How I saved £468 on a £1031 holiday

Big savings are possible if you know the tricks…and have some patience

Travel money saving tips: Paris
Montmartre, Paris

In February we’re spending 3 nights in Luxembourg and 1 night in Paris on the way back. We’ll be travelling by train and staying in highly-rated 4* hotels in central locations. Here’s how I saved £468 on this 4-night holiday for 2 people (don’t miss my travel money saving tips at the end):

ItemHow I savedSaving
EurostarNovember sale£162
Paris hotelExpedia Member Pricing (free to create account) -20%£37.54
Luxembourg hotelExpedia app booking -10%£36.60
Paris hotel8% discount code£10.92
Luxembourg hotel8% discount code£26.25
Luxembourg hotel2,386 Expedia points gained£17.04*
Paris ><Luxembourg trainSNCF railcard sale (€25 instead of €49) saving 1/3 on French ticket price£38.17**
Paris hotel19,494 Expedia points applied£139.25
TOTAL SAVING:£467.77

*The £17.04 can only be used on a future trip
**This is the saving after I’ve deducted the cost of the railcard

In addition to the above I will get a free bottle of wine and room upgrades (subject to availability) as an Expedia VIP. For a 4-night trip to Luxembourg and Paris, staying in 4* hotels and including all transport, I’ve paid a total of £281.86 per person.

My travel money saving tips

  1. Choose an online travel agent and stick with them to gain points over time (Expedia are my favourite because they offer points, member savings, and VIP benefits)
  2. Wait for sales (Black Friday, Boxing Day, end of December-January for flights, January for cruises)
  3. Get the Shopping in Microsoft Edge addon, which will show you any applicable voucher codes
  4. Book via apps, which tend to offer additional savings and loyalty points
  5. If your train journey is looking expensive then see if buying a domestic railcard would, overall, save you money
  6. Sites such as Trivago often show the best prices across a range of sites

Do you have any travel money saving tips? Please share below!

Black Friday Travel Deals

The best Black Friday travel deals 2021

I’ve trawled through hundreds of Black Friday Travel deals and curated some of my favourites below. Please note: some of these links are to my affiliates which, if you purchase with them, will really help to keep this blog going.

Hotels and Hostels
Flights
Rail
Tours and holidays

🏨 Black Friday Hotel Deals + Hostels

Trip.com
£20 hotel coupon

Trivago
Usually picks up the best hotel offers

Expedia
Sign up and get 30% or more off hotels, and 4x reward points on app. Also, use code EXPEDIA15OFF


Hostelworld Sale
300+ hostels offering savings of up to 55%. Top 5 destinations:
1. Madrid
2. Prague
3. Budapest
4. Barcelona
5. Cancun

✈️ Black Friday Flight Deals

Skyscanner have put together this handy page to find the best deals. I will be adding below some of the best prices I find on the day

DestinationFromAirlinePrice

🚆 Black Friday Rail Deals

SNCF Railcard
Reduced from €49 to €25

Interrail
10% off + FREE refunds (save up to €120)

🏖️ Tours and holidays Black Friday Deals

G Adventures
Up to 30% off 2022 holidays

Trip.com
15% off tours

Black Friday travel deals correct as of 18:32 Nov 17 2021

Why cruising is cool

2-minute read about why there’s nothing shameful about enjoying something which enhances your holiday experience.

Cruising past the Olympic Peninsula, WA, USA

Hi. My name’s Olly and I’m a backpacker. And a luxury tourist. And a cruise fan. In fact, I enjoy travel in just about all of its many, many forms, but too often I read or hear that you have to be a travel purist. Apparently you can’t fully appreciate hostel culture if you also like to stay in 5* hotels. Well, b*llocks to that.

My conversion

When I first started travelling independently (a long, long time ago), I didn’t have the budget to see the world in anything other than chicken buses and staying in very basic accommodation. And then I got a job working for a cruise line. One day, on a ‘familiarisation trip’*, I found myself alone in a luxurious spa located at the very front (or ‘bow’ – see, I really did work for a cruise line) of a brand new ship looking out high above Naples. It was then that I realised that this world can be appreciated from various aspects. Sometimes it’s best enjoyed in a particularly well-located hostel, sometimes nothing can beat experiencing it than from the deck of a cruise ship.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

Take Alaska, for example. Yes, I’d love to stay in a boutique remote lodge, or hike through the extreme wild of Gates of the Arctic National Park, but to fully appreciate the size of Glacier Bay it’s best seen from the sea. Experiencing those mammoth icy cliffs with a cocktail in hand, or from the waters of a hot tub can, perhaps, make the event even more special.

What I find missing from an experience such as that is the satisfying sense of achievement. My recent hike across the Cairngorms reaffirmed how memorable (in a good way) it can be to be self-sufficient in the wilderness, and that bedding down in a warm tent in the middle of nowhere, having successfully made a delicious hot meal, can be supremely enjoyable.

Enhancing the experience

When luxury gets it right, it really, really gets it right. The best luxury hotels, for me, enhance the travel experience. The Grand Tatras Kempinski, for example, doesn’t look inward to its opulent rooms and spa, but rather makes use of large windows to bring the views of the mountains into the hotel so that you feel you are experiencing the Tatras from the tasteful confines of your room, or the bar, or the magnificent spa.

Of course, the best hostels are also the ones which enhance your experience. They often do this by having common spaces which encourage socialising, but without disturbing those that actually want to sleep. The best hostels help you to make the most of the destination you’re in, whether that be through advice, useful noticeboards, tours, or discounts.

View from Grand Tatras Kempinski room

Some hostels have views which are better than any you’d get from even the best hotels in town. One which immediately springs to mind is Hospedaje Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche, Argentina, which has astounding views of the lake and surrounding mountains from ten stories up.

View from Hospedaje Penthouse 1004

Of course, cruise ships don’t just offer amazing views from the sea. Many are destinations in themselves, where passengers can enjoy go-karting, or ice skating, or surfing, or any number of fantastic activities. And then there’s the restaurants. On the world’s largest cruise ship – Symphony of the Seas – there are 65 (65!) restaurants, cafes, bars and lounges, some of which are found in a huge park with real trees.

Although it’s absolutely worthwhile stepping out of your accommodation, or off of your ship, to experience somewhere, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the highlight being the accommodation/ship itself. Just don’t let anyone try to put you in a box and judge you accordingly. You may even be lucky enough to experience that magical combination of experience-enhancing accommodation/ship in an already-perfect destination. If so, I’d love to hear about it…


*Familiarisation trips are where a travel agent/someone working for a travel company is sent to experience a destination/ship/holiday product so as to then be more effective at selling/marketing it. They are/were a massive perk of working in travel.


The witch of Triglav

A 3-minute story about my adventures in Triglav National Park, Slovenia, along with tips on how to experience this for yourself.

Triglav National Park - Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj

Being on the path of Romans, Franks, Slavs, and possibly even Dracula, Bled in Slovenia has some fascinating myths and legends baked into its churches and castles. But have you ever heard of the witch of Triglav?

Into the wild

Encompassing a large part of the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is named after this mountain range’s largest peak (which reaches 2,864m/9,396ft). On the edge of both the park and the mountains, Ribčev Laz can be reached by direct bus from Ljubljana in just under two hours. When the bus passed through Bled I dialled a number I’d been given by the National Park. Franci spoke just enough English to tell me where to meet him and, sure enough, he was waiting for me in Ribčev Laz beside his 4×4.

Triglav National Park's Vogar Hut
Vogar Hut

Minutes later it became obvious why a 4×4 was necessary. Franci was a National Park ranger, and he’d been tasked with driving me up to the mountain hut I’d rented in the tiny hamlet of Vogar. To get there required a drive up a very steep track which twisted through a huge pine forest. When at last we emerged into a clearing we passed a few simple wood huts.

‘If you want dinner then knock on that door.’
‘OK. Who lives there?’
‘A witch.’

Now I hadn’t been in Slovenia long enough to assess the local sense of humour, but I wasn’t entirely certain that Franci was joking. When he drove away, leaving me beside my hut, irrational thoughts began to seep into my head, in the way they can do when you’re standing in a remote mountain clearing by a lonely hut.

The hike

My mood wasn’t improved when I discovered a scorpion in the bathroom (it was subsequently yeeted far into the twilight). Grateful for the daylight which appeared the next morning, I embarked on a long hike which I thought I had planned carefully. However, good plans don’t necessarily mix well with poor maps.

I had bought the best map of the park that I could find in Stanfords, but even this didn’t provide sufficient detail. Although there weren’t many paths to follow, when the one I was on split in two I went the wrong way and ended up, miles later, at the top of some very high cliffs. Hundreds of metres below me were the frigid waters of Lake Bohinj. A stunning view, but one I couldn’t enjoy due to having to follow a particularly precarious route (I refused to give up and turn back).

Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park

Fortunately the path eventually turned away from the cliffs and I was rewarded with a view of snow-capped mountains. A little further on was a small collection of rustic mountain huts, all of which appeared to be uninhabited. When planning this hike I knew that at some point I had to get down to the lake. My hopes that it would be a nice sedate descent were dashed when I saw a series of ladders and narrow metal steps screwed into the rock.

View of the Julian Alps in Triglav National Park
The Julian Alps

Managing to not look down once, I white-knuckle climbed down and down and down. It was an impressive via ferrata, which I managed to fully appreciate once I was back on terra firma. Here was my sedate path which led to the lake shore. Relieved to be on flat ground, I walked a little over 2km along Lake Bohinj, before turning uphill to return to Vogar.

A magical dinner

The one eatery in the vicinity was closed for the season, hence why Franci had pointed out the witch’s home. Hence why, that evening, I found myself timidly knocking on her wooden door. I was welcomed in by an attractive lady in her 40s, as well as two handsome men who were sat at a rustic table inside.

‘Dinner?’ she asked.
‘Ja, hvala,’ I replied.

She smiled and shooed the men away into another room. From the ceiling hung a cornucopia of drying herbs, on shelves were jars of pickles and jams and chutneys. My host quickly put together a wooden board overflowing with cheeses, salamis, bread, vegetables and herbs. This was accompanied with a mug of delicious herbal brew.

Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park
Lake Bohinj from the cliffs

We conversed in that awkward way that two people with barely any shared language do, but she (and the men who had crept back in) was excellent, friendly company. With a full belly, topped off by a fiery home-brewed spirit, I found my way back to my hut through the dark.

If my host really had been a witch (and I did spy a cauldron, although I expect it was used for cooking something considerably more palatable than eye of newt), she was one who knew how to expertly concoct a delicious meal from local delicacies. Besides, I always thought that witches got a bad rap. If anyone can pull the tastiest food from the earth, they surely can.

Under the spell of being well-fed, I slept the satisfying sleep of someone who survived perilous cliffs, and who had been bewitched by Triglav’s wild beauty.


Visit Antwerp as part of this 12-day Slovenia & Croatia itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

🏨

I stayed at Vogar Hut, which can be booked via the National Park site. In Lake Bled I stayed in Hotel Astoria, and in Ljubljana I stayed in the Central Hotel.

✈️

Fly to Ljubljana, take the airport bus into the city to connect with buses/train to the rest of the country.

🚌

Buses to Lake Bohinj run hourly between 05:18 and 21:03 from Ljubljana Tivoli.


Lightweight equipment review

Lightweight hiking equipment review

In this post I described how I was taking a whole bunch of lightweight equipment to try out on a 3-day Cairngorms hiking trip. Below I’ve scored everything I actually used out of 10, and briefly explained why it received this score. Please note that I haven’t been paid to use or write about any of this.

Questions? Lemme know below!

Hyke & Byke Quandary -10 Degree C Down Sleeping Bag

Score: 8/10
Price: £119.97
Good value for such a warm bag at a relatively light weight. There are cheaper bags out there, but none at this weight.

Inov8 Roclite G 286 GTX

Score: 3/10
Price: £116.88
Not particularly expensive, extremely light boots. But they let water in, and the sole is so thin you can feel every stone.

TBS Army Firesteel & Fire Dragon alcohol fire lighters

Score: 7/10
Price: £4.95+£3
Great combination. Firesteel produces lots of sparks when used correctly (!), gel lights immediately and can burn for 10 mins. Not so good in breezy conditions

Luci inflatable solar light

Score: 8/10
Price: £14
Worked really well in the tent, very easy to use. After charging on overcast day for 8 hours it only produced 45 mins of bright light.

Thermarest Neoair Xlite R

Score: 8/10
Price: £144
Kept me very warm and comfy, quick to inflate, and packs down very small. Expensive, so I hope it lasts many years!

SwissPiranha BF120 Tent Pegs

Score: 5/10
Price: £14.99 for 10
Managed to keep the tent pitched during very strong wind. Saves a few grams, but hard to push into ground, and pulls out a lot of mud in teeth.

Fizan Compact Ultralight Trekking Poles

Score: 10/10
Price: £50.96
Wow, such great value. Incredibly light, yet robust – even held a tarp up during a storm!

Lightweight hiking equipment

EVERNEW Titanium UltraLight Pot 1.3L

Score: 9/10
Price: £41.67
Really not cheap, but very tough and light, and holds more than enough for feeding 2 people

Salomon XUltra3P GTX

Score: 10/10
Price: £78
These are so comfortable and light that they’ve become my regular shoes. Despite all that use they don’t look worn and are still waterproof

Lightweight hiking equipment

J-Creater Portable Lightweight Stainless Steel Stove

Score: 7/10
Price: £44.99
Perhaps a bit flimsy for the price, and a pain to clean, this stove is easy to assemble, and makes great use of lightweight firelighters/wood. Double wall burns most of the smoke too

FORCLAZ 2 Seasons Tarp 900

Score: 7/10
Price: £49.99
Tough, despite being light – survived being bashed about in a storm. For this price I would expect more hooks/holes for poles/pegs.

Lightweight hiking equipment
Lightweight hiking equipment

TITECOUGO Titanium Spork +Snow Peak Titanium Trek Bowl

Score: 9/10
Price: £7.99+£15.99
Spork was comfortable, and a good length for both cooking and eating. Bowl is 20fl oz and so plenty for a decent meal

One of my favourite sites for buying and researching equipment is Ultralight Outdoor Gear. Great selection of products, competitive prices, and very fast delivery. Reminder: I’m not paid to promote anything here!

A Cairngorms hike

Description and pictures of a 3-day hike from Blair Atholl to Aviemore

This 3-day hike through the heart of the Cairngorms began at Blair Atholl station, after a sleepless night on the overpriced Caledonian Sleeper train. On our backs was lightweight camping equipment (see review here), food, plenty to keep us warm, and a carrier for Bounty the dog, should his little legs get tired. Our target was Aviemore where, if we timed it right, we’d arrive before the sleeper train back to London.

Arriving before dawn, we donned headtorches and set off. After a short jaunt along a road we were on a forest track that followed the River Tilt, raging in the canyon below. The first day’s walk was around 18 miles long and took us through valleys and past waterfalls. The calls of rutting stags echoed off the slopes of mountains.

Amazingly we only passed one other person that first day. We were going to camp by the ruins of Bynack Lodge, but after a very cold barefoot crossing of a river we were invited to set up our tent beside the Red House bothy, which was being restored and should re-open soon.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Caledonian Sleeper cabin

The older man who had invited us was staying at the bothy, despite it being a building site. He was waiting to be housed and so was living in bothies until he once again had his own roof over his head. He was also very generous with his beer and whisky.

Images from day 1

There had been a pretty strong wind overnight and so we didn’t get much sleep. I had also made the mistake of quenching my previous day’s thirst with whisky. Hungover, I helped Anna pack up camp before we trudged off along the track to the River Dee. After crossing this we turned left up a path through the heather and began the climb into the mountains. Soon after, the weather worsened considerably.

The gusts were so strong that, at one point, Anna was knocked off her feet. Fortunately our waterproof clothing held out and we were able to enjoy the experience of being amidst gloomy mountains. We were even happier to see Corrour bothy in the distance.

Nestled beneath the imposing Devil’s Point, Corrour bothy is perhaps one of Scotland’s best known. Like all other bothies it had a fireplace, a wood floor to sleep on, and not much more. Despite being basic, it was a welcome refuge against the storm.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Typical, easy-to-follow path

Two Belgian men, and two intrepid Scottish women were at the bothy when we arrived. Despite the inclement weather the women marched out to bag a munro (a munro is a peak over 1,000 metres, Scotland has 282 munros), leaving us to chat with the lovely Belgians. Having bagged the munro, the women returned at dusk but then decided to continue on back to Braemar, many miles away. Just before the four of us turned in I noticed three lights in the darkness. 20 minutes later 4 people stumbled in – amazingly they’d walked all the way from Blair Atholl in one day, but were now exhausted, drenched, and possibly on the verge of hypothermia. One hot meal later and they, too, were ready for sleep in the cosy – and somewhat cramped – bothy.

Images from day 2

What a glorious day to wake to. Blue skies and snow on the peaks. Having heated up an energising breakfast (I’d pre-mixed oats, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and powdered milk) we set off from Corrour bothy and up towards Lairig Ghru pass. Despite a constant upwards slope, this was a much easier walk than the one we’d endured the day before through a storm. And hangover.

It took us a few hours to reach the Pools of Dee at the pass. Just over the other side we stopped for lunch. Although still far away, Aviemore was now in view. From here it was a constant descent, first through a large heathland at the edge of a deep canyon, and then into a serene pine forest.

Eventually we found ourselves at a track and, 6 hours into the walk, we passed the first people we’d seen since setting out. The walk out through the forest near Colyumbridge seemed to go on forever.

Blair Atholl to Aviemore hike
Corrour bothy

Eventually, though, we got to the road and, 30 minutes later, we were in Aviemore. Our equipment had held out through storms and freezing conditions, our legs were aching but had carried us here, and Bounty the dog had, all along, bounced along beside us. If we had wanted to catch the sleeper train back to London we would have arrived into Aviemore with at least 5 hours to eat, drink and relax before the train departed.

Images from day 3

Hiking light

My list of lightweight equipment for a hiking trip through the Cairngorms.

I enjoy hiking. I tend to endure camping. I’m about to hike for 3 days through Scotland’s Cairngorms (the UK’s largest national park), wild camping with my wife (Anna) and dog (Bounty).

Bounty is small. He’s also very cute, but that’s not relevant here. He can’t walk too far on his little smooshy legs. Anna will carry Bounty for some of the way, I am responsible for carrying everything else bar most of the tent. For the past year I’ve been researching and collecting lightweight equipment from purveyors such as the excellent Ultralight Outdoor Gear, now it’s time to put it to the test. Here’s most of what I’ll be carrying:

  • Hyke & Byke sleeping bag – 170g
  • inov8 boots – 572g
  • Fire starter and 8x Fire Dragon alcohol gel firelighters – 290g
  • 2 x breakfast, 3 x lunch, 2 x dinner plus snacks – 2293g
  • Victorinox knife – 45g
  • Luci inflatable solar light – 75g
  • Thermrest Neoair Xlite (regular) – 340g
  • 20 x Swisspiranha BF120 pegs – 120g
  • Fizan Compact Ultralight Trekking Poles – 170g (we’ll have one pole each)
  • Evernew titanium pan – 153g
  • Salomon XUltra3P GTX – 380g (I’ll probably not take these, but will add to total)
  • J-Creater Lightweight Stainless Steel Stove – 399g
  • FORCLAZ Trekking 2 Seasons Tarp – 349g
  • Berghaus tent – 3344g (not a lightweight item!)
  • 2 x SNOW PEAK Titanium Trek Bowls and TITECOUGO Titanium Sporks – 160g

TOTAL: 8.86kg

There are other items I haven’t included here (clothes, my Osprey backpack, Anna’s Xlite Thermarest, Bounty’s food, lightweight towels, filter water bottles etc.), but this will probably be all that I carry when Anna has Bounty, and so hopefully my heaviest load.

Once I’ve completed the trip I will write a post reviewing both the hike, and the equipment used (and will link to it from here).

Norfolk (B)roads

A 4-minute read about my challenging experience of cycling around the Norfolk Broads.

The river at Potters Heigham

I had come to Norfolk for two reasons: to look at potential holiday home investments, and to enjoy myself. Norfolk is blessed with the Norfolk Broads – a large area which in medieval times was dug for peat, the resultant hollows in the land subsequently becoming flooded to create a landscape of rivers and lakes (the Broads).

Because this is such an aquatic area, perhaps the best way to see it is by boat along the many, many navigable channels. I, foolishly, thought that, because the area is notoriously flat, it would be a good idea to see it by bicycle. This was a mistake.

Hickling, Horsey, and Sea Palling

The train to Norwich, and then to the Norfolk town of Acle, took 2.5 hours. In the UK you have to book ahead to get a place on the train for your bike, which proved a fairly smooth process. Once in Acle I began the pedal into the countryside, and it was then that I realised this may have been a mistake

Despite being known as a cycling destination, the Norfolk Broads are severely lacking in cycling infrastructure. My routes often took me along dangerously fast A roads, as well as B roads full of traffic. I was glad to make it to the little village of Martham, and then on to Hickling Broad

It was a relief to get to Hickling. Here was a view I associated with the Broads: an old windmill by a watercourse full of boats. It was peaceful here and I was tempted a little way along a path beside the waterway. But I had another sight to see today.

The UK is a severely nature depleted country. It’s therefore a rare pleasure to come across the sort of scene that greeted me at Horsey Beach. Only in the Galapagos have I seen this many seals in one place. They were flopped in a large group on the sandy beach (which would be a lovely place to be in warmer weather), or splashing around playfully in the sea.

Miles along that same beach is the village of Sea Palling. There isn’t much human habitation in this area and so the beach – and dunes behind – feel particularly wild. Sea Palling provided a shop, a few eateries, and a sea rescue centre…everything the visitor could need.


Thurne, Potters Heigham, Ludham and Coltishall

After a long cycle through a heavy rain storm to see a house we didn’t get, we cycled a long way back to where we had originally intended to go – Thurne, which is a very small village at the end of a Broad. It has a cute pub, but not much else going for it. Onwards to Potters Heigham, which felt as though it were the main centre of the Broads.

The bridge at Potters Heigham is believed to date back to 1385. Its aesthetic is somewhat ruined by the traffic lights which are necessary to control the flow of traffic (traffic which doesn’t fit on the adjacent more modern bridge that carries a noisy A road). This strange little hamlet has a large marina and dozens of boatyard buildings. Little shacks stretch either side of the river, the occupants of the furthest must walk 20 minutes from the car park. A factory-like tearoom serves dry scones and meager cream portions. Onwards!

Along a thankfully quieter road I cycled on to Ludham. This is a village that has everything; a marina, a butcher, a good local shop, and (most importantly) a pub. There are many sights to see around Ludham, including How Hill, where you’ll find a formal garden, well-preserved mills, a millkeeper’s cottage, and wildlife trails. Also close to Ludham are the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey, which had the rare honour of being spared by Cromwell. It was once a massive and impressive place, but now just the gatehouse survives, and even that has in years past had a mill built into it.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore Coltishall. The one thing I can say about this village is that it’s surrounded by roads that are actually quiet and pleasant to cycle along. Oh, and it has a great pub called The Recruiting Sergeant which serves excellent food.


Wroxham, Stokesby and Reedham

St Benet’s Abbey

Although Potters Heigham is busy with boats, Wroxham is considered the actual centre of the Norfolk Broads. Here there are dozens of boat yards, and lots of different types of boats to hire for hours or days. I opted to hire a canoe for a couple of hours, to see what all this river fuss was about. Several minutes after leaving the dock I was in a wonderland of tree-fringed river. So THIS is what it’s all about.

The watercourse somehow reminded me of the Amazon, perhaps because the trees at the water’s edge dipped their branches into the river. I paddled into a gap through the trees and into a broad. On this large lake were sailing yachts and people fishing. I wondered what type of fish there were in those murky depths – here the water was fresh, but at some point the river turned salty where it met the sea.

My final stop in the Broads was Stokesby, which really is off the beaten path. Unfortunately I only saw the place at night, but its delightful pub sits right on a river and I imagine it’s a wonderful place to be in the summer. The same can be said of Reedham, which I did manage to see during daylight. This village has a waterfront with pubs and cafes, a swing bridge to let through large boats, and a ferry further upriver.


Norwich

Before returning to London I spent a night in Norwich. The cathedral here is almost one thousand years old, and has the second-largest spire in the UK. Norwich also has a castle (closed when I tried to visit), as well as many charming pedestrianised streets.

A river runs through this city and the waterfront varies from modern malls, to tree-lined footpaths. All around town are plaques informing visitors about historic events which took place in the city. I liked it, but one day felt about right to see the place.

Norwich Cathedral

🏨

I stayed at, and can recommend, the Dairy Barns in Hickling, the Recruiting Sergeant in Coltishall, and the Barn Apartment in Stokesby. I also stayed in the Nelson Premier Inn in Norwich, which I absolutely do not recommend.

🚅

Take a Greater Anglie direct from London Liverpool Street to Norwich, and then you have a choice of destinations in and around the Broads, including Acle, Reedham, and Hoveton & Wroxham.


Best hot chocolate ever

The best hot chocolate ever was not a thick concoction of rich, creamy liquid. In fact, it tasted fairly average. What made this the best hot chocolate ever were the circumstances in which it was enjoyed.

City of lakes, mountains, and chocolate

View from Penthouse 1004 hostel

Bariloche is blessed with a large lake at its feet and the awesome Andes at its back. Patagonia stretches for many miles south, with coaches and sleeper trains connecting the city to the coast or to adventure-filled destinations such as Esquel and El Calafate. You can even take a boat (and then a bus, boat, bus, boat, then yet one more bus) to Puerto Varas in Chile.

This Argentine gem is a chocoholic’s dream, with top-quality chocolate shops lining the high street. With so much choice, my favourite had to be Rapa Nui, which even has a very chocolatey café with an ice rink in the middle.

But the best hot choc is harder to find…

Been to Buenos Aires? Then maybe you picked up a contactless SUBE card, allowing you easy travel on public transport. The good news is that your card is also valid in Bariloche (the bad news is that I found it a challenge to top it up). The better news is that there’s bus #20 to the forested Llao Llao park (stupendous views), as well as bus #55 to Cerro Catedral, and it’s from here that the hike to the best hot chocolate ever begins.

When you step off of #55 you’ll notice that you’re already high in the mountains. Look for a wooden sign marked ‘FREY’, and you’re on your way.

Lovely lovely Llao Llao

Oh snow

Should probably have brought proper hiking poles

This trek is supposed to be easy. During warmer months it probably is. But we were told by the friendly national park lady in town that Refugio Frey – the mountain refuge we were aiming for – was closed due to snow. But I was determined to undertake this hike, and so we donned waterproofs and set off.

First there was a path along the edge of mountains and with views of many more. Then the path turned up a forested valley, with a rushing stream below. Then we hit the snowline.

What makes it so good?

Refugio Frey beside Cerro Catedral

Fortunately someone had hiked up here since the most recent snowfall. But it was that challenge of wading through waist-high snow in a remote mountain valley that made the hot chocolate taste so good.

When we arrived at the refuge we thought that the national park lady had been right – it looked closed. But then the door opened and we were beckoned inside. A charming man offered us coffee. ‘Chocolate?’ I enquired. He nodded, smiled, and pointed to a table. Three rugged-looking mountaineers sat at another table and gave us a friendly hola.

We were in a remote refuge with a view of the mountains, we’d forged through the snow having passed others who’d decided to turn around, we had (I like to think) the respect of some random mountaineers. That hot chocolate, though not notably tasty, was still the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had – better, even, than the exquisite beverages I’ve enjoyed in Belgium.


Getting there


Visit Bariloche as part of this 19- to 21-day Southern Argentina itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

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I stayed at the Penthouse 1004 hostel, as well as the luxurious Hotel Charming Luxury Lodge & Private Spa.

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I recommend flying to Buenos Aires to first, before taking a low-cost flight to Bariloche.

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The coach journey from Buenos Aires is spectacular and takes about 24 hours.


Antwerp

A 3-minute read featuring the highlights of Antwerp, with personal recommendations and travel tips

The Guild buildings on Antwerp's Grote Markt
The gilded Guild building’s on Antwerp’s Grote Markt

I’m going to start this post by throwing some Antwerp facts at you. In the 16th century this indomitable city was the richest in Europe, thanks to pepper, silver, and textile booms, and attracted merchants from across the continent. At the beginning of the century 40% of world trade passed through here.

Reformation, riots, and revolt spurred the city’s decline. Napoleon had plans to reinvigorate the city’s harbour, but Waterloo put paid to those. Amidst the wars that Europe suffered in the last century, Antwerp hosted the Summer Olympics, and then in the 90’s became a major fashion centre.

Drunk man’s lock

Door in a 16th century stone arch, and with a lock that has two metal strips leading to a keyhole
Antwerp door, with 16th century lock at bottom-left

Antwerp’s history is writ large on the city’s impressive architecture. In fact, many of the buildings reflect the characters who once lived here.

Take this 16th century lock. See how it has a wiggly ‘V’ of metal lines pointing towards the keyhole? This design allowed the owner to return home from a drunken night out and easily locate the hole with his key.

But this little reflection of character pales into comparison with what can be found in the Zurenborg district.


Art Deco wonderland

In Zurenborg’s “golden triangle” of Transvaalstraat, Waterloostraat, and Cogels Osylei streets you’ll be treated to a huge variety of architecture. Although you’ll find in this Zurenborg district Gothic Revival, Neoclassical, and other styles, it’s Art Deco architecture which prevails.

The buildings here reflect Antwerp’s growing wealth and were mainly constructed between 1896-1904.

Various large homes with a range of architectural styles
Selection of interesting architecture in Antwerp’s Zurenborg district

They’re in Fashion

Five storey rounded building with red brick and stone, and wrought iron balconies
Het Modepaleis, the flagship store of Dries Van Noten (one of the Antwerp Six)

In the early 80s a group of fashion designers graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. They went on to become hugely influential in the fashion world and are known as “The Antwerp Six”.

Thanks in no small part to this group, the city has a thriving fashion district, in which some of the six set up shop. Here you’ll find a plethora of places to go on a spending spree, all centered on Nationalestraat, and with gorgeous shop fronts that are a feast for the eyes.


Café culture

Antwerp is well-known for its “brown cafés”, allegedly named due to the cigarette smoke which once filled the cafes and leaving the walls stained brown. It’s this slightly rough-at-the-edges, very relaxed feel which make these cafés so appealing.

Inside you’ll find friendly staff, locals, and a large choice of delicious beers (try the Trappist brews, but don’t expect to walk straight afterwards).

Interior of the Den Engel brown cafe, with dark wood walls and marble-top tables
Interior of Den Engel brown café, on the corner of Grote Markt

More must-sees

White stone statue of a small boy lying down and hugging his dog. The cobblestone paving has been fashioned to look like a blanket
Statue of Nello and Patrasche – a sad tale of a boy and his dog
Large, ornate train station entrance with fanned window and a clock
Antwerpen Centraal’s impressive entrance

In addition to the locations mentioned above, when you’re in Antwerp you shouldn’t miss:

  • Antwerpen Centraal train station, built in 1895 – an architectural marvel
  • Cathedral of Our Lady, completed in 1521 (although the south tower was never fully finished) and with impressive stained-glass windows
  • MAS Museum. This museum is bursting with Belgian history, and has a free-to-visit roof terrace with breathtaking views
  • St Anna’s Tunnel. This pedestrian tunnel – opened in 1933 – links the two sides of the city

Visit Antwerp as part of this 8-day Belgium itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

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I stayed at the Hotel Indigo, which has stylish rooms and an excellent breakfast

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I recommend flying to Brussels and then taking the 31-minute train direct from the airport to Antwerpen Centraal

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Take Eurostar direct from London to Brussels, and then the 46min train from the same station to Antwerpen Centraal