Hello Oahu!

Oahu, Hawaii – one of the best places I have visited over the years! I can see why people continue to return here year after year! The people are so friendly, the weather is beautiful, the food is amazing and no matter which island you stay on, there’s plenty to see and do!

We struggled to decide whether to visit Maui or Oahu on our first visit to Hawaii but eventually settled on Oahu – it did not disappoint!! The name of Oahu translates as “the gathering place”.

We stayed in a hotel very close to Waikiki Beach and just over the road from the International Market Place.

There are so many amazing places to visit whilst staying on Oahu. Some of the highlights of our trip included the following:

Pearl Harbor

You don’t often expect to burst into tears on holiday but the tour was so so insightful and incredibly moving and very tastefully done. During the massive attack on Pearl Harbor, one of the ships that sank was the USS Arizona, and as part of the trip you can stand above the wreckage of this incredible ship, and visit the monument to the men who were killed in this ambush. You can also tour the Battleship Missouri.

On December 7, 1941, Washington intercepted a written message from Japan threatening war. The United States did not appreciate the full implications of the 7:30am Hawaii deadline. A last minute warning was sent to the Pacific commanders, however General Short did not receive the message until hours after the attack. Poor communications between Washington and Hawaii helped the Japanese achieve the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese began their air attack. The first wave arrived over Pearl Harbor at approximately 7:45 am to find seven U.S. battleships moored along “Battleship Row”, on the east side of Ford Island. Other moorings which the Japanese believed might include battleships, or the equally important aircraft carriers, were at the Navy Yard’s 1010 Dock and along Ford Island’s western side.

The Japanese initially hit the airfields, destroying many aircrafts located on the southern tip of Ford Island. This attack was the World’s first notification that war had begun in the Pacific. Moments thereafter, torpedo planes attacked from the west hitting the USS Helena, USS Utah and USS Raleigh, all on the west side of Ford Island. From the east, torpedo planes came in and hit the USS California, the USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma and West Virginia located on the east side of Ford Island.

As the torpedo planes continued the first wave attacks, additional bombs were dropped on “Battleship Row”, hitting several ships. The USS Arizona received a death blow followed by a huge explosion. As the first wave departed, the Japanese telegraph operator taped out Tora, Tora, Tora: the code word for surprise attack achieved.

The second wave of planes further attacked some of the ships already hit, further destroying the Navy Yard. The battleship Pennsylvania and three destroyers were bombed in dry dock. Other bombers went after the Nevada, which had left her berth and was trying to get to sea. Anti-aircraft gunfire met these ships, causing losses which were far greater than those of the first attack wave.

You can find out more about Pearl Harbor here.

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Tour of Honolulu – Ko’olau Mountains

It is not a mountain range in the normal sense, because it was formed as a single mountain called Koʻolau Volcano (Koʻolau means “windward” in Hawaiian). What remains of Koʻolau is the western half of the original volcano that was destroyed in prehistoric times when the entire eastern half slid into the Pacific Ocean.

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Iolani Palace

The ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty, founded by her brother, King David Kalākaua. On a more modern note, it as where the most recent series of Hawaii 5-0 was filmed!

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Eternal flame memorial 

The Eternal Flame is an abstract sculpture erected just across the street from the Hawaii State Capitol Building in Honolulu. It is a lovely memorial which honors those who have served in the armed forces of the United States.

The Honolulu State Capitol building

The Hawaii State Capitol is the official statehouse or capitol building of the U.S. state of Hawaii. From its chambers, the executive and legislative branches perform the duties involved in governing the state.

Wedding Vows!

The hotel we were staying in organises a complimentary renewal of vows ceremony on Waikiki beach every week and so we took full advantage of this during our stay! It was a lovely event hosted by a real Kalu (priest) complete with Hula Dancer. It was really magical and a lovely memory to add to our holiday!

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Learning to surf

Hubby also couldn’t wait to take advantage of the waves of Waikiki beach and had soon signed himself up for a surfing lesson. As you can see from the pictures, he is one of those irritating people that attempt something for three minutes and then somehow seem to master it! I sat on beautiful Waikiki beach and worked on my tan and played the part of paparazzi whilst he showed off his new found skills!

Paradise Cove Luau

As soon as we had booked our trip to Hawaii the one thing I knew I wanted to do was to go to a luau!! After a bit of research we decided on booking tickets to the Paradise Cove Luau.

Your Paradise Cove Luau begins with a Mai Tai greeting. You then stroll through the Hawaiian Village and learn the Arts and Crafts of the islands and play traditional Hawaiian Games such as:

  • ‘O’o ihe: Spear throwing. ‘O’o ihe, which once trained young warriors in hand-to-hand spear fighting and helped develop skills for food gathering, is frustratingly difficult. A target, sometimes the stalk of a banana plant, is set up. Contestants stand 15 feet away and attempt to stick a lightweight wooden spear into it!
  • ‘Ulu maika: Rolling stone disks. ‘Ulu maika or ‘olohu was one of the most popular sports in early Hawaii. It consisted of rolling carefully crafted playing stones, resembling modern hockey pucks, on specially prepared courses. The stones were rolled between stakes to test a player’s skills or rolled down long courses to show strength.
  • Moa pahe’e: Dart sliding. A player slides a moa, or wooden dart, between two stakes or for long distances much like the competition in ‘ulu maika.

After the delightful Shower of Flowers, where men climb trees and sprinkle beautiful flowers onto the beach and crowd below, you can learn about the net fishing techniques of old Hawaii.

Later you can witness the time-honored techniques of underground oven cooking at the Imu Ceremony. An imu is an underground oven that uses a combination of hot coals, stones and layers of leaves and cloth or mats to steam food.  For a luau, the imu is primarily used to cook the delicious shredded kalua pork, a staple on any luau menu. The ceremony consists of removing the layers of cloth and leaves from the pit oven to expose the cooked pork. The pork is removed from the pit and taken to the kitchen for shredding.

After watching the beautiful sunset, the evening then continues with a traditional Hawaiian feast and an unforgettable display of songs and dances by amazing performers (including fire in some performances!)

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Byodo-In-Temple

The Byodo-In Temple is a temple located at the Valley of the Temples. It was dedicated in August 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The temple is a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple at Uji in Kyoto prefecture of Japan. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a functioning Buddhist temple in the proper sense as it does not host a resident monastic community nor an active congregation.

The TV series Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, P.I. featured several episodes where the temple is incorporated into the plot. The temple and its vicinity also served as a stand-in for South Korea in one episode of the ABC series Lost and as the Presidential Villa in an episode of seaQuest DSV.

The temple was also used in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor as a replica of the Byodo-In Temple in Japan.

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Chinaman’s Hat Island

Mokoliʻi, commonly known as Chinaman’s Hat, is a basalt islet in Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaii. Mokoliʻi is part of Kualoa Regional Park and is located 13 mile offshore of Kualoa Point, Oahu. 

Mokoliʻi translates from Hawaiian as “little lizard.” According to Hawaiian mythology, the island is the remains of a giant lizard’s or dragon’s tail that was chopped off and tossed into the ocean by the goddess Hiʻiaka. The common name of Chinaman’s Hat derives from its likeness to the Asian conical hat.

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La’ie Point

La’ie Point is tucked away behind a neighborhood in Laie, a small town on Oahu’s north shore. This small strip of land is called Laie State Wayside Park but most people just call it Laie Point. The iconic landmark of Laie Point is this small islet with a big hole in the middle. La’ie Point is apparently a popular cliff jumping spot! Rather them than me!!

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Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is on the North Shore of Oahu and is known for big wave surfing during the winter season. The original Hawaiian name for this place is Paumalū. Today Sunset Beach is home to the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which is part of the World Cup of Surfing.

Like many beaches on Oahu’s North Shore, Sunset Beach is considered dangerous for inexperienced surfers, due to extensive coral formations near the surface! All the surfing contests take place in the winter around December and January, that being the time of the largest and best waves for surfing.

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Turtle Bay

The area which is one of the last undeveloped areas on Oahu is recognised for its rock formations, wild coastal beaches, threatened green sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seal habitats. The beach is sandy but the swimming conditions are very poor at Turtle Bay because the ocean bottom near the shore is very rocky. There is a large limestone shelf that spans almost the entire length of the bay.

Due to its still largely unspoiled landscape, natural beauty and large waves along with its proximity to Honolulu, it is a popular area for filming. The area was the setting for the 2008 Universal Pictures film Forgetting Sarah Marshall and also served as a backdrop for the ABC TV series Lost.

Anyway, down to the real reason I wanted to visit this amazing place – check out these beautiful guys who were there to greet us on our arrival!!

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Dole Plantation

Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience” in 1989. Today, Dole Plantation is one of Oahu’s most popular visitor attractions and welcomes more than one million visitors a year.
Dole Plantation provides enjoyable activities including the Pineapple Express Train Tour, the Plantation Garden Tour, and the Pineapple Garden Maze. And, before you leave you can purchase fresh pineapple to take home!

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic cone on the island of Oahu and was given its name by English Sailors who mistook the calcite crystals on the adjacent beach for diamonds. Diamond Head is estimated to be around 400,000 to 500,000 years old and was created after a series of eruptions from the Koʻolau Volcano.

A 0.75-mile (1.1-km) hike (!!) leads to the edge of the crater’s rim. The hike is not a casual one: the mostly unpaved trail winds over uneven rock, ascends 74 steps, then through a tunnel and up another steep 99 steps!! Next is a small lighted tunnel to a narrow spiral staircase (43 steps) inside a coastal artillery observation platform built in 1908. From the summit above the observation platform both Waikīkī and the Pacific Ocean can be seen in detail, and the views really are spectacular and well worth the climb (although – highly recommend not doing the climb in the midday heat, in flip flops, like I did!!)

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As you can see, an incredible place with so much to see and do and so much history to learn about! I would highly recommend paying a visit – if I was offered the chance to go again I would absolutely jump at the chance!

CocoChlo in San Francisco

San Francisco – what a fabulous place!! Another place I visited which I wish I had visited for longer! We only visited for three days but what a fun-filled amazing three days it was! During our trip we saw the following places:

Union Square – the central shopping, hotel and theatre district of San Francisco! Pack a credit card! Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s and plenty of other high end stores await!

Coit Tower – also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower. Coit Tower was paid for with money left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Lillie Coit was one of the more eccentric characters in the history of North Beach and Telegraph Hill, smoking cigars and wearing trousers long before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. She was an avid gambler and often dressed like a man in order to gamble in the males-only establishments that dotted North Beach. Lillie had a special relationship with the city’s firefighters. At the age of fifteen she witnessed the Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 in response to a fire call up on Telegraph Hill when they were shorthanded, and threw her school books to the ground and pitched in to help, calling out to other bystanders to help get the engine up the hill to the fire, to get the first water onto the blaze. Lillie’s will read that she wished for one third of her fortune “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved. “Two memorials were built in her name as a result – one was Coit Tower, and the other was a sculpture depicting three firemen, one of them carrying a woman in his arms.

Alcatraz – Be prepared to spend a good few hours at this fascinating place! During your tour you can expect to see, amongst many other things, the morgue, the showers, the cells, the dining area, the recreation yard, the lighthouse and the prison office! I think hubby was keen on locking me in a cell and leaving me there though!

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Also while at Alcatraz they cover the amazing stories of those who have escaped the prison, the most famous escape being the June 1962 prison break. More info can be found here.

San Francisco Cable Cars – the worlds last manually operated cable car system and an icon of San Francisco! Only three routes now remain – two routes from downtown Union Square to Fisherman’sWharf (Powell-Mason line 59 and Powell-Hyde line 60) and the third along California Street (California Street line 61).

We travelled on the Powell-Hyde line which I was told was the best one to take to capture pictures of the fantastic hilly streets of San Fran. The route also takes you past the infamous Lombard Street – a street with eight hairpin turns and described as “the most crooked street in the world”.

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The Golden Gate Bridge – The bridge has been described as the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world. As you can see, unfortunately on our trip to the bridge we were the victims of San Francisco’s well known microclimate and the majority of the bridge was covered in fog! Such a shame!

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Presidio Park is a park and former U.S. Army military fort and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park is characterised by many wooded areas, hills, and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It was recognized as a California Historical Landmark in 1933 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

The Painted Ladies Victorian Houses is the row of Victorian houses at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square park, sometimes known as “Postcard Row.” The houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived next door in the 1892 mansion at 722 Steiner Street. This block appears very frequently in media and mass-market photographs of the city and its tourist attractions and has appeared in an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads. 

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The Financial District serves as San Francisco’s main central business district. It is home to the city’s largest concentration of corporate headquarters, law firms, insurance companies, real estate firms, banks, savings and loans, and other financial institutions. The city’s tallest buildings, including 555 California Street and the Transamerica Pyramid (see below), and many other tall buildings, such as 101 California Street and 345 California Street are located there. Montgomery Street (sometimes called “Wall Street of the West”) is the traditional heart of the district.

The Transamerica Pyramid is the second-tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline and on completion in 1972 it was the eighth tallest building in the world. The building no longer houses the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, but it is still associated with the company and is depicted in the company’s logo. It’s a very fascinating building!

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China Town centered on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia!! Since its establishment in 1848, it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. There are two hospitals, numerous parks and squares, a post office, and other infrastructure. China Town is also a major tourist attraction, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge!! Well worth a visit whilst you are in San Fran!!

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Pier 39 – also worth a visit whilst you are here! At Pier 39, there are shops, restaurants, a video arcade, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, virtual 3D rides, and views of California sea lions hauled out on docks on Pier 39’s marina. California sea lions have always been present in San Francisco Bay and they started to haul out on docks of Pier 39 in September 1989. Although fluctuations in the number of sea lions at Pier 39 are dramatic, (as many as 1,701 in Thanksgiving Week in 2009, have been officially reported at one time) many of whom are recognisable and some of whom have been unofficially named! 

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An amazing city unlike anywhere else! If you get the chance to visit then do so – my only other piece of advice is to check the temperatures before you go – the weather is very unpredictable and for the majority of the three days we were there, hubby and i were absolutely freezing when we were out at Alcatraz and near the pier! Speaking to some locals, they said that local traders make the most of their profits through tourists mis-judging the weather! Apparently the most popular items purchased from local stores are hoodies and sweatshirts!! Travel prepared guys and wrap up warm!!

Welcome to Miami!

My only regret about visiting Miami was that we didn’t visit for long enough! We travelled to Miami as part of a multi centre trip and only ended up spending three days here which was no where near enough time!!

We arrived in MIA airport in the afternoon but due to the ridiculous queues we encountered in customs we didn’t arrive at the hotel until the early evening! Be prepared to allow plenty of time to clear customs before making arrangements!!

Our first full day in Miami started at the Miami Seaquarium where we got to see Dolphins, Manatees, Sea turtles and Sea Lions and of course the infamous Killer Whale. We visited here before all the controversy surrounding the treatment of Orca Killer Whales in captivity (which came about as a result of the Blackfish Documentary) and although it was amazing experience to see all these incredible animals, and they all appeared to be well looked after, I’ve made a conscious decision to boycott these types of places from now on…

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The following day we took part in a full day tour of Miami, I usually like us to explore most places by ourselves but because our time was so short here in Miami this day tour was absolutely perfect to fit as much in as possible.

The tour started with a Miami city tour which included sights such as The Versace House,   Ocean Drive, Biscayne Bay and even the cemetery where the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller was filmed!

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The Versace House
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Ocean Drive

The second part of the tour was a boat trip around Biscayne Bay which was absolutely brilliant! We had excellent photo opportunities of Star Island (where all the celebrities live) and the amazing Miami Skyline. We even got the chance to see the infamous house where Scarface was filmed (and just in time, as it was very sadly demolished shortly after our visit) and the houses where Bad Boys 1&2, Cocoon, Addam’s family and Miami Vice were filmed!! Throw in Madonna’s and Robert De Niro’s house and all in all it was a real star spotting afternoon!!!

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The Scarface House
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The Addams family House

The third part of our tour was a trip to the Miami Everglades!  We started off with an airboat ride through the everglades which was windy and extremely loud but a fantastic experience!! The guides talked us through the different animals and birds we encountered along the way, including baby alligators and GIANT toads!

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After our airboat ride, we sat down and had talks from the guides about alligators, toads, parrots and other animals they encounter on a day to day basis. Check hubby out with the baby alligator named Larry!!

We finished the evening off with a visit to Miami’s South Beach to catch it when it was relatively quiet and to see the sunset. If we had had more time in Miami I would have definitely spent the day here!

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Miami is somewhere I would love to visit again, and to spend far longer here as well, particularly as a few months ago I ended up binge watching the series Dexter on Netflix which is filmed entirely in and around Miami! Watching this series has only made me want to return to Miami even more!

A Magical Trip to Iceland

In December I was lucky enough to spend four days in Reykjavik, Iceland to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Each of us have chosen a place to visit on special birthdays (my husband and I choose Vegas – I know, very cliche! And my brother in law chose St Lucia for his).

I must admit when my sister said she wanted to visit Iceland for her special birthday I was rather surprised and not particularly keen. I’d always visualised holidays as being somewhere hot, and as someone who hates the cold, visiting a place with an even colder climate was not particularly appealing! However, after spending four days in such a magical place I really had to eat my words!

We flew with WOW airways – I don’t normally mention the airline that we flew with for our trips but they really were outstanding! They gave my sister some chocolates and a mini bottle of fizz to celebrate her birthday and wrote her a lovely note wishing her a Happy Birthday. PLUS the pilot had to land the plane in a pretty bad storm! We hadn’t even realised how bad it was outside until we were told to take hats and scarves off as we left the plane as they would be blown away! I really do highly recommend them as an airline!

We stayed in the centre of Reykjavik – ideally situated near to all the restaurants and supermarkets. We got there late in the evening and were then picked up from the hotel early the following morning to go on a full day tour of Iceland and its amazing sights!

When we woke up in the morning we were delighted to discover that it was snowing! We had been told it was unlikely we would get snow in the centre of Reykjavik but yet my sister had her own personal Birthday flurry! It really made her day!

We visited the Friðheimar Greenhouse Cultivation Centre first – what a fascinating place! At Friðheimar, they grow tomatoes all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, under artificial lighting in greenhouses.

We then visited the Haukadalur valley area which is a geothermal area near the Hvítá river (white river).

We came here to visit the Strokkur Geyser, one of Icelands most famous geysers, which erupts on average every 6 to 10 minutes. It’s usual eruption height is 15 to 20 metres but it has been known to erupt as high as 40 metres!

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We then went on to visit the Gullfoss (Golden Falls) Waterfall – what an amazing sight! The wide Hvítá river rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages into a crevice 32 metres deep. As you approach the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth! The pictures really don’t do it justice!

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We then visited Thingvellir National Park – a place I was delighted to visit as lots of scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here!! An absolutely breathtaking place, again the pictures really do not do it justice. The tour was fantastic as it was timed so that we were here to watch the beautiful sunset over the park – an amazing memory!!

Later that evening we were collected from the hotel again and taken out on our mission to try and hunt down the Northern Lights! They are of course completely weather dependant and we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing them due to the snow we had had that day, and the tremendous storm which had happened the day before that.

We hadn’t got very far when the coach driver said we were going to pull over because he could see the Northern Lights in the distance! We got out and stayed here for well over an hour and it was absolutely spectacular! My only regret – I had not learned to work my camera correctly in order to capture them properly and had forgotten to bring my tripod so the photographs I managed to get were very blurry, but I did better than those who were trying to capture them on their phones in the middle of a pitch black field with no lighting!

The following day we had a casual day exploring Reykjavik and visited the Hallgrímskirkja church. The Hallgrímskirkja church is Reykjavík’s main landmark and its tower can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and it really is a spectacular piece of architecture!

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Iceland really is one of the most amazing places I have visited and one of the very few places I would love to re-visit! I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list! My sister had a really magical Birthday in Iceland – here she is frolicking in the snow – isn’t she cute??

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CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Four

I was so sad to leave after our final day in London but I think I need a holiday to get over this trip away!

Our first stop this morning was the London Eye. We only stopped to take a few photographs as all three of us are terrified of heights so it wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience actually going on it!

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After this we walked over to the London Dungeons. My sister has really been looking forward to visiting here as she loves her horrible history! We played an absolute blinder with these tickets as they cost £30 on the door but good old Tesco Clubcard saved the day again as we got an entrance ticket in exchange for £8 worth of Clubcard vouchers! Best deal of the trip I think!

When we got there and read all the warning signs about the dungeons (“not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition”etc) we all started to panic and wondered what on earth we had got ourselves into! In the dungeons you work your way through several different scenes from different eras such as Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel and Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Some parts of it were quite scary and several people jumped and screamed throughout but the actors were fantastic and it was a really good experience in which you learned a lot about the history of London (and some awful torture devices!!)

After a couple of hours at the London Dungeon (which was absolutely amazing!) we had lunch at All Bar One . The menu was lovely, they had tapas available, 3 dishes for £15 or 5 dishes for £25.

After a big lunch we went over to the London Eye Pier and caught the Thames River cruise. I think there are several companies that you can book river cruises through – we pre-booked our tickets with City Cruises. The thing I liked about City Cruises was that they say although you pre-book a ticket for a cruise at a particular time, if you miss the pre-booked time you can use your ticket for another time that day, which takes the pressure off if you are over-running at another place prior.

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We caught the cruise which went from the London Eye Pier to the Tower Pier. During the journey we passed:

  • The London Eye
  • The Golden Jubilee footbridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • BFI Southbank Theatre
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millenium footbridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • London Bridge
  • HMS Belfast
  • The Tower of London
  • Tower Bridge

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After our river cruise we arrived at the Tower Pier and walked to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

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After this we walked over to The Shard to have a couple of drinks in the cocktail bar – AquaShard. I thought it would be a lovely way to finish off our London visit and the views from the Shard are SPECTACULAR.

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If you are coming in for just drinks, you can’t reserve tables as they are on a first come first served basis but we had no problem getting a space in the early afternoon. Check out their wine, champagne and cocktail sample menu here.

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After a couple of very extravagant and very expensive cocktails we caught an Uber back to the hotel to collect our cases and wandered down to the Victoria Coach station to catch our coach home.

What an amazing trip! I think we did so well to fit so much in during such a short space of time! Of course there are still many other places I would like to come back and see but so pleased I got to see all these incredible places! I really do think that the key to such amazing visits is in the planning – if you group the places you want to visit and then plan your different days around a certain area, you really can pack loads and loads into your day!!

Off to plan my next city visit now – Prague in June for four days for our 8 year wedding anniversary!!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Three

Special day in London today as it is also my Birthday! What a brilliant way to spend it!

After another hearty Hutton’s Hotel breakfast we took a walk over to Westminster Abbey. We’ve pre-booked entry tickets for the Abbey – prices are £20 per adult and £17 concession. Looking at the on the door prices and online prices it doesn’t look as if you save anything by pre-booking them online but we have so much to do today and by pre-booking them and being able to skip the queue it bought us a bit more time!

Westminster Abbey is beautiful – well worth a visit despite its quite expensive entrance fee. Guide books are £6 each if you want to buy one to remember your visit as you are not allowed to take photos inside the Abbey.

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After our Westminster Abbey visit we wandered around and took photos of:

Big Ben

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The Palace of Westminster 

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Horse Guards Parade

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Trafalgar Square

 

After all this walking it was time for the event we had planned a whole visit to London around – the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! The play is in two parts and is being shown at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We watched Part One at 2pm and then we went away and came back to watch Part Two at 7:30pm later in the evening.

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The first Part of the play was absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t wait to go back to watch the second part! I can’t say too much about it (as per a request by J.K Rowling herself) but I will say to any true Harry Potter fans – do all you can to get hold of these tickets, you wont be disappointed! The actors were brilliant and the special effects were out of this world – unlike anything I have ever seen on the stage!

During the gap between Part One and Part Two of the play we paid a quick visit the famous Snowflake for some ice cream. Way too many flavours to mention but amazing gelato and waffles, milkshakes, sundaes and desserts as well. There are a few Snowflakes across London (including within the Selfridges food hall) so pop in to one if you get the chance. An alternative to Snowflake is Snog Frozen yogurt if you would prefer a lower fat alternative! I ended up having three scoops – one each of coffee, creme brûlée and stracciatella!

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We had an early dinner tonight before Part Two was due to start, we chose to go to Bella Italia (another one of my favourites) but the main reason for choosing it was because we managed to exchange £10 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £40 worth of Bella Italia vouchers to put towards our meal due to Clubcard Boost (thanks again Tescos!)

 

Part Two of the play started at 7:30pm and finished at around 10:15pm – Part Two was well worth the wait! The play is designed to be watched on two separate occasions but I don’t know how people who watch Part one go away and then come back days or weeks later to watch the second part! The suspense would have killed me I think! An incredible play which had me in tears by the end, highly recommended!

Overall what an amazing Birthday! Definitely one which will be remembered for years to come!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day Two

We got up early this morning as we have a busy day ahead, the Hutton’s Hotel cooked breakfast this morning was brilliant, we had a choice of eggs (scrambled or fried), sausages, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, cheese, fruit, cornflakes, muesli, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and orange juice – just what we needed to start us off for day two!

First thing this morning we walked over to Harrods to visit the food hall – I have been several times before but the items you find in there still never cease to amaze me! There are cakes and pastries and bread and biscuits and macarons…. the list goes on.

 

 

 

Whilst we were there I bought a (very expensive!) bumper sized pack of La Duree macarons as they are my absolute favourite and all other macarons I have tried just do not compare to these! You can order them online however be aware because they are fresh and very fragile, shipping is expensive so bumps the price up even more!

 

I also bought some amazing Unicorn cupcakes! How cute are these??

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After spending way too much time (and money!) in the Harrods food hall, we wandered down to the Science Museum. The museum opens at 10am and closes at 6pm and is free entry. We spent a couple of hours here, the museum is not as big as we had imagined but is full of really interesting sections such as the energy hall, exploring space, agriculture and atmosphere. We didn’t spend as long here as we thought we would and in all honesty we didn’t enjoy it as much as previous visits we had paid to the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, but I have friends who have been here and have really enjoyed it. The other thing to bear in mind, if you go during the week, the museum will be chokka with school kids which makes it difficult getting close to some of the exhibits!

After over-working our brains at the science museum for a few hours, we caught an Uber over to the place I have really been looking forward to during our visit – Camden Market!

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There really are so many amazing places to visit and eat at that we couldn’t possibly visit (and eat at!) them all, but here are a few of the places you can try:

Chin Chin Nitro Icecream – AMAZING ice cream which is frozen using liquid nitrogen. We had cream cheese flavoured ice cream on top of a warm red velvet cake with cinnamon crunch toast – it was the best ice cream I have EVER had! Follow them on Instagram @Chin Chin Ice Cream.

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La Churrerialdn – I have always loved churros so this was one of the must visit places on my list! We bought 6 large warm churros rings with caramel sauce and tiny marshmallow sprinkles – delicious! Follow them on Instagram @lachurrerialdn.

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The Mac Factory – THE BEST mac and cheese I have ever tried!! All three of us had the “Nostalgic” which consisted of a blend of mature cheddar and mozzarella with a thyme and parmesan crumble topping. There are also lots of other choices including the “Super Mario” which includes sautéed portobello mushrooms, truffle oil and wild garlic and the “Lobster Mac” which includes lobster poached in a garlic and parsley butter with a lemon garnish. Yum! More info is available on their website.

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Hallumi Fries – One of the main reasons we visited Camden Market is to sample these amazing things!! I spotted them ages ago on Instagram and have been looking forward to trying them ever since! £5 a box is well worth it – pieces of hallumi are deep fried and then covered in za’atar yogurt, pomegranate molasses, mint, sumac, turkish chilli and pomegranate seeds. Incredible.

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Half Hitch Gin – I am not a gin drinker but my Mum and sister love it so they bought a bottle each. Although I didn’t try any, the small of it was delicious! The key botanicals for Half Hitch Gin is black tea, bergamot, wood, hay and pepper. For more information, visit their webpage here where you can also order bottles online.

 

South East Cakery – Award winning brownie bars including Oreo and Honeycomb, I settled for the Salted Caramel version! I took mine away for later but you can have them made up then and there to include whipped cream, salted caramel popcorn and pretzels too!

Also well worth a visit whilst you are here – the statue in tribute to the amazing Amy Winehouse. The statue is a really beautiful tribute to her as she stands amongst the market crowds.

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I ate way, way too much today! Could really do with going on a long, long run tomorrow morning to burn off just some of today’s calories!!

Later in the evening we visited the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to go and watch Thriller Live – what an amazing show! Every singer and dancer and musician was outstanding and we were lucky enough to get seats only 5 rows back! What a brilliant day and evening!

CocoChlo’s London Adventure – Day One

I’ve been wanting to visit London properly for years but it’s one of those places that you put to the bottom of the list because in the back of your mind you think to yourself that you can visit any time because it’s only a couple of hours away, so the more exotic locations usually win the “where should we go this year?” argument!

I’m visiting London with my sister and Mum so we needed to book a triple room for the occasion (much more difficult to find than I expected!) but we eventually settled on The Hutton’s hotel in Victoria, as we were travelling by coach and the hotel is only a few minutes walk from Victoria Coach Station. When we booked we also managed to get a  cooked breakfast included in our stay so thought we did quite well! For the triple room we paid around £390 for 3 nights so it worked out to be £130 per person in the end.

 

 

Once we had arrived we travelled over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We bought tickets online as they were slightly cheaper (£16 instead of £18). Pre-booking the tickets online also provide you with fast track entry to the Cathedral and as we were fitting so much into such a short space of time, any time spent not waiting in huge queues is a bonus!

The Cathedral is a really beautiful place, but I was most disappointed that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside! As you aren’t allowed to take photos,  I’d recommend getting a guide book to remember your visit, they are £4.50 each. Book your entry tickets to the Cathedral here.

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After our visit to the Cathedral we caught an Uber to Brick Lane to visit the Cereal Killer Cafe. What an amazing place! I highly recommend paying a visit! LOADS of cereals to choose from with a huge variety of milks and toppings to have with them. They also have a selection of pop tarts and hot drinks. Make sure you also try the cereal cocktails they have on offer! While we were there we had Unicorn Poop cereal (£4.90 a bowl) and a Salted Caramel malt shake! The friendly staff will help you if you don’t know where to start and can recommend cereals, milks and toppings which compliment each other. AMAZING!

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We then walked to the famous bagel shops Beigel bake (159 Brick Lane) and Beigel Shop (155 Brick Lane). I’ve heard great reviews about both of these places but my main reason for visiting was because I have been trying to track down some world famous rainbow bagels for ages and I had heard that I could find them here! The bagels did not disappoint – my Mum and sister had a lovely smoked salmon bagel and I left with a bag of 6 rainbow bagels for me and my friends (only 50p each!).

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Next was the Tower of London! You can book Tower of London tickets online here, but to be honest you don’t save much (£25.00 on the door vs £23.10 online). We found the best deal was to spend our Tesco club card vouchers and, due to Clubcard Boost, in exchange for £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers we got £10.00 back to spend on entry fees at the Tower of London! We paid for the vast majority of our entrance fee costs using Tesco Clubcard vouchers so only had to pay a couple of pounds to make up the difference! Bargain! You can read more about Clubcard Boost here.

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The Tower of London was fantastic and well worth a visit! You could easily spend a day here, there is so much to see. The Crown Jewels are incredible, we went round three times so we could keep looking at them over and over again, and the views of Tower Bridge and The Shard are spectacular on a clear day. I highly recommend waiting for one of the tours which run approximately half hourly – your Yeoman Warder guide is full of amazing facts and information and makes your visit to the tower far more enjoyable.

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After a  few hours at the Tower of London, we crossed Tower Bridge for our next stop – Southwark Cathedral. The Cathedral is a beautiful building, you don’t need tickets to get in and tours of the Cathedral start from £3.00. By the time we arrived, the Cathedral was closed so we didn’t get to go in which was a shame.

 

We then wandered over to see Shakespeare’s Globe (my sister is a big Shakespeare fan!) and had a well deserved drink in the bar. We didn’t have tickets to tonights show and we were disappointed we couldn’t go into the theatre, but the views of the Thames and the London skyline from here are absolutely stunning, especially at night when everything is lit up!

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Finally we caught an Uber back to the hotel, ordered a takeaway and collapsed in bed! What an amazing day full of spectacular things! Looking forward to day two of our London adventure!

Five Days in Dubai

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I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai and around this time last year an amazing offer came up on Travelzoo to stay in Atlantis, The Palm so I couldn’t resist booking it!

I knew the weather would be ridiculously hot in June and it would be relatively quiet as it was Ramadan during our trip but we’d got such a busy year ahead (and only a few select dates were available as part of the offer) so the beginning of June was the only time we could go.

We travelled from Birmingham airport and flew direct to Dubai with Emirates.

At The Atlantis we stayed in a beautiful Ocean Deluxe room but were given the opportunity to upgrade to a different room for an additional fee if we wanted to.

The Ocean Deluxe room was beautiful and we had an amazing view:

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You can choose an Ocean Deluxe room with either a king sized bed or two queen sized beds and the room has a minibar with cable TV, a walk-in shower and a separate bath.

The hotel really does live up to its reputation and is absolutely beautiful. We stayed on a half board basis which included breakfast and evening meal and there was no shortage of places to eat! The hotel has over 20 restaurants, the Atlantis Hotel website has more details but here are just a few of the restaurants you can enjoy:

  • Bread Street Kitchen and Bar by Gordon Ramsay – We ate in here and really enjoyed it, although there have been mixed reviews on the internet. Find a copy of the A La Carte menu here. For my starter I had Tagliolini with lobster, spring onions, chilli & parsley which was lovely and for my dessert I had Chocolate Parfait with salted caramel icecream – perfect!
  • Ayamna – Lebanese cuisine – Lovely friendly staff willing to talk you through the menu and recommend what they think you will enjoy, and the restaurant also has hookah pipes with a large menu if this is something you fancy!
  • Ronda Locatelli – A delicious Italian, we ate in here and had three courses each which were all really tasty! The freshly made pizza and delicious tiramisu come highly recommended!
  • Nasimi Beach – Closed when we went and throughout the summer, I assume because of the high temperatures. Nassimi Beach offers beachside dining in the cooler months and is an adults only beach which hosts regular beach parties and serves amazing cocktails. Private cabanas, sunbeds and tables are on a first come first served basis so get there as early as you can!
  • Saffron – South Asian buffet restaurant with a huge choice of dishes and live cooking stations. Saffron is also one of the places you can go for your buffet breakfast and again, the choice is huge. Out of the two places you can eat breakfast, Saffron was my favourite.
  • Kaleidoscope – International buffet with themed nights and the other restaurant to go to for your English and full continental breakfast. Kaleidoscope had a huge range of very good food, I just preferred the atmosphere of Saffron compared with Kaleidoscope.
  • TBJ – aka The Burger Joint – Tasty burgers quick and easy if you fancy dining a little more casually, as there is no dress code in TBJ.

There are also other restaurants available, although some of them charge extra to dine in if you are staying on a half board basis – Nobu (Japanese Cuisine), Ossiano (you can eat with stunning views of the Ambassador Lagoon!) and Seafire Steakhouse are some of the restaurants which charge this uplift. Platos and Illy’s cafe offer coffees, teas, pastries and paninis but had very limited opening hours when we were there due to Ramadan.

Outside dining is also available in the cooler months at The Edge (casual poolside restaurants serving pizza, salads and burgers), The Shore (poolside restaurant serving fajitas, nachos and steaks) and in other selected restaurants such as Nobu. You can also dine under the stars on Royal Beach with champagne and a set menu if you want to push the boat out!

If cocktails are more your thing, Barazura is the place for you! I’d recommend the Strawberry Daiquiri, Pimms Royal and the Frozen Blue Sky!

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The Atlantis has over a kilometre of beautiful beach front and two huge swimming pools (the Zero entry pool and the Royal Pool). We did visit both pools during our stay but couldn’t stay outside for very long due to the intense heat! Whilst we were sunbathing, staff members came out regularly to give us cold towels, ice creams and bottles of cold water which was a lovely touch. As it was so quiet whilst we were there, we even got extra ice cream! The Zero Entry Pool is designed for families and the Royal Pool has beautiful views of the Dubai Cityscape.

Included in the price of your stay at the Atlantis is unlimited entry to the Aquaventure Water Park and the Lost Chambers Aquarium.

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The Aquaventure Waterpark is brilliant and well worth visiting – there’s something for everyone. We would have stayed in the park longer but the heat got pretty unbearable in the afternoon, to the point where the soles of my feet were burning through my flip flops!

There are waterslides and river rides and activities such as ray feeding, and there’s a relaxation beach as well. The waterslides include Aquaconda, the Leap of Faith, Shark Attack and Poseidon’s revenge (which looks terrifying – you climb into a capsule and the floor falls away so you drop at around 60km an hour! Hubby was brave enough to do it but I worked on my tan instead!) You can find videos of most of these rides on YouTube if you want to judge them for yourself before taking the plunge!

There’s also Dolphin Bay and Sea lion point to check out – dolphin encounters are available but are subject to an extra fee.

The Lost Chambers Aquarium is worth checking out (keep an eye open for their baby albino alligator!) In here you will find over 65,000 marine animals and they offer free hourly myth tours.

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We were only in Dubai for 5 days so didn’t have much chance to explore, however on one of the days we visited the Dubai Mall. The mall is the largest in the world by total area and you really could spend days in here if you enjoy shopping! It was very quiet when we visited due to Ramadan, and the restaurants and food halls normally open within the mall were closed; however they had set aside a large area on the top floor in the food hall where you could still choose from a wide range of restaurants and fast food outlets. The choice really is endless!

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The main reason I wanted to visit the Dubai Mall was to visit the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa, known as At the Top, Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa is a metal skyscraper with a total height of 829.8 metres, making it the tallest structure in the world! The At the Top observation deck is on the 124th floor so as you can imagine, the views are spectacular. It is highly recommended that you pre-book, tickets are available here. You can either book tickets for levels 124 and 125, or tickets for the At the Top Sky which includes levels 124, 125 and level 148. Whilst you are at the Dubai Mall (and on the observation deck!), it is also worth checking out the Dubai Fountains, the worlds largest choreographed fountain system.

I really loved Dubai and I would definitely go back – I can see why people continue to go back year on year – it’s an ideal place for couples to get away for a few days and enjoy the luxury that Dubai and The Atlantis has to offer.

Travelzoo do have a similar offer on at the moment to the one I booked, although this latest offer is through a different company – happy holiday hunting!

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