“Rogues in Paradise” is a captivating book about Barbadosthat delves deep into the heart and soul of this enchanting island.
The book, written by author yIan R. Clayton, founder of the Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia, provides a unique and intimate perspective of the island’s people, culture, heritage, and history.
Rogues Heroes, Legends, and Everyday Bjans
Rogues introduces readers to unforgettable people like Queen Bee Peggy, who finds herself on a high-tech medical stretcher, and Rex Wooton, embroiled in a comical caper with ‘stolen’ construction lights. It also recounts the uproarious courtroom antics of ‘Fred’ as he tries to save the Race Horse Bathing at Pebbles Beach. The stories of people are warm and vibrant everyday characters who embody the true spirit of Barbados.
However, “Rogues in Paradise”is not just about these characters; it’s about the legendary heroes who are often also rogues. Clayton seamlessly weaves significant historical events and special places into the narrative, shedding light on the island’s rich heritage and remarkable people. He discusses Errol Barrow, a visionary leader who introduced free schooling and meals for all children, making Barbados one of the most literate nations.
Reflection on a Dark Past
The book’s entertaining stories transition seamlessly into a more solemn reflection on the inhuman and brutal slave tradeand its lasting impact on Barbados. Throughout it all, Clayton underscores the unwavering resilience of the Bajan spirit, emphasizing that it has endured and risen above all adversities.
“Rogues in Paradise” offers readers an engaging account of history, with humour, and poignant reflection that deepens understanding and connection to Barbados. For those who have visited the island, the characters in the book will feel like old friends encountered on beaches, in town squares, or even in the local rum shops and restaurants. Clayton’s narrative reinforces the idea that the people define Barbados, and Barbados, in turn, is a reflection of its people.
As an avid traveler who has frequented Barbados, I eagerly anticipate the updated edition of this book. I assure readers that “Rogues in Paradise” is a delightful and enlightening read, offering laughter and profound insights of the history and people of of Barbados.
After what was really unexpected ill health, surgery resulting in a mandatory six week ‘no fly’ ban and 16 nights between two hospitals, what does the ‘Avid Traveller’ do? It was time for “A Dram Good Argyll Road and Ferry Trip”
While still recovering, I decided I wasn’t going to lounge about feeling sorry for myself but I’m going to enjoy Scottish hospitality at its best!
Off we go!
Literally, 800 metres (half a mile) along Cloch Road in Gourock is McInroys Point where Western Ferries sail regularly between Gourock and Hunters Quay (Dunoon). Once off the ferry you’re on the Argyll Peninsula and less than an hours drive to Inveraray and the start of a truly memorable Scottish road trip, with a couple of ferry crossings thrown in.
Driving over the single-lane Aray Bridge (Inveraray Bridge) which is a stone two-arch public road bridge carrying the A83, the white town of Inveraray comes into sight.
Inveraray is a traditional county town of Argyll and sits proudly on Loch Fyne. Established in 1745 by the 3rd Duke of Argyll, head of the then-powerful Clan Campbell, the town is an absolute set piece of Scottish Georgian architecture. There are several buildings worth visiting, including the neo-classical church and the small but impressive Inveraray Jail and courthouse, now an award-winning museum that graphically recounts the horrendous prison conditions from medieval times up until the 19th century.
A short walk north of the town, the neo-gothic Inveraray Castle remains the family home of the Duke of Argyll. The impressive castle sits within stunning grounds and is the starting point for a number of marked walks. The most impressive and probably most strenuous takes you up over 800 feet to the tower, Dun Na Cuaiche and provides breathtaking views over the castle, town and Loch Fyne.
The town is also the gateway to the Highlands & Islands and provides good access to further your road trip whether it’s planned or unplanned.
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, Clachan, Cairndow
Situated on the A83 just outside Inveraray this facility offers up a restaurant, farm shop, garden centre and coffee shop. We had lunch in the Oyster Bar which is very modern in looks, service was excellent along with the locally caught oysters and smoked salmon, simply fantastic! The shop offers both fresh fish products, shellfish, meats and game along with various speciality condiments and locally brewed beers, distilled gin and whisky. You will not visit this shop and fail to find something you want to buy.
Scotland’s best produce from land and sea housed in one impressive setting!
Samphire – 6A Arkland, Inveraray
Simply stunning seafood restaurant behind the church in Inveraray. Whether you choose Loch Fyne mussels or locally caught lobster and langoustine cooked to perfection, the food is simply outstanding. The staff are really attentive and know the menu and source of its contents well. A fantastic restaurant for a special treat. I suggest booking ahead for lunch and this is absolutely essential for evenings. Highly recommended, we had already visited a number of years ago and will definitely return yet again.
The George Hotel
Main Street East, Inveraray
If there is a hotel or restaurant which sums up Scotland in one place this is it! The George is a multiple award winning independent
Scottish boutique hotel with indulgent and quirky suites along with winter only roaring open fires. Established in 1860, it’s over 160 years old and is not only a hotel but hosts a renowned restaurant, an award winning beer garden, which accommodates Scotland’s seasons, and a bar with a selection of over 300 whiskies! All this is set in a stunning Georgian townhouse on the banks of Loch Fyne. Highly recommended for the accommodation, restaurant and one of the best beer gardens in Scotland.
Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa, A83, Inveraray
On this short visit to Inveraray we chose to stay at the four star Loch Fyne Hotel and Spa. One of seven in the Crerar Hotel chain. Enjoys wonderful views across Loch Fyne to the Cowal hills. The hotel boasts a 15 metre swimming pool and impressive outdoor hot tub that overlooks Loch Fyne and a tranquil spa offering a variety of treatments. The Clansman is the AA Rosette-award winning restaurant which essentially has to be booked in advance. Inveraray Golf Club is just along the coastal road.
Barman, Scott at the Loch View Bar had an answer for everything. Great chat and a laugh while he served up the drinks from an impressively stocked bar with over 25 different malt whiskies, a great selection of local gins and of course the locally brewed Loch Fyne ales.
Our room was very warm (perhaps because it was August) but comfortable and acceptable for a four star hotel.
Niall, the General Manager is a larger than life character. You hear his infectious laugh and him talking to other residents and staff before you see him. He doesn’t need a phone and that’s not being nasty as he seems to be everywhere in the hotel making sure it’s as close to perfect as can be.
After two great nights in Inveraray, which to be honest is adequate, we depart for the next part of our road trip. This includes the ferry crossing from Kennacraig to Islay.
Leaving Inveraray behind, we head out on the scenic A83 for about an hour towards the ferry terminal.
While sailing on the passage through the Sound of Islay on MV Finlaggan if you’re lucky you may see minke wales, dolphins and occasionally a passing basking shark. Dive bombing gannets and other seabirds are also regularly seen on this crossing before arriving at Port Askaig, Islay.
Islay (pronounced eye-la)
Islay is found just under a two hour ferry journey from Scotland’s west coast mainland. On a clear day its scenery and sea life is incredible.
The Inner Hebridean island is best known for its smoky, peat heavy whiskies. You can’t visit Islay without touring and sampling at least one of the nine (soon to be ten) distilleries on the island. With a population of just over 3,000 that is 300 people per distillery. Not bad if you like a dram!
Whisky apart, there is lots more to do on Islay. You can take in some out-of-the-way beaches, walk scenic hikes, catch incredible wildlife, see ancient standing stones, tour crumbling churches and appreciate locally handmade crafts.
If you’re looking to explore an island with a warm Scottish welcome and less crowds than elsewhere, then Islay is a stand out place to visit.
This blog will cover 72 hours on the island which is the fifth-largest Scottish island and the eighth-largest in the British Isles and takes in a stunning land area of almost 620 square kilometres (240 sq miles).
Today the main language spoken on Islay is English, although there are many Scots Gaelic speakers too. Around 25% of today’s population use Gaelic as their native language. Not long ago this was 75%. Even with that drop Gaelic influences culture, dialect and accents on the island. For the novice this can be challenging to read and spell.
A hint for some of the most common Scots Gaelic words you might come across on Islay.
• Islay (“eye-la”) – Islay
• Ileach (“eee-luch”) – a person from Islay and the local newspaper
• Alba (“al-ba”) – Scotland
• loch (“lokh”) – a Scottish lake
• Gaelic (“gal-ick”) – Celtic language native to Scotland
• fáilte (“fahl-che”) – welcome
• slainte mhath (“slanj-a-va”) – cheers, good health
• uisge-beatha (“ishke-baha”) – water of life, whisky
Islay Airport (locally known as Glenegedale Airport) is north of Port Ellen. Used for daily scheduled services to Glasgow and some local towns and islands along with its air ambulance capability. Car hire is available from the terminal building at Islay Airport
The island had two bus routes which run Monday to Saturday between 7am and 6pm, there is no service on a Sunday. Both routes operate on the main roads. The 450 service runs between Bowmore and Portnahaven in the south west. The 451 service runs between Port Askaig, Port Ellen and Ardbeg in the south. Check timetables before making any journey.
Several taxi services advertise as being available for private hire, tours and transfers. My suggestion is use a service local to where you are on the island and book well in advance to avoid disappointment. If there is a festival or a local event on they will be booked up or off the road to party!
Bridgend Hotel Bridgend, Islay
After some research we pre-booked this hotel and our evening meal on the first night. It’s a traditional coaching inn situated at the tip of Loch Indaal and what could also be described as the heart of Islay. Deceptive from the outside as it’s fairly large once you walk in through one of the three doors. The staff provide a welcoming and comfortable place to stay where they offer the very best of Islay products. Manager Megan and staff Pete and Gabriel (our Portuguese star) go above and beyond to make sure you enjoy your stay. The rooms are a good size and well dressed, the food served in the restaurant is of high class for a small hotel. Breakfasts can be a hearty affair although lighter options are on offer. Beautiful gardens with private seating areas are available to guests, weather permitting. It has quite rightly been named as a 2023 finalist in the Scottish Hotel Awards – Best Country Hotel category. It’s absolutely the staff that make it!
The hotel’s location provides easy access to many of Islay’s distilleries, beaches, hills, lochs, Machrie golf course, and cultural landmarks, such as Finlaggan, the seat of the Lords of the Isles. It’s also next to Bridgend Woods where several walks follow the River Sorn winding its way through the lush surrounding land. Islay Estates has limited salmon and sea trout fishing available on some beats. On our first evening we even had a rousing rendition of Loch Lomond by patrons as the bar closed! Highly recommended for a central location to easily explore the island.
Food & Restaurants
The mild Atlantic air, fertile soil with its peat, rich clean seas and of course plenty of Scottish rain is not only why Islay produces top of the range whiskies. These near perfect farming conditions ensure farmers and the Islay estates can produce best quality beef, lamb and game, while the waters around the island produce some of the finest shellfish in Scotland. From sea or farm to plate the cuisine is outstanding and highly recommended.
An Tigh Seinnse, Portnahaven
Meaning ‘the public house’ or ‘a good pub’. This is the only pub in the village of Portnahaven which sits at the very edge of Islay looking towards Northern Ireland.
Offering a wide range of drinks, a home cooked menu and hot drinks to enjoy in front of the roaring fire or to take-away. If you get the chance go and experience the breathtaking scenery and sea life this magical wee village has to offer.
Who’d have thought a truly authentic pizza restaurant on Islay and a great name too! Perfectly matching Islay’s rich whisky heritage past. People say it’s a secret but how can you keep a great restaurant a secret, especially in Bowmore. They offer are a wide variety of traditional pizzas alongside unique Islay specials. I was planning on choosing the locally sourced lobster and scallops as a topping. Unfortunately Peatzeria remains a secret as we were unable to secure a taxi booking even 3 hours in advance of our table reservation and had to cancel. A big disappointment not getting to Peatzeria.
Whisky Things To Do!
Pronounced ‘Brook-Laddie’ and meaning ‘shore bank’ in Gaelic.
Most probably our favourite was Bruichladdich Distillery which is a Victorian Distillery (1881) re-imagined for the future and now very much a progressive Hebridean distillery. It’s perhaps better described as a working museum due to the original equipment still being in use today. We visited and luckily met up with Allan Logan, hands on Director and original staff member from 2001, Allan educated us with the story of where the idea for the distillery came from, how Bruichladdich moved from a village name to an international brand, its resurrection in 2001, the angels share legend, as well as the process for crafting their four world renowned spirits: the Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, Octomore single malts and Botanist gin.
I must be honest as I’m a little biased here. Bruichladdich is now owned by Remy Cointreau, whose liquers & spirits division gathers together eight brands from very distinct countries across the globe. So to have one of my favourite rums, Mount Gay from Barbados, linked with the single malts of Bruichladdich, including Port Charlotte and Octomore which purports to be the world’s most heavily peated malt whisky, plus the excellent Botanist gin is a family just heaven made for me. Really worth a visit as is the visitors centre which has an impressive range of merchandise and whisky products. I can’t recommend highly enough!
Three Distilleries Walk Port Ellen
A recommended walking route from the ferry at Port Ellen connects 3 distilleries (Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg locally known as the Kildalton Distilleries) along a 3 mile pathway (one way) on the southern coast of Islay. Laphroaig’s extremely strong tasting whiskies are definitely not for a novice. As an added attraction and kids favourite at this distillery is a stunning bay overlooking the North Channel water, weather permitting an ideal picnic spot. Ardbeg has a food truck and barbecue which is perfect for lunch but watch the closing times. If you’ve indulged in the tastings a little too much or the weather turns for the worse, a bus or taxi can be used a an alternative on the return walk.
In addition to the four distilleries mentioned above there are plenty of other options for distillery visits. Ardnahoe, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, and Caol Ila. Finally there is Kilchoman, the most westerly distillery in Scotland, and claimed to be the only true farm distillery in the country, utilising grain grown and malted on site, and where the liquid runs off the smallest stills in all of Scotland.
Kilchoman also has a link to Barbados and is expanding its operations overseas after receiving permission to develop a rum distillery there. The Kilchoman team lead by co-founder Anthony Wills will work with Frank Ward, former managing director of Barbados Mount Gay rum, in this exciting development. The derelict Bentley Mansion and its nine acres of land will house the new rum distillery.
Organised Whisky Tours
Due to the abundance of top-quality whisky distilleries on the island, there are several organised whisky tours on offer. Some of these are bespoke and to get the most out of your tour I suggest a 4-day tour which can start from around £600 per person.
Islay Rum Distillery, Antrim View, Port Ellen
Not to be out done by the stunning whisky and impressive gin available on the island, there is now a rum distillery on Islay. Housed in the renovated art deco old lemonade factory in Port Ellen, Islay Rum has only been in production since 2022.
The first bottle of Islay Rum Geal (Gaelic for clear) was produced from molasses and inspired by Caribbean rums from Haiti, Jamaica, and the French Antilles. Unaged white Rum bottled at 45% vol is very drinkable! The distillery is also experimenting with a spiced rum and although I’m not a great spiced rum lover, it’s good to see the distillery expanding their produce.
Islay with 130 miles of coastline and 23 beaches truly displays what is achieved when Mother Nature performs to her best.
If you’re looking for a paddle, the safest beaches are Laggan Bay, Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal.
Although the scenery is stunning and worth a visit, there is a stern warning that should be taken on board for the beaches along the Atlantic coast (West), they are certainly not suitable for swimming, and if paddling or surfing take great care.
Kilnaughton Beach & Singing Sands
Singing Sands is a petit and picturesque part of Islay’s coastline. Local folklore states that when you rub the soles of your shoes over the sand in Kilnaughton Bay, it sings for you. My own perception was that maybe it’s only heard by a lucky few, or those who have had a whisky or two, but this beach is certainly worth a visit.
The American Monument, Mull of Oa
This lighthouse shaped monument was constructed as a memorial for the lives lost in two 1918 tragedies that occurred 8 months apart just off the coast of Islay. Firstly, an attack on the Tuscania passenger ship (carrying over 2,000 American troops) and then a shipping collision during a torrential storm between HMS Otranto (also carrying American soldiers) and the HMS Kashmir which resulted in the loss of over 600 lives. The monument faces out towards where the Tuscania sank.
A 30 minute walk from the car park to the monument can be slippy and muddy at points dependent on the weather. Nearby the monument are two memorial plaques on the ground. One of the plaques has an engraved message from Woodrow Wilson, then President of the United States and in honour of those who perished.
This is an impressive Celtic cross standing 2.65 metres tall in the Kildalton churchyard. You will find it amongst medieval graves, it dates back to the 8th century AD and is considered one of the finest intact early Christian “high cross” to be found anywhere in Scotland.
The weather will come and go as it pleases, my recommendation to keep warm and dry is to prepare for all eventualities as Islay is on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re lucky enough to experience sunshine, lap it up and take in the glorious scenery. The best Islay description of the weather I heard over our long weekend was ‘Seasonal Confusion’!
The Dram is Finished!
So after a wonderful long weekend exploring the Queen of the Hebrides we reluctantly head back to Port Askaig for the car ferry to the mainland. Quite simply Islay is a stunning experience with the most welcoming of people, every local vehicle driver acknowledges you with a wave on passing, fabulous food, stunning scenery and is the go to place for seriously peaty or smokey but wonderful whisky.
An unexpected trip which is highly recommended for a truly spectacular Scottish Island.
As a thanks and a toast with Bruichladdich best, Port Charlotte heavily peated Islay single malt, I say slainte mhath (“slanj-a-va”) – cheers, good health, to all the medical staff who treated me so well while a patient in hospital. Their unwelcome but enforced ‘no fly’ ban provided me with the fantastic opportunity to experience Islay in all its mid-August glory while convalescing.
Oh and one last point:
A DRAM is a shot of Whisky- It is used as a play on the word Dam in the Title “A Dram Good Argyll Road and Ferry Trip”
Calum Glenny Wanders through his hometown of Gourock, Scotland
Gourock, a charming coastal town in Scotland, is the subject of this travel blog, where author Calum Glenny takes us on an exciting journey of his hometown. The adventure begins at Kempock Street’s transport terminus – home to both Farmers Market and Pierhead Gardens, with historical landmarks that offer visitors an immersive experience into Gourrocks past.
As we move along Kempock Street, our guide introduces us to bars like Cleats or Buckleys and Cafe Continental, serving delicious food options for all tastes! We also learn about local spirits, including Shipyard Gin and future releases from Ardgowan Distillery- making it clear why so many people love living here! With its rich history, modern amenities, and friendly locals, there is something special waiting around every corner in Gourock!
The blog provides insight into the Granny Kempock Stone, a Neolithic relic shrouded in mystery. It also recommends food shops such as Aulds The Bakers Made In Italy and Wildfire for those looking to indulge their taste buds. For fashion enthusiasts, boutiques like Straps Alexa Blu Reds Footwear offer unique styles that can’t be found elsewhere. Other attractions include gift stores Coorie In Seagull Gallery showcasing local artisans’ work while takeaways Chinese Indian restaurants offer delicious cuisine options, including Nicos Pizzeria. With so much on offer, this town has something for everyone!
Gourock is a town that offers convenience at every turn – from hairdressers and convenience stores to dry cleaning services. But beyond these practical amenities lies something extraordinary: the Gourock Outdoor Pool, which holds claim as Scotland’s oldest heated swimming pool! This historic landmark dates back centuries and remains an iconic attraction for locals and visitors alike. Additionally, nearby stands another treasure in honor of those who fought bravely during wartime- The Gourock War Memorial. Last but certainly not least is what many consider one of Gourrocks most stunning features; its promenade overlooking the river, where you can catch glimpses of yachts sailing by while also spotting wildlife, such as seals or porpoises frolicking about in their natural habitat.
Gourock has a rich history and culture that can be explored through its various landmarks such as Cragburn Gate flats, Spinnaker Hotel or Ashton Stores. The author suggests taking advantage of the town’s picturesque views by walking along its waterfront towards Royal Gourock Yacht Club & McInroys Point, which offer access to Dunoon via Western Ferries or Argyll Ferries, respectively. Along this journey, readers will discover numerous local shops, restaurants & bars that make up an integral part of what makes Gourock unique.
The author invites readers to explore Gourock and promises that a stroll through its streets will bring joy despite not being as warm as Barbados or Frigiliana. They urge us all to give this town an opportunity for ourselves.
It is important to note that the synopsis herein draws from the excerpt and may not cover all aspects or sections of the original blog post.
My dentist regularly has a go at me for my preference for red wine, black coffee and dark Barbados rum. So what links this blog apart from my dentist?
The barbaric slave triangle is the short answer. Bordeaux, the geographically closest port to the Caribbean and Africa, was in all logic, a strategic place for the unfortunate trade. The bookRogues in Paradiserefers to this in the story of folk artist Woolly Hewitt. His DNA heritage dates back to the 1600s, with the French in Dahoney, now called Benin. “In 1851, the French negotiated a treaty with King Gezo to discourage the British move into Benin. It did not succeed, as the British soon imposed a naval blockade on the ports to force an end to the slave trade. The British signed a treaty with King Gezo that, in theory, ended the export of slaves from Port Dahomey. Britain abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, but several African ports continued to supply slaves to other countries for some time after. There were many tussles between the French, English, and other Europeans over the years, but Dahomey remained a French colony until independence on August 1, 1960. The French language and customs persist to this day.
In the dark history of slavery, French ships transported 1,381,000 Africans to the New World during the transatlantic trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. There are memories of this inhuman period in Bordeauxs’ Musée d’Aquitaine
While looking for a short-haul destination to visit, the opportunity of flying Easyjet to Bordeaux direct from Glasgow cropped up.
In the period between booking and travel, the civil unrest in France dominated news headlines throughout the world. The senseless killing of Nahel Merzouk, a French Algerian teenager, by a French police officer on a Parisian housing estate shocked the world and created a powder keg society in France. Undoubtedly various radical factions piggybacked on the outrage being felt across the nation and stoked the fires resulting in nights of violence and civil disobedience. Fellow passengers on our flight were apprehensive about what to expect despite the violence being reported in the newscasts as contained within certain areas of the main cities of Paris, Marseille, Metz, and Bordeaux.
Thankfully we were right not to be too concerned and yes there were signs of some vandalism – numerous smashed shop windows – but no violence!
What red wine lover wouldn’t visit this famed wine-growing region. Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in south west France. It’s known for its gothic Cathédrale Saint-André, 18th and 19th century mansions and impressive art museums such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. Impressive gardens follow the meandering river and quays. The Place de la Bourse, which hosts the Three Graces fountain, overlooks the Miroir d’Eau which can be described as a mysterious reflecting pool but quite simply, kids and adults love running through it when it’s hot!
If you’re looking for a French city destination, then Bordeaux comes as a highly recommended alternative to Paris, Nice and Marseille. With easy access to terrific foodie experiences and friendly people, it’s also not too challenging to meander the city sites on foot. A short break can open up the very best of Bordeaux and the surrounding area.
Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport is the nearby international airport. Flights from the UK and across Europe are affordable and from the UK take between ninety minutes and just over two hours, dependent on UK departure airport. The region also has impressive rail links connecting commuters to the rest of France and across Europe. Bordeaux St Jean is the main rail station and the TGV, the high-speed train to Paris takes less than two hours. Many travelers also take the 200km train to San Sebastián in Spain. I’ve not done that trip yet but it’s on the list!
Located virtually halfway between Madrid and Paris, Bordeaux makes for the perfect pit stop between the capital cities of Spain and France.
Bordeaux – famous for what?
Bordeaux is probably most famous for its wine, especially red wine. The city is also home to a surprising abundance of Haussmannian architecture, making it a sunny alternative to Paris. The area surrounding Bordeaux consists of endless vineyards and medieval towns, making it easy to explore during the sunnier months.
Bordeaux Wine Museums
There are two museums dedicated entirely to wine in Bordeaux. Travel reviews and tourists talk about the new, trendy and interactive Cité du Vin but there’s also a second wine museum which is far more traditional. The Musée du Vin et du Négoce de Bordeaux can be found in the historic Chartrons district of the city and costs as little as €10 to enter. Situated within the former wine cellar of the wine merchant for Louis XV, this museum comes complete with a very welcoming and complimentary wine tasting at your visit’s conclusion.
I didn’t make it but for those visiting the Cité du Vin this also comes complete with a complimentary wine tasting. Tickets are available to purchase on the day but in the summer months it’s recommend to buy your ‘billet’ in advance to beat the queues.
A top tip if you’re planning to see various Bordeaux museums and attractions, then it might be worth investing in the Bordeaux City Pass although it really depends on demand and season.
I found Chartrons to be charming and intimate. The district is full of cobbled lanes and beautiful historic homes. I’d recommend you take a look at the Chartrons Temple, Notre Dame Street, and the little eateries of Les Halles des Chartrons.
Can easily be described as one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in France, it is really worth visiting to take in this 11th-century sight. Officially known as the Primatial Cathedral of St Andre of Bordeaux it’s surprisingly free to enter and to walk around.
The largest reflective pool in the world
Located on Place de la Bourse, the Miroir d’Eau is the largest reflective pool in the world. This remarkable water feature is 3450 metres squared and was created in 2006 from granite slabs. Locals told me that the best time to visit the Miroir d’Eau is at sunset when stunning colours dance across the sky or at night when the city lights reflect perfectly. Don’t forget your camera or phone!
There is no shortage of history staring you in the face. Some of the best architecture and historical sites in the city include the turreted Porte Cailhau (highlighted later in the blog) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Open-top Bus City Tour
Join the open-top bus tour (Visi Tour Bordeaux) and get your city bearings while experiencing many amazing sights such as :
Monument Auz Girondins
Place de La Bourse
Palais de Justice
Cite du Vin
A bargain at €16 per person for a seventy-minute tour with full commentary.
All that walking works up an appetite as well as a thirst. Wine aside, there are a million gastronomic reasons to visit Bordeaux and the surrounding area. French cuisine has it all from savory dishes that melt in your mouth to sweets, there are excellent bistros, cafés and restaurants.
Our experience was simply outstanding:
36 Rue des Ayres, Bordeaux
Just off the main shopping street of Rue Sainte Catherine we found Homie’s. The best brunch we’ve had so far on our travels. Good coffee and hard to choose from the great food options on the menu. We all opted for different options (Shakahouka, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royal and exceptional hash browns) and couldn’t fault any of them. I also ordered a detox smoothie which was delicious. Our host Paul was excellent, he spoke fluent English and helped guide us through the menu.
Homie means – a best friend for life, yes, but it’s more than that, it’s family. We returned here twice before our visit to Bordeaux came to an end.
Le Bouchon Bordelaise
2 Rue Courbin, Bordeaux
We were looking forward to our dinner here but given it was a set menu we were a bit apprehensive as to what might be served by the chefs Frédéric Vigouroux, Etienne, Matthéo, Lino and not forgetting Souleman. Our research proved correct and we were certainly not disappointed. On Le Bouchon Bordelaise set menu there is a choice of 4 courses (5 if you opt for the cheese which we did) or 6 courses. All our courses were absolutely delicious – creative, tasty and very well presented. We also opted to add in the wine pairing. A fairly eclectic mix of mainly white wine to match the food, but red with our main course. Most of the wines came from the nearby Bergerac region. The restaurant is fairly small, most tables were reserved and staff coped really well with a busy night. This superb restaurant is run by Fanny and her front of house team, Manon and Melissa, who took time to explain what we were being served and how the wine paired with it. Fanny makes sure she welcomes and interacts with everyone. A remarkable meal which will not be forgotten and ideally finished off with coffee, Laballe Vieille Reserve Armagnac or Menthe Pastille, a mint digestive.
If you want a local cuisine experience and trust leaving your options with the chef, this cannot be more highly recommended.
Le Petit Commerce
22 Rue de Parlement, Saint Pierre.
We visited this restaurant as it has a reputation for being one of the best seafood restaurants in Bordeaux. Little else on the menu bar fresh, local and seasonal seafood. We visited twice, once with friends for dinner and once on our own for lunch. It was fabulous and a true treat for the tastebuds. Everything we had – crab, smoked salmon, lemon sole, sardines, mussels and hake – was tremendous. I’m told their desserts are also superb but never made it that far. The wine list covers all tastes but try not to mix up the American cocktail when asking for a Cafe Americano.
Well worth the two visits.
Bistrot à huitres “Chez Jean-Mi”
Marché des Capucins, PI. des Gross Capucins.
A great bar/restaurant within the Marche des Capucins, it is very busy at the weekends, note – get there before 1100 otherwise you will have to queue. The oysters are just incredible, take advantage of the packages on offer such as 6 oysters and white wine for €9.50. Eat while you watch the locals buying their market produce or just chill and enjoy the atmosphere. We also ordered 6 large crevettes which again were delicious. It’s also worth a slow wander around the market stalls. The fresh fish, vegetables, herbs and meat on offer is really impressive.
A local institution not to be missed!
La Maison du Glacier
1 Pal e St Pierre.
Another institution is the ice cream parlour, La Maison du Glacier. You will have to queue but that gives you time to choose from the endless list of ice cream and sorbet flavours. Just sublime, especially on a hot summer day. The rum & raisin and peanut ice cream were fabulous while the cassis and melon sorbets a truly wonderful combination.
15 Rue des Bahuiters.
On our last night we wandered the Bordeaux streets, nothing booked and a lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday and Monday. Berthus was open so we had a look, oh no, another set menu. This time called ‘Seasonal’ but to be honest it looked good. A rather uninspiring front door, don’t be fooled by the three bar stools at the entrance. This is the kitchen and there are many tables upstairs in a couple of nice dining areas. From the word go, our host Alex really looked after us. The seasonal menu at an astonishing €25 a head was just wonderful. Despite my earlier reservations the food was excellent, very simple and very tasty.
Value for money this restaurant is up there with the best and no wonder it has a Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice Award.
Similar to Paris, Bordeaux undoubtedly has its fair share of stunning hotels and luxury accommodations. The best hotels in Bordeaux include the 18th century Villa Reale which offers self-catering apartments and the chic Hotel Burdigala which is named in homage to the Roman name for Bordeaux. The four star Hotel de Seze situated in the heart of the historic old town also offers great accommodation. Although not luxurious, our accommodation was the recently opened Staycity Aparthotel. Compact but modern, well-equipped rooms, ideally located and catered for our every need. Recommend unless you’re looking to spoil yourself.
My travelling companions (Janis & Jim) were mightily impressed with the Disney -esq Porte Cailhau. When Bordeaux was a walled city this was the grand gateway to the city. It’s highly recommended to view this very impressive 14th-century architecture early in the morning when the sunlight shines through the gateway and illuminates all in its path.
Grosse Cloche (Big Bell)
This huge 7800kg iron bell’s home in a giant medieval belfry stands on the St. Eloi passage within an impressive archway. In the Middle Ages it was a gate into the city centre. The bell was interred in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Featuring in the city’s coat of arms the tower was built in the 12th century with the large bell being added in the 15th century.
The bell was regularly used throughout the Middle Ages, its purpose made clear from its inscription which reads,
“I call to arms, I announce the days, I give the hours, I chase the storm, I ring the holidays, and I cry out for fire”.
A very central location and great to use as a landmark to get your bearings. With beautiful historic streets around it containing some fantastic boulangeries, bars and bistros.
Regional day trips and other events
Whether you want to visit stunning beaches, swim in the sea, or sample some fantastic local wine, there are numerous trips on offer from Bordeaux. Some recommended day trips include: Arcachon town, Dune du Pilat – Europe’s largest sand dune, and Saint-Émilion – the medieval city.
Cycling Wine Tour
Rustic Wine Tours 8 Rue André Loiseau, 33330, Saint-Émilion.
Prior to visiting the stunning old town of St Emilion we booked up with Rustic Vine Tours for a full day wine tour using electric assisted bikes, taking in some incredible rolling countryside and vineyards. The electric assistance was simple to use and very welcome on the steep inclines on our tour. Our group of 6 visited Château Bernateau and Chateau St Georges while enjoying St Emilion wine tastings and a picnic lunch. This gave us time to introduce ourselves and chat to our cycling companions, Matt & Jennifer from California. Our day concluded with a walking tour of St Emilion itself which is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. Our tour guide Nicolas Floret was not just an expert on the theatre and decorum attached to French wine drinking but also very well versed in local history of battlefields and the surrounding villages. At the last moment Nicolas went out of his way to take us to a local family producer of Cremant de Bordeaux. This is a fantastic AOC classified sparkling white made similarly to champagne but in the heart of Bordeaux and recognised since April 1990, this comes from a longstanding tradition in the region of producing top rated sparkling wines, dating back as far as the 19th century.
This is a day not to be missed and one which I will certainly repeat when I return.
We will also seek out Nicolas as our guide!
Arcachon is a beach town fifty minutes and fifty five kilometres by train from Bordeaux St Jean station. This popular seaside resort has a mild climate and the longest and sandiest coast (200 kilometres) on the Atlantic, running all the way to Biarritz.
The coast is known as France’s Côte d’Argent (‘the Silver Coast’). It originated as a popular destination for people from Bordeaux to escape the city heat at weekends but has since been developed into one of the most popular and attractive seaside destinations in France.
There are four main beaches in Arcachon, the Plage Pereire, Plage des Abatilles, Plage d’Arcachon and Plage d’Eyrac. Just a few kilometres away is also the stunning Plage du Moulleau with great restaurants, situated virtually on the sand, and an olde world carousel.
About ten kilometres south of Arcachon sits the second largest lake in France called the Lac de Cazaux but the most popular attraction in the area is found a few kilometres to the south-west.
A fifty minute cycle on a dedicated cycle path from Arcachon station takes you through some really impressive beach side districts of outer Arcachon to the ‘Dune du Pilat’. The largest sand dune in Europe, at more than 110 metres high. It is about 3km long, and very steep. If you can only imagine it, think ten times higher than your thoughts …. it’s huge!!
You can climb directly up the sand to the top or use the 154 stairs to take in the stunning views which are simply ‘magnifique’.
Arcachon, with its town, beaches, lake and sand dune is a fantastic experience and with a one way train ticket from Bordeaux at €10, a relatively inexpensive adventure.
A day out I guarantee you will not forget.
World Heritage Site
Since 2007, 40% of Bordeaux’s surface area, located around the Port de La Lune, is now listed as world heritage sites. Unesco identifies Bordeaux as “an inhabited historic city, an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble, created in the age of the Enlightenment, whose values continued up to the first half of the 20th century, with more protected buildings than any other French city except Paris”.
Paris to Bordeaux
Many comparisons are made between Paris and Bordeaux and due to the outbreak of war the French National Government has relocated several times to Bordeaux. At the start of the France and Prussia war (1870) the Government temporarily relocated from Paris. This happened again during World War 1 and very briefly during the Second World War when Paris fell to Hitler’s Germany.
My main comparison is simply that the people of Bordeaux are friendly, welcoming and accommodating. I found this a complete contrast to my experience of Paris and enhanced my view of the French public.
Tour de France
During our visit Bordeaux hosted the finish of the 7th stage of the Tour de France (Mont-de Marsan to Place des Quinconces, Bordeaux). This was the first time since 2010 the city has hosted the historic race and it wasn’t going to let it go by without a bang!
The leading riders arrived to tens of thousands of fans lining the left bank’s 2 kilometre boulevard. Prior to this the the Tour’s partners put on a show, handing out thousands of promotional gifts to surprise the waiting fans. Several huge tv screens showed the riders approach and commentators whipped the crowd into a frenzy. With helicopters overhead in the hot sun, the atmosphere and tension was incredible! Then the peloton passed by about 55km per hour! Caught on camera to replay again and again. A brilliant experience and an amazing party atmosphere.
What is the best time to visit Bordeaux?
Though Bordeaux is beautiful to visit at any time of the year (indeed it’s the city that Parisians say they’d most like to live in, if they weren’t based in Paris), there are better times of the year to visit than others. For example, the winter is the quiet season while summer sees the most tourists. If you want to enjoy the best of the weather with lower prices, then visit in late spring or early autumn. Visit between May and November and you’ll also be able to enjoy the vines in their full glory.
How many days should I spend in Bordeaux?
The exact number of days you should stay in Bordeaux is entirely dependant on your travel schedule and what you wish to see when in the city. However, a good balance is a long weekend as this allows you to experience the ambiance of the city, as well as many of the major attractions and some hidden gems along the way.
On my return I will have at least three night in Bordeaux, two nights in St Emilion and if spring or summer at least four nights somewhere near the Arcachon beaches.
Well it’s all over, what welcoming people and a great city visit with trips to the countryside and coast thrown in. A highly recommended city break.
Having arrived with media coverage of riots and demonstrations, we saw nothing that caused unease. Certainly, high profile ‘armed’ policing patrols were frequent and highly visible but no issues at all.
Whether it was sampling the local drink Lillet, the elusive but splendid sparkling Cremant du Bordeaux, some wonderful red wines, the locally farmed oysters, candles (small locally baked cakes), shopping in Rue Saint Catherine or just wandering about the beautiful streets and taking in the historic sights, Bordeaux and the surrounding area was ‘parfait’!
My recent travel blogs have all been written about warmer climates or my visits happened to coincide with the summer months. This New York Travel Blog is a departure as I delve into history and style of New York City!
In this latest travel blog I head across the ‘pond’ to the east coast of America and my first ever visit (5 days) to New York in early Spring. Early planning ensured a trip to Broadway, a view of the Statue of Liberty, a walk round Manhattan’s iconic buildings and a sunny afternoon along the remarkable reclaimed rail line and now a public park called High Line.
So the question is!
Is it New York, New York City, the Big Apple or simply NYC amongst a host of other names?
The answer is all of the above and with over 8 million of a population it is the United States’ most populous city. It’s also the most densely populated city in the US with the population crammed into 300 square miles (778 km2). Located in the most southern tip of the State of New York, the city also has over 58 million people living within 250 miles (400 km) of its boundaries. Due to its size, its importance in business, politics, research & technology, fashion, sport and being home to the United Nations Headquarters, New York is regularly described as the capital of the world.
History – How it all began.
New York City traces its origins to a 1624 Dutch trading post founded on the southern tip of Manhattan Island and named New Amsterdam. In 1664 it was renamed New York by the British after Charles II – King of England gave the land to his brother, the Duke of York.
In 1673 the Dutch regained the land for 15 months renaming it New Orange. The English took the land back again a year later and the city has been continuously named New York from then on. Since 1790 it has been the United States’ largest city and previously (1785 – 1790) was the capital of the United States.
The city flag is a vertical tricolour in blue, white, and orange, some also have the City seal in the white centre. The design is derived from the flag of the Dutch Republic as used in New Amsterdam in 1625.
Why The Big Apple
This nickname originated in the 1920s when journalist John J. Fitz Gerald, referenced the term used by African American stable hands in New Orleans. He wrote a New York Morning Telegraph article about the many horse races and racecourses in and around New York. He noted that the jockeys and trainers who aspired to race on New York City tracks all referred to the significant money prizes as the ‘Big Apple’. At the time the prize money was the biggest and best around, where winning would change their lives forever.
The term was later reinvented in the 1970s by the New York tourist authorities.
New York Tartan Week
Arriving in New York just after Tartan week was disappointing however, on day one I didn’t expect to see people still wearing kilts on 5th Avenue. America is home to around six million people of Scottish descent. It seems they celebrate just as enthusiastically as any other diaspora, although remember, no matter where you are in the world too much Scotch Whisky may give you a very sore head. In New York, Tartan Week rivals St Patricks Day. Unfortunately, we missed the last of three Tartan Week performances by our local band, The Laurette’s by a day!
Arrival – Day 1
Accommodation – Hotel Kixby 45 West 35th Street.
Situated in the heart of New York City’s vibrant Herald Square in Midtown West just off 5th Avenue. One of the newest independent boutique hotels in Herald Square, minutes from the city’s favourite attractions such as the Theatre District, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Madison Square Gardens, Macy’s, Penn Station, Grand Central Station and Times Square.
On first impression the hotel easily blends past and present with inspiring design, vintage influence and local art. The 195 guest rooms and suites mirror the relaxed sophistication of the New York City lifestyle, with compact but well layed out interiors that reflect its unique heritage and present day New York.
Black Tap’s Lot 15 is the bar and cocktail lounge connected with the hotel, it’s bursting with the charm of old-world New York City. Decorated in black and gold, a nice place to enjoy a drink especially the locally named Manhattan cocktail which originated in the late 1800s on Manhattan Island. Traditionally, it consists of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a dash of angostura bitters.
Unfortunately the hotel’s Lookup Rooftop Bar only opens July to September. It is a highly recommended though as it provides breathtaking views of the Empire State Building, it looks so close, just ‘Lookup’ and take in the spectacular sight. The positive is you can still access the terrace even when the bar is closed.
Iconic Buildings – Self Walking Tour
Empire State Building
St Patrick’s Cathedral
The Chrysler Building
Grand Central Station
Macy’s original flagship store
The Flatiron Building
Looking to view the top iconic buildings in Manhattan we decided on a self walking tour. Our walk took nearly 3 1/2 hours and we managed to see nine magnificent sights and develop sore feet as well as very strained necks from looking high up into the skies above!
Since the late 1800s Manhattan’s skyline has been shaped and developed into today’s picture postcard view. Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the world’s tallest buildings were still being built in Manhattan and it certainly challenges the rest of the world in skyscraper architecture. These include the Art Deco masterpieces that remain part of the city’s iconic skyline, probably the most well known being the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Plaza and the Chrysler Building. To this day and despite other buildings throughout the world having passed them by in height terms, these New York icons are as popular as ever and remain worldwide attractions.
Paying a visit to at least one viewing platform is a must. At the Rockefeller Centre we took the forty three second lift to the sixty seventh floor to ’Top of the Rock’ and took in the magnificent 360 degrees views across the city. Simply breathtaking views.
As you will also see on these walking tours, Manhattan’s renowned architecture is not only about skyscrapers. Intricate planning and building control over the years have helped create buildings such as Grand Central Station. This stunning sight sits with high-rise buildings all around it, with the main facade, a Roman triumphal arch, seen as the gateway to New York City. A wander inside the various levels of the station is highly recommended.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a stunning neo-gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral tucked away amongst the modern buildings of Midtown Manhattan. Building commenced in 1858 and although situated across from the Rockefeller Centre and Radio City, it couldn’t be more different in style and design. It is the largest gothic Catholic cathedral in North America and is also known as America’s Parish Church. An international historic marble landmark as well as a fully functioning church that opens its doors to more than 5 million visitors each year.
The original Macy’s Building on Herald Square was its flagship store and covers an entire block, limited to only nine stories high. Architecturally, it is a stand out and grand history staring right back at you! The old wooden escalator on the Broadway side just oozes class and tradition. Built in 1902, Macy’s was the first building in the world to have an escalator.
Standing proud on Broadway and 5th Avenue is the unique wedge shaped Flatiron Building. Tourists gather all day long in the oasis which is Madison Garden park opposite or at outside tables on nearby street cafes just to photograph or simply gaze in awe at this sight!
There are various self-guided walking tours which take you to the most famous buildings in Manhattan, most importantly you can dictate your own pace.
Dinner – The Harold
1271 Broadway On 32nd Street between Broadway & 6th Avenue.
We stumbled across The Harold Bar & Restaurant whilst finishing our iconic building walking tour. We were a bit jaded after an 8 hour flight and a long walk however we had dinner seated at the bar, where the food and service by bar tender Evelyn Jack were great. Would recommend visiting this restaurant at any time of day even just to have a refreshment and watch Evelyn mix cocktails in her own imitable style.
Day 2 – The High Line
West 30th Street, West side Manhattan.
This is a remarkable public park built on a historic freight rail line running 30 feet above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, it also provides fantastic views of the Hudson River and New York City skyline. Local residents successfully petitioned to save the line from demolition with the public space opening in 2009. It opens daily between 0700 and 2200 hours when visitors can walk the 1.5 miles (30 -40 mins) and experience nature in the city, some cool artwork and stunning city views.
A wonderful walk through this area of Manhattan and away from the hussle of the city streets below.
A stress lowering and relaxing experience in what is a very busy city.
Vessel – 20 Hudson Yards, Manhattan
On approach to the High Line we literally stumbled across this very strange but interesting architectural piece at Hudson Yards. What I can only describe as a bronze spiral staircase which is a relatively new City landmark. Designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the structure rises 16 stories and consists of 2,500 steps, and 80 viewing platforms.
Vessel is the main attraction at the Hudson Yards Public Square and when open to the public it will the provide incredible views of the city, the Hudson and surrounding area.
Lunch – Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue (between 15th & 16th St)
Standing a short walk from the end (or start) of High Line on 10th Avenue is the 1850s old bakery (where Oreos were invented) which now houses the impressive Chelsea Market. I usually try and avoid markets but the sound and smells of the food hall came calling!
The building also hosts a shopping mall, offices and a television production facility and the complex takes up an entire city block.
This gem is always listed in the top attractions or lists of things to do in New York. Once you take a stroll through the market you will understand why. Meal times can be exceptionally busy but there are some fantastic options to choose from.
The place was packed out on our visit and the queue at Los Tacos No. 1 was very long, however it did move fairly quickly. Being so busy we opportunistically grabbed two bar stools at an adjacent bar which didn’t appear to have a name! I now know it’s called Mayhem.
This turned out a real winner as the New York speciality sandwiches (Dragon & Binger Jnr) we had for lunch were outstanding. A couple of glasses of rose wine while watching the world go by was just what the Doctor ordered after walking 15 thousand steps before lunch! A gem of a find in a bustling market, watching the excitement of both adults and kids line up for tacos was amusing!
Mayhem only serves food Wednesday to Sunday so be aware plus if you’re in line for tacos you can order a take away drink while waiting!
Washington Square North.
The Washington Arch is an impressive marble arch standing proud on the edge of Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village. The arch commemorates the 1789 inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States. Washington was sworn in on the balcony of New York City’s old City Hall during the city’s period as the first capital of the United States.
Washington Arch with a modern day Yellow Taxi
Breakfast – Jack’s Wife Frida Soho, 226 Lafayette St.
Best described as very tasty South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine. The menu tells the story of Jack and Frida and how it all began. There are five restaurants throughout the city. The Soho restaurant is a great spot for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. The interesting menu provides delightful options and I’m sure you’ll love what you order. The fresh cantaloupe juice was just incredible. A must try when in NYC.
Staten Island Ferry
Whitehill Terminal, Whitehill St.
Along with thousands of other tourists we boarded the free Staten Island ferry taking in the stunning New York coastline as we sailed on the iconic orange ferry. Absolutely the best way to see New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty and a very impressive Manhattan skyline. On clear days you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.
Top tip is to disembark at Staten Island (mandatory) and immediately catch the return service to Manhattan. The ferries depart every 30 minutes (on the hour and half hour) and the sail takes about 25 minutes, this quick turnaround can easily be done and all free!
The Double Bridge Walk
After the Staten Island Ferry we headed for our second round trip of the day. This time it was walking across the East River on Brooklyn Bridge, a quick lunch at Time Out Market and then a walk back across Manhattan Bridge. Both bridge walks took about 20 minutes and provided incredible views of the rivers and city skyline. Brooklyn Bridge was far more impressive to walk but very crowded while Manhattan Bridge had very few people on the walkway.
The Brooklyn Bridge as it’s been known since 1915 was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire and spans the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Opened in 1883 it was the first fixed crossing of the East River and at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. The busiest bridge for tourists by far with impressive stone arches.
The Manhattan Bridge connects Chinatown and Downtown Brooklyn. The bridge pioneered the use of “two-dimensional” slender steel towers and supports seven lanes of vehicular traffic, four train lines, a pedestrian walkway and a separate bikeway. It was completed in 1909 due to the overcrowding of the Brooklyn Bridge and it is the youngest of the three East River suspension bridges. The Chinatown entrance to the bridge has an elaborate stone portal and broad plaza. Walking on the bridge can be extremely noisy with a constant rattling on rail joints and braking from the trains.
Manhattan Bridge stone portal
Bar 54 – 135 West 45th Street.
A truly unforgettable setting 54 floors up in New York City’s highest rooftop bar at the Hyatt Centric, Times Square where you can take in some of the best views in Manhattan and enjoy some slightly expensive cocktails, fine wines and food. Unfortunately, the window booths can only be reserved for three persons or more.
Perched above the city, Bar 54 is an unforgettable location, we visited for drinks and small plates before going to the theatre.
Reservations are a must and you will be asked to show your reservation on several occasions before you are actually allowed into the hotel lift. Rather an excessive feel to the security checks, especially when there were several free tables in the venue. Maybe something for Hyatt to think about!
Moulin Rouge – The Musical
The Al Hirschfeld Theatre – 302 West 45th St between 8th Avenue & 9th Avenue.
Broadway is awash with musicals and theatre productions, our theatre was originally the Martin Beck Theatre. Designed in Moorish and Byzantine styles, it opened in 1924 seating 1,404 people across two levels. Both the Theatre frontage and the interior are New York landmarks.
Moulin Rouge officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 25 July, 2019.
Baz Luhrmann’s movie is a favourite in my house and the show expertly brought it to life onstage, the musical certainly hits the mark. The show combines all the glitz and grandeur of the cabaret club inspired by the windmill venue in Paris. A real celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and love! To quote the movie it’s “A story about time, a story about a place, a story about the people. But above all things, a story about love”.
The amazing theatre set, costumes, talented singing and dancing were worth it. The music from Talking Heads, Annie Lennox, Adele to Rihanna was very well produced, so relevant and at times very funny which added laughter to the show. This musical does not disappoint!
I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting New York. It was one of the highlights of our trip. The musical doesn’t win 10 Tony awards for nothing!
Breakfast – Toast Cafe 968 6th Avenue.
This busy food venue is handily located a short walk from the Kixby Hotel, from its name we thought it was a cafe and although there is a seating area on the upper level, it mainly offers a large selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner take away options, appealing to many travellers is a hot & cold food buffet serving various national cuisines. You name it, they will most probably have it.
On our ‘chill’ day, I dropped by to pick up a light breakfast to have on the hotel rooftop terrace. I ended up trying their magnificent freshly squeezed healthy juices.
In life it’s hard to beat having breakfast on a bar stool in the April sunshine staring at the Empire State Building!
A view from Central Park.
Central Park stretches from North 110th St to Central Park South (59th St) and from Central Park West (8th Avenue) to 5th Avenue.
It is an urban park and is the fifth largest park in the city. Claimed to be the most visited urban park in the United States, with an estimated 42 million visitors annually and also the most filmed location in the world. It has it all – nature, sport, history, education and restaurant/cafes.
In 1853 civic philanthropists and leaders agreed to build a park to provide locals with green space, moving New York City to a world class destination. Funds were soon raised to purchase the land which was previously rocky and swampy and home to small farms and settlements.
Now a stunning location and well worth a wander through especially in the sunshine. It is certainly the alter ego of the busy streets of Manhattan.
Monarch Rooftop 71 W 35th St.
As it was Saturday night we decided to reserve two standing only places at this rooftop bar. On arrival we confirmed we had a reservation. We were asked exactly what time did we reserve our places. Even on showing an email booking confirmation we were classed as ‘walk-ins’. Initial perceptions should have made us think twice but we wanted to give it a chance. Then came a demand for identification from the two doormen. They were very abrasive and made absolutely no eye contact. It was as if they were doing us a favour allowing us access! A drink each later and after taking in what was a relatively poor skyline view we left but not before being ‘ordered’ to stay in a particular spot for the lift. Found this quite funny as we were the only people leaving. Maybe they should adopt the NYPD motto of CPR – Courtesy, Professionalism & Respect!
Quite possibly a place to avoid.
After a late check out from the Kixby Hotel we set off on a slow stroll to Ground Zero. Stopping on the way for brunch.
Brunch – Westville 88, 7th Avenue.
A great priced central restaurant, which has branches throughout the city. Offers a wide selection of food including vegetarian, vegan with meat options. Packed out at 1100 on a Saturday morning. Colin our waiter was great for advice, sitting sipping a Mimosa and eating fabulous food on 7th Avenue in the morning sun on our last day set us up perfectly.
Pit stop – Greenwich Tavern 399 Greenwich St.
While walking in the heat towards Ground Zero a pit stop was required. The Greenwich Tavern was jumping and a beer sitting in the sun and warm April breeze certainly helped recharge the batteries. Staff (Elani) were brilliant even though it was so busy. Great place for a chilled beer in Greenwich!
Ground Zero – National September 11 Memorial & Museum 180 Greenwich St.
The World Trade Centre site and Memorial is often referred to as ‘Ground Zero’. The original World Trade Centre complex stood on the site until it was destroyed in the September 11 Twin Towers terrorist attacks of 2001, which killed 2,977 people, and not to be forgotten the memorial also remembers the 1993 bombing which killed 6 people.
Having worked in the world of counter terrorism, this really brought it home to me what the continued challenges aim to stop!
They are truly fitting and stunning monuments of reflection and respect, just seeing the thousands of names brings tears to your eyes. Thankfully these very impressive memorials will undoubtedly keep the memory alive of those brave souls who lost their lives and also those families affected by it. So hard to comprehend that this is in the middle of New York City and why extremists would want to commit such an atrocity.
The visit is a real somber moment but very worthwhile to pay respects.
Oculus – 185 Greenwich St.
Right next to Ground Zero stands the mightily impressive Oculus, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Despite its stunning looks, it’s also a transportation hub serving over one million people every week. I understand it is supposed to resemble a dove leaving a child’s hands. However, so close to where the Twin Towers stood I thought it was an angel’s wings. Another stunning and thought provoking reflection on the atrocity of 9/11.
If you’re at the 9/11 monuments you cannot miss this!
It’s a wrap! Or should it be ‘I’m leaving today’!
Well we have come to the end of a 5 day New York City break. A fabulous experience, the ability and opportunity to walk the sights in near perfect weather was a huge bonus. Walking 12.5 miles (20 kilometres) a day does take its toll on you, so our second last day was spent sitting in the sun in Central Park which undoubtedly recharged our batteries and topped off a wonderful experience.
New York is certainly the ‘City that doesn’t sleep’ with its 24 hour hustle and bustle. Once acclimatised you only notice the sirens, car horns and people’s voices when they reduce dramatically, normally between 0200 and 0400 in the morning. The quietness of the streets may then awaken you!
A highly recommended City break.
To conclude, Alicia Keys lyrics say it all for me in the chorus of her ‘Empire State of Mind’ song.
‘In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
there’s nothin’ you can’t do
now you’re in New York
these streets will make you feel brand new
big lights will inspire you