Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ten unmissable eateries in Hong Kong for budget travellers

Life in London is so busy that I love those moments when the whole family gets together to catch up. As a tribe of food lovers, at some point the conversation inevitably turns to this crucial topic, leading to a never-ending stream of banter between my sister-in-law and I, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that my love of (very occasionally slightly dodgy) cheap eats is matched only by her love for fancy, Michelin style dining.

So I knew I was setting her a Herculean task when I challenged her to come up with ten can't miss budget eats in her birthplace, Hong Kong. True, Hong Kong is known across the world as a food lover’s paradise. However it’s also a travel destination where, the perception at least is, that a healthy bank balance is an essential travel requirement.


Sunday, 12 June 2016

The ultimate guide to a fabulous citybreak in Zurich

"Chocolate" and "banks". Unsurprisingly these were the answers I got when I asked people the first thing that pops into their mind when I mention Zurich. So if you're not a chocolate loving banker does that mean that mean that you should give Zurich a wide berth? As someone who visited Zurich several years ago with similar misconceptions my answer is a resounding "No".

I'm keen to peel back the layers and show you that this beautiful city has so much more to offer. 
And to do this I've enlisted the help of a good friend, Nichola, who moved there over 4 years ago and has been having a whale of a time exploring  the city and spending weekends road-tripping across mainland Europe ever since. This is the first in a special series of guest posts from those who haven't just visited cities but have lived them.

Welcome to JustACurlInTheWorld Nichola! So let's kick off with an 'easy' one. I've got just 24 hours to experience Zurich. What would I be mad to miss?

Head to the top of Lake Zurich - on a nice clear day, you'll struggle to get a better postcard picture of the mountains.

The Old Town is well worth a walk to. It is a system of cobbled streets. beautiful buildings and has some lovely quaint shops. It's also a great place to find bars and restaurants, particularly in the evenings.

On the subject of shopping, don’t miss seeing one of the most expensive streets in Switzerland – Bahnhofstrasse. Some shops are reasonably priced (by Swiss standards), others are worth a look in the window especially as there are bouncers on the doors.

Also “Grossmünster” church sits in the Old Town area, and is a great viewpoint.

Great tips. Do you have a favourite place that is off the standard tourist trail?

If you are looking for something completely different, visit the Museum of Wax Moulages which contains a study collection of skin diseases for teaching at the University and has a 1800 wax models depicting every ailment from STDs to skin cancer.  To get there you can take the Tram 9 or 10 to Haldenbach. Best of all the entrance is free!

An unorthodox choice to be sure, and perhaps not one for the squeamish.

Moving swiftly on, Zurich is known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world where you can't swing a cat without hitting a rich banker. Is it really possible for ordinary folk on a budget to visit the city?

I wish I had a cat to swing! It is possible to visit Zurich without a huge bank balance, yes things are more expensive but normally the quality, reliability and good service justifies the price.

If you are travelling only in Zurich City then the cost is about £8.00 for a travel card, this covers the buses, trams, boats and trains. But be aware you need to buy zone extensions if you travel outside the city centre area.

For eating there are lots of places around the main train station of Zurich HB that are reasonably priced. In some shops - Jelmoli, Coop, Migros there are restaurants were you pay what the plate weighs, once the food is on it! Yes, it means you do not fill up on potatoes but it is always nice to have some variety. You could always grab something small from one of the stalls that are about the city, or make up a picnic.

Phew! That's good news. On to the really important stuff, what should I be feasting on while in Zurich?

For sausage (or Bratwurst) lovers, Sternen grill sits at the top of the lake near one of the transport hubs - Bellevue. It is considered by many as unmissable, as highlighted by the queue outside the shop. They do offer vegetarian alternatives, or if preferred, there is a café owned by the same company on Bellevue itself. 

I would also recommend Hiltl restaurant, this is a vegetarian restaurant that is so good even meat lovers do not always realise there is no meat in the meals! Hiltl is found on Sihlstrasse which is near Zurich HB, approximately a 15 minute walk.

You must also eat lots of chocolate but not just Lindt, try some Callier or Frey. Yum Yum Yum!

Oooohhh I remember Hiltl from my visit. As a meat-eater I can confirm that I absolutely loved it. 

But after all that food I suppose it's time I did a wee bit of exercise. Does Zurich have anything to offer me if I enjoy the great outdoors?

For sure! On Lake Zurich you can hire out boats and go for a little adventure, watch out though for the other boat companies as they will expect you to move!  

If you don’t have time to head to the Alps then you could also take a walk up the Üetliberg mountain, it is smaller than most at only 869m. The Üetliberg offers views of the entire city of Zurich and Lake Zurich. 

Love it! But now I have a taste for adventure. I've hired a car and have a sat nav at the ready to explore beyond the city walls. Where should I head?

Attractions outside the city are wide and varied. There are factories producing anything from chocolate to Formula 1 cars. Historians are treated to a few impressive castles and monasteries. Meanwhile, those who prefer landscapes have the choice of some of Europe’s tallest mountains to the South, and the continent’s largest waterfall to the North.

Further afield, driving for 1-2 hours would be sufficient to reach the vineyards of Alsace (France), the Black Forest (Germany), Lake Constance (Germany and Austria), or the Principality of Liechtenstein.

Before I head home I need to sample some of the incredible chocolate which the Swiss are known for. Where should I got to get my chocolate fix?

There are lots of places to go for chocolate. If you like the tourist chocolate of Lindt there is a factory down the right hand side of the lake, they have a factory shop where you can buy lots of different varieties. However, if you want to try other local chocolate I would recommend you try Callier or Frey – both yummy. In addition to this we have an amazing shop called Läderlach, they sell chocolate in slabs and take chunks off to sell.

Slabs of chocolate? Sounds like heaven! 

Finally let's end with your elevator pitch for folks to visit your fair city

Zurich is a city with something for everyone. Visitors of any age, nationality, interests or palate won't be disappointed. Although it's a financial capital, it is full of culture, spectacular views and a great atmosphere at any time of year. To top it off, the transport network makes it easy to reach anywhere in the city with ease. It is no mistake that Zurich is listed as one of the world's best places to live.

Sold! Right I am off to book my flight. 

Make up the spare room for me will you. You're going to pick me up at the airport right? I'll have my eggs sunny-side up in the morning, it would be great to be waited on hand and foot, and oh a wee mint on my pillow would be fab and.......hold on Nichola??.......Nichola?????

{Nichola has left the building}


Sunday, 5 June 2016

Rolling back time at Stonehenge

While I love my adventures around the world, when I have a weekend free it can be just as fun unearthing those gems in my own backyard. To kick off this new blog series about fantastic places to visit around the UK I am taking you waaaaayyyyy, waaayyyy back in time to one of most famous wonders of the ancient world, a place filled with myth and mystery - Stonehenge.

4,500 years ago ancient man painstakingly transported and raised a huge stone structure in the middle of a field in South West England. The reason why remains a complete mystery which has captured the imagination of generations ever since.

Whether a visit to this place captures your imagination too is very much down to your expectations and perspective. Some people were undoubtedly disappointed as they expected to be able to be right next to the structure (this simply isn't feasible any more on a daily basis as there was serious erosion caused by visitors touching, climbing or even stealing bits of the monument - yep all of you who have a bit of Stonehenge on your shelf are to blame!), or they expect it to be bigger or flashier (it's not Disneyworld folks!)

However the more that you know the story behind Stonehenge, the more you fall under its spell. For example some of the stones were transported 150 miles and others weighed as much as 6 elephants each. This is at a time before the invention of wheel, when those that built the monument had to literally drag the stones to their current location, shape them by hitting stone on stone (as there were no tools), before hoisting the horizontal stones atop the vertical ones. No wonder it took 1500 years to build. All that effort is surely reason enough to be a teeny bit impressed?

Then there is all the mystery surrounding its purpose. Nobody really knows for sure why it was built, but of course this just means that everyone has a theory. One theory beloved by sci-fi geeks is that it is a landing pod built by aliens and that's why crop circles are often found nearby. Of all the places on earth that they could go, why aliens would choose to holiday in a field in Wiltshire is perhaps the greatest mystery.

The earliest picture of Stonehenge from a 12th Century manuscript has fueled another theory that Merlin instructed giants to build the monument. I've added my own bit to this theory that these giants were chased out of England and now only live mountainous areas of the world and are known as Yetis or Sasquatch. Brilliant right???

The reality is probably a little closer to home, but no less intriguing. Human and animal remains indicate at one point it was used quite creepily for ritual sacrifice (personally this makes me like the giant theory even more). 

The placement of the rocks which lines up with the sunrise during the summer and winter solstice also indicate it was also used as a giant celestial calendar.  

It also almost certainly seems to have been a giant burial ground as it is surrounded by round mounds (where VIPs were buried with their possessions and enough food and water to transport them to the afterlife) and long barrows or burial chambers housing the bones of hundreds of ordinary folks. The idea was to return the bones of ancestors to the earth, ready for re-birth. 

And on a more upbeat note new evidence suggests that it was a famous pilgrimage site where people would travel vast distances in order to soak up its healing powers (given this is before Facebook and any form of transport, how folks across Europe heard about Stonehenge and were then able to make the journey is pretty amazing in itself).

As you can see Stonehenge worked its magic on me. If you want to visit and see if it has the same effect on you, the cheapest way to visit is probably by car as it's just 2hours outside London but you can also travel by train to Salisbury and then a bus to Stonehenge, or by one of the many tourist buses direct from London. Entry costs £15.50 and you can pay extra for an audio guide or download the tour guide app to your iPhone.

So enjoy both the history and the mystery and make your way to Stonehenge pronto.

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