lists of things that we know we realistically won’t stick to. I for one have accepted that I probably will never run a marathon, because I hate running long distances. I could however see myself pushing 100kg on the squat machine if I stuck to my strength training throughout the year. Whatever your goals and interests are, there are a couple of things we could all benefit from doing more of in 2022. 

1. Have one realistic big goal 

If it were possible, my new year’s resolution would be to save enough money to buy a house, a Fiat 500 and a holiday to the Maldives. Realistically I know that’s not feasible, but I could make it my goal to finally get my drivers license and then get a Fiat 500. Once you have a goal set for the year, think about the steps you’d need to take to get there. It makes it a lot easier to achieve something if you have a clear path on how to get it.

2. Take more care of the planet

This doesn’t mean you have to go around picking up other people’s rubbish, but we can all try and make more of a conscious effort to reduce our carbon footprint and generally be more environmentally friendly. Most supermarkets offer reusable bags now, but try something as simple as remembering to bring your own when you go shopping. 

3. Find a physical activity you enjoy

Not everyone is a fan of going to the gym, and that’s ok. It is kind of important that you are doing some sort of cardiovascular activity – whether that’s running, swimming, playing basketball or even playing an hour of Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch every day. I’ve tried and tested that during lockdown and you’ll be surprised at the amount of calories you burn!

4. Be more selective with your time

We’re a generation that’s obsessed with always being ‘busy’, and more often than not it just leads to being unmotivated, tired and stressed. Time is something that you don’t get back, so next time you’re agreeing to plans that you don’t really want to go to, think to yourself what you’d rather be doing with your time instead. 

5. Learn a new skill.

I’ve tried and failed many times over the last 10 years to learn how to play the guitar (except for perfecting the G chord). So this won’t be on my list for 2022, but something I want to try to experiment more with is baking. If I have any success with it you’ll probably see on my social media accounts. 

6. Save £672

This may seem like a random one, but in 2021 I did this budgeting challenge where everyday from the 1st January to the 31st December you’d add a penny more each day to a savings vault on Revolut (or your bank of choice). So on the 1st January you’d be adding 1p, 2nd January 2p and so on. You won’t notice it daily but it means if you have managed to stick to it for the whole year you’ll be able to buy yourself something nice at the end of the year. For me it bought me an iPhone 13!

7. Spend more time with your family

Sometimes we get so caught up with life that we don’t realise how long it’s been since we last saw a grandparent or other family member. Even something as simple as making time to make one phone call a week or having a weekly family game or movie night at home can go a long way.

8. Focus on self development

As an adult it gets harder to actively learn new skills like we did when we were children or in school. Most of us in Gibraltar are already bilingual so ‘learning a new language’ doesn’t have to be at the top of your list! Reading self-development books on coping with stress, getting rid of negative beliefs or simply improving self-confidence and self-love are all good places to start. 

9. Try and live a more minimalist lifestyle

Shein was probably the worst thing to come into my life, as I am currently struggling to find space in my wardrobe and there’s still probably 20% of stuff in there that I haven’t worn yet. When I lived in Australia and had only brought a suitcase with me, I realised how easy it actually was to live with minimal clothing, accessories and gadgets. Not only will you save money when you realise the difference between needing and wanting something, but you will also save time in the morning looking for what to wear! 

10. Work on your character ‘flaws’ 

The main idea of ‘new year’s resolutions’ is to try and better yourself and to do that requires a bit of self-reflection. There are always things we can do to be a better friend, partner or colleague. Try and recognise what these are, or if you’re brave enough ask someone what they think you could improve on. Start by asking your sibling, they will always give you an honest answer! 

10 Ways to get into the festive spirit

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There are two types of people in this world. Those who put their Christmas tree up in November, and the rest of us. I’ve never been someone who has been overly enthusiastic about the Christmas period, but there are definitely aspects of it that I enjoy. The social gatherings, the cheesy Christmas movies that I’ve seem to have grown more fond of over the years, the food and of course, the festive coffee flavours at Costa. If you’re looking for ways to fully immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit, here are some things to get doing! 

Buy an advent calendar. 

I remember when I was a child I used to get an advent calendar from my parents and one from my grandparents, so I proceeded to eat all 25 chocolates from the second one in one day. I’m now 27 and still like having an advent calendar to give myself a little daily treat on the leadup to Christmas. If chocolate isn’t your thing (do these people exist?), you can find all sorts of advent calendars nowadays! From candles, to make-up to gin. 

Have a weekly Christmas movie night at home.

If you are really dedicated, there’s probably enough of them out there for you to watch one every night in the lead up to Christmas. Especially if you have the Hallmark channel. If that’s too much to commit to, pick a night of the week to watch a festive movie with your friends and family. We always watch the Harry Potter movies around Christmas, but some other good choices are Love Hard, Last Christmas, The Holiday and The Holidate. 

 Plan a party. 

December in Gibraltar (bar 2020) always has such great ambiance and everyone just seems happier. No wonder we always need all of January to recover. Use this time to get together with all your favourite people, drink some mulled wine and either have everyone bring a dish or order a takeaway to reduce the workload! 

Visit a Christmas market.

If you managed to pick up last month’s issue of Insight, you might have read my article on my favourite Christmas Markets to visit around Europe. If you’d rather stay home, Gibraltar will hopefully be having their own stalls where you can get your hands on bratwurst sausages, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts! 

Wake up with Christmas songs. 

Not as an alarm tone, or else that might have the opposite effect. I always listen to music when I get ready for work in the morning, and I know as soon as December hits I’ll be playing Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe or Michael Buble’s Christmas album. 

Make some festive goodies.

I have never baked cookies or peppermint bark myself, but this might be the year I do so. If you’re feeling more adventurous why not make some eggnog, build a gingerbread house or a chocolate yule log? I tried making Kylie Jenner’s marshmallow and sweet potato casserole last Christmas, and sadly I was the only one in my house who liked the combination. 

Or load up on festive treats.

If you’re not one for baking, just head to your closest supermarket and stock up on mince pies, polvorones and a Quality Street box. Speaking of, did anyone else used to think mince pies contain meat in them? Probably why I was never a fan of them!

 Change your reading material for something related to the holidays.

I used to love coming home to Gibraltar from university at Christmas time and be able to read all these holiday themed books. Let It Snow from John Green was probably my favourite one. The one I have saved to start reading this month is The Chaos of Standing Still by Jessica Brody. Which follows two strangers who get snowed in at Denver Airport on New Years Day. 

Gift yourself something.

We often think of all the people in our lives who we want to buy presents for, but we should also take the time to reflect on everything we have achieved that year and not feel guilty for spending a little bit of money on ourselves too. I actually started a challenge on the 1st January where I’d put an extra penny a day in a Revolut savings vault, which has allowed me to buy an iPhone 13 for Christmas! 

Get your Christmas shopping done! 

It’s so easy, and sometimes cheaper to get your shopping done online nowadays. That being said, there is something uplifting about going into town to do your Christmas shopping and seeing everyone doing the same. Especially if you sit down to have a hot chocolate after. If you’d also like to do something special for the people close to you, write them all a Christmas card. Tell them all the reasons why you’re grateful to have them in your life. 

After the underwhelming and hard Christmas we all had last year because of covid, I’m grateful that this year we will hopefully be able to celebrate with our loved ones and make the most of the holidays. As you get older you’ve probably also grown to realise that Christmas is less about presents and more about making memories with the people you love. However you choose to spend it, I hope it’s a special one! 

5 of the best Christmas markets to visit in Europe

in Features

As much as d love holidays in the sun, there is something very cosy and ‘hygge’ about winter holidays. Over the last few years Gibraltar has definitely upped its Christmas market game, and we’re never far from getting some warm chestnuts (or castañas). ûhat being said, it’s always nice to have a change of scenery and immerse yourself in different traditions and their local treats. So here are five Quropean destinations to consider visiting this Christmas period.

1. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is probably one of the cutest and most quaint places I have visited. The main square is filled with colourful gingerbread looking houses, and if you like your dairy products you will appreciate all the chocolate and cheese shops dotted around (and the free samples). This year the Christmas markets run from 26th November to 9th January and will be located at the Markt and Simon Stevinplein in the city centre. If you’re a fan of cherry products, then I recommend you try Kriek – their cherry infused local beer. Which is actually more popular than regular beer in some areas! If you’d like something a bit more filling, make sure to try a Belgian waffle with warm cherries on top.

On your trip to Bruges, also make sure to check out the Choco-Story museum, or the Frietmuseum if you want to find out more about the history of chips. We actually learnt that ‘french fries’ actually originated in Belgium, and not France. Another interesting site to see is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, with the main point of interest here being a relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land. If you want to get inspired, watch the film ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrel before your trip.

2. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is full of buzzing markets throughout the city, the biggest one probably being in Nyhaven Harbour. Here you can get everything from flavoured fudge, waffles on a stick, chocolate tools and lots of personalised gifts. You then also have the Christian Andersen market that can be found in Nytorv, where each stall is named after one of his fairytales, including The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling. The most impressive of them all is in Tivoli, which is the second oldest theme park in Europe and costs £20 to enter. Here you can see great sculptures and gardens, try Danish yuletide and glogg. The Christmas markets run from the 16th to the 22nd December.

If you want to visit a unique place in Copenhagen whilst on your trip, head to the commune of Christiania. Give it a Google to find out more about what makes this place so interesting!

3. Frankfurt, Germany

It wouldn’t be a proper list without including the home of bratwurst sausages. In terms of visitors and the size of it, the Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the largest and oldest Christmas markets in the whole of Germany. It is complete with elaborate decorations, scenic surroundings

from the Romerberg and St Paul’s Square combined with the huge Christmas tree at the market. If you’re a foodie like myself then don’t just come here for the sausages, you can also have a helping of pretzels, berliners and gluhwein. Some stalls also sell local craft beer and hot apple wine. This year the Christmas Market runs from 22nd November – 22nd December.

4. Seville, Spain

If you want all that comes with the festive markets without the freezing temperatures, then Seville will be a good option. It also means you won’t have to catch a flight (or take a PCR covid test) and can be there in 2 and a half hours.

There are a number of markets in Seville ranging from typical ones to ones that specialise in art created by Spanish artists in the Plaza Nueva, including pottery, paintings and wooden toys. There are also two combined markets in the Alameda de Hercules that feature a range of attractions and special performances for the whole family – including ice skating and performances by disney characters. These markets usually run up until the 5th of January as in Spain the day of the 3 Kings is even more celebrated than Christmas Day itself. If you’re spending a weekend in Seville make sure to also check out the Royal Alcazar Palace, which Game of Thrones fans might recognise as the filming location for the Kingdom of Dorne.

5. Budapest, Hungary

Last on the list is the beautiful Hungarian capital of Budapest. This is a place I’ve only visited in the summer months, but have heard from friends it is just as beautiful in the winter. The two main markets in Budapest are located in the Vorosmarty Square and at the Budapest Basilica Christmas Fair. At the Basilica fair you not only find the usual food stalls and handmade gifts, but there is also a Christmas laser projection show. Make sure to try their famous chimney cakes known as ‘Kurtoskalacs’, or warm up with a warm bowl of Goulash stew!

Aside from the Christmas markets, make sure to visit some of the ruin bars around the city, visit the House of Terror and take a boat along the river Danube at night to get the best views of the Hungarian Parliament Building. Just make sure to bring plenty of layers of clothing, and gloves! The dates planned for the Budapest Christmas Market are 19th November to 31st December.

Most of these cities are doable in 2-3 days, so you won’t have to take a lot of time off work to visit. Remember to check reopen.eu if you are planning on visiting one of these locations to see any updates on entry restrictions relating to covid.

10 Pieces of advice for anyone starting or returing to university this year

in Features

I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since I graduated from university, and 8 since I enrolled. They say your time at university can be the best years of your life and looking back I still believe that to be true (on par with travelling the world and living abroad of course). With some of my family members heading off to uni this year, I thought I’d share my advice for making the most of your time at university, and things that I would have found helpful to know when I started.

1. Don’t sit in your room all day.

I know some of us are more introverted/extroverted than others, but especially during your first few weeks at university it’s important to get to know your flatmates and people in your halls. Mostly to avoid things feeling awkward in the long run. Stepping out of your comfort zone and speaking to new people might be daunting for some, but remember everyone is in the same boat.

2. Learn some basic meals on Youtube.

It becomes so easy at uni to live off ready meals and Tesco meal deals, but that’s where you’ll see most of your money going. If cooking isn’t really your thing, try and master a few basic recipes that you can meal prep for the week so that you don’t end up buying stuff you don’t need when you don’t feel like cooking. Especially since the closest supermarket will probably be across the road in halls!

3. Budget your week.

I wasn’t the greatest at doing this my first year of uni, in fact I always found myself having to message my mum to top me up at the end of the week because I’d spent too much on student night events and Odeon cinema. In uni there’s always something going on, so it’s best to plan how much you’re going to need for food, bills etc for the week and then whatever is left you can leave for the fun stuff.

4. Take advantage of student discounts

UniDays, StudentBeans and Totum are all places that work with brands to give you the biggest discounts. The most important one if you’re planning on visiting your friends across the UK is to make sure you get a student 18-25 Railcard for discounts on your train and tube journeys. If you’re a big cinema fan, you can also get an Odeon Limitless card for £17.99 a month that lets you go see as many movies as you want.

5. Try something new with a uni social club or society.

I remember joining the rowing team during my first year of uni, and I only lasted two months because I couldn’t deal with the 6am wake up call every Saturday morning. That being said, the social and themed events that the team organised were amazing. If sport isn’t your thing, you’ll still find everything from the ‘wine society’ to the ‘disney society’. If you’re feeling inspired most universities also allow you to open your own club if there is enough interest/it follows the guidelines.

6. Don’t leave it until the end of the year to sort out accommodation.

After halls most people choose to go into a house share with friends, but the tricky thing is deciding after two months of knowing someone whether they would actually make a good housemate. I didn’t decide who I was living with until about March, and by then most of the good houses had already been swiped. My advice is to start thinking about who you’d like to live with a few months into your uni year, once you’ve managed to gather a good sense of character from your peers. Just pay attention to who cleans up their plates straight away and doesn’t steal all the milk.

7. Remember why you’re there in the first place.

Uni is definitely a place where you can work hard, and play hard. I think I went out the most during my final year of university, but I always made sure I’d hit my personal work deadlines first so that I’d be able to have fun and de-stress and not feel guilty about it. If going out partying isn’t your thing just make sure you’re still making time to do fun things so that you don’t burnout.

8. Look after your mental health.

University can be challenging for a lot of people. Whether it’s because you’ve moved away from home for the first time, are finding your course challenging, or because the experience hasn’t quite met your expectations. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in feeling like this and that you can talk to your friends, family or tutors about whatever issues you are facing. I know of people who felt pressured to stay at university when they really weren’t enjoying it, and it’s also ok to admit that university isn’t for you. Plenty of people choose to go straight into jobs after school and go on to have successful careers.

9. Be proactive and get involved.

Throughout your time at uni you’ll find there’ll be lots of opportunities offered to you which won’t only help your interpersonal skills and look good on your CV, but will also help shape your uni experience. I wasn’t aware my university offered a study exchange programme until I was having a deep browse through their website one day, and after enquiring to my course leader about it I ended up applying and doing a semester abroad in Orlando, Florida. If you aren’t sure about what extra opportunities your uni offers, make sure to speak to your tutor about it.

10. Use this time to grow.

Chances are you’ve grown up being around the same people, cultures and ways of thinking. Especially with Gibraltar being such a small place and close-knit community. When you get to uni not only are you thrown into the deep end of independence, it’s also a time where you get to discover new passions, relationships and hobbies. So make the most of it!

10 Pieces of advice for your early twenties

in Features

Your twenties can be the most defining decade in your life, because its a time where we usually have to make the biggest life choices, but can also afford to make the most mistakes and learn from them. Its usually when we have the most opportunities and obstacles thrown at us, but also the most memorable experiences. I wanted to reflect back on my twenties so far and share the best life lessons Ive learnt up to now.

1. Define your own meaning of success

Society has conditioned a lot of us to think success means being in your dream job by 25, and having a family and a property by the time you are 30. The reality of it is that we are all on unique journeys. Some people want all of the above and that’s okay. If you’d rather focus on seeing the world or pursuing your passion in your twenties and then starting a family later, know that that is also okay. These are the years you have to think what path you want to set for yourself, instead of looking back and thinking ‘I wish I would have done this differently’.

2. Adopt good money habits

This might be an obvious one, but I’ve met quite a few people who had not even opened a savings account until recently! My best advice is to always put a bit of money aside as soon as your monthly paycheck comes in and pay your expenses first. Once you see what you have left you can choose how to spend your disposable income. I’d even suggest opening two savings accounts, one for ‘adult’ expenses like trips to the dentist and one for the fun stuff like holidays. So there won’t be any unexpected surprises!

3. Pay attention to who you give your time to

As you get older, you realise that how long you’ve been friends with someone doesn’t always correlate with how good of a friend they are. Pay attention to people who are actually happy for your little or big successes, and who bring out your best parts. At the end of the day your time is precious, so you don’t want to give it away to people who bring you negative energy and do not add any joy to your life.

4. Live abroad, even if its just for 6 months

When you’re in your early twenties you are more likely to have the least baggage and things ‘tying you down’ to where you live. If living abroad is something you want to pursue, then I recommend taking a bar or temp job at home whilst you save up for your trip, as this way you won’t feel guilty leaving your ‘career’ behind. I think if you spend your whole life living in one place you’ll only be exposed to certain ways of thinking, living and cultures. So go out and expand your horizons!

5. Remember that…this too shall pass

I had this tattooed on my shoulder when I was 20, so it’s been something I think about quite often! There’s two ways to look at this, when you’re going through a rough patch in life and feel like it’s the end of the world just know that you won’t be feeling this way forever. I actually remember a teacher once saying ‘the worst day of your life is only 24 hours’ and I often think of that too. On the other hand, it’s a reminder to stay present and enjoy good things when they’re happening.

6. Take care of your skin

As lovely as a tan is, you really don’t see the damage the sun can do to your skin (especially your face) so it’s important to wear a daily SPF. Even if that means using a tinted moisturiser or fake tan to match your pale face to your body in the summer!

7. Know that good relationships are worth waiting for

A lot of people meet their partners at school or university, but if that hasn’t been your story don’t think you have to couple up with the first eligible bachelor that slides into your DMs just because everyone else around you is taken. At the end of the day love is meant to be rare, so don’t assume that you’re going to end up alone with 5 cats just because you haven’t met your future husband/wife yet. It’s better to enjoy your own company and eventually meet someone who’s going to add to your life, than settling for someone in hopes of them ‘completing’ you.

8. This is the best time to try and fail

If I have one regret in life, it’s not trying my Fro-Yo business venture in Gibraltar. They say your twenties is the best time to ‘try and pursue your passion’ because if you fail, you still have time to try again or start something new. The same goes for your place of work. If you’re thinking of changing your career path or want to go back to university and study something different, you still have time to make that change.

9. Learn to prioritise your happiness and your mental health

Self-love and self-care doesn’t have to look like having a 10 step skincare routine and a bubble bath every night. It’s reflecting on yourself as a person and external factors and asking yourself ‘what are the things that make me happy?’ For me little things like trips to the cinema, having a gym workout with a friend or going out for a drink and a dance are things that I enjoy. I know a lot of people find apps like Instagram triggering because they compare themselves to the people they see on there. So choose to follow people who are going to inspire you instead of making you feel insecure. Growing up means being able to let go of things and people that are not good for your mental health, and prioritising your happiness.

10. Remember to have fun!

Even at my age, I still feel like sometimes I spend time worrying about my future or if I’m going out too much or at what stage in my life I should be in by now. It’s important to remember these are the years where you can afford to be a bit more selfish. If you’re not hurting anyone who cares if you go out every weekend because you enjoy letting your hair down after a 45 hour work week. Or if you’d rather be at home with a book on a Friday night. Or if you want to spend all your disposable income on festivals. No one looks back at their life and thinks ‘I wish I would have had less fun’.

A Tour to Krakow

in Travel

For the last year and a half, travelling has had to be put on hold for most of us because of the pandemic. Now that the situation seems to be more under control and vaccine passports are being rolled out, booking a holiday seems more realistic and less of a distant fantasy. Many european countries are granting tourists access so long as they can provide a negative PCR test, proof of vaccination or have recently recovered from covid. One of the countries currently offering entry to tourists is Poland.

Poland was never high on my bucket list, but we were travelling to Prague over Easter and thought we’d add another stop on the way before flying home. Krakow ended up being a cheap place to travel to and to this day, it’s probably one of my favourite cities in Europe . When you walk through the city centre, it feels like you’ve stepped into a medieval-esque fairytale. Whether you’re looking for history, cheap delicious eats or a fun night out with friends, Krakow has it all. Here are my recommendations if you’re thinking of spending a few days in Krakow, Poland.

What to do

The main reason most people travel to Poland, is to visit the Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp that’s located an hour drive from Krakow. As you can expect, it is quite an emotional visit but one that is well worth the trip. For me, it all felt a bit surreal until I left and then could reflect on what we had seen. The guide took us through the different bunkers and showed us the conditions the prisoners slept in, the gas chambers and even a display of all the shoes and luggage that had to be confiscated from the prisoners. It’s crazy to think what happened here occurred less than 100 years ago, and how over 1 million people lost their lives. If you would like to visit the camp then I suggest booking through GetYourGuide or Escape2Poland.

Next on your trip I’d plan a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which takes you 140 metres below ground where you will see sculptures, chapels and various items made out of salt. What I found interesting is that people actually host wedding receptions here, which can’t be easy for guests in high heels considering the 500 steps to get down there!

For the last bit of history on your trip, you can pay a visit to Oskar Schindler’s Factory. Here you can learn the story about the man who was a member of the Nazi Party and yet saved the lives of over 1000 people during the Holocaust. If you’d like to hear more about the story, check out the film Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson.

Once you’ve ticked these things off your list, the best way to get to know a new city is with a free walking tour. If you search ‘‘free walking tour Krakow’ on Google you’ll find that a few companies run them both in English and Spanish. Some areas you’ll want to explore are the Jewish Quarter, the Old Town and the Wawel Castle complex. If you’d like something a bit more exciting, I’d recommend doing a ‘7 Deadly Sins of Krakow’ night tour where you’ll learn about Krakow’s dark history and myths.

One of my favourite things to do when travelling is meeting new people, and what better way to do that than on a pub crawl? If you’re in your 20s or 30s then I’d suggest trying the Krawl Through Krakow pub crawl. Your guide will take your group (10-20 tourists normally) around some of the best bars in the city and usually includes free drinks at every location. If you would rather do your own thing, then Singer and Alchemia are fun quirky bars to visit. Fun fact, Singer is actually where the original sewing factory was!

Where (and what) to eat

One of the things that attracted me most to Poland was how much you could eat for so little. If you’re a foodie like myself, absolutely don’t miss the Taste of Poland tour. For 30 euros you will get to try some typical Polish dishes such as pierogi (stuffed dumplings), golabki (cabbage rolls) and my favourite, zurek soup (which came in a bread bowl!). Drinks are also included so it’s a good way to socialise and make an afternoon out of it. If you have a sweet tooth, then load up on Pączkis, a rose jam filled doughnut topped with orange zest. These cakes have been around since the 1700s, and they even have their own celebration day!

You’ll find the best foodie spots in Rynek Glowny square or in the Jewish Quarter. Some of my favourite restaurants we ate at included Szara Resto & Bar, Restaurancja Wierzynek, AWIW and Cafe Ariel. Interestingly, some parts of the film Schindler’s List were actually filmed in Cafe Ariel.

Some useful tips

Currently, entry into Poland is permitted as long as you can provide proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours or have recovered from Covid-19 in the last 180 days.

• The official currency of Poland is polish Zloty. I’d recommend exchanging your British Pounds to Zloty before travelling as paying in GBP won’t give you the best rates.

• Most of Krakow is accessible by foot, so you won’t need to hire a car to get around.

• The best time to visit Krakow is in the Spring and Autumn months, where the weather is warm but not unbearable.

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