21 February 2015

the beauty of Bruges in Autumn, Belgium

It's fair to say I've been a bit spoilt over the years when it comes to travel. And although I really shouldn't admit this - sometimes  I can find visiting Europe a little bit dull. (I need a slap, right?!)

However, last Autumn I visited Bruges in Belgium with my family and fell back in love with Europe all over again. The buildings, architecture, skyline... it was just so damn pretty. And we had amazing weather with lots of dramatic skies to top it off... .

SEE: the silhouettes of red brick buildings, against a light blue puffy sky dotted with hot air balloons. 

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

TASTE: the salt on my lips and fingers as I greedily indulge in the best triple-fried Belgium fries around.

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - by night

SMELL: wet earth, coffee, canal water, chocolate!

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - walking along the canals

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - walking along the canals

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - art

HEAR: church bells, street traffic on cobbled lanes, the fizz of my freshly poured kriek cherry beer and laughter in the air around me.

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - walking along the canals

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - walking along the canals

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - architecture

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - by night

FEEL: happy and relaxed. It's not that often I get to go on holiday with my parents.

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - by cycle

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn

Oh - and here's a pic of me. Stuffing my face as usual!

Bruges, Belgium in Autumn - eating

I'm in Spain this lovely almost-Spring weekend. Where in the world are you?

19 February 2015

where I find my travel inspiration

There is no doubt that my love of travel initially grew from my love of reading books as a youngster. Long before I was old enough to go anywhere without Mum and Dad, let alone to a strange country or city I was devouring books that led my imagination to places far far away.

Twenty or so years on it's safe to say that a lot of my travel plans still begin from reading - whether it's a book, blog post, magazine article or even tweet!

And my love for Japan? I discovered the famous poet Matsuo Bashō and his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches while living in Japan through my boyfriend's (now hubby) Mum. It was the descriptions of nature that really made me re-examine my surroundings. I loved how distinct the seasons were in their colours, temperatures, smells and sounds.

statue of Matsuo Bashō in Chusonji, Hiraizumi - Japan
statue of Matsuo Bashō in Chusonji, Hiraizumi - Japan
{image via Walk Japan}

Some of my favourite Bashō haikus...
In a way 
It was fun
Not to see Mount Fuji
In foggy rain.

Blanket of white plum,
I wonder what happened to the cranes,
Stolen or hidden
Behind the plum blossoms?

Sakura cherry blossoms, Japan
{Sakura via Free Top Wallpaper}

Another lovely poem by Tenji - a merchant from Mino that Bashō met on his travels...

Sitting at full ease
On the doors of their huts,
The fishermen enjoy
A cool evening.

Wouldn't you just love just to be there in that moment? I would.

What inspires you to travel?

16 February 2015

finding my travel mojo & 2015 resolutions

Now that we are mid-way through February 2015 I'm very interested to know how you are all going with your new year resolutions? For me it's about the time of year that I tend to forget all the promises I made at the start of January. Alas you might have noticed there hasn't been a huge amount of blogging action here recently. Sometimes life just gets in the way!

This weekend gone I was determined to get my travel mojo back and set aside the whole of Sunday for research, planning and booking - as there's nothing more satisfying than finalising the next adventure. All in all I managed to organise three trips (yay). Here's where I'm off to next...

1. Bilbao and San Sebastian, Spain.
We are going next weekend! Bilbao is the largest city in Spain's Basque Country and is slowly but surely starting to break free of it's industrial reputation. Home of the world famous Guggenheim Museum, and just a short bus ride from San Sebastian I have no doubt we are in for a blast next weekend.

the Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao, Spain
the Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao, Spain

What am I looking forward to the most? The Winter Cider Houses that appear in the Basque Country from January through to April. Drink your heart out!

San Sebastian - Spain

2. Côte d'Azur (aka the French Riviera), France
This will be our five-day Easter getaway. Côte d’Azur is well known as the most glamorous of all Mediterranean playgrounds - particularly the flashy St Tropez that draws huge summer crowds.

Cote d'Azur poster
Cote d'Azur poster
{Image via Art Experts}

Hubby and I will be basing ourselves in Nice for the five days - I've rented our very own little French apartment and am already planning day trips to Hyères, Saint-Tropez, Agay, Cannes, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, Monaco and Ventimiglia. Can't wait!

snap shot of the French Riviera
snap shot of the French Riviera
{image via Lonely Planet}

3. Calgary and Vancouver, Canada
At long last we are headed back to Canada. Since our last visit to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Georgian Bay a few years ago we have desperately wanted to explore the delights of Vancouver and Calgary. Not only are the flights booked - but we also have tickets to the famous 2015 Calgary Stampede. Yee-haa!

the Calgary Stampede, Canada
the Calgary Stampede, Canada
{image via World Journeys}

Happy Monday - hope you all have some exciting adventures coming up soon!

10 February 2015

my top 10 things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

I've said it a few times, and I'll say it again: Istanbul is a cool city that should definitely be on your wish list if you suffer from incurable wanderlust like me.

Here are my absolute top 10 things you must experience while visiting Istanbul...

1. Hagia Sophia
Even with scaffolding Hagia Sophia is breathtaking, and it's a rare opportunity to visit a site that has been both a church and a mosque. Top tip - don't buy your tickets online with plans of skipping the queue if you don't have access to a printer. We had our tickets on our mobiles but they weren't accepted in digital format so ended up queueing twice!

looking up at the ceiling of Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
looking up at the ceiling of Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

2. Take time out with a 'full body rub down' at a hamam.
Check out my post what to expect at a Turkish bath or hamam for more details. You won't be disappointed.

inside Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey
inside Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey

3. Take a stroll across Galata Bridge to Karaköy and Beyoğlu for shopping and cafés galore!
Coffee and tea culture is alive and thriving in the new town. You could spend weeks here sipping on coffee, people watching and spending every last dime on the bustling shopping streets.

my favourite named shop in Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey
my favourite named shop in Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey

4. Observe prayer time at the Blue Mosque.
As all the other tourists were being herded out of the mosque at prayer time, my friend and I were being given a personal tour. The trick is to show a little interest - ask if you might sit and observe prayer time and you'll have the whole observation area to yourself. The mosque is just beautiful too!

observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey
observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

5. Chat with locals as they fish for the sport of it at Istanbul's top spot for fishing - the Galata Bridge.
Every day hundreds of fishermen cast their fishing rods over the side of Galata bridge in hope that they might just snag the big one. It didn't matter what time of day we passed by - morning, afternoon, evening or even the middle of the night the bridge was always a bustle of activity.

men fishing on Galata Bridge at sunset - Istanbul, Turkey
men fishing on Galata Bridge at sunset - Istanbul, Turkey

6. Take a cruise to Kadıköy Market on Asia Side.
Absolutely worth a visit - Kadıköy Market is one of the biggest fruit, vege, fish, cheese, spices, clothing and toy markets I've ever visited in my years of travel. And it was almost certainly one of the cheapest too. Just a fifteen to twenty minute walk from the port - my friends and I were in Christmas Stocking shopping heaven (we visited just a few days before Christmas).

the entrance to Kadıköy Market - Asia Side, Istanbul
the entrance to Kadıköy Market - Asia Side, Istanbul

7. Go underground into The Basilica Cistern.
Underneath the city of Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Palace. Built during the 6th Century it is claimed that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of this gigantic, amazing space. Although the Cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water it is virtually empty today with just a few feet of water lining the bottom.

inside the Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey
inside the Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

8. Hang out with Istanbul's purring, smooching cat community.
I couldn't write a post without some mention of Istanbul's cat population. It wouldn't suprise me if there are more cats than people in the city. And the locals seem to love them - leaving out food all over the place so none go hungry.

cats sunning themselves on the friendly streets of Istanbul
cats sunning themselves on the friendly streets of Istanbul

9. Stroll through Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
Famous for being famous, the Grand Bazaar is the perfect place to indulge in some time-honoured haggling, or a dry spot to explore if the weather turns sour. Browse to your hearts content, and buy if you see something you absolutly must have. But if you can hold on to your self control, do your shopping in Galata and Beyoğlu instead where you can buy all the same stuff at much better prices.

inside the Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey
inside the Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey

10. Explore Sultanahmet (the old city) on foot.
Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and much more. There's lots to see in Sultanahmet - so go explore. My favourite time of day was during the call to prayer - when the prayer calls echoed around the whole neighbourhood.

exploring Sultanahmet by day - Istanbul, Turkey
exploring Sultanahmet by day - Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul taken your fancy? Check out my other Istanbul posts too:

1 February 2015

the unexpected benefits of blogging

Happy February everyone. Today was amazing - as I was finally able to say goodbye to 'dry January' and go out for lunch with friends without feeling guilty. Of course I celebrated with lobster and bubbly!

However, it must be said that last weekend I did cheat a little on my 'no alcohol in January' commitment, when I attended a Travel Link Up Afternoon Tea Party at Brown’s Hotel to celebrate one year of linking up with Kelly, Emma and Rebecca. Brown's Hotel put on quite a party. I couldn't say no to a glass or two of bubbles (are you sensing a theme?).

This month the link-up topic up for discussion is the unexpected benefits of blogging. In my opinion there are many. Here are my top four...

1. Blogging gives me a creative outlet.
When I'm not at work I'm constantly dreaming up ideas for posts, snapping photos with my phone or writing blog-type lists. I wake up earlier in the weekends now so I can sneak in a few extra hours with my blog and a cup of coffee before hubby wakes and our weekend begins.

2. Blogging keeps me focussed on my goals. 

Once I've announced that I'm going to do something on my blog, well I just have to do it! No excuses.

3. With blogging, I'm always learning.

Learning is pretty important to me. Just last week I completed Strengths Finder with my team at work, and 'Learning' came out as one of my top five strengths. With blogging there's always something more to be done, tweaked or improved on. Just last week at the blogging afternoon tea I soaked up a whole lot of social media knowledge from the lovely bloggers sitting around me.

4. Through blogging I've met and connected with some pretty cool people.
Bloggers are cool! Who wouldn't want to hang out with some of the friendliest, creative types out there? I've shared emails with people I've never met in person, who live on the other side of the world and it's been amazing. I've had cocktails and afternoon tea with bloggers who do share the same city. Sometimes it's awkward, yes (I'm a little shy), but always completely worth it.

Happy February everyone. Hope you have some great travel planned for this dark, winter month :)
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