UK Day Trips with a Difference

John Davies has seen all of Britain’s most hidden and fascinating spots, and likes to blog about the country he loves from his native Bristol.

The UK may be a relatively small country, but it is certainly not short of weird and wonderful attractions. From crooked houses to gnome reserves, there is plenty on offer for people to explore.

Those looking to plan  holidays in Britain with unusual activities to keep them entertained may want to consider the Klevedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker in Essex. This fascinating cold war bunker harks back to a time of great political tension. It was designed for up to 600 military and civilian personnel, potentially even the prime minister. The collective task of these individuals in the event of a nuclear war was to organise the survival of the population.

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Dudley Crooked House credits: Peter Broster

For something a little more light-hearted, holidaymakers can make their way to the Crooked House in Dudley. Pisa may be famed for its Leaning Tower, but this Midlands town has its own tipsy looking construction. Built in 1765, the pub and restaurant was affected by subsidence caused by local mining in the 1800s. This resulted in one side of the building sinking by four feet. Although the walls are crooked, the floors are straight and this creates an interesting optical illusion. Drinkers and diners from far and wide make their way to this bizarre establishment.

On the theme of strange buildings, A la Ronde in Devon is well worth a look. Built in the 18th century for two spinster cousins, it has an unusual design complete with diamond-shaped windows. Inside, it contains many of the mementoes that the sisters brought back with them from their travels around Europe, including a shell gallery featuring nearly 25,000 of these small items.

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A la Ronde, Devon – credits: xlibber

An even more eccentric daytrip can be found nearby at Devon’s Gnome Reserve. Set in four acres of woodland, meadows and gardens it is home to over 1,000 gnomes and pixies. Visitors can see these little figures climbing, sunbathing and even fishing.

Another attraction with a difference is located on the plains of Orkney in Scotland. Here lies the grassy mound of Maeshowe, which is a Neolithic tomb dating from around 5,000 years ago. This Stone Age construction contains a complex of passages and chambers and it is best seen at the winter solstice, when sunlight streams into its dark passageways and illuminates the chamber.

Also in Scotland, people can try their luck at spotting the Loch Ness Monster. The term was coined in 1933 by the Inverness Courier, which reported testimony by Londoner George Spicer. He insisted that he and his wife had seen a dragon-like creature. Thousands of people still flock to the area each year to see if they can catch a glimpse of this fabled creature.

The UK is also home to an array of intriguing museums, including the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick, the Stockport Hat Works Museum and the National Lawnmower Museum in Southport.

These are just some of the unconventional attractions to be found across Britain. With a little imagination and research, people can enjoy all sorts of peculiar daytrips.

Planning a Holiday – The Essentials

A great holiday isn’t just thrown together on a whim, but is instead put together carefully and, dare I say, lovingly? The hallmark of a fantastic vacation is a focus on the little things that take a bit of time to find the best low cost travel deals that hit all the spots and events you long to experience. You can have the same vacation and spend half the time planning, but it will be the same in destination only – all other aspects will be sacrificed. Is this really something you want?

Here is a list of a few of the essential aspects of travel planning that I cannot express enough their importance. I’ve come across these after a few dozen of my own holidays over the years; regardless of length, budget and destination, they all require the same attention to detail. The free spirited impulsive types may laugh at the notion of intense planning but in the end, I’m the one with the better holiday!

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Be sure you get the vehicle you want and can afford!

I really can’t stress this enough when it comes to planning a holiday. Realistically you should start planning as soon as you decide you’re going away to ensure it is not only possible to go there but that you can book whatever you need to in order to make it happen. This means making sure you get the time off work, looking into flights (and booking if you find a good rate – sometimes you can wait, but at least have an idea what the going price is), reading hotel reviews and everything else in between. Need a rental car for five adults? Make sure it’s available or risk being uncomfortable or ripped off.

A weekend away takes less planning than a three week overseas odyssey but the earlier you start, the sooner you can start dreaming!

Know Your Route Inside and Out

Years ago I took a trip to New Zealand and did the road trip thing and I have to say that before I arrived, I knew the route inside and out. Part of this was because I was on a tight schedule and needed to be sure I fit everything in; part of this was because I knew the weather could be touchy (it was winter time), but mostly it was because I was just so darn excited and this was my way of not going insane with wait. It paid off because on this trip, and on future trips, I knew the little town names I was to look for in case I got lost and could plan alternate routes if construction reared its ugly head.

Set a Budget but be Okay With Going Over

I don’t care how great you are with planning for a holiday financially, you’ll always run a bit over. Whether it’s a meal out here, a tour you didn’t intend on taking but couldn’t pass up, differences in currency or you just went a little overboard – you’re going to go over budget. This is why I find it helpful to plan for a certain amount but know in your head it’s going to be more and have the necessary funds available. If you really can’t afford any additional spending, find a cheaper holiday or wait until you can! There’s nothing worse than having something you’ve been planning for and looking forward to be a source of stress the entire time because of money.

All Paths Lead to Venice!

Ah Venice.

Paris may be the city of love but for many people, (myself included) you can’t get much more romantic of a setting than this Italian city that seems to be floating on water and completely removed from the rest of the world. From the moment you step off the plane, train or car and cross over the Grand Canal, you’ll know you’re somewhere special that, simply put is without equal.

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Located in north eastern Italy next to the Dolomites mountain range and a few hours west of Slovenia, it’s easy to see how Venetian culture is quite different from the other Italian cities. While still Roman Catholic, Venice has a distinctly Eastern Orthodox feel to its buildings and places of worship, due to centuries of being closer to that tradition than that of the Vatican – indeed, it wasn’t until relatively recently that Venice was a part of Italy proper. What this means is regardless of how much you’ve seen of Italy from travelling between Milan, Florence, Rome and Sicily, you can still be surprised on a trip to Venice.

So how do you get here? There are many routes that lead to the magical floating city, ranging from road, rail, sea and even flights to Venice. Take a look below on tips on getting to this city depending on your mode of transportation!

Rail

Taking the train to Venice, as is true with most travel in Italy, quite often makes the most sense as it’s reasonably affordable and gives you a dramatic entrance to the city as you cross the water over the bridge. Depending on where you’re coming from, you can make it to Venice in a few hours (and depending on the speed of your train!), giving you plenty of time to explore Venice even during a travel day.

Air

You can’t fly directly into Venice but rather adjacent to it, as the island city has no room for a landing strip. Flying into Marco Polo airport is a great option as well to see the city from up high and is serviced by many of the discount airlines to many international destinations as well. Hop on a water taxi, shuttle bus or regular taxi to get into the city once you arrive.

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Virtually impossible to see Rialto without crowds, but it’s still incredible!

Venice is a popular part of many Mediterranean cruises, giving travellers a chance to spend the day in the city before departing for their next stop. The downside of this method, of course, is that you’ll be competing with all the other cruise ship patrons all going through the same landmarks. It’s great to get a sample of the city but in my opinion, the city is at its best once the cruise ships depart in the evening!

Road

Yes, you can drive to Venice and even park in Venice but you can’t drive around Venice – it’s pedestrians only. It’s maddening to think of anyone living their life in a city that relies mostly on boats to get around but somehow, that is just life in Venice. This means you can make Venice a stop on your Italian road trip or take a coach bus from any other destination, making Venice one of the most versatile travel spots there is!

Three Travelling Jobs That Don’t See Much of the World

When you think about jobs that get you out into the world as a regular part of their job description, the most common reaction by others is ‘it must be so incredible to have a job like that!’ Most of us are stuck in one place to do our jobs, either because the building is the only place your work can be completed or you lack the most basic personal finance skills and budget to be jet setting out all over the planet. We look at those jobs that break the shackles of employment oppression with a lens of envy and make no qualms about how we wish we were as fortunate as those who get to do it every day.

The problem of course is that anything that is normal for you, regardless of how exciting it may appear to outsiders, can have its share of tedious moments and not be as glamourous as it is popularly perceived. The thrill you feel when you set foot on a plane or the anticipation you have for arriving at your accommodation can be quickly replaced with boredom and a longing for something more stable if it becomes typical rather than special. And then there’s the reality of certain jobs, which on their surface may appear to allow for certain opportunities but in reality they are anything but.

Jobs that involve a lot of travel can become as tedious as any other job and the reason you first signed up for it, your love of travel, can ironically not be what you had in mind. Sure, there can still be an appeal to them – they aren’t terrible jobs! – but the things we love about travel may not be a part of these jobs. Take a look!

Travel Agent

Arranging travel for other people can be great to a certain degree but after a while it just feels like you’re always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Well, you do get to travel quite a bit as a travel agent but when it’s on the company’s dime it’s usually a pretty quick trip and then the itinerary is incredibly tight. There is nothing preventing you from taking trips yourself but some of the fun may be sucked right out of it by planning so many holidays for others on a daily basis.

flight-attendantsFlight Attendant 

The ultimate job that really does take you everywhere can ultimately lead you nowhere, particularly depending on the airline you’re with and the frequency of your flights. A company that has trans Atlantic or Pacific flights likely provides for opportunities to explore, but since a lot of airports are in the middle of no where and you have to fly back a few days later, it doesn’t exactly allow for a lot of sightseeing. Similarly, flying all the time is your work – so when you aren’t working, you may just want to sleep and not think about going anywhere, especially if you’ve been there many times before.

Business Person

Travel is a part of many business people who have to attend meetings or have clients all over the world, but quite often all the time is spent on business with little time for pleasure. Companies aren’t always located right in the touristy districts so you’d really have to go out of your way to see them, and that’s only if time allows for it.

A Land of Intrigue and Mystery

 

The mystery, sights and sounds of Morocco keep visitors returning year after year. Marrakech is becoming a massively popular city break, nestled snug at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains, and it fulfils the senses in a way few other destinations do.

marrakech-square-at-nightThink winding alleyways, colourful, noisy souks, and bustling squares, all with a mystery and magic like no other. There are also many cheap flights to Marrakech these days, which make a visit to this wonderful land so much easier on the pocket, and it’s possible to head for a weekend city break if you choose. The airport is under 5 miles from the city centre, which means hardly any transfer journey, giving you more time to enjoy everything this fascinating city has to offer. Cut your costs and stress by pre-booking airport extras, giving you freedom and control over your travel plans. I recently booked Heathrow parking from HolidayExtras.co.uk, and found the whole experience not only cheap, but so much easier on the stress levels. I’d recommend this for anyone able to drive!

It’s easy to get around Marrakech, thanks to a good bus network, but by foot is how you’ll really discover the hidden secrets of the city. Djemma El-Fna is where the main action is, and this is where you’ll find entertainment, delicious food and bustling markets no matter the time of day. Many locals gather here as a meeting point, and you’ll find lots of street entertainers, making it a fascinating and fun part of the city. Koutoubia Mosque is also nearby, and this is a definite must visit for those wanting to learn about the religion and culture of Morocco.

Into your shopping? It’s done the Marrakech way here, and that means haggling your bargains! I loved the markets around the main square, and haggling the price of my goods down to almost nothing. It’s amazing how easy haggling becomes once you get used to it, so be brave and give it a go!

If you’re wanting to get out of the city for a few hours, talk to your hotel and see if they can give you advice on guided tours into the mountains, stopping at villages along the way. This is how you’ll really learn about true day-to-day Moroccan life and see it first hand. Ourika Valley is often where the tours head, and in my opinion, this is a must do.

When night falls, the main action is again in the main square at Djemma el-Fna, where you’ll find food stalls with delicious scents rising into the atmosphere. Most restaurants will serve tagine, which is the famous casserole-style meal and is certainly delicious and hearty. Alternatively, you’ll find international food in most of the large hotels, as well as entertainment programmes.

A break in Marrakech will leave you wanting more, and eager to learn the secrets of this fascinating city. There is much to see and do, and the culture of the area is very interesting to learn about. City breaks don’t have to break the bank either, and remember my idea of airport parking, to cut costs before you even land in at the airport. No matter where you’re flying from, you’ll find a service, such as Stansted Airport parking from Holiday Extras, with a great range of flight times and prices from the capital. Alternatively, if you’re flying more regionally, check out Edinburgh Airport parking for great rates.

Intrigue, history, and a whole lot besides – Marrakech will leave you eager for more.

The Worst Parts About Summer for Travel

The best time of the year for travel is not without its flaws, and there’s nothing you can really do about them if summer is your only time available for travelling. This lends itself to the notion that there really is no such thing as perfection and you should just enjoy what you have – but of course, we’re greedy so we know that’s not going to happen.

If you’re planning on taking a vacation this summer, good for you – but know that it isn’t all sunshine and good times. There are a number of headaches associated with going away this time of year and here are just a few of them:

The Humidity

This isn’t the case in every destination you visit but a good number of them get ridiculously hot and damp – not a great combination. This ‘wet’ heat can make breathing quite difficult and air conditioning in your accommodation a must, at least if you want to sleep through the night. Nobody likes feeling sticky, especially when you’re walking around and trying to enjoy being outside without stripping buck naked and jumping into ice water.

resized_Venice- San Marco Crowd (Small)Everything is Busy

If you are trying to travel during the summer be forewarned – everyone else is as well. With students being done school and many parents taking vacation time to make use of the nice weather and not having to pull their kids out of school, everyone rushes for those quintessential summer destinations (like Venice here), which means the lines will be horrendous. Try your best to be patient if you’re one of these poor schmucks who has to endure this and try not to hurt everyone.

Jam Packed Schedule

Trying to fit travel into the summer can be extremely difficult when you look at your schedule and see the number of other things you want to accomplish as well. Maybe there are errands around the house that need finishing? Those family reunions that you’ll get a huge guilt trip over if you skip? In just the same way that Christmas is packed full of obligations and parties, summer can feel like every second is accounted for and there’s no way you can possibly get away.

It’s too Short

Without a doubt the biggest complaint about the summer season is how it’s not long enough. Regardless of how long the nice weather lasts, nobody wants it to end – which is why so many people relocated to warm weather locations at multiple points in the year. Whatever plans you have, not everything will be accomplished and even if they are, it will just feel too rushed. Maybe that’s why peak season exists – everyone is trying to cram it in while they still can.

Sampling the Italian Finery

Everyone has their reason for travelling to Italy. For some it might be the ancient historical sites, such as the Coliseum or Pompeii; others might delight in the one of a kind culture that ranges greatly from the northern mountainous areas to the Mediterranean kissed southern points. Still others might be heading to Italy for their food, made popular the world over but can only be authentic in the homeland.

uva x amaroneWithin this latter group are undoubtably those that enjoy tasting another of the region’s most famous consumables – the wine. Those who appreciate the flow of a good vintage or sampling a drop of amarone will be well advised to seek out wine country when they are in the area, particularly if they come from a place without a wine region of their own.

Everyone has their favourite type, whether it’s the hearty reds or the light whites and finding the perfect wine to compliment the local cuisine can be a career in itself. Depending on the part of Italy you are in, you might find yourself sipping certain types of wine over others either due to the dish being served or the type of grapes native to the area. For example, in the five town district on the Ligurian Coast known as the Cinque Terre, the local wine is exclusively white. This means if you are a staunch drinker of reds but want to enjoy the local fare alongside the freshly caught seafood dishes you may want to bend your tastes a little!

If you’re having a hard time deciding which part of Italy to indulge your vino amore in, worry not, you really cannot go wrong with whatever region you choose on any vacation. Some prefer the windswept coasts for their scenery as an accent for the wine; other travellers want to tour around from winery to winery as the entire basis for their holiday and there are those who nestle themselves exclusively in a place like Tuscany and just lose themselves in the traditional feel that so many have fallen in love with over the centuries.

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In the end, if you’re looking for an authentic Italian experience, nothing is finer than taking a vineyard tour and sampling the nectar of the gods. Can’t see all the ones you want? Don’t worry – you can always come back.

Awesome Video Game Travel Destinations

As a geeky traveller, you had to know I was going to incorporate my love of video games into my travel dreams – and if you didn’t, well, I question your intelligence! This won’t be the only completely irrelevant topic I cover on this site from a travel and geek perspective but I can guarantee that I will be revisiting this again!

Video games create amazing worlds that just long to be explored – in fact, that is sometimes one of the main purposes of the game. The sad thing is, we have to do so from a distance through an avatar, taking in the sights and sounds through the limitations of our televisions or screens. What if we could actually get into those worlds and see them for ourselves? Where would you go? Which ones would be great for a mere mortal to check out who just wants to explore?

Hyrule_Castle_Hyrule_FieldHyrule (Legend of Zelda)

As far as epic landscapes go, complete with diversity in populous and climate, you can’t get much more incredible than Hyrule. While there may be more ridiculous destinations in video games, as far as a relatively welcoming atmosphere (depending on the version), you could actually visualize making a trip to the land of Hyrule and not being brutally murdered – just stay in at night. I’d chill by Lake Hylia with some fishing, climb atop Death Mountain to watch the sunrise and hang out with the locals in Hyrule Castle Town. The only thing I hope for is it’s the world after it’s been saved… then again maybe I could be that legendary hero?

Kingdom of Zeal (Chrono Trigger)

For me, it’s the very definition of a fantasy location complete with magic and a dark under current – especially when you consider the land below is a completely frozen hellscape. Floating high above all the rest of the worries, I’d love to go and check out the Belthazar’s Blackbird being built, gleaming off the sun as you gaze down from the floating world that seems to hang impossibly high in the sky. It’s just a shame Lavos had to ruin it all…

Yoshi’s Island (Mario’s Universe)

Yoshi just seems to be a pretty chill dinosaur, one that I wouldn’t be terrified to hang out with because I don’t think he’d kill me (wait, he is a he, right?). The land of the Yoshi’s is a veritable paradise with tropical fruit, and bright colours that might make you wonder if you’re on acid or something. In truth, it’s just a wild jungle where the apex predator is a childish saddled multicoloured dinosaur. Nothing to worry about here!

Mushroom Kingdom

Mario’s stomping ground is probably the most diverse of all the video game worlds because it’s always changing depending on the game. While its goomba and turtle problem seems to be a bit out of hand, you can rest assured that a simple jump on their head would take care of them. I think the Mushroom Kingdom would be great to wander around in and just get lost – which is always a great sign for a travel destination.

Things to Keep in Mind if You Propose on Vacation

Getting married sure has gotten complicated in the last few decades. Things that were previously reserved for the super wealthy or exceedingly creative are becoming expected as commonplace. It’s not enough to do things simply, they have to be done to impress and you can be sure that will cost a decent amount!

The same goes for the actual proposal. There may be the temptation to just pop the big question at any random time, or else wait until it’s forced on you to do so (how romantic!), but guys, most girls have been dreaming of this moment for a very long time – wouldn’t it be nice to make it a bit magical? What would be more awesome than doing it while on vacation?

Here are some pointers on what to consider before asking someone to marry you on vacation because you can really never have enough advice on the subject.

Be Sure She Will Say Yes

There really is no way to be certain of this, but you should have a decent idea of her response before making the decision yourself. If you’re a long way from home and you propose but she says no, well, I can’t really think of a more awkward situation.

Plan an Appropriate Vacation

Some holidays are more appropriate for proposals than others and more often than not it has more to do with you as a couple than it does about the destination. Make it somewhere that really speaks to who you are – but even still, the destination is still important!

Keep the Ring Secure

Carrying around a small expensive piece of jewellery can be a very nerve wracking experience and one that you may wish to be rid of as soon as possible. From pick pocketing types to your own foolishness, you may feel like you never feel comfortable the entire time you have it in your possession. Try to keep it on you at all times but not in a place so obvious to thieves or to its intended wearer!

imagesFind the Right Spot

Proposing on vacation is tricky for a number of reasons but it’s very tough to know where and when the right time and place is. More than likely, you’ve never been to this place before so you don’t know about the overall mood of the place (which is probably the most important part of the timing). If you propose at the beginning of the trip it might feel too rushed but if you wait too long, you’ll probably be too stressed out. Be sure the time is right just by how you feel, which is another reason to always keep the ring on you!

Ensure you Have… Privacy

Following the proposal, you may want to ‘celebrate’ and that is very difficult if you’re staying in non-private accommodation. Again, be sure you plan ahead!

Water World: Cruising the Globe by Sea

Okay, taking a cruise ship vacation, pros and cons – go.

Cons first: choppy seas, touristy ports of call, no real sense of place, someone else micromanaging your travel options, too much food, being in the middle of the ocean, being uncool.

Some of the pros: being in the middle of the ocean, all-you-can-eat culinary adventures, handing your travel arrangements over to experts in service and entertainment, an adventurous sense of nomadic travel, great bargains, scenic destinations, endless activities, free room service, free ice cream (look it up!), walking around with a drink in your hand, ballroom dancing, endless options for amusement, being free to be uncool!

Boiled down to what many real-getaway seekers are, well, seeking, cruise ship travel stacks up pretty well. Bucket-list-worthy, in fact – especially when you consider all today’s swanky, hip, practically limitless cruise options in addition to the list of traditional reasons travellers choose these fun, ease-and-comfort getaway packages.

The stereotypes are mostly true: lots of people on board and so many things to do it’s sometimes dizzying. But when did you last get to enjoy a sweet game of bingo with interesting strangers and enjoy a conversation-friendly round of Henry VIII’s beloved shuffleboard in the same day, sipping free-flowing mai tai’s all the while and punctuating each random activity with a dip in a beautiful pool as you look out at the majestic open sea. Plus, you can learn to ballroom dance!

U5 28276 SHIP_9Cruise ship lines have been charting some pretty spectacular travel routes since they started ferrying passengers around in the 1800s. You can choose from Nordic fjords to the tropics of the South Pacific to just about anywhere in between – including intimate wine-soaked river cruises through Bordeaux. Nary a stretch of water is uncharted, from Africa to Australia, Antarctica to Alaska, the Mexican and Caribbean Riviera, the Far East, Hawaii, The Iberian Peninsula – the entire globe is there for the cruising.

And while land-based travel has its flexibility perks, there’s certainly something to be said for traversing the seas of this ocean planet, while also getting opportunities to disembark in beautiful cities. Plus, you only have to pack once!

There are, of course, ships that cater to just about any demographic experience you’re looking for: family cruises, singles cruises, gay cruises, gambling cruises, art cruises – you name it and it’s probably there among the five hundred types of ocean cruise adventures

Whichever version of this uniquely pampering mode of travel you choose, pick one and go for it – put it on, then check it off, that bucket list of yours.

Ahoy, and enjoy!