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Category Archives: havana

Why I am a Cruise Convert

I have had several friends quiz me about our recent holidays and many were surprised when we told them we had been on two cruises this year. I kind of understand how they feel though. Before I tried them myself, I had the preconception that cruises were a) really expensive and b) for old people!

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However, when looking at visiting Cuba earlier this year, we came across a cruise option and it stuck with me. We were slightly apprehensive when we boarded but ended up enjoying it so much we went on another mini-cruise around Scandinavia and the Baltics this summer and our trip to Japan later this year is part-cruise too.

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Here are my reasons for enjoying a cruise:

  • The food on board is ace. Eating out is a big part of going away for me and the dining options on a cruise ship are great. Whether you fancy a poolside slice of homemade pizza, a bit of everything from the buffet or a formal dining experience, a cruise ship ticks all boxes. I made sure I tried the local cuisine whilst on shore but we loved the foodie side of the ship.

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  • Most ships tend to be quite luxurious and offer really excellent service. We found the staff to be amazingly helpful and the public areas spotless.
  • There is a lot to do on a cruise ship (but no pressure to do it!) Yes, like a hotel, some of the entertainment can be a bit cheesy but there are various activities to do to keep you occupied. We went to the gym a few times as well as some shows in the theatre. There are also usually casinos, spas, quizzes, crafts, talks about the ports you will visit, dance classes, yoga, pilates, etc. Our Japan cruise also includes a traditional Japanese spa with a strict no-swimming costume policy (!) and a nightly film on top deck under the stars complete with blankets, hot chocolate and popcorn!
  • You get to visit some amazing places without the hassle of negotiating local transport. It really is cool to go to sleep in one place and wake up in a brand new destination to explore. I guess we almost treat it like a floating hotel and it really does feel very ‘easy’ getting from one port to the next. A cruise also takes care of things like visas which we found very useful when visiting Russia this summer.

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  • It’s not full of oldies! Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a much younger-than-expected clientele on a cruise ship. We ended up chatting to people of different ages and nationalities.
  • You only need to unpack your suitcase once! One of the biggest hassles we found on our road trip was the constant packing and unpacking of our stuff. I really like the fact that a cruise ship gives you a constant base to come back to.
  • It is quite a ‘safe’ way to travel. Now, I don’t mean this in a no-danger sense: I mean that it is great for less-intrepid travellers. I must admit that when we were researching our holiday to Japan, I was a bit nervous at the thought of getting around in a country where I don’t speak the language or even use the same alphabet. Although we will obviously be out and about on our own when we dock in a port, there is a bit of me that feels a bit more reassured at not having to negotiate buses and trains there.
  • You see some amazing sights. When we travelled from Stockholm to Tallin this summer, we sailed past beautiful little islands and saw lots of dream summer houses whilst enjoying a glorious sunset. I also loved sailing out of Havana and seeing the city from a completely different angle.

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  • It’s not as expensive as it seems. Yes, cruising isn’t cheap but when you factor in all the elements (all-inclusive food and drink, great service, entertainment, travelling from place to place, accommodation) it would be hard to beat booking all the elements separately.
  • There are excellent excursions on offer. I think cruise companies know you want to make the most of your time in a destination so there are some amazing trips offered to suit most budgets. We did a great walking tour of Havana, went ziplining through the rainforest in Jamaica and went tequila tasting in Mexico. Likewise, there is no pressure to book these and we also enjoyed doing our own thing each day on our summer cruise.

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Now, I will say that there are some aspects that you may feel are a downside to cruising but it really does depend on the kind of holiday you are after. We tend to switch between wanting something action-packed (like our American road trip in the summer of 2015) or complete relaxation and a cruise can tick some boxes for each.

Here are some of the negative aspects of a cruise holiday:

  • You are tied to the sailing times of the ship so have a limited time in each place.
  • You may feel that a day isn’t long enough to get a real feel for a place and I would agree to some extent. However, I tend to treat a cruise as a ‘taster’ of a country and our one day in Helsinki has made me want to return to Finland to experience more.
  • You may feel slightly claustrophobic on a ship. Personally, I didn’t feel this but I do understand that you may feel a bit trapped, especially if you have a few days at sea without any ports.
  • In some ports, you are slightly preyed upon by locals to buy things, take trips etc which can be a bit overwhelming.

In summary, I am really glad I put aside my preconceptions and gave this type of holiday a try. I feel I have been to countries I may not have visited otherwise and came home feeling well-rested yet like I had been on a jam-packed holiday. Whilst I would describe myself as a convert to cruising, it certainly wouldn’t be the only type of holiday I would take. I still like staying in one place for a week and discovering the local charms but I definitely see some more cruises in our future.

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Would you ever consider a cruise? x

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2016 – The Year of Travel

Rather than write a month-by-month account of this year like I did in 2015 and 2014, I decided to focus on one aspect of this year I have loved…travelling.

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Ian and I have been lucky enough to have several exciting holidays this year and all of them hold really special memories from dancing in a Russian nightclub at 1am to drinking mojitos on the streets of Havana to zip-lining through the Jamaican rainforest to sailing around Boston Harbour in the sunshine!

UK

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Not all of our trips have been abroad this year – I love exploring the UK just as much. We had several fun trips to London in 2016 (my favourite being for New Year’s Eve when we went to watch ‘Wicked’), took a mini-break in Wells, went camping in Tewkesbury and celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary on the beach in Devon

Cuba

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Probably my favourite destination of the year, the days we spent in Havana were amazing. I have wanted to visit Cuba ever since I studied Caribbean Literature at university and it was such a fascinating trip. We wandered the streets drinking mojitos and daiquiris and admired the beautiful classic cars cruising along. I am desperate to return.

Jamaica

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We spent a day here and it was as cool and as chilled-out as I was hoping. We went through the rainforest on zip-wires before enjoying jerk chicken and Red Stripe beers on the beach.

Grand Cayman

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An interesting place to visit and a beautiful destination for a beach holiday. I didn’t see much more than the beaches but we certainly had a lovely, relaxing day here dipping our feet in the Caribbean Sea.

Mexico

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We had a great tour of the island of Cozumel where we squeezed in a chocolate factory, the beach, tequila tasting, an artisan market and fish tacos and margaritas! It has pushed mainland Mexico to the top of my to-visit list.

France

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I spent a long weekend in a beautiful house for my best friend Cat’s hen weekend earlier this year. Maybe not the best-planned trip, but we enjoyed an awful lot of cheese, champagne, macarons and a day in Aix-en-Provence.

Berlin

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Ian and I had a mini-break here and experienced our first (and disastrous!) AirBNB. Despite a rocky start with our accommodation, we had a fab time exploring the city, stopping off at several beer gardens.

Sweden

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A couple of days in Stockholm have started off an obsession with the Scandi countries, somewhere I hadn’t really visited before. We didn’t have long here but did get to visit the Vasa Museum, eat cinnamon buns, wander through the Old Town and see a beautiful sunset.

Estonia

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I finally made it to Tallinn and it was as beautiful as I had hoped. Quaint, cobbled side streets, castles and lovely, old buildings, I really liked it here.

Russia

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I never thought I would be visiting Russia but we spent a day exploring St. Petersburg and I was really taken with it. It is a spectacular city, with vast, iconic buildings steeped in Russian history. We managed to see most of it plus a good amount of people watching on the main street through the city, the highlight being the stunning Saviour of the Spilled Blood Cathedral.

Finland

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I absolutely loved Helsinki. We stumbled upon several small markets and wandered along the port. I fell in love with the interior shops and am determined to return and savour some of the local restaurants.

Boston

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Our final trip was a week in Boston. We love visiting the States and both really enjoyed Boston. It was a cool time of year to visit to experience Halloween and the run-up to the presidential elections and we managed to watch an ice-hockey and a baseball game as well as sampling a lot of lobster and local craft beers.

That was actually a really fun post to write as I love looking back through old photos and remembering when and where they were taken. I really do believe that travel broadens the mind and money spent on adventures and experiences is never wasted. Here’s hoping for many more escapades in 2017! xxx

Sunday Summary #48 and #49

Life

I have been a bit MIA on the blog recently so what better time to start afresh than the start of the month and the start of the most magical month at that! Yes, it’s December today which means all Christmas activities are now entirely appropriate and I don’t have to hide the fact my Christmas tree has been up for almost a week now – I even had the bands on my braces replaced with red and green ones!

I was shocked to hear the news that Fidel Castro had died and it made me so happy that we had managed to get to Cuba and see Havana earlier this year before things really start to change.

For my book club, I started reading The Versions of Us. It has good reviews and I’m enjoying it so far.

I’m not usually a huge fan of reality TV but Ian and I are loving I’m a Celeb this year. I find Ant and Dec hilarious (and so camp!) and the contestants seem a really nice group this year.

It has started to feel like winter this week with ice on the ground and having to spend ages de-icing my car in the morning. I’m overcompensating with extra blankets, cosy knitwear and lots of candles! Talking of candles, I made a few purchases at Bath and Body Works when we were in Boston and am enjoying starting to burn them.

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The cold weather has meant I have been drinking tea non-stop and tea addicts will appreciate the importance of a good mug. I love using this glass cup I bought in St. Petersburg this summer – something about holding it in both hands makes it feel so warming and comforting.

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Food

I headed up to London last weekend to catch up with several friends. I had the most delicious brunch with my friends Cat and Lucie at Jam in a Jar. I could have ordered most of the menu but instead opted for a healthy-ish breakfast plate with eggs, sourdough, smoked salmon, avocado amongst the contents…heaven!

I also met up with my friends from uni for our annual Thanksgiving meal. The food was delicious, especially the slice of pumpkin pie.

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We had an amazing meal recently at a local pub, The Longs Arms. It is probably my favourite place to eat at the moment and I am yet to enjoy a meal there I haven’t raved about! This time, I had lamb scrumpets followed by brill and cockled and a lemon crème brûlée and they were all divine.

Fashion

I made a little ASOS order this week for a couple of items. Firstly, a pair of Christmas cacti socks!

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I also picked up this striped jumper with suede elbow patches. I love the split sides on it and plan on wearing it non-stop.

Beauty

Despite telling Ian not to bother this year, he bought me this L’Occitane en Provence beauty advent calendar. The illustrations are beautiful and I love the hand cream I received today.

I was a little bit blasé about all the Black Friday deal that kept appearing in my inbox but I did put an order in at Organic Surge which I will share soon. I bought a bundle of their bestsellers and cannot wait to start using them as they smell amazing, are all organic and the company has a really great ethos too.

Finally, I have been really enjoying rediscovering the Maybelline Color Tattoo cream eyeshadows. I used them years ago and recently bought Bad to the Bronze and forgot how pigmented and long lasting they are.

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Latest Purchases #96 – A Holiday Haul

As you may have noticed in recent months, my blog posts have become a little more sporadic. This is mainly down to work being busy and going to the gym for an hour or so most evenings. Basically, something had to give and sadly it was my blog. However, over half term I managed to get back in the swing of posting on an almost daily basis and I am going to try and keep this up now that I am back at work. I have a bit of a backlog of posts so today am starting with a little holiday haul from our trip to the Caribbean at Easter…yes, I have been hoarding this little pile since then!

First up is a piece of crockery I picked up at a little market in Mexico. It is modelled on a traditional guacamole bowl with the three little legs underneath and I love the bright chili design which has a bit of glitter going through it too.

Next, also from Mexico are these traditional blankets. They are so thick that I guess you could use them as a rug too but I will be using them as a throw on my sofa.

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Ian made a little purchase from Mexico too in the form of four bottles of hot sauce. I am such a wimp when it comes to spicy food but these are a great way for Ian to add a bit of spice to his food without making the whole dish super hot.

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In Cuba, we went on a little rum tasting excursion and loved this Legendario rum. It’s a dark but sweet rum that actually tastes great alone or as a mixer in something like a dark and stormy cocktail.

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Whilst in Havana Ian also bought a box of Cohiba cigars. I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a dodgy deal but he assures me these are the best!

Finally, you just can’t go to Mexico and not buy tequila and we actually bought a small bottle of both tequila and mescal complete with the gusano in the bottom! We’ve been perfecting our margarita recipe with them – I think I’ll share it on the blog soon.

Sunday Summary #15 and #16

Life

I wrote my last one of these weekly round-up posts the night before we flew to Havana for our Caribbean cruise. I am gradually writing up some posts on our holiday, but suffice to say we had an incredible time.

Whilst away, I read the fourth instalment of the Millennium series which revisited the world of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. It didn’t quite live up to the previous trilogy  but was gripping in places. I have since started another thriller, Before I go to Sleep which has a unique concept that I am enjoying so far.IMG_5903

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Since being home, there has been a lot of catching up with friends and family, laundry, the gym and TV. We binge-watched our Sky Plus programmes this weekend, reacquainting ourselves with Girls, the OJ Simpson programme, The Island and also watched Jurassic World.

I am back at work tomorrow which fills me with equal parts of dread and excitement but it also means I am chained to my laptop writing reports today.

Food

I feel like I have eaten very well over the past week! The food on board the ship was exceptional and we also had amazing jerk chicken and shrimp tacos in Jamaica followed by fish tacos and Margaritas in Mexico.

I have since tried to recreate some of these dishes at home but sadly could not provide the sunshine too!

Beauty

My recent lash lift is still going strong and it was lovely to not have to worry about wearing mascara everyday on holiday. I would definitely have this treatment again.

Whilst away in the Caribbean, I had the urge to wear a tropical-inspired orange lip. This lip crayon in Tangerine Dream from Stila was perfect and has really good staying power.

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Finally, I took away several mini products from REN. All were lovely on my parched sun-kissed skin, especially the face cream which I would like to purchase in full size.

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Fashion

Being blonde and pale-skinned, I burn really easily therefore I am all about hats when in the sun. I found this straw trilby on ASOS and wore it to death on holiday.

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Ian and I have a silly amount of Ray-Ban sunglasses (my personal favourites are my Wayfarers, Clubmasters and Erikas) but they are the best. They look cool and mine have lasted for years.

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Although I tend to live in dresses, I wore my playsuit several times on holiday and it has made me want to buy more. They are so comfortable and I love ones with cool prints on…I couldn’t find a single photo of me wearing mine though!

Havana

Hello! We’re back and just about over the jet-lag and weird swaying sensation we seem to have acquired after a week on a boat. We had an amazing holiday and it was exactly what we both needed. It was our first cruise and I definitely had my reservations before we went but a week of good food, cocktails, sunshine, books, great company and exploring new places has left us feeling refreshed and needing to get back to the gym! I always like to write up a little holiday debrief when I get back from a trip (and love reading about other people’s too!) but I realised that writing about all four countries we visited and my views on cruises in one post would take ages so for today, here is Havana…

So, after a glam night in a Gatwick Travelodge with an M&S picnic, we started our day of travelling going from London to Madrid then onto Havana. We flew with Air Europa who I would not recommend (two drinks on a ten-hour flight and no films is not the one!) and landed in Cuba pretty knackered. We were picked up by coach and driven down to the port to board our boat, the MSC Opera.

We found our cabin with ease and jumped in the shower to freshen up. Our room was small but perfectly formed with lots of storage dotted around. We didn’t have a window which was a little disconcerting but we were only really in there to sleep so it didn’t matter too much.

It was about midnight (5am UK time) and we were starving so went exploring and found a buffet and a bar – I found they were serving ribs which was a great sign for me!

We woke up early the next morning and headed on deck for our first glimpse of Havana and to hit the gym – my view from the treadmill was definitely better than my gym at home!

It was then time for breakfast. We had a couple of options for meals on our ship: a buffet to help yourself to, a slightly more formal restaurant with table service and two pool bars serving hotdogs, fruit salad and the most amazing freshly made pizzas. We tended to have a breakfast buffet, pizza and salad for lunch then dressed up and went to the restaurant for dinner where we had the option of 7 courses…yeah, my jeans are a little tighter than they were when I left!

After breakfast (and the realisation that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent cup of tea until I was back in the UK), we headed into Havana to explore. Our ship was docked at the port in the old town which meant we just had to cross the road and we were in the heart of the city. I loved this as it meant we could spend all day exploring and head back to the ship in the evening.

I loved Havana from the moment we set foot in it. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it is one of the most colourful, vibrant and friendly places I have been. I loved the beautiful colours of the buildings and all the open squares which were perfect for grabbing a cold drink and people watching.

There were several art installations around the city – I liked these decorated cats in Plaza Vieja.

The old American cars are a highlight of the city and add another pop of colour as they pass you along the Malecón.

That afternoon, we went on a little sightseeing tour to visit La Plaza de la Revolución, the university, a rum and cigar factory, El Capitolio, the cathedral and to enjoy a mojito at Hemmingway’s favourite bar, La Bodeguita del Medio.

The next day, we had another day in Havana visiting museums, wandering through the little streets and drinking daiquiris at La Floridita (another of Hemmingway’s hangouts).

A lot of my photos show the more photogenic side of Havana but that wouldn’t be a fair representation at all. It is still a very poor city with many of the buildings in a very sorry state and simply no materials to remedy this. I had done a bit of research before our trip but I was still shocked at how dilapidated some of the buildings were that people were living in amid crumbling walls.

That afternoon, we sailed out of Havana, along the Cuban coastline which was stunning to watch as it became a little speck in the distance and we made our way to Montego Bay, Jamaica.