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    10 amazing Australia bucket list experiences

    When it comes to bucket list experiences, Australia does not disappoint.
    The country is a gold mine for adventure. Blessed with a variety of landscapes ranging from lively cosmopolitan hubs through to desert plains and the colourful ocean life minutes from its shores. Whether you’re a city lover, scuba diver, wildlife-seeker, sports enthusiast or adrenaline junkie, Australia has a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you.
    So grab your bucket list, we’re about to tick a few things off it.
    Diving in the Great Barrier Reef

    Definitely one of Mother Nature’s proudest achievements, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral ecosystem. There are several ways to admire the reef, whether it’s scuba diving or from above on a boat trip. Either way, this is a bucket list experience that everyone must do once in their life. 
    Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

    For the best views of this famous city, book yourself a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It’s not for the faint hearted but it offers unbeatable views (especially at night) and is a great way to get your adrenaline pumping.
    Meet dolphins in the wild

    Dolphins are friendly creatures, but usually you need to take a boat trip to see them. Their usual home is along the shores of Monkey Mia in Western Australia, however, they regularly swim into shallow waters to mingle with humans. Organised tours are operated by locals who know the best spots and have their own personal stories.    
    Travel through the outback on board The Ghan

    Considered one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, The Ghan Railway reaches areas of Australia that are otherwise inaccessible. Crossing the states of Southern Australia and Northern Territories, the train will stop off at Alice Springs, Katherine, and Coober Pedy (the end points are Adelaide and Darwin).  
    Drive the Ocean Road

    Over in the southern state of Victoria, lies Australia’s most scenic road trip. The Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial (it was built to commemorate WW1 veterans) and runs by several prominent landmarks. The most famous of these landmarks is the Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations.
    Soak up the atmosphere of Melbourne

    Melbourne definitely takes the top spot as Australia’s coolest city. It’s the perfect place to view colourful street art, shop in stylish second-hand stores, enjoy international fusion cuisine and drink cool cocktails into the early hours. Remember to also take a day to relax, embrace the city’s café culture and soak up the atmosphere – in a city as interesting as Melbourne, this is sometimes all you need to do.
    Cage Dive with Great White Sharks

    If you’re an experienced diver, head to South Australia and come face-to-face with one of the ocean’s greatest creatures. Most tours have to be booked in advance and many operators request that you already know how to work scuba equipment. There’s also the option of watching from the boat though. 
    Witness the Aurora Australis

    The northern lights might get more attention, but the lesser known southern lights are just as spectacular. They are a lot more elusive (and your timing needs to be impeccable) but it is undeniably worth it. The best time to see them is September with secluded Tasmania topping the list of locations.
    Watch the sunset over Uluru Rock

    Complete your Australian adventure with this fiery sunset. While the drive to Uluru rock is far (and bumpy!) the red glow from the rock in the later hours is one nature’s best tricks. 
    What’s your top Australia bucket list experience? How many have you ticked off?


    The Ultimate American Horror Story filming location guide

    It’s October and that means it’s fright time. Not just because it’s Halloween in two weeks, but because the latest instalment of American Horror Story is now on our screens.
    Acclaimed by critics and worshipped by fans, the show has become a favourite with TV fans obsessed with the macabre. Many of the season’s standalone storylines (that fit into a wider universe) are based or inspired by real-world events, such as New Orleans voodoo queens and disappearing colonies.
    The producers have brilliantly brought these storylines to life with some of today’s finest actors, impeccable special effects and location scouts who spent weeks looking for the perfect filming sites. Fans of the show have made it their goal to not only track down every filming location used, but also the real-life locations of the stories some of the seasons were based on.
    Ready for a pop culture guide/history lesson? Let’s get started.
    Season 1:  Murder House
    The Harmon residence might not have been the friendliest or happiest home in the world, but there’s no denying that the house was beautiful. In real life, it is known as The Alfred Rosenheim Mansion and can be found on the wealthy Westchester Place in Los Angeles.
    Its real history is also fascinating (but a lot less gruesome). Rosenheim was an architect by trade (as well as a roller-coaster designer!) and built the house in 1902 for himself and his family. They sold it after eleven years to California’s richest man, A.J. McQuatters (the then president of the Alvarado Mining and Milling Company). The house then switched hands in the early 1930s to actor Edward Everett Horton.
    After that – believe it or not – the house was sold to Catholic Order of Nuns who used it is as a convent. They built a chapel on its grounds, and all the attic scenes were filmed here. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1994 and the nuns put it on the market for an impressive $3 million.
    The producers of American Horror Story weren’t the only film-makers to choose the house as a backdrop. Spiderman, Seabiscuit, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Six Feet Under, Bones, Dexter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have also filmed here.  
    Season 2: Asylum
    While Asylum was set in gloomy 1960s New England, the series was mostly filmed in sunny Orange County. The exterior shots of the asylum were the Santa Ana Courthouse – an imposing Romanesque structure that was perfect for bringing the frightful Briarcliff Mental Institution to life.
    Season 3: Coven
    Die-hard fans will want to visit the Lalaurie Mansion - and we mean the real one. While the Gallier House was used for exterior shots, and the Hermann-Grima House was used for interior, this isn’t where everything went down in 19th Century New Orleans.
    On Royal Street, near the waterfront, you’ll find the real Lalaurie House. Purchased in 1832 by Doctor Louis Lalaurie and his wife Delphine, it became the location of many lavish parties and gruesome crimes. The couple was well-respected among the New Orleans elite but the slave trade began to notice the high-turnover of their house slaves.
    When a fire broke out, their secret was no longer safe. When law enforcement got to the property they discovered the missing slaves in the attic - many of them disfigured, mutilated and amputated. Some were also dead and never disposed of. The couple had already fled the city and it's widely believed that they moved to France. Many believe it was a slave who started the fire in the kitchen in the hopes of attracting attention from law enforcement.
    Over the years the building has been used as a saloon, barber and furniture shop. It was even owned by the actor Nicolas Cage at one point.
    For somewhere more light-hearted, remember to pop by Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies aka the Buckner Mansion in NoLa's Garden District. You’ll also find Maison Vitry in the Treme District stepping in as Marie Laveau’s Cornrow City Salon. 
    Season 4: Freak Show
    While this season was meant to be set in Jupiter, Florida, the producers kept to New Orleans. The circus camp was a purpose-built set that is longer there. But fans can still stop by Dandy’s home. The real location is Longue Vue House & Gardens in the Lakewood neighbourhood. The diner in the series is Camellia Grill in the French Quarter.
    Die-hard fans might also want to make the trip to Philadelphia. Specifically to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia to learn more about the real-life Edward Mordrake.
    Season 5: Hotel
    Welcome to Hotel Cortez, aka the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. While not used as a filming location by the producers, this infamous hotel and its shady past inspired the series. It opened in 1927, and since then has there has been over a dozen deaths caused by suicide, accident or murder. Its name changed in 2013 to Stay on the Main.
    The deaths that have taken place on the property are not the only thing that’s a bit off-putting. It was also the reported residence of serial killers Richard Ramirez in 1985 and Jack Unterweger in 1991. It is also rumoured that the Black Dahlia (who was actually portrayed Season 1 Murder House) made the Cecil Hotel her last stop before her death in 1947.
    For filming, the producers used The Oviatt Building at 617 South Olive Avenue for its exterior shots. The lobby and hotel rooms were a purpose-built film set inside Fox Studios, but there’s one place you can visit. The ornate wood-panelled ballroom is the lower level of the Los Angeles Theatre at 615 South Broadway!
    Season 6: Roanoke
    If you’re looking for the farmhouse where Matt and Shelby stayed, you’ll be disappointed. The house was purpose-built for the show in the Calabasas area of California. But you can still visit the real Roanoke (sort of).
    The modern-day Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in North Carolina is where the Roanoke colony was established by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587. At the same time, a native Croatoan tribe also lived on the island and not everyone peacefully co-existed. Colony leader John White travelled back to England for more people and supplies. But between the harsh winter and the Anglo-Spanish war, he didn’t return for three years. When he did, there were no people or buildings, only the word Croatoan carved into a tree.
    Many historians, archaeologists and conspiracy theorists have tried to work out what happened to them. While you won’t find any remains in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, there is a visitor centre with information.
    Season 7: Cult
    We’re only half-way through the current season and we’re not sure how many locations we might be introduced to. But eagle-eyed fans picked up from the trailer alone that the house the ice cream truck drives in front of is the same house that belonged to the Doyle’s in the 1978 Halloween slasher flick. The real-life location of these houses is Orange Grove Avenue in West Hollywood (the Myers House was 707 Meridian Avenue, South Pasadena, California.)
    Now that the show is running, we’ve discovered that the show’s main characters Ally Mayfair-Richards and Ivy Mayfair-Richards live in the Doyle’s former house. And a murder has already taken place across the street – in the same house where the Wallace family lived in Halloween. Oh, and the murder took place while a bit of babysitting was going on.
    Coincidence or homage? You decide.
    What is your favourite season of American Horror Story so far and can you name any locations that we’ve missed?


    New Zealand isn't just for backpackers

    Hitchhiking around New Zealand and trying to relive scenes from Lord of the Rings may seem like the perfect holiday for some. But what if you like hot showers, excellent food and sumptuous sleeping arrangements? The good news is you don’t have to scratch New Zealand off your list.
    New Zealand has more to offer than roughing it, and we’re here to help you to enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful countries in style.
    Getting Around

    Forget long distance buses. New Zealand is the land of the road trip, and renting a car can be one of the most rewarding ways to experience it.
    Take a trip from the north island to the south island (with a ferry in between) and watch the landscape shift dramatically from beautiful beaches, and volcanic mountains, to windswept plains, glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Or simply rent a car to do short trips into the nearby countryside from wherever you’re staying.

    With so much natural beauty to take in, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about urban life in New Zealand, which is contemporary and energetic. Nowhere is this more evident than Auckland, where skyscrapers rise up from beautiful beaches and sparkling ocean. View it all from a luxurious suite in the Sofitel Auckland.
    If the city gets too much, get in your car and head to Solitaire Lodge, a leisurely three hour drive from Auckland, to experience the awe-inspiring Lake Tarawera in one of the world’s best boutique hotels.
    New Zealand is also one of the greenest countries on earth, with numerous, thoughtful eco-lodges. However, the south island does it best with Hapaku Lodge, which offers 360 degree views from handcrafted, sustainably-built treehouses.
    Eating and Drinking

    New Zealand is in the midst of a culinary renaissance. A new generation is celebrating their country’s gloriously fresh, local produce.
    Taste award-winning, cool-climate wines on the south island and immerse yourself in what looks to be wine’s next big thing. Try the sauvignon blanc from Cloudy Bay, or sample the pinot noir from Delta in Marlborough.
    For delicate food in an unpretentious setting, visit Grove in Auckland. And if you’re in the market for the pinnacle of New Zealand’s fine dining scene, look no further than
    The French Cafe, voted the best restaurant in the country in 2016.
    Things to Do

    New Zealand, after all, is a place of adventure and excitement. Add some exploration to your holiday by taking one of the many cruises out of Auckland to The Bay of Islands and bask in the sublime beauty of New Zealand’s ocean landscapes.
    While you’re on the water, New Zealand is teeming with marine life, so seize the opportunity to tangle with world-class marlin, kingfish and snapper.
    For serious thrill seekers, the appeal of New Zealand is its status as one of the originators of modern bungee jumping. Start at Karawau Bridge, the first commercial bungee in the world, and build up courage for The Nevis, a 143m jump from a cabin shakily suspended in mid-air by nothing but cables.


    Staff Travel Diaries: AmaWaterways along the Rhine

    Hi there, I’m Melanie Charnley and I’m a Cruise Consultant here at Barrhead Travel. Recently I decided to book myself and my mum our very first river cruise . I choose the Enchanting Rhine itinerary from AMA Waterways, which is seven days and took me from Basel to Amsterdam. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the luxury surroundings and the fascinating excursions. This is what I got up to during those seven days.
    Day 1 – Embarkation and welcome party

    We flew with KLM from Manchester to Basel, via Amsterdam arriving early evening. After collecting our luggage we went to find our transfer to take us to our river boat. Not really knowing what to expect, my mum and myself were surprised to spot a pristine looking gentleman holding our names and ready to privately escort us to the AmaKristina, our home for the week.
    We were the last to arrive and board the ship. Unfortunately we missed the majority of the welcome reception, but we were soon filled in on the important information we needed to know. We were escorted to our cabin that was on the lower deck. Our cabin was number 110. It was very comfortable with twin beds, a table and 2 chairs, a good size bathroom with walk-in shower, wardrobe and a desk with a mini fridge and TV. There were 2 large windows (shoulder height) that let in plenty light and were good for taking in the great views.  
    After settling into our cabin, we were then invited up to the lounge to catch the end of the welcome party where we were given a glass of bubbly, and then onto the welcome dinner in the restaurant. After tucking into an array of culinary delights (which didn’t disappoint), we then had a wander up to the sun deck and watched as the ship set sail. We then retreated to the lounge for a nightcap and listened to the talents of the ship’s pianist Nikola, who was superb, before heading back to our room for what was going to be a fantastic night sleep with not one disruption of noise or motion considering we were sailing (after we had eaten the chocolate left on our pillow!).
    Day 2 - Exploring the vineyards of Riquewihr

    This morning we woke up in Breisach. Excited for the day ahead and still undecided on which excursion to choose, we went to breakfast to fuel up on the wonderful choices of fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurts, cooked breakfast and omelette, not to mention the options available to order on the menu, and the pastries.
    We had another look at the daily cruise newsletter which explained both trips available for us to do. We could either go to Riquewihr, which is a little Alsatian town surrounded by miles of vineyards, or we could go to Freiburg which is a trade town between the Danube and Rhine, calling at the Freiburg cathedral. We opted for the Riquewihr trip with regular walking (you could choose gentle, regular, or active).
    The drive to Riquewihr was lovely with loads to see along the way. We were soon surrounded by miles of vineyards in which Riquewihr is situated in the middle of. The tour guide we had was very friendly and knowledgeable and the whole trip was very well organised.
    She led us through the medieval hamlet, untouched since the 16th century. We walked up the cobbled street with the running commentary through our Quietvox box in our ears explaining the history of the hamlet and certain buildings. When we arrived at the Dolder gate, we were let loose for some free time before returning to the coach to go back to the ship for lunch. It was the perfect amount of free time to sit outside a bar and sample a glass of local wine.
    When we arrived back at the AmaKristina, it was lovely to be greeted by the crew handing out warm flannels and a glass of ice tea to freshen up. Intrigued by what was available for lunch we went straight to the restaurant. Salads and pasta were available on the buffet today, along with the made to order menu that consisted of soup, steak sandwiches and chicken ciabattas. Spaghetti Olio was a firm favourite for me that day!
    We set sail at 2pm up river towards Strasbourg and, as the weather was glorious, the only suitable thing to do was sit in the hot tub on the Sundeck with a Rose wine. The perfect relaxing afternoon.
    It was my mum’s birthday that day, and she made me promise not to tell anyone as she doesn't like to be the centre of attention. That evening it was taken out of my hands as a familiar birthday celebration song came over the speakers. To then see the Cruise Manager David and restaurant staff approaching our table… it was soon apparent it was all for mum’s benefit and a lovely fuss was made with lots of well wishes from crew and guests alike -  along with a birthday cake for her! Promising my mum I hadn’t told anyone it was her birthday, David said they have our dates of births and there was no hiding from being made a fuss of!
    After a fun-filled day, we went to the lounge for a few vinos, before retreating to the cabin to recharge ready for the next day! (After eating another chocolate left on our pillow). It was lovely going back to our stateroom when the fabulous housekeeping team have been looking after it all day as well as turning down your beds ready for your night’s sleep. The cabins were very well looked after and kept spotlessly clean and stocked with toiletries and drinking water!
    Day 3 – Strasbourg City Tour

    After another nutritious breakfast and vitamin shot, we once again had left it until last minute to decide what excursion we wanted to do. We looked at the daily cruise planner and we could either do a guided city tour of Strasbourg, or a bike tour. We opted for the city tour where we were guaranteed to see a number of sights.
    At 9am we met at reception and were guided to our coach. The coach tour took us around Strasbourg where the sights we could see included the Place de la Republique, the European Parliament, with all its flags up on display, and the Orangerie which is the town’s oldest park which houses a zoo and a palace.
    After the coach tour, we were dropped off in the centre of Strasburg on the ‘Island’. This area of Strasbourg is called ‘Petit France’. It is an area of medieval half-timbered houses and sandstone buildings, situated on the Grand Ile (the main island). It is surrounded by canals which come from the River Ile. The entire town centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour continued on foot at this point, we walked along the canal, again with the running commentary through our Quietvox box, whilst taking in the scenery of the beautiful old houses and shops.
    Our tour ended at the Notre Dame Cathedral where the main attraction is not only the size and the Gothic architecture but also houses the Astronomical clock. At 12:30pm every day there is a film played explaining how it was made and you can watch the clock chimes and witness all the elements of the clock in action. After some free time, we were picked up by our coach and taken back to the AmaKristina for an Alsatian-style lunch.
    Boarding the ship we were again greeted by the wonderful smiles of the crew handing us a refreshing drink and flannel to freshen up. We soon realised this was going to be the norm on our return every day and personally I felt so overwhelmed with how personal and intimate this cruise was going to be. Not like any other holiday I have been on; I felt like a respected person board and not just a number amongst hundreds of guests in a hotel.
    We chilled out in the lounge this afternoon but there were shuttle buses provided to take you back into Strasburg if you wanted to go.
    When I thought the cruise couldn’t get any better, we walked into our spotlessly tidy cabin after the housekeeper George had been in to get ready for the evening, there was a gift box placed on each of our beds. Thinking it was a box of chocolates, we opened it to find a limited edition scarf along with a note from the president of the company, Rudi Schreiner, welcoming us on board and wishing us a marvellous stay.
    The evening meal yet again didn’t disappoint: plenty to choose from and if you didn’t like the chef's choice there was always chicken, steak and salmon to order. After the meal we went to the lounge for a while and watched the evening entertainment which was ‘Armand and Muriel’, performing French songs and music. We set sail at midnight tonight and made our way up to Mannheim.
    Day 4 - Mannheim

    We docked at Mannheim at around 8am. The second largest river port in Europe. As the daily cruise newsletter is left in your cabin the evening before by the housekeeping team, we had already looked and decided to go on the Heidelberg excursion. The alternative choices were Medieval Speyer, Philosophers Path Hike or a guided bike tour.
    After breakfast, we travelled by coach to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest university towns. We had an escorted tour around Heidelberg Castle that is situated on a hillside 300 feet above the old downtown, overlooking the Necker Valley, the Old Stone bridge and Heidelberg below. Whilst we were at the castle, we were able to visit ‘The Great Vat’, a wine cask that can house 49,000 gallons of wine from the 18th century. It even had a dance floor on top!
    Our tour guide was able to explain the history and stories behind the castle and its stone carvings, and even its link to the British Monarchy and the visit Prince William and Kate had made a few weeks before. After the castle tour, we were taken downhill by cable cart. We had a walk around the town centre and were left with some free time to discover the town at our own leisure.
    Our coach picked us up and took us back to the ship for lunch on board. We sailed at 2pm that afternoon up river towards Rudesheim. That afternoon called for another dip in the hot tub with an obligatory rosé wine while watching the fabulous views pass by.
    Every day there was a briefing in the lounge with the Cruise Manager David where he explained the following day's program and, on this occasion, what was in store for this evening when we arrived in Rudesheim.
    At the end of our evening meal, we docked in Rudesheim. Shortly afterwards we all met at reception ready to be picked up by the ‘Choo choo train’ to take us up into the town. We stopped at the Siegfrieds Music Cabinet Museum, where our group split in two. Some of us went there and the remainder of us went to the Schloss Rudesheimer to sample the local Rudesheimer coffee. The bar had a fantastic atmosphere with live music playing, and the girls working there were dressed in traditional attire.
    We watched as the Rudesheimer coffee was prepared. Asbach brandy is the special key ingredient, which was set alight and stirred, then mixed with coffee, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles! Our tour group were soon up dancing and having a fantastic time. Our Cruise Manager David escorted us along this trip and made sure everyone was having a fantastic evening. When our time at the Schloss Rudesheimer was over, we walked back up the cobbled street with bars either side, to meet the ‘Choo Choo Train’ to take us back to the AmaKristina. We went past the AmaSonata which was also in port this evening. Fantastic day!
    Day 5 – Rudesheim and Castle Cruising

    Catching the ‘Choo Choo train’ again to take us into Rudesheim, we met the Gondola which took us uphill over acres of vineyards. When we arrived at the top, we went to the great Niederwalddenkmal statue overlooking the entrance of the Rhine Gorge. Next stop was back on the Gondola downhill to partake in wine tasking with Adolf Stozel – a local wine expert. We sampled 3 different wines and in-between each taste we had a pretzel to clear our palette. It took place in a traditional old style wine cellar.
    After the wine tasting, we had some free time to explore before the railway picked us up to take us back to the ship for lunch. There was a traditional German lunch on board that day, along with the standard buffet and made to order menu, followed by an ice-cream party in the lounge before departure.
    This afternoon was one of the highlights of the cruise for me, the sun came out and we all hit the top deck for an afternoon of Castle Cruising up the Rhine Gorge. Captain Jan navigated us up the river, while David provided the commentary along the way as we sailed past each castle. The Rhine River is the only river famous for the number of castles along its banks. There is in excess of 30 castles to watch, along with the famous Lorelei Rock. The Rhine Gorge was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 2002. Halfway through the Castle cruise, we were served with a hot mug of Rudesheimer coffee. 
    We continued sailing this afternoon until we reached Koblenz, a town at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
    We arrived at Koblenz early evening and were quick to leave the ship to have a short guided tour of the town with David before returning back to the ship for the evening meal.
    Tonight’s entertainment was brilliant. We had a singer on board named Matt Williams who sang a variety of songs ranging from Elvis to Robbie. He certainly got everyone in a good mood and up dancing.
    Day 6 – Cologne

    We sailed from Koblenz at 7am upriver to Cologne, arriving at around 1300. After breakfast, we retreated to the lounge to relax and watch the sites as we sailed. We sailed past the collapsed bridge of Remagen. We had the commentary in the lounge explaining the bridge’s history and its collapse on the 17th March 1945.
    At 1030 Fruhschoppen was served in the lounge. This is a traditional German 2nd breakfast consisting of sausages, pretzels and beer. An early lunch was then served before our arrival into Cologne, or Koln as it is called in Germany. Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city with a population of just over 1 million.
    We made our own arrangements today and walked into Cologne. Minutes away from the ship is the Central station, Theatre and Cathedral, it was very easy to navigate around. We stopped by the Cathedral and had a brief walk around and a coffee before returning to the ship to get ready for the Captain’s cocktail party and farewell gala dinner.
    Tonight was an occasion to dress up. We made our way to the lounge and was greeted with a Cocktail and welcomed by David, the ship’s Cruise Manager, and Guido, the ship’s Hotel Manager. It really was a brilliant night, we met Captain Jan and were introduced to the entire crew of AmaKristina. Captain Jan gave a good overview of our sailing and long stretch we were about to sail that evening up to our final port in Amsterdam. Our glasses were constantly topped up and at the end of the cocktail party we made our way down to the lounge for the Gala Dinner.
    Dinner was fabulous, probably the best yet and each evening you would think it couldn’t get any better. After our meal, we went up to the lounge for a few more drinks. Music was playing and guests were dancing, and then the evening mellowed down and the boat musician Nikola played and sang along with the Piano.
    After an hour in the lounge, we went back to our cabin ready to wake up and make the most of our final day.
    Day 6 – Amsterdam

    We woke up in the Netherlands sailing through the Dutch waterways on route to Amsterdam. We went for breakfast and then relaxed in the lounge or on the sun deck taking in the views. It was a long stretch we sailed and the views were glorious.
    We arrived in Amsterdam after lunch and got into our groups ready for our excursions. We opted for the city tour and canal cruise. We boarded our coach and drove through the city seeing iconic sites along the way. When the couch tour came to an end, we then had the canal cruise, which was fantastic, cruising through what is described as the Venice of the North. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out all the houseboats, tilted houses and other points of interest including Anne Frank’s house.
    We had some free time in Amsterdam to browse the markets, canals, and museums before we met the tour guide to take us back to the boat. On our way to meet the coach, he took us through Begijnhof – one of Amsterdam’s hidden courtyards occupied by only women and he explained the history behind the convent.
    When we got back to the boat, we got ready for our final evening meal on board. The dining experience on board was fantastic. The Maitre’D Daniel, the chef and restaurant crew were superb in making sure your evening meal was served efficiently, cooked to your liking and your wine/drinks glass was always topped up, all served with happy smiles and conversation throughout the evening. All of the meals on board were skillfully prepared and requests were duly noted and carried out where possible. 
    The evening entertainment tonight was a classical concert with La Strada. It was relaxing and easy listening to the guitarist and violinist playing in unison exquisite classical music. It was a lovely wind down from an amazing holiday.
    Day 8 – Home Time
    We had to vacate our staterooms by 9am this morning, which was ample time to get ready and close our cases. Breakfast is served until 9.30am and then pastries were always served in the lounge from 9.30 onwards so even if breakfast was missed, there was always a snack on offer to make sure you didn’t go hungry. 
    We vacated our room and then went to breakfast. Check out was very well organised, we were given luggage labels to pop on our cases and we had to leave these outside our room. The crew then collected our cases and then they were looked after until our transfer arrived. We were getting picked up at 12.30 and were welcome to stay on board and make the most of the hospitality until we left.
    Everything was very well organised and the Cruise Manager was aware of everyone’s transfer when it arrived. Our luggage was then carried out by the crew and we were escorted to our transfer by David where well wishes and thanks were exchanged. It was very hard leaving as we had such a fantastic time, met some wonderful people (both staff and fellow guests).
    My holidays have always been a typical beach holiday where I do very little. The river cruise has totally changed my perception on holidays and made me realise there is so much more of the world to see and how enjoyable a more active holiday can be. I didn’t know what to expect on board, but it really did go over and beyond my expectations.  Now to plan my next river cruise…….


    5 budget winter sun destinations

    Let’s face it, the UK never gets winter right.
    And there’s only so many months we can take of sludge, grey skies and electric blankets. Instead of patiently waiting for April to arrive, many of us just take off somewhere else for a week (or two) to perk up our spirits. Problem is, the later months of the year can get expensive and we’ve already splashed out on our ‘main’ holiday for the year. So we recommend these 5 cheap winter breaks to see you over until spring.
    1. Canary Islands

    No matter what time of year it is, you can always rely on the Canary Islands for a sun-drenched getaway. Even better, they don’t have to cost you the world. With a range of accommodation offers you can stay in a five-star villa or a two-star self-catering apartment. The choice is yours. Keep an eye open for Canary Island deals, as there are always plenty of them floating around.
    2. Gambia

    Gambia might not be a place you’d immediately think of when you picture a relaxing sunshine holiday, but it’s one of the world’s hidden gems. It’s much cheaper than other more established resorts, and you can stay in high-end hotels on a mid-range budget. January is its coldest month, but even then it is a toasty 24°C. You also won’t need a visa if you’re only there for travel.
    Related: A beginner’s guide to the Gambia
    3. Cape Verde

    Savvy travellers have been heading to Cape Verde for a few years now. The beaches are pristine, the landscape not dissimilar to the Canary Islands, and the sunshine beautiful - so it’s not hard to see why. The islands are also home to a unique Creole Portuguese-African culture, which is especially noticeable in the local foodie scene.
    4. Doha

    With new skyscrapers popping up along its glittering coastline, Doha is sometimes hailed as the new Dubai. There’s no pretending that Dubai is a cheap winter sun break, but Doha has many of the same things that attract people to Dubai – at a much cheaper price.
    5. Marrakech

    December is an excellent time to visit Marrakech. The scorching summer heat has now cooled, plus the famous souks and bazars are less busy. Our tip, however, is to dine at the local restaurants rather than the hotels (the opposite to most travel advice, we know) as it’s the hotels who like to hike up the price of a three course meal.


    A shopaholic’s guide to Milan

    Milan might be filled with beautiful architecture and fascinating history, but it’s no secret that many people flock here because of the city’s undeniable influence on the fashion industry.  
    The streets themselves look like something straight out of Italian Vogue. Those wacky catwalk fashions you see at Fashion Week? You might look ridiculous wearing them in the UK but in fashion-centric Milan, it is the norm.
    While you might assume you need to re-mortgage your house to shop here, savvy shoppers know how to find a designer bargain. You just need to know where to look.
    So grab your shopping bags, we’re going to Milan.
    Quadrilatero d'Oro
    If you really want to buy the latest high-end threads and don’t mind dropping a few grand, then visit the beating heart of the fashion industry. Roughly translating to the highly apt 'rectangle of gold’, you’ll spot all the big brand names such as Prada, Versace, Valentino, Tiffany & Co, Roberto Cavalli, and Fendi. Keep an eye out for the flagship Gucci store and the Armani Megastore.
    Even if you aren’t planning on dropping some serious cash, it’s still an impressive place. The window displays are works of art and the atmosphere is energetic. 
    Corso Buenos Aires
    If you’re looking to pick up some familiar high-street names, then head to Corso Buenos Aires in north-east Milan. It boasts the largest concentration of clothing stores in Europe, most of which are mainstream and recognisable. H&M, Zara, Nike, Adidas, and Guess all make an appearance.
    After you’re finished shopping, take a breather in the nearby Indro Montanelli Public Gardens where you’ll find the Planetarium and the Civic Museum of Natural History.
    Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
    Similar to Corso Buenos Aires, this is a great place to pick up some high-street favourites. But it is also home to one of the city’s biggest department stores, La Rinascente. Boasting eight floors, you’ll find everything from clothing to perfume.
    Serravalle Designer Outlet
    There’s a joke amongst locals that only tourists shop in the expensive city centre. Experienced shoppers know that you can find top designer labels for much less in the many outlets found around the city – especially the ones you have to make more effort to get to.
    Serravalle is the city’s biggest outlet and lies 50 miles outside of the city centre (a convenient shuttle bus service runs 3 times a day from Milan Foro Bonaparte and once a day from Piazza Duomo). Here you’ll find 300 designer brands all with a price tag of 30-70% off. The shopping centre also had free WiFi, multilingual staff, a children’s playground and restaurants.
    Basement Outlet
    Not far from the city centre, you’ll find this unbelievable gem. While outlet stores have a reputation for being sweaty and a fight-for-all, Basement has a more boutique feel. Hidden beneath street level in a basement (hence the name) you’ll find some well-known designer labels for 30-70% off.
    Top tips for shopping in Milan:
    Sale season is the same as the UK: January and August. Most shops in Milan operate from 9:00 till 19:30 (13:00 – 15:30 is usually lunch break). Only shop in the designer stores if you really want this season’s top fashions and have the money to spare You can still own designer threads for half the price if you know where to look Don’t get hung up on shopping – Milan is a lot more than just fashion!


    10 must-try traditional Greek delicacies (that you haven’t heard of)

    In the UK we are no stranger to Greek cuisine, thanks to the availability of Mediterranean style restaurants. However, nothing beats the real thing. And no trip to Greece is complete without filling your plate up with as much delicious local cuisine as possible. While it’s tempting to stick to what you know and order a Greek Salad, Moussaka, or Baklava – we instead recommend giving one of these traditional recipes a try that are not as readily available in the UK.
    This almond based cookie is extremely popular and isn’t hard to find. Typically you’ll find them in casual settings and many Greek locals like to pair it with a glass of warm Greek coffee.
    Ellinikos (Greek Coffee)
    On the topic of coffee, we recommend trying Greece’s most popular type of hot drink: Eillinikos. Available in three variations, choose between Vari Glyko (strong & almost honey sweet), Metrios (medium sweetness) and Sketos (without sugar).
    Courgette Balls (kolokithokeftedes)
    This popular starter brings together a creamy filling and a crunchy coating, with a burst of flavour made up of courgette, feta cheese and fresh mint.
    Greek Fava Dip (Yellow Split Pea Puree)
    If Santorini is your Greek island of choice, you’ll see this appetizer popping up on menus across the island. Sometimes extra olive oil is added, so it can be used as a side dip as well.
    Saganaki – Fried Cheese
    Calling all cheese lovers. This only takes 10 minutes to prepare (it’s literally cheese coated in flour and fried) and makes for the perfect comfort-food appetizer.
    Also known as a Greek spinach pie, this tasty and hearty dish is prepared with (or, sometimes, without) feta cheese, butter, olive oil and baked until golden and crispy. It can also be served as a starter, side or main meal.
    Bursting with juicy flavour, Yemista is the Greek word for stuffed tomatoes (but sometimes you’ll find variations made with green peppers, courgettes, eggplants or aubergines) that are usually filled with rice and various herbs (sometimes mincemeat).
    The perfect main when you need something tasty and filling. Pastitsio is a baked pasta dish with added ground beef and béchamel sauce.
    Moving onto desserts now, you have to let this beautiful sweet dish melt in your mouth at one point of your holiday. A traditional sweet dish that goes back hundreds of years, it is made up of crispy pastry sprinkled with melted butter and usually served with custard and syrup.
    If you like your desserts a little more savoury than sweet, then try these golden puffs of fried dough. Usually sprinkled with sweet syrup, walnuts and cinnamon.


    10 alternative city break destinations this winter

    Winter is the perfect time for a city break. A nice budget friendly way to fit in one last holiday before the expensive festive period. But Europe only has so many cities – or so you think.
    Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Rome and Paris are undoubtedly Europe’s most popular cities.  However, even if you’ve ticked all these urban hubs off your bucket list there are still numerous other cities perfect to explore this winter. Here is just a selection of some of Europe’s hidden metropolises with just as much culture and entertainment as the big players. 
    1. Bucharest

    Looking for a spooktacular Halloween break? Why not take a trip to the home of Dracula! Bran Castle is a three hour drive from Bucharest, and there’s no shortage of tour operators offering a bargain price. In the city itself, you’ll find an eclectic mix of historical buildings and post-1980 architecture in the six distinct districts.

    This well-known German city is hardly the most out-there destination, but it doesn’t have the same celebrity-status as Berlin. However (in the same way that some British people consider London to be heavily commercialised) many Germans consider Berlin to be a metropolitan hub full of hipsters and reckon Hamburg offers a more genuine Germanic experience.
    3.Galway or Cork

    If you’re looking for a super quick weekend away with your pals, Dublin is usually top of the list. But don’t forget about Cork or Galway. The two coastal cities offer everything you would come to expect from Ireland: music, scenery, nightlife, history and culture.
    4. Tallinn

    The capital of Estonia is already popular with stag dos and beer enthusiasts, but it also packs a lot of history into its compact walls. Its Old Town survived the war and is well-preserved, while the modern part of the city is a mix of Baltic, Nordic, Teutonic and Russian cultures. A great time to visit is during the annual Tallinn Music Week (27 March – 2 April) when the city highlights its growing rock and electronic music scene.
    5. Marseille

    Paris isn’t the only chic city you can reach via Eurostar: the quieter city of Marseille in the south of France is only 6.5 hours from London. As you wander around the various areas of the city, you’ll be met with independent boutiques, contemporary art galleries, beautiful churches, and trendy rooftop bars.
    6. Valletta

    While Malta might be widely considered a great escape for a beach break, its capital city is home to the biggest density of historic sites in the world. Malta is also home to some Europe's best festivals. 
    7. Gothenburg

    If you’re looking for a city full of cultured arty types – then we recommend the Swedish city of Gothenburg. You’ll find colourful architecture, charming canals and street art. There’s even an amusement park with a lime green rabbit as its mascot!
    8. Bologna
    Craving a taste of real Italy? Bologna is a foodie hub of Italy that has remained sheltered from mainstream tourist crowds. The city is also home to Europe’s oldest university and, as such, the nightlife is second to none.
    9. Athens

    Athens is not exactly unknown, but Greece is more famous for its beaches and holiday resorts that its ancient capital city. The Acropolis is by far the city’s most popular attraction, but make sure you also stop by the Temple of Poseidon, Museum of Delphi and The Panathinaiko Stadium (where the very first Olympics was held).
    10. Trondheim

    Looking for a winter wonderland? Norway’s original capital boasts northern Europe’s second largest cathedral (Nidaros Cathedral) and the scenic Nidelven River winds its way through its streets. Viking heritage is also in full-swing here, with the Stiklestad Cultural Center built on the site of country’s goriest battle. If you’re lucky, the northern lights might also make an appearance.


    10 of the best festivals in Aruba

    Aruba is definitely one of the livelier Caribbean islands, and boasts a constant stream of festivals throughout the year. Whether it’s water sports, gastronomy, music or a colourful Mardi Gras – Aruba doesn’t need much excuse to fill out its streets for a party. If you’re visiting Aruba soon, check to see if any of these lively gems fall during your holiday dates.  
    Aruba Carnival
    Unashamedly loud and colourful, The Aruba Carnival the most vivid event in the entire festival calendar. The most recent one lasted from November 2016 until March 2017 and included several spectacular events including the Jouvert Morning Pajama Parade, Children's Balloon Parade and a Mardi Gras event – before finishing off with Carnival Monday.
    Aruba Fashion Week
    Aruba is well-respected within the Caribbean for its taste in fashion and Aruba Fashion Week is a big event. The next Fashion Week is taking place in December, with 18 designers ready to showcase their newest designs and a trade show with 25 exhibitors signed up already.
    Aruba Food Truck Festival
    Food trucks have been changing the foodie landscape across the world – and Aruba is no exception. Back in April the country held its very first food truck festival, at Plaza Nikki Habibe, with eight different food truck companies in attendance along with four beer tents.
    Aruba Hi-Winds
    Aruba boasts the perfect weather conditions for windsurfing, so it’s no surprise that the largest amateur windsurfing event in the Caribbean takes place here every year. Aruba Hi-Winds attracts over 100 amateur windsurfers from the Caribbean, U.S., Europe, and Latin America, and they go onto compete in various competitions, in different categories, off the shore of Fisherman’s Huts.
    Dande Festival
    This is Aruba’s largest traditional music event and features more than 50 musical acts performing traditional Dande song using authentic Aruban instruments such as the tambu, wiri and raspa. The Dande Festival always typically takes place over the New Year period, and the next one starts in December 2017.
    Love Festival
    The festivals in Aruba are not all about sports or traditional culture – Love Festival brings together some of the best dance acts in the world to party under the sunny skies. The 2017 edition will be held in December and will feature Roger Sanchez, Stefano Noferini, and Dennis Ferrer.
    National Anthem and Flag Day
    On March 18th 1976, the Aruban flag that we now know was officially adopted to the sound of Aruba Dushi Tera (composed by Padu del Caribe, Hubert Booi and Rufo Wever). Every year since, a charming folkloric festival is held at Plaza Betico Croes in Oranjestad, along with a food festival and other cultural events.
    Aruba Wine and Dine Restaurant Week
    The date for the next Wine and Dine Restaurant Week is yet to be set, but it’s one of the biggest food related events on the island. Every year, several restaurants from across the island offer an exclusive Restaurant Week menu with terrific savings. Care is also taken to ensure that these restaurant hit different foodie types – whether you’re after fine-dining or fun family tapas!
    Annual Aruba International Pro Am Golf Tournament
    Golfing is amazing in Aruba, and in late August professional and amateur golfers get together for this two-day, 36-hole tournament featuring gifts, prizes, and special events. It’s held at the Tierra del Sol Golf course in the north of the island, and features a challenging course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with a desert layout similar to links courses of the American Southwest.
    Aruba Cup
    Need more golf? In December Aruba will see another golf tournament rock up on its shores. This competition will feature only top golfers as they go head to head for coveted title, and is also held at the Tierra del Sol Golf course. If you stay at the attached accommodation during the Aruba Cup you’ll be treated to Unlimited Golf, daily breakfast, use of the pool, gym, sauna and steam room, complimentary wireless internet access and $35 credit to be used at the Spa.
    What’s your favourite Aruba festival?


    10 facts you didn’t know about the Iguazu Falls

    The Iguazu Falls are one of the world’s most famous waterfalls. A trip to South America is definitely never complete without a day trip to witness them in real life.
    Whenever you visit one of the world’s natural wonders, it’s always good to arm yourself with some background knowledge. You’re probably already aware with some key facts anyway, but are you familiar with the following 10 pieces of information about the Iguazu Falls?
    1. It has a larger average annual flow than any other waterfall
    You probably already knew that the Iguazu Falls is the world’s largest waterfall system. So it’s probably no surprise that it boasts the largest annual water flow of any other waterfall. In the rainy season from November to March, it can reach a whopping 450,000 cubic feet per second.
    2. It name means Big Water
    Guarani is a native South American language that is still spoken by some indigenous tribes – with Iguazu roughly translating to Big Water.
    3. Legend has it a scorned lover created the waterfall
    Apparently Mboi, a deity in the form of a serpent, was to marry a beautiful young woman called Naipi. Then she fell in love with a young warrior, Tarobá. When the young woman and her lover tried to escape in a canoe, she split the river in a fit of rage (with his serpent tail) and they fell to their death.
    4. But others believe it was a volcanic eruption
    Which is probably more likely, but we’ll leave you to decide.
    5. It was discovered by Spaniards
    Specifically it was the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was the first European to stumble upon the falls. One of the falls on the Argentine side is even named after him.
    6. Birds even live inside the falls
    You’ll spot some birds plunging into the falls. Don’t be alarmed. The birds you see are Great Dusky Swifts and they nest on the rocks behind the walls.
    7. Indiana Jones even stopped by
    The Iguazu Falls were used as a backdrop in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They also featured in Moonraker (1979), The Mission (1986), Mr. Magoo (1997) and Miami Vice (2006).
    8. The surrounding rainforest boasts a whopping 2,000 species of plants
    It is also home to the opossum, the only marsupial that is found outside Australia.
    9. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site
    And they were also made a New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 11, 2011.
    10. There are three ways to view the falls
    You can walk along the viewing platforms, take a boat on the lower stream or jump on a helicopter ride. All are equally beautiful and provide a different view of this beautiful piece of nature.

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