Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Southsea

20 August, 2017

Considering I lived in Portsmouth for a couple of years it’s surprising what you discover when you go back with a different pair of eyes! We went to Southsea today, parked for free just off Eastern Parade and had a cheap day out full of fun.

We started off by visiting Portsmouth Natural History Museum (yes that was new to me!) which is just near the Canoe Lake.  It isn’t huge, but it is free and Isaac loved it. We spent about an hour pottering around looking at fossils and bones, doing jigsaws, looking at things under a microscope and meeting their dinosaur.  It’s also just got a brand newly renovated butterfly house on the side with some lovely big blue butterflies.

After that we headed outside. There is a nice gated play area with splash fountains, zip wire, playground and lots of hills and grass and places to picnic.  I think there is a larger splash pool further West near the Pyramids, but this one happily entertained Isaac and wasn’t too busy even for an August Sunday when the sun was shining.

We went for a paddle on a swan boat on the Lake – 20 minutes for £7.50 was reasonably expensive, but as everything else around the day was pretty much free I decided it was worth a treat – although my legs may not forgive me tomorrow!

We went for a play on the beach and threw stones in the sea – a necessity for a 4 year old boy.  Some brave sole was even swimming!  And then we headed back via stopping at the bouncy castles and slide (apparently also essential) – £2.50 for 10 minutes.

All in all, despite being suckered into paying for the boats and bouncy castle, plus two ice creams (it would have been rude of Mummy not to get one too right?) it was a fun and cheap-ish day out.

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Warmwell

19 September, 2016

dorset5Spent a lovely week (well bar 24 hours of Isaac puking in a cafe, McDonalds and his bed in the middle of the night!) staying in a lodge at Warmwell in Dorset. Our lodge was one of the further ones from the centre of the camp which made it quiet, although to be fair the camp never felt crowded at any point. We hit it lucky with the weather for the week too.

The park had lots to keep Isaac entertained, including free toddler sessions, a big pool with wave machine and flume, a giant soft play centre with bouncy castle/obstacle course, outdoor play areas and a ski slope… although one of his favourite pass times was stealing money from Daddy to play the Whack a Minion game in the arcade!
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We spent most days going out and about exploring, rather than staying on site, but it was nice to have plenty to keep Isaac entertained where we were at base camp.  He absolutely loved the swiss bob sledges and the staff at the ski centre were friendly and didn’t clock watch so we certainly got our money’s worth too. It’s a shame that things on site opened or started quite late (usually about 10am) so it meant if you wanted to do those it was difficult to do as well as going out somewhere.

Overall a lovely place to stay, with plenty to do in the area. Some of the entertainment was a little cheesy, but you could avoid that if you wished.  The food in the restaurant was good and reasonably priced – we wanted to try the fish and chip shop too but that seemed to close quite early and we missed it the night we fancied going.  The shop opening hours were also quite short, compared to I guess what seems the norm everywhere now – there was a Coop a short drive away, but I’d recommend getting your shopping in early to save the need for any evening drives.

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Lowry Park Zoo

8 August, 2012

We’ve been to Florida now a few times in recent years and although we love to visit some of the same old favourites we always try to find somewhere new to visit each year.  This year a friend suggested Lowry Park Zoo as she’d heard good things through her friends that had been.  Being a huge animal lover it sounded like a good suggestion to me!

The zoo is in Tampa so just over an hour from where we were staying, but the drive was straight forward and easy.  One nice thing about going was that it felt more chilled out that many of the other parks and attractions in Florida – which although we go in lower season still get thousands of visitors daily.  The car park was free to enter and there was some shade too which meant getting back in the car wasn’t unbearable at the end of the day!

Wave to the peopleOne of my highlights was the Clouded Leopard.  He was such an attractive cat, and he had a cute personality.  We went and saw him first thing in the morning which meant he was up and about and he kept coming over to us to say hello!  The conservation status of these cats is vulnerable, so while not quite as rare as some of the other leopards, their population numbers are declining.

In addition to wandering around the zoo they do offer other things to see and do.  There are a couple of rides for children – a log flume, a carousel, a small rollercoaster and a train.  They also had what was named a safari ride which is a narrated tram tour around the park.  This was the only ride we did while there and in hindsight I wouldn’t have minded missing it!  We waited for around 5-10 minutes as there only seemed to be one tram going around.  The tram did go around parts of the park not directly visible from the paths in the zoo, but you didn’t see anything different so you wouldn’t miss animals by not going on it.  As I volunteer in a zoo, and have visited rather a lot over the years, I didn’t find any of the basic commentary told me anything I didn’t already know.  However, I am sure for children the ride was a fun addition.

Flying tigerThe zoo also put on various talks and shows throughout the day.  The one we went along to was with the tigers.  We’d walked past there earlier in the day but the cats were asleep in the cave at the back and we didn’t really see them so I hoped by going back during a talk they may be more active.  However, they remained sleepy!  It was a good talk though and the keeper told us about the two male brothers living there as well as general facts about the species.  Luckily just before we went home I nipped back to see if they had woken up and was delighted to find them playing together.

There was also a few animal attractions where you could choose to pay a few dollars extra for some unique experiences like hand feeding a giraffe or riding a camel.  I liked the fact that people could make their own day and it kept it interesting for all ages and interests.

Overall it is somewhere I would definitely recommend.  The zoo was really nicely laid out with about five distinct areas, and each was easy to wander around without missing anything.  The animals all looked well cared for and in good accommodation, and signage and things around the park was kept up to date.  So although the zoo clearly doesn’t have the income of the larger places like Busch Gardens it was a really nice place to visit.

Bosworth Hall Hotel & Spa

21 March, 2012

Having got the week off work we booked a two night break to Bosworth Hall Hotel & Spa.  It was an offer that appeared on the Travelzoo website for £55 and included dinner, wine, breakfast and use of the health club on both nights which seemed like a good offer as the original price was around three times that.
Bosworth Hall Hotel
The hotel is just on the outskirts of Market Bosworth which is a small town in Warwickshire.  A five minute walk takes you into the town centre, and so made for a pleasant evening stroll.  There is also a large park area directly opposite the hotel grounds, so plenty of areas to get some fresh air.

The hotel itself is an old 17th century house.  The bedrooms were varied – naturally they use the glamorous large rooms with four-poster beds in the brochures!  The more normal rooms were still pleasant, although not very large.  We did have a nice view over the back lawn and the room was quietly situated which was good as the walls seemed thin.

Dinner in the restaurant is three courses – salad buffet or soup for starter, carvery with a choice of two meats, or a couple of alternatives, for main course and then a choice of desserts in a buffet style so you could have a little of each.  The restaurant seemed to get quite busy and so you are advised to book a time slot – they catered for outside visiting parties and there was a coach load in for an early dinner both nights.  Included in our deal was a bottle of wine both nights, but as neither of us drink wine I asked if we could swap ours for a bottle of water.  They kindly agreed even though apparently the water was more expensive – I dread to think of the quality of the wine considering all we got back was a single portion bottle of water!  Overall the food was nice, and as it was buffet and carvery style you could help yourself to the portion you wanted, however it lacked a sense of luxury that the hotel surroundings portrayed.

We did use the health suite facilities while we were there, and they were of a reasonable size.  I also had a massage treatment which was nice, but fairly basic.  The term ‘spa’ to me conjurs up images of relaxing and luxurious surroundings, but overall although nice it again lacked a certain something that made it feel special.

Overall, it was a nice two day break and definately worth the £55, but I think had you paid the supposed full price you may have been disappointed.

A few more photographs on my Flickr set.

South Bank, London

25 February, 2012

6 PodsWell my resolution to try and use my camera more this year and write more on my blog doesn’t appear to be going too well!  Yesterday I had to go up to London for work, so I decided to catch a slightly earlier train and take a stroll along the South Bank before heading to the meeting.  The IBM offices are right on the South Bank so it is a perfect location, when the sun is shining, to see some of the sights.  I also didn’t feel out of place with my camera as there were lots of other tourists around.

I started out heading towards the London Eye.  I’ve never actually been on the big wheel, but can imagine it has a great view when the weather is clear.  I didn’t have much time today, so I just took some photo’s of it.  It was actually a reasonable day to get some shots as the sky was a mix of sunshine and clouds, so it wasn’t a totally plain background, but also being February the sun wasn’t too high in the sky making it not too bright, so you did get some of the blues of the sky and not a blown out background.

Sea Gull in LondonI then wandered on towards Westminster Bridge to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  After a few fairly standard shots of the River and sights in the background, I had a bit of fun taking a photo of a sea gull who was standing on the wall, with the Houses of Parliament blurred out in the background.  I did get a few witty comments from passers by!

I then headed East along the River Thames.  There were quite a few photo opportunities along this part of the River – from street entertainers, general scenery, candid shots of the other tourists to a couple of events that were going on including a number of painted egg artwork pieces along the river which formed part of the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt which is currently going on around London.

Sand constructionI wandered along to just past Blackfriars Bridge which is currently where the first station to span the River Thames is under construction.  Just along near there I was rather surprised to find some people creating sand sculptures!  I didn’t expect to find a beach in the centre of London.

I only had about an hour so I didn’t spend much time anywhere, but it was a good location for all sorts of photography and close to Waterloo station which is where the train stops for me.  I’ve been a bit nervous in the past about taking my camera out on the streets as I feel a bit conspicuous, but this was a great location because everyone else was doing the same!

More photographs on my London set on Flickr.

Florida Manatee Adventure Tour

7 June, 2011

Florida Dolphin ToursSo in my last post I shared my experience of snorkelling with the manatee, but I wanted to write a bit more about the rest of the trip.  The trip was known as the Florida Manatee Adventure Tour and we first heard about it through the airlines.  However, when we tried to book they wouldn’t let us saying we could only book with them if we had booked our whole holiday not just flights.  I didn’t let that put me off though and with a little search on google found lots of hits of tours where you could swim with the manatee.  Unfortunately most of them required you to self-drive and that is all they included.  We had really liked the idea of having our whole day planned for a change and let someone else take care of the driving so I persevered and found the Florida Dolphin Tours offering the same trip (and clearly where the airlines used as the wording was identical!).

Our trip started at 7.30am when a mini-coach picked us up from a hotel just near our villa.  After a couple of other stops to pick up more guests we headed to a Sizzler restaurant for an all we could eat breakfast buffet.  My favourite chain for doing the breakfast buffet is still the Golden Corral restaurants, but the Sizzler was quite nice and had a good choice.  I always go for the pancakes with fresh melon, pineapple, strawberries and some chocolate sauce!

After breakfast we headed to Crystal River which is where we got to go snorkelling with the manatee.  The drive probably took just over an hour and wasn’t the most exciting of scenery, but they showed a film on the coach so the time flew by and it gave us time for breakfast to go down!

BobcatAfter the snorkelling we got back on the coach to go to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.  On arrival we were all given a good packed lunch of cheese roll, crisps, cookies, fruit, fruit drink and a bottle of water.  Stef and I headed into the park and found a park bench overlooking the hippo pool to eat ours.  Here we were quickly joined by two rather hungry looking squirrels who didn’t want to leave us alone!

After lunch we were free to wander around the widlife park.  The 210 acre wildlife park was set around a 45 foot deep natural spring and contained much of the wildlife that is home to America – such as the bobcat, cougar, bears, alligators and of course the manatee.  The park is nicely laid out with board walk areas around the springs.  Most of the enclosures were a reasonable size and the animals seemed well cared for.  I was of course keen to see the bobcat and the cougar.  We were lucky to catch the bobcat up and about for a while, but the cougar was fast asleep right up close to the viewing area so nowhere I could get a good photo.

Patriotic EagleI spent a little time trying to get some good shots of some of the birds, but the sun was quite bright, and the enclosure often quite dark so it was difficult to get a shot right in the time I had.  I was very pleased with one of the shots I got of the bald eagle though – they’d put this American flag up at the back of his enclosure which made the photo look a bit different!

After our visit to the park we headed out on the coach again back in the direction of Kissimmee, but we had one more stop first.  We stopped at Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours in Inverness.  The airboat tour lasted 45 minutes and took us down the Withlacoochee River in search of alligators and other wildlife.  We chose the front of the boat and managed to get quite sprayed with water – so not too many photos from this part of the trip! 

Stef with Alligator 4After the airboat ride we had a short wait for the second half of our group to return.  During this time Stef got to hold a baby alligator and I got to take lots of photos and have a quick stroke of it’s tummy.  Finally we returned back to Kissimmee to arrive about 5.30pm.

The whole day trip cost about $118 which when you consider how much we got I think is extremely good value and I’d say was well worth every penny. More photos from the day on my Florida set on Flickr.

Snorkelling with manatee at Crystal River

1 June, 2011

Manatee 1One of the best days out on holiday this year was when we took a day trip with Florida Dolphin Tours.  One of the main parts of the day was getting the opportunity to go snorkelling with the wild manatee in their natural environment on the Crystal River.

Crystal RiverWe boarded our boat, clad in a wetsuit with snorkel and mask and headed out to look for signs of manatee life.  Our boat guide told us about the area and about the work being done to help protect the manatee.  He also warned us some of what to expect when we encountered them.  The mum’s are quite happy to let us ‘babysit’ their babies for a while!  He also warned us that the manatees would be quite likely to ‘hug’ us and come nose to nose with our masks – a cheeky few apparently also swipe them off your face.

Scratching the manateeWe got in and out of the boat a few times at first in different locations, and saw a few manatees but none that were hanging around for long.  The water at this time of year was actually quite warm, but the visibility was poor so it was easy to spot life from the surface.

After a while though we did manage to find a mother and baby manatee and got to spend a lot of time with them.  They absolutely love it if you scratch their back and sides, and they roll over to let you tickle their tummies!

I did take my underwater camera as you can see from this picture but it wasn’t easy to take shots because they were so close.  In the end I just pointed the camera in the right direction and pressed the button a few times and did end up with a few to remember my trip by.  The rest can be found on my Florida Flickr set.

It was a fabulous experience and one I would definately recommend – I believe the manatee are more plentiful earlier in the year, and the water clearer, although colder!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

29 May, 2011

Entering the land of Harry Potter I’ve just got back from another holiday in Florida and plan to share a few of the new things on my blog now I’ve back.  The first of which is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which is at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park.

The theme park has always been one of my favourites with a good mix of rides and some great rollercoasters, set nicely around a large lake.  When we were there last two years ago we saw where they were staring to build the new Harry Potter area, so we were interesting to see how it had turned out.  There are two routes to get there – one by going clockwise through Toon Landing and Jurassic lands, or anti-clockwise through Suess Landing.  The latter is the route I would recommend as it makes it quicker to get to the area, and the view as you walk into the area is more spectacular.  The area is all set out in snow covered streets with the magnificent Hogwarts School at the top end. 

HogwartsThere are three main ride attractions in the area – Dragon Challenge (which is the same ride as the formerly known as Duelling Dragons), Flight of the Hippogriff (a small rollercoaster which was there previously but has been slightly redone) and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (which is new).  This is a ride quite difficult to explain – you sit four in a row inside a vehicle which is attached to what looks a bit like a rollercoaster rail.  The ride flies you around different parts of Hogwarts and the surrounding areas, taking in the sights you’d expect to see.  The ride is a bit of a glorified simulator though as much is done, very cleverly, through large screens.  The rest is done by flying you through various parts of the building where there are scenes laid out – some of which even interact with you such as the spider who spits!  It’s quite scary in places for young children.  They have thought the ride out well though and even the queue areas are well laid out with lots to see – from paintings which talk to snow which falls from the ceiling!  On the downside the queues build up within minutes of the park opening – it took us 30 minutes to get on the ride despite getting into the park on the dot of 9am!  A lot of people queue to leave their bags in the free lockers though, so if you keep left and don’t have bags you can miss a fair part of the line.

Hogwarts ExpressThe other thing that caused crowds from the outset was Ollivanders – people seem to queue to get in there for hours!  We didn’t feel the need for a wand so avoided that line. 

So my overall first impression is that it has been cleverly put together and is extremely popular.  If it was this busy in low season after being open for about 9 months I dread to think how busy it can get.  Make sure you head to this area first if you want to go on either the new ride or into Ollivanders.  The other rides don’t get particularly busy – even by midday the queue for the Dragons was only about 5 minutes.

A Brighton Break

2 February, 2011

This time of year is a great time to go away on a mini break for a bit of rest and relaxation – well actually any time is good really, but this time of year it good to have something fun to look forward to and beat the Winter Blues!  So I went away to Brighton on Monday for a two day visit with a friend.

I grew up not far from Brighton, but it’s different these days and there is something about staying somewhere that just adds to the relaxation.  Once we’d parked up at the hotel we had two days to do as we please and not really worry about the time.  We managed to get a good deal on the 4 star Thistle Hotel which is conveniently placed right on the sea front overlooking the pier and at the bottom of the Lanes.  So perfect for shops, restaurants, entertainment and all around relaxation.

The hotel is nothing glamorous to look at from the outside, but inside it is clear to see its quite recently been refurbished and everywhere from the atrium to the rooms were stylishly decorated and felt clean and modern.  It also has a small gym, pool, sauna and steam room – not really big enough for any serious exercise but good for chilling out at the end of a long day shopping. 

We spent most of Monday wandering around the shops. Brighton has everything you’d ever want from shopping from the main high street and indoor shopping centre with the usual suspects, to The Lanes containing everything from designer boutiques to quirky individual shops selling anything you could ever want.

In the evening we ate out at Browns which is a brasserie style restaurant and also enjoyed a cocktail!  The food was nice and there were choices for most tastes, however overall I would say it is a little more expensive than other similar restaurants I’d been to – our bill came in at around £75 plus tip for both of us to have 3 courses and a cocktail.

After dinner we went out to the cinema and saw The Kings Speech at the Odeon.  I was a little suprised at how few films were showing at the cinema that evening.  The film was enjoyable, although one that there is no need to see on the big screen, so had I not been away not one I would have spent money to go and see.

On Tuesday we then spent some more time pottering around Brighton after a leisurely breakfast overlooking the sea, before then heading over to the Brighton Health and Racquets Club for a ‘Winter Restoration’ massage session at the Tranquility Spa.  This turned out to be 90 minutes of pure bliss while we got a full body massage, facial and scalp massage.  The treatment was already on special offer but I managed to save a further 12% by getting some discounted vouchers through a work reward scheme, and then on top of that they gave me a further £25 voucher to use at a later date.  Bargain!

So overall, an extremely pleasant and relaxing break.

San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park

26 June, 2010

High on my list of places to visit while we were in Southern California was San Diego Zoo.  It is quite famous as a large zoo, with hundreds of different species of animal.  While doing some research before our trip, I discovered that they had a second park there too – the San Diego Wild Animal Park – and so that was also added to the to do list!

We visited San Diego Zoo the first week.  The drive down from Anaheim was relatively pleasant compared to some of the driving we had done as the traffic seemed a lot lighter and the road had some lovely views over the local countryside and the sea.

We started walking through the Outback area, and then the Urban Jungle.  It was quite cool to see some animals I’d never seen face to face before. Most of the animals were quite sleepy though so we didn’t see as much as we’d like.

Jaguar 9Next we headed through the Elephant Odyssey area which was a large and relatively new looking area.  The elephants were quite far away, but just as you come out of that area you get to where the jaguar was.  He was having fun with a fish in his enclosure and so we got a good look at him.

Next we went to see the polar bears, and they were lovely.  One walked around for a little while before deciding to have a nap with his feet in the air!

Smiley pandaFrom there we headed up the eagle trail and on to see the Giant Pandas.  I thought there would be quite a queue as there is a baby at the moment, and I’d rumours of long wait times.  But we were lucky and managed to get to see him straight away.

Next was the part of the zoo I was most looking forward to – the big cat trail.  However, I was rather disappointed.  They had quite a few cats, but the enclosures all seemed really small, and only contained one animal.  While a lot of cats are quite solitary, they could have had multiple enclosures.  Heading next into the Lost Forest I hoped to get some good tiger shots, but again I was left disappointed.

Overall, the zoo was large, and it did have a huge number of different species, but there were clearly some animals that had all the attention and others that felt like they were there to boost the numbers.  I guess like any zoo it takes time to build up, and then over the years improve as we learn more about animals, but I hope they put some work into the big cat enclosures soon!

Wild Animal Park 4In total contrast the Wild Animal Park was amazing.  It is a huge park in Escondido just outside of San Diego.  Despite its enourmous size the whole park felt well designed and there was attention to detail at every turn – from well laid out paths and board walks over the water, to well landscaped plants and flowers alongside all the paths.

Once in we headed on down to the Heart of Africa.  The views as you come down the mountain were lovely.  You could see the park and the animals, with the mountains off in the distance and it really felt like we were away from the hustle and bustle of being near cities.

Cheetah 10We got to the cheetah area in time to meet one of the residents, and watch as he played like a bit kitty!  He walked around to meet his public before chasing a big toy snake on a stick and then settling down under the umbrella with his friend, a dog, while the keepers told us some more about him.

After seeing the cheetah we headed off on the Journey Into Africa which was a tour included with our tickets.  You stepped aboard a tram which took you off to areas of the walk that aren’t accessible by foot, and we got to see the animals in lovely open areas, mixed together as they would be in the wild.

Lion 15After the tour we went and saw the lions.  These were a real highlight of my visit.  The male had the most stunning dark coloured mane, and we were able to watch him chomping down on his lunch before deciding to settle down in the sun.

Baby elephant 1Another really cool thing was going to see the 4 day old baby elephant!  I took some photos of him with a sibling, and he was so tiny even next to the other one which wasn’t old.

Overall, I loved the Wild Animal Park and would highly recommend anyone takes a visit.  I could have spent days there and it was certainly my favourite place of our visit to California.

More photographs from both the zoo and the wild animal park are on Flickr.


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