Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin is a city with a gritty exterior and a heart of history and culture. It’s easy to tick off the top sights of which there are many – but look deeper and you’ll find hidden gems and things to taste, drink and try. Here’s a guide to some top Berlin quirks that you might not otherwise find or know about!

Berlin Wall - quirky berlin

Look Down

So often our eyes are drawn to a city skyline – but some of Berlin’s history is literally at your feet.  Across Berlin, you might notice a double line of cobbles with an occasional brass plaque. This immortalises where the Berlin Wall once stood and starkly reminds us of how the city was literally split overnight.  Another quirk of Berlin is the vast amount of cobbled footpaths. These cobbled paths are amazingly simple and traditional for a city full of concrete. Built with only 3 ingredients – cobblestones, sand and a hammer.  Watch out for the tell tale signs of recent repair by noticing any small remaining piles of sand on the pathways.

Touch the wall - quirky berlin

Touch the wall

Remember when you were young and visited somewhere like a museum, castle or historic site?  I was always being told ‘Don’t touch anything’.  For once you don’t have to worry, for as historic as the Berlin Wall is – you can touch it! There are plenty of places to see and touch the wall, to look up and imagine the powerful restriction on your life that the Berlin wall was for so many.  If you visit the East Side Gallery (a must in my opinion), then look out for the ‘Touch the Wall’ mural.  It’s an incredible place to feel part of living history.

Cross the road in Quirky Berlin

Travel like locals

At pedestrian road crossings in Berlin you’ll find a push button to stop the traffic safely for you – except, as I found out – the buttons don’t push! You simply wave your hand over the sensor and that is enough!

Bikes are very popular in Belin too – and there are certainly many bike tours and bike hire venues.  The public transport system is also excellent – plus it’s a flat city so walking is a popular mode of transport.

Graffiti

Graffiti

Graffiti is everywhere in Berlin, but ask a Berliner about it, and they will probably say they don’t notice it.  Unlike in other cities, graffiti isn’t just for underpasses or derelict buildings.  In fact, you’ll find it on the building walls of high end housing blocks and public park structures.  You can take graffiti tours in Berlin, and I even learnt a little about tags, throw ups and murals on my Eating Tour!

Quirky Berlin

The famous Trabi

The Trabant car (meaning companion) is one of the most iconic symbols of Berlin. This small, inexpensive vehicle was manufactured from the GDR since 1949. It was loud, slow, run by a 2-stroke engine and with wings and doors made of plastic. With wait lists of up to 10 years, some citizens signed up their newborn children to the waitlist.  The Trabi’s are a long way from what we drive today, but it’s amazing to think that a car can be such an icon for a city.  If you are looking for something fun, different and traditional to do in Berlin – why not take a self-drive Trabi tour around Berlin.  You can find out more on the Trabi-safari website.

Pipework in Berlin

Pipework

Another quirk of Berlin is the pink overground pipework – 60km of them to be exact! As Berlin is built on swampy land, these pipes pump ground water away from building and construction sites to the River Spree and other canals. Why pink? The pipes supplier Pollem wanted to make a statement with the pipes. After discussions with psychologists, pink was chosen as the most popular colour choice of children and because it seems a fun and youthful colour to adults.

Food in Berlin

Eating around the city

Two of my passions are travel and food – so an eating tour of Berlin was a must for me!  Focussing on the East of Berlin, I wandered streets filled with Turkish and Syrian influence.  My guide Clara, taught me the difference between a Shawarma and a Donna and I tried a delicious hummus-style dish called Mutabal.  There were some Berlin classics too like a Flammkuchen and a Currywurst. We sampled beers, a Fritz Cola and a Berliner Weiss Cocktail (I think I prefer a cosmopolitan more!).  Scattered with history and explanations of modern-day life in Berlin, the tour was a great way to spend an afternoon eating and learning on the go! I booked a tour with Eating Europe.
Beer in Quirky Berlin

Drink like locals

Set amongst most small rows of shops in Berlin, you will find a Späti.  They are small shops filled with chillers of beer and soft drinks, a few snacks and the obligatory bottle opener on the side of the cash till.  This is where you stop as a local, anytime of day, to pick up a cold beer.  There’s often a few chairs outside or a small bench seat.  Or of course, you can carry on your way drinking your beer en route, because unlike in other cities, it’s not forbidden to drink alcohol while walking around the city.  Spätis are cheap, practical and a really local quirk of Berlin.

RAW nightclub

The smallest nightclub in the world

The RAW Tempel in Berlin is definately a quirky venue. It’s a sprawl of abandoned hangars full of graffiti and huge murals, mixed with a contemporary art exhibition, restored furniture shops and biergardens. You can climb an old bunker transformed into a climbing wall or skate at an indoor skate park that is enjoyed by famous skaters. My favourite suprise? – the Teledisko, the smallest nightclub in the world built inside a telephone booth complete with disco ball and fog machine. It’s an edgy part of town and I’m not sure I’d venture there on my own after dark! but it’s fun and certainly quirky.

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Discover the captivating old-world charm of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, nestled along Florida’s stunning Gulf Coast. This hidden gem offers a truly unique island experience and it will leave you enchanted. From its 7 miles of pristine beaches to the charming town of Boca Grande, it’s a haven of natural beauty and tranquility. Breathtaking sunsets paint the sky, gentle waves lap the shore while dolphins play out in the gulf waters. Whether you seek relaxation, adventure, or a taste of local culture, Gasparilla Island has it all. Explore the rich railroad history, indulge in delectable coastal cuisine, and embark on unforgettable outdoor activities. Come and experience the magic of this enchanting island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Gasparilla Island Statistics 

An island on the Floridian Gulf Coast roughly halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers.

Beaches, Wildlife, Outdoor Activities and Dining.

Visit between October and March to avoid the humid and hot summer months.

The average yearly population of Boca Grande is only 1130, tripling during Jan - April.

No gas stations, traffic lights or chain restaurants but plenty of natural beauty and old world charm.

Home to Osprey, Pelicans, Dolphins, Tarpon, Iguana and many more...

Island History

The Calusa Indians, well known as fishermen, were the first inhabitants of Gasparilla Island back in 800 AD/CE.  By the 1870s several fishing ranches started operating in the area run by Spanish and Cuban fishermen.  Boca Grande also became known as a mecca for sport fishing.  When phosphate became popularised as a farm fertiliser in the mid-19th century, Boca Grande’s deep water location became important for loading tug boats heading to Charlotte Harbour.  By 1912 the island flourished and had a railroad, ferry, an Inn and even a golf course and then wealthy winter ‘beachfronters’ started to move in.  However in 1958 when the bridge opened, the economy and community declined and the car ferry, train school and even lighthouse sadly closed down. Gasparilla Island is resilient, so from the late 1970’s, beach-loving second homeowners gave the island a new lease of life.  

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande - lighthouse
Kappy;s
$6 to be a millionaire for a day

It’s only a $6 car fee to cross the Boca Grade Causeway bridge and it’s  worth every cent.   When you cross the causeway, look out for the old railroad on your left. To your right, you will see several picturesque islands like Little Gasparilla Island that are now only accessible by boat.  Stop at North Village on your left and hire a golf cart at Kappy’s Island Shoppe to get a true Boca Grande day trip experience.  Then, drive a few pretty miles along a purpose-built and mangrove-lined golf cart and bike lane into the historic district of Boca Grande.

Downtown Boca Grande

Downtown Boca Grande has a nostalgic and relaxed feel.  Quiet streets are lined with pretty, picture postcard houses with immaculate and manicured gardens and white picket fences.  Dotted around the town are historic buildings telling of a bye-gone era of a prosperous railroad community.  There are scenic bike and golf cart lanes and tiny parks like The Sam Murphy Park, all tended with love and care

Sam Murphy Park
Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande
Pristine Beaches

The island offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Florida. The sand is white and powdery and there are huge varieties of shells and even prehistoric shark teeth to go hunting for (TIP – they are small and jet black!)  Keep an eye on the flags at the state park areas to keep you alert to any danger to swimmers. There are options for renting paddle boards, kayaks and boats or maybe head out on a fishing trip! Choose from public beaches with restrooms, showers and parking to smaller, quieter sections “off the beaten path” – there’s something for everyone. 

Banyan Street

One of my personal highlights of Gasparilla Island is Banyan Street – it’s totally captivating.  The trees were planted in 1915 by the original builder of The Gasparilla Inn.  Over the years, the banyan trees have intertwined and formed a beautiful canopy over the street. The huge gnarly roots and trunks are like something from a movie and this is a fantastic spot to take some memorable family photos. 

Banyan Street
Pink Pony
Eat and Drink

It’s not a trip to Boca Grande without an ice cream at the Pink Pony. Choose from exciting and iconic flavours including Hurricane Charley or Gator Trail (chocolate, peanut butter, pretzel peices, YUM). The Temptation has been a popular restaurant for decades and Miller’s Dockside is a great choice for lunch.  One of my favourite eateries is currently closed for refurbishment post hurricane Ian but hopefully, you’ll soon be able to enjoy a seafood strudel and rum runner at the South Beach Bar & Grille!

The Boca Beacon’s Visitor’s Guide

Pick up a FREE visitor guide produced by towns weekly newspaper, the Boca Beacon.  It’s full of useful information for locals and visitors alike.  You’ll even find spotters guides including some for fish, marine life, shells, plants, birds and reptiles.

Want more information on Boca Grande? You can download the Boca Grand mobile app now too!

Island Landmarks

Tick off these Island classics on your trip to Gasparilla Island.  There are the two iconic lighthouses – Port Boca Grande and the Range Light which are a lovely 40 minute beach walk apart.  There’s the Lighthouse Museum, Fugates department store and Hudson’s Grocery.  Whidden’s Marina is a one of a kind – and the Pink Pony Ice cream shop is legendary.  You have to walk down Banyan Street and take a golf cart along the length of the island. Stop by the beautiful Gasparilla Inn and you’ll be stepping into the same hotel frequented by US legends, J P Morgan, Henry Ford and even President Bush.

Hudsons Boca Grande
Gasparilla Island Birds
Nature at its best

Gasparilla Island is home to some very special creatures.  There are massive osprey with a wingspan averaging 180cm.  You’ll spot plenty of pelican and anhinga birds that you might see swimming with their elegant necks exposed.  Watch out for Iguanas and on occasion an alligator or two.  It’s a beautifully green island with palms, mangroves, railroad vines and sea oats lining the shore.  If you look out to sea, you are likely to see dolphins at play.  A beautiful island full of nature ready to be explored!

My top 10 things to do on the island:

1. Visit the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum

2. Set up your beach chairs on your own patch of beach paradise

3. Go seashell and shark teeth scavenger hunting

4. Have the ultimate ice cream at the Pink Pony

5. Stroll around the shops and eateries downtown

6. Enjoy a beach sunset

7. Explore the island by golf buggy

8. Take a selfie or family photos on Banyan street

9. Drop a penny in the Sam Murphy Park fountain

10. Up for a challenge? walk the length of the island!

Church on Boca

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande with my family for over 15 years.  It’s a wonderful place that simply feels like coming home.  Elegant yet laid back, it’s full of natural beauty and old-world charm.  Gasparilla Island has to be one of the hidden gems in the USA.

Top things to see and do in Rome

Top things to see and do in Rome

Top things to see and do in Rome

Rome is the ultimate bucket list city!    There are iconic ancient wonders, movie-worthy backdrops, incredible cuisine, fountains and architecture.  It’s a city I could happily return to time and time again.  You will keep finding new hidden gems and you’ll never tire of the Rome classics. For a first trip or to make every moment in Rome count, here are my top things to see and do in Rome.  It’s your ultimate Rome bucket list.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is the essence of Rome and often of Italy itself.  Its size and atmosphere are immense and the emotions when you step into this ancient amphitheatre are overwhelming.  With over 2000 years of history, the Colosseum was started in 72 A.D and finished in 80 by Emperor Titus.  The 188m long and 156m wide Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheatre as known back then) allowed more than 50,000 Roman spectators to enjoy exotic animals, gladiator fights, recreated battles and executions.  It remained active for 500 years before lootings, earthquakes and even bombings undeniably took their toll.  Despite this, the Colosseum is now one of the seven wonders of the modern world and over 6 million tourists visit annually.

Top things to do and see in Rome

Top Tip

Book in advance! and take a guided tour.  I’d recommend one of the ‘Full experience ticket’ tours with entry to the arena of the Colosseum or arena and underground if available.  You can also get combo tickets to include The Forum and Palatine Hill.

The Forum
The Roman Forum

Symbolic and gloriously atmospheric, the Roman Forum is a large rectangular plaza surrounded by ruins of important ancient government buildings.  It was the heart of ancient Roman life – where speeches, trials, processions, elections and gladiator battles took place.  Walking around the Forum is a wonderfully immersive experience.

Palatine Hill

The most famous of Rome’s 7 hills, Palatine Hill offers wonderful views of the graceful ruins of the Roman Forum some 40m below.  It was an impressive location for the homes of aristocrats and emperors.  The area housed Roman palaces, a vast complex of pools, saunas and even a gym for the Emperors.  Find a shady spot to sit and enjoy panoramic views across the city.

Palatine Hill
Top things to see and do in Rome include the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

La Fontana di Trevi (The Trevi Fountain) is perhaps the most famous fountain in the world.  This Baroque fountain on the piazza was built between 1732 and 1762. At 20m high and 26m wide, it’s Rome’s largest fountain.  Its name – La Fontana di Trevi, comes from the fact that 3 (Tre) roads bisected this point back in Roman times.  The water glistens turquoise and the stonework is a crisp, cool and clean backdrop for wonderful photos.

Want to return to Rome? With your back to the fountain, throw a coin with your eyes closed over your left shoulder using your right hand.  Over a million Euros are thrown into the fountain each year going to charities.

TOP TIP: For the best photos and to experience the fountain without the tourist hustle, visit before 7 a.m.

Enjoy local foods

Testaccio is the original foodie neighbourhood of Rome. Less busy than other popular food areas, you can enjoy Testaccio Market as well as a wonderful choice of restaurants.  Pretty Trastevere with its cobbled streets and alleys is another lovely place to dine.

What should you try? These are some of my favourites…

  • Amaratriciana Pasta  – a sauce of tomato, pecorino romano and guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl – which tastes better than it sounds)
  • Pasta alla Gricia – a sauce of guanciale, pepper and pecorino romano
  • Carbonara – a sauce of guanciale, egg and parmigiano reggiano
  • Cacio e Pepe – a sauce of pecorino romano and pepper
  • Carciofi alle gudia – deep-fried artichoke
  • Suppli – breadcrumbed and deep-fried rice and tomato spheres stuffed with cheese
  • Porchetta – slow roasted pork with garlic, sage, salt and rosemary

 

things to eat in Rome Carciofi-alle-giudia
Granita de cafe
Coffee – the Rome way

Look out for Italian coffee bars, rather than cafes.  Don’t sit to drink your coffee, instead order at the bar, stand and drink it in a few gulps.  Milky coffee is generally only deemed acceptable at breakfast.   For something cooling in the summer Rome heat, try a granita de cafe topped with whipped cream – Delicious!  If you are heading home after dinner you might like to stop for something ‘stronger.’  Try a caffe corretto – a shot of espresso with a liquor of your choice to ‘correct’ the coffee. 

Admire the view

With so many historic landmarks, ruins and fountains – admiring Rome from above allows you to appreciate the immense scale of Rome.  Palatine Hill offers a wonderful view but there’s a way to get higher and see more.  The Vittorio Emanuel ii Monument is on an epic scale in a striking position next to the Roman Forum.  A super cool bonus is the glass-walled elevator that can take you to the rooftop.  Aptly named ‘Rome from the Sky,’  there are the most amazing views over the city and surrounding areas.  Although it’s a relatively expensive ticket for an elevator ride – the view is really worth it and generally the rooftop is extremely quiet by tourist Rome standards.  The ticket will also give you a museum entry – so you may want to allow extra time.  

View from Vittorio Rome
Things to do in Rome include Piazza Navona
Spend an evening in a piazza

Resting your weary walking feet in a piazza restaurant as sun sets is a pure joy.  Piazza Navona treats you to three grand fountains and you can enjoy street performances from one of the restaurants that line the square.  From the Piazza della Rotonda, you can take in the wonder of the Parthenon which is beautifully lit at night.  So many piazza’s and so little time. 

Enjoy a real Gelato

So here’s the scoop… (sorry I couldn’t resist)

Is gelato different to ice cream? Yes – because gelato uses much less fat than ice cream and it’s churned at a slower speed giving it a denser texture and more intense flavour.  It’s also served at a higher temperature than ice cream so the flavour pops more.  But as the word gelato and artisanal are not regulated in Italy – how do you find the real deal? You can look for:

  • Natural and muted colours
  • Seasonal flavours
  • The use of a metal space, not a scoop
  • Gelato that isn’t piled too high but is stored in a lidded metal container
  • Gelato that isn’t shiny

 

top things to do in Rome
Parthenon
Pantheon

    One of the most recognisable buildings in Rome, building work commenced in 27 BC and its original use is still unknown. In 609, the Pantheon started to be used as a church.  To this day, it’s one of the best preserved monuments of ancient Rome.  You can buy entrance tickets online here including tours and audio guides.  This opulent building is also beautiful to enjoy from a pretty piazza restaurant.

    Rome is a heady mix of history, archaeology, architecture, culture, art and food.  It’s a romantic, exciting and atmospheric city to visit and explore – one you just can’t get enough of.  I hope this list of top things to see and do in Rome will help get your adventures underway.

    Ciao!

    Make the most of Berlin

    Make the most of Berlin

    Make the most of Berlin

    History, Culture, Graffiti and more – here are some ideas of how to make the most of Berlin.

    Berlin is a gritty city that is bursting with history, education and reflection.  The numerous memorials make this a city that honours those affected by Berlin’s past.  But it also allows the new habitants to express their views and celebrate their culture and passions. It might not be a top choice for a romantic getaway, but Berlin has a passionate heart that will touch any visitor.

    Berlin’s Geography

    The city of Berlin stands in a low and marshy area of Northeastern Germany. With the river Spree running through the city, you’ll find canal networks, parks and a wide low-rise feel to the city. 

    Berlin Facts 

    Berlin, North Eastern Germany, Europe

    Germany's capital city is perfect for history and culture lovers

    Spring and Autumn are perfect to visit Berlin. The summer can be very hot and the winters very cold - so dress accordingly

    A very large, walkable, flat city with great U Bahn, S Bahn and Tram systems

    There is no real city centre but lots of Kieze (communities)

    The River Spree runs through the city - boat tours are available

    Museum Island

    Yes, in Berlin there is a whole island dedicated to museums.  Five large museums sit proudly on Spree Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Berlin’s historic Mitte district.  The Pergamon, Bode, Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museums offer you art, and antiquities on a grand scale.  If you are a museum lover – then you might want to invest in a Museum Pass Berlin. Even if time doesn’t permit museum meanderings, the Museum Island area is one of the most attractive areas to visit in Berlin and definitely worth a walk around.  (The Pergamon Museum is closing for extensive renovation on 23rd October 2023 so check before you visit).

    Make the most of Berlin at Museum Island
    Checkpoint Charlie
    Checkpoint Charlie

    There’s debate about whether Checkpoint Charlie should be on your to-see list because it’s now considered a tourist trap.  I understand as the site is – well, small and a little underwhelming. Plus you have to dodge traffic to get a good photo.  But this Berlin wall Crossing point symbolises the Cold War and was the scene of the brief but potentially future-changing face-off between Soviet and American tanks. So go and visit and get the photo!

    Brandenburg Gate 

    This much loved German landmark is built on the site of a former city gate that started the route to Brandenburg an der Havel.  A symbol of Geman division during the Cold War, it now offers a national symbol of unity and peace. It’s located in a pedestrianized area often used for large public shows and events.  There are some fabulous photo opportunities here before moving on to the Reichstag.

    Make the most of Berlin at Brandenburg Gate
    Jewish Memorial - Berlin
    Memorials

    If you are heading from the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag, do take a short detour to take in the sombre but beautiful holocaust memorial / Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  In 19000 square metres, the 2711 concrete stelae wave abstractly through the space  – a very unique place of remembrance.  

    The Reichstag

    The Reichstag is a short walk away and is the current home of the German parliament.  You can sit outside on the grass for a picnic – or make a reservation in the rooftop restaurant.  You can even enjoy panoramic city views from the glass dome.

    Reichstag
    Berlin Wall - make the most of Berlin
    The Wall – or Walls!

    It feels surreal to me that in my lifetime, there was a wall that kept a whole population in.  The 27-mile-long wall was 2 walls, with a ‘Death Strip’ in between.   For some, removing the wall after its demise, was essential to remove the painful reminder of a sad past.  Others argued that parts of the wall be left intact in remembrance of the historic events and perhaps as a stark reminder to us all of how fragile peace can be.  The Berlin Wall is still very visible in parts of the city – as too is the double cobbled strip with brass Berliner Mauer markers that you will find if you keep looking down to the ground across Berlin.  Experience the Wall for yourself at Berlin Wall Memorial, Mauerpark, a small section near Checkpoint Charlie and most prominently at the East Side Gallery.

    East Side Gallery

    One of my favourite sites in Berlin is the East Side Gallery.  If like me you are walking around Berlin, you might find its location a bit of a trek from the famous Checkpoint Charlie, Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.  Despite the walk, it is SO worth a visit.  On one side of this 1.3m long stretch of wall, you will find the familiar graffiti that really is everywhere in Berlin. But the other side of the Wall is remarkable. 118 artists from 21 countries were commissioned to paint murals that would become the longest open-air gallery in the world.

    East Side Gallery
    Tunnel 29
    Underground Berlin

    Between 1961 and 1989 thousands of East Germans risked crossing the border to get to the West.    Before August 1961, up to 1700 people daily, were leaving through Berlin.  The German Democratic Republic officials decided to close the border to stop the drain.  Escapes became a focus of those determined to seek out a life in the West.  Tunnels were popular between 1962- 1964, with serious planning involved to consider reinforcements, lighting and ventilation.  Berliner Unterwelten offers a unique underground tour where you will learn more about the tunnels, underground Berlin and experience both first-hand.

    Eating around Berlin

    There are some absolute classic dishes to try in Berlin.  A Currywurst from Curry 36 is a must – although maybe once will be enough. Flammekueche with its toppings of creme fraiche, onions and lardons is a delicious lunch.  Then there are the popular Turkish and Syrian dishes which you will find all over the city, including a Shwarma or the hummus/baba ganoush style Mutabal dish.  For drinks try a Fritz Cola, Berliner Weisse Cocktail or a Radler for a refreshing lemony beer drink.  Authentic German cuisine is served at the Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. It’s got a great atmosphere and a delicious menu from Wiener Schnitzel to the crispy knuckle of pork (be warned that it’s big enough for 2!).  

    Flammekeuche

    Book ahead for a bonus glass dome tour

    Unlike the roughly €25 trip up the Berlin TV Tower,  you can enjoy panoramic views from the Reichstag glass dome for FREE.  Go online well in advance of your trip (bookings were being taken for 2 weeks time when I checked).  Alternatively, you can visit the ticket booth situated to the side of the Reichstag, and make a reservation if spaces are available, for the same day or later in your trip.  PLEASE remember to take ID for all of your party as you cannot book in person without it. Book in advance here  – Reichstag Building and Dome Tour

    A great way to make the most of Berlin is to understand some of its history before you visit.  My favourite way to research a city is by listening to podcasts. With a podcast, I can search for episodes, download them and then listen when I’m driving. If I’ve got time I’ll try and get my hands on a few books before I go too.  I have to admit that I didn’t finish the Checkpoint Charlie book before my visit.  But honestly – it felt pretty great to be sitting in a cafe directly opposite the actual border crossing that I was reading about!

    Research Berlin to make the most of Berlin

    My top tips to read and listen to before you go:

    • Book – Tunnel 29 – Helena Merriman
    • Book – Checkpoint Charlie – Iain MacGregor
    • Podcast – BBC – Tunnel 29 (10 episodes)
    • Podcast – The Rest Is History – No. 83 The Berlin Wall
    • Podcast – Short History – Season 2, E29 – The Berlin Wall
    • Podcast – History HIT – Escaping the Berlin Wall
    Touch the wall

    One of the most culturally diverse European cities, you’ll notice and appreciate German and international influences on what you see, taste and enjoy.  Berlin will educate you and make you reflect on the past. What it lacks in romance, it makes up for in history, diversity and culture.  Enjoy making the most of Berlin.

    Enjoy Croyde – Devon

    Enjoy Croyde – Devon

    Enjoy Croyde – Devon

    Enjoy Croyde – Devon. Here’s what to do, see, explore and eat!

    Have you ever loved somewhere so much that in all honesty, you aren’t sure you want to tell anyone about it? Well, that’s how I feel about Croyde!  This little gem is in North Devon and is an idyllic surf village that still offers old-world charm. There’s a stunning beach, fantastic hikes, surf schools and some lovely local shops. Accommodation is varied with something to suit everyone and did I mention the most amazing places to eat! 

    The ideal family holiday resort and surf location

    Croyde is known as Devon’s surfing capital and rightly so.  It offers a stunning sweep of golden sands with wonderful coastal walks. Nearby Braunton, Woolacombe and Ilfracombe mean you will have endless day-out options too.

    Croyde, North Devon, England Facts

    Croyde, North Devon, England

    Parking available at the National Trust Car Park EX33 1PA

    No dogs on the beach May - Sept but plenty of dog friendly walks!

    Surf’s up

    Croyde has a large sweep of golden sands which makes it perfect for families and surfers alike.  It’s fantastic for beginners as well as the keen surfers.  There are plenty of places to hire surfboards or to book lessons – you won’t miss The Little Pink Shop on your drive or walk in.  Surf at Croyde, and you’ll be making history as you enjoy time on the 18 miles of coast that is the UK’s first World Surfing Reserve.

    Little Pink Shop Croyde

    For Serious Surfers – here’s what the surf report website Surfline has to say about Croyde!

    One of the UK’s most popular surf destinations, this is a high-quality, hollow, peaky beachbreak, hemmed in by Downend Point to the south and Baggy Point to the north. The currents and swells conspire to produce heavy, low-tide barrels and excellent waves as the tide pushes in. The average surf here tends to be a bit smaller than in Cornwall, but six-foot Croyde can offer board-breakingly good Hossegor-like conditions. Gets crazy busy in small summer waves.

    Biffens Kitchen Croyde
    Where to eat

    My number one recommendation for eating in Croyde is Biffen’s Kitchen at the Ocean Pitch campsite. Biff offers a variety of surf destination cuisines made with locally sourced produce and cooked fresh.  Breakfast and dinner are offered from early April to the end of September. For me, it’s all the added extras on your dish that make Biffen’s Kitchen so special – asian slaw, togarashi edamame, pinkled onions  – even corn dust!

    For something more traditional – how about a cream tea at the Sandleigh National Trust Cafe. Set in an allotment, it’s a perfect stop off at the end of a walk to the National Trust’s Baggy Point.

    Where to stay?

    There really is something for everyone in Croyde.  If you have a tent or campervan then Ocean Pitch Campsite​ should be your first choice.  Benny and the team are super friendly and welcoming and there’s a relaxed and happy surf vibe.  The facilities are amazingly set up for beach lovers or surfers with great facilities including all you need to wash up your pots and pans or your wetsuits! With Biffens Kitchen on-site, it’s our favourite surf campsite – but be warned – it books up quickly!  For a luxurious cottage getaway – try Ocean Cottages ​ They have a fantastic array of places to stay in and around Croyde.

    Ocean Pitch Croyde
    Baggy Point Croyde
    Wonderful walks

    Baggy Point is an impressive rocky headland with dramatic cliffs and fantastic views towards Lundy Island.  Park up at the National Trust Car Park and follow the easy access path along one of the circular walks.

    Following the South West Coast Path is another great option. The path is England’s longest waymarked long-distance footpath and stretches for 630 miles. Take a walk over to Woolacombe, or up past Saunton and along the estuary into Braunton.

     

    Bucket list hike

    With a little extra effort, you can take on the highest sea cliff in England and the highest point on the South West Coast Path – Great Hangman!  Although the top of Great Hangman isn’t particularly notable – the stunning walks up the summit are really worth the climb. I took two Stagecoach buses from Croyde to Braunton and then onto Ilfracombe to start my hike.  My finishing point was Combe Martin – a small seaside resort in a sheltered cove, where Exmoor meets the sea.

    Great Hangman
    Museum of British Surfing
    Surf Education

    Over in Braunton, you’ll find the charming Museum of British Surfing  Started in 2003 with donations from the family of Britain’s first professional surfer, it has staged touring exhibitions at museums all over the UK. It’s believed to be the largest and most comprehensive collection of surfboards and related memorabilia in Europe.   I really loved their new exhibition for 2023 – The Women of British Surfing – a fantastic exhibition to get women and girls of all ages fired up about surfing!  Run by volunteers and with a bargain entry fee of only £2 – what’s not to love!

    Getting crafty

    Want a break from surfing and hikes? Then take it easy at the Croyde Craft Market in the middle of the village open most Thursdays and Bank Holidays – you can find them on Facebook too.  You’ll find perfect surf-inspired decor for your home, wearables, beautiful hand-crafted jewellery and some yummy treats to take away.

    Craft Fair Croyde
    Surf at Croyde
    All inclusive Croyde

    England’s first official surfing centre specifically for people with disabilities, opened in Croyde this year.   The ‘Adaptive Surfing Hub’ enables users to engage with surfing through modified equipment allowing them greater independence, comfort and confidence.  What an inspiring way of ensuring more people can access all that the ocean has to offer!

    Enjoy Croyde Devon

    So there you have it – all there is to love about Croyde!  Think of me when you go and enjoy this lovely little spot.  After all, it’s good to share.

     

    Mount Sinai Egypt

    Mount Sinai Egypt

    Mount Sinai Egypt

    Mount Sinai Egypt – A complete hiking guide to climbing this majestic mountain- in the dark!

    Climbing this epic mountain is a bucket list item. Not only is it considered to be one of the most religiously significant Middle East Peaks, but it’s also a jaw-dropping place to watch the sunrise. Also known as Jabal Musa or the Holy Moses Mountain, it is believed that this is where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

    Where is Mount Sinai?

    The Sinai Mountains are in South Sinai about 31 miles from the Red Sea.  You can take organised trips from Red Sea resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh or Dahab to reach the mountain base in time for an overnight climb. Mount Sinai is the second-highest mountain in Egypt at 2285 meters.

    Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s Monastery Facts

    Mount Sinai, Egypt - Elevation 2285m (7497 ft)

    Epic hike - Sunrise and Sunset view points

    Climb Mt Sinai 7 days a week - with an official guide only

    Total elevation gain on the hike 700m (2296 ft)

    St Catherine's Monastery - Open Saturdays & Mon-Thursdays 9am - 11.30am

    Monastery is closed on Egyptian Holidays and Feastdays

    Reaching the mountain – things you need to know!

    Firstly, your home country’s Foreign Office advice for travel to South Sinai may change. When we travelled in April 23, The UK Foreign Office considered it safe to travel in South Sinai but not to North Sinai. Also, check if you need an Egyptian Visa for the trek.  If you are staying within South Sinai then your South Sinai Stamp will be fine, but travelling from other Egyptian locations will require a Visa. It’s essential to have a local guide to climb Mount Sinai, so an organised trek is advisable.  Travel to the mountain base will also usually require a police escort (they didn’t tell me that when I booked!). The escort travels at set time slots, so again travelling with an official group makes this stress free – albeit not your usual way to start an excursion!

    Mount Sinai
    Bedouin cafe overnight hike
    An overnight hike

    It’s a little strange arriving for a mountain trek at 2am. The thorough military screening of us and our hiking kit was also a little unique for a trek.  However, the initial path from our drop off point past St Catherine’s Monastery was well lit and paved….until it wasn’t!  Make sure you have a head torch (although our guide did give out small torches between us).  Also consider that although you are in the desert, the mountain night time temperatures can get very cold.

    How long is the trek and what is it like ?

    The 7km ‘Camel Route’ climb up can take 2- 4 hours depending on your fitness and also the speed of the group you are travelling with. Slow and steady wins the race on this trek. Following a guide makes it easy to stick to the path, however it’s rocky terrain and you need very solid footwear. There are several Bedouin cafes on the way up that offer hot drinks, water and snacks.  Surprisingly you can also find a few ‘toilets’ – but I use that term loosely!

    In previous years – 2 routes to the summit were offered.  However, due to frequent trekker accidents, the steeper, Steps of Repentance route is now closed and you have to take the Camel path instead. (A few of our fellow trekkers were disappointed to find this out as some guide books and websites tell you otherwise).

    Make the most of the darkness

    One of the amazing experiences on this overnight hike was the opportunity to appreciate the vast and dark desert sky.  The stars and Milky Way seemed unbelievably huge, bright and like nothing I’d experienced before.  At one point it even felt that we were looking down on a large crescent orange moon.  

    Night desert sky
    Camel at Mount Sinai
    Camel options

    From the base at the Monastery, we were passed by camels and their owners offering us an ‘easy ride’ up the mountain.  I tried not to take offence that maybe they didn’t think I looked the ‘Trek a Mountain’ type!  Two of our party did choose the camel option. Be warned, the camel can’t take you the last 750 steps so you do need to be fit enough for the final ascent. And have you ever ridden a camel? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t use the word comfort and camel in the same sentence!

    750 steps

    As the camel route came to an end, a final staircase of 750 steps appeared to take us to the summit.  It’s steep and relentless – but it was already getting a little lighter which motivated us to keep our legs pumping.

    750 steps Mount Sinai
    Sunrise Mount Sinai
    Sunrise

    We arrived at the mountain top just before 5am, and after buying some coffee and snacks, we found our perfect sunrise spot and settled in.  There were mattresses and warm blankets for hire, although we were lucky to have a cool but not cold night.  Sunrise was unbelievably moving.  The jolt of light bathed the rock formations in warm colours and sunlight moved the shadows at a visible pace. For me, the westerly view was equally stunning, as the warm Sinai mountain range faded layer by layer into the distance.  Time flew too quickly that morning, and with photos taken and hearts filled with gratitude for a magical family adventure, it was time to descend.

    Down isn’t always easy

    The route back down felt like an entirely separate trip – the ability to see both the path and the views being the main change!  It also only took about half the time to descend, and there was less pressure to keep together as a group. But don’t be fooled, as down isn’t always easy! The more graveled sections can give way under foot and I was grateful for my trekking poles to stop me from slipping.

    Camel at Mount Sinai
    Saint Catherine's Monastery courtyard
    St Catherine’s and home…

    Wandering into St Catherine’s Monastery at the end of a trek was like walking into a desert oasis.  A shady, calm courtyard and a small cafe/shop were a welcome pit stop! On some days you can take a guided tour of this UNESCO world Heritage site.  From here we strolled back to our minibus, ready for a sleep on the 3 hour return trip to our hotel.  Tired but totally elated by a magical mountain sunrise experience.

    Saint Catherine’s Monastery Facts

    This monastery was built by Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th-century and is said to house the Biblical Burning Bush.  It is also the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few highlights are the Church of the Transfiguration, The Sacred Sacristy museum, and the 11th-century Monastery Mosque. There is a shady courtyard, somewhere to buy snacks and some much nicer toilets. Here’s a link to the Monastery website where you can check opening days and times – St Catherine’s Monastery

    It is possible to climb Mount Sinai to watch sunset instead of sunrise.  High daytime temperatures would make the trek up less pleasant but it’s possible to arrange if you don’t want to miss a night of sleep.   

    I’ve put together a small kit list to make the adventure a bit more comfortable!

    Packing list for an overnight hike:

    • Walking boots or shoes
    • Warm clothes – especially in the Winter months
    • Headtorch
    • Phone / Camera
    • Sunscreen & Sunglasses for the descent
    • Water (bring your own but you can buy water and hot drinks en route)
    • Snacks (some are on offer en route)
    • Toilet paper (there is a toilet hole but no paper)
    • Trekking poles (optional)
    • Small change if you would like to tip your guide and the local Bedouin children (you can only buy Egyptian currency once you arrive in Egypt).
    Tori at Mount Sinai

    This was the first overnight or mountain trek I’d undertaken with my family – and I am so glad we gave up a night of our holiday for this adventure.  From start to finish, the whole trek was really unique and watching the sunrise from the top of this majestic and significant mountain top was truly unforgettable.  

     

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