Dublin, Lisbon, Rome – where will your next citybreak be?

When spring arrives with sunshine and daffodils, it always puts me in the mood for planning my next getaway, a mini-break to throw off the chill of winter and tide me over until the summer holidays. If you’re in the mood for a weekend away in Europe or the UK, take a look at the fun web app from SuperBreak to fuel your holiday inspiration. Whether you’re planning a relaxing half term break with the family, a weekend of eating and entertainment with your friends, or a cultural city-break with your partner, here are some of the destinations that you might want to consider;

If you’re a couple looking for a weekend of food, drink and entertainment you might look at….

Dublin

Dublin at night Photo by Lendog64 on Flickr

Dublin at night, the ultimate party town

What Superbreak have to say; Just a quick jump across the water and you can enjoy traditional Bars, comedy clubs, delicious local food and the ever-so-friendly Irish welcome! Guinness at the ready!

What I enjoyed about Dublin;

  • I love the way that the Irish always have a story to tell, that you can go into any pub and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and there’s always some music and a song or two.
  • Visit the Guinness Storehouse in an amazing 7 storey old warehouse with modern glass additions to learn about Dublin’s favourite tipple – you’ll be shown how to pull the perfect pint of the black stuff and can buy up the brand’s heritage (love the retro toucans).
  • Take the train out to Sandy Cove, a seaside spot where the members of the 40 foot swimming club test the water every day of the year and where James Joyce lived in an old Martello tower and liked to take a dip.

Here’s what I wrote about Dublin: The best of TBEX, the best of Dublin

But if you and your partner are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…

Rome

The Trevi Fountain in Rome Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Throw your coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to return some day

What Superbreak have to say; With a wealth of history, culture and plenty of Italian charisma, you can’t help but feel the love on a weekend break in Rome with someone special.

What I enjoyed about Rome;

  • Buying a gelato from the kiosk shop on the island in the Tiber and eating it with a view of the river where Dan Brown’s hero, in the book Angels and Demons, parachutes out of an exploding helicopter to land on the island.
  • Visiting the Turtle fountain or Fontana delle Tartarughe in Piazza Mattei first thing in the morning before the crowds have gathered – so much more charming and less crowded than the Trevi Fountain.
  • Visiting the daily fruit and vegetable market in Campo de’Fiori and buying a slice of pizza fresh from the oven from the artizan bakery at one end, then sitting on the steps of the central monument to eat it.

Here’s one of my stories about Rome: The view from the dome of St Peter’s in Rome

If you are a couple who fancy a weekend of culture in the UK take a look at …

Stratford-upon-Avon

The river at Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Picnic by the river at Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare

What Superbreak have to say; Discover the quaint city of Stratford upon Avon on a romantic weekend break. Step back in time in this historic city and see the spots where Shakespeare’s most famous plays were created.

What I love to do in Stratford-upon-Avon;

  • Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a fabulous venue that has gone through a multi-million pound renovation. You must try and get a ticket to see one of their Shakespeare productions but even if you can’t, be sure to pop in to wander round the building, visit one of the exhibitions, climb the tower or take a backstage tour.
  • Taking afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the perfect place for a lunch stop in between sightseeing or a pre-theatre dinner before you pop across the road for the performance.
  • Several of the houses in and around Stratford associated with Shakespeare and his family are open to the public, and we we especially love Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with its cottage garden and the settle by the fire where young William might have snuggled with his new bride Anne.

Here’s what I wrote about Stratford-upon-Avon: The Tower and other Transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

But if you are a group who’d like a weekend of culture in Europe why not try …

Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Visit the great Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

What Superbreak have to say; With history, landmarks and iconic French architecture around every corner, Paris offers everything a group would need for a cultural break. Don’t forget your camera!

What I enjoyed about Paris;

  • Wandering around the Parisian’s choice of market, Marche d’Aligre with the most polished and perfect fruit and vegetables, a mouthwatering selection of prepared dishes in the covered market and a flea market where you can buy everything from vintage footwear to elegant wine glasses.
  • Walking down Canal Saint Martin to admire all the houseboats and then continuing along the narrow footpath right beside the Seine, with views of Notre Dame in the distance – a world away from the tourist crowds at the cathedral itself.
  • Exploring the covered arcades with art galleries and street cafes in Place des Vosges and then visiting Maison Victor Hugo to find out about the life and times of this celebrated French writer, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Here’s what I wrote about Paris: Our winter weekend in Paris, the food, the sights, the video

And if and your friends are looking for a weekend of culture in Europe, why not try…

Lisbon

The vintage trams in Lisbon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ride the vintage trams in Lisbon up the hill

What Superbreak have to say; A weekend break in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital offers an eclectic mix of fascinating Portuguese history and contemporary art and culture.

What I loved about Lisbon;

  • Listening to the mournful Fado singers who perform in the restaurants in the Bairo Alto and Alfama neighbourhoods – don’t expect the food to be anything special but the music will touch your soul.
  • Eating Pasteis de Belem from the famous cakes shop near the Monastery of Jerónimos - these creamy custard tarts are the signature of Lisbon and you can either sit in the vaulted cafe rooms at the back of the shop or take them away to eat in the gardens overlooking the port.
  • Taking the yellow, vintage No 28 tram up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge where you can walk around the ramparts and gaze over the rooftops towards the river where the ships left to conquer the New World centuries ago.

Here’s one of my stories about Lisbon: An autumn weekend in Lisbon – Podcast

There are plenty more inspirational short break destinations to discover with the SuperBreak app so why not give it a try and see where your inspiration leads you.

About the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator:  To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Yorkshire based holiday company  Superbreak.com have created a fun app to help you choose the perfect UK or European city break based on who you’re travelling with and what you enjoy. Check out the Superbreak Holiday Inspirator Webapp or follow the coversation on the Superbreak Facebook Page or on Twitter @Superbreak using hashtag #SuperBreakinspo

This article is brought to you in partnership with Superbreak.com

Photo Credits: Dublin at night by LenDog64 Other photos by Heatheronhertravels.com

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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A weekend in Birmingham on the Tolkien Trail

With the latest addition to The Hobbit trilogy being recently released on DVD, and the next instalment ready to grace our cinema screens in a few months, now would be a perfect time to delve a little deeper into the life of the author, JRR Tolkien. While he may have been born in South Africa in 1892, he had an affinity with the city of Birmingham since moving there at four years old and, as such, literary fans will love to explore the sights that have been linked to the writer’s Midland adventures.

The Tolkein Trilogy

The Tolkein Trilogy

It’s often believed that Middle Earth was based on the Midlands, so it’s only natural to want to see where Tolkien gained his inspiration. If you’re after a weekend break in the city so that you can see more, book with Travelodge and you won’t have to worry about spending more than your budget can allow on accommodation. The Tolkien Trail is the perfect way of exploring parts of Tolkien’s childhood, with highlights including:

Sareholl Mill in Birmingham Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Sareholl Mill in Birmingham on the Tolkein Trail

  • Sarehole Mill, situated in the village of Sarehole (which is often considered to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and The Shire), is a fantastic museum that pays homage to Tolkien. It’s believed that he, and his brother, used to play for hours near the mill. It’s only open for part of the year though, so make sure you check that it’s open before you visit to avoid disappointment.
Moseley Bog in Birmingham Photo: Peter Lewis on Flickr

Moseley Bog in Birmingham

  • Moseley Bog was once a mill pool and was the site of many an adventure for Tolkien when he was a lad. Nowadays, it’s a Local Nature Reserve and a perfect addition to your Tolkien itinerary if you’re a lover of the great outdoors. You can access it via Yardley Wood Road or the Wake Green Playing Fields.
  • St Anne’s Church on Alcester Street is where Tolkien and his family used to worship. Pop by during service hours and you can enjoy the interior beauty as well as the outside.
  • Perrott’s Folly stands near to the Edgbaston Waterworks, alongside a Victorian tower that, together, are believed to be the inspiration behind the Two Towers of Gondor – which, as any Tolkien fan will know, is the name of the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Perrotts Folly in Brirmingham Photo: Tony Hidgett on Flickr

Perrotts Folly in Birmingham on the Tolkein trail

Whether you wish to head off on your own adventure, discovering these places and more, or you prefer to embark upon a Middle Earth tour with the help of a tour guide, the Tolkien trail is a must for any fan of this fantasy writer. These tours operate at various times during the year, so keep an eye on the Midlands Discovery Tours site if you fancy being part of the next one – you can sign up to receive email notification of when tickets for the next tour go on sale, and it’s recommended you do so, because they sell fast!

If you can’t wait for the next tour, there’s no reason why you can’t venture out on your own to see where the inspiration for Tolkien’s amazing literary works evolved. Incorporate it into your visit to Birmingham and learn more about Tolkien’s roots in The Midlands.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Travelodge.

Photo Credits: Sarehole Mill by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Moseley Bog by Peter Lewis, Perrott’s Folly by Tony Hisgett, Tolkein Trilogy from TheHobbit.com

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Marrakech – on shopping, sightseeing and (not) getting lost in the Souk

Marrakech can be exotic, chaotic, challenging and welcoming in turn. You want belt? You want slippers? Where are you from? How much you want to pay? A woman grabs my arm and offers to to cover it with intricate henna patterns. When I decline she starts to make a ‘present’ of a design on my hand and I have to tug myself away. I point the camera in the direction of a distant group of snake charmers and instantly a man is there with a cap asking for payment.

Heather at Medersa Ben Youssef in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather at Medersa Ben Youssef in Marrakech

There are sights to see in Marrakech; palaces, gardens, mosques, but that’s not really the point. You go for the colour, the street-life, the banter, the people. All of this can be rather exhausting of course, so thank goodness we were staying at Riad Star, a haven of calm within the Medina or walled city. Riad Star is the latest addition to a small family of boutique Riads, owned by English couple, Mike and Lucie Wood, and is beautifully designed on a Jazz Age theme in honour of Josephine Baker, cabaret star of the 1920s and 30s, who lived there for a time.

To help you make the most of your stay in Marrakech, the couple have designed the Marrakech-Riad i-phone app that you can download free from iTunes, giving you tips on haggling, information on restaurants, recommended shops and things to see around the Medina. Best of all the app has a map that is stored on your phone (no need for wifi or roaming) with all the points of interest marked on it and a GPS feature which means you can navigate your way through the narrow passageways of the souk by following the moving dot, without falling prey to those helpful young men who point you in the wrong direction and then offer to  show you the way (for a small fee).

The Saadian tombs in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Saadian tombs in Marrakech

We flew to Marrakech with easyJet for a weekend on their new direct route from Bristol and spent our time sightseeing, haggling for things we didn’t really need and trying not to get too lost – although that is half the fun. The Saadian tombs were one of the things we discovered, entering in single file through a narrow walled passage, that opened into a large courtyard. Pavilions with columns and carved plasterwork housed the tombs marked on the floor in tiles, with a raised section to prevent anyone walking on the dead. These tombs are the resting place of the rulers of the 16th century Saadi dynasty, but were dusty and forgotten until 1917 when they were rediscovered and restored.

Even more impressive was the Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic religious school founded in the 14th century with over a hundred tiny rooms for the pupils, overlooking the courtyard with central shallow pool. The Medersa is well known in the Islamic world and every surface is covered with patterned tiles in blues, green and browns as well as intricate plasterwork and Arabic inscriptions. The richly decorated surroundings make it the ideal place to bring visiting royalty and celebrities to be photographed framed in one of the windows or against a tiled backdrop that says “Here I am in Marrakech”. The Medersa even starred as an Algerian Sufi retreat with Kate Winslet, in the film Hideous Kinky.

The Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech

Even more recognisable for those “Here I am in Marrakech” photos, are the Majorelle Gardens which have become known for that particular shade of blue named after them, “Majorelle Blue”. The gardens were developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle and were later bought and renovated in the 1980s by the French fashion designer, Yves Saint-Laurent. The gardens feel a bit like walking into an art installation, clothed with tropical bamboo stems, shady palms, spiky cactus and water lilies drifting in shallow pools. Rich teracotta painted paths lead the eye towards electric blue pavillions, while acid yellow and tangerine painted and planted pots punctuate the garden paths. There’s an interesting museum of Berber clothing and jewellery within the gardens, but don’t make the mistake of taking a sneaky photo inside or you’ll get a severe telling off like I did!

Vegetarian dish at Earth Cafe in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Vegetarian dish at Earth Cafe in Marrakech

We used the Marrakech-Riad app to locate interesting places to eat as we wandered through the Medina, mainly European style cafes such as Earth Cafe that specialises in fresh juices and vegetarian and vegan dishes. I enjoyed my beetroot, ginger and orange juice with a lunch of roasted tagine vegetables topped with goat’s cheese. We were equally at home at some of the street kiosks that we came across in the souk where we tried a mini tagine of lamb and vegetables served with bread and a Moroccan salad of chopped cucumber and tomatoes. We discovered that the same fresh orange juice, tagines, flat bread, and Moroccan salad dishes appeared in most of the restaurants, so the choice of where to eat was less about the originality of the food and more about the setting and ambiance.

Painted tagines in the Souk at Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Painted tagines in the Souk at Marrakech

Haggling in the souk can be a daunting prospect, since you know that all the traders have been perfecting their bargaining skills since childhood and are relying on that fact to extract the maximum amount of money possible from you, while persuading you they are your best friend. Of course it’s all a friendly game of charades where each side understands the part they are playing. Luckily I was able to use the tips on the app to brush up on my haggling patter which works something like this;

First you decide what you want to buy and what is a fair price to pay, perhaps by checking out some of the fixed price shops such as Ensemble Artisanal or by asking the price of the same item in a few stalls while making it clear that you are ‘not buying today’. Next you find a stall that has a good selection of the slippers, bowls or lamps you want to buy and wander up without expressing any particular interest. The conversation develops like this;

“Please come and look, looking is free! Where are you from? Bristol? – I was working near there a few years ago. Do you like this bowl (thrusts it into your hand).

“Oh I’m not sure, I have no space to take this back to England but how much is it?

For you I’ll make a special price of £10, how many do you want to buy?

“Oh it’s very nice, but I can’t afford that and I’m not sure my husband would like it, but how about if I gave you £3 and I might take two?

Shopkeeper looks horrified; “Madame, you’re trying to rob me, I have a family to feed and can’t you see the beautiful craftsmanship – this is hand painted. But for you I can do it for £8″

You look doubtful, “No I really don’t think I need it, but perhaps I could go as high as £4 for it”

And so it goes on until you agree at £5 and before you can change your mind your purchase is being wrapped up for you and the cash (preferrably the exact amount or you might not see your change) is handed over.

I think after a month or two of haggling I might have got the hang of it, but we did go out looking for a lamp and came back with six painted bowls and a mirror after making the mistake of expressing interest in a pepper pot. But the nice shop-keeper did then take us up to the top floor of his shop and give us a great view over the roofs of the souk and we just about managed to squeeze it all into our easyJet hand luggage!

Heather tries a freshly squeezed orange juice in Jemaa El Fnaa, Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather tries a freshly squeezed orange juice in Jemaa El Fnaa, Marrakech

And so to the square of Jemaa El Fna, the beating heart and soul of Marrakech, where you can be entertained,  robbed if you don’t take care, buy a glass of orange juice, or get into conversation with an ‘official’ guide who will feed you misinformation and try to take you to his friend’s shop. Watch the snake charmers and monkey men from a safe distance or they’ll be onto you, draping a snake around your neck and demanding money for the photos, or take a horse and carriage ride around the Medina. Around the edge of the square are cafe terraces where you can get a view over the square which is especially useful as dusk falls and the food stalls are put up to feed the throngs of visitors.

We didn’t eat at the stalls in the night market, although we fully meant to go back there, but somehow once we got back to the calm of Riad Star, we couldn’t face going back out again to face the pressing crowds and the succession of people trying to extract their share of your cash. We were recommended by the staff at Riad Star to try stall number 117 and by the Marrakech-Riad app to try the fish stall at No 14 serving fish from the ports of Essaouria and Casablance with French fries and salads – a Moroccan Fish & Chips. If you try either of these stalls, do let me know how they were!

Snake Charmers in Jemaa El Fnaa in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Snake Charmers in Jemaa El Fnaa in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Another benefit of using the Marrakech-Riad app is that it gives you a 10% discount at many of the cafes, restaurants and boutiques that are popular with Europeans, such as the Henna Cafe, a co-operative that is supported by the Marrakesh-Riad and provides an art space, small rooftop cafe and a community project  where language classes are provided for locals who want to learn English, German and French to work in tourism. If you want to avoid being grabbed by a persistent lady in Jemaa El Fna, this is the place to get your henna design in a more relaxed atmosphere, but try not to step on the tortoise who roams under the tables in the terrace cafe!

Market square in Marrakech Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Market square in Marrakech

It took me a couple of days before I could really relax in Marrakech and enjoy the atmosphere without worrying about being ripped off or scammed. By then it was time to fly home, but next time I’ll be ready to bargain like a local and bring home another suitcase full of slippers, painted tangines and Aladdin lamps.

 MarrakechRiad app on iTunesGetting to Marrakech

Heather and Guy flew to Marrakech courtesy of easyJet who fly from Bristol to Marrakech on Tuesdays and Saturdays – perfect for a long weekend break. EasyJet also fly to Marrakech from Gatwick, Stanstead and Manchester so you really have no excuse!

Thanks to Riad Star who hosted our stay in Marrakech. We loved the beautifully designed home-from-home in the Medina, filled with Moroccan craftsmanship combined with Jazz Age objets, paying homage to cabaret star, Josephine Baker who stayed there in the 1940s. Rooms at the Riad start at £140 per night bed and breakfast and delicious Moroccan meals are available on request.

The Riad is one of four in the Marrakech-Riad family, owned by English couple Mike and Lucie Wood, which are all well located close to all the major sights of the Medina, with English-speaking Moroccan staff who will offer advice, airport transfers, book restaurants, and lend you a local mobile so they can rescue you if you get lost in the Souk! Each Riad has between 4 and 7 bedrooms, making them ideal to book as a group if you are planning a gathering of family or friends, or for couples planning a romantic getaway.

About the Marrakech Riad App

We found the Marrakech-Riad app was indispensable for finding our way around the Medina and full of useful tips and information about sightseeing, restaurants and shopping. The app is free to download from iTunes and features;

  • A comprehensive GPS responsive map of the old town medina to save you getting lost in the maze of bustling streets. In the latest version the map has been extended to cover the new town area of Marrakech.
  • Background profiles on popular tourist attractions and up to the minute guides to restaurants and bars, written by Marrakech Riad owner and local expert, Mike Wood
  • Discounts at many of the shops and restaurants recommended by the app
  • Information on day excursions from Marrakech
  • Useful tips on haggling in the souks and other advice to make your stay in Marrakech more enjoyable.

Download the Marrakech-Riad app from iTunes here

More things to see in Morocco

Paradise Valley – Blue pools and waterfalls in Morocco – video
A scrub and massage in the Hammam in Agadir
Life’s a beach – watching the surfers at Taghazout

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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