DELICIOUS FOOD AND SUNNY DAYS: A weekend in Paris

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It was a sunny weekend in Paris. With temperatures over 30 degrees, the weather was ideal for hanging out in parks and cooling off in cafes, so that’s what we did most of the time.

I’ve been to Paris many times, so I mostly enjoy wandering around local neighbourhoods finding new cool places.

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These we my favourites from this trip:

  • La Buvette: A great find south of Montmartre. This local bistro has an amazing selection of wines and serves yummy light bites. We had the best sparkling wine, a selection of small dishes and chocolate mousse. 100€ for three including tip.
  • Atelier des Lumieres: This new museum in a converted warehouse creates immersive art displays by projecting famous artworks all over the walls. Their first exhibition focused on Klimt (tickets 13.50€). It’s also a good area to explore, as there’s a beautiful canal nearby and a chilled atmosphere.
  • Angelina: a famous patisserie popular with tourists. They serve delicious dessert and the best drinking chocolate. Lunch for three for 110€ including tip.

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RELAXED NEIGHBOURHOODS AND VEGAN FOOD: A sunny weekend in Berlin

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We went to Berlin for the weekend with the intention of sampling all the vegan food – and that’s exactly what we did! We found lots of cool places:

  • Markthalle Neun: This is a cool indoor market with lots of independent shops. Stop for organic gelato at Rosa Canina then follow it up with craft beer from Heiden Peters.
  • Brammibal’s Donuts is a popular stop with lots of different donut flavours. Everything is vegan and they have two convenient locations.
  • Backbord: This vegan place serving street food is a great place to try some traditionally meaty German snacks. We had currywurst, schnitzel and sweet potato fries. Yum!
  • Bamerang: This rock bar in Prenzlauer Berg has a simple vegan menu of pub food. Relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.
  • Ataya Cafe: A popular vegan place with a buffet service for brunch. The food is a good mix of Italian and Northern African.
  • Kaschk: A craft beer bar with a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection of beers on tap.
  • Chay Viet: A popular Vietnamese place serving delicious veggie dishes.

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We also spent some time exploring the city off the beaten track:

  • Mauerpark is an old favourite and a great place to visit on Sundays, when they have lots of stalls selling anything from handmade artwork to local souvenirs. There’s always a crowd and plenty of musicians keeping things lively. Follow that with the nearby Berlin Wall memorial, which is a good place to see the wall far from the tourist crowd.
  • South of the river Spree, Neukolln is a cool neighbourhood full of bars, cafes and independent shops. It’s a great place to explore for a few hours on a sunny day.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: It’s not the usual type of accommodation we choose, but H2 Alexanderplatz had a good deal. Comfortable rooms and great location (close to Prenzlauer Berg which is my preferred area).

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RELAXED DAYS AND RUINS IN THE SUN: A long weekend in Cyprus

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We don’t usually have beach holidays, but spending a few lazy days in chilled Paphos was a nice little break.

Paphos Archaeological Park and Tombs of the Kings:

There are two main ruin sites in Paphos, and both are worth a visit. The Archaeological Park (tickets 4.50€) has plenty of impressive mosaics, and the Tombs of the Kings (tickets 2.50€) covers a large area full of ruins.

Both are linked by a pedestrian promenade by the sea, so it’s nice to visit them on the same day.

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Coral Bay:

This popular sandy beach 10km north of Paphos is a good place to spend the day. You can lounge about on a deck chair (two and a parasol for hire for 7.50€), go for a swim and have lunch at one of the many restaurants on the main road. To get there, take bus 615 from the city centre.

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Paphos Harbour:

Paphos Harbour is a nice area where tourists lounge in the sun or sip cheap cocktails in the many local bars. There are plenty of places to stop for a meal or an ice cream break.

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Pingouino:

A popular cafe in the city centre serving snacks and drinks. I had a delicious cocktail of mastiha and prosecco called Greek Spritz for 5.50€.

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Flintstones bar:

This themed cocktail bar is a popular stop. It serves good drinks and service is nice and friendly. The place is as kitsch as it sounds. Cocktails for about 5€.

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Namaste:

This Indian street food restaurant serves delicious meals in the city centre. A great find. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 40€.

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Money:

Paphos is very cheap as compared to London. Even in the most expensive places by the harbour, prices are still relatively low. Venture off the main tourist areas and you get a beer or glass of wine for less than 3€ each.

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Food:

We did a lot of self-catering, but local produce was very good and we found loads of yummy fruit and vegetables. Restaurants tend to have a good range of veggie options, such as mezze and salads.

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Stay:

Paphos is full of resorts and holiday apartments. We stayed at Elysia Park, which had huge flats and great service.

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AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

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PALERMO

Palermo’s centre is easy to navigate on foot and on a sunny day you can cover many of the main sights on Via Roma and Vittorio Emanuele. Stop by Teatro Massimo to reenact the famous last scene from Godfather 3, or wander around the park by the Norman Palace.

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Palatina Chapel: This famous chapel located by the Norman Palace is full of intricate details and beautiful mosaics. Tickets for 10€.

Pizza Frida: I was looking for recommendations of good pizza places in Palermo (of course there are plenty) when I came across Pizza Frida. This place is popular so it’s best to book in advance. They have lots of different options and they’re all AMAZING. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 90€. Highly recommended.

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Villa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti: a great local restaurant where large families taste the local fare. Meal with drink and tip for 15€ per person.

L’Antica Focacceria San Francesco: This popular place serves yummy street food, like arancini and aubergine caponata. Portions are huge. Dinner with drinks and tip for 15€ per person.

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Haiku: The only vegan place in Palermo is located in a nice area to the north of the city centre. The menu is varied and includes a mix of Italian and international dishes. The gnocchi had the best tomato sauce, and their famous pistachio tiramisu was definitely worth trying. Lunch for two including drinks, dessert and tip for 55€.

Stay: This Airbnb is great for a family trip. Each of the four rooms has its own bathroom and Giovanni, the host, is super helpful.

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ERICE

This little medieval town over the hills is a great place for a day trip. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the little alleys and stop around for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

Follow that with a stop for dessert at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which serves yummy boozy pastries.

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CATANIA

From Palermo to Catania by car it takes about three hours through the countryside. You get amazing views of Mount Etna with its snowed peak along the way.

Catania’s centre is a combination of mismatched grandiose buildings and areas that have seen better days. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the fancy Corso Italia with lots of high end shops, or explore the Old Town, with its busy street markets and lively piazzas.

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Savia: This is a great stop for lunch. They are famous for serving the best arancini, for just 2.50€. Portions are huge and everything is delicious.

Nievski: This cool bar and restaurant with a revolution theme is a good place for a relaxed meal in an area where there are lots of nice restaurants. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 88€.

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MOUNT ETNA

About one hour off Catania, Mount Etna provides the impressive backdrop for the city. You can take a cable car up the mountain, then get on a 4X4 bus and finally walk around a couple of the highest craters.

The trip costs 64€ per person and can be booked directly at the cable car entrance. Go early before it gets busy.

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TAORMINA:

A good stop after visiting Mount Etna, Taormina is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily. The small centre provides scenic views over the sea and there are lots of cute restaurants around serving delicious pizza and Aperol.

The main local attraction is the Ancient Theatre (tickets for 10€) with beautiful ruins and panoramic views of the sea and mountains.

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AGRIGENTO:

Located on the south of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, an impressive collection of ancient temples and ruins overlooking the Sicilian countryside and the Mediterranean sea.

You can spend a couple of hours exploring the site before driving on to Catania or Palermo. Tickets for 10€.

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ITINERARY PLANNING:

There’s plenty to do in Sicily, and you can spend lots of time exploring the coast, the countryside and historical sites.

The best way to travel around is to rent a car. Navigating is relatively easy with Google Maps but traffic can be a bit crazy, especially around big cities.

We spent seven days in Sicily, staying in Palermo and Catania and exploring from there.

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CRAFT BEER AND FREEZING TEMPERATURES: A weekend in Riga

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We went to Riga on a quick break in mid-March and were greeted with subzero temperatures! Still it was a nice place for a weekend away and we had fun exploring. The city has lots of really cool bars and restaurants and a great craft beer scene.

These are our favourite places:

Central Market

This market is one of the most popular attractions in Riga and it’s definitely worth a visit. There are lots of fruit and vegetable stalls selling all sorts of local produce including mountains of pickles.

Inside the market we found Labietis, a local brewery offering lots of delicious beers. You can have a drink on the spot or fill a litre bottle to take home.

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Old Town

Riga’s Old Town is small but pretty, and you can spend some time looking at the nice architecture or taking a walk by the river. It’s the best area to stay as everything is within walking distance.

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Skyline Bar

A popular place for brunch and cocktails, this bar at the Radisson has great views over the city and it’s a great place to chill for a couple of hours. A bit pricey for Riga standards but definitely worth it (2 drinks and tip for 15€).

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Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs

This huge and popular underground bar has a great selection of local beers and other drinks. It is very cheap – even more at happy hour when you can get a beer for just 1.80€.

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Fat Pumpkin

This veggie restaurant serving delicious food and plenty of vegan cakes is a great find (dinner for two including dessert and tip for 42€).

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Miit Coffee

This is a nice veggie place. Their brunch costs 9.50€ and it includes lots of delicious salads and fruit.

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Indian Raja

The veggie place we were going to was closed, so we ended up at Indian Raja. This restaurant served lots of yummy food, including a delicious naan bread filled with potatoes (dinner for 2 including drinks and tip for 35€).

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ELEPHANT PORTRAITS AND COLOURFUL SUNSETS: South Africa’s Garden Route

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Following east from Cape Town, the Garden Route covers a few hundred kilometres through all sorts of beautiful landscape – sandy beaches, deep forests and open fields. You can also spot the odd elephant and baboon.

It’s a great road trip as there are lots of nice restaurants to stop by along the way, and there are plenty of reserves and national parks in the area.

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Tsitsikamma National Park:

This is a beautiful area full of activities. We stayed at Storms River Mouth, where you can rent fully equipped cabins with amazing views, including both sunset and sunrise over the sea.

Deer and dassies lounge about, and dolphins swim in the distance. There are plenty of activities around, so we went zip-lining over waterfalls. You can also explore on foot following the many walking paths.

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Knysna Elephant Park:

This is a great place to see elephants and zebras up close. You can visit during the day or stay in their lodge to take full advantage of spending time with their rescued elephants, day and night.

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You can take part in different activities with the elephants, including feeding and walking with them. The guides are very knowledgeable and know the back story of every elephant. We stayed two nights and had plenty of time to get to know a few of the elephants.

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SCENIC VIEWS AND LOTS OF PENGUINS: Highlights of Cape Town

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We went to South Africa for a wedding and spent some time exploring Cape Town. These were our highlights:

Boulders beach: A beach and walkway where you can spot hundreds of penguins with a scenic view.

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Table Mountain: On a clear day, people rush to get the cable car up to Table Mountain. It is the backdrop of Cape Town, and from the top you get amazing views of the city and the sea. You can spend a few hours exploring and taking photos. Most people don’t go very far, so follow the path to Maclear’s Beacon and you will get most of the place to yourself.

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Robben Island: Visiting the prison where Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid is one of the most popular activities in Cape Town. You take the ferry from the V&A Waterfront, then go through a guided visit of the island and prison. The ferry journey takes one hour and the boat is followed by playful seals.

The highlight of the island tour is visiting the prison: most of the guides were political prisoners there, so it’s a unique opportunity to learn about the place from someone who experienced it first-hand. It’s best to book in advance and visit early on the day.

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Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: These gardens are a beautiful place to spend a few hours. There are lots of native flora and you can also spot birds on the trees. A walkway gives you a great view onto Table Mountain from above the trees. We had lunch at their Tea Room which had lots of options for veggies with big and yummy salads.

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Chapman’s Peak drive: Following this scenic route along a coastal road, you get amazing views over the sea and nearby mountains – there are plenty of lookout spots along the way. Breathtaking!

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Kalk Bay: A cool area by the beach with plenty of independent shops and restaurants, including:

  • Satori: A popular Italian restaurant serving yummy pizzas and pasta.
  • Salt: A cool restaurant serving a selection of yummy pasta and mains, including vegan options.
  • Chartfield Guest House: A cool and chilled hotel in Kalk Bay with amazing views of the sea.

Mugg & Bean: a chain of coffee shops selling yummy refreshing drinks – the turmeric gingerade was a hit!

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Stellenbosch: About one hour from Cape Town, the famous wine region has impressive scenery and amazing views. We visited:

  • Wild Clover Cottages: we spent one night in this nice property. Rooms overlook a game reserve where gemsbok and zebras laze about in the distance.
  • Babylonstoren: A garden and winery with lots of outdoor space, restaurants serving locally grown vegetables and more. A nice place to spend a couple of hours al fresco.

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