Monday, 30 April 2012

Milan Adventure - Part 1 - Travelling to and around Milan

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"Would you like to review our new route to Milan?", asked Monarch and Gatwick Airport.

Why yes. Yes I would!

My journey begin from Birmingham and I took the train to Gatwick Airport (with a change a Reading).

When you arrive at Gatwick Airport by train you are already right at the heart of the airport and it's simply a ride on an escalator (or take the lift or stairs) and there you are. Ta da! It's very hard to get lost at the airport as everywhere is so clearly signposted.

Due to a bright and early 7.30am flight, and a *gulp* 5.30am check in, I was booked into the Gatwick Hilton Hotel for the night. It's only a few minutes walk from the main terminal.

Approaching the Gatwick Hilton Hotel Entrance

Although the walkway leading up to the entrance of the hotel looks a bit bare, as soon as I stepped inside I was hit by excitement! I hadn't stayed in a Hilton before and I couldn't wait to see what was on offer.

The check-in was really friendly and professional and the duty manager even came over to greet me. I was given the key to my Executive Room on the fourth floor.

I made a little video of a tour of my room.

I found an envelope was waiting for me with a Premium Gatwick sticker, so I could go through Premium Lane security check.

Not only that, these gorgeous chocolate strawberries were waiting for me, along with half bottle of red wine!

I was almost tempted to just chill out in my room with my strawberries and wine, but I had been told that the Executive Lounge would be open until 9pm for complimentary drinks & food! That was very tempting too.....

First things first though. I was super organised and left everything I needed ready for the early morning start as I knew I wouldn't have time to dilly dally about.

Then it was time to find the Executive Lounge.

It was quite busy in there with a mix if solo people, like me, some working away on laptops and there were groups of travellers making the most of the drinks and food on offer. I sought out the bar and enjoyed a Southern Comfort (okay, maybe 2)!

I forgot the rule - ice first!

Whilst I was in the Executive Lounge I got a tweet from @gatwick_airport I'm curious. How good can the Ladies toilets be?!

Actually, pretty damned good! 

Wall of Mirrors

Lots of room. Nice glass doors. 
The best bit for me? Each cubicle has it own sink, hand dryer and mirror!

Every public toilet should be like this!

And they were nice and roomy too. Great for travellers with suitcases, plus people often like to change at airports so this was a perfect place to prepare for a flight.

Then it was time to venture further into the terminal for a late supper. I found a Weatherspoons pub called The Beehive. 

I got a friendly welcome there and enjoyed a warm chicken and bacon salad. 

The evening was going too quickly. I really had to think about getting to bed. I normally get off to sleep straight away but it took me a little while as I was just so excited about my weekend in Milan! 

A cacophony of alarms woke me and I had just about enough time to grab myself a quick breakfast at the hotel before I checked in for my flight. There was soooo much choice! I wanted to sample everything on offer

A quick check in with Monarch and no queue...

...and then it was through security via Gatwick Premium; by invitation only! That's what I like! ;) 

I whizzed through the security check and had just enough time to have a very speedy browse of Gatwick's World Of Duty Free and managed to fall in love with almost all of Kurt Geiger's shoes. 

I'll take the red, silver and black please!
Before I got carried away in all the shops, my Monarch flight was called. 

Everyone got a warm welcome from Sharon and Natalie as we boarded our Monarch flight. 

I got comfy in the roomy seat in Row C (lots of legroom too!) and by the time I had read Monarch's magazine...

....had my tasty (second!) breakfast (£7.99)...

...our pilot told us all to look out of the window as we were going over the Alps. Stunning!! 

The 90 minute flight went so quickly! 

Getting to Milan from Malpensa Airport

I had done a bit of research before I jetted off so I had a good idea of how to get to the city centre. 

Here's a few tips!

You can catch a public bus, the Shuttle Bus, or the train, all of which will taken you to Central Station, Milan's main transport hub. 

Or of course you can catch a taxi (they are white cars). 

If you catch the train, get your ticket before boarding as it works out cheaper. 

I opted for the Shuttle Bus. 

The buses leave from Exit 4 of the airports terminal for International flights. As soon as you step out of the terminal you will see the Shuttle Bus stop just to the left and the Public Transport Bus to the right. 

There were queues for both buses, but because there was a 20 minute wait for the public bus I chose the Shuttle Bus as one bus was pulling up after the other. 

This is the Malpensa Airport Shuttle Bus outside Central Station, Milan
It costs €10 one way and is a comfortable coach. 

I'd say allow 90 minutes travel time to get from the airport to Central Station as it stops twice along the way. However it only took 60 minutes from Milan to the airport as it didn't stop. Either way, just relax and enjoy the journey! 

Central Station is a sight to behold! If you have the time take the chance to have a look around and take some photographs of the stunning architecture. 

Central Station Milan

There is a Tourist Help Point were on the train platform area. 

Tourist Information Box at Central Station

Unfortunately I can't recommend somewhere for you to stay in Milan. However, I can tell you where not to stay - Hotel Gonzaga on Via Vitruvio. I'm not even going to link to it. It was the worst hotel I've stayed in. It was filthy and smelled awful and was overall a horrible experience. At the very minimum it was a roof over my head, and was only one step away from sleeping on the streets. At least that's what it felt to me whilst I was there. I advise you to give this hotel a very wide berth.

Still! I don't want to taint my lovely blog with negativity, so let's move on!

I was in Milan after all and I still had a whole afternoon in front of my to explore the city!

Milan City Centre Map

Got my shades! I'm all set :)
Getting around Milan

Walk! The city is just the right size for walking. From the Central Station to the city centre is about 25-30 minute walk, and there is the Bus, Metro and Tram too. Milan has a fantastic public transport system. 

On my first afternoon I walked in and out of the city centre. I only got a teeny bit lost, but it was quite easy to get myself back on track again. 

On day two I bought a 24 hour ticket for €4.50. 

You can also get a 48 hour ticket for about €8.50. They are available from most newsagents and the news kiosks that you see dotted around the city streets. They are valid from the time you first use them, not the time you buy them, so you can buy your tickets in advance even if you are not going to use them for a day or two, and they can be used on the bus, tram and metro for journeys up to 90 minutes at a time. 

Or you can pay as you go of course. A single ticket on the metro costs €1.50. 

On day two I decided to save some time and catch the Metro around all my destinations. 

The Metros are really wide and spacious

Waiting for the Metro...
I had a lot to pack in and a busy Must-See list. The Metro is easy to navigate and there are 3 lines that run around and in the city which are colour coded red, yellow and green. I caught 5 metros on day two saved money over buying single tickets and it saved time and effort buying tickets one buy one.

Coming up next week in Part 2 - Things to do in Milan! :) 

You can catch all my tweets, photos and videos of my Milan adventure in my Storify!

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The best spicy butternut squash soup recipe in the world!

I've been keeping this recipe to myself for some time now. It's too good to share!

But in a moment of generosity, I now present you with the recipe for...



This recipe will make 3 large bowls or soup, or 5 smaller bowls. 

You will need:

  • 1/2 butternut squash, deseeded, peeled and chopped into chunky sizes. (tip: this type of peeler is great and produces very little waste
  • 2 medium onions, or 1 large onion, peel and chop roughly
  • 2/3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 stock cube, chicken or vegetable
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of thyme, sage, coriander, paprika, chilli powder and cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of oil

  • Heat the oil in your soup pan of choice.
  • Add the onion and cook slowly until soft
  • Add the garlic and spices and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes
  • Add the chunks of butternut squash
  • Add enough water to just cover the ingredients and throw in the stock cube. 

Turn the heat up and cook for 20/30 mins. Then whizz it altogether! Or keep it chunky. 

Ta daaaa!!

You're welcome, and enjoy! ;)

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Monday, 16 April 2012

My Welsh holiday with my best friend - Part 2

Where was I....?!

I'm having to cast my memory back a bit now as my lovely holiday cottage break with my best friend is now about 3 weeks ago!

Luckily I have lots of photos to help jog my memory.

Did you read part 1? 

I ended that post by hinting that I was going to be in for a big scare! And I still shudder when I think of it now.

I'll try and cut a long story short here...

I stayed in the bedroom that is on the top left of this picture.

For two mornings in a row I was woken at 7.25am by the bed shaking!!!

The first morning it happened, it woke me up, but I stayed in a sleepy state and didn't pay much heed to it (surprisingly) and managed to get back to sleep.

The next morning when it woke me, I kind of went through this thought process (with my eyes still closed) the bed shaking? Yep Faith (who was sleeping in the other bedroom) trying to wake me up? But she would just say my name and maybe tap my shoulder.
Yes, it definitely shaking
Am I awake? Yes you are awake.
Okay, this is weird, and now I remember, it happened yesterday too!
OMG, the duvet is moving!!!!!

And I could feel the duvet being pulled off.


And I leaped out of bed and ran into Faith's room.

I scared Faith because of my scream and panic! And I was scared because I had no idea what had just happened. It was so strange.

If you can explain it, please do! Someone said it was a little earthquake, but I have dismissed that because (though I'm not expert) I would have thought the chances of an earthquake happening at 7.25am two mornings in a row would be quite slim. Plus, Faith didn't feel it in her room. Plus, the duvet moved.

Luckily Faith's bedroom had two beds, because there was no way I was going to sleep in that bedroom again!

The rest of the holiday wasn't as scary though and one day we book ourselves in for horse riding at Gwydyr Riding & Trekking Stables. I couldn't remember if I had been horse riding before and presumed that because I couldn't remember, I mustn't have done. Faith, having tons of experience, wanted to do a half day. I, being pretty sure I had no experience, opted for just half an hour.

Getting to the stables was an adventure in itself, though the scenery was lovely!

There was actually a better road to get there on. We just didn't know about it.

Being a city mouse it does sometimes make me wonder how people can live so far away from amenities. What a trek just to get a loaf of bread. Mind you, we saw a Tesco delivery van a few minutes after I took this photo.

We were right in the sticks. 

When we reached the stables, there was a mobile farrier putting new shoes on all the horses. 

I was able to make this little video.

I had a horse called Paddy. Apparently he was naughty as a teenager, but I think he still has a cheeky streak in him now.

He wouldn't do as he was told or pay any attention to my instructions, such as STOP! At one point he picked up speed (just walked a little faster than a stroll) and I thought I was going to fall off!

It was just me being new to the experience, and there was really nothing to worry about. Faith and I had an instructor each, and when Paddy did a runner, the instructors managed to block his route and get him back on track.

They say a horse can sense someone new to horse riding and  they use that as an excuse to do as they want!

All in all I stayed on Paddy for an hour, and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, and I would try it again at some point if the opportunity arose, but I wouldn't say I've gone crazy about it and now want my own horse.

That's me! On a horse! 

Whilst Faith stayed out on her horse, I pottered around the farm and stables with my camera. A bit of a excitement happened when a horse tried to break out! She ran herself into a dead end though so was easily caught.

Oh, and I got to hold a little lamb!! 

The day was full of new experiences; horse riding, lamb holding...... It's wool was soooo soft, but it's little legs were quite hard and angular and his little hooves poked into me, so not as comfortable for either of us as it could have been ha. 

Aww, this was such a lovely little dog. I can't remember her name, but she picked up a little stick for me to throw for her. As I picked it up, one of the girls in the stable told me not to throw the stick too far, so I threw it about 2 metres, if that.

The little doggy ran to pick up the stick, then fell over and had an epileptic fit! The poor wee thing. And I felt awful, as if I caused it. Apparently she has a condition and it happens. Less than a minute later she was back on her feet and wagging her tail as if nothing had happened.

It was such a beautiful sunny day and I really enjoyed all the animals and the quietness. It was quite a novelty! 

We stayed out for something to eat before coming home to our little cottage. 

On the first night or two at the cottage, Faith lit the log fire. Even though the days had been so sunny and hot, the cottage was really cold inside! 

I'm sure she will agree with me when I say...they were adequate fires.

BUT look at MY FIRES!!! 

The fire lighting skills I learnt as a child in Ireland came back to me! We always had a fire where ever we lived in Ireland. 

I make a damned good fire! 

Actually, I was a little worried that I was going to set the chimney on fire (as I did once in one of our houses  *ahem*). 

On the day before I was due to go home we went for a trip to the seaside resort of Llandudno. 

We had been so lucky with the weather in Wales and this day was so warm and bright. Perfect!

We walked right down to the end of the pier, grabbed a drink from a cafe, and sat outside for hours and hours and put the world to rights.

Whilst we chatted away, we made a 5 Year Life Plan on a napkin; what we wanted to achieve, how were were going to do it and how long those achievements would take. 

I did write a little bit more on my 5 Year Life Plan napkin ;) 

My last day in Wales was on Faith's birthday, and her boyfriend arrived to stay for the rest of the week. 

Faith got tons of lovely presents (mine were the best of course!) and my Step Dad gave her an absolutely beautiful tea set (which I think rightly should have formed part of my inheritance haha), from Kure in Japan. Roger, aka Steps, bought it when he was serving overseas in the Army. When you hold the cups up to the light, a face appears. 

A Birthday Card Tree! 

As always, I was very sad to say goodbye to my best friend. We had such a fantastic time, and really enjoyed some quality best friend time! And I survived being offline and not having a phone signal. 

In fact, weeks later, I'm still feeling the benefit of the break and it really re-charged my batteries. 

As for renting a holiday cottage, I would definitely do it again! 

And I'm off for a mini break this weekend. I am off to have in Italian adventure in Milan! 

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