SUMMER IN THE CITY – GLASGOW

 

City breaks are a great affordable way to see new places in a short amount of time, especially if you work full time but still want to fit in some travel! I spent one night in Glasgow recently, and wanted to share with you how I had a great couple of days on a budget!

 


BOOKING FLIGHTS AND A HOTEL

 

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My first place to go for booking any trip is kayak.com, which allows me to compare sites and prices and find the best deal! You can also compare hotels on the site however I tend to head to booking.com for the best deals, especially as they have a rewards system in place if you create an account. You can use my code: D7375EE1 to get £15 back after your stay.

I chose to stay at The Argyll Hotel in Glasgow, which is near the Exhibition centre. It’s a great location as it’s not too central so you can escape the busy city at night. It’s also near the West End which is a buzzing student area with lots of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. I was so impressed with my stay at The Argyll Hotel, in a beautiful traditional tartan bedroom. The room cost me around £30 for one night with breakfast included which is one of the best bargains I’ve found, and for this price the service, room and breakfast were all brilliant and I had no problems during my stay. The rooms are fairly small, but for a short stay I think they are perfectly equipped with a nice bathroom, television, information guides and a selection of teas, coffee and biscuits. I would definitely return for another stay here in Glasgow. For travel, the hotel is around a 10min walk to the Exhibition Centre station and then only two stops to Central Station.

 

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EXPLORING THE WEST END

 

My flight got in around 2pm, so I had plenty of time to get back to the hotel and head out and explore! There’s a quick shuttle service from Glasgow airport that takes you into the centre, costing £12 for an open return. As I mentioned, The Argyll Hotel is not too far from Glasgow’s West End, also home to Glasgow University and therefore super lively and fun. It was really sunny the day I went so I decided to visit the Botanical Gardens as these are free. I always like to find some good coffee when I’m in new places, so I stopped off at the ‘Papercup Coffee Company’, a really cool independent cafe serving great drinks and food. Then onto the beautiful Botanical Gardens! As you will see below the array of plants and flowers was so gorgeous, I couldn’t believe it was all free to see. My favourite part was the palm room which has bird and rainfall noises, making you feel like you are in the Amazon. On a sunny day like this it’s also great to relax in Kelingrove park or take a look around the lanes around Byres Road for the best independent stores and cafes.

 

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In the evening I headed to the Hillhead Bookclub Bar, which also does amazing food. This place has a really cool vibe,  it’s in an old cinema building, and it is retro and super fun. This would be the perfect place to hang out with friends, and I can imagine it gets a lot of buisness with the students of Glasgow. The food is reasonably priced, there is a bar and ping pong tables, and most importantly you can get strawberry mojitos for as little as £3!! As I was travelling alone, I found this a great place where I could relax, eat good food and read a book! (It would also be a destination for meeting new people if travelling alone!)

 

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Obviously there is so much more to discover in Glasgow, however I wanted to share what I managed to do in a short amount of time. I think that travelling locally, for example within the UK & Ireland, is something that is often passed up for trips further afield. However I have realised how much there is to see closer to home, and small, cheap trips like this can really open your eyes to a new world around you. By keeping an eye on flights and train prices, you can often find really good deals for a quick trip away – something that I’m going to do more of this summer.

 

 


 

 

Let me know if you enjoyed this post in the comments down below or by emailing elena@elenaswanderland.com. My next trip will be somewhere in Europe, and the first time I’ll be travelling alone outside of the UK & Ireland, so I’m super excited and nervous too. Keep up to date by hitting the subscribe button in the sidebar or down below.

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BEIJING AND KYOTO

BEIJING

Starting my tour of Japan with a day stop off in Beijing! So here’s what we managed to do in under 24hours:

First of all we flew with Air China. I was super impressed with the plane and the service on board. Flying economy class, my expectations were low however it was comfy and there was a decent amount of in flight entertainment on offer, although the screen does take a while to get used to. The flight was around 10hours and I had a very positive experience on board.

We landed in Beijing at around midday – be aware that this airport takes a long time to get out of, especially if you are looking to get a 72hr visa, so do prepare for that! I’d also advise against booking quick transits from here as it’s such an enormous airport that I think making another flight quickly would be a struggle.

From here you can get the train straight into the centre of Beijing! This is so cheap – I think it cost around £2.50 for 5 of us to travel, amazing prices especially compared to London. We stayed in a hotel close to airport – the Beijing Aulympic Airport Hotel – and this was great for early morning transfers, especially as there is a complimentary bus service to and from the airport. This was included when we booked with Air China, and I think this is a great option if you’re looking to save money, be close to the airport but also have a night in good quality hotel. I was very impressed by the service here – there’s plenty of freebies in the room, WiFi, tea, TV and comfy beds. Considering it’s close to the airport I didn’t feel disrupted by this at all during the night!

 

With limited time we decided to pick one place to visit and that was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Security is strong here so be prepared to queue to get into the square and make sure you have ID on you! Sadly for us we could only see the outside as there was a conference about to commence, however it’s well worth seeing and if you have limited time I suggest this is the best place to pick. Finding food is super easy, we went to the Raffle City shopping mall where there was so many cheap food options. Ramen is probably the best option if you’re looking for a good meal at a low price! It’s so easy to get out an about in Beijing, and with our particular hotel you could get the train back to the airport and take advantage of the free shuttle bus! If you’re on a stop off, a hotel near the airport is a must, especially with the large amounts of traffic on the roads and queuing in the airport.

 

KYOTO

Next stop was Japan! We flew from Beijing to Tokyo, again using Air China. This flight was just under 3 hours but there was still a meal and in flight entertainment included so that was great! We took advantage of the tasty food at Tokyo Haneda airport before heading to Kyoto. You’ll find that prices in Tokyo are higher than in Beijing, however it’s still easy to find a reasonably priced meal which is great quality.

 

 

Then onto Kyoto! On this trip we are using Japan Rail passes (JR PASS) which you can purchase in advance and use on mainline rail – not including the subway. We took the Shinkansen from central Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, a journey of around 3 hours. The Shinkansen is so easy to travel on with loads of room for luggage, and recliner seats to relax after a long day of travel. Staying a few stops out of central Kyoto is a great idea to save money and have a peaceful evening. We were lucky to stay near the Fushimi Inari Shrine which is Kyoto’s most well known destination. This is incredible – there’s something really special and peaceful about being here. You can walk through the 10000 gates, explore the shrine, buy blessings and wishes and taste some amazing street food.

 

 

Our next stop in Kyoto was the Railway Museum. This is also a popular destination and is very busy! It was actually so fun and interesting, a great place to take children if you want them to be entertained all day! Here you can see the history of Japan’s famous trains, with many full size ones to look around. You can have a ride on a steam train as well for around £3 per person. It’s hard to see everything here as it’s so enormous, but the main centre of the museum is enough of you’re looking for a fun day out.

 

 

And our final stop. As we only had one full day here we just picked one more place to visit and that was the Imperial Palace. You can buy tickets to look around the outside of the palace and it’s gardens on your own or with a guided tour. It is so beautiful here and if you like history and beautiful architecture then go and visit! You can get here by subway from Kyoto station and then there’s a short walk under 5mins. Definitely check entry times and prices before going!

 

 

During our time in Kyoto we found the best places to eat at the Porto dining area which you can access from Kyoto station!

 

An amazing start to this trip of a lifetime !! Next stop: Nagasaki. Keep checking for more posts in the next two weeks and sign up via email or WordPress by clicking my sidebar! Let me know what you think by commenting or liking down below x

(Also apologies to any email followers, I accidentally clicked publish a few times on this one!!)

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DEEP SOUTH: 5 States in 14 Days

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It’s been a few years now since I’ve visited the USA, however it is here that I had one of my most memorable travels – a road trip of the Deep South. We were able to cover Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee in under two weeks (one of these states were slightly cheated as you’ll find out later in the post!) Road trips are an amazing way to cover a number of places in a short amount of time – because lets face it, travelling to the US from the UK is pricey, so you might as well use your time wisely! Obviously first you need a good driver who’s willing to cover long distances and is pretty good with direction. We also did a road trip in California, one state over two weeks, and so it really depends on where you’re going and how much you can cover in the time you have.

In this post I mainly focus on Tennessee, as that is where we spent most of our trip. All hotels, museums and other recommendations are linked so just look out for the blue words!

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TENNESSEE

We flew into Atlanta, Georgia, and drove straight to Chattanooga in Tennessee (just over a two-hour drive). Here we stayed at a brilliant hotel, Chattanooga Choo Choo, with rooms inside the famous Terminal Station and actual train carriages! From this area we did a six-hour round trip on the Tennessee Valley Railroad, with a two-hour stop off in Chickamauga, known for the ‘Battle of Chickamauga’ in the American Civil War. Both the hotel and the train ride are top recommendations from me, especially as you love quirky places to stay and great history! We also had a fantastic tour guide on the train which made all the difference and his knowledge seemed never-ending. There is also a great incline railway offering amazing views. A top food recommendation is Urban Stack in Chattanooga – I am yet to taste a burger better than the one I had here so definitely worth a visit.

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MEMPHIS

1.GRACELAND

Whilst focusing on Tennessee, we visited my favourite city of the trip – Memphis. There is SO much to see in Memphis that I think you could do it as one trip. First of all Graceland – probably the most famous of our visits. As the former home of Elvis Presley, this is such an exciting and beautiful day out. Not only is it decked out exactly how Elvis had it, but it is also packed full of original records, costumes and a beautiful burial garden. Whether you’re an Elvis fan or not, this is one of my top recommendations of the trip.

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2. CENTRAL MEMPHIS

Beale Street is of course another top destination in Downtown Memphis. Most well-known for its history, especially in Blues music, this is the main hub of the city where you can go to Blues clubs and restaurants for the best live music. Our personal favourite was BB King’s Blues Club: this is popular with tourists and in high demand, so make sure you book in advance! Another quirky destination is the Peabody Hotel – a ‘legendary 12-story hotel famed for its resident flock of ducks’. Yes that’s right, ducks. Every morning these ducks walk out of the lift and through the lobby to their fountain for the day, and when evening comes they perform again, this time heading up to their home on the top floor. This is both hilarious and unbelievably cute. You don’t need to book at the hotel, just head in and get a drink in their lobby bar. You can also go up to the roof and get an amazing view over Memphis. However, be aware that this can be super busy so just get there early for a good view of the famous ducks! And if it’s within your budget, I would definitely recommend staying here as it’s classic, beautiful and right in the centre of town.

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The Mississippi River runs through Memphis so be sure to get on one of the boat rides here. As I said earlier, we did kind of cheat one of the states on our trip, as we reached ARKANSAS by boat along the river! This was a great day out, with the best views from the rooftop seats of the boat.

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3. SUN STUDIOS AND STAX MUSEUM

Now onto some top recommendations for music fans: Sun Studios and Stax Studios. Both are in Memphis and can be done in one day. I’d definitely recommend doing both if you’re a fan of music, as you get to see where different artists and styles of music were recorded in history. Sun Studios is known for being the ‘birthplace of Rock N’ Roll and home to the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Stax Museum is located in the former Stax Studios, home to American Soul music, with previous recording artists including Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding. There’s also footage of non-Stax artists including Aretha Franklin an Marvin Gaye. The staff here were also so helpful and friendly.

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4.NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM

Now onto my number one recommendation of the whole trip – the National Civil Rights Museum. I can easily say that this was the most incredible museum I’ve ever been to. It’s located within the Lorraine Motel, the place of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. I don’t have many words to describe this place other than breathtaking, earth shattering and emotional. I don’t think you can fully understand the impact of this museum until you have been there and there is something about it that has never left my heart. If you are ever in Memphis, or anywhere near, please go here! You will learn so much and be so greatly impacted to continue the movement that these people began.

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NASHVILLE

1. GRAND OLE OPRY

After watching Nashville on TV and also being a country music fan this was a dream come true! The Grand Ole Opry is just such an amazing venue. On the tour you get to go backstage and see who stayed in the gorgeous dressing rooms, including Dolly Parton. Then of course you get to go on the famous stage and pretend you’re a country star yourself, something I enjoyed far too much. Again, this is a great place for those who love music and those who don’t!

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2. DOWNTOWN NASHVILLE 

Like Memphis, Downtown Nashville is the hub of the city with great live music, shops and bars – most of these can be found on Music Row, well-known for its great entertainment. You can also see the famous AT&T building from the city centre! Personal favourites were Betty Boots and Ernest Tubb Record shop.

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ALABAMA

We stayed in Montgomery, Alabama. This is one of the most famous cities for the Civil Rights Movement, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King Jr. preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. For us this was a really important place to visit for these reasons, and the wealth of history and culture here is unbelievable. Our two top destinations here were the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum. At this museum you can see the exact location where Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus, and the museum itself is informative, moving and breathtaking – a must see!

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We also stopped in Birmingham, Alabama to see the memorial to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing – this is definitely worth stopping by if you decide to road trip.

MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi was stopped by shortly on our road trip to see Elvis’ childhood home in Tupelo. This is worth stopping by even if it’s just to get a great picture by the memorial, as my parents show below!

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GEORGIA

ATLANTA

And finally lovely Georgia! Sadly we only had time to see Atlanta in Georgia as we returned to fly home. This is a great city that I would have loved to spend more time in, however we did go to one big attraction and that was the World of Coca-Cola. This is absolutely brilliant and I loved every part of it. On a guided museum tour you get to see the history of Coca-Cola in a fun interactive setting – this even includes tasting some of the crazy drinks flavours Coca-Cola produce for the world, some of which are not very appetising! This is a fun, easy and family friendly day out which was a highlight on our trip. It’s approximately two hours long so easy to fill a day before flying too. Such a fun museum and actually really interesting too.

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So that’s our trip! Our days were also filled with general city exploring and driving but these are the overall highlights! It’s such an incredible trip to do. I would recommend if taking children to wait till they’re in their teens so that they can fully appreciate the history and culture. But overall, if you’re fans of music and history this is most definitely the trip for you!! Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, or by filling in a contact form below.

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HAVANA, CUBA

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 My family and I visited the most beautiful, inspiring and memorable city we have ever been to – Havana, Cuba. It exceeded our expectations by such a great amount and I never stop thinking about returning. Not only was the scenery amazing but the people had such a great impact on me, people who have close to nothing gave so much love to all of our family.

I haven’t had a chance to properly share my photos before and these are so special to me so I hope you enjoy them! I’ve included some tips and things that we did on our trip. All destinations are linked with their tripadvisor page for more info. My top 5 tips are listed at the end of the post so keep reading for those!

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So I had no idea that there is a forest in Havana! We were taken here as part of a car tour we did with two brilliant guides. This place is beautiful and you forget you’re in a city. However it is also a place of magic and spirit where many take voodoo dolls or perform sacrifices. Although this sounds scary, you’re unlikely to see any of this taking place, however I would highly recommend going with a guide, who will explain the history and beliefs around the forest! I took some of my favourite pictures here.

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This incredible building can be seen in the Plaza de la Revolucion. Famous for being the destination of Fidel Castro’s rallies, this square is an must see destination. The Jose Marti Memorial is a huge tower which dominates the square and from which you can get an amazing view of the government buildings – one of which is pictured above.

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The above photo is taken outside the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This is probably the most famous hotel in Havana as it is often used by celebrities and political figures on their visits including a recent visit from Obama! You can come here even if you’re not booked in and look at their room with celebrity photos or sit outside and have a cocktail! The outdoor bar overlooks the Malecon, the perfect spot for a drink at sunset – which is made even better by the live band willing to serenade you if you wish!

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The amazing Malecon pictured above. A popular walkway with an amazing view, one side of the city and the other of the sea!

My number one recommendation is go out and meet the locals! Don’t be afraid to go into the backstreets of Old Havana – everyone we met was so friendly and that is what made the trip so special to us. The above photo is of a lovely couple we met whilst walking around who insisted on taking us to see an original member of the Buenavista Social Club perform in a bar, something so special that we wouldn’t have found on our own! Old Havana is beautiful and fascinating and is where we spent a lot of our time. You’ll find markets, churches, restaurants and local people who want to talk to you and make you feel at home.

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If you’re looking for a good beach there’s beautiful ones about 30mins – 1hr out of the city. For us, we didn’t find it necessary to hire a car in the city as taxis are so cheap and you can hail them pretty much anywhere. We actually found a wonderful driver at our hotel – El Presidente – who was called Gustavo and so we used him for the rest of our trip! He is pictured below and is one of the best people we have ever met so thank you to Gustavo for making our trip so special.

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Go and watch the baseball! The Estadio Latinamericano is home to the Industriales and watching this was one of our best experiences of the trip: the stadium was packed and it was an amazing game with such an excited crowd. They actually have a seating area for tourists, as tourists pay more for tickets, and there is a great view from there. However, we decided to sit with the local people of Havana and this is something I’d recommend doing if you want to get the full experience of a Havana baseball match.

Finally my 5 top tips:

1. Pack all your toiletries and necessities before you go. Unlike other countries, you will not be able to buy these easily in Havana so you must bring them with you, especially things like sun cream and after-sun.

2. Immerse yourself in the city! In my opinion it’s essential to get out and meet the real people of Havana. By doing this it made Havana our most special and unforgettable trip to date!

3. Bring extra toiletries. We left extras for the cleaner of our room who we had befriended over our trip. She was so appreciative and she didn’t have access to our products over there, so it’s a nice gesture if you can pack some extras!

4. Don’t be afraid to use local taxis. All the local taxis in Havana are old traditional cars which you can usually see in pictures online. Although these cars have an overwhelming smell of petrol, it’s really fun to ride around in them, support the locals and meet some really lovely drivers!

5. Go and see some more of Cuba. We stayed in Havana for the duration of our trip but were still able to drive out to beaches, or get the train to smaller towns which were beautiful. If you have lots of time explore the rest of the country!

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Eléna Continue reading “HAVANA, CUBA”

MARRAKECH

 I kicked off my 2018 travels with 4 nights in Marrakech! We landed during the most amazing sunset and already I could tell this was going to be quite the adventure. We stayed in the RED Hotel Marrakech which was the perfect place to relax after our busy days out, especially with the poolside bar from day to night.

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Our first day was spent at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, The Jardin Majorelle – Yves Saint Laurent museum. Queues are long to get in so I would suggest planning to get their a bit before your preferred time, or booking tickets in advance. However, it is so worth the wait to see inside such an incredible building, containing some of the best clothing from Yves Saint Laurent over the years, as well as brilliant artwork, sketches and architecture. A great cultural visit if you’re interested in art, history and most importantly fashion! Furthermore make sure you take a break in the outdoor cafe ‘Le Studio’ for an iced tea before heading on to the gardens.

The Jarden Majorelle (Majorelle Garden) is certainly not worth missing! Created by French artist Jacques Majorelle the garden contains a maze of plants, palm trees, cacti, and a stunning villa painted with vibrant blues and yellows – keep your camera to hand for the great photo opportunities! The garden was restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge and is now a hugely popular public attraction and well worth a visit.

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After breakfast, the morning of our second day was spent at the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa market! We had visited a night before however going at the time of evening prayers was definitely too crazy for us! However during the day this is a wonderful market to visit. Be prepared to haggle your way to better prices and look at lots of different stalls before making a final decision. We were lucky to find a lovely man who took us to watch the dyeing process of fabrics for scarfs, using all natural dye there on site. You will most likely get lost here, it seems like the stalls and alleyways are endless, but eventually you will find your way out. Make sure to stop off and get some freshly squeezed orange juice – only 30p.

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A great destination to visit is Le Grande Cafe de la Poste. This is an incredible historic cafe set up in the old post office of Marrakech. The interior architecture is beautiful, very low lit and calm, perfect for a midday coffee or a special dinner. I would recommend going for dinner, the food is gorgeous and you are seated in the top floor of the post office with comfy sofas, a burning fire and great views of Marrakech. It is a bit more pricey than other restaurants in the city however it’s well worth the money, and still cheaper than what you would pay back in the UK. 

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And finally, a very special moment of our trip was a camel ride! This was out of the city in a rural area, and we were able to watch the sunset over the palm trees during our ride! It was a very surreal and scary experience, one I would not recommend if you’re scared of heights. However it was also so incredible to travel around the countryside with these amazing animals. One concern I had was with treatment of animals in tourist attractions, as bought to attention in the media with Thai elephant rides. However all I could see was a very positive environment in which the camels took part in two 1hr rides a day, and the rest of the time were relaxing. If you would like info on who we booked through then let me know!

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So overall an amazing trip to Marrakech. We did this in four days, and I would say this is the right amount of time for this city, with more time I would say explore the rest of Morocco such as Casa Blanca. My one recommendation is to just immerse yourself in the culture! It is so brilliantly different to our culture in the UK so enjoy it – walk around the streets, go to the markets, talk to locals and explore every part of the city. Also, there are plenty of rooftop bars and great restaurants to visit if you want to capture the beautiful African sunset.

Eléna