24 Hours in Bray

Touching distance from the madness of Temple Bar and the sins of Dublin is the beautiful coastline of County Wicklow, where the town of Bray offers the 24-hour tourists the perfect R & R opportunity, far away from Guinness, bad pub singers and stag and hen parties.  Not that there is anything wrong with those, but sometimes time away is all about good food, great bars, empty beaches and fantastic hospitality.  Welcome to Bray.

Hop on the DART or South Eastern Suburban line (€3.70 each way) from Connolly, Tara Street and Pearse and you will be there within 30 minutes.  Home to national treasures as Gold-medal Olympian Katie Taylor, singer Sinead O’Connor and current crooning favourite Hozier, the town can also boast the best bar in the world, according to The Lonely Planet in the form of the Harbour Bar although the Porterhouse Brewery on Strand Road with its host of own-brews is a better place for an evening, serving a range of seven of their beers, dozens more, live music and great food. If you are lucky Hozier may be playing an impromptu set in either, if you are unlucky Miss O’Connor may be trying to win the karaoke.  Other places to grab a beer or a glass of pop include the Hibernia Inn on Royal Marine Terrace and Holland’s on Main Street.

The main attraction that brings families to Bray is the wonderful beach – over a mile long and one of the cleanest in Ireland.  On the esplanade there is a National Sea Life Centre which is very popular, whilst football fans will be pleased to know that Bray Wanderers currently play in the League of Ireland Premier Division at the rustic Carlisle Grounds, a two minute walk from the beach, past the ten-pin bowling centre.

Many people head to Bray as a base for walking.  The most worn path is the one across the cliffs to Greystones, where the views are superb and perfect to blow away the cobwebs from the night before.  Take some sensible (i.e not flip-flops) walking shoes, power on up the path at the end of the headland, passing under the cross at the summit of the hill (only 791ft above sea level if you fancy the hike up there) and away you go. Allow a good ninety minutes for the 6km walk, more if you like to take a photo or two.  If you don’t fancy the walk back then hop on the train at Greystones for the seven minute trip back to Bray.

Hotel options are relatively limited.  Most are located on the sea front such as the excellent Martello and the imposing looking Esplanade with its gothic turrets.  As you start the costal walk at the South end of the bay you will pass the Bray Head Inn, which has seen better days and could be the inspiration for a Scooby Doo story.  Another option a few minutes walk from the seafront is The Royal Hotel and Merrill Leisure Centre which is worth staying at if you fancy a swim.

Whilst many people will simply come to Bray for a few hours before heading back to the bright lights of Temple Bar, be different.  Stay a bit longer, walk the beach, enjoy a decent cheap(er) dinner and of course, share a story or two with one of the locals.  With a couple of dozen flights a day to the UK and a weakening Euro, there’s never been a better time to discover one of Ireland’s hidden gems.

Sláinte

24 Hours in Paris

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  Paris is not my favourite city in the world.  In fact it isn’t in my top five favourite cities in France.  I have my reasons, some of which go back to weekly business trips to an office that was in “the centre of Paris” but was actually not.  Bit like saying Croydon is in the centre of London.  You form an impression over time and it takes some serious phychology to get it out of your system.  But I am trying and each visit to the City of Lights slowly warms my heart.  I wouldn’t say I am falling in love yet, but the whiff of amore is certainly in my nostrils.

Quite why so many airlines offer flights from London/South East to Paris is a mystery to me when the Eurostar effortlessly covers the 240-odd miles in around 2 hours and delivers you right in the city centre.  If you get in fast then you can pick up tickets for just £29.50 each way as well, less than it will cost to park at Heathrow for 3 minutes. For those living outside of the metropolis then virtually every regional airport has flights to Paris (Easyjet, City Jet, Jet 2, FlyBe and Air France being the main carriers) although bear in mind Paris Beauvais is some 70km from the city centre.

So you have 24 hours in Paris – what can you do?  Well, with a bit of planning, quite a lot actually.  There is an argument that the best way to see Paris is not from the top of the Eiffel Tower, not only is it expensive but unless you have booked a long way in advance, queues can be massive, but from one of the other high vantage points in the city. The Tour Montparnasse offers outstanding views for just €15, is easy to reach and the queues are relatively short, whilst the Grande Arche de la Defense, a strange cube-like structure in the business district, offers a view straight down the Champs Élysée to the Louvre for just €10.  It also houses the Computer and Video Game Museum which is a great way to relive your misspent youth (or is that just me?).

I’m not going to dwell on a visit to the Louvre – it is so vast that you could have 24 hours in there alone.  The story here is after queuing for ages, paying €12 (free on first Sunday of month between October and March), rushing past all the exhibits to get to the Mona Lisa then finding out that any pictures you take are rubbish due to the thick bullet-proof glass and the lighting.  Head over the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, located in an old railway station for a better and more relaxed viewing experience if Monet and Van Gogh are your thing.

For those of you who have been to New York and walked the High Line, Paris has a similar and older trail to explore – the Promenade Plantée runs along an old railway track from Opera Bastille for around 5km and is a great way to spend a few hours in the fine weather.  For something a little more dark, head to the Conciergerie on Ile de la Cité, one of the oldest prisons in the city and where Marie Antoinette spent her last days and nights.

Located on rue des Beaux-Arts, just a short distance from Musée d’Orsay and Louvre is L’Hôtel, one of the most exclusive hotels in the city and where Oscar Wilde died in one of the bedrooms.  The hotel not only has a Michelin starred restaurant but if you want to wow the person of your dreams you can hire the stone grotto, complete with pool and steam room by the hour.

Obviously in a county that is famed for its food, finding a decent restaurant isn’t hard.  Finding one that wont break the bank is a bit more of a challenge.  If you want a decent (and cheap) steak and chips then head to Le Clos Bourguignon at 39 Rue de Caumartin.  No more than a five minute walk away is a classic pavement cafe that does a mean duck in pepper sauce – Triadou Haussmann.  On the South Bank Le Reminet is well worth a visit on Rue des Grands Degrés.  If you are arriving at Gare du Nord then step outside the chaos and head across the road to Terminus Nord which is a pretty decent, if expensive Bistro.

In terms places to lay your head for the night, again there are too many hotels to mention.  Every brand is represented in multiple locations across the city and rates depend on time of year and how far in advance you book. Two options outside of this that are in good locations and are recommended are Villathena in Rue d’Athènes and Hôtel du Léman,20 Rue de Trévise.

Leave your perceptions at home and come enjoy the joie de vivre.

24 Hours in Brisbane

The sun always shines on Brisbane, the beer always tastes better, the wine more mellow, the food fresher and the girls? I will leave that statement from one of my colleagues who lives down in Melbourne hanging. Brisbane has almost everything to make it the perfect city for a 24 hour visit. Combine food, entertainment, the glorious weather, beautiful beaches and some sights to see both in the city centre and within easy striking distance and you can understand why.  However, Queensland in general has taken a bit of a battering in recent years when it comes to visitors numbers which is hard to explain.  Lonely Planet voted Brisbane the “Hippest City” in 2014, whilst the climate is surely enough to win over any frosty heart.

Arriving in the city centre is relatively straight forward. The AirTrain runs every fifteen minutes and costs AU$32 return for Adults.  A taxi will cost around AU$50 into the city centre, depending on traffic.  One useful little tip for you is to download the Airport’s excellent App which allows you to complete your departure card on your smartphone then simply print it off and airport, saving significant time.

If you have only one night in Brisbane you have an issue. Which are do you head to? Across the William Jolly Bridge you will find the Barracks Complex and Caxton Street which runs down to the Suncorp Stadium and is the place to be when there is a rugby (either the Queensland Reds or Brisbane Broncos depending on your favourite flavour) match on, certainly one of the must-do things if calendars synchronise, especially if it’s in one of the highly passionate State of Origin series games against New South Wales. Tickets for matches here or across town at The Gabba (home for cricket and AFL) can be bought online from Ticketek or Ticketmaster.Highly recommended restaurants in this area include the Hog’s Breath with its superb steaks and local beers, Statler & Waldorf and the outstanding German sausage bar, Brathaus Express. Be warned though – don’t fall into the honey trap, or should I say the Honey B’s trap, at the top of Caxton Street!

If you are on the south of the curve of the river then Grey Street and South Bank is the place to head. The Charming Squire (which has its own micro brewery onsite), Obsession and the Live Fire Steak Bar on South Bank Parkland beach are all great spots. From here you also get the superb views of the city centre skyline, especially mesmerizing at night. This was the site of the 1988 a World Expo, now an entertainment precinct boasting entertainment, cafes, restaurants, man-made beaches, lagoons, playgrounds and the 60m high Wheel of Brisbane.  The South Bank area is also where you will find the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and Museum, worth a couple of hours of your time.  Not far from here along Montague Road and under the Go Between Bridge you will find dozens of fantastic murals on the walls and supports of the bridge.

On the inside bend of the river there’s the City Reach Boardwalk opposite the famous Story Bridge (which for the adventurous you can walk across the cantilevered structure) which is one of the most historic parts of the relatively young city, named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, and originally part of New South Wales.  In 1859 the city ceded from the state and formed Queensland. Here you will find the Custom House as well as decent dining experiences such as The Bavarian Bier Cafe, The Blackbird Bar and Grill and Mr and Mrs G’s Riverside Bar – all with superb views of the river.  Back from the river front is the hedonistic Fortitude Valley where the casinos and nightclubs can be found.

Many tourists land in Brisbane before heading south to the beautiful beaches of the Gold Coast, a strip of urban areas and beaches located about 50 miles or about an hour’s travel by car or train. Main points of interest here include the suburb sandy beaches of Surfers Paradise, Mermaid Paradise and Coolangatta. Also in the area you will find the major attractions on the east coast of Australia such as Sea World, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Dreamworld, the latter being a theme park and a wildlife sanctuary all in one.  Other attractions within easy reach include the world’s first Koala sanctuary, The Lone Pine Sanctuary located in Fig Tree Pocket.

Need a bed for the night?  Well Brisbane has it all, from 5 star luxury at Rydges South Bank with its superb terrace and pool bar, Hotel Jen with its cool interiors and good city centre location to the more budget apartment hotel at The Riverside just south of the William Jolly Bridge.  Prices depend on time of year although it is worth saying Brisbane isn’t a particularly cheap city.  That being said, it is certainly worth at least 24 hours of your time.

24 Hours in Munich

The sun is shining, the dirndl-wearing buxom waitresses are happily serving you litres of the finest German beer and plates of freshly-grilled meat, a band strikes up a tuneful melody.  Welcome to high summer in Bavaria, welcome to one of the best outdoor cities in the world, welcome to Munich.

Head to the S-Bahn station at the airport (don’t forget to buy your ticket and validate it before you board a train – €11.15 for a daily city transport ticket) and grab either a S1 or S8 to the city centre – both eventually end up at Hauptbahnhof but approach from a different direction.

The city is today famous for its world-beating football team, the fine engineering of the Bayerische Motoren Werke and one of the most loved beers in Europe.  Just a ninety minute flight from England, you can be feasting on the best of the city has by lunchtime. One first initial piece of advice is to steer yourself away from the areas around the Hauptbahnhof, which can be quite seedy at times – Sexyland in Goethestrasse is not, alas, an adult theme park.  Strangely enough, many of the four/five star hotels rub shoulders with some of these one/two star adult entertainment establishments.

Walking eastwards from the Hauptbahnhof across the wide expanse of Karlsplatz and into the pedestrian streets of Neuhauser Strasse where you will find all the famous fashion brands and department stores.  A few hundred yards down this street you will come to Marienplatz where the impressive Neue Rathaus is, with its cute clocktower figurines that pop out every hour to do their stuff.

You cannot visit Munich and not visit at least one beer hall or garden.  The most famous ones are the holy trinity of The Hofbräuhaus, Augustinekeller or Löwenbraü. The Hofbräuhaus, located just around the corner from the Neue Rathaus is over 400 years old and is probably the most famous hall in Germany.  It was here that an assaination attempt was made on the life of Adolf Hitler back in 1921, the gunshot marks still visible on one of the pillars.  Augustiner Keller is a 5,000 seater garden to the west of the city centre, very popular with locals who pile into the shaded areas after work each and every day. Last, but certainly not least, is Löwenbraü Keller in Nymphenburger Strasse, a 15 minute walk from the central station where the world-famous beer is still brewed and the atmosphere on most nights is a little more lively than Augustiner. If beer isn’t on your mind and you are prudish then head to one of the nudist sunbathing areas of the Englischer Garten – just remember to put sunscreen on every exposed part of your body.  If you want to find something to eat without the beer, and sausages are not your thing (are you mad??) then there are hundreds of places to grab a sandwich or even better a pretzel.

For a great afternoon of rubbing shoulders with the past, present and future then head up to the old OlympiaPark, built for the 1972 Olympic Games.  The original Olympiastadion is still open and you can wander around the historic venue and even sign up for one of the regular walks across the glass roof of the stadium from €43.  Alternatively, take the lift to the top of the Olympic Tower and get a fantastic view of the city.  Just a five minute walk across the footbridge is the futuristic BMW World exhibition and museum, great value at just €10.  Take the underground line U8 to the end of the line at Olympia-zentrum for both the park and BMW.

Bayern Munich used to be the residents at the Olympiastadion, both with cross-city rivals, 1860, they are now firmly at home at the Allianz Arena in Fröttmaning (take the U6 line to Fröttmaning) on the outskirts of the city.  The 71,000 stadium is one of the most outstanding looking stadiums, lit up at night according to who is in residence.  The tour, run a number of times a day, is certainly worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time.

A more sobering experience is a visit to the concentration camp of Dachau, 10 miles northwest of Munich, was one of the first concentration camps in Nazi Germany and would serve as a model for all subsequent camps in the Third Reich. Dachau visitors follow the “path of the prisoner”, walking the same way prisoners were forced to after their arrival in the camp. You will see the original prisoner baths, barracks, courtyards, and the crematorium, as well as an extensive exhibition and various memorials.  From Munich, take the metro S2 to Dachau/Petershausen. Get off at the Dachau Station and take the bus 726 into the direction of “Saubachsiedlung”; get off at the entrance of the Memorial Site (“KZ-Gedenkstätte”).

As mentioned, there are a lot of hotel options to the south of the Hauptbahnhof, so it may be worth heading to the north side of the main station where the locale is a little bit more upmarket.  Eurostars Grand Central, and the very reasonable Hotel New Orly are good choices in this area, whilst the NH Hotel chain offers a few good options in the city.

Finally, for those want to visit to take in the Oktoberfest, don’t even think about it unless you have book 364 days in advance.  The city grinds to an alcohol-induced haze for 16 days in late September and early October.  The exhibition grounds are converted into a festival with beer tents representing all of the major breweries, brilliant freshly cooked meat and Europe’s biggest travelling funfair, although from personal experience I would recommend against a trip on the Five Olympic Ring rollercoaster after an afternoon in the Haufbrauhaus tent.

24 Hours in San Diego

San Diego is one of the most important, historic cities in North America, sitting just north of the border with Mexico and the city of Tijuana. Whilst the areas that you will most probably visit are all concentrated in a small central area, the city is the 9th biggest in the United States, stretching North, South and Eastwards.

The historic centre is the Gaslamp District, so called for the style of lighting that was introduced back in the day.  Today it is where all the pubs and restaurants can be found.  One of the easiest ways to get around the centre is to take the Old Town Trolley Tour which does a two hour circuit of the centre, stopping at around a dozen points.  Tickets can be bought at most main hotels as well as onboard.

If you only have time to see one attraction then it should be the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, one of the biggest floating military vessels every to grace the ocean.  Today, the deck is filled with aircraft to demonstrate the sheer size of the powerhouse but was once the floating home of the Top Gun Pilot Training squadron.

Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park in San Diego. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, housing over 3,700 animals including giant pandas. Keeping the animal theme, many people associate San Diego with Seaworld, the first aqua-marine theme park in the world.  It is home to the fantastic Atlantis, Manta and Wild Arctic rides.  Tickets aren’t cheap so hunt around for some online bargains.  Further out of town is Legoland which could be a good stopping off point if you are journeying from Los Angeles.

Come when the sun is shining, which let’s be honest is almost every day and you could catch a Baseball game at Petco Park.  Sitting in the centre of the historic Gaslamp District, ball fans fill the bars and restaurants around the ballpark on match days, although mostly to drown their sorrows as the Padres are one of the perennial under-performers in Major League Baseball.

Want to see some sport on TV, served by some of the prettiest waitresses in California, then head to Barley Mash at 600 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp District.  Superb food (the Buffalo chicken topped fries will keep you going for days), superb beers (Californian Creamin’ ale is an explosion of cream soda followed by a hit of IPA) and superb service.  One of the most traditional restaurants in the district is Lou & Mickey Steak and Seafood House which has an eye-watering array of steaks and decent wine.  A few doors down is the Gaslamp Strip Club, disappointingly for some is a great steak house not a strip house, slap bang next to the infamous Dick’s Last Resort, known simply for the deliberately rude service (and some decent beers and food mind!)

The hotel chains are all represented along the marina, with the ultra-shiny Marriott offering 5 star luxury, whilst the Hyatt has the views over USS Midway.  Expect to pay top dollar when there is a conference in town.  The US Grant on Broadway offers old-school luxury and more affordable prices.  Budget accommodation can be found towards the freeway.

If these aren’t good enough reasons to visit San Diego, then how about these facts:-

  • The city produces more avocados than any other place in the country. Singer Jason Mraz owns a 5.5 acre avocado farm not far from the city centre – that’s surely enough to make anyone visit or try the green gunk.
  • The district of La Jolla used to have houses built strictly for small people, sometimes referred to as “the munchkin houses” due to the fact that they were inhabited by some of the actors who played Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz film.
  • Whilst the lakes close to the city look very tempting, it is illegal to swim in them.

On a good day, the city is around a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles, although it is rather nondescript freeway journey.  For a few dollars and an hour more of your time then head down the Pacific Highway that hugs the coast and takes in the towns of Carlsbad and Oceanside.  San Diego’s airport can get a bit congested, being the second busiest single runway airport in the world behind London Gatwick. It is certainly worth the effort if you have a spare day whilst on the West Coast.

 

24 Hours in Santa Monica

Los Angeles by the sea is one way to describe Santa Monica but it is so much more than that. Despite sitting on the edge of one of the biggest, most cosmopolitan cities on earth  and having a population of over 90,000 itself, it has a real small-town American feel.

There can be no better way to end any day is sitting at the end of Santa Monica Pier watching another perfect sunset over the Pacific Ocean. This is the focal point of the whole area, the end of Route 66 that runs through the middle of America. Restaurants, bars and amusements are the order of the day, whilst the Aquarium will keep the kids amused. Just think Southend-on-Sea with sunshine.

Many visitors will drop in and out of Santa Monica as part of a wider trip to Southern California. Sitting just a few miles from the exclusive areas of Beverly Hills, the smart neighbourhood of Brentwood and north of the hipster community of Venice Beach, the population of Santa Monica swells as the sun rises, and contracts at dusk.

Whilst the beaches teem with life all day, with muscle-men rubbing bronzed shoulders with Baywatch-inspired lifeguards and families playing in the surf, as the sun goes down there is a serenity about the place. For the romantics among you, there is no better place for a stroll hand in hand with the sand beneath your feet.  If you fancy something different then head onto Muscle Beach to flash the abs or rent a Segway from 1660 Ocean Avenue.

Just two roads behind the ocean road you will find the heartbeat of the city – the 3rd Street Promenade.  Here you will find bars, restaurants and shops which come alive when people leave the beach.  At the south end is the Santa Monica Place Mall where many of the major brands have outlets.  There are few better places in the US to shop, eat and drink in a small area.

You don’t have to wander far to grab a drink or some food in Santa Monica with almost every option catered for under the sun.  Most of the big hotels have decent restaurants, albeit quite pricey such as the Fairmount Miramar Hotel, often the haunt of the stars.  Sultry blonde Jean Harlow rented one of the Miramar’s bungalows in the early 1930s, and years later another famous blonde, Marilyn Monroe, frequently retreated to the Miramar when she wanted to disappear from the media.  Want to splash the cash to impress someone more?  Head to Shutters On The Beach on the beach, surprisingly, where the views guarantee sunshine and sand.  A cheaper place to head for a bed for the night is Hotel Carmel on the corner of 2nd and Broadway.

The Commons Ale House at 129 Broadway is certainly a place to head for if you fancy being overwhelmed by local brews, as too is Barney’s Beanery on 3rd Avenue Promenade which also has the added benefit of some fantastic chicken wings and large TVs abound.  Trastevere is a superb spot for Italian food (on the corner of 3rd and Santa Monica Boulevard whilst if you want to splash out then head to Water Grill on Ocean which has some of the best seafood and steak in town.  If you are missing your slice of England then head to Ye Olde Kings Head pub on Santa Monica Boulevard where the walls are adorned with celebrities who have popped in for a full English over the years.  This is the place to head to watch Premier League or Rugby, whilst the shop next door stocks emergency Marmite should you need it.

Most people who arrive in Santa Monica only have two things on their mind – sunshine and relaxing.  The main things to do revolve around grabbing a spot in the sunshine, cracking open a beer and simply letting the world slip away into the Pacific Ocean horizon.

24 Hours in Milan

Ciao from the world capital of style.  Don’t even think of setting foot in the centre of Milano unless you have your designer shades on, irrespective if it’s day or night, rain or shine.  There are few better cities to simply strut, trying to look stylish.  But don’t fall into the trap that marks you out as a fraud, a liar and above all a tourist – never order a cappuccino after 10am.

To start any visit to Milan put on your oxygen pack and head up the 250 or so steps to the roof of the Duomo for some outstanding views of the city.  You can choose to pay €7 for the lung-busting privilage or €12 to take the easy way and go up by lift.  You can also have a wander inside the church, the third biggest Cathedral in the world and home to a small red light bulb in the dome above the apse which marks the spot where one of the nails reputedly from the Cruxification of Christ has been placed. The Holy Nail is retrieved and exposed to the public every year, during a celebration known as the Rite of the Nivola.

The biggest draw in the city these days isn’t the shopping, the food or even the calcio. Da Vinci’s Last Supper is located hidden away on a wall in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  The fresco, when seen for the first time will shock you – the years have not been kind, with bullet holes still visible from target practice over the years.  You will need to book weeks, even months in advanced to stand a chance of getting in to see it, unless you pay over the top as part of a bigger tour package.  The Tourist Information office offers online booking at €6.50 each.

Milan is a great walking city.  It has lots of green, open spaces, filled with history and nowhere better than Parco Sempione where the Castello Sforzesco sits proudly after six hundred years of history.  Also in the park is the Arena Civica, once the home to Inter Milan and now more popular as a concert venue.  On a sunny afternoon this is the place you grab your Peroni and Mortadella and picnic like it’s 2015. The Giardini Pubblici is a five minute walk of the historic centre and home to the Museum of Natural History.

The Holy Trinity in Milan is undoubtably Fashion, Food and Football.  All of the major luxury brands have shops, and even outlet stores in Milan.. Built from 1865 to 1877, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the oldest shopping mall in the world and a stunning structure linking the Duomo square to La Scala Opera House.  The Golden Rectangle (Quadrilatero d’Oro) is where all of the major brands flaunt their wares.  Head to the Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni or Via Sant’Andrea.  Two of the most famous stores are  Rinascente and Excelsior which offer clothes, as well as coveted design and technology objects, jewelry, and fabulous restaurants and gourmet shops on the top floor with superb views over the Duomo square and the cathedral.

Food?  Well, where to start.  You can’t go wrong in picking up a snack from any of the street vendors who offer cheap ham and cheese toasted ciabattas or splashing out to indulge in the cities signature dish, Risotto alla milanese.  This world-famous dish is a creamy mix of arborio rice, saffron, grated cheese, butter, white wine and chicken stock. Like most Milanese specialties, the dish’s beauty is found in its simplicity.  Many of the best restaurants are located just outside the historic centre.  El Brellin at Vicolo Lacandai 3 is located on one of the canals to the south of the city centre.  Happy Hour is a very popular Milanese tradition – many restaurants in the Navigli area offer this for around €10 which includes a drink and a buffet of pasta, pizza and just about everything else.  A great place offering this is Momo, in Ripa di Porta Ticinese.  Want to stay in the city centre?  Head to the top floor of Rinascente where there is a great choice of eateries, although you pay for the view.

Craft Beer in Italy?  No problem.  Milan has a few decent spots to try a new brew.  The Baladin brewery is becoming a big name in beer and they have now arrived in the city centre, with a pub in Via Solferino 56. One of earliest, and best, artisanal breweries in Italy has its own beer pub in the working-class Lambrate district – the Birrificio Lambrate in Via Aldechi 5.  Meanwhile over at Hop in Viale Regina Margherita 16, beer selection is great (they have 10 drafts, all craft from microbreweries), the chairs are comfortable, and sitting outside is great for people watching, the regional sport of Lombardy.

No trip to Milan though would be complete without a trip to the cathedral of the 20th (and 21st!) century – the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza or The San Siro.  Home today to the great footballing rivals of Internazionale (“Inter”) and AC Milan (“Milano), the 83,381 capacity stadium drips passion and atmosphere on a match-day with the tifosi taking their place in the middle tier hours before kick off, generating a cacophony of noise and colour.  Tickets for games can be bought in advance from either club or from Seatwave although you will need to bring ID pictures to games.

24 Hours in Stockholm

Stockholm is the capital of cool.  Everything about the place oozes quality, efficiency and history.  Build on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, there are few better places to spend 24 hours when the summer sun is shining. In fact you can almost spend your whole 24 hours bathed in sunlight at Midsummer, when the Swedes party like there is no tomorrow.  A typical Midsummer features different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with fresh dill, soured cream and chives. This is often washed down with cold, spiced schnapps and every time the glasses are refilled, singing breaks out anew. Certainly an event not to be missed.

But everyday life in Stockholm is a little less rowdy.  Stockholm is an outdoor city, with people happy to walk and cycle around the city.  The pace of life is perfect for the long summer days, although that quickens during the cold, dark winter months when it is all about being inside in front of the open fire.

The Arlanda Express is the fastest and most efficient way into the City Centre from the main airport.  Return fares are 490SEK although on Monday to Thursday’s are are deals if more than one person is travelling.  Taxi’s from the airport also offer deals of 470SEK one way to anywhere in the city centre.  There are local, cheaper trains but these often include a change on the way.  For those flying with Ryanair to “Stockholm” you will either end up in Vasteras or Skavsta, both well over 90 minutes away from the city although there is a bus that meets incoming flights.

Most visitors will find themselves at some point in Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city having been founded in 1252, consisting of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture. It is the perfect way to lose a couple of hours of your day, stopping off for a drink overlooking the waterways.  For an overview of the city you can either head down to the Skyview, a unique lift that travels up the outside of the Ericsson Globe, the world’s largest spherical building (T-Bana station Globen) or Kantin Monteo which looks like a crane but is a viewing platform and a restaurant, overlooking the harbour.

Another island worth visiting is Djurgården, which is where you will find Skansen, the outdoor historical museum that traces life through the ages in the city.  Almost opposite Skansen is where you will find the massive Vasa Museum, housing the war ship of the same name that sank a few hundred metres into its maiden voyage in 1628.  Also on the island is Gröna Lund, the much-loved amusement park.  Ferries ply the route from here to Gamla Stan giving you a great view of the city.

A good spot to spend a couple of hours brushing up on history is the Nobel Museum in Stadshuset, that charts the history of the Nobel prize and its winners. The main shopping street is Hamngatan where the major brands can be found.  You wont find many bargains here though.  Prices in Sweden are around 20-50% higher than in the UK.

Putting aside the cost, although with the £ getting stronger day by day against the Swedish Kroner it is not as bad as it was, eating out in Stockholm is a pure joy.  There are so many places to choose from, ranging from a budget eatery that is still a firm favourite of Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, Restaurang Hubertus in Hollandargatan with its chalkboard menu to the superb Kott och Fiskbaren in Gamla Brogatan where you choose your steaks by the cut and weight as well as a craft beer list as long as your arm.  If your tastes are more from home then the Queens Head in Tegnergatan should be on your agenda.  Offering a menu of beers, superb burgers and an ambiance that reminds you of being in a Berni Inn from the 1980’s, it is one of the most popular places of a weekend, although its a fair way out of the action.  There are also a number of sausage vans in and around the city that offer cheap eats.

Other decent bars to head to include Monks American Bar in Sveavägen and the Flying Dog in Vasagatan, opposite the Clarion hotel although any craft beer fans will surely head for the Brew Dog bar in Kungsholmen.  There is also the Ice Bar, located within the Nordic C hotel, a stone’s throw from the exit of the Arlanda Express.  Be warned though – it is not a cheap experience at 195 SEK (about £18) for a visit and one drink.

There is a range of hotels as you would expect – all of the major brands are represented in the city centre.  However, for something very different then look no further than the airport where you can stay in a decommissioned jumbo jet.  Jumbo Stay offers you the opportunity to bed down in the cockpit, galley and even an engine in this unique hotel.  Whilst it is a trek into the city centre, you cannot miss an opportunity to stay in such a unique environment.

24 Hours in Eindhoven

Eindhoven doesn’t normally spring to mind when someone suggests a weekend away in Holland. The fifth biggest city in the Netherlands, it initially prospered because of its industrial and manufacturing roots with technology companies now providing the city with employment and a very pleasant way of life.  Back in 1891, the Philips brothers, Gerry and Anton opened a small factory making light bulbs.  Today, Philips is one of the biggest electronics companies in the world.  The company’s presence is probably the largest single contributing factor to the major growth of the city, and responsibly for the creation of many hi-tech companies, making Eindhoven a major technology and industrial hub.

More visitors are arriving by air, with Eindhoven airport riding the budget airline wave (just 45 minutes from Stansted) and bringing visitors into the city every ten minutes or so on the 401 bus which costs €3.50 each way.  Trains run frequently to Rotterdam, Schiphol and of course Amsterdam itself, with journey times around an hour – as is everywhere in The Netherlands from Amsterdam.  Don’t forget to grab a quick Smullers Krokette or Frikadelle on the way out!
The city centre is quite compact and walkable, with some strange architecture dotted around, such as the Blob, a glass snail-type structure at the end of the pedestrianised shopping streets.  Assuming you are not only here to visit to watch the current Dutch champions elect, PSV, you may want a few other ideas to fill up your day.  The football club arranges stadium tours on non-match days and has a great museum but if football’s not your thing (really???) then there is the DAF Museum, dedicated to the motor industry as well as the Light Bulb Museum (The Philips Gloeilampenfabriekje) located in Emansingel.  The other big draw is the Van Abbemuseum, on Bilderdijklaan, which has some paintings that whilst they look they have been drawn by kids, are in fact originals from the likes of Picasso and Kandinsky.

Van Moll in Keizersgracht is probably the pick of the bars in the city centre if not in the whole of the damn Netherlands, with a dozen craft beers on tap and around fifty in bottles.  The atmosphere is very laid back with a DJ spinning some mellow yet unobtrusive tunes which is the complete opposite to the bars in Stratumseind which pump out Europop at early splitting volume. With over 40 bars and a number of places to eat, Stratumseind is Eindhoven’s main nightlife area. The best of the bunch are The Bier Professor and The Jack, the latter having the advantage of a dartboard so you can partake in the Dutch’s third most popular past time, football being the first, the second being….well, we’ve all seen the window displays in Amsterdam, and Eindhoven is no different if you head down to Baekelandplein.

Apart from fast food (and of course various outlets similar to the windows of Smullers), there are plenty of places to eat in Dommelstraat (almost directly opposite the train station), the Markt and the Bergen kwartier.  Steak lovers can tuck into some great slabs of beef in Gauchos in Dommelstraat or if Asian cuisine is more your thing then Yokohama serves outstanding teppan yaki just opposite the station.
As with most business cities, hotel rates are cheaper at the weekends.  The Eden Crown, located just a 2 minute walk from the station on Vestdijk, is a good, safe option for the night, whilst the Best Western Premier Arts Hotel on Mathildalen is slap-bang in the middle of the action.

24 Hours in Singapore

Welcome to one of the most densely populated pieces of land in the world, yet one that has one of the best qualities of life on the planet and where the centre of the “city” is characterised by green open spaces.  Singapore is unique in terms of destinations for the 24 hour people, offering enjoyment and entertainment at both ends of the moral spectrum.  From fine arts, luxury dining and jaw-dropping architecture to the legendary debauchery of Orchard Towers, there is something for everyone.

Few visitors spend more than a couple of days here, with the city being a perfect stopping off point between Europe and Australia but that’s plenty of time to get the most out of the city, and leaving you with a taste for more.  Planning is the key here to get the most of your trip.

Singapore delivers on so many fronts, whether it’s the ease and facilities of Changi Airport, voted the best in the world on 2013 where you can sip cocktails by the side of the pool in the transit area, the entertainment city at Clarke Quay,  to the stunning infinity pool 52 stories up on the room of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.  Time to dispel a few myths.  You can chew gum, but, like littering, you can be find for spitting it out on the floor. You can be fined for not flushing the toilet. You can be caned in public for being a nuisance or shouting too loud.  You are allowed to look at “artistic” content on the Internet or in magazine but cannot share it.  The lowest ever temperature recorded in the city was a chilly 20 degrees centigrade back in 1930.

Singapore doesn’t have the museums of Madrid, the culture of Paris or the history of Rome.  It has ridden out the austerity of the global financial crisis, borne out of the stunning architecture of the central business district and the Marina Bay area.  At the top end you will need a second mortgage to wine and dine but that’s not the case across the city.  Alternatively, grab your sunscreen and walk the route of the second most famous F1 road circuit in the world, finishing with a sprint down the home straight where the grandstands lay empty 362 days a year.

First time visitors will undoubtedly head for the famous Raffles Hotel, once on the water’s edge but today sitting on the corner of the old city and the new developments. The Long Bar, on the second floor is still a Mecca for the visitor wanting to try a Singapore Sling for the first time.  The bar fills up at weekends, being a popular destination for raucous Hen groups from Australia and the Middle East – be warned if you fancy a sophisticated evening of quiet romance.  Talking of romance, some locals and taxi drivers may try to tempt you with a trip to Orchard Towers.  Located at the end of one if the best shopping streets in the city, Orchard Towers has the nickname of “Four floors of whores” and is the centre of the sinful side of the very strict state.  The building is a series of bars spread over four floors, which offers more risky temptations the higher you go. Watch your wallet and your conscience. A much more “family friendly” night spot is Clarke’s Quay where bars and restaurants try to tempt you in whilst the sounds from Tang’s Music Box on the first floor lure in would-be pop stars for their own private karaoke.

If shopping is your vice then you will be addicted in Singapore.  Shopping Malls open up almost every month in every corner of the city, offering big brands and local bargains.  Most of the biggest stores can be found on Orchard Road where shopping centres offer an air-conditioned respite to the often searing heat.  If it gets too hot, do what the locals do and buy an ice cream sandwich from one of the many street vendors. That’s a literal sandwich too – a block of ice cream in between a folded piece of coloured, sweet bread.  Trust me, it tastes ten times better than it sounds! An efficient metro system links the major shopping hubs such as Orchard Road, Marina Bay and Tanglin. Don’t expect many bargains though unless you are looking for electronics where haggling is still the norm with many independent retailers.

So where should you spend your time in “doing” Singapore? For one of the best views of the city take a trip on the Singapore Flyer, the highest observation wheel in the world at 165metres tall.  Admission starts from SG$33. Alternatively there are the ultra hip and cool bars with altitude rather than attitude at 1-Altitude, the world’s highest outdoor bar.  Expect to pay for the privilege of joining the beautiful people but the views will be worth it.  If you want to eat with your view then the Marina Bay Resort is a good option, although it may just break the bank.

Not only is Singapore Zoo rated one of the best and most ecologically friendly in the world, it offers a unique night-time perspective with its popular night safaris.  It’s a fair trek out of the centre but most hotels will be able to arrange a visit for you, alternatively you can catch the MRT Choa Chu Kang and get a connecting bus.  Admission to the night safari is SG$42 for Adults and SG$28 or you can get their earlier and do two of the parks for $67.  The wander around the jungle with the sound of rustling in the bushes isn’t for everyone but the opportunity to see some of the biggest and fiercest beasts at their most active is well worth it.

In the summer there is nothing better than sitting in the shade and watching a game of cricket at the Singapore Cricket Ground in the shadows of the Financial District and Raffles City then hopping on a boat to cruise that traces the journey made by Sir Stanley Raffles around the syscrapers of the Central Business District. Want to see the world’s largest fountain?  Well that would be the 14metre high Fountain of Wealth, where office workers sit on its edge to cool off in the midday heat.

There’s little point in recommending good restaurants and bars as new ones open literally every week.  Many visitors will want to head to the Long Room in Raffles although for a decent steak it is worth ducking into the restaurant next door, even if the “truffle-infused french fries” look suspiciously like McCain crinkle cut frozen chips. Two exceptions to this are Jumbo Seafood on the Riverwalk with the spiciest of spiced chilli crab and Asia Grand Restaurant opposite Raffles Hotel where you can dine like the Chinese on chicken feet, shreaded pigs stomach and cold, jellied pigs trotters.  When in Rome and all that.

Hotels are pricey at every time of the year but one great option is the Naumi Hotel on Seah Street, just behind Raffles Hotel, which offers a little slice of chic luxury complete with a rooftop pool (not in the Marina Bay I’m afraid), super rooms with Apple TV and charging points coming out of every orifice and very attentive service.