California dreaming Part 1 (San Francisco)

As someone with a passion for travel, I would always recommend combining the must-see tourist attractions with off-the-beaten-track exploring, particularly when visiting somewhere for the first time. It is wonderful to find that somewhere special that no guide book mentions but equally, seeing what has made a place so famous, is also important in getting under its skin. Here are some of the most common San Francisco tourist traps, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them.

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most popular ways to see the bridge is by cycling over it. Bikes are ten a penny at Fisherman’s Wharf and while you can rent them for as long as you like, a nice trip to make is the eight mile ride over to the pretty town of Sausalito on the other side of the bridge. This is a charming place reminiscent of the Cote d’Azur or upmarket Northern French coastal towns like Deauville or Le Touquet, with designer boutiques and pavement cafes. The bike rental companies will explain that you can cycle over and take the ferry back. What they don’t tell you however is the ferry system is a complete shambles! As you arrive in Sausalito, you are advised to go straight to the ferry terminal and pick up a priority boarding token so you can jump the queues when coming back. But because everyone is advised to do that, there aren’t any tokens left and you have to join the normal queue anyway. And because the ferries only go every 30 minutes and the queue is so long, you can be waiting a very long time!

My advice therefore is to cycle both ways – yes it is a 16 mile round trip and be warned there are a few not insignificant hills so it is probably not advisable unless you are quite fit, but it is by far the hassle-free way to enjoy the experience.

Once in Sausalito, there are some lovely shops and cafes, although it is quite touristy in peak season. My friend and I had lunch at The Spinnaker, a slightly outdated restaurant in terms of décor but with a huge range of lovely fresh seafood and panoramic views of San Francisco on the other side of the bay. Sausalito also has a completely different climate to San Francisco which can be only around 16 degrees in August but just over the bridge it can be sunny and hot so even if you have wrapped up in San Francisco, take a change of clothes!

Alcatraz

Everyone is familiar with this infamous prison which hosted some of the US’s most notorious criminals from the 1930s until the last man left in 1963.

Now purely a museum, you can do day tours or for the more adventurous, by night. Included in the $40 entrance fee, you get the 15 minute ferry crossing and an audio guide which is narrated by old prisoners and prison wardens. It really is fascinating learning about the escape attempts, riots and appalling conditions that surely would have deterred anyone from a life of crime. In summer particularly, the tickets for Alcatraz get booked up weeks in advance, so if you know your travel dates make sure you book up early.

Every year you can also take part in the 1.25 mile swim from the prison to the mainland in an organised event, and even children and dogs take part!

Cable cars

Another of San Francisco’s most famous sights and a staple fixture in any movie set here (The Rock and Hitchcock’s The Birds to name a couple), is the world’s last manually operated cable car system. The cable cars hug the roads and seemingly miraculously manage to ascend and descend the steepest of hills, although they are pulled by a cable under the road so there is no real danger of plummeting downwards at breakneck speed! Although predominantly used for tourists, the heart stopping moments come in rush hour, when San Franciscan commuters just jump on and hang off the sides in what looks like a sure-fire road accident waiting to happen.

Although 23 lines were established back in the late 19th century, now only three lines remain, each only a couple of miles in length. At either end is a turn table in the road which is manually turned 180 degrees by the cable car operator so that the car can complete its return journey. Along with being fun to watch how the cable cars change direction, you can get on the cars more easily here as it is the end of the line and further along into town the queues build up at each stop and it is harder to get a space.

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Fizz et frites

As a huge fan of bubbles, I was quite surprised at myself that I had not yet made it to Epernay, the world home of champagne. So a weekend there was definitely in order. Where better to find out the history of champagne, see how it is made but even better, to try several gallons of the stuff!

As this was a champagne mini break, my friend and I started the adventure at Searcy’s Champagne Bar at St Pancras International. Feeling slightly too light headed for 10am, we took the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, which is one of my favourite experiences anyway, (that feeling of getting on a train in London, knowing you are getting off in the glamour capital of the world), followed by the train from Gare de l’Est, which is a very short walk away, to Epernay. This part takes about an hour and a quarter but the trains don’t go very frequently, so be careful to time it with your Eurostar arrival, unless you want a few hours to kill in Paris of course.

Arriving in Epernay at 6pm, it was obviously too late to do anything on Friday night, but the owners of the gite we were staying in, Les 4 Saisons, are also in the champagne trade and so Monsieur Pienne was only too happy to oblige with a mini tasting in his own small wine cellar.

Many of the larger champagne houses are in Epernay – Perrier Jouet and Moet and Chandon (pronounce the “t” people – Mo-ett, not Mo-ay) amongst others, as well as many smaller ones. In fact there are 22 million bottles of champagne in cellars underneath Epernay and only 45,000 people! However we had chosen to visit Mercier because of a mini train deep underground which takes you through 18km of cellars and tunnels, and Castellane, due to its spiral staircase leading up to a turret with 360 degree panoramic views of the region.

We began at 10.30am at Mercier. For €25 you get a tour, ride on the train through the tunnels and three glasses different champagnes to try. The train experience is fabulous, a cross between a kiddie roller coaster and the Docklands Light Railway for those Londoners out there, and comes with an audio guide. This tour is less about the manufacturing process and more about the history of Mercier, but is fascinating. At the end of the tour, comes the tasting. The three glasses are normal glass size as opposed to just a small taster, and so in fits of giddy giggles my friend and I went for lunch.

We ate at one of Epernay’s finest restaurants, La Grillade Gourmande. This is a lovely but very traditional French restaurant so vegetarians beware, there will be nothing for you on the menu! We had snails to start and then fillets of sea bass served with a “baked potato” although this was in fact mash! Still delicious though.

After lunch we went to Castellane. This tour was a walking tour through the cellars accessed through a door in a giant champagne barrel Narnia style.

This was more about the manufacturing process and the tour guide leads you through from picking the grapes all the way to bottling and adding the cork and the labels. Again fascinating and different enough to the Mercier tour not to be in the slightest bit repetitive. We finished up with one glass to try which for €10 for that and tour was very good value. We also climbed the 237 stairs up the tower for spectacular views over the whole of Epernay.

After dinner and yet more tasting at a smaller champagne tasting bar, C Comme Champagne, where we sampled another three glasses and enjoyed platters of smoked salmon, trout rillette, hams and cheeses, we amazingly just had about enough in the tank to go to a bar. Le One Champagne Bar is a converted Victorian house with cool tunes and a lovely living room with comfy sofas and soft white lighting. Disappointingly it shut at 11pm on the dot, and we were practically thrown out, but we probably had had more than our fair share for one day.

After our whole day of gluttony, Sunday morning came and with it the inevitable train home. On arriving back in Paris to catch the Eurostar to London, we decided to shy away from the glamorous lifestyle we had been enjoying all weekend and we went to Buffalo Grill for lunch!!! Champagne and fine food made way for an enormous plate of chips.

Well there is only so much of the high life a girl can handle!

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Our Favourite Rooftop Bars in London

After a sunny bank holiday last week, it seemed that summer had finally arrived in the UK and that means that every outdoor space in London will be taken up with sun-worshipping drinkers in the balmy evenings.

And even better than an outdoor space is a roof terrace, here is my guide to the best ones in London.

Angler at South Place Hotel

In the heart of the city where green space and peace and quiet would appear to have been replaced with sky scrapers and busy commuters, the bar on the 7th floor of recently opened South Place Hotel is a lovely little suntrap. The views aren’t as good as some roof terraces due to only being seven stories up but this doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In my opinion a crisp rose is the sign of a good bar and this one delivers with a pale pink number from the Languedoc. The furniture is stylish with marble tables and chairs by Patricia Urquiola, and herby window boxes and lavender plants on each table make for a lovely aroma in the air. Get here early, especially on a sunny Friday as it is strictly first come first served and the terrace is not huge.

Vista at the Trafalgar Hotel

Although the lowest on our list at only six floors up, Vista at the Trafalgar Hotel makes the grade because of its location. Right in the middle of Trafalgar Square, the Vista bar has views over Big Ben, the London Eye but most impressively Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery plus the fountains and people in Trafalgar Square. You can almost count the pigeons! There is the prerequisite bottle of rose on the menu for me, (only one though and a Sancerre so you might flinch at the £12.50 a glass/£48.00 a bottle price tag). The light bites menu is full of tasty treats, some of which are marinated in cocktails, like “daiquiri seared tuna” and “lobster cosmopolitan” to create an interesting twist. I also like the added touch of blankets on the chairs in case it gets a bit chilly once the sun goes down.

Sushi Samba

The roof terrace at London’s hottest new restaurant has the impressive accolade of being the UK’s highest outdoor roof terrace (and quite possibly Europe), beating the former record holder (Oxo Tower) by 30 whole stories. These views are outstanding and it is worth the expensive drinks’ prices (£12 for a cocktail) because let’s face it, you are really paying for the view too. You could go down the road to the Shard and pay significantly more (£30 just to go up to the viewing platform!!) to get a similar view and at least here you get a cocktail out of it too. Even if you aren’t coming here to eat, the terrace is a destination bar in its own right with cool tunes and in its centrepiece a huge fairy-lit tree seemingly growing out of the drinks display. Just try not to feel too smug when looking over at the Shard knowing you got the better end of the deal!

Now all we need is the sun to make a reappearance!

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Finding the Famous Five

As a child I was fascinated by Enid Blyton’s books. Back in the days where video games didn’t exist and children played outside during the endless (and actually hot!) summers until the sun went down, I loved the Adventure Series books and Secret Seven for their mystery solving and The Magic Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair for their instant transportation into a fantasy world.

On a recent trip to Dorset then, it went without saying that my friends and I would channel our inner child-detective and explore some of the countryside that inspired Enid Blyton’s most popular books and my personal favourites, the Famous Five stories.

Deciding to focus on the Isle of Purbeck (which is not actually an isle at all but accessible by road as well as by chain ferry), we opted for the more adventurous mode of transport to start our quest and took the four minute ferry crossing from Sandbanks to Swanage. Then it was just a short drive before arriving at Swanage station where we continued our journey by steam train. (The Famous Five would have travelled by bike to get to the railway station but the uncharacteristically freezing March day put pay to that idea.)

The six mile/20 minute steam train journey takes you to Corfe Castle, now a ruin and said to be the inspiration for Kirrin Castle (fans of the stories will know what I mean!) which is fascinating to wander around as it was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. But the train journey itself is the real treat, people waving from the streets below, buffet carriage, vintage trunks piled up in the stations. It is the Railway Children meets every train enthusiast’s dream.

The village of Corfe Castle is delightful with a pub, the Greyhound Inn, proclaiming to be the most photographed pub in England in its centre. Expecting to see a certificate from the Guinness Book of Records we went in for lunch and in the spirit of the day, a ginger beer. We couldn’t see anything to back up the claim, but the pub is cosy and the food is great.

With tummies full of fish finger sandwiches, we bought penny chews from the old-school sweet shop and chatted about our favourite childhood Enid Blyton memories with the owner of Gingerpop, a shop dedicated to Ms B herself, before heading back on the steam train.

We didn’t solve any mysteries on our day or meet any smugglers, but we explored a ruined castle, had a lovely lunch washed down with lashings of ginger beer, sucked on pineapple cubes and lemon sherberts out of paper bags and went on a steam train which was adventure enough for our group of 30 somethings!

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Amsterdam Part 2

Last time I wrote about the alternative side of Amsterdam which involves parks, secret gardens and canal boat trips. This time it is the turn of the bars and shops that I think are well worth a visit and only highlight further how much this city has to offer.

If like me and my friends you are a fan of designer shopping, then the only place to head for is Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat. In a really upmarket area of the city, near the museum quarter, the likes of Cartier, Tiffany, Bulgari, Hermes, Armani, Gucci can be found. And if you need feeding and watering while you are splashing the cash, look no further than George WPA (which stands for Williams Park Avenue, the English translation of where it can found), a US style French brasserie with art nouveau fixtures and bistro tables to confuse any New Yorker that they are in fact home!

For people on a slightly tighter budget, Amsterdam has two huge flea markets – one is Waterlooplein (a little touristy) and the other in Albert Cuypmarkt. A lot of the stalls sell total rubbish but you may just find a hidden treasure. And if you are in Albert Cuypmarkt, then popping into Chocolate Bar is a must. A lovely little bar with very laid back atmosphere where you can have a glass of wine or just a coffee. The relaxed service is pretty usual for Amsterdam, that’s to say not for the impatient, but it is part of the pace of life here. Don’t be put off by reviews saying the service is bad at certain places, as what may be poor by New York’s standard say, is completely normal for here.

Following a gorgeous lunch at Caffe Esprit, we stumbled on the most beautiful jewellery shop, which is a world away from the flea market!

Barong Barong, near Spui, is a mecca of brightly coloured and textured bracelets.  Even from the outside, which I spotted from the number 5 tram and was drawn to, you are immediately enticed in by the colours and the stunning window display.

Our favourite was a combination of silver and black stingray leather but the choice is endless. Any girl will feel like a child in a sweet shop here!

Amsterdam is known for its tulips and from March to May every year, around 30km outside of Amsterdam, you can visit the tulip fields in the Keukenhof Gardens or even go biking through the farmers’ fields (don’t worry this is allowed!). But at any other time of year, visitors will have to make do with the Bloemenmarkt. The only floating flower market in the world, there are over 15 stalls on permanent barges on the Singel canal with beautiful cuts, and bulbs.

Finally, I really liked an antique and reproduction furniture and home-y store called De Weldaad in the Jordaan district. De Weldaad has some lovely shabby chic items as well as antique furniture and reclaimed industrial pieces. A few doors down from here is a lovely “brown” cafe, Cafe Proust, perfect for lunch or light bites. The term “brown cafe” used to refer to the nicotine-stained walls when smoking was allowed indoors, but now it refers to places with a friendly ambiance and casual vibe – think: cosy pub…

I loved my time in Amsterdam, I saw the best of what the city has to offer and could ignore the worst as it is not as prevalent as it once was. I found lovely places to eat and drink, and for a mini break just a short hop from the UK, it really did deliver.

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Amsterdam: Part 1 – It’s not all sex and drugs…

Amsterdam has long had the reputation of Europe’s “anything goes” capital city. From the red light district with prostitutes in the windows and sex museums to the cannabis cafes, it has always been a popular destination for anyone looking for a debauched weekend.

However, new rules have recently come in and the city has cleaned up its act somewhat, meaning that around a third of the brothels have been shut down and now non-Dutch citizens cannot buy drugs in the cafes.

This is great news because while Amsterdam has always been home to some of history’s finest paintings, the seedier nature of the city may have previously put art lovers, (along with many other people), off. Now it seems Amsterdam has become a city break destination for everyone; not only will culture vultures appreciate the huge collection of Van Goghs, Rembrants and Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum (temporarily being homed at the Hermitage Museum), but romantics can cycle through the network of 165 sweet little canals and fashonistas will love the designer shopping in New Bond Street equivalent, Pieter Cornelius Hooftstraat.

Along with the obvious museums and art galleries, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to Anne Frank’s house – the house turned museum where Jewish teenage girl Anne wrote a diary of her time in hiding from the Nazis in occupied Holland during the Second World War. Moving and emotional, this experience will tug on every visitors’ heartstrings.

If you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, many of Amsterdam’s houses have secret gardens hidden behind their huge fronts. Begjinhof, a 15th century convent, situated in a tiny courtyard garden, which despite its position right in the city centre, is almost completely silent from the traffic and hustle and bustle outside. The entrance can be found behind an unimposing wooden door next to the American bookshop which sits on the corner of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.

Heading up towards Centraal station are many little jetties offering boat tours of the canal networks. Despite being unashamedly touristy, these trips give you a fascinating insight into the history of Amsterdam, from the imposing merchants’ gabled houses to the 650-odd houseboat dwellers and their alternative way of living.

The largest open space in Amsterdam is Vondelpark, a 120 acre space perfect for walking, picnicking and sports. If you are visiting in summer, check out what is on in the open air theatre as there are performance of dance, music and theatre. In keeping with the sleazier character of Amsterdam, in 2008 it was decided that heterosexual sex would be permitted in the evenings and night-times in Vondelpark, although this ruling was later retracted!!!

Finally, well worth a wander around is Jordaan district – an upmarket residential area to the west of the city with lovely one off shops and a buzzing cafe culture (of the non drugs variety). There is also a market, Lindenmarkt, which sells clothes, books and bric a brac, as well as food, and an organic farmers’ market on a Saturday – the Noordermarkt.

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The Dordogne: A part of France that is forever England

For anyone watching a certain programme on British television currently about life in France, you can completely understand how the Dordogne gets its nickname “Dordogneshire”. Thousands of Brits have migrated to the region and instead of integrating fully with their new neighbours and enjoying the French joie de vivre, have instead opened fish and chip shops, market stalls serving curry and formed English schools.

While watching this programme, I found it so frustrating that a sizeable number of Brits have hopped across the channel for cheaper property and better weather but are steadfastly refusing to embrace the French way of life. This was highlighted even further whilst I was reading a local magazine recently, and to my surprise I saw advertisements for Tesco, Asda and Waitrose food deliveries!

Thankfully some areas of the Dordogne remain unaffected by these Francophobes and where Brits have settled there, they try to fit in with their French counterparts culturally and socially.

One of these areas is Montignac, a charming town on the banks of the Vezere river. Here the rural French lifestyle has rubbed off on its British inhabitants who make a living running gites or as tradesmen in the community (but enjoying an international client base) and eating French produce. The local specialities include foie gras and walnuts and in the past I have spent many an hour at a walnut farm, yes run by a Brit, foraging in the undergrowth for walnuts to fill my wooden trug.

There are many other parts of the Dordogne that have these Francophiles living there, so if you are looking for a traditional French experience in this region, it is advisable to research in advance, because otherwise you may as well save the effort of travelling abroad and opt for a “staycation” in the UK!

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My kind of Mykonos

Mountainous, rugged landscape as far as the eye can see, rocky cliffs and practically no vegetation or wildlife at all, where does this remind you of? It sounds like Morocco or another barren wilderness, but in fact it is Mykonos, much more like North Africa or the Middle East than anywhere in Europe. Along with its harsh exterior, this island has a reputation as a party destination. So as well as not being much to look at, is anything other than full on hedonism possible here? I recently took a trip round some of the beaches to find out.

By far the best way to travel around the island is by quad bike. Most people do and although the Greek drivers can be a bit scary with their blind bend overtaking and the steep uneven roads down to the beaches are a bit precarious, you get used to the roads in no time. But helmets are advised!

Ornos Beach in the south west was my first stop out of the capital Mykonos Town, a buzzy beach, surrounded by boutique hotels. I spent the day at Kuzina, a beach lounge bar recommended by a friend. It is well worth a day here, with double day beds to share with your nearest and dearest and a great restaurant with open kitchen.

Travelling east, Psarou Beach on the south coast turned out to be my favourite spot. This beach is accessed through a tiny sandy track so leave your quad bike or moped further up the road. The best place to head for here is Nammos, a super-cool beach club with sunbeds, glamorous staff, pumping tunes and a restaurant/bar serving the crispest rose and amazing food. I ate the most incredible squid stuffed with peppers and feta – delicious and a surprisingly large portion given the uber trendy don’t usually eat!

Moving a little further east is Paradise Beach – probably the one that conjures up the most typical thoughts of Mykonos. There are two extremes of bar here – Tropicana which is a cheap and cheerful beach bar with sunbeds, restaurants, and very loud cheesy music, and Cavo Paradiso – a huge house music club famous across Greece with hardcore clubbers.

Right round to the very east of the island, pretty much directly opposite Mykonos Town in the west, is a very quiet bay, Kalifatis. Famous for water sports because it is windier than other parts of the island, there are wind surfers and kite surfers out most days riding the waves. There are two restaurants walk-able to the beach – I preferred Aquarius – a small, rustic restaurant with friendly staff and excellent food. Try the shrimps with ouzo and cream or the grilled halloumi with sunblush tomato pesto for a lovely lunch.

There are plenty of other beaches of course but this gives you a flavour of Mykonos and shows that different types of holidays can be catered for. You certainly don’t have to be a clubber to have a great time here!

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The ultimate travel accessory A-Z

For me, my holiday starts with the flight and I really do look forward to the journey itself. Obviously this is enhanced greatly the higher up the class system of cabin I am in, and the little goodie bags in business and above filled with treasures have me Christmas-excited!! But I also have a checklist of things that I always take which make the holiday really get off to a flying (no pun intended!) start!

A – Aesop Jet Set Kit – I love this handy kit which includes shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body butter and all come in 50ml sizes which are hand luggage friendly. They are also produced using natural ingredients like geranium and orange rind so they smell good enough to eat.

B – Bagllerina ballet pumps – These oh so soft leather ballet pumps fold neatly in half and fit into their own leather pouch so you can avoid dirty feet while stretching your legs around the cabin.

C – Cashmere socks – bit of a cliché on an in-flight checklist but so much better than cold toes and they really are sooo cosy. I like the White Company ones.

D – Dental kit – I always take this kit by Go Smile away with me – it contains a toothbrush plus two different aromatherapy enriched toothpastes, one to give you a boost in the morning and the other to relax you in the evening, and all within an airport friendly see through pouch.

E – Evian Facial Spray – water is as good for the outside of the skin as it is for inside and just a couple of spritz’s of this light mist hydrate your skin and freshen you up in an instant.

F – Food – if like me you hate economy in-flight food (obviously the 3 course a la carte in business is far nicer!), you may want to take some snacks of your own. Processed and then microwaved to death meals don’t really appeal so I tend to take nuts, cereal bars and dried fruit which means you don’t have to start eating the complimentary pretzels and undoing all of your pre-holiday bikini prep.

G – Ginger Flight Therapy – another must-have from our friends at Aesop – this roll on for the neck, temples, wrists and behind the ears gives a sensory lift to weary travellers.

H – Hand cream – I like the travel size Cow Slip Soothing Hand Cream by Cowshed – it is citrusy, non greasy and keeps my newly manicured hands in tip top condition.

I – who can live without an iPhone? For listening to holiday playlists, taking photos, playing Sudoku, the map – as well as all the actual phone functions of course!

J – When you arrive somewhere hot, really intense perfumes can be a bit too overwhelming so I prefer light and floral scents. For me, Jo Malone’s English Pear and Freesia perfume is perfect.

K – Having discovered the Kindle, I would never go back to carting books on holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feel of a book but as a holiday essential, you can’t beat a Kindle. Lightweight, portable, and holds all your holiday reading in one place.

L – Lip balm – dry cracked lips do not look very attractive on arrival at your destination so make sure they are kissable even after a long flight. We like Bobbi Brown’s – with SPF 15 so you can wear it in the sun too.

M – REN’s Mayday Mayday Rescue Balm – this little tube works wonders on very dry skin – use it on your face, lips, elbows, knees, wherever you need extra hydration or to soothe irritation.

N – Notebook –I like the Smythson range of notebooks to record my holiday memories. I know that the online world is the future but you can’t beat a good old fashioned handwritten journal. Go for the ones engraved “Places to Remember” or “Travels & Experiences” to jot down your holiday secrets.

O – Ooh la lift from Benefit  - this cream provides an instant under eye boost for any sleep-deprived eyes.

P – Pants – leggings, tracksuit bottoms, PJ bottoms – whichever style you go for, a pair of comfy pants is guaranteed to help you relax. If you are in First class and get the free ones, even better but for everyone else, it is more a case of BYO.

Q-Tips or as we call them in the UK, cotton buds – for last minute mascara touch ups.

R – Rescue Remedy – for slightly nervous flyers like me but who don’t want to resort to pill popping or hard liqueur, this stuff is fantastic. It contains different plant extracts which reduce stress, so that turbulence goes unnoticed.

S – Suitcase – all that faffing to see whether your bag fits within the luggage rack and the embarrassment when it invariably gets stuck! Samsonite do a range of stylish cabin-sized bags which are lightweight and best of all, fit into any overhead locker.

T – Travel wallet – I am very particular about keeping all my travel documents together. I hate people who lose their boarding pass or passport at the gate and have sworn never to be one of them. Also I keep print outs of all the bookings I’ve made in advance – hotels, restaurants etc. I love the Aspinal range as they have a variety of colours and textures.

U – Underwear – the missing luggage situation is always super annoying, but it is helped a tiny bit if you have a few essentials in your hand luggage to see you through the first day – I always carry an underwear set for this eventuality.

V – Vuitton, Louis – these city guides are my favourites as they cover culture, food, nightlife, accommodation and shopping with a blend of luxury and off the beaten track hidden gems, so you can find whatever you are in the mood for.

W – White Company cashmere shawl – huge, cosy, warm, triples up as a blanket or pillow on the flight or a scarf if your destination is unexpectedly chillier than where you set off from.

X/Y/Z – the best thing to get on your flight are some Zzz’s so you arrive fresh and ready to fend off any jet lag.

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Shopping Mall Munchies

When I was growing up, on the rare occasion that I was at a shopping centre and needed lunch (I was part of the 1980s packed lunch or just-wait-til-you-get-home era) it was invariably a Marks and Spencer sandwich, and because people didn’t really have money to fritter away on things like that, even that was a real treat. So M&S roast chicken salad or ham, cheese and pickle were the top two choices and would make shopping with parents that bit more bearable.

Fast forward 10 years and the fast food chains all set up a presence in the shopping centres. So an M&S sandwich, became a quarter pounder with fries. Still a treat mind you. McDonalds became somewhere to hang out with friends and talk to boys so it definitely wasn’t a weekly occurrence.

However fast forward 20 years and shopping malls are almost unrecognisable. Not only are they a place for shopping but for some people they have become a dining destination in their own right. Some people just go to them for lunch!!

Take Bluewater for example – the range of restaurants available is huge and they are all mid to high-end of the high street eateries. On a recent visit, I walked past Jamie’s Italian, Wahaca, Brown’s, Wagamama’s, Carluccio’s and they are all absolutely heaving come 12.30.

So now thanks to this new generation of shopping malls with great restaurants, I can combine two of my passions in life, shopping and eating good food, all under one roof -this is surely heaven and well worth fighting for a parking space for?

Now we just need a champagne bar in the changing rooms….

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