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Barcelona’s Chocolate Hotspots

2013 July 8
by Scott

Though Spain was the first country to officially experience the wonders of chocolate, back in 1528 when it arrived from the ‘New World’, edible chocolate did not emerge until the eighteenth century. Barcelona was there at the forefront of the edible chocolate revolution, shortly after the invention of the first chocolate-making machine in 1780. The Barcelona chocolatiers, Chocolates Amatller began crafting chocs for the new, more widespread ‘eatership’ in 1797, and, as we all know, the rest is history. The Casa Amatller still stands today, next door to Gaudi’s Casa Batllò (the one that looks like a gingerbread house). The Casa Amatller, like Gaudi’s work, is an exemplary piece of modernist architecture, making it an intrinsically Barcelona-esque building in more ways than one. Other chocolatiers soon began springing up all over Barcelona in the nineteenth century, including Simón Coll’s family business, that began on the outskirts of Barcelona n 1840. Their signature “Chocolate à la Tazá” has been made for seven generations, and under the same label and with the very same recipe since before 1880. To cut short what would be a tremendously long list of classic Barcelona-based chocolatiers, I’ll just say that Barcelona’s chocolate-making pedigree is one of the best.

Given Barcelona’s illustrious background in the chocolate industry, there are, of course, numerous experiences on offer for the chocoholic on holiday in the city. There are a number of tours available, which will arrange everything from chocolate tasting to a three course chocolate dinner, served with wine designed to complement the meal. It is true that chocolate is more versatile as a foodstuff than we commonly believe, and this sort of chocolate-based dinner will put pay to any reservations you might have regarding the serving of chocolate sauce on a steak! There are other courses that offer a more rigorous experience of Barcelona as a chocolate heaven, for example, Gourmand Breaks whose tours comprise a mouthwatering four days of total immersion in Barcelona’s choccie hotspots! Having said that, with a little research it is quite easy to conduct your own chocolate tour.

Barcelona cafe l’opera

Start, as most visitors to Barcelona do, by heading to Las Ramblas, the main strip that runs through the centre of the city. Many hotels and hostels are located just off this main drag, so you’ll be right at the centre of the action within a short transfer journey from Barcelona airport. As soon as you’ve unpacked, make a beeline for the Café de l’Opera, right on Las Ramblas. You can’t miss it. The Café de l’Opera was previously one of the leading chocolaterias in the city, and it still boasts the breathtaking Viennese style interior and exterior decor. Its collection of unique antique mirrors still adorn the walls, quite as they did in the café’s heyday. Not only does the Café de l’Opera have a stellar chocolate heritage, but it is also one of Barcelona’s oldest surviving restuarants. Enjoy a meal from the restaurant’s á la carte menu, if you can bring yourself to wait before tucking into one (or two?) the many mouthwatering chocolate desserts.

However, if waiting for dessert just isn’t your style, then you will definitely enjoy a trip to Espai Sucre, one of the world’s only dessert-only restaurants. Yes. Dessert only. Amongst the range of special set menus and tasting menus on offer at Espai Sucre, you will find a special chocolate menu. Just one piece of advice: come in comfortable, roomy clothes! I made Espai Sucre my final stop before jumping in my taxi back to the airport on my last trip to Barcelona. Apart from feeling a little sick, I was so blissed out on chocolate for the flight home, I hardly had time to mourn the fact that I was leaving this gorgeous city. So, that’s a good tip, if you need help minimising your end-of-holiday blues!

Barcelona Espai Sucre by Robert Paul Young

If, by now, you’re not already experiencing chocolate overload, your next stop will be the jewel in Barcelona’s choc-tastic crown: the Museu de la Xocolata. Here, you can learn all about the history of chocolate, manufacturing techniques and tour the gallery of chocolate art and sculpture. Once you’ve made it round the museum, head straight to the museum’s shop, and order a cup of hot chocolate. This is not just any hot chocolate, and definitely worth experiencing even on the hottest of summer days: this hot chocolate is thick, like liquid chocolate. I’ll just let you process that thought a moment…

Ready?

Barcelona Museu de Xocolata by Ricardo Gómez

Well, it probably goes without saying that with a bellyful of hot chocolate, a three course chocolate meal and a big bag of chocs from the Boqueria market, you’re likely to be feeling a little off-colour. Time for a little TLC (and, by that, I mean Totally Loads of Chocolate). Check in at the Gran Hotel Balneario Blancafort Thermal Spa and order yourself onto the spa’s Blancafort Chocolate Therapy programme. Choose from a melted chocolate wrap, a chocolate and orange cream massage, or a body cleansing sugar peel, and get as much choc on the outside of your body as you’ll have on the inside. After all that, the little sweet they leave on your hotel pillow will seem a bit underwhelming!

Englands top travel destinations

2013 June 29
by Scott

Whether you are planning a family holiday getaway or a weekend adventure with your friends, discover the best places to visit in England. You can spend your vacation in one of England’s busiest cities, historical heritage towns, or enjoy water sports activities in different beautiful beaches in the country.

Exploring Rural England

(The lovely Yorkshire dales)

If you want to spend a relaxing vacation in England, you may want to check out different rural areas in the country. Explore the natural wonders that England has to offer. You can visit the holiday gems in East Anglia —Norfolk and Suffolk. You can also visit the Lake District and Cotswolds’ breathtaking natural beauty. The unspoiled landscapes of the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales are the perfect location where you can do hiking activities. West Country offers stunning coastal sceneries, excellent local cider and ancient countryside.

Life in the City

Looking for a night out in the city during your vacation? You can seek out different city breaks, choosing between locations for historical tours, romantic weekends, relaxing spa packages, and night parties. London’s unrivalled atmosphere is best for people who are looking for a place to stay and have fun. Aside from party venues, there are also a lot of poker hubs inside casinos in the city. Travellers who play online games at online sites can try joining live Poker tournaments held at The Casino at the Empire or try the infamous Vic casino for cash games. You can win a good amount of money, which you can use as travel money to further your adventures. You can also spend your winnings to watch concerts and theatrical shows that are taking place in the city during your stay or shop in the retro shops located in Manchester.

Historical England

England is known as one of the countries that is rich when it comes to history. Its illustrious past is one reason why many people visit the country. For example, Stratford and Bath is known for its rich literary heritage while Durham and Oxford is where the academic history of England first started. Travellers who fancy great architectural structures can visit Windsor, York or Chester. Going to Canterbury, Lincoln, and Salisbury is like walking down the memory lane because it is where you can see the oldest streets in England.
England’s Beautiful Coastlines and Beaches

The country offers breathtaking sceneries of deserted beaches and coastlines, which are perfect for people who want to spend their holiday by the beach. Discover the best-kept coastal secrets in England while staying at some of the award-winning seaside resorts offered in the country. You can also do different activities such as surfing in Devon, cycling in Blackpool and sailing in Dorset. You can also interact with the friendly community in each destination.

Blogger Interview: Mark Heers from Travel-wonders.com

2013 June 18
by Scott

It’s been a while since I’ve featured one of my favourite bloggers, but what a great way to get back into the groove, with Mark Heers from the well-loved Travel-wonders.com. Without further a-do:

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Mark, I am a 40+ year old Australian living in Sydney a few train stops from the spectacular harbour and who discovered travelling in my early 20s.

Mark in Alaska!

Your main blog is travel-wonders.com – How did you get into travel blogging?

I started travel blogging around six years when I saw the mountains of old photos, trip notes, diaries and the like I had accumulated over 25 years. As I continue to travel, it seems a better way to record and treasure the places and experiences and people that I see and meet in my journeys. It seemed a great way to save older photos by getting them scanned and sharing some thoughts on places I’ve been.

Do you think using the internet (for research, planning etc) aids or hinders your travel experience?

When I first travelled through Africa in the early 1990’s, there was almost no information (apart from dated and regularly wrong Lonely Planet books) and no way to share experiences with folks who had travelled there recently. These days, the internet is by far the easiest and most accessible way to get information but I think some travellers use the internet to tell them everything and let it remove the whole experiential element of visiting places. I always do some research on places I am planning to visit (great to find out events that are on) but not to the point where it sets the itinerary in stone. Shut down the iPhone, take your time in a place, slow down, look and walk around, talk with people, participate in local events and let the trip take you on your own journey of discovery.

You have traveled for over 25 years – How have you seen the world of travel change in that time?

Changes have been good and bad. Travel is more economical and easier than ever to do with the wealth of information and efforts by most places making it eaier than ever to see and visit places. Air travel is way less pleasant with overly zealous security, immense amounts of wasted time and airlines being way less welcoming. Getting off the beaten path is still very possible though probably a little more tricky and more and more countries (in Asia and the Middle East especially) gladly welcome visitors.

Where are you in the world right now ?

I am in my home city of Sydney, Australia – one of the greatest travel destinations anywhere in the world.

Do you have a favourite continent or country to visit and why?

I have several favourites for various reasons. My all time favourite cities in the world are Paris and Prague, though the latter is becoming crowded and over touristed. Pet countries/regions are Iceland, rural France, Antarctica and Canada while the greatest natural experiences are East African safari, the mountain gorillas in central Africa, walking in Yosemite and watching bears feast on salmon in Canada and Alaska.

What are your 2013 travel resolutions..?

Ever since I started travelling, I try to see visit or experience three new places, events, regions or sights every year. Have maintained that pretty well so that seems to be a good resolution to keep on with.

If you had a travel story to tell us over a beer, what would it be?

One strange event happened in Stockholm. Travelling out to see a castle some way out from the centre of the city, their efficient train service went near. As it pulled out from one station, the train rattled and rocked for me to look up and find that I was the only one in a carriage and it was being driven into a shunting yard, having terminated its journey six or so stops before my destination. The train stopped, the lights went out and I found myself trapped in the train with no way to open windows or doors. Before the advent of mobile phone, I sat around for a couple of hours trying to work out the best thing to do and whether I could pluck up the courage and strength to break a window and crawl out, when the doorway between the carriages opened to find a driver (who apparently has to check the entire train before leaving on a new journey). I’m not sure who was more startled but a brief discussion later and all was understood and I finally got to visit superb Drottingholm Palace. (Incidentally, a better way to visit to via boat)

Great story! What is your travel itinerary looking like for the remainder of 2013?

Travel is quieter now and tends to be shorter journeys a bit closer to home. A planned trip on the next few years is to walk the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James), a 1000-year old pilgrimage trail of around 800 kilometres through northern Spain.

How can people get in touch with you? 

I happily answer email through a contact form on my blog and I tweet at @travelwonders.

Wow – that was great, thanks Mark! If you have any more questions, I am sure Mark will be happy to answer them…

The Australian Medicare System

2013 June 18
by Scott

If like me, you are used to the cushy life of the NHS in England, it might give you a little wake up call when you move to Australia. Everything costs money. A lot too..

The healthcare system in oz is very good, but is largely privatised or exclusive only to Australian nationals, which makes things difficult for travellers like me. Either that or the waiting lists for public treatment are humongous. They do however use the Medicare system (formerly EHIC), which allows for some rebates on treatment.

This means that much of the treatment you receive can is subsidised by the government, so you can claim back a percentage of your costs, post treatment.

If, like me, you require urgent treatment (in my case 4 wisdom teeth out!) then your pretty much screwed. Public dentistry treatment queues are months or even years long, so often you will have to go private and try and claim what you can back with medicare. However Medicare does usually cover:

  •  Free or subsidised treatment by health professionals such as doctors, specialists, optometrists, dentists and other allied health practitioners (in special circumstances only)
  • Free treatment and accommodation as a public (Medicare) patient in a public hospital
  • 75 per cent of the Medicare Schedule fee for services and procedures if you are a private patient in a public or private hospital (does not include hospital accommodation and items such as theatre fees and medicines)
  • Some health care services in certain countries (although be sure to check which countries are valid with Medicare!)

Full information can be found here : http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/subjects/medicare-services

The details:

For those travelling to Australia from around the world – Medicare is a reciprocal system that is signed with people from:

  1. New Zealand
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. The Republic of Ireland
  4. Sweden
  5. the Netherlands
  6. Belgium
  7. Finland
  8. Italy
  9. Malta
  10. Norway
  11. Slovenia

If you are from one of these countries, i would suggest registering immediately for a Medicare number. Just find the nearest office here and sign up straight away. Good luck peeps and let me know how you get on!

The Australian Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417)

2013 June 4
by Scott

If the British summer isn’t quite doing it for you and you long for something a little warmer, then you might be interested in taking a trip down under for a year or two. One of the main priorities for any would-be traveller is to organise a visa, so here is the basic process to getting one that suits your circumstances.

Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417)

The main purpose of this visa is if you plan to travel and work to supplement your time in the country. You can do the following:

– Enter Australia withing 12 months of being granted the visa. That means that even if i apply on 1st Jan 2013, i dont need to be in the country til the following year, at which point my 12 month allowance is activated.

It would be recommended to organise the visa before you book flights, as your holiday depends on it.

– Stay up to 12 months in Australia.

– Enter and leave the country as many times as you wish during this 12 month period.

– Work for up to 6 months with one employer.

– Study for up to 4 months.

– You can also apply for a second WHV, which gives you an additional 12 months in oz, although to be accepted you will normally have to do rural or agricultural work to ensure this application is approved. This includes things like fruit picking and manual work in remote areas of the country.

Currently, im rocking a 417 visa as i expect my employer to fork out for a 457 work sponsored visa. This is quite common and can save the hassle of initially finding a company that will sponsor you. For work in restaurants, bars etc you will normally find that they will not sponsor you, unless in a senior or indespensible role.

How to apply:

You can geek up on all the informaiton on the official immigration website:
http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/417/

or go straight to the application forms here:

http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/417/apply-online.htm

Costs:

The Working Holiday (Subclass 417) visa costs $365AUD for most countries in Europe, along with a few others. Be very wary of third party companies reselling the visa applicaiton process. They will tack on charges that are unneccesary and can be avoided – by filling in the forms yourself.

Overall, i found the application process to be very simple and i’m sure you will too, when considering a move to oz.

Sail away, sail away, sail away

2013 May 31
by Scott

If you want to see the world, cruises are an awesome way to visit lots of different destinations while travelling in serious style.  Cruise liners have bars, restaurants and evening entertainment as well as things like swimming pools and spas; so you can enjoy a proper holiday experience while you’re journeying to various ports. Along the way you get to take in all the best sights from every stop off point, with the choice to join in with shore excursions organised by the ship staff or to just explore by yourself and see what you find.

P&O Cruises have just made this pretty interesting infographic that shows off some cool facts about the ships. For example, did you know that the combined weight of all P&O’s cruises ships is the equivalent to 75,000 London double decker buses? Although I’d definitely prefer to be chilling by the pool on a Caribbean cruise ship than riding a London bus…



 

Check out the infographic for more facts and holiday inspiration!

We landed in Melbourne, Australia!

2013 May 22
by Scott

After a good year or so of waiting, the girlfriend and I landed in the fantastic Melbourne, Australia. Nicely planted by the Port Phillip Bay and the country’s second largest populated city, Melbourne has plenty of life to keep us busy for the next year or two.

Getting over here was plain sailing, our flights were two legs – Etihad and Qantas (avoiding the much loathed China Southern Airlines). With a 2 hour stop off in the swanky Dubai airport, we hopped onto the second leg of the flight, which was around 13 hours, taking total travel time to roughly 24hours all in. With a few bad movies and a few worse in-flight meals, we landed down under.

Despite travelling frequently, the stress of immigration always gets my palms-a-sweating. However our visas meant we could sail through customs with only the smallest of glances from the immigration officers.

Because the economy in Australia is still very bouyant, the work opportunities out here are just too enticing to miss. The national wage for adults over 20 is currently $15.59, so around 70% higher than what you will find back in the UK. One thing we have noticed quickly however is the higher living costs for most things – in particular, food, bills and entertainment is roughly 30-50% higher than back in the UK. Although admittedly, coming from London the increase isnt too painful to bear.

Somewhere to stay

Having a base to rest your weary head is extremely important, not only to shake off the jet lag but to get you close to the action when you need to be. When we arrived, we stayed in an AirBnb flat in Fitzroy, which is just to the north of Central Melbourne. AirBnb lets you rent whole or parts of someones home, just like you would a hotel room, but at a reduced cost when compared to a traditional hotel or B&B.

(The flat we stayed in)

My first experience of AirBnb was a good one. Our host Toby was a contractor, who worked in the Melbourne CBD. He was very helpful in answering our questions about the city, but also gave us our space within his flat to allow us to relax and do our own thing. We were also well placed at the top of Brunswick street, with good transport links. There’s something very comforting about staying in a real home rather than a drab hostel or the like.

The main street that cuts through Fitzroy is Brunswick Street, which runs in a straight line up through a bustling collection of shops, cafes and restaurants. During the week things are pretty quiet, but at the weekend things start coming alive with the local hip-crowd and young revellers descending on in. The area is classed as quite ‘alternative’, but from that i guess people mean a touch on the younger/trendier side, so it may not be for everyone.

What to do in Fitzroy

While you won’t be short of things to do on Brunswick Street, here are some notable places on my ‘done’ or ‘to do’ list:

The Workers Club

A laid back bar and cafe that plays host to up and coming bands in the area.

51 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC, 3065
www.theworkersclub.com.au

 

Bimbo Deluxe

Somewhat of a legendary bar and pizza joint on Brunswick St, that opens its doors for 7 days a week. Simply put, the venue offers “$4 gourmet pizzas, to accompany a diverse range of beer, wine and spirits to be enjoyed amongst the lounges or in the rooftop courtyard”. If you didnt know – 4$ is cheap as you will get in Melbourne for a pizza… Ever.

Don’t miss the zucchini pizza and maybe even one of the $4 hot dogs. If you’re feeling naughty.

376 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
www.bimbodeluxe.com.au

 

Slowpoke Espresso

A quaint and welcoming little cafe just a couple of metres away from ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ – a traditional laundrette on the same street. Slowpoke is an ideal place for a coffee and toast whilst your whites do their thing in the dryer.

157 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
www.facebook.com/slowpoke-espresso

 

Phat Brats

One of the first foodie experiences we enjoyed and is one to remember. Think hipster hot dogs done in a gourmet, over-the-top way with moutains of flavbour, pickles and accompanying fries. The chorizo dog was something special…



320 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
www.phatbrats.com.au

 

The Standard Hotel

Great for an oldy-worldy pub feel with an eclectic atmosphere, the Standard is a great little pub. Popular with the old regulars and young whipper-snappers alike, the pub has plenty of comfy seating inside and out, which will make it a great choice during the summer!

293 Fitzroy St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
www.thestandardhotel.com.au

That should keep you going for a while. More ozzie related posts to follow.

 

Three summer clubbing destinations

2013 April 24
by Scott

If you’re looking for fun in the sun with friends this summer, pick one of the world’s top summer party destinations for a holiday you won’t forget. Read on for a top three of the best European clubbing destinations to visit this summer.

Ibiza

It goes without saying that Ibiza is pretty much the capital of summer party venues. San Antonio is this Balearic Island’s second largest town and has held onto the unofficial title of clubbing capital of the world for some time now, so you know you’re not going to be let down when you come here for a clubbing holiday.

When you visit Ibiza you will generally take a bus to the main super clubs, although some, such as Ibiza Rocks and El Paradis, are walkable if you’re staying in San Antonio or San Antonio Bay, making the area an ideal location.

You can choose to stay in San Antonio itself in the midst of the action, in which case Ibiza’s Hotel Gran Sol is highly recommended. Or instead you might choose to is highly recommended. Or instead you might choose to stay in the slightly more peaceful San Antonio Bay, only a short walk away from the centre of the action and with plenty of accommodation to choose from.

Aiya Napa

Cyprus’s Aiya Napa has a well-earned reputation for being a party town, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, before the 70s it was a quaint little fishing town. Now it’s a resort dedicated to package holidays and tourists who like some serious partying with their sun, sea and sand. There is plenty to keep you entertained all day and all night here, with numerous bars, clubs and restaurants to choose from and a multitude of hotels and apartments to stay in.

Be aware though that if you fancy a trip to Aiya Napa in peak summer season (July-August), you’ll be battling it out amongst loads of other people with the same idea, so book early unless you’re happy sleeping on the beach!

Magaluf

No list of top European party destinations would be complete without Majorca’s Magaluf. Many a stag and hen do have enjoyed messy weeks and weekends here, so if that’s the kind of holiday you’re after, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The mega-clubs, world-renowned DJs and epic foam parties are enough to keep party-hard holidaymakers coming back year after year.

For serious clubbers, buying a Magaluf Club Pass is a good idea as it’ll give you entry into the area’s top five clubs and save you a bit of cash; more to spend on cocktails! 

An alternative stag do in Amsterdam

2013 April 22
by Scott

Amsterdam is one of the top stag destinations in Europe. The city offers gorgeous green parks and canals, wonderful coffee shops and a chilled atmosphere. But let’s face it – lots of men go for their stag party in Amsterdam for the weed and the Red Light District. If that’s not your bag, there are plenty of other more unconventional options which are more cultural, interesting and less sleazy.
An indulgent treatment

If you fancy organising a really luxurious treat for the stag and his friends, a health resort like Spa Zuiver is the way to go. Set in the middle of the woods on the edge of Amsterdam, it really is the perfect retreat. With a swimming pool, relaxing saunas and revitalising aroma baths you’re spoilt for choice. Treatments include hammam hot scrubs, massages and tanning sessions. One visitor said “This is not a spa, it is the pure paradise! I have never experienced such a great service and so many facilities. I would say that it is the best spa in whole Netherlands.”

This video, although spoken in Dutch, shows some of the main treatment areas in the spa:

A canal tour

Fancy a tour of the city by boat? On these tours your captain will escort you and fellow crew in open-air, low-sided boats perfect for navigating Amsterdam’s canals. Run by The Saint Nicolaas Boat Club, a group of volunteers, the tours are free, but you’re welcome to make a donation (and we suggest you do!).

Due to licence issues, the canal tours are now running through Mike’s Bike Tours Amsterdam, which is the best place to make bookings. Captains can be found at Mike’s Bikes before and after rides, but they ask that you do not phone the office with boat tour-related questions (face to face is best).

A brewery visit

Established in Amsterdam in the mid-1800s, Heineken is now one of the largest beer producers in the world. The former brewery has now been opened up to the public to allow beer fans to have an interactive tour through the history of the infamous drink. With amusement rides, a tour of the historic brew room and a tasting bar, you won’t be disappointed.

Dine with the Dutch

This is a brilliant idea that should be replicated in cities across the UK. It gives you a chance to experience Amsterdam as a local: register on the website and it’ll match you and your mates with a family who will invite you to their home for dinner! Specially selected hosts will cook you a three course meal and regale you with tales about Holland and Dutch culture. This will definitely be a unique experience and it’s a perfect way to find out about all the local haunts you might otherwise miss as a visitor.

London vs NYC Infographic

2013 March 4
by Scott

Seeing as i’ll be in New York in late March and i live in foggy London town, it seems only right to share this infographic from the guys over at Expedia. I love infographics as they quickly explain something complex in an easy to ready format. I would have to say i love NYC more, just because I have yet to venture over to NYC. I’ll be sure to post about NYC when i return , which may change my view.

Which city do you love the most?

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