28 September, 2011

A two week holiday anyone?

A recent survey has found that more and more people are opting for a ten day holiday, rather than the traditional two weeks. It made me wonder whether this is the start of what I see as a terrible new trend. Is it just me, or do you really only begin to relax at the end of week one? It's only then that I start to genuinely unwind, and forget about all the stresses and strains of day to day life. Week two is always the time where I really enjoy my break, and hardly think about all the things I have to do when the holiday is over.

An interesting point in the survey were the reasons for people cutting their holidays short. Cost was certainly a factor, which is no surprise in the current economic climate. However what I found...well just plain sad actually, was that many people said they shortened their breaks because they missed their home comforts.

One of the only things I enjoy about returning from holiday, is climbing into my own bed! Apart from that, I could quite easily stay on a perma-vacation if money allowed! So could the rest of us benefit from this? While the people who miss the comforts of their domestic lives; pine for English tea, and their favourite television programmes, those of us who love travelling can relish new experiences, and make the most of the fact that they'll be flying home before we will!

What do you think? Is the two week holiday really in decline? Apart from family and friends, do you miss anything from home when you're on vacation?

26 September, 2011

Stunning views & cocktails in New York

I'm sure anyone who has been will agree that New York City is a magical place. The first time I visited; I found it strangely familiar, because I had seen the city in hundreds of films over the years. That feeling is quite comforting in a place that could be seen as daunting with people going about their business like bustling little ants, and the city's grid system of streets (confusing at first, but easy when you know how). Before my second trip to NYC, I stumbled upon a review of a bar that sounded like it was too cool to miss - and it turned out to be exactly that!  

Photo courtesy of Rare Bar & Grill

As a tourist in New York you constantly spend your time looking up at the skyscrapers and monuments all over the city, but at the Rare View Rooftop Garden it's a different story. Located in the Affinia Shelburne Hotel (Lexington Avenue, between 37th & 38th St.) you get a panoramic view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building, and for once, you don't have to crane your neck to see them! 

Photo courtesy of Rare Bar & Grill
I went with my Mum and the view is so breathtaking, we barely spoke when we were there! As the Chrysler Building is my favourite building in the world, I was totally mesmerized. Rumour has it that Fred Astaire loved to play the rooftop miniature golf course that used to be here; but that's now gone and instead there are 'bar beds', fairy lights, and of course the spectacular views!

Photo courtesy of Rare Bar & Grill
This is definitely a summer special (in fact, the outdoor bar closes during the winter months), and is certainly one of New York City's best kept secrets.

Do you have a favourite view in NYC? What and where is the best rooftop bar you've been to?

Click here for more details on Rare View.

21 September, 2011

Bolt-hole in Barcelona - The 5 Rooms B&B

Barcelona is one of the most vibrant; buzzing cities I've ever been to, and it's not hard to see why it constantly features among the top city break destinations in Europe. As any regular traveller will know, when it comes to short breaks the key is location; location, location, and it's one of the plus points of today's hidden gem. 

Photo courtesy of the5rooms

The 5 Rooms B&B is only ten minutes from the cathedral; five minutes from Las Ramblas; and one minute from the Passeig da Gracia metro station, making it a great choice for discovering what the city has to offer. The B&B has expanded and now actually has twelve rooms and two apartments. It occupies three floors of an apartment building, and you have the choice of rooms; junior suites, or the apartments which have their own kitchens, and are ideal for families. The rooms are spacious with modern furnishings, and exposed brickwork.

Photo courtesy of the5rooms

A continental breakfast is provided and quite frankly you eat so much when staying in this city, that it's more than adequate! A nice touch is the communal honesty mini-bar stocked with soft drinks and beers. You're spoiled for choice in terms of eating out in this area, and there are plenty of options for tapas, as well as larger Catalan meals.

Photo courtesy of the5rooms

The 5 rooms is boutique accommodation without boutique prices, and the location is hard to beat. Despite being so central, the rooms are still very quiet, and it's a fantastic place to return to after a long day sightseeing in the wonderful city of Barcelona.

If you want more information on the5rooms, click here.

19 September, 2011

Stobo Castle - luxury and relaxation

When day to day life gets too much, and I feel the knots tightening in my shoulders, there's only one place I want to be....Stobo Castle! It's a health spa and hotel, and while it is nestled in the countryside of the Scottish borders (just outside Peebles) it's only twenty miles from Edinburgh. Stobo is the one place in the UK that makes me forget the outside world, and feel completely relaxed by the time I leave. The castle itself is a stunning building, and the drive up to it is really special. A sweeping single track road winds its way through beautiful countryside, and you occasionally get glimpses of the castle along the way  - while you dodge the pheasants!

The castle was completed in 1811, and was transformed into a spa in the mid 1970's. A £5 million extension and refurbishment was completed in 2003 bringing it bang up to date, but retaining the traditional castle features.

The service at Stobo is impeccable, and feels very personal. The food is amazing; and while there are healthy options, this is not the sort of spa where you're going to feel hungry after dinner. Whether you want to pig out, or detox, your every need is catered for. Oh, and the bread is simply delicious...my suggestion would be to ditch the no-carb diet, even if it's only for the weekend! The treatments are fantastic (I'd highly recommend the paraffin wax for the back, neck and shoulders - mmm!); the exercise classes are superb, but what really makes it stand out from any other spa is the beautiful Scottish scenery.

The walks in the surrounding area are amazing, and the Japanese water gardens (above) within the castle grounds are stunning. The reception staff are superb at giving information on these walks, but they're also well signposted once you find the starting point.

If you want to escape the stresses of daily life, and forget all your troubles (there are no mobiles allowed in the public areas - bliss!) then why not try Stobo Castle. You can go as a day visitor, or stay overnight, but quite frankly a day is not enough - even after two nights, you don't want to leave! Check out their website here as they sometimes have superb deals.

Have you been to Stobo Castle, or do you know of another spa that ticks all the boxes? Let me know about it!

14 September, 2011

La Tupina - Decadence in Bordeaux

When travelling, I love to find restaurants that echo the local delicacies and flavours of the region I'm visiting, and when I was in Bordeaux I found a gem of a place that does just that. While wine may jump into your mind when you first think of the French city, you must not underestimate how good the food can be. On one of Bordeaux's oldest streets, La Tupina (which means 'kettle' in Basque) pays a fantastic tribute to traditional cooking in the south-west region of France.

Photo courtesy of La Tupina
The decor is both beautiful and rustic. In the centre of the restaurant is a huge fireplace, which is used to cook some of the dishes, and there are two cosy dining rooms. There are also tables outside on the cobbled street and, while they're great in the summer, part of the joy of La Tupina is the atmosphere and ambience of the rooms inside.
Photo courtesy of La Tupina
The specialities of the house include lamb and duck, and as I'd read about the latter before going, that's what I decided on. It really was like no other duck dish I've ever tasted. The hand cut French fries are cooked in duck fat over an open fire, and my mouth still waters thinking about them - decadent is the only word to use here! I'd highly recommend having a very light and early lunch before eating here so you can really make the most of it - the portions are generous, and will fill you up.

Photo courtesy of La Tupina
The restaurant is nestled on a side street a few blocks from the cathedral, and once you've had your meal, there's nothing better than wandering through the nearby streets whilst working off a few calories at the same time! The ambience in La Tupina is classy; the service is fantastic, and the food is quite simply amazing. If you're ever in Bordeaux and you don't go, you're definitely missing out!
La Tupina has quite a reputation, so it is definitely advisable to book in advance. For more information, click here.

Have you been to La Tupina? Ever tasted traditional food that simply blows you away? Tell me about it!

12 September, 2011

Blogging from afar

Today's mini post comes all the way from sunny Portugal. As my blog is still in its infancy, I didn't know what effect taking a two week break was going to have, but I'm delighted to say it has been a joy to blog on holiday, and I hope you've enjoyed my recent posts. To be honest, as a travel blogger there is nothing better than to get away from your normal surroundings, and be inspired by the things you see and experience in another country.

The good news for you guys is that every day, I'm discovering new places to share with you - I've found some amazing restaurants; beaches; and places to stay, so you can look forward to a whole host of tips on my return!

Later this week, Travel Lightbulb will be heading to France, and you won't want to miss this suggestion! For now though it's time for me to grab a book, and chill in the sunshine - life's a beach!

08 September, 2011

New York 9/11 memorial

We all remember where we were when the news started to break about the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001. It was a horrific day that no one will ever forget. When I first went to NYC, I felt I had to go and see where the incredible twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. It was a strange experience - I didn't really know how to feel, and struggled to comprehend how anyone in the city could really move on knowing the footprint of the towers would be there forever.

Photo courtesy of www.911memorial.org

Unbelievably, it's almost ten years since that dreadful day, and The National September 11 Memorial at ground zero will be dedicated on the 10th anniversary. The Memorial will remember and honour the people who died in the horrific attacks in both 2001 and 1993. The eight acre site where the towers once stood has been developed into a landscaped plaza complete with waterfalls, over 400 trees, and a wall inscribed with the names of those killed in the attacks. A museum, which will display artefacts linked to the events of 9/11, will open in 2012.

Photo courtesy of www.911memorial.org
For those planning to visit New York City in 2011, it will be a sobering experience. The 9/11 memorial will be dedicated on September the 11, 2011 in a ceremony for the victims' families. It will open to the public the following day. When the Memorial opens, construction will continue on the other World Trade Center projects, and if you are hoping to visit you'll need to reserve a free visitor pass which you can get here.

For more information, visit: www.911memorial.org

05 September, 2011

What does travel mean to you?

Travel Lightbulb has now been going for over a month and, as you'll know by now, it's all about sharing amazing places I've either found on my travels, or would like to visit one day. I also promised you some general travel ramblings, and after four weeks, it's about time I delivered! The other day, I came across an article with the headline "What does travel mean to you?". It really made me think. Travel is obviously a passion of mine, or I wouldn't blog about it - but what does it really mean to me? What a great question to get the mind going!

I know there are some amazing places in the UK, but when I think of travel, I picture a plane journey. That's when I feel like I'm going on a proper adventure. There are amazing places in the world that have cool climates, but when I think about holidays, I imagine warm weather. Is there any better feeling than stepping off a plane, and feeling the warm air hit your skin?

I love beach holidays, but I also love city breaks. I love luxury, but there's also nothing better than a fantastic budget find. With that diversity, holidays are never boring or predictable. Wherever I travel, I always want to feel like I've had an experience; that I've discovered something or somewhere new, and learned something about the country I'm visiting.

Some people can't wait to get back from holiday to brag about it - but I would rather be able to stay in the perfect locations I find, than return home to normality! The only reason I tell people where I've been is because I want them to share the wonderful experiences I have had. So what does it mean to me? Quite frankly, it means everything. American author Mark Twain once said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." That pretty much sums it up!

What does travel mean to you?