Europe UK

Sheffield in 24 A Travel bloggers guide to the City

 

Sheffield in 24

An action packed city adventure

 

Guide book to Sheffield

Despite having visited Sheffield twice before in the past it took an invitation from the Mercure “St Pauls Hotel and Spa” for me to truly discover what this oft overlooked UK city has to offer.

I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of travel and lifestyle bloggers to be invited for an action packed 24 hour city visit.

St Pauls Hotel and Spa, being Sheffield’s only 4 * Hotel, is the perfect spot to stay, being centrally located, and as if that wasn’t enough, it also boasts doors leading directly onto the fabulous Tropical Winter Gardens. Having stayed at the Mercure in the past I arrived early, check in is 2pm, in order to take full advantage of the hotels Spa and Pool, free to use for hotel guests, it also offers a range of therapies and massages at an additional cost. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the spa area has had a makeover, with both the steam sauna and dry sauna benefiting from a complete overhaul, this is the perfect way to unwind before heading out for the evening.

Town Hall Clock Tower

Helter Skelter Town Hall Gardens Sheffield

For anyone on a first time visit to Sheffield the Winter Garden is a must visit place, open to the public its full of pop up shops, cafes and a museum. It also offers seating areas in amongst the lush tropical planting where locals come to have their lunch, or to just sit awhile and relax. I was also reliably informed it is used as the location by TV crews carrying out interviews of snooker starts competing at the world famous Crucible theatre, again just a stone’s throw from the Mercure and visible from the gardens.

Winter Gardens

Winter Garden Cafe with view to the famous Crucible theatre.

Top Tip: Of course if you stay at the Mercure it’s on your doorstep!

We enjoyed a fabulous pre dinner drinks reception at the hotel where we got to sample a number of bespoke local gins, gin seems to be very much the drink of the moment, and these local distills didn’t disappoint. This was followed by a very good 3 course meal, but what really made the evening special was meeting fellow bloggers, Tracy from “The Naughty Forties Diaries Blog” @naughty_forties accompanied by her wonderful friend Sue, who spends most of her life moving from one fabulous house to another all over the UK in the name of house sitting, think I’m in the wrong job. Also met the wonderful Asma of @jetsetchick fame, accompanied by her wonderful husband Mo. All in all we had a blast and made some great new friends along the way!

Breakfast the next morning is served in the hotel restaurant, which, benefiting from a view directly onto the winter garden, you could almost believe you were in the tropics. The Saturday morning we were there would have proved a real treat for football fans, as the entire QPR first division team were staying at the hotel and all in the restaurant having breakfast. Must admit though, I thought they were cricket team until Tracey set me straight, no pun intended.

Following a leisurely breakfast we headed into the winter garden for a quick wander, before heading off on a Hotel arranged guided tour of the city center. Although the tour was led by the charismatic and dapper, in grey long coat, hotel concierge Philip, Tracey and Sue, being locals, proved an invaluable source of information on Sheffield’s history, both past and present. In fact, they proved so knowledgeable I would encourage The Mercure Sheffield to employ them to give any future planned tours of this vibrant and dynamic city.

Street busker

Contemporary stained glass and timber dome Sheffield Cathedral. At over a thousand years old the Cathedral is steeped in history and another must visit place.

The Frog & Parrot is an independent pub and micro brewery with eclectic interiors. It has an inset glass floor with views to the brewery below, Sue told me that!

The Frog & The Parrot

and Vintage shopping aplenty

In fact some of the streets reminded me of San Francisco with their quirky boutique shops and local craft brewery bars. Sheffield also has a hill or two, in common with SFO. They also have thing about elephants.

Be sure to ask about the elephants??

MoonKo is a great choice for those seeking bespoke and quirky gifts

 

Not forgetting a little bit of history , of which there is plenty. Love these wrought iron gates Sheffield City Hall.

Women of Steel statue next to the town hall marks and celebrates the women of Sheffield’s remarkable contribution to the war efforts during both world wars.

Or if you just fancy a some food and a coffee you will be spoiled for choice with lots of independent coffee shops and cafes.

Or how about an historical hair cut in this place, open since 1907 and still going strong?

If this visit achieved anything for me it was the happy realisation that I really need  to arrange a return visit, and a longer stay. There is just too much to see and do, too much even for an action packed flying visit. When I do, I know where I’m staying !

After a whistle stop tour of the city it was time to head back to The Mercure Hotel for a wonderful afternoon tea, yum!

How can you tell this is a table of bloggers? Well most all are glued to their phones Lol

A mountain of delicacies.

How could anyone resist such colorful temptations??

 

Sheffield may be many things, Vulgar its not. Quirky Shop Sign.

If you are looking for a city break, as UK destinations go I can heartily recommend Sheffield as deserving of your Stay Local City break.

Getting There

By Train

We took the train from Manchester Piccadilly links for timetable and tickets click this link

By car

Use the hotel specified NCP carpark for a hefty  discount on the list price 24 hour parking.

 

Staying There

Mercure St Pauls Hotel & Spa click this link for info and reservations

 

Great Blogs you should read and follow

To read Oliver’s blog click this link

 

To read Tracey’s Blog click this link

 

To read Asma’s Blog click this link

 

#StayLocal #Staycation #Sheffield

Asia Cambodia

Leaving Phnom Penh, Travel bloggers tips and tales

Leaving Phnom Penh For Sihanoukville

Having left it too late to buy a ticket for the Giant Ibis bus to Sihanoukville the hotel we stayed at recommended another bus company which they claimed is just as good, and, as it costs the same I take the bait, buy the tickets, how wrong can you be. We ended up with tickets on Vet bus run by Virak-Buntham Express Travel & Tour. Like most bus companies in Cambodia they collect you from your hotel about an hour before scheduled departure time. The pickup van, a dilapidated and rusting wreck, from the hotel told me this was going to be an interesting experience come what may. Whilst the actual minivan bus turned out not to be too bad what no one could prepare you for was the insane driver to match the general level of insane driving that is Cambodian road travel. And yes, I have lived to tell the tale, but I reckon the stress of the journey may well knock a couple of years off my life expectancy.  To give you some idea of the speed we went at we managed to pass the Giant Ibis bus plying the same route, but which had left Phnom Pen and hour before our departure time. In reality we had little choice as we had a hotel reservation in Sihanoukville and a well-planned itinerary. The next bus journey to Kampot turned out to be equally as hair raising, although mercifully half the distance. In a word never again!!

Sihanoukville

Otres Beach Sihanoukville

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Asia Cambodia

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Both of these places are the main draws for travelers to Phnom Penh and visited on the same day by most as a combined package. It makes for a somber, sober and saddening day, planting memories of images and scenes that are likely to stay with you and last a lifetime. No bad thing, although we did witness some disrespectful idiots taking selfies in an around the Stupa that houses the skulls of the dead. Whilst another group of young adult Australians I witnessed were loud and behaved as if they were visiting a theme park. At the risk of sounding, or being, preachy visitors should show their respect for all who died in these dreadful places by observing an air of solemn calm and quiet reflection.

The Entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

The Killing Fields, once the site of an orchard, memorialises and symbolises the final expressions of barbarity of the Khmer Rouge,  the final resting place for the murdered, located about 17 Kilometres outside Phnom Penh most arrive here by Tuk Tuk.

The Memorial Stupa. This Stupa houses the skulls of many of the victims found buried around the site now known as the Killing Fields. Depressions in the ground are the sites of excavated mass graves.

It is estimated that from a population of some 8 million people about a quarter were either murdered or starved to death during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. For me, although witness of the remains of the mass graves is an awful reality, the most harrowing and difficult to comprehend aspect of the place is the Killing Tree that was used to kill babies and children in the most horrific fashion by bashing their skulls against it. I cried a lot this day and in the end despaired for us as a race when my thoughts turned to current day events taking place in Syria at the behest of another couple of murderous dictators, Assad and Putin. For the sad truth is, humanity it seems will never learn.

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Europe UK

North Wales Off The Beaten Track

Day Tripping North Wales, Walking in Sunshine, Almost!

With the first weekend of proper blue sky sunshine upon us and a bit of heat in the air to accompany, thoughts turn to getting out of the city, even if just for a day and heading into the countryside.

Living in Manchester we are lucky enough to have a host of easy to reach destinations whether traveling north, south, east or west. That said, it is never a difficult one you make in choosing Wales, one of my favorite places on the planet. It doesn’t matter how far or wide I travel this globe of ours I never tire of trips to Wales, where even a familiar landscape causes me to smile as the light shows it in a subtle different and ever changing fresh perspective.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh Cambodia in Words & Pictures

Monument to the late King Norodom Sihanouk with independence monument in background

I first visited Phnom Penh about 4 years ago and was struck this visit by the rate of change and the speed of development taking place in this city on the move.  This is fast turning in to and exciting vibrant and great city to visit in South East Asia. No longer just a stopping post for visiting the Killing Fields and S21 but is fast becoming a destination city in itself.

 

Memorial statue and monument to the Vietnamese army for their part in driving the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh

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Asia Cambodia

Kompung Khleang, Angkor Province, Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Off the Beaten Track in Angkor, Cambodia.

This blog post focuses on my return visit to the community of Kompung Khleang, Angkor province, Cambodia. This is a village largely centered on and living off the Tonle Sap Lake and river that feeds into it. It is not a pretty, or sanitised tourist place, but rather, offers a glimpse into the reality of life for most of Cambodia’s population i.e. poor. This was my second visit and I am once again struck by the warmth and open generosity of the people who live and work along its shores. It is also a place that few who marvel at the many sights or Angkor and Angkor Wat will see, as it lies off the beaten track and has not suffered a tourist makeover. But for those who have a genuine interest in how the majority of Cambodians live and survive in this part of the country it is a good starting point. From a personal perspective I cannot imagine visiting any country, and particularly one steeped in such a profoundly  creative and important history, and not be interested in the inhabitants, who are after all the ancestors of it creator’s. Behind the laughter smiles and warm welcome lies the cruel truth of a life expectancy of 40 to 45 years due to Dengue fever and Malarial mosquitos. Still the children will rush forth at the mere sight of a stranger using it as an opportunity to share their few words of English “Hello mister, where you from?” They are quick to smile and delighted when asked to gather for a picture. It is also a place full of strong colour form the vibrant blues of the clear sky mirrored in the shades of blue in the house and building and set dramatically by the rusty burnt orange colours of the mud roads. The road eventually terminates in the village square beside a monastery school and boat jetty where we take our river and lake trip out to the vast expanse that is Tonle Sap Lake and the floating villagers who call it home. I cannot imaging visiting Siem Reap or Angkor again in the future and not paying yet another visit to this fascinating place.

 

Stilt House on Tonle Sap River

All houses are built high on stilts as the water level raise dramatically in the rainy season.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travelbloggers Guide to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Travelbloggers guide  and top tips for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor

This was to be my second visit to Siem Reap and the temples and ruins of Angkor. Spread out over an area of some 600 acres amidst the tropical humidity of Cambodia it is at once beguiling and mysterious in its state of semi ruin, a state accentuated by the creeping gripping roots of giant fig trees that have embedded themselves into the stonework and structure of so many of these part ruins. Indeed it is this very otherworldly quality that led Hollywood to use it as the location for large parts of the film Tomb Raider.

To sum up my experience of the return to Angkor In a word magical!!

 

Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot wide moat encompassing a perimeter of more than 3 miles, it is approximately 13 feet deep. This water way adds further to the enchantment of the area as a whole. The trees and roots that add so much drama and structural damage to the remaining temples are those of the Ficus strangulosa tree, a member of the fig family of trees. Although they caused a lot damage to the structure of a  lot of the temples, in some they have become so embedded as to become part of the supporting structure. In  many it is hard to see how they could be removed at this point, without causing further major damage to the remaining element. They also add to the drama and mystery of the area, having become synonymous with the temples and aesthetic of this region throughout the world.

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Asia Thailand

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Chiang Mai Thailand, Top Travel Tips

Chiang Mai, Thailand

A travel bloggers insight guide and recommendations.

There are 6 main reasons that tourists to travel north of Bangkok to the much more relaxed and chilled out city of  Chiang Mai. One: To see the exquisite Buddhist temples, Two:  Because it is a much more relaxed and safer place than Bangkok, Three: As the gateway to jungle trekking into the surrounding mountains, Four: Probably most popular of all, to visit and experience a close up encounter with elephants. Five: For Thai massage and Six: Last but not least, the food!!

I had first visited Chiang Mai in 2014 as the meeting point with a tour guide for a 3 day trek up into the rain-forests of Northern Thailand, a trip that had turned out to be one of the best experiences of my travel adventures. For the few days spent in Chiang Mai on either side of the trekking adventure I had grown to like the laid back and friendly atmosphere of Chiang Mai itself. Based on this the aim of my return was simply to relax and enjoy that laid back atmosphere. Having gone trekking in the past I also wanted to have a close up encounter with elephants, but at a place that have a No ride policy. It is an unfortunate truth that many tourists visiting this part of Thailand do so with the aim of taking part in an Elephant encounter which has led to the rise of many unscrupulous and unethical Elephant farms. I use the term Elephant farm deliberately as they are little more than exploitative and cruel places run by people with little care for elephants, other than how to exploit them.

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Austria Europe

Vienna revisited, a travel bloggers view.

The Long Weekender

Vienna (Wien) Austria

 

Vienna is a city that has held a special place ever since I first visited as an 18 year old. I returned after that first visit a few times between the ages  of 18 and 25, but had not returned since. From that very first visit it struck me as a fairy-tale city, full of romance and joy, enhanced given that it was  December, close to Christmas, the ground covered in a blanket of pure white snow, all adding to that feeling of magic. On one of my visits on a Christmas day I made my way to St. Stephens’s cathedral, more out of curiosity than religious compulsion, and ended up with the very good fortune of hearing the Viennese boys’ choir sing. It still stands out as a profound life memory, along with those memories of the friends I made and times we shared. On one such evening a gang of us all met up (me being the only non-Austrian) in the metro station at Opera before heading off into the snow covered streets, snow ball fighting as we went into the night. The memory of that night and many other remain vivid to my recollection. Indeed, such was the impact of my experiences in Vienna it inspired a short story I wrote shortly after one visit, which was published in a well-known Dublin magazine of the time “In Dublin”

Would I feel differently all these years later I wondered?

View from the plane as we come in to land Vienna.

This time there was no snow to greet me, but then on many of my past visits in younger days the snow had long passed. I am happy to say the city has lost none of its charm and is as wondrous and romantic a place now as it was then.

From a practical point of view  it’s also turned out to be one of the least expensive European cites I have visited, even taking Brexit bashing on my pound into account. This is another city where a city pass is an absolute must, called the Vienna Pass, it offers not only free entry into 60+ attractions in many it also allows you to skip the ques and gain easy access to the attraction, a real boon in peak season As if that wasn’t enough it includes the Hop on Hop off City Tour Bus, again a great was to familiarise yourself with the city and it stunning architectural history. If fact it covers entry to so many places you will be hard pressed to visit them all.

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens Vienna

Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, a place I remembered well from all those years ago.

Tree lined avenue Schonbrunn

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Denmark Europe

Getting down with the Hygge in Copenhagen……..

Copenhagen Dreaming

 

The long weekender Copenhagen Denmark

 

Top Tips and Travel Know How

Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church)

Sometimes fast sees more than more time spent can find. It is the fleeting glimpse and quick insight, when the light shines in a particular way, illuminating a view, I sometimes think it better to absorb quick and move on. The light here, on this day, told me all I wanted to know and feel.  In this light, with its crisp short span, from dawn till dusk, it is easy to understand the aesthetic and pared back simplicity that is the very definition of our understanding of what we refer to as Danish style. The light at this time of the year is made for photographers, never too high in the sky, rising late and setting early, but I cannot imagine I could stand too many of these short days and long nights of winter. Yet I can only wonder why it has taken me so long to visit this wonderful city and finish by saying I will be back when the sun and day hold for longer.

 

Stroma Canal Tour

Top Tip here, don’t go for the Netto boat as its pretty naf. A better option with much nicer boats and reputed to be the original tour, Stroma Canal Tour Copenhagen. Offering the Grand Tour and lasting one hour (Included with the Copenhagen Pass) you can join the boat tour at either Nyhavn, or Gammel Strand. A guided tour around the harbor and through the idyllic canals with guide commentary will tell you about Copenhagen’s beautiful churches, castles, old listed houses, new buildings and all other sights of interest. (The English speaking guide gave a very good commentary along the way)

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