In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, we are getting a puppy at the end of the month. It will be Belle’s puppy, so I’m under strict instructions about the use of things like the term ‘pupdate’ in Instagram captions, much to my regret.

Before the puppy arrives and takes over our lives in the best, fluffiest possible way, we’ve been making the most of our freedom by having days out and weekends away and going to IKEA. One such outing recently was an overnight stay in Windsor.

I think I may have been to Windsor once before, but I’ve never been to Windsor Castle, and to be honest if you go to Windsor and don’t go to the castle, have you even been? It would be like going to Cheddar and not eating some cheese. (I think I’ve done this too to be honest.) During our 24 hours in Windsor then I was definitely going to visit the castle, just to prove I existed. I think that’s how it works.

Windsor Castle

Our accommodation in Windsor

We were put up for the night in Windsor, very generously, by the aptly named Accommodation Windsor.

Accommodation Windsor has a wide range of self catering accommodation throughout the town – 45 properties in fact – ranging from small. serviced apartments through to a 5-bedroom guest house right in the town centre. They’re nearly all walking distance into Windsor, and their vibe is clean, modern home away from home. View Post

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In collaboration with Hotels.com, but all views are my own.

Cornwall hotels

What are your holiday plans for 2021? With international travel still complicated and expensive, chances are you’re staying in the UK this year. We certainly won’t be doing anything exotic. No American road trips or cruising the Caribbean for us. We have already had a fabulous few days in Pembrokeshire in May, and we have some time mid-July set aside for a weekend in a hired motorhome, but aside from that we will be keeping things pretty relaxed. Partly this is also because we’re planning on getting a dog this year – puppy training and settling in is going to be taking precedent in 2021.

One thing I would really like to do though, before our lives are taken over by pets, is to take a trip down to Cornwall to see my Dad and family there. We were lucky enough to see each other in January last year, before everything went pear shaped, but that’s still nearly a year and a half ago now – an awfully long time to not see people.

We live in Somerset, so we can just about get to Cornwall in a (very long) day, but we much prefer to make a mini break out of it and find a hotel in Cornwall for a night or two. Let’s be honest, we’ll make a mini break out of literally anything given half the chance. I bloody love a mini break.

Catching up with family is the perfect excuse for a bit of time away though, whether that’s a hotel, camping or airbeds on the floor. They say a change is as good as a rest after all don’t they? (Although I’m not convinced an airbed ever counts as a rest.)

It’s lovely just have a change of scene, to see the sea, to eat in new places – simple pleasures like fish and chips on the beach can be so joyous when we really appreciate them. We’ve all been stuck in our own homes for so long now, any opportunity to regain that sense of freedom, to gain a different perspective, has to be a good thing.

If you have family that you haven’t seen for a while then I really hope you get to see them this summer. Fingers crossed for some summer sunshine too.

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Okay, I’m going to jump right in and say it, even if it makes me look stupid… PUFFINS – who knew they were so small??

I’d never seen a puffin in real life until we stayed at Point Farm for a few days and took a boat out to Skomer Island, but seriously, in all the pictures I’ve ever seen they look about the size of a penguin? All I can say is that those pictures must be VERY close up, because puffins are actually more like pigeons. Pigeons with big heads and colourful beaks, but pigeons nonetheless.

Also, they live UNDERGROUND?? In actual burrows.

Honestly, my mind was blown. I felt like a right idiot having spent 43 years imagining these penguin type birds, nesting on rocks and beaches, when all the time there they were, using their tiny beaks to burrow underground.

Spoiler: this is not an accurate representation of a puffin:

Skomer Island

If you do want the chance to see puffins in real life, which I absolutely recommend, then Point Farm on the Pembrokeshire coast is the ideal base for a holiday as it’s just a 15 minute drive from the campsite to catch the boat over the Skomer Island.

It’s also a really lovely campsite, puffins aside. Point Farm is small, (just like the puffins), so perfect if you like a bit more of a quiet, intimate camping experience without a lot of noise or kerfuffle. Point Farm is an eco site, dog friendly, with great facilities and amazing sunsets. There are just six camping pitches, plus two fully equipped shepherd’s huts if glamping is more your thing.

Glamping is definitely more my thing – I will quite happily go to my grave never putting up another tent – and so we stayed in the very cosy Tawny shepherd’s hut. View Post

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How okay is it to go somewhere for a night away just to have more Deliveroo options?

I ask this in a purely rhetorical sense, because I’ve already done it, and it was amazing. It’s one of the downsides of living in an otherwise very lovely part of the country – that when you want a takeaway your choice is limited primarily to pizzas, kebabs, curries and Chinese food. That’s not to say I wouldn’t happily eat all of those things, but sometimes what you really want is just to have some sashimi delivered to your door.

When Your Apartment offered me and Belle a night in one of their serviced apartments in Bristol then, our first thought wasn’t ‘oh how lovely, the chance to enjoy the culture of a big city’, it was ‘yaassss! More Deliveroo options!’

In fairness, we did live in Bristol for about three years, so we have already seen plenty of what Bristol has to offer. It’s a fantastic city – small enough to feel manageable but with a vibrant food and arts scene. When we stayed for my birthday weekend at the end of April it was a little restricted in terms of what was open, but from our apartment in Cotham I was still able to walk down into the city centre and around the harbourside, which is always buzzing with people.

The premise behind Your Apartment is simple – serviced apartments that feel like home. They’re bright, colourful, clean and fully equipped with everything you need to create a home away from home vibe, including all the techy stuff like superfast Wi-Fi and smart TVs. They have apartments all around Bristol as well as in Cardiff and Liverpool, and Your Apartment Clifton Village even has its own exclusive co-working space – ideal for business travel to Bristol.

Your Apartment review

We stayed on the top floor of Rowan Tree in Cotham, so we had that sloppy ceiling penthouse apartment feel that always makes me feel kind of metropolitan and sophisticated. View Post

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As you will know by now, Belle and I love a mini break. Whether it’s a wet and windy December weekend in a vintage VW camper van on the Cornish coast* or a luxury boutique hotel in the Cotswolds, the theme is normally the same – some nice food, outings in the day that I generally enjoy more than Belle, and then snuggly evenings with a film or a murder mystery.

It’s not a bad format really, especially the outings, where I normally get to sneak in something like a model village or obscure wool museum. I imagine some parents of teenagers don’t manage to have quite as relaxed breaks as we do.

Our recent weekend away at Haven’s Littlesea Holiday Park on the Dorset coast did not disappoint. In fact, our caravan, if you can even call it that, was one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, and I have stayed in a LOT of caravans. I actually went as far as to double check the booking to see if it was actually a lodge, but no, definitely a caravan. It was a platinum caravan with a sea view, which is top of the range, but even so, very impressive.

The living and dining area was incredibly spacious, and had a proper three piece suite and dining table and chairs rather than the usual bench seating you get in a caravan. The kitchen was well equipped with a full-sized oven and fridge freezer, microwave, dishwasher and even a washing machine, which I’m not sure I’ve seen in a caravan before. I would have liked a cafetiere, but you can’t have anything I suppose.

Haven Littlesea View Post

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When I made my list of 50 things I wanted to do before I was 50, I rather ambitiously included ‘visit every country in Europe’. It was pre-Brexit, and pre-global pandemic, and life seemed somehow much more straightforward, like I’d just be able to pop over to a European city every weekend if I felt like it.

I also didn’t really appreciate quite how many countries there actually are in Europe. How many do you reckon? 30 or so maybe?

Nope.

There are 44 countries in Europe currently recognised by the UN, according to a quick Google, although more if you include states? It’s a bit confusing. It’s a lot basically. A lot of mini breaks.

Some of them I’ve been to already, which is great, I can get some ticks in the boxes, but others I hadn’t even really considered, like Monaco. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, second only to the Vatican City, so I suppose it’s not surprising that it went under my radar a bit. I know it vaguely from the Grand Prix, the gambling and the tax haven status, but I can’t say I’d given it a great deal of thought otherwise.

Still, I’ll have to visit if I’m going to complete the challenge, so I decided to find out a bit more about what Monaco is all about and what a holiday in Monaco might look like.

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On my bedroom wall, right opposite my bed, I have a big picture of the Amalfi Coast. It’s full of these amazing azure blues and warm pink tones and I absolutely love it. I’ve never been to Italy before, unless you count landing in Turin airport and driving straight to the French Alps, which frankly I don’t, but I dream of a romantic road trip along the Italian coast.

Who wouldn’t if they were waking up to this picture every day?

Amalfi coast print

I think there’s also a part of me that wants to go with either Steve Coogan or Rob Brydon, sampling the best restaurants along the way and listening to their impressions as I sip my Chianti and gaze at the sea.

At the moment, when I’m not even allowed to leave the house, it feels like a bit of a tease, but then I think it’s important to have things to look forward to isn’t it? I mean sure, work has nose dived and I won’t be able to afford an Italian road trip even when I am allowed on the roads, but then I’m sure I read somewhere once that people get as much enjoyment from planning a holiday as from actually going on one, so I’m going to go with that.

I never thought I would actually miss driving, but I definitely have over the last few weeks – I’ve missed that feeling of being able to go anywhere you want, watching the world whizz by. To help me get excited about my fantasy road trip, Sandown Mercedes asked me to stare longingly at pictures on Pinterest for hours and hours* and compile a list of my dream Italian road trip destinations.

(*Okay so they didn’t use these words exactly, but I took it as implied.) View Post

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It’s safe to say that food is a MASSIVE part of my life and I’m normally thinking about my next meal, even when I’m in the middle of eating the current one. I love browsing through cookery books too and I often pick them up cheaply at charity shops, (always fun for the 1980s food photography), or at discount from places like The Works.

Whenever I travel anywhere, one of the things I love to do is try local foods, especially street food or dishes that are specific to a particular location, so in this post I’ve pulled together a few ideas for street foods to try on your next mini-break. The first couple are things I’ve tried already, to ease me in, but the rest are most definitely on the wish list.

Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

When I was visiting Lisbon a couple of years ago for my solo birthday treat I took a tram across the city to try one of what was alleged to be the best Pastéis de Nata in Portgual. They did not disappoint. In fact I had three – you can’t go all that way and just have one now can you? Pastéis de Nata are basically custard tarts, but fancier.

portuguese custard tarts View Post

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A few months ago in my book group we read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s about a woman, (played by Reese Witherspoon in the film, who is my ultimate girl crush), who goes on a full on trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a reaction to a series of stressful events in her life. She’s completely unprepared and it’s an incredible journey for her, both physically and emotionally. Along the way though she learns all sorts of lessons about forgiveness, peace and herself. The idea is that the challenge and the enforced relationship with nature make her connect back with herself.

Now I have to say that I wasn’t a massive fan of the book, BUT it did get me hankering for the outdoors. I can totally see that a hike like that would give you the space and time to reflect on your life, what you’ve done, where you’ve been and what you want your life to look like in the future. If, like Cheryl Strayed, you find yourself yearning for that kind of experience, then a hiking holiday could be just what you need.

If you’re looking for fresh air and adventure for your next holiday then hiking in the USA is a top choice. There is so much diversity of landscape in the USA, with so many different holiday hiking destinations to choose from. From national parks to rivers, mountains to deserts, it really does have something to suit all tastes.

To inspire your next USA hiking holiday, I’ve picked out a few of the best holiday destinations for hikers in the US. If you have any others you’d like to add, please do leave a comment and let me know. If you like the idea of hiking but also enjoy a little bit of luxury, you could always splash out on something like airport transfers by booking travel with Limo Find. View Post

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There are a lot of things Belle doesn’t like – courgettes, food that’s been near courgettes, balloons, fireworks, other people – but when she likes something, she really likes it. Two things she likes happened on the same day last week when we went for a night away at Solent Hotel and Spa in Fareham, near Southampton.

Solent hotel review

The first was a back massage. You might be surprised that Belle likes a back massage given that being touched or too close to people is one of the issues that comes with her sensory processing disorder, but actually having that kind of firm pressure contact can have a very positive effect on her. She likes tight hugs (from me) and she sleeps every night with a weighted blanket, so I guess it’s a similar sensation.

A back massage where you only have to wander down from your hotel room in what might well be the comfiest robe known to mankind, (she begged me to buy it to take it home), is even better as there’s no need to even go outside. (‘Outside’ is on Belle’s ‘do not like’ list.)

The Solent Hotel and Spa has the classic pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi set up, as well as a separate area for treatment rooms, plus a gym. I’ve never really understood people who go on holiday and go to the gym, but each to their own I guess. Everything was very clean and although the hotel seemed busy, I never saw more than about half a dozen people in the pool area at any one time, so you had that lovely relaxed, exclusive feel.

Solent spa review View Post

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Planning a holiday that appeals to a whole family is tough. There’s always some chump who thinks that back to basics camping would be ‘fun’*, the younger kids want ‘things to do’, (gross), and the older ones are just annoyed that they have to been seen with you in public and are already on the verge of breakdown in case there isn’t WiFi.

And you? Probably all you want is to lie in a darkened spa with a glass of wine and the latest issue of Good Housekeeping. (Me.)

How do you choose a family holiday then that ticks everyone’s boxes and is still affordable? I think Yelloh! Village might just be the answer.

Yelloh Village yurts

Yelloh! Village got in touch recently to enlist my help to let more people know who they are and what they do, (I’d never heard of them so don’t feel bad), and after having a good look through their website and reading lots of reviews, (they have an excellent Trustpilot rating), I was sold. I definitely want to take baby Joey on a Yelloh! Village holiday next summer when he’s good and chubby and toddling about.

Yelloh! Village is part of the European ‘glamping’ scene – pre-pitched tents and holiday homes on complexes offering a whole wealth of hotel style facilities like indoor and outdoor pools, spa and wellness and loads of outdoor activities for kids and adults. There’s so much choice, you’ll be hard pressed not to find something to suit. View Post

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Back when I was 35, which feels like ages ago now to be honest, I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I was 40. It was a pretty eclectic list, with everything from making homemade lemon curd to visiting Auschwitz, but it was a lovely way to check in with myself and it gave me plenty of options for weekends away or stuff to do when I had time to fill and no ideas to fill it with.

One of the things on my list was inspired by something I cut out of the travel section of the paper one weekend.

Things to do in Istanbul

I loved the idea of being able to casually say ‘Oh this weekend? I just hung out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion, then took a cruise up the Bosphorus.’ It’s so much better than ‘I went to Tesco and gave the cats their monthly flea treatment’ isn’t it?

‘Hang out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion and take a cruise up the Bosphorus’ went on the list.

It was actually one of only a few things that I didn’t manage to complete and so I carried it over to my list of 50 things before 50 and recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve started looking at pictures of Istanbul on Pinterest and honestly, it’s even more beautiful than I realised – so much colour and amazing architecture.

I decided I’m going to make this one happen.

 

For my 40th birthday I went on a trip by myself to Lisbon, also something on my list, and I’ve decided that Istanbul is going to be my birthday gift to myself for my 42nd birthday, next April. If you’ve been inspired by my Pinterest board, (and how could you not be unless you have a heart of stone), then here are some things to think about. With your bum bag neatly packed with your passport, list of Instagrammable destinations and e-visa Turkey is ready and waiting for you!

The weather in Turkey

This is actually the first thing I think about when I’m planning a trip. It seems like a small thing, but you don’t want to accidentally turn up somewhere in hurricane season or when it’s too hot to leave your 19th-century Ottoman mansion do you?

I’d pictured Istanbul as being pretty warm given it’s on a similar line to Greece and Spain, and although it enjoys the typical mediterranean summers it does get cold and snowy in the winter apparently, and April can still be chilly. My birthday is at the end of April, but looking at the average temperatures, having it as a post-birthday trip at the beginning of May could make it significantly warmer.

Flights to Turkey

I tend to use Skyscanner when I’m looking for flights. I will always fly from Bristol unless I absolutely can’t, as it’s nice and easy for me to get to – flying from a London airport add an extra layer of faff and expense that I really don’t want before and after a holiday, especially a short break. Unfortunately there aren’t any direct flights from Bristol to Istanbul, but you can go direct from Birmingham, which is doable for me. Turkey is two hours ahead of the UK and the flight time is about four hours.

Istanbul has two international airports – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian side, and a brand new airport that this year replaced Ataturk International Airport on the European side. Istanbul’s new airport is one of the biggest in the world, covering an area six times the size of Heathrow, so I couldn’t not go to that one could I?

I find flights with Turkish Airlines for three nights at the beginning of May at reasonable times of the day for £235. They give me a little bit of time on the arrival and departure days, plus two full days, which should be plenty for me as when I travel on my own I am VERY efficient. Tower seen? Check. Photo taken in colourful street? Check. I get the job done for sure.

I book the flights and start to feel butterflies in my tummy.

Istanbul Turkey

Photo by Nodis Ionut on Unsplash

The 19th-century Ottoman mansion 

I am really tempted at this point to abandon the hotel bit and go for AirBnB, as this is what I’d normally do on a city break. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs in London, Lisbon, Krakow and Geneva, as well as lots of places in the UK, and I’ve always been pleased with them. They’re normally a lot cheaper than a hotel, you can opt for a whole apartment, it feels more personal, and you can save money by self-catering.

However, it’s hard to casually say ‘oh I just stayed in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion’ if you’ve actually stayed in some random person’s modern apartment block isn’t it? It’s a dilemma.

The House Hotel seems to have opened a second hotel in Istanbul since I cut my little bit out of the paper, but it was easy to pick out which one was the original because of the beautiful parquet floors in the rooms. It’s not cheap though. Over 400 EURO for three nights. Gawd.

I look at AirBnB. I could get an entire flat in a similar location for just over £100. I flick between the two. On a short trip how much time do you really spend in your hotel room? I could go for the AirBnB and the difference would pay for my flight and more. It’s a tough one, because while I want to stay true to the 50 things before 50 list, I did write the list, and so who am I really answerable to apart from myself?

I book the AirBnB.

‘Your reservation is confirmed. You’re going to Beyoğlu!’

Cripes. Looks like I’m really going to Istanbul on my own.

Things to do in Istanbul

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Local laws, getting a Turkey visa and travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must obviously. The EHIC isn’t valid in Turkey, even if we weren’t potentially crashing out of the EU any day now, so make sure you have cover in place. That way, you’ll be ensured against numerous basic travel issues while on your excursion. For example, travel insurance can cover you against disease, mishaps, lost things and burglary while you’re on your Turkish escape. So you can relax and make the most of your vacation.

I have travel insurance as part of my bank account, but generally it’s not expensive and is an essential. You will also need a visa to travel to Turkey, so factor the Turkey visa fee into your budgeting. Make sure to keep your passport and a printed copy of your visa with you at all times as spot checks are often carried out. It’s actually illegal not to carry some form of photo ID in Turkey and as well as needing a visa, the Turkish government recommend you have at least six months left on your passport from your date of entry into the country.

TOP TIP: The possession, sale and export of antiquities is also against the law in Turkey and could result in a substantial fine and up to 12 years in prison, so be very careful and check the legal requirements if you’re thinking about buying antiques or historical items to bring home. Probably best to just stick with a fridge magnet.

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira. You can buy currency in advance but there are plenty of ATMs in major cities and tourist areas. Dress modestly obviously if you’re visiting a mosque or a religious shrine.

Things to do in Istanbul

My Pinterest board has dozens and dozens of ideas for things to do in Istanbul, with lots of tip too for Istanbul’s most Instagrammable locations, should you wish to use your trip as an opportunity to show off on the Gram. (Which I do.)

I’m going to do a bit more research though and put together an itinerary of the key things I want to do during my three nights in Istanbul. As well as factoring in plenty of time for general wandering about, I love the idea of doing a few more structured things, perhaps a cookery class or a food tour? I’ll have to do the ‘take a cruise down the Bosphorous’ part at least, to warrant ticking it off my list, and the Museum of Innocence is not far from my AirBnB. You know I love a weird museum.

In the meantime, while you inevitably scrabble for your passport and Turkey visa, I will leave you with this picture because it is GLORIOUS. Happy holidays!

Istanbul Turkey

Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

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