Category Archives: You can take the girl out of London…

Travel – Non-London trips both in the UK and abroad

Get away from the crowds in beautiful Montenegro

Escape to Montenegro and explore the Bay of Kotor, Budva Riviera and the mountains.

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The stunning scenery of Sveti Stefan on the west coast of Montenegro

Eastern Europe as a travel destination has been rising in popularity over the past decade, with countries such as Croatia and Poland attracting huge numbers from around the world. Of course, the downside of this is overcrowding, sometimes sparking a backlash from local residents. When planning a summer holiday, I was looking for somewhere in Europe a bit more off-the-beaten track with a lot less tourists and I thought about Montenegro. When I mentioned the country to a few friends, hardly anyone had been and many could not even point it out on the map.

Montenegro shares the same Adriatic coastline as Croatia, Albania… and if you go even further south, Greece. By European standards, it’s a relatively small country and takes a few hours to drive from the Albanian border to the Croatian. When it comes to flights from the UK, some of the budget airlines fly direct to Tivat (Bay of Kotor) and the capital Podgorica. However, these flights aren’t daily (at time of writing) and were quite expensive, so we opted to fly to Dubrovnik and rent a car from there, which is only 17km north of the border. As this piece is about Montenegro, I won’t linger too long on Dubrovnik. We decided to spend a total of two nights in the Croatian resort at the beginning and end of our holiday, staying at this cute little B&B Guesthouse Rustico in the Old Town. Daytime in the old town was pretty overwhelming thanks to the huge crowds of cruise ship travellers, but once they headed back to the boats in the evening, it’s was a lot more enjoyable and less frantic.

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Weaving through the alleys of Kotor Old Town

When it comes to renting a car for our trip to Montenegro, we looked at a variety of options, but decided renting a car from Dubrovnik would be easier. We had seen a few horror stories online regarding so-called ‘damage’ and high insurance excess from some local car companies so stuck to Hertz. Whatever car you rent, you must make sure you are insured to drive it in Montenegro (some companies may charge extra for leaving Croatia) and you must have the right car documentation to show at the border. When we drove into Montenegro, they didn’t ask for it, but on the way back to Croatia, they did request the vehicle paperwork. Overall, it was pretty straightforward process. The queue at the border was about 45 minutes, although it was a lot quicker returning to Croatia a week later.

After crossing the border, within 15 minutes we reached the stunning Bay of Kotor – one of Montenegro’s most popular tourist destinations. It is a stunning span of water surrounded by mountains with Venetian settlements dotted along the bay. If you want to cross to the southern part of the Bay, you have two options – drive all the way around or get the short car ferry connecting Kamenari and Lepetane. For our first trip around the Bay, we wanted to drive the whole way so took the scenic route past the various villages and towns, such as Herceg Novi, Lipci and Perast. Kotor town is one of the main hubs in the Bay and is often a stop-off for cruise ships during the day. As we were seeking a bit more tranquillity, we rented a self-catering apartment in Muo – a waterside fishing village 1.5 miles away from Kotor. We had a huge apartment with two double beds and a seaview balcony, with free parking and bike rental available. Within a couple of minutes walk, there were plenty of small, empty pebbly beaches or piers so you could easily go swimming in the clear blue waters.
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Sun, seafood, Spritz and turquoise waters on the stunning island of Sardinia

A week exploring the old town of Alghero and the surrounding areas.

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Sunset over Alghero Port #nofilter

Thanks to a backpacking trip around Europe after graduating, I’ve seen quite a lot of Italy. However, until a trip to the beautiful island of Ischia in 2012, I hadn’t seen much of the country’s islands (Venice doesn’t really count as an island destination!). So when a friend and I decided to enjoy a summer holiday somewhere in the Mediterranean, it didn’t take long before Sardinia was both mentioned. As the second largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia has three international airports which are well served by budget airlines. Before even booking our flights, we ended up having to research the island a lot more than we usually would at this stage in the trip so we made sure we booked the right airport. Although I am a driver and like to drive on holiday, I didn’t want to spend the whole trip behind a wheel so we were keen to find a resort with good public transport and amenities in walking distance. Eventually we plumped for Alghero, which turned out to have the cheapest flight prices from London, as well as a wide choice of accommodation, restaurants, nightlife and beaches. Over the centuries, Sardinia has gone back and forward between Italian and Spanish control, with Catalan widely spoken. Today, you will find both Italian and Catalan written and spoken in Sardinia.

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The narrow streets of Alghero Old Town

Alghero is a Medieval town in north-western Sardinia, with the airport located an easy 10 kilometre drive from the old centre. Most tourists usually stay in the Old Town – full of cobbled streets and surrounded by Medieval ramparts – or the beaches stretching to the north of town. We stayed in the latter, renting a two-bedroom apartment through Booking.com located just a few blocks from the town beach or about a 30 minute walk from the Old Town. The apartment was clean, contemporary and affordable, with outdoor space, and literally a 30 second walk from the bus stop to the airport so an easy location.

In terms of beaches, the town’s main offering is nice enough, but you really have to travel further north to experience those travel brochure worthy beauty spots. A short walk from our apartment was the lovely Spiaggia di Maria Pia, with its white sand and azure waters. There’s plenty of shade from the surrounding woodland, but it was easy to rent an umbrella and loungers from the various beach clubs along the seafront. However, the area’s most famous beach is Spiaggia della Pelosa, right on the northern western tip of the island. With its pure white sands and turquoise water, it looks like something out of the Caribbean. However, we had been warned beforehand that it’s incredibly popular. We stopped by on a late afternoon and there was nowhere left to park. Needless to say, the beach was absolutely rammed full of people. Personally, no matter how beautiful a beach is, if I’m fighting for a spot on the sand with other holidaymakers, I’d rather be elsewhere. En route from Alghero, I recommend stopping at the seaside town of Stintino. We had a lovely alfresco lunch in the cool shade of the Di Bolina restaurant. There’s also a host of other beaches leading from Alghero stretching toward Capo Caccia – a dramatic clifftop viewpoint. Some of the beaches, such as Cala Dragunara, along here involving parking on the coast road and hiking down a steep incline to the beach below. Read the rest of this entry

Hills, pasteis and ginjinha: The many charms of lovely Lisbon

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Torre de Belem, the 16th century fortress in the seaside suburb of Belem

Sorry Barcelona, I think you may have lost your place as my favourite city in Europe. After seeing some fabulous Insta-photos of Lisbon over the past year, I finally booked a break in the Portuguese capital. Outside peak times, you can get incredibly cheap flights to Lisbon with Easyjet and Ryanair, while hotels in Lisbon offer very good value compared to most Western European capitals.

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The ruins of the 14th century Convento do Carmo, damaged in the 1755 earthquake

Lisbon is a compact city, spread across seven hills overlooking the River Tejo. As a result, you’ll find many stairs, elevators and funinculars to help you get up and down the different levels. Many tourists opt to stay in the neighbouring old districts of Baixa or Rossio. We used Air BnB to find a three-bedroom apartment in the Mouraria region, with two balconies giving views of the Castello and Martim. We were just one flight of stairs away from Praça Martim Moniz, where we could pick up the historic 28 tram and or it was a few minutes walk to the lovely Rossio square.

During your time in Lisbon, you’ll expect to rely on various modes of transport to get you up and down the many hills. We rode the Ascensor da Gloria, a funicular railway line which connects Restauradores Square with the Bairro Alto. It was a tight squeeze on the tram car as it climbed the steep slope, passing by the houses and street art. Just near the car stop is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a small park with great views of Lisbon. A short walk in the neighbouring Chiado district are the stunning ruins of the Convento do Carmo (Carmo Convent). Built in 1389, it was significantly damaged by the 1755 earthquake. Today, what’s left of the Convent – walls, columns and other monuments – is open to the public as a museum. Meanwhile, not far from the Convento is the Elevador de Santa Justa, an neo-Gothic street elevator built in 1902 connecting the lower streets with Carmo. Unfortunately, when I was visiting it was partially covered in scaffolding for maintenance so I didn’t get to see the full beauty of the designs. Read the rest of this entry

Purple haze: Run through fields of lavender at Mayfield Farm

Mayfield lavender © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Mayfield Lavender farm features 25 acres of organic lavender

If told to envisage running through lavender fields, you’d probably expect to be in Provence, France, right? Well, visitors to and residents of London can enjoy their own floral fantasy just outside the capital. Located in Banstead, Surrey – just on the border of London and just 5 miles away from Croydon – is an idyllic piece of countryside – Mayfield Lavender Farm.

From the end of May until mid-September, the family-run organic farm opens its 25 acres to the public. As well as the fields of lavender to roam about in, there’s also a café and shop selling lavender products. With the weather soaring to 30C today, I decided to head down to the farm with my friend and godson to check it out. The first thing which hit us when we stepped out of the car was the gorgeous smell of lavender. Rows upon rows of lavender can be seen heading off on to the horizon. With the end of the lavender season only a few weeks away, some of the lavender plants had been harvested a bit more so we walked up and over the hill to see the fuller, bushier lavender, which created the better photo moments. Being a Saturday, the farm was very busy with quite a few young tourists brandishing selfie sticks creating their Insta-moments. With the cooling summer breeze and the smell of lavender, we found it incredibly relaxing strolling through the field.

Following our roaming around, we took shade in the on-site café, which is very reasonably priced. Lavender is an ingredient on many of their menu items, including fairy cakes, ice cream and lemonade. I enjoyed a scone, ice cream and lemonade, which were all delicious. The shop next door also sells lavender plants, bouquets, toiletries, oils and other products made from the plant.

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  • Mayfield Lavender Farm, Croydon Lane, Banstead, Surrey, SM7 3BE. To get there on public transport, you can get a train to East Croydon, Purley or Banstead and then get 166 bus to the farm. Open from late May until mid September. Entrance: £1 per person. Their nursery and shop in Epsom is open all year round. For more information, visit the Mayfield Lavender website.

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Geysers, waterfalls and Northern lights: A mini break in Iceland

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Seaside art: The Sun Voyager (Sólfar), a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, in the Reykjavik harbourside

Like many, I had long wished to see the Northern Lights. After doing some research into the European options, I decided Iceland was a more affordable option with the lights easily accessible from the capital Reykjavík. Experts recommend November to February as being the best time to see the Northern Lights so I booked a mid-week three night break in early November. We booked flights with Easyjet for £170 return, including baggage in the hold as we knew our bulky winter wear would take up too much room in a carry-on. One thing to consider is there can be a lot of wind and rain in Iceland, so waterproof clothes are recommended in the winter. I usually wear jeans when I go to winter destinations, however with the temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius during our visit, if I got my jeans wet, they just wouldn’t dry. Umbrellas are pretty pointless too due to the wind so I highly recommend bringing a good waterproof coat and trousers.

Reykjavík is quite a small city so easy to navigate without a car. However if you’re going further afield, we found renting a car was much better value and gave us the freedom to see the Golden Circle in our own time compared to the coach trips on their organised schedules. However, admittedly if the weather was heavy snow, we would have plumped for the coach option due to our lack of confidence of driving in bad weather.

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The cathedral of Hallgrimskirkja is a stunning example of modern architecture

We booked three nights at the Best Western Reykjavík, a three-star hotel located in a residential area just 10 minutes walk from the city centre. Our room was a decent size with ensuite bathroom and essential central heating with a good breakfast included. They had a brilliant information stand with lots of leaflets of attractions and discount vouchers, which we ended up using on some attractions and dinners.

Of course, one of Iceland’s main attractions is seeing the Northern Lights. There’s many different tour companies offering a variety of tours – some are a short drive for Reykjavík, while others do overnights and long-distance locations. The closer you are to Reykjavík can make it harder to see them due to light pollution. Many tour companies offer to bring you back a second night for free if there are no lights on the night you booked. We booked our tour for the night we arrived, which meant we had our subsequent nights of our short trip available to see them should we miss them at first.

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Gastro delights, sunshine and a whole lotta history: Why Malta has more to offer than you think

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The stunning capital of Malta, Valletta features architecture dating back to the 16th century

With the cold of winter setting in, it’s that time of year many of us start to think about booking a holiday to hotter climes. While most of Europe succumbs to varying states of coldness, there is one place in the continent which enjoys an impressive 300 days of sunshine a year and the temperature rarely gets into single figures.

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Fine dining: Barracuda is one of the top restaurants in Malta

Last July, I booked a last minute holiday to Malta after admittedly not knowing much about the island. Located in the southern Mediterranean, Malta’s nearest neighbours are Tunisia and Sicily, so it’s no surprise to see the islands have a mixed heritage of Arabic and European. The Maltese islands gained independence from Britain after World War II, but there are still remainders of the country’s former occupiers such as red phoneboxes, postboxes and the British-style pubs. Despite our late booking, we fortunate enough to get a great deal for the five-star Palace Hotel in Sliema – a residential town across the bay from the capital Valletta. The hotel features a spa, three restaurants and a rooftop infinity pool and bar – which was a big draw during the hot July days, when temperatures were in the early to mid 30s. Sliema was a great base as it was so close to Valletta with good taxi and bus connections all over the island. While there are many good restaurants in Sliema, we often headed further out to the neighbouring town of St Julian’s and Paceville or took a taxi or short bus journey to Valletta. One particular establishment which stood out was Barracuda, situated in a stunning 18th century waterside house in Ballutta Bay. Eager to explore Malta’s culinary offerings, we ordered starters of Aljotta, a traditional Maltese fish soup, which was really unusual, but lovely. Overall, the food and service were brilliant and is a good locale for those looking for a special night out for their holiday. Another night, we walked a bit further from Sliema to Paceville, which has more nightlife. We had a delicious dinner at the Profumo di Ristorante Italiano, which served great traditional Italian fare. The staff could not have been more attentive and friendly and for a few hours, we actually felt like we were in Italy. However, we found Paceville nightlife (at this time of year at least) was targeted at a younger clientele, with most revellers in their late teens so it wasn’t really our scene.

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Chillax: The rooftop infinity pool at The Palace Malta was an appealing place to be

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Architecture: Many of Malta’s homes feature enclosed balconies painted in different colours

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The Malta Jazz Festival takes place in the old harbour every July

On several evenings, we ventured across the bay to Valletta, a 16th century city surrounded by its old fortifications. The capital was truly charming and we loved spending hours ambling around the sloping roads and alleys, gazing up at the domed cathedrals and different coloured wooden bay window-style balconies of the houses – a signature Maltese architectural style. While Malta is often visited by Brits on week-long holidays, Valletta could easily be a destination for a weekend city break. As well as plenty of attractions and shops, Valletta is the main hub of Malta’s busy festival calendar. On the week of our visit it was the Malta Jazz Festival. The annual event celebrates local talents and hosts some of the world’s biggest names in jazz. Although not regular connoisseurs of jazz, we loved sitting in the old harbour on a warm summer evening as the music soared over the water.

For foodies, I highly recommend visiting Nenu The Artisan Baker – the only traditional Maltese restaurant in the capital. Located in a converted old bakery, the owners pride themselves on using traditional Maltese baking techniques to create ftira bread. Ftira is similar to pizza in a way and can be served with a variety of toppings, with lots of herbs bringing out rich flavours. We accompanied our meal with Kinnie – a Maltese soft drink made of various herbs and spices to create a bittersweet flavour. It’s quite a unique taste for a soft drink and left my friend and I divided on our opinion over it – I liked it. Our last night in Malta, we headed to the La Sfoglia restaurant in a marquee on Merchant Street. What drew us to the restaurant was the chalkboard menu, meaning the ingredients were fresh that day and the menu was changing depending on what was available – a more rustic approach to dining which I love. Like most restaurants in Malta, they served a lot of Italian cuisine and seafood. We opted for two courses of predominantly fish and seafood and were served huge, delicious portions at reasonable prices. Doted around Valletta were several pubs, but you may find the nightlife rather sleepy for a nightlife capital (more on that later).

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Hogueras De San Juan 2014: An amazing, but noisy weekend in Alicante

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La Rambla Méndez Nunez in Alicante is a hub of activity during Hogueras De San Juan in Alicante

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Art: The huge bonfires (such as this one on Carrer Pintor Velaquez) are works of art, made of wood, Papier Mâché and other materials, and often are critiques on politics and society

Alicante is a great destination for both a city break or longer, with a lot of museums, beaches, churches and is said to be home to Spain’s best nightlife. However, for one week every year in late June the city is taken over by the Hogueras De San Juan (Bonfires of Saint John) festival. In June this year, a group of friends and I decided we wanted a beachside city break somewhere in Europe. We plumped for Alicante and it just happened to take place during Hogueras – one of the biggest festivals in the Andalucian – and more specifically Alicante’s – calendar.

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Our modern loft apartment in Alicante was a great location and very comfortable

When it came to searching for accommodation, there are a lot of choices – hotels, hotels, pensions and self-catering apartments. I have become a recent convert of AirBnB, having used them in recent months in Venice Beach, California; and Paris. My friends and I were flying in late on a Friday night so didn’t want the hassle of setting an alarm clock for an early hotel breakfast, so decided to go self-catering. Airbnb gives you the chance to rent either rooms or an apartment/house direct from the owner. After much deliberating between staying by the beach or the city centre (which is very compact anyway), we opted for the latter. We chose a one bedroom loft apartment sleeping up to four a stone’s throw from the bullring, located just five minutes walk from the market and 10 from the beach. Before booking, we inquired if a midnight arrival time was too late and happily the owner was able to accommodate us. Before arrival, we were sent the owner’s personal guide to Alicante, with restaurant reviews, opening times of shops, museums, etc, which was very helpful and a nice personal touch. Just as the positive reviews had said, the apartment was modern, spacious, with lots of windows letting in plenty of fresh air, so we were really pleased. We had a balcony that managed to have the sun on it for most of the day so a perfect location for lazy brunches and views of Santa Barbara Castle – the ancient fort on top of the rocky hill overlooking Alicante.

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The city beach, Playa Postiguet, has plenty of loungers if you want to top up your tan

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The party never stops: Women in traditional costumes dancing along Rambla

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Head down the pedestrianized streets of El Barrio (old quarter) for some of the city’s best bars and restaurants

Usually, the apartment would be quiet because it is in a residential area, however during the Fogueras festival the whole city of Alicante is taken over by the festivities. Huge bonfire structures featuring ‘Ninots’ are erected all over the streets, usually a critique of political, societal or cultural issues in Spain or Alicante. Referring to Spain’s current economic problems, I saw one Ninot depicting a 50 euro note with wings. Neighbourhood groups also raise money to create pop-up party venues including restaurants, bars and discos. Throughout the night, these venues will play blaring loud music – hence it may be difficult to sleep if you’re staying in central Alicante, so it’s probably best to forgo sleep and join the fun! Although many of these venues are only open to the neighbourhood residents who have funded it, some are open to the public so you can join in the fun. There are also a host of bars and clubs – many concentrated in the city’s El Barrio (old quarter), which are open to sunrise. Towards the end of the festival, bonfires are lit all over town, while fireworks are set off on a daily basis – both day and night, adding to the noise. It’s worth checking out the daytime firework display ‘mascletàs’, for which ear-plugs are thoroughly recommended! During the festival, there are also nightly parades. Chairs were placed all over town so you could sit and watch bands, dancers and children parade through the town in their traditional dress. The streets were heaving with people of all ages, drinking, dancing and generally enjoying themselves. The atmosphere was amazing.

My friends and I were only in Alicante for a whirlwind two days which went by very quickly. Most of our trip was spent enjoying the sights and sounds of the festival, with a little sightseeing and relaxing in between so I can’t offer much in reviews of the museums and other sights. The city beach Playa Postiguet is popular both day and night, with the Hogueras action moving to the sands in the evening with bonfires dotted around. During the day, we rented sunloungers and an umbrella and enjoyed sipping 5 euro giant glasses of fresh Sangria sold by the vendors while sunning ourselves. If you don’t mind travelling a bit further afield, the Playa San Juan beach is a short drive away and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Read the rest of this entry

Las Vegas review: Take a gamble on the City of Sin

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City of Sin: Spend a long weekend in Las Vegas

When I go on holiday, I usually seek places full of history and culture. On initial appearances, it would seem Las Vegas is the opposite of these. However, having visit Sin City twice, I am a fully paid up member of the Las Vegas fan club! When friends ask me about it when they haven’t been, I always say two things: ‘It’s like Disneyland for adults’, and ‘Don’t stay longer than a few days.’ Having grown up in London, I have high expectations when it comes to nightlife and have often been disappointed with other cities’ nocturnal choices when travelling. However, Las Vegas is one place that certainly doesn’t disappoint and still leaves me wanting more.

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Fabulous indeed! Welcome to Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a unique place. A city full of lights, noise and misbehaving – a contrast to the empty, still and quiet desert which surrounds it. Whatever your vice – gambling, alcohol, architecture, food, shopping, shows or adrenalin rides, there is something for you. Following a five year absence, I revisited Las Vegas for three nights in October 2013. As it was my second visit, I was determined to see things I had missed last time. With an airport just outside the city, you can fly straight in and out of Las Vegas, however I combined my mini break with a Californian roadtrip. Las Vegas is around a four hour drive from Los Angeles, but you can also make an adventure of it and take some of the old Route 66 from LA as far as just before Needles, CA. After hours of driving through empty desert and passing the occasional one storey gas station or diner, to suddenly see LV coming into view with its soaring casino resorts and millions of lights is quite a sight.

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A studio suite at the Palms Place

Most visitors to Las Vegas tend to head for the Strip. This is the main road through Las Vegas featuring all the landmark hotels, such as the Luxor’s black pyramid, the Paris and its Eiffel Tower, the neo-classical towers of Caesar’s Palace and the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio. Compared to other US cities, you can get an incredibly high standard of accommodation for a lot less than you will pay elsewhere. Prices mid-week tend to be significantly cheaper, however if you’re looking for nightclubs, be aware that many are closed on weekday nights. All casino-resorts tend to have several in-houses restaurants for a variety of budgets, bars and at least one nightclub. On my first trip to LV, I stayed at the Luxor in a Pyramid Deluxe Room which was affordable, comfortable and clean. The resort was full of Egyptian paraphernalia so visitors can get a sense of the ancient world. However, on my second trip, I wanted to push the boat out a bit – after all, I was in Vegas and wanted to do my break in style. My friend and I ended up getting a Studio Suite at the Palms Place Hotel & Spa, a hotel linked to the neighbouring Palms Resort & Casino. Although I did want to stay right on the Strip, I had been impressed with the Palms on a night out on my previous visit and it was only a few minutes drive from the main drag. As we were staying over a weekend, it was around $169 per night for our suite on the 28th floor, but thought it was worth it for such a high standard of accommodation. Our huge room included a king sized bed, sofabed, balcony, two TVs in the main room, a kitchenette and Jacuzzi bath, as well as a TV in the bathroom. There was a free valet service and discount at the Palms restaurants, of which I particularly enjoyed the buffet breakfast.

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Le week-end à Paris: Disney, landmarks and laughs in the City of Lights

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City of Lights: The Eiffel Tower and the Passerelle Debilly over the Seine

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Art Deco: One of Hector Guimard’s entrances to the Metro

Last month, my family and I finally realised a long-discussed plan for a weekend in Paris. We had three goals for the trip – to see the sights of the city, spend a day at Disneyland Paris and take the Eurostar (I had never been on it, unbelievably). We ended up booking a three night break in early December (Friday to Monday) – but only really had two and a bit days in the city so we really had to pack it in. In hindsight, an extra day would have made a huge difference, but Paris is only a short trip from London so I know I’ll be back. We booked a standard Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord for about £150 return each – very straightforward and easy, with only 30 minutes check-in time – a thrilling concept in comparison to airports (which I can’t stand, despite being a travel junkie because let’s face it, it’s a means to an end).

When it came to accommodation, hotels in the centre of Paris can be expensive. However, having recently stayed at an Air BnB property in Los Angeles, I was keen to do the same in Paris. For those who don’t know, Air BnB has a range of rooms, cottages or full apartments rented out directly from the owner via the website. We rented this lovely 1 and 1/2 bedroom apartment (which sleeps five) in a converted 17th century building in the 1st arrondissement – the heart of Paris. It was located by a station just five minutes on the RER from Gare Du Nord and just a few minutes walk from Pont Neuf, the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre. We were also able to get one straight RER A train direct to Disneyland from where we were staying so it was a perfect location. One thing I do recommend is having change for the tickets machines – a majority of the ones we came across on the Metro didn’t take Euro notes, so we often ended up using our credit cards to get tickets.

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The modern pyramid against the backdrop of the old Palais de Louvre

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The view looking east down the River Seine near the Tuileries

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Tipple! A hot cup of rum

Our first night in Paris was essentially a write-off as we had arrived quite late from London. On Saturday morning, I was up early, excited to explore the city. Our first stop, of course, was a boulangerie in the 1st arrondissement for some croissants and chocolate twists for breakfast. Although typically cold for a December weekend, it was mostly sunny for our first day so we spent time just walking around soaking up the sights and atmosphere. After a little detour past the lovely 16th century Church of Saint Eustache, we headed for the Louvre Palais complex – stemming back. While the outside of the Louvre was incredibly busy, the long queue into the Louvre museum – accessing via the Pyramid – was moving fast. As we were short on time in Paris, we opted not to go to the museum this visit, although definitely on my list to do next time. The Louvre complex then opens up to the Tuileries gardens. Originally, the Palais des Tuileries stood on this site, but it was destroyed during the Paris Commune in 1871. Today, the early 19th century Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel stands on the same spot. After going through the arch, we passed through the gardens – home to water features, statues, topiary and flowers – although not so much of the latter were visible in December obviously.

We then crossed the River Seine via the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, a footbridge to the south bank. Like other locations in Paris, the bridge was covered in ‘love padlocks’, with even a vendor selling them should you wish to cement your love in brass for all eternity (I jest!). We then followed the south bank of the River all the way to the Eiffel Tower – one of Paris’s biggest draws. Although impressive during the daytime, I really recommend seeing it at night when it looks stunning all lit up. As well as general tickets to go up the Tower, there are also several restaurants and a cocktail bar up there too if you want to feast in the sky.

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Cornwall travel review: A long weekend at the end of England

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The view from Charlestown, South Cornwall

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Enjoying a pint of Cornish Ale at Ye Olde Malthouse in Tintagel, North Cornwall

Cornwall is, without a doubt, one of England’s most beautiful counties. Surrounded by coastline north and south and at the end of England before it looks out to the Atlantic, it is renowned for its stunning scenery, among other things. Those who have been can’t help but fall in love with the place, while those who haven’t, admit they have long wished to go. What can put many off visiting is the long distance Cornwall is from many major cities. As a Londoner, it is a good five-hour drive to Cornwall or an equally as long train journey. Finally, in September this year, the wedding of two friends in Cornwall gave me the much-needed jolt to finally decide to go… and as I expected, I too fell in love with the place. Cornwall is an incredibly long county with a wide variety of places to go. As I was there for a long weekend – with some wedding festivities taking up some of my time – I will review some of the places I visited. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive overview of Cornwall, but what places I did see, I was charmed by.

A group of five friends – myself included – were all invited for the wedding so decide to rent a cottage together. After much searching around, we came upon a company called Natural Retreats. They own two holiday estates of self-catering properties in Cornwall – in Newquay on the north coast and Trewhiddle – just outside St Austell in South Cornwall. As our friends’ wedding was at the Eden Project a few miles away, we decided on Trewhiddle. We rented a four bedroom, four bathroom two-storey lodge, including parking space and outside dining area. Three of the rooms included ensuites with lots of hanging space and modern, contemporary furnishings. The kitchen was incredibly well equipped and we were greeted with a welcome hamper, including milk, juice, wine, bread, eggs and some other foods to tide us over at the beginning of our stay. The lodge include an open plan kitchen, diner, living area with lots of windows letting in the Cornish sunshine. All five of us found the beds incredibly comfortable and slept very well.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The dining and sitting area of the four-bedroom lodge at Natural Retreats Trewhiddle

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Comfort: The master bedroom in Natural Retreats Trewhiddle

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Our welcome pack at Natural Retreats – eggs, bread, beer and wine…

When it came to eating, we enjoyed a lot of seafood, pasties (of course!) and fish ‘n’ chips – which can be found easily in most seaside towns. Our first night, we walked a short distance from our lodge at Trewhiddle to Kingswood Bar and Restaurant in London Apprentice. It had been highly recommended on both TripAdvisor and in the local Natural Retreats guidebook, so we phoned ahead to book a table (which I would advise doing as it is incredibly popular). Set in a wide, open bungalow, the Kingswood is a comfortable and airy restaurant featuring contemporary interiors. I had the Creamy Field Mushroom Soup (£5) to start and the Hot Roasted Shellfish off the specials menu for my main, which featured mussels, prawns and scallops in garlic and parsley olive oil (£12). Both dishes were delicious and the service was fast and friendly. There was a really nice, warm atmosphere in the venue with lots of locals in attendance – evidence indeed of its good reputation.

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