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Cruise control: What it’s really like on Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas cruise ship

“A cruise ship? Me? Never!” was always my standard response whenever anyone brought up the ‘C’ word.

And here’s why:

  1. I’ve always associated cruising with the dreaded norovirus – not ideal when you’re an emetophobe.
  2. I’m a long way off retirement age.
  3. Despite my obsession with the ocean – see my Instagram feed here – I am prone to seasickness on ferries and larger boats, which swiftly brings me back to point one.
  4. I have the attention span of a flea.

Yet last month I ended up spending two nights on the world’s largest cruise ship when, as part of the day job, Royal Caribbean invited me for a two-night sailing aboard its latest luxury cruise liner Symphony of the Seas, a 1,188 ft long bad boy with 18, yes 18, decks ahead of her official debut.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas

Credit: SBW-Photo

My eyes were on stalks as I digested the particulars. This cruise ship had a surf simulator (wahoo!) and a zip line (yes!) as well as climbing walls, an escape room, the tallest slide at sea, laser tag, hot tubs, 19 pools, water slides, West End-sized theatres, a spa, numerous shops and more than 20 restaurants, bars and cafes.

Nonetheless I still couldn’t quite get my head around the concept so I signed up, packed a small suitcase and flew to Barcelona for the inaugural sailing.

Here’s how I got on…

LET’S TALK ABOUT SIZE 
I spotted Symphony, Royal Caribbean’s 25th vessel, on our descent into Barcelona. It looked mahoosive from the air – unsurprising really, given that she is approximately five times the size of the Titanic and has the capacity to carry 6,690 passengers alongside an international crew of 2,200. After checking in I spent a good half an hour wandering around in a daze, neck trained skyward muttering: “How on earth am I on a ship? How does this thing even float?” She weighs more than 17,000 African elephants for goodness sake.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas

Credit: SBW-Photo

 

TOP TIP: PACK FLAT SHOES
There are no travelators and you’ll clock up a lot of miles on foot. I boarded late in the afternoon and by the time I went to bed I’d notched up 5.1 miles (according to my iPhone). The next day I finally had control of my bearings but still walked in excess of seven miles. Remember that the corridors are long – on board, there are an incredible 2,759 cabins, as well as suites – so if you forget something in your room you’ll have a fair trek back. It’s wise to triple-check that you have everything you need before venturing out.

LET’S TALK ABOUT ROOMS
I’d assumed that guest lodgings on a cruise ship were known as cabins but on Symphony they’re called ‘staterooms’. I’d also assumed said dwellings would be poky. How wrong I was?!  My ocean-view room had a large balcony, a desk and sofa area. I was also taken with my compact yet practical bathroom, especially the shower. Again, I’d assumed (I really need to stop making assumptions) that the water pressure would be low because we were on a cruise ship but it was better than mine at home!

Symphony of the Seas

Did the rocking of the vessel cause any queasiness? Nope. I couldn’t feel a thing. Oh, and I just happened to enjoy the best night’s sleep of the year in my fantastically comfy double bed. It seems I am not alone. On mentioning this to a crew member, I was informed that similar feedback from passengers on other Royal Caribbean fleets had spurred the company to start selling the mattresses! Being a technophobe, I also loved the fact that the air con in the room was easy to operate. It’s a straight dial. Turn left for cold air, right for warm. None of this fiddling with thermostats or remote controls. Hooray!

INTERESTING FACT: There’s one ‘wow’ factor 1,346 sq ft guest room on the ship. It’s called the Ultimate Family Suite, sleeps up to eight people and comes with a private butler. Inside you’ll find a 3D cinema room with popcorn machine, an air hockey and pool table. There’s even a slide from the children’s bedroom to the living room, as well as a floor-to-ceiling Lego climbing wall. Oh, there’s also a 212 sq ft balcony with a hot tub. Even though it costs £30,000 for five nights, the suite is mostly booked up for 2018.

LET’S TALK ABOUT ADVENTURE
The cruise liner is split into seven neighbourhoods. The Pool and Sports Zone, also home to the zip wire, tantalisingly whispered my name. Whizzing through the air – nine decks up – might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I found the experience terrifically exhilarating. The neighbouring boogie board simulator brought equal levels of pleasure and buoyed by my respectable efforts, I ambitiously headed over to the Flowrider surf pool where I fared less well, wiping out after one second!

The instructor told me that it was far harder to surf on a simulator than in the open sea. Whether he was just trying to make me feel better I do not know, but I accepted his words! Sadly, I ran out of time to try Ultimate Abyss. At 45.72 meters above sea level, it is taller than Buckingham Palace and has a ten-floor drop. I also missed out on glow-in-the-dark laser tag, although I heard rave reviews.

INTERESTING FACT:
Central Park, one of the boroughs, is a wonderfully relaxing green space. There are more plants than there are Great Pavilion exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show. You’ll also find trees and more than 12,000 tropical plants.

Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas, Central Park

Credit SBW-Photo

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE SPA
As many of you know, I struggle to relax but I instantly felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders the moment I walked into the Vitality Spa for a 75-minute deep tissue massage with my lovely therapist Rachelle. She asked me to fill in a personal information form on which I explained all about my bizarre reactions to certain ingredients and then carefully checked the product labels before starting work on me.

Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas, The Vitality at Sea Spa

Credit: SBW-Photo

 

She certainly knew her stuff, quickly identifying the parts of my body that were in a pickle and set to work ironing out the knots. I felt like a new woman by the end and was reluctant to leave. Massages are not included in the cost of your trip and this one cost $179 dollars but there are cheaper options. You can also pay extra to hire out your own private hot tub with multi-coloured changing lights.

TOP TIP: If you’d rather pay nothing and relax in a communal whirlpool head back up on deck to the Solarium Big Wonder art installation area. Here’s you’ll find fantastic views of the sea and it’s incredibly romantic at sunset too.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas

Credit: SBW-Photo

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT
Truth be told, I wasn’t too fussed when I heard that there was an ice skating show taking part in the theatre but I went along anyway. And boy I’m glad I did.  1977 was my first experience of an ice production. From the awe-inspiring ability of the skaters to the ridiculously impressive speed of the outfit changes and even the lighting and music, I oohed and ahhed my way throughout the entire performance.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas Ice Show

Credit: SBW-Photo

 

The next night I skipped the musical Hairspray in favour of Aqua-Nation, a theatrical water-based show involving high-diving aerial performances off Olympic height boards and magnificent synchronised swimming routines. It was quite literally breathtaking.  Later, I discovered a little bar playing salsa and meringue and spent a good half an hour being twirled around by a very patient Spaniard. Oh, and of course I found the nightclub playing house and chart music. You’re never too old, right?

TOP TIP: Fancy a cocktail with a difference? Check out the bionic bar, which has two robotic bartenders. You select your favourite cocktail on an iPad and the robot gets to work preparing your drink. Or, find your way to the Rising Tide Bar, which moves up and down between three decks.

Symphony of the Seas The Bionic Bar

Credit: SBW-Photo

LET’S TALK ABOUT FOOD
I must confess, I was worried about eating on a cruise ship serving thousands of people given the state of my health right now and all my histamine issues. I no longer eat out because it’s so difficult. But the chefs could not have been more accommodating. One in the Windjammer Marketplace (my favourite place to eat – there was so much choice despite my tricky diet) offered to make me fresh bread from scratch so I needn’t miss out. So kind! Altogether there are 20 restaurants to choose from including Hooked Seafood, El Loco Fresh (a Mexican restaurant) and Jamie’s Italian.

Symphony of the Seas

TOP TIP: Be sure to check out the Wonderland restaurant and bar. Look at the carpets. Look at the back of the chairs. And look at the attire of the waiters and waitresses. I won’t give too much away but it gets curiouser and curiouser…

VERDICT
I never thought in a million years I’d end up on a cruise ship but I can honestly say I had a blast. Who knew cruising could be so much fun and aimed at all ages? I didn’t get bored. I didn’t have any seasickness. And given my fear of contracting norovirus, I was thrilled to see numerous hand sanitisers dotted around the ship and by elevator doors. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a cleaner rubbing down a bannister or scrubbing steps. Good news for a worryguts like me!

Symphony of the Seas

 

I also loved the attention to detail. From the names of the days of the week helpfully set within the lift floor to the friendly crew members who seemed to just magically appear. Step out of your room, there’s an attendant in the corridor. Need a drink? There’s a waiter by your table. Lose your dictaphone in the theatre/nightclub (which was packed to the rafters), a staff member will find it! Yes, this actually happened! How they located it I shall never know but I’m eternally grateful. Now that’s service for you!

Have you ever been on a cruise? Would you like to try this experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you liked this article please feel free to share or tag a friend who might be interested.

And if travel’s your thing, you might also like to read my reviews of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Barbados, Austria and the Chilston Park Hotel Wellbeing Retreat.

EXTRA INFO:
Symphony of the Seas will be spending her first summer season in the Mediterranean. A 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise sailing on 13th September 2018 starts from £1,060 per person, based on two people sharing an Interior stateroom. Calling at Rome (Civitavecchia) – Italy, Naples (Capri) – Italy, Barcelona – Spain, Palma De Mallorca – Spain, Marseille – France, and Florence/Pisa (La Spezia) – Italy, before returning to Rome. For more information about Symphony and how to book visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/our-ships/symphony-of-the-seas/

Travel

The North Devon ‘graveyard’ dining experience you MUST try

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

“Churchyard dining? In North Devon? You can’t be serious?” That was my first reaction when Auntie Chris told me she was heading out to a pop-up restaurant in the little village of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple with nine of her friends.

She was, in fact, referring to Hidden Heaven, a beautifully converted Baptist chapel dating back to 1837 which just happens to be the home of Geoffrey and Kirsty Everett-Brown and their three children. The couple bought the building, complete with the graveyard containing 70 deceased occupants, in 2000 and spent the best part of five years converting it into their dream property.

Now the friendly husband-and-wife team throw open their doors once a month to host informal and welcoming dining experiences for members of the public at a cost of £30 per head. It’s a fantastic concept.

 

Hidden Heaven. North Devon

Supper is made from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and served in a light and airy open plan living and dining room that once housed the pews and pulpit (not the grounds of the churchyard – I was being a touch dramatic) but you do walk past the graves on the walk up the path to the former place of worship, which is a surreal experience in itself.

And there’s no shortage of characterful features to marvel at including the original arched windows – not one pane of glass is the same size – memorial plaques and a hymn board. Guests are required to bring their own alcohol and drinks but get to enjoy a chilled evening with friends and family while being waited on hand and foot in the comfort of a unique family home.

 

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

Even so, when Auntie Chris first invited me I instinctively said no.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

As many of you know, I have histamine intolerance which means I have to avoid things like citrus fruit, grapes, alcohol, vinegar, anything aged or fermented otherwise my throat starts to close or my tongue swells. (I carry adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamines at all times).
Dining out is troublesome at the best of times because these ingredients are usually prominent in vegetarian dishes (I’m pescatarian and have not eaten meat since the age of 13).

To make things more complicated my nutritionist recently started me on a strict (hopefully temporary) gluten-free, dairy-free programme in a bid to reset my gut. For the time being, dining out is not an option.

Yet, Geoffrey and Kirsty were so fantastically kind and accommodating. On hearing my situation they invited me along and said it was perfectly fine for me to take my own food so I didn’t miss out on the experience. I was thrilled especially as living with allergies and invisible illness can be so isolating at times.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

In fact, I cursed my histamine intolerance when I saw the menu – there was so MUCH choice! We’re talking asparagus soufflé with a tarragon vinaigrette, roasted vegetable terrine with wild garlic pesto, fine beans and sugar snap peas with orange and hazelnuts, and desserts including white and dark chocolate mousse with macerated strawberries or Coeur a la crème with blueberry compote and hazelnut and lavender shortbread.

 

Helen Gilbert, Hidden Heaven

After dinner, we retired to the family’s lounge area for coffee and conversation. There poor Geoffrey had to field numerous graveyard-themed questions.

“Are people still allowed to visit their relatives in what is effectively your front garden?” (Yes). “Have there been any burials since you’ve lived there?” (Only the interment of ashes). “Do the graves get many visitors?” (Surprisingly, not). “Do you have ghosts?” (No).

With that, I turned to quick-witted Auntie Chris. “Have you enjoyed the evening?” “Thoroughly,” she enthused with a glint in her eye. “It’s been absolutely magnificent. Great company. Outstanding food. An enchanting setting. Oh, and I loved the desserts. They were to die for.”

I should have known that was coming!

For more information visit Hidden Heaven: http://www.hiddenheaven.co.uk/
Fancy exploring North Devon further? Check out Vist North Devon and Exmoor 

 

Helen's Health, Travel

Review: Chilston Park Hotel wellness retreat

Chilston Park wellness weekend

It’s rare you’ll find me up and about at 6.30am on a Saturday but that’s precisely what happened during a wellness weekend at Chilston Park Hotel in Kent recently.

This stunning Grade 1-listed country house, which has teamed up with Liberty Wellbeing to offer a series of stress-relieving retreats, was running a two-night yoga, Tai Chi and mindfulness programme. I was there for the day job but the timing was ideal.

I’d recently moved house – one of the most stressful things you can do – and desperately needed a break from sorting and lifting heavy boxes and making endless phone calls to utility companies.

When left to my own devices relaxation is something I struggle with despite it being an important factor in the management of my tongue swelling reactions. A structured wellness weekend dedicated to slowing down would certainly leave no room for excuses.

Except, I hadn’t envisaged waking up with the larks. I’m not good with early starts plus I’m a worrier. Throw in a 6am alarm call and you’ll undoubtedly find me wide awake at 2am fretting over the fact that I have to be up in four hours.  Yet, to my surprise, this did not happen.

Jennie Lichfield, Liberty Wellbeing’s principal teacher and the mastermind behind our schedule, believes this could have something to do with the fact that, just by being there, I had ‘given myself permission to unwind’.

The previous evening I’d arrived at Chilston Park, a pretty 17th-century country house set in 22 acres, which is one of a number of luxury properties in the Hand Picked Hotels portfolio.

A lovely chap called Guy led me through the characterful property – complete with spectacular wooden staircase and fascinating coffee tables fashioned out of original wooden shutters – into a room for tea and vegan and gluten-free carrot cake.

Chilston Park Hotel wellness weekend

There I met the other course attendees – a mix of 40 and 30-something married couples, mums, and millennials – who were all equally as eager to do the right thing by their minds and bodies.

Jennie talked us through the itinerary and there were smiles all round when she said we could roll out of bed and into the 6.30am group meditation session in our PYJAMAS should we desire. There’d also be warm blankets and plump cushions, too. *Yay*

Chilston Park Classic Double Bedroom

That night we took part in a ‘yoga for sleep’ session before bonding over deliciously nourishing vegetarian food. It was a blissful evening spent with like-minded souls and when I headed back to my quaint and cosy room (named Austen after the literary heroine – the rooms do not have numbers) at 9.30pm I felt as though I’d walked into a warm embrace.

There flickering on the TV was a video of a log fire, complete with dancing flames and the instantly calming sound of crackles.

A fluffy Larry the Lamb (the hotel’s equivalent of a Do Not Disturb sign) sat in the middle of my comfortable bed – which had been turned down for the evening – together with a welcome letter providing hotel team contact details, breakfast serving times and the following day’s weather.

I made full use of the complimentary organic Clipper hot chocolate sachets, Walkers shortbread biscuits and still and sparkling water in my room, too. By the time I climbed into bed I’d forgotten all about the hustle and bustle of the outside world and felt light and carefree.

Chilston Park Larry the Lamb

“The first evening is about laying down the journey to get here and marking the end of the busy week,” Jennie explains. “You can go to a one hour [meditation or yoga] session in your local area but it just starts to scratch the surface. When you come here, wake up the next morning in a beautiful location and totally immerse yourself it becomes a different experience and you do even more of this unfolding.”

The following day’s mindfulness session was held in the Coach House (converted stables). Jennie gently guided us through the practice, encouraging us to pay attention to the breath and body and to notice, in a non-judgemental way, how we were feeling. We learned that being present like this can help stop the mind racing and relinquish unhelpful thought patterns.

“You start to understand yourself more, recognise the attributes in your life that are perhaps not helping you or you learn new ways that will serve you better,” Jennie explains. “It’s really good to spend this much time dedicated to yourself because the deeper you go the more you learn.”

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

I certainly found both meditation sessions (there was another on Sunday) useful. Taking a moment to be still helped me gain insight and wisdom into my feelings, as well as the way I respond to certain situations and how I talk to myself on a daily basis.

“As soon as you start to see that you’re telling yourself the story that you’re useless, you won’t tell yourself that anymore,” Jennie continues. “Don’t believe the horrible things you tell yourself, believe the opinion of others.

“Weekends like this help us to recognise how much we are living a fast life and by slowing down and offering some kind of reflective practices it means we can begin to choose. Is this OK for me? Is this how I want to be? We have the opportunity to choose the right path for us but if we’re living too fast and on that treadmill, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to decide.”

But it wasn’t just the mindfulness aspect that left me feeling better equipped to face the world. Physically, the Hatha yoga sessions did wonders for my creaky body. I especially enjoyed Yin, which according to our instructor Samantha Stone – who trained with the British Wheel of Yoga – is performed at a much slower pace and a good complement to regular yoga.

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

“Normal yoga focuses on stretching the muscles, Yin works to stress the joints, the ligaments, the fascia [connective tissue] to make them stronger,” she says. “This is a good technique for people in their older years.

“It’s supportive and the idea is that you find a pose that you can stay in for three increments. Yin is also fantastic if you’re younger and struggle with monkey mind because of the mindfulness element. You hold a pose and ask yourself how does this feel, where’s the sensation? You connect to it which can slow down the mind.”

Perhaps, what I loved most about the wellness weekend was the fact that I could just be. There was no pressure to attend every class. I tried Tai Chi for the first time, an ancient martial art that combines breathing, relaxation and flowing movements, but didn’t get on with it and Jennie said it was fine for me to sit the following day’s class out.

So I engaged in mindful colouring instead – which I thoroughly enjoyed – and read some of the meditation books and wellbeing magazines that were liberally scattered about. I could have gone for a lie down to but was extremely keen to drink up the knowledge I’d been exposed to.

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

Oh, and how could I forget the food?! It. Was. Sublime. As some of you know I’m on quite a restricted diet due to my histamine intolerance but the chef worked his magic conjuring up delicious dishes for both myself and others who had vegan, dairy and gluten-free dietary requirements.

The food was some of the best I’d ever tasted – unsurprising given the fact that Culpeper’s is a 2 AA Rosette fine dining restaurant.

Starters included roast parsnip soup, dairy-free herb and mushroom frittata, quinoa and apple salad, while main dishes comprised things like chickpea and roast onion curry, vegetable fried rice, garlic sautéed green beans, butternut squash and spinach gratin and spiced sweet potato wedges. I feasted like a queen and was excited to walk away with new recipe ideas.

Chilston Park Exterior Lake

VERDICT:
If you’re feeling super stressed and in need of some me time this reasonably-priced wellness retreat is for you. Not only do you leave feeling rested and nourished physically, mentally and visually – the historic hotel has many interesting traditional features – you end up learning a great deal about yourself.

Also, I particularly liked the fact that Jennie handed out take-home laminated Liberty Wellbeing fact sheets so that we could continue using the mindfulness techniques in the real world. She’d thought of everything.

The bonus was that I got to  meet some lovely like-minded people. In fact, Leah Lardwood, owner of the blog Roots and Toots and I instantly hit it off and are still in touch, so we have the retreat to thank for our blossoming friendship, too!

For more information or to book a  Liberty Wellbeing wellness retreat visit the Chilston Park website or call 01622 859803. The price is £275 per person double/twin occupancy or £350 per person single occupancy.

 

If you liked this article, you might also be interested in our travel reviews of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Barbados, and Austria. Or if you’re looking for more wellness posts or articles on ways to relax in the UK, you might like to visit this meditation studio, try a hypnotherapy mind massagemobile phone video therapy or give e-biking a spin.

 

 

Travel, Wellness

10 ways to make the most of Kruger National Park

Kruger Safari Tips

If you love David Attenborough documentaries you need to make a date with Kruger National Park. This South African game reserve first stole my heart in 2011. Four trips later you could say I’m slightly obsessed with this particular safari experience.

Yes, the journey from the UK is a long one – an 11.5-hour flight to Johannesburg followed by a five-hour road trip to the park – but you’ll be grandly rewarded for your effort.

My jaw dropped to the floor on my most recent adventure when a procession of 30 lionesses and their cubs marched in single file to the Sabie River to drink one morning. Just ten minutes earlier we’d passed a pride of eight magnificent males sitting under a tree.

And I had to pinch myself when we stumbled across two giraffes locking necks in a bid to assert their dominance. I’d learned about this from a nature programme, yet here we were in the wild watching them just a few metres away.

Kruger Safari Tips

Incredibly, their neck-battering shenanigans – they were going at it hell for leather – were interrupted by a loud impala warning snort. Film-worthy is the only way to describe the scene that unfolded. Buffalo shot past. Skittish antelope scattered. Giraffe stood stock-still. And soon it became clear why. Out of the shadows emerged two lionesses intent on quenching their afternoon thirst at the Welverdiend Waterhole.

I felt humbled, privileged and blessed to experience such a sighting. There is something infinitely thrilling about the unexpected and to observe first-hand how the animals communicate and signal alarm calls to one another is truly fascinating. This is why I love Kruger…no day is ever the same.

Every sense is awakened, too. From the sounds of early morning birdsong to the late-night calls of the African bushbaby. From the stench of a rotting carcass (I know, but this is the circle of life), to the smoky scent of a braai (open fire), you’ll experience it all. Did I mention the beauty of the diverse African landscapes? Spectacular sunrises and sunsets? The list goes on and on.

Kruger Safari Tips

Regular readers know that I find it difficult to stop and relax but a trip to this wondrous place solves that and helps me live entirely in the moment. I switch off my phone for four days and soak up every blissful minute distraction free. It’s mindfulness at its best.

If a safari is on your bucket list, I’d highly recommend Kruger National Park. Below I’ve rounded up some useful tips to help you make the most out of your stay. (FYI – to keep costs down we arranged our own flights and also elected for basic lodgings).

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR
Everyone, let me repeat, everyone will at some stage convince themselves and others that they have spotted a leopard in the distance, a snake in the grass or bats hanging upside down in the hollow of a tree. I lost count of the times someone in our party excitedly whispered “Over there, over there. There’s a rhino poking his head out.” We’d raise our binoculars in anticipation only to discover the splendid animal was actually a rotten tree stump.

Kruger safari tips

REQUEST AN OPEN SIDED VEHICLE
I know. I know. This sounds scary but it is, in fact, an exhilarating experience. For a start, you have a higher vantage point – great if there’s a kill sighting which inevitably attracts a few vehicles – and also brilliant for photo opportunities. You get to experience the changing temperatures hour by hour. Be sure to wear layers for the chilly 4.30am game drives, which you can peel off as the temperature climbs. Ideally, you’ll want to blend in with the vehicle so opt for greens, browns and beige garments. Just remember to keep your arms inside the truck at all times, do not stand or make any loud noises or sudden movements.

Kruger Safari Tips

DON’T HAVE A WISH LIST
It’s not all about the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Yes, of course, it would be wonderful to see the entire collection but there are so many spectacular things to see. Some of our sighting highlights included gigantic crocs, jaws agape, basking in the sunshine, a tiny suckling baby baboon, and my all-time favourite – WARTHOGS. In fact, this African wild pig, which has warty lumps on his face and curved tusks, made the trip for my mum. One afternoon we were watching animals that had gathered around a waterhole. “A hyaena was after an impala,” mum recalls “and out of nowhere an individual warthog came running out from under a bush and chased it off. We were delighted.”

*Worryingly we saw far fewer rhino on this trip compared to previous holidays and on leaving the park we discovered local press reports revealing that a further three had been killed by poachers during our stay. We were devastated.

Kruger Safari Tips

SIT IN ONE PLACE AND (HOPEFULLY) WATCH A STORY UNFOLD
There’s nothing quite like pulling up to a stretch of water and witnessing a scene spontaneously unravel in all its glory. On our last morning, we were headed for Phabeni Gate and pulled over to a spot known as Nyamundwa. A lone elephant broke through the trees. Another emerged five minutes later. Then another. Then another. There were calves too. In total there were about 60, yes 60, elephants in the breeding herd. The playful babies rolled around in the mud and squirted each other with water while the adults shuffled them around with their trunks and drank from the lake. Some of our best sightings have been at waterholes. The previous day we’d watched hundreds of buffalo wallowing in a muddy lake at a different spot. “They were having a great old time splashing around in the water until something eventually spooked them and they ran off into the distance leaving a trail of dust,” my sister explains. “It was incredible to see.”

Kruger Safari Tips

BEST TIME TO BOOK A TRIP
I’ve only visited Kruger in the months of October, November and December. While our most recent trip at the start of this month was fantastic and heralded the springing of new life (we saw so many baby warthogs, impala, baboons, giraffe, elephants), we found the temperature unbearably hot at times. Fortunately, we didn’t have any bad weather during our stay but it had apparently poured down the week before – the rainy season runs from November to February. Although we were still very lucky with our sightings, it was a little harder spotting the animals through the abundant foliage so we’ll probably revert back to October/early November when booking our next trip.

Kruger Safari Tips
GO WITH A GUIDE YOU TRUST
If you’re flying from the UK I’d highly recommend breaking up the journey, especially as the flight from London Heathrow to Johannesburg is 11.5 hours. We always reserve a room for one night at the Protea Hotel Marriott, either side of our Kruger stay. It’s a stone’s throw away and makes the five-hour drive to the park much more bearable. We booked our Kruger experience through South African tour operator 12Go Tours. Sam Wingate, who runs the company, has been a guide for 17 years and we simply adore him. He’s calm, organised and extremely knowledgeable and patient with my sister and I, even when we turn into quivering wrecks if a lion unexpectedly pads past our vehicle or an elephant crashes through a bush. Research your operators thoroughly, read reviews or go by word of mouth recommendation.

Kruger Safari Tips

BOOK A NIGHT DRIVE
Night drives are a must, purely because they’re such a surreal experience. Heading into a blanket of darkness knowing that there are lions and leopards roaming around is eerie, to say the least. Only KNP guides can host evening tours so we booked one at the Satara Camp. It was fantastic. Vehicle headlamps and two spotlights provided the only form of illumination. Our guide weaved his way through uneven terrain, switching his engine off when an elephant sidled up next to us. We then heard jackals and hyaena calling out to one another; on the drive back we spotted a number of hyaena ripping through the skin of a deceased baboon. On other night drives, we’ve seen snakes – the spitting cobra was rather memorable – slithering onto the road! Every experience is different!

Kruger Safari Tips

TRY A GUIDED BUSHWALK
…at least once. You can book these through your camp’s reception desk. Essentially you go out on foot with two gun-carrying guides. We decided against it this time around as there were seven of us in total and we had an action-packed itinerary. On a previous trip, we encountered three rhino, from a safe distance. These walks also give you a chance to stumble across smaller African wildlife you might otherwise never see. One time, my sister noticed a hole in the grass with a web inside. Sitting adjacent to it was a tarantula-esque baboon spider.

Kruger Safari Tips

PACK SPARES
It goes without saying but walk with spare batteries, adaptors, and memory cards. And if you’re borrowing a camera or video equipment be sure to know how to operate it. My sister’s boyfriend had a worrying moment when the camera he’d been lent wouldn’t let him take any pictures. The memory card was full but he did not have permission to delete the snaps and the shops we tried at various camps had sold out of picture cards. Fortunately, he was able to contact a family member who gave him permission to delete the existing images. Phew!

Kruger Safari Tips

 

HAVE A GLASS OF AMARULA
I used to LOVE Amarula, similar to Baileys Irish Cream, but ever since my health unexpectedly deteriorated in 2015 I cannot tolerate anything fermented –including alcohol – which sets off my tongue swelling reactions. Made from the fruit of the Marula tree, it’s delicious. I’m not sure how true this is but it’s said that elephants can become drunk from consuming the rotten fruit that falls to the ground. Is this fact or fiction? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Likewise, if you’re a fan of safaris or Kruger I’d love to hear your thoughts too. Why do you like heading there, what’s your favourite part and can you recall your all-time favourite sightings?

If you’re an animal lover and enjoyed reading this or know of someone who’s thinking about booking a safari please do share the post and spread the word about this wonderful place! Our social media links can be found here:  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram links. 

Have an interest in travel? You might also like to read our reviews on Barbados and Austria.

And if you sign up for our free newsletter here our latest posts will be delivered straight to your inbox. 

 

Travel

5 ways to relax in Austria

Austria's Jagdhof Spa Hotel, Neustift

Before this summer I’d never visited Austria. Famed for its ski resorts, I’d always thought of it as a winter destination and as I dislike the cold, I automatically discounted it.

Being rather accident prone – yes, I’m the idiot who required ankle surgery following an unfortunate encounter with a spin bike, tracksuit bottoms, and a swiftly-rotating pedal AND the fool who ended up with two black eyes following a collision with a surfboard in Barbados – I always thought it wiser and safer to stay away.

But when a travel press trip opportunity dropped into my inbox as part of the day job to visit Austrian village Neustift, with Inghams Lakes & Mountains, I decided to say yes:

A) It was June so there were no snowboards or skis in sight
B) It was a chance to tick a new country off the list
C) It was an opportunity to stay at the luxurious 5 star spa hotel – something I’d never done
D) I’d feel safe travelling in a group (regular readers will know that I’ve been struggling with bizarre reactions affecting my airway , which makes travelling and eating out quite tricky).

On the descent into Innsbruck Airport, I instantly knew I’d made a mistake in not visiting this green and pleasant land before. Flanked by towering mountains, the runway was the prettiest I’d ever seen.

Probably the prettiest airport in the world… #lastleg #homewardbound

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My love for this spectacular environment was cemented even further on the 30-minute drive to our accommodation as we weaved our way luscious landscapes and chocolate-box villages scattered with wooden chalets overflowing with vibrant ivory and violet blooms. And by the time we pulled into the charming 5 star Jagdhof Spa Hotel, I was positively speechless (rare for me). The residence, which has been run by the Pfurtscheller family for the past 40 years, was situated at the foot of the Stubai Glacier, and the scenic views from my spacious pine-pannelled suite were the best I’d ever seen.

Such a stunning sight to wake up to! #roomwithaview #takemeback

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Our action-packed itinerary included hikes and strolls through the 530 miles of beautiful marked walking trails within the Stubai Valley, visits to villages including Fulpmes, a Stubai Super Card giving us free daily return journeys on a number of mountain cable cars, and a trip to the beautiful 500-year-old late Gothic Tratzberg Castle, in Inn Valley. The only downside was that we had very little time to enjoy the hotel’s superb facilities.

Usually, when I travel my choice of room is generally cheap and basic. As long as there is air conditioning and a bed, I’m happy. I’d much rather be out and about exploring the country than cooped up in a hotel room and budget apartments leave more money for experiences, right? But this was a work gig (granted, a lovely one), I wasn’t responsible for the accommodation and staying in a fancy hotel for the first time really opened my eyes, so much so that I’m planning a return visit – now there’s an about turn!

Below, I’ve rounded up five reasons why you should stay at the 5 star Jagdhof Spa Hotel.

REVEL IN THE VIEW
At this hotel, you are rarely very far from a breathtaking view. Marvel at the magical peaks of the Stubai Glacier, listen to the sound of the fast flowing Ruetz River, breathe in that invigorating clean mountain air. This place really is a fantastically pleasant assault on the senses. And there’s no end to the vantage points to choose from. Try the outdoor hot tub, a giant hammock in the landscaped gardens, or a seat on one of two flower-filled sun terraces as you enjoy the complimentary traditional afternoon cake.

GRAB YOUR GOWN AND GO
Each room has a fluffy dressing gown, slippers and little wicker basket that you can pop your book or magazine into and walk with to the spa area. The most taxing decision you’ll have to make is deciding where to park yourself. There are more than 20 bathing, relaxation, steam and sauna areas – my eyes almost fell out of their sockets when I was chilling in an indoor whirlpool and a gentleman walked out completely starkers from the naked sauna zone. Up until that point, I hadn’t spotted the sign. Honest. Another thing that’s easy to miss is the meditation room, which is on your left as you walk out of the Joyful Wellbeing spa area. Romantically lit, it’s immensely calming with a water feature and comfortable padded seating. It’s also next to a blissfully peaceful area dotted with waterbeds that sit underneath a ceiling resembling a star-filled sky. Oh, and if you really fancy splurging there’s even a private spa suite for hire complete with giant swings, a lounge area and tea bar.

 

INDULGE IN A SPA TREATMENT
Facials. People rave on about them but up until recently I’ve always struggled with problem skin so have never been a fan. However, I tried a 60-minute !QMS Relax-o-firm treatment on my visit to Joyful Wellbeing area. My nerves evaporated as soon as my friendly therapist began speaking perfect English and gently guided me through what she was doing. At the end, I walked out with glowing skin and my colleagues commented on how well I looked. There are 13 rooms here offering all manner of pampering experiences, but they’re popular so it’s best to book in advance. Saying that, last-minute beauty deals are sometimes advertised on the day on a stand outside the spa, so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled, too.

EXPLORE THE FRESH FRUIT AND FOOD
Eating out is very tricky for me these days due to my histamine intolerance and I was worried I’d spend my time in Austria permanently famished. Far from it. The hotel chef bent over backwards to accommodate me. Upon request, the kitchen caters for gluten-free and vegetarian customers, as well as those with food intolerances and on calorie-restricted diets.

Before I left, I asked a German colleague to write down every food ingredient I react to in her native language with an explanation of why it’s dangerous for me to ingest such food. Lemons, limes, oranges, alcohol, tomatoes, vinegar, fermented foods…the list goes on and on but she kindly did this and I simply handed the guide over to the chef. He ensured there was plenty of salad and vegetables for me to tuck into and whisked me up wonderful egg dishes too.

Meanwhile, my fellow journos enjoyed the five-course dinners on offer. One evening a crustacean soup starter was served with cognac cream, another evening saw a desert of pineapple soup with a melon sorbet and pomace brandy desert conjured up. It’s worth noting that most of the meals are prepared using home-grown and regional produce – the hotel aims to support local farmers. The other good thing is that complimentary fruit, nuts and seeds are liberally dotted around so if you’re feeling peckish, there are healthy snacks to hand.

EMBRACE THE TRADITION
The great thing about visiting new countries is embracing new cultures and traditions and I ended up wearing a dirndl! All the female staff working at the hotel were wearing this traditional type of clothing, which is donned to mark special occasions including weddings. I loved my turquoise number (borrowed from a member of staff) which comprised a blouse, bodice, skirt and apron although it was rather tight across the chest. Apparently, this is normal and if you CAN breathe in it, it’s the wrong size. No chance of that. I also adored the fact that the Jagdhof produced it’s very own newspaper every day containing weather forecasts, spotlights on hiking trails, that evening’s dinner menu, and useful tips.

VERDICT:
When I arrived in Austria, I felt burnt out, stressed and in desperate need of a recharge. 72 hours later I left looking and feeling like a new woman. Austria –  and a summer stay at the Jagdhof Spa-Hotel – was just the tonic I needed.

FACTBOX:
Inghams is offering a seven-night holiday on a half board basis at the five-star Jagdhof Spa Hotel in Neustift, Austria, from £1,429 per person, based on two sharing in Summer 2018. Price includes return flights to Innsbruck, private airport transfers, guided walks, hot and cold buffet breakfasts, afternoon cake and five-course evening meals. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays or call 01483 791 116.

For further information on attractions in Austria visit: www.visittirol.co.uk and www.innsbruck.info.

Travel, Wellness

Insider view: 7 things you must do in Barbados

Barbados Bay

It’s no secret that I’m a fast-walking, fast-talking kind of gal who is always rushing around at breakneck speed. But there’s one country where those defining characteristics melt away in an instant. It’s called Barbados.

My admiration for this tropical paradise began in 1999 when I was on holiday with my then-boyfriend. My heart sang as soon as I clocked the powdery white sand and shimmering turquoise sea out of the plane window on our descent into Grantley Adams International Airport.

I’d never experienced anything like it and by the end of the week-long stay, I’d fallen in love with the picturesque parishes and charming, friendly nature of the island’s people. Since then, I’ve returned year after year without fail. Why? Well… this is the one spot in the world where I truly switch off. I mean truly, truly. On this island, I don’t give a flying fig about work and find it far easier to give myself permission to take time off because I’m not in England.

The vibe is contagious. A joyous silliness consumes my being and I’m instantly propelled into this carefree space I never quite manage to find in the UK. My dear friend Nicky calls it the Barbados Effect. You know the island is working its magic when a) you start moving at the pace of a snail and b) words start spilling from your lips in a dreadfully unconvincing mock Barbadian accent (well they do mine, anyway).

Barbados beach

As anyone who has been to the Caribbean can attest, everything happens at a much slower pace here. And I mean MUCH slower…if you need to pop to the bank, be prepared to wait in the queue for a good 45 minutes; if a friend is due to collect you at 11am, expect him on your doorstep at midday at the earliest.  While this laid-back approach to life would rile me at home, in Barbados I soak up the culture and adopt the ‘it is what it is’ motto.

Heck, this is the place I first drank coconut water out of the shell. This the place I first swam with turtles in the wild. This is the place I learned to lime (hang out). This is the place I fell in love with surfing despite being utterly useless at it and almost breaking my nose on one trip.

Oh, and this is where I was first introduced to ‘wukking up’ – an eye-opening dance that I eventually learned to get my head around only after placing my VERY British eyeballs back inside their sockets.

In fact, Barbados is where I first heard the term  ‘Relax Ya Self’.  Personally, I find it much nicer way of saying ‘calm down’, ‘chill out’ or ‘get a grip’. Over the years the mantra has stuck, so much so that it became the inspiration for the name of this blog. So there you have it…the reason I keep returning to Barbados is that I absolutely revel in the much slower pace of life. As well as the weather, the food, the music, the ocean, the charm, the people. Oops, I’m off again…

Below I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite things to do on this wonderful island, some of which are off the beaten track. I do hope you enjoy.

Is there a country or place in the world where you instantly unwind? Have you been to Barbados? What did you think of the island? Are you planning a visit? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment below or Tweet, Facebook or Instagram me.

SAIL WITH CAPTAIN RON AND SWIM WITH THE TURTLES
This tops my list of things to do. I love catamarans, I love the ocean, I love turtles. And I always book a half day sailing trip with Captain Ron, who operates two vessels Why Not and It Wasn’t Me out of the capital Bridgetown. The entire experience is so seamless – perhaps unsurprising as Ron’s been doing this for the best part of 27 years. A driver collects you from your apartment and drops you to the quayside and by mid-morning you’re gliding over the calm Caribbean water to the West Coast to a soundtrack of reggae beats. Here, you’ll stop to swim with turtles and snorkel over a reef or shipwreck before anchoring up and tucking into a delicious spread of authentic Bajan food. Dishes include flying fish – a local speciality, chicken, rice and peas, macaroni pie and salad. The five-hour trip is such an enjoyable and sociable way to spend an afternoon. Always walk with a towel, SPF and hat – the average temperature is 27 degrees.

Captain Ron, Barbados

SEA VIEW DINING
As is evident from my Instagram feed, I’m completely obsessed with the sea and al fresco eating with an ocean view is my idea of heaven. Before my health took a nosedive last year, I took eating out for granted but this has been increasingly difficult of late what with my histamine intolerance and bizarre reactions. But there are two restaurants on the south coast of the island that I’m particularly fond of as the staff are super-attentive when it comes to allergy-sufferers…

CASTAWAYS BAR & GRILL
If you feel like the token pain in the butt (as I often do) when it comes to dining out, pay this beautiful restaurant a visit. Castaways owner Kris Whitton has thought of everything to keep every diner happy, no matter what their dietary requirements. Located at the top of St Lawrence Gap, this reasonably priced gem overlooks a cute bay and has a selection *yes you read that right* SELECTION of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options as well as meat, fish and chicken dishes for carnivores. Choose from vegan salads and tacos including mini chick pea croquets layered with almonds, corn, tomato, avocado and lime cabbage slaw – and gluten-free pizza made with cassava – a local root vegetable – base. By the way, the ocean-themed decor is stunning; the staff welcoming and service speedy. Make sure you book a sea view table and enjoy that breeze.

Castaways, Barbados

 

CAFE LUNA
This is a hidden waterfront treasure but so tucked away you could easily miss it. Tastefully decorated with stunning local pottery and pretty lanterns, this romantic setting is just past the fishing village of Oistins – home of the famous fish fry held on a Friday – and boasts magnificent waterfront views. Choose from Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asian dishes on the fine dining menu. Cafe Luna serves a couple of vegetarian dishes but the focus is on meat and fish. Try the luna“bajan” fish stew; fresh local fish,  organic sweet potato, and vegetables simmered in local pepper cream fish broth served with a garlic, herb, and parmesan bread. For afters, indulge in the warm banana crepe with triple sec cream and chocolate sauce.  I found the breeze a little chilly whilst dining under the moonlight on my most recent trip. The waiter overheard my whisper and, in the blink of an eye, a throw had been placed around my shoulders. Now that’s service for you! This place is very popular so you’ll have to book in advance.

Cafe Luna, Barbados

EARTHWORKS POTTERY
I have a confession. My cupboards are brimming with bits and bobs from Earthworks Pottery. Located in St Thomas, it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs and support local trade – the family-run business employs 20 people. Here you can see the potters craft their wares, and choose from a selection of pretty plates, bowls, serving dishes, mugs, jugs and bathroom accessories including tissue box holders. I can’t get enough of their eye-catching designs. Turn left out of the shed and up the stairs to check out the art gallery and grab a bite to eat on the balcony overlooking the countryside. It’s an immensely peaceful place.

Earthworks Pottery, Barbados

HEAD TO BATHSHEBA
Hire a car (I usually book through Coconut Car Rentals) and drive around the island. Break up your trip with a spell on the quieter West Coast beaches including Mullins (where the water tends to be calm) before heading to North Point where you can descend into the Animal Flower Cave if the sea is not too rough. The jewel in the crown is Bathsheba on the east coast. Rural, unspoilt and breathtakingly beautiful, here surfers congregate at a local break known as Soup Bowl. It’s enormously relaxing watching them cutting through the waves but be warned – you can’t swim here, the current is far too strong. Over on the south of the island, a beautiful viewing point has recently been carved into the hillside of Freight’s Bay – another popular spot with surfers, especially beginners.

Bathsheba

SUNSET YOGA
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to Barbados but on my last trip, I decided to get involved with a local yoga class despite having the flexibility of a board. A lovely islander mentioned  Santosha Yoga Barbados and offered to drive me (I told you the people were nice) so I headed along for an outdoor evening Vinyassa Flow session run by Stef Lemieux. It was held among the grounds of a beautiful old plantation house called Sweetfield Manor, on the south of the island overlooking the sea. Stef also runs sunset yoga sessions on paddleboards in the water – something I can’t wait to try on my next visit!

 

Yoga, Barbados

 

 

Travel

7 reasons to give e-biking a spin

E-biking up Box Hill with Inghams Holidays

“We’re going to cycle up Box Hill,” our  chirpy, energetic PR sings rather excitedly. I laugh hysterically and shake my head. “You’re joking, right?” “Nope,” she answers, in an equally cheery tone.

I know Box Hill like the back of my hand as I went to school in Dorking, Surrey. Many a lunch hour was spent at the top of the summit overlooking the North Downs and many a night was spent at the bottom of it throwing shapes on the dance floor at the Burford Bridge Hotel, the home of Sixth Form dinner dances and various parties.

And I can confirm one thing.

It. Is. Very. STEEP.

And you know what? This is the very same location that formed part of the road race cycling event in the London 2012 Olympic Games!

Now, I’m as competitive as the best of them. And I’m certainly not one to make excuses despite the battering my health has taken of late. But I’m no flippin’ Olympian. “You don’t need to be,” the PR laughs. “We’ll be going up on e-bikes.”

This is music to my ears although I’ve never seen an electric bike before let alone ridden one. Ray Wookey, founder of Cycling Made Easy, an e-bike retailer in the UK, gives our group a quick demonstration.

Although electric bikes have a battery pack, you still have to pedal otherwise you’ll fall off. But it’s good to know that I have three ‘boost’ options to help navigate the trickier parts of the hill. I get to grips with my bike in the car park of Denbies Wine Estate and merrily pedal along before tapping the magic box next to my handlebars. Whoosh – there’s instant power. It feels rather exhilarating.

We file out of the car park and head straight to the base of Box Hill. My legs are burning within minutes of tackling the steep ascent so I tap the booster box – moments later I’m hurtling up the track at breakneck speed. It’s fan-bloody-tastic and in no time at all I’m admiring the view from the top.

 

Yes, I’m slightly huffing and puffing –  you still have to cycle – but I’m not drenched in sweat. No wonder then that Berchtesgaden in Germany, Kranjska Gora in Slovenia and Alta Badia in Italy are popular e-biking destinations. It really is a rather fantastic way to get about.

According to an Inghams Lakes & Mountains poll of 2,000 holidaymakers, almost two thirds would try a new activity on holiday. And nearly a quarter said they’d be motivated to return to a destination if it offered plenty of activities they hadn’t tried before. I’m with them on that one.

If you’d have told me at a month ago that I’d be cycling to the top of Box Hill, I would never have believed you. Bradley Wiggins I am not. But with an e-bike it seems anything is possible and I was left giggling like a schoolgirl all over again.

 

7 E-BIKING MYTHS SMASHED

Below Ray Wookey, who sells E-bikes from his Cycling Made Easy stores in Coulsdon and Tunbridge Wells, talks us through the common e-biking myths and gives seven reasons why you should give it a go. 

IT’S NOT EXERCISE
E-biking is in fact very good exercise. The motor doesn’t do anything unless you are pedalling. Just like on a stationary bike at the gym, you can choose the level of physical effort you wish to put in, simply at the touch of a button. Of course, the advantage of an e-bike over a stationary exercise bike is that you can get out and about. E-biking out in the beautiful British countryside beats sweating it out in a gym. Our own research shows that people go out on their e-bikes between three and four times a week, which matches up to recommended exercise guidelines.

IT’S EXPENSIVE:
A reliable e-bike starts at £899 but most people will spend around £2000. This might seem a lot at first, but the cost of e-biking is front-loaded. Ongoing costs are minimal. Charging the battery from flat to full takes no more electricity than the amount used to boil a kettle – about 10 pence worth. As e-bikes are classed legally as bicycles, you don’t have to spend money on insurance, MOTs, nor will you have to worry about petrol prices or parking charges. Many of our customers have stopped buying train season tickets, because there are e-bikes which cost less, and are a more reliable way to get to work.

IT’S FOR THE ELDERLY OR MAMILS (MIDDLE AGED MEN IN LYCRA)
There are as many types of people who use e-bikes as there are bikes themselves. Young professional commuters like the convenience and money saving aspect, experienced mountain bikers enjoy the fact that they can cycle as aggressively uphill as they do downhill, and then there are many people who use e-bikes as a way to cycle together. With e-assistance, no-one gets left behind. You can always lean on the bike to help you keep up with more experienced riders.

IT’S FOR THE UNFIT
Most people will find that an e-bike has a positive effect on their fitness. Cycling is a low-impact exercise anyway, and with adjustable e-assistance, you can take the pressure off your joints – especially your knees – and still get a cardio workout. You would certainly find you go out cycling more often on an e-bike than a conventional bike, because they help you overcome so many barriers.

IT’S CHEATING
‘Cheating’ is something often thrown at e-bikers. It’s only cheating in the same way that escalators are the ‘cheat’s version’ of stairs. Most e-bikers are not looking for a way to get out of exercising. It’s quite the opposite. They want to ride something that encourages them to cycle more often. It’s not cheating if you are choosing two-wheels to get your errands done, to get to work, to explore on holiday, or countless other reasons.

IT’S COMPLICATED TO OPERATE
If you know how to ride a bike, you can use an e-bike. Changing the e-assistance levels is no more complicated than pressing up and down buttons on a little panel on the handlebars. It is probably more difficult to ring the bell. The computer systems inside the motor and head display do all the clever stuff. All you have to do is choose your power level and start pedalling.

IT’S HEAVY
Most good e-bikes are around 20kg. This is lighter than a Boris bike. There’s a lot of variation depending on the components on the bike. Full-suspension adds a few kilos, but sportier models will have lighter frames. The magic of e-bikes is that no matter how heavy the bike, they feel like incredibly light bikes when in motion, as the e-assistance handles the weight. Conventional bikes suffer under extra weight. Often cyclists will forfeit the convenience of a rack and panniers, the security of a heavy-duty lock, or the versatility of bigger tyres, because they’re worried about weight.With an e-bike, all these options are open to you. Weight simply doesn’t bother an e-bike.

For more information visit:

www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays

www.cyclingmadeeasy.co.uk

 

Fitness, Travel, Wellness

HOW TO TRAVEL WITH ALLERGIES: 7 MUST-READ TIPS

Ocean view Bathsheba, Barbados

I’ve always enjoyed travelling. ‘You’re always on holiday,” my friends used to quip, not realising that I’d been working 15 hour days and weekends to justify my, often very short, jaunts abroad every six weeks or so.

But when my health started playing up in December 2015, travelling was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted to get well. Then, seven months after the first allergic reaction, a travel commission came in for Barbados – a country I love and know like the back of my hand – and I couldn’t pass it up. Incidentally, Relax Ya Self is a phrase often used by locals on the island and where I got the idea for the name of this blog!

I wrote a post here on how my tongue started to swell on the eight-hour flight home. One epic fail was not to having my emergency drugs within easy reach. I know, I’m an idiot. So, I decided to make a checklist for future trips, which may help others too.

DON’T BE SHY
Tell your friends, family and fellow travellers about your allergies. Knowledge is power. They’ll need to know what you’re allergic to, the signs and symptoms to look out for, where your emergency drugs are and how to use an auto-adrenaline injector (commonly known as an Epi-Pen) if you are unable to inject yourself.

ALERT THE CABIN CREW
In my experience, the crew bend over backwards to help those with allergies. I recently flew to Tenerife with Monarch. I explained the unpredictability of my reactions, that I wouldn’t be eating on the flight because of this and reassured them that I had my emergency drugs on me and knew what to do if my tongue started to swell. The aircraft was quite empty. Guess what? They ended up moving me to an extra legroom seat at the front of the plane. It was such a kind gesture and I certainly didn’t expect it!

PREPARE YOUR OWN FOOD
Because I react to all sorts of ingredients, I now prepare my own food (in plastic containers) and forgo the meals served up by the airline. This way I know I’ll never go hungry. And I make use of the tubs again during my holiday. Not only are they super-handy if I’m out and about during the day,  it’s good to know that I can tuck into home-made food if there are no options for me on a restaurant menu (which has happened in the past!)  I just make the food in the morning. (Remember to walk with an ice pack)

CHECK THE EXPIRY DATES
Ensure your antihistamines, steroids and your auto adrenaline injector pens are in date. Often, the latter has a short shelf-life of six months.

DOUBLE UP
To be on the safe side,  I walk with two lots of medication including adrenaline pens just in case my bag goes missing or one of the pens fails to work.   Ensure they’re within easy reach and walk with a bottle of water. And if you’re in tropical climes, you’ll need to protect your adrenaline pens from the heat so remember to pack an insulated wallet or bag. I use a pretty and practical cooling pouch made by Frio.

LEARN THE LINGO
Eating out in Tenerife was particularly troublesome because I had to avoid so many foods…mature cheese, citrus fruit,  alcohol and vinegar, the latter of which popped up in everything! Fortunately, the lovely receptionist at our hotel compiled a note listing all the ingredients in Spanish together with an explanation. I carried that piece of paper everywhere I went and it gave me the confidence to eat out in restaurants.

UPDATE YOUR DETAILS
Many phones, such as the Iphone 6, have a medical ID option. Here you can list your medical conditions, allergies and reactions and any medication you take, as well as your name and date of birth. Anyone can access this information, even if your phone is locked.

 

Helen's Health, Travel