48 Hours in Palma, Mallorca, Spain | Thing to See and Do

Friend of the blog and contributor Peter Brooker, editor of Human Research, has just landed back from a long weekend in Palma. Lucky so-and-so, dodging the English rain as per usual. 

In this article Peter will give you the skinny on where to stay in Palma, restaurants to visit and some tips on things to see and do. 

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Palma, Mallorca, or Majorca for the English-phonetic, is a drop below the luxury of Saint Tropez, but a class above Ibiza. (So I'm told, have been to neither). 

All I can say is that Bilbao was a right-off. I've been in the dog-house ever since for taking my girlfriend to Bilbao, the place with one decent looking building, one inaccessible James Bond location and beyond average unadventurous cuisine. 

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The missus has since revoked my rights to book anything accept short stay car parking at Gatwick. Which was actually harder than it sounded given the immediacy after the BA debacle at Heathrow and reported fire at Victoria. Trains were out. Flights got cancelled/delayed. We really had to walk between the raindrops just to catch this flight. 

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Where to stay in Mallorca

Hotel Tres has it all. It’s a twenty minute cab ride from the airport that will cost you 20 Euros. We stayed for four nights at roughly just over 200 GBP a night. This came with breakfast included, which was decent enough. Though they charged for the coffee which didn't sit well with me. Sure you can get a regular black coffee, but we asked for soya cappuccino and got given a bill. I mean sonofabitch. Is it really that much of a calorie burner? 

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Ok I'm angry, but I would still recommend this hotel. I asked them to recommend restaurants ahead of our arrival and they did so. They also helped me try and get some movie location spots locked down, which was real sweet of them. 

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The room has one of these rolling tables that stretches the entire length of the bed. Genius. Someone is finally listening to me. I'll once again lay out the essentials of what I look for in a hotel room. 

1.   Room to dump stuff. 

2.   A bidet. 

3.   Soft pillows. Medium to soft mattress, queen size minimum. Not to single mattresses wedged together. 

4.   Decent shower pressure. 

5.   Air con that won't give you the lergie. 

6.   A telephone that you don't need a degree in astro-physics to use. (The phone did not work). 

7.   Decent WiFi. 

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The rooftop had something close to an infinity pool. You had a view of the Cathedral opposite. (Shut on a Sunday). Every now and then we saw the waiter, Thomas. We liked Thomas, he was an enterprising young man. 

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Where to eat in Mallorca

The good people at Hotel Tres were able to offer the following recommendations. The hotel is within walking distance of all three restaurants we frequented. Less than 5 minute walk. 

OMBU - Rating: 8/10 decent food, good service. We got a seat outside both times. Best dish? The Corvina ceviche with avocado, kumquat in syrup and kilos. 

KOA - This was our favourite. No outside seating but very tranquil and classical interiors. Best dish? The 
Golden ceviche, ginger sweet potato, seasonal fruits and fried plantain.

Caballito del Mar we tried on the first night and had the black paella. In fairness that paella lasted us for days, but generally this was the most touristy of all restaurants. 

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Just bear in mind that all restaurants will bring out white bread and olives. Which you won't have asked for, and isn't free. But this covers a service charge that most restaurants in London will charge you for regardless. 

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Shops to visit in Mallorca

The Puzzle shop is the most famous. The lady in charge is a lot of fun. She invites you to solve puzzles and there's nothing more satisfying than proving your manliness than cracking the puzzle in under 30 seconds. 

That only happened once. 

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Opposite you'll find the Vilebrequin store. Of course lots of overpriced swim shorts but it's handy to go in and try some on. I now know what size I am should I find some crop up on eBay. Yes I'm sorry, but I'm not spending 250 Euros on a pair of swim shorts. Do you know how much travel writers get paid? 

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Favourite store has to be Typographia. Now here I did a mini splurge and bought 3 t-shirts. The fit and quality is immense and the designs are quirky. They currently stock in Tate Modern, no international shipping which is nuts. So if you see it, you buy it ok? 

Ice creams are consistently good everywhere. Fill your boots. 

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Train Ride to De Soller and Boat Trip to Magaluf

Sadly I can't recommend the company we booked with as they gave us mis-information which nearly led to us missing our boat. However, you'll find plenty of companies online that you can book through. 

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The train ride through the mountains is a very famous feature of the island and you shouldn't pay more than 50 Euros a ticket. There are no toilets on the train, so don't get caught out. The train ride will take you an hour but it's open-window, cool and feels antiquated in a good way. 

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The full day boat ride is also a very popular touristy thing to do. Both beaches you'll reach on the tours are saturated. No space to build a sandcastle. But you can jump off the boat and cool down in the sea. The food is thrown in and is actually quite tasty. 

It's a good way to spend a day if you're running a tight budget. 

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Hop on Hop Off

These run fairly regular outside of the Cathedral. It will cost you 18 euros a ticket. Nice way to kill an hour but you'll learn very little about the city from the commentary. 

I actually dozed off. But don't let that deter you. It's important to take bus tours I think to get a feel for the city. 

Budapest: Things to See and Do | The Ultimate Travel Guide

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Today I'm going to let guest editor Peter Brooker talk more about his recent travels. His last article 48 hours in Bilbao will prove to be a very useful tool for me as I weigh up options for future weekends away. Today he's going to talk about his recent weekend break in Budapest. With some tips, hints, how to budget etc.

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I'd been once before to Budapest. Like most men subjected to a long week working on a production line, rueing missed opportunities and poor life choices,  a weekend reprieve in Budapest was just the antidote.

That was me ten years ago, embarking on a friends stag do that would prove to be one of the most blistering, relentless anarchic weekends of my life. Much like the Kennedy case file, most of the information of what happened that weekend can't be revealed until all parties have effectively, well, died. Let’s just say we lost the hotel deposit before we even got to our room.

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This recent trip as a sober man in his forties with a respectable girlfriend, featured none of that debauchery. Although I did get to see packs of disaffected men on the fringes of being thrown off planes, marauding through the Hungarian capital with lecherous dog-hungry eyes.

I don't think it's an exclusively British thing, but we have a fetishistic nature about us that makes us easier to spot when on holiday.

Where to stay in Budapest?

The Baron Residence Hotel is acutely central in Budapest. Relatively cheap, 3 nights for 282 GBP with breakfast thrown in. Breakfast is bare-bones; hardly the flagship for Budapest cuisine but can tie you over for a few hours.

It's not an Instagram-type hotel. I didn't get one shot inside. But not all hotels were designed for the purpose of showing off. This is classic eastern-European utilitarian style.

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Where to Eat in Budapest?

There are many great Hungarian restaurants on a street called Raday Utca. This is mainly populated by locals and we were recommended this street by the concierge at the hotel.

The ONYX is probably one of the most expensive restaurants, we didn't go there but looked inside and it looked very swish.

The Kacsa Restaurant is quiet and out of the way. Little old school in terms of decor but I want to give them a mention because the gentleman who served us was genuine and well put together.

Anna Cafes are dotted around and is the best place for lemonades and people watching.

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Things to see in Budapest

I'd definitely take a walk up to Liberty Statue. It’s incredibly scenic with plenty of lofty views of the Danube. You don't really get those views in London. Primrose Hill maybe, unless you do the Shard or certain public high rises.

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The National Gallery has some great photography exhibitions. Especially the Fortepan exhibition Every past is my Past. This gallery has pictures mined from clearance sales, discarded photos, most handed down through generations. The owners and subjects are sometimes unidentified. There are currently 111,000 photos in the collection.

Up in the dome you'll also get some awe inspiring shots of the city.

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The Labirintus

So who knew that Dracula was a real person? Vlad the Impaler was a nasty piece of work. He tortured people by shaving the skin of his victims feet, coating the open wounds in salt and had goats lick them.

Vlad the Impaler was imprisoned here in these endless labyrinthian tunnels which is worth a visit, but you'll be pleased to leave.

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Saint Stephens Basilica

The Americans will have you believe the stairs leading up to the dome go on forever. Don't believe a word of it. A modest schlepp will get you to one of the best views overlooking the city.

The exhibitions inside are not modernised or curated in a way that is the least bit interesting. However, the Cathedral is beautiful inside and well worth a look.

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Where to go in Budapest for movie lovers

Budapest is a city utilised my filmmakers for its post-apocalyptic brutalism that is littered within the capital and its surrounding districts. The Stock Exchange Palace for example was used as Harrison Ford's home in Bladerunner 2049.

The Whale Building on the river was used in The Martian and Heroes Square was partly used for opening sequence in Red Heat.

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If you’re a lover of movie memorabilia you can check out Ernst Gallery for eclectic rare movie posters. There is the Pinball Museum which houses the Rocky Pinball machine and you can also have fun spotting 007 number plates on the cars around town. We only saw one but there are plenty of 00's or 'other agents' as I amusingly coined. (Yes the girlfriend rolled her eyes).

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Some last tips

The local currency is HUF and a lot of places only take cash. There are plenty of ATM's dotted around the capital so you shouldn't worry.

The airport is about a 30 GBP Uber ride into the centre of Budapest. It's a very walkable city and we didn't get any transportation when we were there. We covered 50 km in the 3 days we were there by foot, so make sure you bring comfy shoes.

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The Gellert Hotel is an infamous place for thermal spas. We went inside the hotel to look around but we didn't frequent the spas, despite it being highly recommended. The Szabadsag Bridge is opposite and great for INSTA photos as you can climb up a small section.

The city is very chewed up currently as a lot of construction work is going on in a lot of the squares. This could fizzle a romantic weekend away if you're hoping to see Budapest this year.

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48 Hours in Bilbao | Things to see and do

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Today I'm going to hand over the reins to my guest editor Peter Brooker to talk about his recent trip to Bilbao, Spain. Next year Bilbao will host some UEFA cup games so anyone travelling for the footie might find this interesting. Also as Peter will no doubt discuss, it's a veritable James Bond location.

Hello everyone, I'm going to give you a breakdown of things to do (and avoid) if you're planning on spending a weekend in Bilbao.

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WHERE TO STAY in BILBAO

I have been twice to Bilbao and have stayed in both the COSMOV Hotel and the MERCURE hotel. The latter being more convenient for business, the former being a nice bag-drop boutique hotel that is equipped well enough for an enjoyable stay.

Both located centrally and a minute’s walk from the Guggenheim.

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BEST MUSEUMS in BILBAO

The first things you'll discover a distinct lack of decent museums in Bilbao. I have to put the Guggenheim down as a disappointment. The building itself is beautiful. Made of Titanium, Glass and Limestone. It's reminiscent of a beached ship, an ode to the lustrous ship making history of Bilbao.

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It's also incredibly vast inside. Unfortunately no photography of any nature is allowed inside, but in all honesty, the Modern Art fails to live up to its incredulous chassis in which it is housed.

That said, if you're staying at the Cosmov hotel, I recommend buying your admission tickets at the hotel lobby as it will include breakfast. 24 Euros each, and the breakfast was one of the best we (my girlfriend and I) had all weekend.

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FINE ARTS MUSEUM - in Bilbao was far better. Perhaps because I'm into photography more. The current photography exhibition of Los Zubiaurre. Memoria grafica is utterly beguiling.

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Have a look at this photo of a mother and father receiving a letter from their son. It's the reason why we should all write more. Much more. Admission 10 Euros each.

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BILBAO ATHLETICO - the stadium tour is undoubtedly the best attraction in Bilbao, no matter what your views on soccer are. It's an hour long, immersive and you get a sense of what it's like to be a professional footballer. With access to the press box, the changing rooms, the dugouts and the trophy room.

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WHERE TO EAT IN BILBAO 

This is what let the city down big time. Not enough variety and not enough middle tier pricing. There are 22 Michelin-starred restaurants in Bilbao, but when you're traveling on a budget, minimum course orders starting from 50 Euros are a definite no-no.

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The drop off then is quite staggering. We did find a quirky dig called Coppola, inspired by the owners love for the director Francis Ford Coppola. Decent pizza, nice decor, even prices. But Pizza?! Do I have to schlepp to Spain to get a decent pizza?

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We only stumbled upon this little place by accident as all other half-decent restaurants were shut at 6pm. Some only taking bookings after 9pm. Come on Bilbao! What about Johnny foreigner that likes his dinner done by 7pm and his slippers on by 10pm latest?

A friend of mine called me out after my seemingly blasphemous rant about the Spanish and their fixation on white bread. Apparently it's 'part of the culture. The bread isn't like the white bread you get in Tesco. It's much lighter and really good. Taking away that thread would be like stopping serving chips in a chippy. (Sic). It's not for the tourists at all'.

Well with the last part, I have to agree.

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We did find one restaurant that provided excellent service and quality food. Called The Premierk. Out of the way, but you can find it on the way to the Bilbao Stadium.

MAIN ATTRACTION 

Being a James Bond fan you will at least get to see a James Bond location. The spot where Pierce Brosnan landed as he abseiled out of a Swiss Bankers balcony can be found directly across the Guggenheim and in front of the Jeff Koons Puppy. 

I have written extensively about getting to the balcony, (not open to the public) on my blog here.

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Top Places for Brunch in Canggu, Bali

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Back in Bali people. That will be for sure, the name of my next coffee table book. It's my predictive text response for where people ask where I am currently. Admittedly it's been quite the tour. Hopefully my travel tips and Vlogs have been of use for anyone looking to travel to Sydney, Bali, Philippines, Singapore etc. 

Today I'm going to extend my travel advice in Bali, and give you all the best top places for brunch in Canggu. 

CRATE 

It's true what they say about Crate in Canggu, they really do have the fastest internet in town. An amenity not to be underestimated for a travelling blogger looking to upload his vlogs and insta stories. 

You'll look to pay 200k for 2 meals and 2 smoothies. (Just over 10 GBP which is more than digestible, pun intended).  

Great for INSTA photos, everything is presented like it was designed for a fitness magazine supplement. Extra bonus points for free refills (not sure if that was just for me) and for brewing your own brand of coffee. 

MOTION

The most amazing smoothie you'll find in all of Bali can be sourced at Motion cafe. Go for the Banana Gluten free smoothie and pancake and thank me later.

The food is fresh, full of flavour, healthy and always filling! Places for parking the scooter are available. Might sound obvious but not all cafes in Bali offer this. 

ORGANIC CAFE

The air conditioning inside is a God send. Especially for those just coming from a training session. (You may have seen me in boot camp a couple of times on my INSTA stories. I feel like I'm training to take on Drago out here). 

The prices are very reasonable and the location is just a stone's throw away from Batu Belig Beach.

NUDE

Seriously recommend the smashed avocado on toast and ricotta corn fritters. It's great for people watching as you can sit outside and watch the world and his dog go by. 

Healthy and delicious and I found NUDE had the best service of all the cafes in Canggu. Remember to smile people, it doesn't take much. 

OKA'S BAKERY 

I found Oka's Bakery to be the best place for value for money. Generally eating in Canggu is relatively cheap. But if you're traveling on a real budget then this place is the best. Great espresso machine coffee, big portions of food and very delicious sweets like the snow balls. 

Recommend the breakfast wrap. 

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Some of the best Vegan options in Canngu. Not exclusively Vegan however. I recommend the beetroot hummus, the best I had in Bali. 

It's a very popular spot and good for socialising if you're looking to share stories with fellow surfers, travellers etc. 

 

 

The Whitsundays & How to Get There | One Off the Bucket List

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I hope you all enjoyed my latest YouTube video about Whitsundays. This article will just be a quick debrief on how to get there, where to stay and also a chance for me to share some more photos I took on my trip. Which was awesome by the way, thanks for asking. 

The easiest way I found to get to Whitsundays was flying in from Sydney or Brisbane to Hamilton Island. Virgin Australia do a flight out there and it will take you about an hour from Brisbane (longer from Sydney).

From there, Cruise Whitsundays operate a transfer to Hamilton Island to Airlie Beach. This takes about an hour and will set you back 60 USD. 

Airlie Beach harbour is buzzing. A vibrant beach, very much the hub for people either heading off to Whitsunday Island, The Great Barrier Reef or Fraser Island. I stayed there for 4 days and didn't see the same face twice. 

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I booked ahead for the tour through Red Cat Adventures (not affiliated) although if you have time it might be an idea for you to rock up on Airlie Beach and ask around the various travel agents. Ask for the best price, also if you're staying on a boat or hotel. I've heard the boats are more community focused if you're wanting a more social experience. 

There's many tours. You can book in advance, but you can also rock up on the day and choose a tour that’s right for you. I opted for the Ride to Paradise tour. Which is now the new name I give to my little gentleman. Replacing his previous alias, Big Wednesday

As you'll see in my video I got to enjoy many splendours. Including relaxing in a hammock with a gorgeous cup of tea overlooking the stretched greens and unspoilt beaches. The dorms were plush; fit for a James Bond film. The food was inclusive and included BBQ grilled fish put on by the crew. 

Included in the package is snorkelling, canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Sure the weather wasn't the best. Rained at times and the clouds looked murderous on some days. Still, made for some great photos that I'll include here.

Overall one off the bucket list and a very well put together tour. If you have any questions about Whitsundays then drop me a comment and I'll help out where I can. 

 

 

Carl‘s Island Inn in Bantayan Island: Hotel Review

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I need to tell you about Carl's place. I know, you're probably going to expect me to make some pithy remark about nominative determinism. Still you have to admit it's a little uncanny right? 

Carl‘s Island Inn in Bantayan Island became my sanctuary for a few days. It has the basic amenities, fridge, shower, toiletries. The WiFi is super quick and I got satellite TV in my bedroom. 

What really distinguishes Carl‘s Island Inn like no other place is the service offered. I'd like to think it's because my name is Carl that I got a few special handshakes from the help. Who knows. But everyone came armed with a smile on their face. 

The Hotel is ran by a German-Filipino Couple. The Owner Karsten treated me like royalty and gave me a decent itinerary. He helped me organise some scooters and pointed me in the right direction as to where I could hire a boat to see some Whale Shark Site Seeing! If you want shuttle to the docks they will drive you with their private tricycle. Tony the concierge come-super hero transporter always had a smile on his face and made every trip seem like a pleasure. 

Carl‘s Island Inn is a short five minute walk from the beach and circa 15 minute walk from the city centre. Your best bet is to rent a scooter from the hotel and explore the island. The breakfast was healthy and had a good range. Continental mostly and included in the bill so no hidden costs on checkout. 

Personal note. You'll do well to eat healthy in the Philippines. Outside of The Farm in San Benito I've found the country crucially devoid of any healthy restaurants. It's not like the Bali vibe where you have smoothie stalls at every turn. It's very westernised, very fried chicken and not finger lickin' good. 

It's a very eco-conscious hotel that allows you to refill your bottle for free. They lend you a reusable stainless steel water bottle and canvas tote during your stay so you don't add to the single use plastic waste. Thumbs up for that one! 

Carl‘s Island Inn has only been open a short spell. Not even had a review on Trip Advisor yet at the time of me writing this. I'd say it's got a great future ahead of it. 

 

Bali Destination Guide: Seminyak - Gili Islands - Canngu - Ubud - Uluwatu

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Today I'm going to give you a brief destination guide and things to do in Bali. On my trip so far I've managed to cover Seminyak, Gili Islands, Canngu, Ubud and Uluwatu.

My thoughts on SEMINYAK

This is the most touristy part of Bali. I flew into the Ngurah Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar Airport, which is roughly 10k outside of Seminyak.

If you're wondering where to stay in Bali, I spent a couple of nights in the Legian which you can read about on my blog here.

There are plenty of options, mainly a lot of swanky beach clubs on the beach front and they have been done up nice. Clearly there's been a lot of money invested here in Seminyak over the past decade.

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My only reservations about Seminyak is that it feels very disjointed. It's too hot to walk anywhere and the place is very dispersed with bars and beaches sprawled out. Taxi's to and from is the only way to fly in this place. Like most touristy places I find it lacks a certain character, or soul. 

That said, if you like your creature comforts then find the right spot and drop anchor. Albeit in a hotel or bar along the beach. The beaches are long, white and the waves look like something you'd see from the final act of Point Break.

Next stop I ventured 20 minutes up the coast to Canngu. 

What's it like in Canngu?

The vibe is better in Canngu. My kind of place really. You know when you're feeling right at home when you start searching for prices of local real estate. 

I had the privilege of staying in one of the most amazing hostels. It was owned by a Turkish gentleman, a very kind and gentle soul. There were beers in the fridge and you paid it like an honesty box. 

Even on check in I asked does he want me to pay now? He insisted I pay when I was ready and already a bond was formed. I had a private room which cost me no more than £10-£15 a night. 

The hostel was populated by an assortment of wildlife. Cats, dogs, goats and what not. All seemingly sunning themselves on barker loungers like they owned the place. 

As a bonus I found a great barber nearby a decent cross-fit gym and a tattoo parlour. 

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By means of getting around you'll need a moped. Remember to go slow around corners. Ideally you need to be getting used to a moped before you head out here. It's actually easier to go fast than it is to go slow. Going fast on the straights no problem. Slowly negotiating bends in the rain takes more due diligence

Canngu is filled with creative people, artisans. They have the right kind of crowds in this place. And there's more to Canngu than just the beach bars. The food is great, it's very wellness-focused. You'll find plant food restaurants, smoothie bars etc. Also the bars sell all kind of milk for those that are lactose intolerant. 

From there I ventured down to Uluwatu

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I had a press discount stay at the Six Senses in Uluwatu. An incredibly picturesque and romantic cliff face resort. I have written all about my stay in the resort here

Uluwatu is really a surfers paradise. It's quiet not much to do. It's littered with taxis. Like Seminyak its equally dispersed, but less intense. Lets move on to Ubud. 

The jungle with 1000 temples

You heard me. Ubud can only be described as the jungle with 1000 temples. It is one of the most beautiful, serene and quaint places you'll ever visit.

You'll have an orgy of wellness hotels to choose from. You may have heard of this place through the yoga retreats that are rife here. 

Ubud really is one of the best places to visit in Bali. 

The Gili Islands 

Lastly I just want to touch on the Gili Islands. Made up of three islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. If you want to know where the best place to stay on Gili T is then check out my review of Gilifit hostel on the blog

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In Gili Trawangan the nightlife isn't the best for my money. Still there is plenty of fun to be had, fellow travellers converge and it's a chilled atmosphere. One of the most enjoyable must do things in Gili is the snorkeling. You can scuba dive, hang around and do some work if you have to in the sunset bars. Once you're in the sea you're never more than 10 metres away from a turtle. one even photobombed my photo. 

For cafes check out the Banyan cafe, they do the best smoothies and breakfast bowls in Gili T. To get around you'll have to cycle as there are no cars on the island. 

 

Top London Architecture Accounts to Follow on Instagram

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I don't care what you say, this is the best City in the world. We have the bars, the cuisine, the architecture, the history, Savile Row, Carnaby, Soho, need I go on?

If you're not living in London you might follow these generic 'Top London Accounts' and get some beautiful airbrushed pictures that turn London into Disneyland.

Today we're going to zero in on the Top London Architecture accounts to follow on Instagram. It will be a very real authentic look at London, I recommend you follow these Instagram accounts from the people that truly love this city as much as I.

Hazem Aljarallah

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Top of the tree. (See photos above). Every picture looks like it could be its own movie. There's not much to go in Hazem's bio, but his pictures tell many stories. 

Adam Sheath

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Adam has a distilled beauty to his work. Taking little less known pictures that others would miss. (See above). Such as the puddle reflections in the Soho lights as opposed to the lights themselves.

Adam is a London based graphic designer & photographer. Hit me up Adam, be great to do a shoot with you someday.

Brutal Architecture

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Okay so not exclusive to London, but there are many London posts on this account. For those that have to take pictures of London landmarks like Centre Point and the Welbeck carpark, this is the account for you.

New London Architects

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No one paints a better picture of London than these guys. They're bio reads 'Bringing people together to shape a better city'. Which is bunch of empty calories to be honest, but you can't argue that the pictures show you many sides of beautiful London.

David Bleeker

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Oooh check out this fella. I once heard the art to taking a great picture is all in the framing. Well David certainly knows how to frame London in a stunning way. Geometrically my favourite of the bunch so far.

Derelict London

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I don't know about you but there is something dirty/beautiful about forgotten parts of London. It has a serene sadness to it. Many parts of London have suffered due to several boom-bust social economic vicissitudes over the years.

Paul Tallin, author of Derelict London & London's Lost Rivers also does walking tours.

Oman | The Places to Stay and Things to See

I spent ten days in Oman and I'll probably chalk this up as one of the bets experiences I've had in my life. I'm dating a classic heliotrope, meaning each year on Boxing Day we migrate somewhere where's sun, leave blighty and it's endearing yet terminally awful weather behind. 

We've had 2 fruitless excursions in the past couple of years. Last year was Cuba, modest sun and a beach rife with semi-dead man of war jelly fish. The year before that was Cyprus, equally mediocre.

This year there was no messing. We went to Oman where the temperatures never dropped below 22 degrees. We had a fully guided tour with Explore Muscat (not affiliated, just wanted to give them a shout) and in this article I want to share some tips and places worth visiting.

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GET A VISA

Yep, we didn't bother. They introduced Visa requirements early last year and now you have to pay a small sum of £30-ish to get in. Only because we only got these last minute we had to pay double to fast track them. Very annoying.

DECENT SUNGLASSES A MUST

The streets are so shiny and reflective out there, that your eyes get no respite from the sun. I brought my Lacoste glasses but they weren't designed for this level of intensity. Of course plenty of tanning lotion and aftercare lotion will be required.

FLIP FLOPS & HIKING SHOES

You'll need to take your flip flops when traversing through the Wadi's. But be sure to pack both because you'll be doing a lot of walking, hiking and trudging through desert dunes. 

MUST SEE's 

THE LOST FOOTBALL PITCH

The Football pitch in the mountains. Firstly the 4x4 ride through the mountains is white knuckle enough. Then out of nowhere a football pitch appears over the crest of a hill. It looks entirely misplaced and abandoned, but the design is quite deliberate. The villages come and play of a late afternoon/evening when the air is cooler and it's beautifully maintained. Again, no tourists! 

THE BIMAR SINKHOLE 

This is where it's good to have a tour guide. We saw a dozen or so drivers making wrong turns, U-Turns; you'd think they were looking for the Holy Grail. The Sat Nav is not exact science out here and it's sometimes best to rely on local knowledge. 

When the Bimah Sinkhole comes into view it's quite jaw dropping. Especially as it's so close from the coast. There will be a few people there but not too many to enjoy your swim should you choose. 

WAHIBA SANDS

You can sleep out in the desert. We stayed in a campsite called the Desert Wonders Camp for just under £90. It was very basic (I don't think we even had access to charge points) but it was perfect for our needs. 

Again the thrill of running down those dunes in that 4X4 was just something else. Imagine your best Alton Towers ride, this experience squashes that like broken biscuits. Be warned the temperature drops massively at night and you'll need a few layers to sleep in. I actually got no sleep that night due to the cold. 

SNAKE GORGE / WADI BANI 

For this you'll need to have some dexterity, some balls, and a guide that can traverse all the slopes and hazards. Our guide Muhammed I coined Wadiman. He even gave me his flip flops halfway through as I had abandoned my gripless Kurt Geigers. 

You can have accidents down in the gorge. In fact, if you Google Snake Gorge you'll come up with 'Snake Gorge Oman' followed by 'Snake Gorge Oman Deaths'. Luckily I only learnt about the horror stories after we had successfully negotiated this beautiful canyon. 

My advice is leave your belongings, get a Go-Pro or a waterproof case for your mobile. It's not Mission Impossible, but not for snowflakes neither. 

FAZAYAH BEACH

As part of our trip to Oman we caught a flight down to Salalah. This is where you'll find the better beaches. We were warned that there is not much else to do in Salalah.

However, I encourage you to make the trip. Either a 12 hour car ride or a short flight. It's the best way to decompress after what could be a vigorous few days in and around Oman. 

But there are many things to see in Salalah. The Frankincense trees are UNESCO protected and only grow in this part of the world. There is a waterfall and some beautiful coastal views. 

Lastly, you can drive down to the Fazayah Beach where you'll find the Raysut II wreck grounded during a cyclone in May 2018. 

I have posted a full guide on my own YouTube site for people wanting to know more. If you have any questions on your upcoming tour of Oman then please get in touch by leaving a comment in one of the videos. 

Blog Post Written by Peter Brooker from Human Research.

Is This the Most Instagrammable Hotel in Bali? The Udaya Resort & Spa

If ever there was a hotel designed purely for that perfect Instagram photo, the Udaya Resort and Spa in Ubud is it. This was my final destination on my trip through Indonesia. Without your realising you may have already seen photos of this hotel in your feed or in a distant utopian dream. 

Women will love this place because it looks like something from a Disney film. Guys you'll love it too because your woman will be telling all her mates about this place and it was all your idea! The only downside is she'll be asking you to take her picture every five seconds. Either in a bathtub full of rose petals or of her eating breakfast in the pool on a tray made from floating bamboo. 

Do I get my own pool? 

Only if you book your own private villa and that is naturally, more expensive. Outside of that you will get a perfectly awesome pool that is communal but relaxing enough. 

What's in the Cultural Package? 

Admittedly I booked this package by mistake. However, a lucky accident as it came with a double bed suite, an elongated balcony, more plug sockets than a Bond Villains lair, the shower pressure reminds me that London sucks in general, 2 x spa treatments, a free lunch and dinner and a full one day tour of Bali. Anywhere you want to go! 

How much did it cost? 

£225 all in. A day! But you do get breakfast included (banana pancakes!) and afternoon tea around 2-5pm. There is evening entertainment with dancers and BBQ's. I also splashed out on 2 x 60 minute Balinese massages, but you need to book ahead for those. 

Summary

This is more of a lovers retreat than a backpackers destination. Sadly I was alone at this point of my travels, point so I had to indulge in a candlelight rooftop dinner for one. Naturally the service is something you'd expect from a luxury resort; impeccable. The complimentary yoga sessions were the perfect way to start your day.

 

GiliFit Hostel Review: where Rocky would stay on Gili Trawangan

I heard a lot of mixed reviews about GiliFit in the lead up to my stay. GiliFit is not your 5 star Shangri-La so anyone heading to the only gym on the island of Trawangan, should first manage their expectations. That said, if your expectations on an exotic island of idyllic retreat is to find a place with helpful staff, the basic amenities and a place of character then this is certainly a decent fit. 

Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the Gili islands which can be found nested quaintly off the off the north-western shore of Bali’s neighbour, Lombok. Tourists flock to the Gili islands mainly for the diving of which there are centres on all three islands Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. 

Gili Trawangan is modest, you can walk the 7km shoreline in a matter of hours. One side of the island is more rambunctious, club-heavy, the other more tranquil and less trodden. 

GiliFit is the only gym on the island, or so I thought. There is a new gym that's opened within the busy-quarter. However, as with most modern shiny new things, it lacks the character of its counterparts. 

This gym very much feels like where Rocky would chop some wood and grow a beard, the other is more Drago-driven. 

There’s a cardio studio then the weights studio and also some free-weights outside to use. Sure there may be a little rust on the bars, but it’s part of the charm. I recommend hiring a push bike and doing a lap around the island. 

For just under £20 a night you'll be given all the basic amenities; hot water, a pool, air-conditioning, a bed, and even a tele with English speaking channels. You'll also have access to a personal trainer. Myself and my travel buddy This is Timothy enjoyed a brutal MMA workout with personal trainer Ri. 

Ri was is of Ugandan/South African descent and contorted me into shapes like he was playing a cootie catcher. (That's a deep pull for you kids). On hand are all the necessary supplements to keep you on the healthy train; protein shakes, juices, nutrition bars etc. 

Summary

Yes you'll find plenty of excoriating reviews online of GiliFit, some comparing it to a builders site etc. Some of these are old reviews. I have not received sponsorship nor any special treatment in exchange for this editorial. I was just taken in by the staff, to quote Russell Brand 'the heat of their sweetness could melt ice cones'. 

My advice is embrace the true 'Castway' vibe of this island. Forget about your hair-curlers or having the butler on call to point your toilet paper.

GiliFit is only like 5 minute walk from the main strip on the Eastern side of the island and a 15 minute walk from all the bars and nightclubs. 

COMING TO LONDON? How expensive is London?

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You might be thinking of moving to London this year. I've got some news for you, it comes at a premium. I wanted to share with you some of the outgoings I have and ways you guys can save some money. 

Cost of Fish and Chips 

Yes this is the most pressing thing. Now I'm a man of the people, I know a pint of Soya milk is £1.60 from the local co-op. However, dependent on where you go in London the cost of a bag of fish and chips will fluctuate. 

Here in London you should expect to pay double for the price of fish and chips than you would anywhere else in the UK. Undoubtedly the best place to get Fish and Chips is in any of the Ivy restaurants in London, priced at £14.75. 

According to the latest article on the average price for Fish and Chips in London the average cost of a regular cod in London is £7.60. 

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Gym 

As you know I go to KOBOX, and would absolutely recommend that if you're looking to join a gym in London you subscribe to KOBOX to improve your network, your fitness and also your self defense skills. A single class is £20 but you can buy them in bulk for a bargain discount. 

A regular subscription at Virgin Active will cost you north of £85 a month. But with that you can go to regular spin classes, yoga classes and Pilates. 

Cinema 

The infamous ODEON of Leicester Square where most of the London premieres are held will cost you from £10 a ticket. If you want to catch an afternoon showing of Bohemian Rhapsody for example that will cost you £13.25. 

It's been ridiculed in the press recently as some prices can go up to £40. But then again, the IMAX over the road will charge similar amounts. 

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How much for a pint of ale in London? 

It will vary of course, but let me tell you something. We make some of the best ale in the world. Our craft beer in this country is second to none and if you really want to treat yourself and safe some money then invest in a Craft beer subscription box like DiscoverBrew

Surrey is now the most expensive part of the world to buy a pint and the average pint in London costs £4.08, according to the Good Pub Guide

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How much for a Savile Row Suit? 

Well check you out! Flying into London for the weekend, may as well pick up a Savile Row suit whilst you're here eh? Like your style, pun intended. 

According to Beam Fashion, Prices for a bespoke suit start at nearly £5,000 and can go up £10,000 for very exclusive materials. (Silk, Mohair, or a 150 Merino wool). 

The ready-to-wear suits are available starting from £2,200, (although Chester Barrie will have discounted 2-piece ready to wear for half that). 

Don't forget you'll need some shirts, and whilst a trip to Jermyn Street where you'll find Turnbull & Asser, Emma Willis and New & Lingwood will be a box-ticked, you might need something more accessible (price wise at least). 

You can get a Hawkins & Shepherd shirt for as little as £54 if you sign up to a shirt subscription service today. 

 

TRAVEL BAG: The tech gear I take on holiday

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Whilst  I'm out here in Bali (currently in Ubud) and have a bit of downtime, I'm wanting to give you a quick update on some of the tools I've brought with me.

I don't claim to be the most proficient travel bloggers, there are people out there that do it for a living. However, I'm looking to escape London more this year, and already I've got some tools and tips to share with you.

BEFORE YOU TRAVEL ANYWHERE! 

Get a Visa. I know it sounds obvious but some countries have only just introduced this. An example would be my friend Pete Brooker from Human Research who went to Oman and only checked the night before the flight that he needed a visa. He had to pay double to fast track it, so double check ahead of time! Even Visa on arrival can have prerequisites, such as for Indonesia you have to show a pre-booked return flight out of the country with the 30 day Visa on arrival limit - you’ll also need to show this at check-in otherwise you’ll not be allowed to fly.

THE CAMERA 

I’m obsessed with my SONY A7S2 camera, which I take with me everywhere. The video is full-frame 100 frames per second in 4k and the stills are amazing using ZEISS lenses. If you want a tutorial in setting up your SONY a7sii, I have written one here. I also use a Canon G7X (mainly for vlogging) and you can pick these up now for under £500 on Amazon. They record in 4k and are light and compact, perfect for traveling.  It has a flip round screen so you can document yourself if that's your style.

THE GIMBAL

I'm now getting into using a Gimbal, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is an awesome bit of kit that can be snapped up for just under £120. It's nimble light, easy to use and just takes those vlogs to the next level. The only pain is that it's Chinese and there are no English instructions, but I picked up everything as I went and there are plenty of online tutorials.

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THE ZOOM H1 

I always pack the little handy Zoom H1 recorder when I travel, it's a great way to keep notes on where you're going, how much things cost, etc. All these details will become priceless when you get home and you want to type up your blog.

I also like to just chat into the Dictaphone and describe the scenery, externalise and basically ramble my thoughts. This is also a useful tool if you want to conduct interviews. Other accessories you'll need for a decent close up sound will be a RØDE Lapel Mic and the RØDE SC3 iPhone Accessory. 

UNIVERSAL CHARGER & HARD DRIVE

It's nutty that these things make the essential lists but you don't want to be found out. Needing to charge your farm whilst on the go is key so be prepared. I use a Dynamode external hard drive that I've had for years. (Dropped and bandaged up plenty of times but still going).

More current ones can be found cheaply. Toshiba do External hard drives up  to 500GB now for £50. Remember video files are much larger than jpg's and you don't want to run out of space.

Of course a universal charger you can find at the airport. 

 

A Quick History of Menabrea | Italy’s Iconic Brewery

What an incredible place Milan is. It has a unique energy, steeped in history, the architecture is beguiling and importantly, the beer is sensational. Last week I was introduced to the wonderment that is Menabrea beer, with a guided tour of Italy’s iconic Menabrea Brewery with Menabrea’s master brewer and 5th generation of the Thedy brewing family, Franco Thedy, as my personal guide.

In 1846, Giuseppe Menabrea travelled to the town of Biella in the foothills of the Italian Alps. There he discovered an underground cave system, ideal for the traditional process of 'lagering'.

The combined elements of pure water and cold fresh air of the region made conditions conducive to build a brewery.

Fresh off the plane, a lunchtime arrival in Milan and I was quickly chaperoned through the provenance of authentic Italy, stepping off the beaten track to explore the historic town of Biella. There, residing in the foothills of the Alps – the birthplace of Italy’s premium Birra, the Menabrea brewery. 

When you visit Biella, you'll still find Menabrea brewing their award-winning beer on the same site, made in the same way, by the same family, with the same ingredients, passion and care.

Biella is a northern Italian town situated midway between the two historic cities of Milan and Turin; it’s nestled in the Bo mountain range in the foothills of the Alps – an area rich in springs and lakes.

The brewery has that inimitable Italian beauty, an eclectic blend of historic brickwork, vaulted ceilings, now modernised with sophisticated production lines carefully manicured by the dedicated staff that oversee operations. 

Both varieties of Menabrea (Blonde and amber) are matured gently in the perfect temperature of the brewery’s cave cellars for a taste of superior clarity, made with alpine water, and distributed around the world.

The blonde (Bionda) is my go-to beer, a sumptuous blend of citrus, bitter tones and floral, fruity undertones giving a consistent and refined flavour. It has a complex malty, hoppy taste with exceptional head retention due to the quality of the ingredients and maturation process.

The Amber beer (Ambratta) is served at a  A 5.0% ABV amber beer, full bodied and well rounded, with a moderately bitter flavour. Amber in colour with bronze undertones, this lager is another example of the brewery's exceptional capabilities.

Whilst in the UK we serve scampi fries and pepperoni's to caveat the blandness of our beers, in Italy there is no need for such apology.

In classic establishments, serving a Menebrea is usually accompanied with an aperitivo - traditionally a bowl of olives or nuts as something to whet the appetite so you can sit back and savour la birra perfetta. We also had a chance to attach some ‘Sbirro’ to the tasting, a Menabrea-infused cheese fresh from the cheese factory situated next door. 

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Milan is the metropolis of northern Italy, the global capital of fashion and design, and a hub for first class arts, culture and hospitality in Europe.

Biella is a nippy one hour drive from Milan and well worth the detour should you be looking to escape the city for a day or so. You can enjoy lunch al fresco at Menabrea Brewery Restaurant before taking a tour of the brewery and cheese factory.

Milan of course is dripping with fantastic bars and restaurants that I was lucky enough to frequent during my brief stay. The famous Duomo di Milano, Galleria et Emmanuelle (don't forget to twist your heel in the mosaic Bulls' testes 3 times for good luck) not to mention the Italian nightlife culture along the famous Ripa di Porta canal.

 

Lastly, I know I get a lot of comments from people saying how they're super jealous of me travelling here there and everywhere. Well soon you'll also be able to enjoy a pint in northern Italy’s beautiful town of Biella, exploring Menabrea’s historic brewery. 

That's right I'm talking about my new teleport machine that I've toiling away with for the past couple of months. You've all seen The Fly? Imagine that, without the wires. And the carnage. 

Of course I jest, but a visit to the Menabrea brewery is made possible through virtual reality technology. Menabrea will be touring restaurants and premium bars across the UK with the VR experience - offering a 360degree tour of Italy’s oldest brewery. 

The VR tour can be experienced later this year in selected bars in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. More details will be available at Menabrea UK on Facebook.

Es Saadi Marrakech Resort | Hotel Review

The other week I took a mini trip over to Es Saadi, a luxury 5 star hotel and resort that boasts eight hectares of gardens in the heart of Marrakech. The resort sits in a lavish private park where you'll be invited to unburden your city woes to the singing birds that thrive amongst the palm trees, banana trees, olive trees, bougainvillea and small roses of Marrakesh.

The resort reflects a rich cultural heritage, and since 1952 has housed some of icons of mine and bygone eras; the couturier Balmain, Josephine Baker, the Rolling Stones and Leonardo DiCaprio have all frequented. 

Footnote - I did enjoy the caption on the companies website;

As you enter the hotel grounds, you have to imagine Mick Jagger, who is young, posing by the pool, .. (let's not think of a 75 year old wrinkly Mick Jagger clutching onto an 18 year old cocktail waitress shall we?). 

Here, the walls and furniture have kept the legendary Es Saadi intact, with 50's lines that delight connoisseurs. Examples of Moroccan art can be seen on every wall and corridor. It's emblematic of the young artists in the country that provide a great source of optimism and energy to the decor. 

On the quest for 'best son 2018' I took my Mum who conveniently seconded as my camera-woman for the trip. Mum is a dab hand in the kitchen so luckily the boys in the kitchen at the Moroccan restaurant Coeur des Lions and at the Gastronomic French restaurant did not disappoint. A great breadth of wines and cocktails are on hand at the Palace. 

The Spa with the indoor pool is a bloggers dream and I certainly dipped my bread, getting enough 'throwback' pictures to last me through a nuclear winter. 

The Es Saadi is conveniently located, a short ten minute ride by taxi and the old town is about 25 minutes on foot. I can recommend. It's a little slice of heaven if one wants an option to stay out of Medina and very reasonably priced too.

 

HOTEL ES SAADI MARRAKECH LOCATION

Your Bitesize Guide to Cambodia

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The Golden Temple Residence in Cambodia is one of the most enchanting hotels you could wish to visit. Located in the heart of Siem Reap, this modern hotel offers free airport shuttle services, and is only 4 miles away from the famous Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Angkor Night Market is 100 yards away and whilst the hawker food market is an enjoyable experience, I'd steer clear of eating any of the street food. (Safe to say it did my constitution a disservice). 

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The hotel has this free architecture design, where nature and architecture are combined. This is achieved by an open restaurant that overlooks the pool and performance stage where daily Apsara entertainment shows can also be enjoyed. 

Remarkably the food is very cheap but it's the quality of the service that really distinguishes this hotel from its contemporaries. Getting a lift back to the airport in the owner’s vintage Cadillac was a real treat. 

 

Where to eat in Siem Reap? 

Well thanks to getting knocked out for a day or two by some dodgy street food, I was unable to dip into the local cuisine. By the time my stomach had climatised I just made do with the hotel food.

Although to say 'made do' is something of an understatement. There is a delectable spread of authentic Khmer-style meals and popular Western delights can be enjoyed at the on-site restaurant.

On the last night I summoned the strength to eat out and we ventured down Pub Street. Yep, that's a real name and a real place. It's like a gentrified version of Ha Noi, decent enough to kill a couple of hours.

 

Things to do in Siem Riep

I would say you'll only need one day in Angkor Wat. You'll need to get there as early as possible to avoid the mania. That said, it's still out of control with Chinese tourists. Everyone will head to the Ta Prohm Temple featured in Tomb Raider, which is understandable as it is spectacular. 

The foot massages are fun and relaxing. You'll get endlessly heckled into having one so you may as well. Take a book to read or something because you won't be stimulated with conversation. 

Food tour. Ok I am going to recommend this because it was utterly bananas. I watched our guide eat a whole manner of creepy crawlies. It was like something out of Temple of Doom. However, I will caveat that by saying I felt demonstrably ill the next day. It could have been the scorpions, the ants, the tarantulas (yes they eat them out there) who knows. 

For this tour we used Urban Adventures and a gentleman called Kim showed us round. He had a great sense of humour and I enjoyed his company immensely. 

There is the Reclining Buddha in at the top of Phnom Kulen. However, this was on the day where I was becoming dependent on nearby facilities so I let the group go on without me. 

I got 'ok-ish' reviews from the group on their return, but we had seen a lot of Buddha’s already in Bangkok by this point. 

The waterfall in Phnom Kulen was the only highlight of the tour for me that day, most of it was spent in the van convalescing. 

 

Last crucial tip about traveling to Cambodia

We got stiffed at the airport for not having any US dollars. We had to pay some odd VISA fine that really took the jam out of my doughnut. The airport is a zoo, not Cuba-zoo standards (that really is where travel bloggers go to die) but a soul destroying experience. 

 

Why I Love London by Carl Thompson Men's Lifestyle Blogger

London, whichever way you slice it is one of the best cities in the world. It is an endless opus of historical virtue populated by rampant-hungry minds that questingly seek the latest fashion, the newest pop-up, the most instagrammable, yet unmolested touchstones of the city. Notice how I'm not saying its traditional, yet contemporary. I refuse!

The pace isn't as breakneck as you might think. (Waitrose opens at 11am on a Sunday in Marylebone). London isn't so much the city that never sleeps, moreover the city that likes a lie in.

That said we're not Paris. Our streets are cleaner, marginally. Not Swiss standard clean, and we'll never reach the unassailable cleanliness of Singapore clean, but we're certainly cleaner than Paris. Our food is better and more diverse also.

I'm in London for the Weekend Carl, what can I do?

In London with the missus? Head to the Olympic Park and take up the ArcelorMittal Orbit. That is not a euphemism. It's actually an awesome day out, you'll get to Ride the Slide and get some great vantage views of the city. London is flat as heck from up there and you can see over 20km out.

In the summer months the green park nearby is perfect for a picnic and there are places to eat, paddle along the Waterworks River, get lost. I'm surprised people don't sing about this place more. Or maybe they do.

How do I meet people in London?

How do you not meet people in London? My eyes boggle at the endless reams of events you can find on various forums such as Skint London, etc. There are countless book signings where you can meet likeminded souls into the same authors as you. Of course there is always Tinder, Bumble, Match.com and endless other dating apps that can be used to meet single people in the city. 

There are circa 400 libraries in London, each will host a chess club, a comic book club, a photography club etc. London also has a high number of free museums (pay a donation) where you can meet locals and tourists, so go check it out.

Into exercise?

You get to expand your network exponentially at fitness classes. KOBOX is my go-to favourite that has a real sense of community spirit. There's Barry's Bootcamp in Euston and Liverpool St, but you need to book. I know people are getting mad into these boot camps of late.

You can also join a London Walking Tour. There are plenty of those that will encourage you wear comfortable shoes because you'll cover around 10k on a two-hour tour. Not only will you get to meet people, (around 20-30 people go per walk) you get to learn the History of London and see some hidden gems.

And what if I want to treat the missus, where are the best restaurants in London?

This is all depending on budget. I'm not going to go into a lengthy listicle of what restaurants to frequent as there are way too many and a thing called Trip Advisor exists. (Although Trip Advisor is NOT king. How many people do you know that actually know anything about food? And let's not forget a man in a garden shed was once rated number one restaurant in London on Trip Advisor).

I will say that Liverpool Street has the Ivy Gardens two minutes’ walk from the station. They don't allow any photography inside, which is a shame because you'd love to brag about this place.

Mid-level pricing for London standards (£15 for fish and chips). The food is wonderful, there's enough on the plate (unlike the flatulently overpriced Cinnamon Kitchen also in Liverpool St) and the underpinning romanticism that you feel within the floral surrounding is inescapable.

Like dining in a theatre production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream without the drugs.

And finally?

And finally no. There is no finally, no finite conclusion, no completed script. London is an open ticket, difficult to chapterise, impossible to cover in a single blog. If you're coming to London, then you'll want a plan. Getting lost is ok, but it's not like getting lost in Venice. Venice is a fairyland City straight out of a Spielberg movie. 

London has more serious edges. But that's what I love about it. 

The Philippines: Home of Don Papa Rum & The Land of Smiles

The Philippines is a fascinating country of contrasts; of tranquil countryside and noisy urban sprawl; of vertiginous mountains and golden beaches; grinding poverty and ostentatious wealth. Many of the rural farmers carry on as though the last couple of hundred years never happened, while just up the road are humming mega-cities that appear transported from the future. It’s not a place for doing things by half.

I was lucky enough to spend the very best part of a week here recently at a few contrasting hotels. The first was a high rise in the relatively sleepy Bacolod City. The other, an oasis of calm in the chaos of Manilla, all thanks to Don Papa rum who invited a selection of the UK's top press and bloggers to experience this beautiful country where they make their famous rum. 

Don Papa Rum is a genuine Philippine premium rum, inspired by the island’s legendary revolutionary leader, Papa Isio and the dream-like landscape, Don Papa was launched in 2012 and now present in over 20 countries including France, Germany, Spain, UK, United States of America, South Africa, Belgium, Italy, and Japan.

The Seda Capitol Central hotel is smack bang in the middle of the ‘City of Smiles’ – Bacolod which is the capital of Negros island aka Sugerlandia, where Don Papa grows, harvests and processes the raw material sugar cane which produces the molasses for their rum. Efficiently, a short drive away is the Bago Distillery where the molasses is fermented, distilled, aged and turned into the finished product ready to be shipped and bottled.

The Philippines is the 3rd largest rum market worldwide with annual volumes of c. 15 Million cases, although most of this is for domestic consumption.
Starting from a small base, exports are increasing rapidly with annual growth of + 30% vs LY.
— Stephen Carroll, Don Papa's Founder

The first of these smiles was waiting for us at the airport, where our super friendly driver, Bayani, greeted us. It’s often said of a country that its greatest natural resource is its people. This isn’t always true, but it definitely is with the Philippines. The genuine friendliness and willingness to go out of their way to help were a constant throughout our stay.

Once at the hotel we were ready for a siesta, so after a long trip it was a relief to find that it errs on the side of luxurious. The entire hotel is very tastefully furnished – light and airy, rather than cosy, which of course is the last thing you need here! There’s good wifi throughout, much-needed air conditioning and an excellent, also much-needed, pool. The bed was one of those King-size+ jobs; you almost needed Satnav to find your way out. 

The brand new building overlooks the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, the Negros museum and the capitol building itself. Of course, being so central, it’s walking distance to everything, including Pala Pala seafood market, barely five minutes away and another five to the spectacular San Sebastian Church. As usual, when this close to the equator I divided my time between sightseeing outside and ducking into shops or popping back to the hotel for a little air-conditioned relief. It was great having such a central base that allowed us to do this. 

Before heading to the airport we had to fully immerse ourselves in the Filippino lifestyle, which for us Brits is a visit to a secluded island staying in traditional beach huts and we found this paradise in Lakawon. Finally we left time to visit the beautiful Ledesma ruins in neighbouring Talisay City. This was a little different to the English ruins I’ve become accustomed to. While those date back to medieval or even Roman times, Ledesma was built only last century. Despite the condensed history it’s well worth a visit, especially if you can arrange one around sunset. It made for a beautiful, romantic end to our visit to the city of smiles.

Flights from the UK: I flew with Philippine Airlines where you can experience service from the heart onboard the Philippines' only 4-star airline. Flying non-stop daily between London Heathrow and Manila, Philippine Airlines has full-flat beds in Business, with Economy Class also equipped with personal TVs, USB ports and onboard wi-fi. Enjoy in-flight dining with a vibrant mix of Asian, Spanish and American cuisine offering a mosaic of flavours that are all passionately prepared.

Here are the lead-in fares: 
LHR-MNL from GBP 579
LHR-BCD from GBP 670
 
Business (promo):
LHR-MNL from GBP 2989
LHR-BCD from GBP 3079

salamat sa pagkakaroon mo sa amin (thank you for having us).

Next stop, Manila…

The Henry Hotel Manila | Reviewed

Manila is not somewhere you go to get away from it all, it’s somewhere you go to embrace it all...all the honking, beeping, bartering, sweating, struggling, life that East Asia has to offer crammed into 16 square miles. It’s the most densely populated city on earth; there’s more humanity per square, sweaty inch here than anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully I’d organised a transfer with Henry hotel, so another smiling driver was waiting to whisk us away to this little oasis in the city…somewhere to get away from Manila, while staying right in it.

The Henry hotel is a beautiful, award winning colonial style hotel, barely ten minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s such a pleasant hideaway that I was sorely tempted to just hole up here for our entire Manila stay.

On our first day we did a very little of the semi-compulsory historica, taking in Intramuros (the walled city). However I’ve had my fill of churches recently and Manilla really feels like a modern, perhaps even futuristic city, so this was mainly the side we explored.

I enjoy aquariums so this was our next stop. This has all the usual bells and wet whistles you’d expect from a major city’s aquarium – an oceanarium, a transparent tunnel so you can walk through the middle of the ocean-within-an-ocean and tropical fish and tortoises aplenty. But what separates this aquarium from others like it are the experiences: swimming with sea lions, sting rays and even donning a mermaid/merman costume and learning to swim like a giant fish.

Day two was a lazier affair – a short walk to the shops…all of them…at once. The nearby Mall of Asia is a city under (and on top of) a roof. There really is everything here – cinemas, swimming pools, an ice rink, an enormous ferris wheel, numerous miniature gardens, a planetarium, all the restaurants under the sun (or at least hiding from it)…and it never ends; at one stage I could swear we were nearly back at my place in London…

After that we meandered back to the hotel and straight into the big beautiful pool.

I did enjoy Manila but I’m not sure I could live here. It’s a constant assault on the senses.

I could, however, quite happily settle down in the Henry hotel. Like many things in this part of the world it’s younger than it seems. Built just after the War, it has a turn-of-the-century look and feel. It’s a tropical homestead, complete with Spanish moss draped across the many trees in the surrounding gardens/jungle. The style is cool, minimal and understated throughout.

The service was also excellent while still managing to be relaxed and not in the least bit officious.

We were lucky enough to have booked the garden suite and I’m so glad we did. It resembles an antipodean bach or a Finnish sauna, though of course the last thing you’d want to do here is add more heat. The semi-outdoor rain shower adjoining the back of our suite added to the sense of being at one with nature, an amazing feat given the proximity to manic Manila.

There’s a small outdoor patio where we breakfasted before retreating back to cool, air-conditioned bliss.

It’s no surprise it has so many glowing five star reviews, nominations and awards. It deserves all of them and more. Quite simply, if you’re going to Manila, book early and go the Henry Hotel.  

 

THE HENRY HOTEL MANILA PHILIPPINES

Introducing Salt & Saunter on International Women's Day | The Art of Destination Dressing

It's not often, if ever, that I write about women's fashion because let's not pretend, I know f-all about it! However today is International Women's Day and in celebration I wanted to write about a brand that is making waves in it's field and a founder that I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for. Gemma Cheyne the co-founder of Salt & Saunter, please stand up and take a bow.

Whenever I talk to Gemma she has a hat-full of creative plans and being a fellow business owner like myself it's great to bounce ideas off her because in many cases we have been through the same ups and downs of running an e-commerce business. Not only is Gemma creative, she works harder than anyone I know, often up at 1am cutting fabric and stitching together her latest swimwear designs from her home office just to get the made-to-order swimwear orders out to her customers in time for their next beach holiday. 

Gemma is a powerful woman, intelligent, courageous, focused, kind, approachable and is the ultimate role model for empowering women all over the world - total #GirlBoss (had to get that in there somewhere!) 

Salt & Saunter was founded in 2017 by best friends Gemma Cheyne and Aimee Kewn, they met whilst studying contour fashion at university and bonded over swimwear design and holidays...hence the tagline 'The Art of Destination Dressing'. Salt & Saunter is mainly a swimwear brand but touches on lifestyle with their new travel wear Flight Mode collection and wicker bags, perfect for the beach. They've organically attracted various top Instagrammer's from all over the world wanting to wear the latest, unique Salt & Saunter designs including Chloe Lloyd (above pictures, photo credit Chloe Lloyd). And Rocky Barnes (below pictures, photo credit Rocky Barnes).

It's not all plain sailing for fashion brands such as Salt & Saunter. Their designs are all unique, the pattern, the colour designs, everything is the hard work of the founders and by buying a Salt & Saunter piece, you are purchasing guaranteed quality. Yet being a destination for the next top trends in swimwear comes at a price and that price is that larger global fashion brands and foreign distributers such as the factories on Alibaba (and others) copying their designs using cheap fabric and poorly fitting replicas. The problem is massive not only for Salt but for so many other SME businesses creating unique products and are finding that cheap, poorly made copies of their designs are being sold, often using the brands photos without approval. It's just blatant 'TAKING THE PISS'. 

The above problem is almost impossible to stop as websites are so easy and cheap to create these days, so if one gets shut down, another is there to pop-up in it's place within a few hours. But I would like to do my bit and encourage you all to support local small fashion businesses and to try and be more vigilant when purchasing from unknown websites. Do your research and ask questions prior to buying.

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