Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About Ayr, Scotland

wee sleekit, cowrie, timorous beastie... 

In honour of The Travel Bug's home nation and the fact that he's been busy celebrating Burns Day, TTB thought he'd take a wee look at the Scottish town of Ayr and see what he could uncover:

Ayr is located on the gorgeous West coast of Scotland and is the birthplace of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.   Big Rab (as he's known locally) was born in Alloway on January 25th, 1759.    TTB was born on January 26th, but in 2014, which is entirely irrelevant to this post.   He wanted you to know, anyway.

  • Ayr is home to the Burns Birthplace Museum, Heritage Park and Monument and Gardens, so it's safe to assume the Scots are extremely proud of their most famous son. 

  • Ayr is home to the wonderful Ayr Racecourse, which is location of the Scottish Grand National.  Here, you can only race on Shetland ponies, and only if they're red heads.   Honestly. 

  • Just outside of the town, in nearby Maybole, is Electric Brae, where cars drive uphill all by themselves.  I'm not even kidding.   Electric Brae is a gravity hill that appears to pull vehicles up the hill, as if by magic.   Try it out, people!*    

Do you have any fascinating facts about Ayr to share with The Travel Bug??

*Electric Brae is an actual road, so please don't hold up the traffic by reversing down it just so you can try going up again.  Believe me, other road users don't appreciate how much fun it is, especially when they're running late to pick wee Angus up from shinty practice.

Burns Bench
ain't that the truth... 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why I Love Airbnb

After spending three years being paid to stay in hotels and B&B's across Scotland, I find it very difficult to book into one and call it a 'holiday'.  This means I tend to check out how clean the toilets are, look under the beds, and ask for random things for my room in order to see how up to speed the owners/managers are.   Basically, I can't relax because I feel like I should be looking at stuff and going 'Oooh, look! that's the 100th bit of identical IKEA furniture I've seen this week...'

After a while, it's just not fun anymore and the barriers between working and enjoying are too blurred.  Plus, now I have the added bonus of LT inspecting everything in his line of vision and telling me how he thinks it could be improved.  If he worked for VisitScotland, there would be very few 5 Star accommodation or visitor attractions, I can tell you that for free.   

Airbnb apartment - City Centre
If you like peace and tranquility - city centre apartments maybe aren't for you

Because of my reluctance to stay in hotels and other serviced accommodation, the expansion of Airbnb has been my saviour.  Also: I don't much like other people, so I love being able to opt for 'full property' to ensure that I have no random folks in the room next to me.  I'd love it more if I could choose 'full property...and also no neighbours', but I feel this a touch unreasonable.   Even for me.

Over the past two years, I've used Airbnb for pretty much every accommodation need I've had.  This has included an apartment in Lisbon, Madrid, London and Istanbul, a cottage in East Nashville, and a gorgeous townhouse in Savannah.   The only one we've had any problems is was Istanbul, but more because LT got eaten alive while we stayed there.    Every other property was clean, well maintained and excellent value for money.  We've also had some fantastic hosts, who have met us on site and kindly offered to show us around.  

Airbnb appeals to me from a budgeting perspective as there are only two of us travelling and we don't spend a lot of time indoors.  This means we need one bedroom and studios are ideally priced and often very well situated.   The fact that the site offers you countless photos (seriously, some of them are taken from every. single. angle) and ensures that you really don't have much to be left to the imagination when you arrive.     

Location and Range:
You check your chosen location, have a look at the size options (bedrooms, etc), choose your price range and that all important 'whole property' box and BOOM, you have a list of suitable options. Choose which one is closest to the pub (that's my criteria, anyway), and then fire off an email to the webnet thing and wait for the response that says: 'Why, certainly, Suzanne, we'd love to have you stay for 3 nights and, did you know that there's a new (insert off licence name here) just around the corner??   Deal. Done.

Airbnb - Remote Cottage
Not another soul in miles...
Negative Press:
I know that the company has had some negative press and, from my trip to Istanbul, what with the bitey monsters in the flat (which caused LT to sleep fully dressed with his head covered in one of my scarves....seriously, it was quite the sight), we also had very noisy neighbours.   But, we DID book an apartment in a city centre tower block and, well...these things happen, don't they?  Most of the negative stories about Airbnb have been about the neighbours complaining about noisy guests, as opposed to our situation.   However, we were quiet as a mouse.   Or two mice, rather.

I realise that there are many different experiences, and that everyone is looking for different things in different accommodation, but I highly recommend  the site for its ease of use and the fantastic hosts that we've met on our travels, so far.  Fingers crossed 2017 will bring us more Airbnb successes.

Have you tried Airbnb and, if so, how positive or negative have your experiences been?

Suzanne x

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Things Not To Say To Me (Or Anyone, Really...)

Recently, I've realised that a LOT of strangers think nothing of asking very personal questions.   Well, I say recently, but that's actually not true; I've always known this.    A few months after I married, (we're talking 2004, here) an acquaintance asked me  if I was 'having children straight away'.   No, 'congratulations, that's great news!', or 'how's married life?', just straight into a totally personal question about my intentions towards starting a family.    Obviously, she assumed that this was what I wanted because, well, I'm a woman and women have kids, right?  

I've also been lucky enough to have someone say to me: 'Well, you're getting on a bit...', and 'You have a step son?  You'll feel differently when you have your own'.    Will I?  Will I, really? I'm so glad you know me well enough to make that judgement, strange person I've barely spoken to.  Thanks for the insight.   

Interestingly, these comments, plus the countless others I've had over the years, are ALWAYS from women and ALWAYS from ones I barely know.   It's 2015, ladies!  Give it a rest.  

These are the questions guaranteed to completely rub me up the wrong way and make me not want to speak to you:

You’re Not Married?:   No, no I’m not.   And that’s ok.   I was married…for 10 years, if that makes you feel better about my potential compatibility with the opposite sex.   These days I just live in sin.    And that’s also ok.     Note: I have no wedding ring on and that's often an indication of marriage.    The absence of one is also a sign.   

When I’m asked this question (and since moving to Wales, I’ve been asked it a LOT), I genuinely don’t understand why you need to know.  Does it change your perception of me?  Does it make me a better or worse person?   Does anyone actually care whether I wear a ring or not?   I didn’t think so.

Therefore, unless you know me fairly well (and by that I mean you’ve spoken to me more than a million times): Don’t enquire about my marital status – it’s irrelevant to anyone apart from me.    Also: if I want to tell you about why I’m no-one’s wife, why I got divorced, why I’m not married to someone else, I will.  

wedding flowers
When are you having kids?/You’re 37 and don’t have any children?:  Firstly, again, thanks for your comments, I am aware of my age and I’m fully aware that I have no children.   It’d be a bit odd if I didn’t, wouldn’t it?   Secondly, the reasons why I don’t have kids are absolutely none of your business.   Before you asked, did you consider that I may not be able to?  Or did you just assume that because I’m a woman, I’m not doing my job properly if I don’t?  Either way, it’s not really your place to ask: so don’t.

jelly babies
my favourite kind of babies

Your Partner Does THAT for a job…why do you need to work?:   I work for me.   It doesn’t matter how much money my partner might earn, my life does not revolve around what he does…it mainly revolves around what we do.    Not every woman wants to sit at home all day; cooking, cleaning and looking after children (please see earlier comments).  

Some of us want to out into the world and use the degree we worked studied so hard for.  We even think we actually have something to offer in the workplace that might be wasted if we were stuck in the house all day, like some 1920’s housewife.   Plus, surely my partner shouldn’t have to use his hard earned money to pay for me when I’m perfectly capable of earning my own?   Just a thought…

money, money, money...it's so funny

You don’t say much, do you?:  No, you’re right, I don’t always say much.  Thanks for pointing it out; I wasn’t aware of it until you said.   I’m an introvert and the thought of conversing with people I don’t know actually makes me panic.   I’m not being rude; I’m just being me.   I was recently referred to as ‘a stuck up diva’ by someone who has barely said two words to me in the last 3 years, but clearly thinks that my reluctance to get involved is some sort of confession that I might be better than her.

quiet time
if you don't have nothin; nice to say, don't say nothing at all... 

I hate it when people are so wrong about me.   Yes, I’m quiet.  Yes, I can be shy.  Yes, I know it can be difficult to get through to me.   But, no, I’m not being rude and no, I don’t think I’m better than you.   I’m just very reserved with people I don’t know and folk who terrify me by asking me why I’m not married and don’t have kids…

Am I alone in getting frustrated by relative strangers who think it’s acceptable to quiz me about my personal life?   I can’t be the only divorced woman with no children that gets asked these questions so often, can I??

Suzanne x 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Road Trip Diary: Chillin' in Charleston

After rolling into Charleston in the early evening hours, we dumped our bags in the hotel and immediately made our way down to Waterfront Park to have a quick look around, grab some beers, and watch the sunset.  

When driving downtown, I was struck by how beautiful Charleston is.   Its fine old colonial style houses, the humid temperature, the trees, and the relaxed pace are all the elements that have pulled me back to Savannah, Georgia, on numerous occasions and it was so fantastic to find another city that ticked all my boxes (so to speak..)

I love the American south and I do tend to favour the southern states above all others.  I’ve now visited 42 from 50, but the south is always first on my list when I’m heading stateside.  Apart from the relaxed way of life, people in the south are fantastically friendly and the accents are to die for.     

Apart from the world renowned Southern hospitality, Charleston is also famous for many other things; one of which is being it was the location of the start of the American Civil War, when South Carolina seceded from the Union and attacked a ship docked in the harbour.    Shortly after, they opened fire on the Union controlled Fort Sumter, which is located nearby, and so the Civil War began.    

I’m pleased to say that there was no warring during our visit and we stood on the waterfront, where the Rivers Ashley and Cooper meet to form an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, and enjoyed the glorious sunset.   Obviously, we took some time out to fool around with the photos, pretty much detracting from the colours with our attempts to look like we were holding the moon.   Tourists, eh?

Did I get it??  Did I get it??
Charleston is often referred to as the Holy City, which might well be to do with the sheer number of churches and places of worship.    This includes the beautiful Emanuel African Methodist Church, which is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South and really is a sight to behold. 

The American opera ‘Porgy and Bess’ was also written by novelist Du Bose, along with composers, George and Ira Gershwin in 1934.   It’s also where jazz trumpeter extraordinaire, Louis Armstrong, first came to the wider public’s attention.  

Charleston is crammed with history.  Some good, some not so good – pretty much like everywhere else.   However, it is great to see so much history remembered and celebrated within the city.    As well as the buildings and the people, the mixtures of African, British, French and American influence on the local cuisine is not to be missed.   You can’t go far in Charleston without indulging in some seriously good food, which you can experience at the City Market, amongst other places. 

The Market is open daily and houses a fantastic range of individual vendors, including fine food and drink, shoes, hats, glass, and jewellery.     The market is also opened on a Friday and Saturday evening and the atmosphere is wonderful.     If you'd like to experience a true taste of Charleston, you can't go far wrong with a trip to the City Market.  

US Custom House

US Custom House is in the historic district and dates back to 1853.   The construction of the building was stopped prior to the Civil War and started again afterwards.   It is used to house government agencies and is a beautifully designed building, with its imposing pillars and lovely staircase, which is now used as seating for special events in the city.   

Fort Sumter, as mentioned earlier, was the location of the beginning of the American Civil War and is now a historic visitor attraction run by the US National Park Service.    Entrance is free, but is only accessible by boat as it is located on an island.   Swimming is not advised, obviously.    Due to transport restrictions, planning ahead is key to ensure that you're at the departure point at the correct time to get there and back.     During the Summer months, there's also a Sunset tour.

Boone Hall, like Magnolia, is a Southern plantation and brings alive the history of African Slaves and gives an insight into the 'Gullah' language and culture.    The plantation is huge and includes a butterfly pavilion, house tours, garden walks, and a self guided tour of Black History in America.   

Nathaniel Russell House Museum is a fine antebellum house located in the Downtown district of Charleston, and was the family home of Nathaniel Russell, a successful merchant of cotton, rice and other commodities.    The house is open to the public and tells the story of the Russell family and the slaves that served them during their time in the property. 
Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row (pictured above) is, as it says, a row of rainbow coloured houses.   13, to be precise, and the longest continuous row of Georgian houses in the US.    They are a major tourist attraction and included in pretty much every walking tour in the city.    It's easy to see why, with their colourful facades glinting in the sunlight of the leafy street.    

The Charleston Museum is also a wonderful spot for learning about the history of Charleston, the Civil War, the slave trade and the American Revolution, amongst others.   The Museum also offers joint entry to two other historic houses, the Heyward-Washington and Joseph Manigault, which both tell stories of more wealthy Charleston families and the slaves that served them. 

Charleston, aside from the mass of history it has preserved, is a thoroughly relaxing and welcoming city and I can't wait to go back and see what else it has to offer.

Have you visited Charleston?  What are your favourite sights?  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About Cardiff

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About Cardiff

The Travel Bug's been living in Wales for a good few months now and has loved exploring his own little part of the nation.     Although he has decided that Harlech is the new capital of the nation, he realises that Cardiff is still getting all the glory where that's concerned.    Therefore, he decided to do a  spot of investigating to see what all the fuss is about...

Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay
The Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay where Roald Dahl was christened. 
  • Some guy called Roald Dahl, who wrote a few books for children, grew up in Cardiff and they even celebrate his birthday every year on September 13th.    TTB celebrates his birthday every year, too, and he can't see what all the fuss is about.   He doesn't read much.   
  • Cardiff is the location of the oldest record shop in the whole wide world.    Spillers Records has been in the city since 1894 and TTB wants to go and have a look at their Shakira collection as she's his favourite Spanish language artist.    
  • Intrepid British Explorer, Captain Scott, set off from Cardiff on his last expedition to the North Pole.    He was never to return.    If only he'd know that Cardiff has more days of sunlight that the Italian city of Milan, maybe he'd have stayed in Wales.     OK, so maybe not.    

Do you have any fascinating facts about the beautiful city of Cardiff to share with The Travel Bug??


Thursday, January 07, 2016

Tips For A Stress Free Airport Experience

I hate airports.   I hate all the people, the queues, the luggage that people tend to randomly strew about in the middle of walk ways and, most of all: I hate the waiting.   Oh, and the travellers who wait until they hit check in before they decide to rummage through two week's worth of garishly ugly clothing in a vain attempt to locate their passport.     Honestly...I hate those people so much.   

I frequent airports for no other reason than I kinda need to be there in order to get to where I'm going.    Otherwise, no one would go, right?

There are few tips and tricks I've picked up over the years that have made my time at numerous airports around the world just that *little* bit easier to bear.    These often involve bars.     Here are my tops tips to avoid all that airport stress:

Tips for a Stress Free Airport Experience
Are we nearly there yet?...
Be Organised!
Sounds obvious, but it never seems to happen for some people.   Put your tickets and passport in your pocket or the front pouch of your hand luggage and KNOW WHERE THEY ARE.  Seriously, this will cut down on your stress and that of every single person stuck in the queue behind.   

Electronic Equipment:
Please don't pack your iPad at the bottom of your carry on luggage as you'll then need to root around for it and remove it from its resting place beneath your underwear (or whatever the hell you keep in there) in order to pass through security.   Turn everything off and put it right at the top of your hand luggage so that it can be instantly removed without incurring some serious side eye from the person next to you.    

Tips For A Stress Free Airport Experience: Packing
Put the stuff you need to take out at the top.
No Liquids:
Seriously, how long has this restriction been in place? and yet I still end up queued behind someone with a bottle of water, two bottles of foundation, a huge jar of anti-wrinkle cream and a massive bottle of shampoo.   No, people.  Just no.     If it's more than 100ml, you can't take it.  You haven't been able to forEVER.     

I have a selection of tiny, travel sized bottles, which contain anything I actually need on the flight.  If I'm not planning on putting on makeup on the flight (and I never do), then I pack it in my hold luggage.     Also:  if I'm thirsty, I buy water AFTER I go through security.   I don't, actually, I go to the nearest bar to ease the stress of being stuck behind you.   

Now, I know that this isn't possible for everyone and that people with babies and who need meds have to stick to different rules.   But, for everyone else?   Behave.  

In other news, always be aware that European rules differ slightly from others.  You might be able to take those bottles of Houghtons Wine you bought from Margaret River through customs in Perth and Hong Kong airport  but that does not mean you won't have them confiscated when you try to take them into Edinburgh.   Trust me...I speak from bitter experience.  It still breaks my heart to talk about it.     

I can't live without my iPad in an airport.  Not only does it distract me from the time I spend waiting, it also allows me to catch up with all the TV and reading I don't get time to do in my normal life.   I often load up with episodes of my favourite TV show which can lead to me actually looking forward chilling at the airport.   After check in, security, taking my shoes off, being searched, and trying not to murder the people in front of me, that is.   

Tips For A Stress Free Airport Experience: Lounges
Time for wine and chilling. 
Airport Lounges:
Nothing  makes your airport stay more enjoyable than not being with All The People.   It's worth every single penny of the £70 I spend each year to give me access to a quiet little airport lounge.   Also: I usually make this back in free wine and peanuts I consume during my time there.   

Airport Lounges are also only thing that keep me sane when my flight is delayed.   When you balance up the charges for a Priority Pass against the cost of food, drinks, comfort and keeping your sanity - I promise it's so worth it.   Plus, you get a comfy seat, access to TV, space to relax and, did I mention free wine and food?   I feel I've made my case.  

If you're still not convinced, the lounge at Oman airport has sleeping pods and Heathrow has fantastic showers.   After a 15 hour flight, I'd gladly pay £70, and give my right arm,  just for a shower or a snooze.   

Tips For A Stress Free Airport Experience: Games
The start of your travels should be relaxing, not stressful
You haven't live until you've played 'Where Do You Think They're Going?' in the airport.  It's possibly not the most politically correct game ever, but you can usually separate a stag party heading to Krakow or Prague from a businessman on his way to London.   I'm particularly good at working out who's headed to Spanish Islands and Orlando, but definitely need more practice at determining who's off to Rome and Atlanta.    

It certainly does help to pass the time, although It can be difficult not to cheer when someone you've tagged as heading to Belgium to lobby MEPs hops up when the Brussels flight is announced.   I imagine that a glamorous older lady on her way to a posh spa resort in Mexico would be most unhappy that you had them tagged as the next Shirley Valentine, so do keep your voice down.

How to you while away the hours in the airport?   

Suzanne x 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Top US Travel Destinations for 2016...according to me

Top US Travel Destinations for 2016
My Top US Destinations for 2016
I'm known for getting quite irate at people who say to me: 'yeah, yeah, I've been to the States tons of times'  Me:  (knowing answers) 'where have you been?'  Unknown Random Person:  'Florida and New York...'  Me:  *banging head against wall*.

Don't get me wrong: I've been to Florida and New York, too.   I've even been outside Manhattan and Orlando...  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with either and I completely get why they are quite so popular with first timers, returners and families.   I get it, I get it.   What I don't get, however, is why you haven't been to any other states.    Like Texas, for example...or Oklahoma?   In fact, scratch that last one...I actually haven't been there, either.  But Texas?  Come on, people! There are 50 (50!!) states to choose from and they're all amazing in their own way.

These are my top destinations for 2016, both from cities that I have visited previously and ones still on my list.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
I'd kill to live in a place where I could hang my rug to dry in the sun...

Santa Fe, New Mexico:
Maybe it's my love of all things Spanish, but Santa Fe sits atop my list, with its terracotta homes, dusty desert cacti, and tempting Latin inspired food.    To me, it sounds like a little piece of heaven.   It combines all my favourite things about road tripping across the US with the added elements of hearing Spanish everywhere I go.     

Santa Fe is the state capital of New Mexico and is nestled on the foothill of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains   It is also the oldest capital city in the US and translates from the Spanish as Holy Faith.    It is crammed with history and completely retains its old world charm, which is often something lacking in other cities, where the minute something ages it gets torn down and replaced by something taller and glossier.  

Downtown Nashville, Tennessee
Downtown Nashville - one of my favourite places on earth

Nashville, Tennessee:
I can't imagine a time that Nashville won't feature on my list of must see destinations in the US.  I love everything about it and have been lucky enough to visit on several occasions.   Whether you're charmed by the Southern accent, home cooked food, country music, the laid back attitude, or just sitting in a honky tonk, drinking a few Jack Daniels shots, you can't fail to be impressed by Music City.

From hitting up the Country Music Hall of Fame, shouting for the Predators at the Bridgestone Arena, listening to up and coming talent in the intimate setting of the BlueBIrd Cafe, or simply sitting taking in the atmosphere at Coyote Ugly, Nashville is a very special place.   Also:  it's usually lovely and warm and has plenty of downtown parking (not always an easy feat), so it takes a bit of the stress out of road tripping.    

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Howdy, y'all. 
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: 
The closest I've been to Jackson Hole or indeed, Wyoming, is that time I went to Utah.    So nowhere near is what I'm pointing out.   However, through the medium of song, which is my favourite of all the mediums, I learned about the merits of JH from the lovely Miss Miranda Lambert.    And she's a girl who knows a thing or two about awesome destinations (she lives in Nashville, after all), so who am I to disagree?   

Jackson Hole has remained a largely traditional town, lying in the valley of the Teton and Gros Ventre ranges of mountains.   it also nestles Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, so has so much unspoilt, open space, which is perfect for a range of lazy and not so lazy activities.    

Jackson was named as one of the US new 'foodie' cities in 2014, so it has a lot to offer visitors in terms of its cuisine, as well as its fabulous rental lodges and stunning clear skies and rugged mountain ranges.  

Monument Valley, Utah
No words necessary.   Apart from HOLY CRAP, LOOK AT THAT VIEW...

Monument Valley, Utah:
I previously visited Utah a few years ago.  Well, I say 'visited' but what I mean is 'drove through and stopped in the middle of the desert to take photos'.   I did spent a night in Green River, though, which turned out to be a dry town and made me quite upset as I'd been driving for 8 hours to reach it and was desperate for a cold beer.   I still had one, but it was alcohol free.   Thanks for that, O'Doull's.   

Anyhoo, I am desperate to visit Monument Valley, which is located on the US 163, close to the state ine with Arizona.    It is the historic seat of the Navajo Native American tribe and, from the valley floor, majestic sandstone structure rise from the ground from anywhere between 400 ft to more than 1,000.   The entire expanse of the national partk stretches across two states and covers almost 97,000 sq ft.  So, you know, it's kind big.

as well as driving around the sandy tracks, the Park has a range of authentic guided tours, by car, foot, or horseback (because obviously) and all sound amazing.   You can also take your own car for a little drive around, but you cannot access some areas of the park without a guide.    General entry fees are payable, but I'm willing to bet it's worth every single cent. 

Boise, Idaho
I can see the pub from here...
Boise, Idaho:
OK, so I'm aware that all my selections for 2016 are in the West of the US (with the exception of Nashville) and I'm not even sorry for this.    It's simply too fabulous to resist hopping in your rental and going out to explore.     I've never been to Idaho, but it's always been alluring to me for the wide open spaces and cattle herding and cowboys and stuff.   It's probably not even remotely like that, but I really hope it is.

Boise is the state capital of Idaho, located in the NorthWest of the US, but not as NorthWest as Oregon and Washinton State.  So, like, East of the NorthWest, I guess.   Anyway, Boise sits in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and has a large number of outdoor activities that can be undertaken in the area, should you be that way incined.   I'm more into museums and sitting in bars, so there is also lots to keep me out of trouble.   

Boise has a very large Basque population, so in terms of culture, there's a really wonderful mix of Spanish and American traditions.   The city is well known for its large Zoo, Aquarium, and World Center for Birds of Prey, as well as less animal-y attractions such as The University of Idaho, Capitol Building, and Idaho's largest Sequoia.    It also boast a gorgeous looking selection of pavement cafes and bars and a  very pleasant looking downtown area. 

Do you have any US destinations on your list for 2016, or anywhere a bit of the usual touristy route that you can recommend?

Suzanne x