Sometimes you just have a find a wee bolthole and escape with the family and that just what this trip was all about. That and great Tuscan food of course
We flew into Florence and hired a car and headed north to a province in the tuscan hills for a couple of weeks of R&R at Casanuova, near Firenzuola , which let us enjoy the country life north of Florence. We had a rustic villa Ville Betulla e Gelsomino with private pool which is a necessity when the mercury is tipping the 40’s most days. Our other prerequisite was a BBQ and bar which was the only amenity the village had.
Bahia cafe at Barberino di Mugello
bahia cafe is near Barberino di Mugello on lago de Bilancino and the perfect waterhole for hot energised kids to spend the day, whilst their parents can relax and read a few books.
Santerno River is a great spot for wild swimming in shallow water with some light rapids. Pack a picnic and plenty of sunscreen and spend the day chilling out.
As it was so hot during the day we didn’t tend to venture where much walking was required until the early evening. We can across Lago Di Montelleri, Vicchio which was a nice park and lake for a stroll before dinner at the Ristorante L’antica Porta di Levante, Vicchio. This area is famous for its truffle and its not used sparingly! The picturesque hills that run to the north of Florence is home to the white truffle. The tartufaie (truffle hunters) find them near the river beds of The Sieve
We ate here, Il Sagramoso Ristorante, Firenzuola. The antipasto with fried polenta and cured meat followed by their signature Beef Florentine was a thing of beauty for all carnivores.
Agriturismo La Fine, Firenzuola
Some of these places are quite remote, and not on the tourist trail. The lovely owner quickly sorted the table and next to us was some local people also about to eat, but instead they got a pizza from the local town, so I had a feeling we ate their dinner. There was no menu here just a selection of beautifully cooked local dishes brought out for us to eat. A perfect place to chill and watch the beautiful sun setting.
It truly is a perfect place to get away from it all. No wifi, gorgeous views and lovely locals. Every evening the local bar was packed with the local villagers all playing cards and catching up on the days news
Azienda Agricola Calcinaia
We were recommended to come here by the local bar owner. We wanted an authentic italian evening and this was like being asked for dinner with the family. They made a house menu for us. The menu featured antipasti (appetizers), primi (lots of pastas), secondi (generally meats), contorni (vegetables and salads), formaggi (cheese course), and dolci (desserts). Everything you eat is grown or raised by them and it was the best experience the whole trip. Eating is a leisurely experience, and it has to be, there was so much food we couldn’t quite believe they kept bringing dishes. All washed down with some excellent grappa, just left on the table. Here you really eat the best Mugello tortellini! and pasta and there must have been about 7 types and that was only primi. Roe deer fillet which my daughter devoured and Florentina were the secondi. Il cibo era delizioso!
From the collective of villages now considered a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Monterosso Al Mare is the largest village in the Cinque Terre, and boasts over its neighbours, beautiful reefs, sandy beaches with crystal clear waters.
The village is separated into two halves by the old tower of Aurora. Fegina, thrives on tourism and is evident by the abundance of restaurants and hotels.
To find the old town of Monterosso, exit the tunnel or climb around a path on the hillside to emerge at the scenic Borgo Antico. Pull up at the piazza to just sit & watch the day go by.
Lunch was an all consuming thing! Stomach got in the way of mind and ordered half the menu. Anti pasta misto, Muscoli ripieni – stuffed mussels, Ligurian spaghetti al pesto, Fritto misto. Long walk and snooze required
A statue at the end of Fegina beach of Neptune from 1910 is visible by the architect Levacher Minerbi, it is 14 metres high and cast in concrete and iron. Unfortunately he has some war wounds and damage from the elements and has lost his trident and arms
There are five villages in this area off of the Italian Riveria. Cinque translated means 5 and Terre is lands. So essentially this area translates to “the five lands.”
Each of the villages have the own character and Vernazza is no different. The Cinque Terre has succumbed to mass tourism and visitor numbers are booming. We visited in April, and although the weather was dubious it was less crowded and allowed us to take in the beauty and explore away from the crowd.
On arriving we headed down to the harbour. Santa Margherita Di Antiochia Church sits right at the town’s main square Piazza Marconi. The church was constructed in 1318 in typical Ligurian style. Apparently the church was built there by locals because a wooden box with the remains of Saint Margaret was found on the beach. From the outside there is an ornate octagonal bell tower, but inside the interior is simple and beautiful.
Vernazza has a natural harbour and back during the Middle Ages, boats would be tied to the buildings like in Venice. In rough weather like today, the boats are not bobbing on buoys in the harbour but tucked up on the piazza which is normally a wash with alfresco diners.
Like the rest of the Cinque Terre, the homes are painted in pretty pastels a prerequisite by officials and the area has been given national park status.
Away from the charm of the seafront there are lots of pretty crooks and crannies to explore. If lucky enough to be staying, I’d be pitching up with a glass of local produced wine and watching the world pass by.
Why is Italy so beautiful? In particular the picture postcard perfect Italian Riveira and notably The Cinque Terre. Five villages perched precariously and dangling to the elements of the Mediterranean sea. Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are the famous five and best reached by train. There are various hiking routes between villages (maybe next time) or you can opt to visit a few by train like we did. It can be extremely crowded in summer but off season it was much quieter. My disappointment in the weather didn’t do this beautiful corner of the Earth much justice, sun you failed me today.
The local Grapevines seen on the hillside surrounding Manarola are the product of the local wine Sciacchetrà
Grab a gelato and wander the cobbles taking in the colourful houses stacked on the cliffs
When you disembark the train you can go to the left and towards the sea or go right and venture up the steep hill towards the the piazza della chiesa, the village church is there as well as spectacular views down through the village. From here meander down towards the sea then leisurely stroll to Punta Bonfiglio, the path at the right which heads up the cliff to allow you to capture that picture perfect postcard image of the village.
It’s all in the details here too, lots of intricate seaside designs woven into the fabric of this village by the sea.
A day trip to Genoa. Genoa was one of Italy’s largest maritime strongholds along with Venice. The port today is still thriving with container shipping and tourism through cruises. Genoa differs from many Italian cities, such as Florence and Venice as it is not cursed with throngs of tourists and list of must see attractions. Our daughter decided that today we would skip the tour of the city and focus on the stuff that looked exciting when you are 9.
First stop, The Acquario di Genova was built celebrating the anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus for Expo 92, it is situated at the the Porto Antico (the old port). It claims to be the biggest aquarium in Europe. Depending what ticket you buy, you can visit the biosphere and Galata Museo del Mare too, so we were under no illusion what the day would entail.
The aquarium was pretty good as it turns out, the usual suspects, dolphins, rays, sharks, molluscs and lots of pretty fish. A Deep Sea Room, equipped with virtual reality headsets to learn about life in the dark depths of the sea. There are eight seats and Samsung VR technology to get fully immersed.
La Bolla is the glass sphere (biosphere) behind the aquarium. Slightly underwhelming but we saw a Scarlet Ibis, A turtle, diamond mandarins, a weaver bird, and some exotic plants.
Galata Museo del Mare, is an impressive galleon from the outside. Inside there are exhibits about the migration process in the early 20th century. Life at sea and wooden ship models, for an extra fee there is a submarine you can board.
The attention grabbing sight of dinosaurs from Jurassic world was too much temptation so next stop a visit to Cine Ciak – Museo Internazionale del Cinema. This is a small museum with a collection of film memorabilia. Our daughter loved it
A walk around the fountain and Piazza de Ferrari, a wander by Via Garibaldi and we were done. The daughter has a fab day
Marseille is a port city in France in the Mediterranean. It has an industrial but cosmopolitan feel and a diverse cultural scene. Perfect for a weekend away
Starting at the Vieux port or ‘Old Port’, it has been the hub of life for over 2000 years. The marina is full of small fishing boats and luxury pleasure boats crammed around the quay. We were more taken with the vast, shiny stainless steel awning, L’Ombriere de Norman Foster, for an altered perspective and a bit of vanity posing. Although I was desperate to check out Cite Radieuse Le Corbusier but ran out of time (I have a love of brutalist architecture). Another thing I have discovered after my trip on the Grande roue de Marseille was that I no longer have the stomach for heights, and this was a massive ferris wheel giving 360o views of the city.
I love a browse of a market and Marche de Noailles was no exception. An authentic window in to the Arab world of Marseille. Time for a coffee and to watch the world haggling for their daily shopping.
I loved the juxtaposition of the modern Mucem with the fort Saint Jean. Interesting architecture at the edge of the sea.
The rest of our journey was by foot just wandering the streets and taking in the vibe of this vibrant city
Its peculiar to be a zebra crossing away from Spain but Gibraltar is a self-governing British colony, so if you are traveling there from Spain, you must have a passport. Lots of things to remind you of old blighty too, such as these British institutions below
The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock, is a 426 m high monolithic limestone nature reserve, which is habitat to over 300 wild Barbary macaques. The Rock of Gibraltar was one of the two Pillars of Hercules and was known to the Romans as Mons Calpe of the Mediterranean Sea
Apes’ Den – Barbary Macaques
These guys were incredible to watch, but from afar, after all they are wild animals. A bit like gremlins, do not feed them or taunt them with food either. They are pretty good hitchhikers too and adept and catching a ride on passing cars.
St Michael’s Cave
St Michael’s Cave legends claim the caves are bottomless. The Rock of Gibraltar was supposedly linked to the Africa by an underground passage under the Strait of Gibraltar, which is why many people believe the Macaques came to Gibraltar from there.
You can get the cable car up or hike but its worth a peek inside at the stalagmite and stalactites. The caves are lit with coloured lighting and music make it a very interesting experience. I Just stood for ages mesmerised.
Cartagena is poised between the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor, on Spain’s south-east coast. A great place to stop for a short break to soak up some Spanish culture
Some great sculptures in Cartagena like The whale tail fin ‘Cola de ballena”, by artist Elorrieta or El Zulo (the hideout) sculpture, a tribute to the victims of terrorism by Victor Ochoa and the sailor returning home in front of City hall
The city had a festival, Fiesta de las Cruces on at the time with traditional dancing and parades
Roman Theatre Museum
The Roman Theatre has been under restoration since the nineties. You can enter via a visitor centre designed by the architect, Rafael Moneo. You can also see a fresco depicting a swan in the Tablinum of the House of Fortune.
Castillo de la Concepcion, The Conception Castle is a good orientation point to discover the city. It was an enclave to a Roman temple dedicated to Asclepius, a medieval castle and where sirens were sounded from during the bombing of the Civil War. Great panoramic views of the city and a lift to save those weary legs
After a gruelling 2 weeks in Orlando, it seemed like a good idea on paper to add a stop off in New York for 4 days in the height of summer. Well in for a penny, in for a pound they say! Travelling with kids in cities can be fun as long as you find things they want to engage in too, here are some of the things we found that were fun to do
Central park, the green lung of the city and welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Our top tips were,
Clambering up the Alice in Wonderland bronze sculpture. José de Creeft designed it so that children could immerse in the wonder of Lewis Carroll’s classic story.
As we love a story, we stopped by the Hans Christian Andersen statue
Ate ice cream at the The Bethesda Fountain
Learned how to play the fiddle by one of the characters to be found performing around the park
Visited Strawberry Fields that pays tribute to John Lennon, and saw the imagine mosaic
Hired a boat from The iconic Loeb Boathouse
Jogged through central park
Times Square by night
Times square and Broadway is a force to be reckoned with, purely for the number of people and crowds to fight through. Good for people watching though and near Broadway if you fancy a show.
The Oculus transportation hub is not only a magnificent structure from the outside but equally beautiful from the inside
Wall street and the Charging Bull Statue. Fancy some good luck? Rub the Bronze Balls on the statue if you can get near them!
Federal Hall is now a museum from the 1789 inauguration of George Washington.
Tiffany & Co, well every woman deserves a browse
Everyone assuming position for a massive trump in front of Trump building…Priceless!
Staten Island Ferry and The Statue of Liberty
Love a free activity and the Staten Island ferry is a must. 30 minutes roughly and a great view of the The Statue of Liberty. We didn’t visit the Statue of Liberty as the daughter was more keen to emulate her
Flat Iron District
A wander through the city admiring the views and notably the Flatiron Building and Empire State building.
The Morphous sculpture in Union Square by South African artist Lionel Smit of conjoined heads was cool
Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Centre
No visit to NYC would be complete without a journey 70 floors up to observe the city from sunset to all twinkling lights. Top of the Rock, You can then have a dancing in the disco lights waiting for the lift, or try your best sprinting in the vast corridors
Today heading for Brooklyn via a walk across Brooklyn bridge. State of Emergency at the court house as fire breaks out and rows of orange chained inmates are escorted across the street
Brooklyn & Williamsburg
We love to head off grid a bit away from the tourist throngs and this was the highlight of my trip.
A really vibrant area, with a hipster vibe if thats what you’re into. Lots of street art and curiosities to look at, which is why I am here, along with some great food haunts.
Thank god for the Wythe hotel. Trying to a find a rooftop bar suitable for kids, no mean feat! Delighted to have found one with nice alternative views of the Manhattan skyline and great nibbles (cocktails)
I love a record store, so Rough Trade was right up my street. Followed by a stroll in East River State park and Hurricane point for some pictures looking back over at Manhattan
Dinner was at Fette Sau A great BBQ place specialising in heritage pork breeds and craft beer. It was a thumbs up from us!
Dessert was from Odd Fellows unconventional to say the least but delicious!
East River ferry
The East ferry from Williamsburg gave an alternative route home ending up in 34th street.
Chelsea Market and The Highline
Chelsea market today for a browse and some quick eats, curry wurst was the name of the game. Next stop a walk in the sunshine along the Highline. The High Line is a public park which was a rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan, built in 2009 it’s a fabulous public space featuring nature, art, and design and takes about 30 minutes to wander along.
We can, we saw and we walked, 50 miles roughly. Thanks NYC for having us, fun times!
Its been about 20 years since my last visit to Thailand and although I have a rule about not revisiting old ground, there is something about Thailand that makes me return. The people are so genuinely lovely. They don’t call it the ‘land of smiles’ for nothing. Certainly the people we encountered, were hospitable, helpful and full of good humour.
Twenty years ago we made a pact with our good friends and travel companions that when the first of us has our 50th milestone birthday we would all go to Thailand together. Then all of sudden it was upon us.
Planning a trip for a group of 7 is never easy. Especially with so many different needs to contend with. The youngest being 12 and the oldest being 49 (on the cusp of the big 50) We all love food and one of us is a chef and the other is about to start that profession too so it plays a big part of our trips. Thailand has some amazing food and I for one can’t wait to get stuck in.
Adventures to new places and revisiting a few places from a long time ago was the starting block and 3 weeks the duration, although we all still wanted to relax and not cram too much in.
So you start to do some research and read some blogs and what I realised very quickly is there are hundreds of blogs on where to go and what to see and generally the advice is exactly the same MUST SEE THINGS! So I stopped looking. Mainly because I didn’t want to be standing with the main tourist throng looking at the same things everyone else was looking at. Don’t get me wrong there are trips and things associated with Thailand that are on the top things to do lists but I wasn’t getting bogged down with ticking off the list recommended by every blogger in every place.
Our trip took place in July 2019 during the summer holidays. Not the ideal time to visit Thailand as the weather can be unpredictable as its south western monsoon season. That asides the flights were cheaper and the places quieter in some areas.
Our trip took 24 days in total. Starting in Bangkok, first stop Chiang Mai, then Krabi, then Koh Samui, then Koh Pha Ngan then Koh Samui and back to Bangkok.
Arriving in Bangkok, we caught the metro to China town and stayed there one night as timings to catch the overnight train to Chiang Mai were tight.
W22 by Burasari was a brilliant budget find in China town within walking distance of Hua Lamphong railway station which was our departure point the next day. They do a mean Mojito in the bar downstairs too which is just what you want after a flight from the UK. All of our accommodation was booked in advance due to needing three rooms and one being a triple so our daughter could stay with us. Pretty much most places included breakfast as trailing about with hungry kids is not fun from previous experience.
Spent the day wandering round China Town and then took a longtail boat tour of the city’s ‘khlongs’ (small canals). We organised this ourselves as opposed to a tour and got off at the Grand Palace which was closed for the day as there was something going on. Wandered round the area nearby and stumbled across the Giant swing. It was a humid one though and not fully acclimatised to sweaty Bangkok the daughter was unimpressed with the assault on your senses that Bangkok throws at you.
Picked up our bags from W22 and headed for the station around 5pm. Grabbed some food from a cafe nearby and snacks from the 7-11 for our train journey overnight to Chiang Mai. We booked all out travel from 12go Asia who were brilliant at organising with and they got us sleeping compartments together on the train. This would have been a great nights sleep had the jet lag not kicked in, so we spent most of the night munching thai squid!? crisps and cat napping where we could. Great to see the landscape though from dawn rising through the countryside. The journey takes from 6pm until around 7am but was worth the experience.
Home for the next two days The Core One of the best places we stayed on our trip. A swimming pool was essential after a day exploring and this small hotel had a great one along with the comfiest beds and a swing in the foyer which we have decided we need in our TV room
Gruelling! its at least 2.5 hours but the whole trail about 5 hours and best done before the heat of the day kicks in. Plenty of water required ( we were woefully unprepared as none of us had looked into how strenuous this actually was or what it entailed)
Don’t get me wrong it, it was challenging but we all enjoyed it and was glad for the experience but one I won’t be repeating in the heat of the day with minimal water. You will also need sarongs etc for entering the temples. Luckily we were prepared with those. Firstly you will reach Wat Pha Lat Temple. Beautiful and serene with views over the city. Then another hour of hard slog uphill, to finally find liquid from the street vendors. Unfortunately, the sight of another 306 steps to the main temple was not welcoming and my poor calves groaned at more punishment. The Doi Suthep Temple was sublime though. Definately worth the effort, but you guessed it, Songtaew back to hotel for a much needed shower!!
Delicious meal tonight at this teak house, its popular so expect to sink a few singhas in the queue. The nám prík & gaang hang lay (Burmese-style pork curry with peanut and tamarind) was delicious as were the rest of the dishes
Larb Muang Moo
Northern Style Hors D’Oeuvre with Nam Prik, the Northern Thai chilli dips, sai oua and crispy pork rinds
It was my birthday so decided I wasn’t roughing it. This hotel is showing a bit of wear but overall without completely blowing the budget it was a bit of well deserved luxury. Full indulged in the spa too, but would have been just as well spending 200 baht in any massage salon as its Thailand after all
Everyone agreed that we wanted to see elephants. I know its not always deemed ethical but I did some research and thought this one seemed to have the animals welfare centre-front. My daughter loved feeding, bathing and swimming with them. It was a fantastic experience I would highly recommend.
Chiang Mai Gate Market, warorot and china town area and Chiang Mai night bazaar were great for wandering round and whetting the appetite. Try some deep fried critters if you are brave enough, they were crunchy!
Snacks on the go followed by a sit down and graze at
Lovely food here Dash is a large, open-style traditional wooden teak house that serves up Khao Soi, Gaeng Hinlay, Gaeng Massaman Gai, Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak, sai oua
Gaeng massaman gai
Pad Makua Yao, aubergine & basil
Travel to krabi today with Bangkok airways and then public bus to AoNang beach for the next four days. As its July it can be wet on this side of Thailand and in Scotland we get enough rain so we kept our stay short deliberately
Centrally based and good inclusive breakfast and nice pool, spent what was left of the day in the pool and checking out the beach which unfortunately the weather stayed true to the forecast and it was pretty cloudy
After some foodie splurges in Chiang Mai (if your are going to splurge anywhere do it there) we were back on the authentic budget thai kitchens and this didn’t disappoint. Being near the sea also means seafood so we got stuck into some calamari, Tom Yam soup and stir fry prawns and broccoli for the little one, with the smoothie option. You don’t need a fancy looking restaurant to get good food, just one that everyone is eating in, then you know its good, cheap and fresh, essential. Most kitchens are open so you can see how the food is prepared and I can confirm there were no stomach issues on this trip
Forecast checked and the best of the weather was today so we booked a boat trip with a local vendor after much haggling, well it is low season here
One of thailand’s unseen highlights, This Island is situated along Koh Dam Khwan. As the tide recedes, The sea is gradually separated by the white sand and limestone beach that will appear to amazingly connect the two islands at low tide. You can walk between Tub Island and Chicken Island on the natural sandbank or relax on the golden sand beach.
This island has a distinctive rock formation that looks like the head of a chicken. Great location for snorkeling.
A lovely white sandy beach ideal for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling
Ma Tang Ming Island
Enjoy snorkeling. You can see a lot of fish, coral denitely Nemo!!
Exploring and take a picture around this Island
• Railay beach
Buffet BBQ Dinner and beautiful sunset
Pra Nang Cave ( Princess cave)
There are different theories about Phra Nang One story goes that an Indian princess was killed in a shipwreck, her ghost resides in the cave. Alternatively Phra Nang was the wife of a local fisherman. Her husband set out to sea one day and failed to return she then lived out the rest of her years in the cave gazing out to sea in the hope her husband would return. The cave is a shrine of offerings and is a sacred place. Fishermen use it to seek blessing for journeys and it has also become associated with fertility. All shapes and sizes of phallic offerings can be found here
Ton Sai, off Krabi is a great place to see bioluminescent phytoplankton. A few went for a swim but watching from the boat was good enough for me
One of our highlights of the trip. What to do when the weather is a bit meh? Kayaking! Well you’re wet anyways. Now I am used to the odd shower of rain but this was crazy, although warm rain it would turn out is fun.
Ao Thalane is one of the most beautiful mangrove forests in Thailand. About twenty kilometers from Krabi Town, this section of the coast is covered in dense foliage that wraps all the caves cliffs. High tide is generally the best time to go, there are many more channels that you can paddle through and lagoons and Crocodile cave and lagoon.
We all love cooking and eating food and this was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon in Krabi. Heng our teacher was enthusiastic and made the experience fun. You each cook 5 dishes and can select different dishes from a set of 15, so between our group we made everything. You will acquire simple skills in paste making, salad & stir fry and curry. The best bit…eating it all, although go starving as there is loads of food.
These lovely ladies provided a great foot massage for my weary feet
Day 9 Travel to Koh samui
We took the bus option from Krabi to Koh samui which took about 5 hours. It was a rainy day so it was a good time to chill and read and catch up some rest time. We caught the Surat Thani lomprayah to Samui and onwards to the Mud for one night
Sometimes you need a splurge and Koh Samui is where to do it. The Mud is not a 5* resort but it had luxury but still felt rustic and full of character.It boasts an outdoor swimming pool, a garden, a terrace and a bar. The hostel offers private rooms with an ensuite bathroom, as well as single beds in mixed dormitory rooms.
Our most expensive meal was here and to be honest, it was our least favourite. I maybe chose the wrong thing, but after perusing the menu chose a sour fish soup which was reminiscent of hot pineapple juice with white flaky fish floating in it. Just goes to show the fancier the restaurant looks doesn’t mean anything.