Playa de Las Americas – Tenerife

After a long, difficult year ( the reasons are many and varied ), I needed a break away from everyone and everything! Saying that I settled for Tenerife seems a little unfair. After doing some research on the internet, it seemed quite a popular destination in the winter months. Having been there, I can see why. I booked 7 nights in Playa de las Americas with MyTravel. Flying from Newcastle Airport takes approximately 4 hours. Confirm your check-in times with this company. They will probably tell you when the check-in desks open, not close. I made the mistake of not doing this, turned up at the airport at some ridiculous hour of the morning then had to wait around for ages.

Arriving at Aeropuerto Reina Sofia was hassle free except that the travel reps for MyTravel didn’t exactly stand out. I wasn’t expecting a neon sign or anything but I was expecting a clipboard held aloft at least. I finally found their desk in the arrival area and got the transfer information I needed there. The transfer from the airport only takes 20 minutes so it’s really easy to get to.

Even in mid-November, the temperature reaches upto the mid-20 degrees Celsius so always have your sun cream handy and especially when you first arrive. There are numerous information points dotted around the resorts. Throughout the holiday, I never saw a temperature reading less than 18 degrees Celsius and that includes at night. Even on the beach front where there always seems to be a noticeable onshore breeze, it’s warm enough for a short sleeved shirt. During the day, what seems to happen is that early morning cloud is quickly burned off by the sun and stays clear for most of the day. Occasionally, it can become dull during the day but more so in the late afternoon and without the direct heat of the sun, it can feel a bit chilly.

I chose the Hotel Bitacora which has a 4-star rating. The rooms are comfortable but I found the bed too hard to be really comfortable for me. The en-suite bathroom was small for the number of people the room could sleep but very practical. There is a safe available in the room but using it is extra depending on your reservation. For a VIP stay, the 12 euro deposit is refundable. The hotel complex is clean and comfortable with 2 heated swimming pools, loads of sun loungers and a games area. There are loads of free activities everyday from 11 o’clock, for example, water aerobics, pistol and rifle shooting, french boules.

The food in the hotel is excellent with quite a varied selection of foods available, both each evening and throughout the week. It’s self-service from the buffet-style counters but it does give you a chance to see the food before you choose. The waiters/waitreses wear a different style every night but it didn’t seem to have any bearing on what type of food was being served. From 10pm each evening, there’s a show of some kind in the bar; a singer, a magician, acrobatics.

Another of the hotel’s facilities is massage. Someone rear-ended me in a car accident in July and I’d been having physiotherapy treatment to ease back pain. During the flight, it had flared up again and no amount of swimming would ease it. Instead of the gentle back rub I’d expected, it felt more like a half-hearted beating that I agreed to. However, to give the guy his due, 2 half hour sessions was all it took to fix me up. Even if you’ve no particular complaints, give it a try. I promise that you’ll feel much better afterwards.

The shopping in Tenerife is fantastic. You can get everything from cameras and perfume to designer clothes far cheaper than in the UK. Late night shopping means exactly that. Some places are open until midnight. I bought an SLR camera lens for about 100 quid less than the UK. It even comes with a European guarantee which is important if you’re buying electronics or some kind of technology.

There are numerous excursions available whilst on holidaying. I chose whale watching with Freebird Sailing and a visit to Loro Parque. To be honest, the whale watching excursion could do with being better organised. It seems very popular but my impression of the Freebird crew is that their clients are a necessary evil for them to enjoy themselves sailing a posh catamaran. On the up-side, standing on the bow, watching a pilot whale swim right underneath me and then surface to breath is quite moving. I’d certainly recommend the trip but maybe not with Freebird. Diametrically, the trip to Loro Parque is fantastic if you’re into getting up and close to exotic animals. For me, it was another brilliant photo opportunity, especially the sea lion and dolphin shows. My only criticism would be that the excursion doesn’t allow for enough time at the park.

Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda came highly recommended from a number of people. It seemed that there was something there for everybody. We weren’t disappointed! I’d also been told that it was an expensive place to visit but I think it depends on your tastes and where you stay. We had some really nice food and wine for a lot less than you’d pay in the UK.

We arrived at Verona Airport at about 11am with the temperature already in the low 90s. The transfer to the hotel took about 90 minutes even with several drop-off points along the way. The tour rep did his thing en-route to the hotel which I thought was a good idea – saves time having to turn up to an orientation meeting the following day. However, I’m not sure everyone appreciated it so soon after the flight.

The family-run hotel was really comfortable. The room didn’t have air-conditioning but it was still quite cool with the wooden blinds kept shut. The en-suite bathroom was tiny and a bit cramped but it served it’s purpose well. I thought that being next to the main road around the lake was going to be a problem. The road can get very busy during the day but I can’t say I really noticed any traffic noise from the room. The restaurant had some really nice food albeit very simple. Overall, it gets a thumbs-up!

The cable car from Malcesine is the easiest way to get to the top of Monte Baldo. At over 2,200 meters, there is a path you can walk up/down but I wouldn’t recommend it; the heat would zap the energy from all but the toughest walkers. From the top of the cable car, it’s an easy walk to a platform where the views are spectacular. From there, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. Not far from the platform, there’s a cafe where you can sit and take in the view. Even in full sunshine, it can still be cold if the wind picks up.

We decided to be a little more energetic and do some hill walking along the ridge. We’d bought a walkers map of the mountain range which showed a path further along the top that leads back down to Malcesine. We walked for about 3 hours, covered 2 peaks and still didn’t find it. We didn’t want to get caught out on the mountain in the dark so we turned back in the end and got a cable-car back down instead.

To get to the lake from the hotel, all you have to do is cross the road and you’re there. I tried to do a few early morning swims but failed miserably for 2 reasons:

  • the water’s freezing first thing in the morning ; &
  • the lake is taken over by wind-surfing and 1 or 2 kitesurfers

Both sports are very popular around the lake shore in the morning. On the eastern shore, the sun doesn’t rise above the surrounding mountains until after 9am. As a result, the early morning is fairly breezy. Once the sun does rise, the wind dies down completely but it means the wind-surfers have the beach to themselves for most of the early morning.

Fishing on the lake doesn’t seem to be very popular around Malcesine. There are fish in the lake; some of the restaurants have a speciality fish dish. It’s main ingredient is a cross between salmon and trout and it’s very tasty!

There’s a lot of boating as you would expect. Boats are continually zig-zagging the lake with a number of car and passenger ferries crossing the lake at various points.

There are a number of organised tours of the lake, visiting places like Tòrbole – the most northern point of the lake – and Sirmione on the south shore.

Malcesine itself is quite a nice little town. I don’t know how busy it is in the winter months but in the summer, it’s packed. Lake Garda is close to the Swiss/Austrian border and it would seem that people from these countries ( and Germany ) get away to Lake Garda in the same way as people in the UK go to Blackpool for the weekend. However, the nightlife in Malcesine isn’t quite the same. There is a nightclub but it’s nothing like those of the UK or other Mediterranean resorts.

Paddy’s Day in New York

New York has the reputation of hosting the biggest and best St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. With this in mind, I decided this year that I was going to be part of it. So I booked time off work, the cheapest flights I could find on the internet and a reasonable hotel not too far away from all the action.

The Drive To The Airport

I set off for Manchester Airport on a cold, wet and very windy Friday morning. It’s about a 3 hour drive so the roads were quiet but that’s probably for the best. If you’ve seen the movie Twister, the only thing missing was the Frisian cow hurtling past the car windscreen as I drove along.

The Flights To New York

The American Airlines flight to Chicago was fantastic although quite a bit of turbulence. There was loads of leg-room and the in-flight movie was Zoolander. The food wasn’t anything special but I’ve been on enough flights to know that it was better than most. The flight from the Windy City to the Big Apple was a lot shorter but also a lot more uncomfortable. Maybe it was because I’d been flying for about 8 hours already.

The Taxi-Ride To The Hotel

It was dark by the time I got out of La Guardia Airport so there really wasn’t much to see on the way over to Manhattan. The taxi-ride was mad and a little uncomfortable. He was driving far too fast, having to brake heavily quite a few times. He either knew exactly how wide the taxi was or he didn’t have a clue because several times it looked like he was going to side-swipe other cars but somehow managed to avoid them at the last second.

Friday Night

After grabbing a quick shower at the hotel, I was off exploring. I tried to have a look round Madison Square Gardens but Elton John was playing that night and security weren’t having any of it. There were loads of ticket-touts around and that was causing them a huge problem. The concert the following night had to be cancelled as Elton had the flu or something.

I had something to eat in a pizzeria just outside the Gardens and then and got drunk in 1 of the Irish bars off 5th Ave. Beer is relatively expensive over there – don’t expect much change from $5 for a bottled beer, even an American one.

The Parade

The next morning, I was woken up at around 7am from car horns, etc. from the street below. I was staying on the 10th floor so I hate to imagine what it was like on the ground. I found out about an hour later but I think it had died down by then. All the morning deliveries had been made, etc. Brunch was a hot dog from 1 of the many outlets along 5th Avenue.

The police were starting to close off streets along 5th Ave. and re-direct people on the pavements too. An air of excitement was growing; people were milling around trying to find the best spot to watch the parade. I choose a spot outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral which was quiet at the time but it soon got very busy.

I watched the parade for a few hours; to be honest, toward the end it started to get boring. There were several tributes to the emergency services from 9/11. It seemed that any fire fighters or NYPD who weren’t on duty that day marched in the parade. New York’s ex-mayor, Rudolf Guliani did a walk-about, shaking hands with people – [1][2].

A 12:04 precisely, everybody turned south to face where the twin towers would have been and observed a 2 minute silence. It was REALLY eerie; I’ve never known so many people to be so quite for so long.

I gave up watching the parade about 2:30 for 2 reasons – 1) there’s a limit to the number of marching pipe bands and firemen/police that anyone can watch; and 2) I was getting hungry. Getting something to eat wouldn’t be a problem. Getting back onto 5th Ave. afterwards just wouldn’t happen so I went looking for what else was going on. On the way back to the hotel, I came across these street performers.

Other Manhattan Landmarks

I spent Sunday visiting some of the other landmarks around Manhattan Island. The UN building was the most interesting. Security was tight and I had to leave my back-pack at the security cordon. They let me take my camera in but only after I showed them that it really was just a camera.

There are guided tours of the building including entry into the Security Council chambers. However, the lobby was the best bit for me. There are biographical details of all the Nobel Peace Prize winners since it was first awarded. There’s an exhibit of icons painted by children from around the world and a fantastic stain glass window.

Walking down the street, I found a huge mirror propped up against the wall. I took this picture of me.

Monday

Monday I spent packing and travelling back to the UK. The sunset from the airport terminal in Chicago was phenomenal.

Madrid & Valencia, Spain

This holiday did not have a good start at all! Some stupid idiot left some luggage on the plane. This was mistaken for a bomb and so emergency procedures were put in place. The whole airport was evacuated and a lot of flights were diverted. We were over 6 hours late in taking off so I was really NOT impressed!

We arrived in Madrid late on the Saturday afternoon. The taxi drivers in Spain are absolutely bonkers so if you’re a nervous passenger, take my advice and sit in the back. Nothing happened to us while we were there but it wasn’t for the want of trying by the taxi drivers we had.

All the stuff we’d planned to do in Madrid that afternoon/night was ruined because we were so late. To whomever owned that bag, “Thanks very much, you pillock!” We just went for something to eat and to stretch our legs. We had a really nice meal in a square somewhere in the old part of the city. I couldn’t take you there again if I tried; there’s loads of squares like that and the whole place is just 1 big rabbit warren.

While we were eating, along came a couple of buskers who were really quite good!. They stood there and played for about 10 to 15 minutes and then moved off to the middle of the square. It was really pleasant.

I guess I’m the typical english-speaking tourist in that I expect everyone in the whole world to be able to understand what I say. I was in for a nasty surprise the next morning. We almost missed our train to Valencia because I couldn’t get it across to the guy in the tourist information office what I wanted. Our train was boarding in another building; it’s all part of the same station but Madrid Central Station is HUGE! To cut a long story short, we just made it. We settled down for a comfy and very relaxing journey towards the coast – nothing like UK trains.

The rest of the week was relatively boring really but then again we were on holiday. Valencia is a beautiful place, full of interesting little nooks and crannies. It was amazing the shops, buildings and squares we found just wandering down side-streets and what looked like dead-ends. I’m not into architecture at all but even I could appreciate the skill that went into building various monuments and buildings.

The weather was fabulous! It wasn’t too hot during the day – it averaged about 35 degrees Celsius each day. I expected it to get really cool in the evenings but not at all. More than once we ended up sitting in pavement
cafe-bars after midnight in just short-sleeved shirts; the beer helped I guess.

The food is excellent but I guess it could get a bit boring if you’re not that adventurous when it comes to food. There’s a huge choice of places to eat on the beach-front and in the centre but instead of having completely different menus, they each have their own variation of certain dishes.

By the way, the architecture isn’t the only thing of beauty in Spain. Several times, myself and a lesbian friend would get caught out, drooling like idiots as absolutely drop-dead gorgeous girls walked by. We saw some truly amazing creatures.