Welcome to Travels with Mrs B, my travel blog of reviews and anecdotes from my stays in wonderful treasures around the world.
Recently I celebrated a readership of 40,000 on Trip Advisor so I am elaborating on my experiences in my Travels with Mrs B blog with my lovely, patient and kind, but sometimes grumpy, Mr B in tow. =)
I love the first coffee of the morning, being woken by the sunrise, my black poodle cross – Romeo, perfume, fountain pens, notebooks, Stationery shops, the smell of leather, Vivienne Westwood, bright colours, my poetry quote coats, old lace, vintage buttons, reading non fiction, collecting unusual art and my family with my whole heart.
I am an artist and photographer based in South East England who travels for occasional business and permanent pleasure in beautiful spots in Europe and beyond.
I am not lucky enough to get paid for reviews or get any free stays so I will always give an honest opinion or feedback. If you want to message me then pop over to the Contact page.
What a thrill to walk down the boulevards of Seville with the scent of oranges in the air. The wonderful fruit contrast beautifully with the almost guaranteed azure blue skies and the leaf green of their foliage. We arrived in January to coincide with our annual sojourn for our anniversary. We settled on the 5 star Palacio de Villapanes in Calle Santiago.
It is a 19th century building based on a moorish courtyard design with beautifully appointed rooms. Huge wrought iron gates make you feel like royalty as you walk through them into the open air courtyard complete with sparkling fountain. As we were celebrating the manager gave us an upgrade to a Palacio Junior Suite, a huge room with separate dressing area, large freestanding bath and the best multi jet shower I have ever had. Our room overlooked an ancient well that was situated in an interior courtyard and this was where the southern pilgrim Santiago de Compostela route started, over time the starting point moved to the cathedral. It was sobering thinking about all the pilgrims that had come to that very spot before embarking on their walk of devotion, its guardians now a couple of white doves that would sit on top and then swoop to bathe in the fountain waters. Our breakfast was not included so every morning we would walk a different way from the hotel to discover our place to eat. Breakfast in Seville is very cheap, tostado, juice and coffee was about 3 euros.
The staff at the hotel are super friendly and the bar staff are so good at making yummy gin and tonics. My favourite is Gin Mare but I caught sight of a wonderful old looking bottle, square glass and a great logo. It was a London Gin but one I had not heard of. I googled the name on the back of the bottle and it turns out it is made not far from Seville in the heart of sherry country. Jerez! It was a delicious gin full to bursting with botanicals. The lovely girl at the bar, sorry forgot her name, was superb at making the G&T’s with perfection. She would put pink peppercorns, primroses, berries and fever tree tonic and make it the best mix ever. Feast your eyes on this!
We did walk ALOT during our weeks stay, traversing the centre of Seville, but as I love the tourist bus we had to do that too. We opted for the Seville bus which is green as we got 2 for 1 on the tickets costing 18 euros for 2 days. There are three different lines, a walking tour and a night tour so is excellent value. The buses are a bit older and the commentary is a patchwork of different voices but the information is of great benefit. We learnt about the historical past of Seville, and you could imagine the wonderful goods being delivered by Phonecian, Roman and Moorish merchants. Then the galleons in the time of Christopher Colombus. Indeed he studied before his second voyage in the convent across the river. He is also buried in the vast cathedral.
We wandered along the streets in the area of Triana, named after Trajan the Roman Emperor. It is a bright and buzzing place, just across the river. We were in search of a cigar shop for Mr B as grumpiness was starting to set in with our marathon walking so I googled the cigar shops in town. The Calle Betis cigar shop is on the lovely promenade a bit further down than the swanky Abade Triana restaurant. As we walked past, Mr B pulled me towards the menu. “Shall we go here for our anniversary?”. “Yes, looks lovely, let’s go and book.” The staff were very friendly and booked us in for the Thursday evening and showed us the river view tables for which a premium is paid but includes a drink and coffee. Perfect! The tasting menu with wine looked amazing. The cigar shop was only a few minutes down the road and was tiny but had a humidore. A good sign. Mr B bought himself some Romeo and Juliet cigars, Davidoff and La Paz his go to quick cigar. With a very happy Mr B we walked back across the bridge and towards the El Corte Ingles store. Bargains were to be had, but I didn’t buy. I was holding out for the perfect gift for my anniversary present. Jewelry perhaps?
One of the charming things at the weekend is watching the chestnut sellers on the street corners with their homemade stoves and curled paper cones. They tasted delicious too, especially the charred ones, they were extra sweet.
After we spent a long time eating tapas and drinking red Rioja at a delightful cafe we decided to head back to the hotel. However, we saw a group of people queueing and thinking it was a music venue went to investigate. It was the Museum of Flamenco and a performance was about to start in one minute. We hurriedly bought the last two tickets and entered the small, dark space with a balcony and rectangular shaped stage almost in the crowd. What a wonderful intimate venue for such a passionate dance. ‘Flamenco is a feeling’ we were told on the bus commentary. How true that was, from the moment the guitarist, singer and dancers appeared on stage and started to work their magic, you were immediately taken on a journey. Passion, emotion, and the percussion of their shoes striking the wooden floor transported you to ancient Andalucia. A member of the audience, who was clearly a flamenco guitarist judging by his beautiful long nails for picking out the notes, shouted out an appreciative ‘Olé’ when the drama got intense. It was fantastic and at the end another flamenco dancer in plain clothes got up and started dancing spontaneously. Seville is a wonderful city, full of history, great tapas, passionate flamenco and those orange trees! The scent will forever transport me to the land of Andalucia.
I live only two hours on the Eurostar from Paris and I can’t quite believe that I am not here on a monthly basis as it is easier to get to than the slow train to London. Paris is wonderful and even if you have only one or two nights here you can immerse yourself and take home some l’amour.
I did spend some time researching where to stay as I think you really have to zone into one area and explore that. I had seen some Phoenician and Carthaginian treasures in my Louvre guidebook that I wanted to see up close. Mr B had read a book ‘The fall of the priest, the rise of the lawyer’ by Professor Philip R Wood and wanted to see two works of art in the Louvre that the book discusses. ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ by Gericault and ‘Vive La Revolution’ by Delacroix.
We opted for the Hotel Regina as it had wonderful reviews and fantastic photo opportunities if you were lucky enough to bag a junior suite on the top floor. My top tip for a room upgrade is to book the best room you can afford and then email the hotel before you arrive. It helps if you have a special occasion to celebrate as that will almost certainly guarantee you an upgrade, if you haven’t then don’t feel bad about making one up. After all, if you get treated especially well you are more likely to return and recommend the place. I always mention my upgrade in my reviews and always personally thank the hotel afterwards. It makes your stay ten times nicer and you really feel like royalty.
The charming assistant showed us to the glass elevator and we whizzed to the sixth floor. Antique treasures are on every floor in this beautiful hotel and fashion shows by couture designers have been held here. The rooms on the sixth floor are up in the eaves of the building. As we were shown into our room, I did gasp loudly as it was exquisite. They had laid red rose petals on the bed, how romantic! We had not one but two mini balconies that looked out over the Rue du Rivoli, across the Tuileries towards the Eiffel Tower. It was magical. I couldn’t wait until dark when the Eiffel Tower would shimmer on the hour for five minutes like Josephine Baker in a sequin dress.
We immediately cracked open the half bottle of champagne in the fridge and toasted Paris and our beautiful suite. By the way, rose petals were a wonderful touch as I visited the Louvre smelling of roses.
The Hotel Regina is only a 5-10 minute walk from the Louvre and overlooks the delightful Tuileries gardens. The Musee D’Orsay is just across the Seine. I would highly recommend pre-booking tickets to visit both of these museum galleries as the queue can be quite daunting. In fact, we didn’t make it to the Musee D’Orsay because we were put off by the line. There is always next time.
One of our all time favourite places to go is the magical island of Ibiza. It is home to the Carthaginian goddess Tanit who resides on the tiny protected island of Es Vedra, the third most magnetic point on earth. Only the North Pole and the Bermuda Triangle are more magnetic, probably why we get pulled back at least twice a year for a few nights break.
We are not party animals and prefer the peace and quiet of Santa Eularia, a more genteel and refined town at the opposite side of the island to San Antonio. We have been coming for more than 10 years and have a few favourite hotels we always stay in. Our top three hotels are:
1. Mirador de Dalt Vila
2. Atzaro, Sant Joan
3. Aguas de Ibiza, Santa Eularia
Wherever you stay on the island you must try and grab a boat to Formentera. The closest you can get to the caribbean this side of the Atlantic. The beaches are like white talcum powder and the sea the clearest I have ever seen. Hire a bike for a leisurely exploration or if you are like Mr B hire a motorbike. I was a passenger which meant shaky legs and gripping on tightly in case I fell off the back. Not a relaxing way to start your beach quest. We probably were able to do more exploration with the power of petrol, however and did make it up to the lighthouse at the far end of Formentera. The next stop after that is Africa. There are remains of Phoenician settlements here and a pirate tower dating back to the 16th century is a landmark to look out for.
Interestingly, a prehistoric human skeleton measuring over 7 feet tall was discovered in the centre of the island near the lake. A giant in Formentera! The site is marked by gravestones set in a circle with the entrance directly pointing to sunset and Es Vedra just off the coast of Ibiza.
I firmly believe that Es Vedra has been worshipped from time immemorial and it really does have a powerful effect on me whenever I see it. Awe inspiring in fact. I don’t like swimming off Cala D’Hort beach as it almost feels like the water is bubbling underneath. Mr B laughs at me when I say this to him. Mr B took our older boys out in a pedalo to see if they could reach the island but it was an impossible task. The water was getting rough and the currents were strong. When he peered over the side of the pedalo it was dense with millions of jellyfish. He quickly turned the pedalo round and they pedalled back to shore at Olympian speed.
The Rio Delta is very different in colour from the Atlantic, the sea goes from sparkling azure to brown and sludgy on the way up to Buenos Aires. Docking at the port takes AGES. The ship that has been stalking us (MSC cruise line) was already set up and disembarking when we arrived.
The tug boats pulled us into a densely packed area thick with green foliage, like a huge floating football field. It must have been at least a metre deep. It was crackling audibly as we were pulled through it. Lots of swooping black martens, swallows and tiny exotic birds darted angrily from their nests on the water like flying arrows.
The port crew then dropped one of the guiding ropes and eight men stood around for ten minutes wondering how they were going to retrieve it. Finally a fork lift truck delivered a long pole with a hook on the end and after further fiddling about the rope was caught and we breathed a sigh of relief.
The roads to traverse in Buenos Aires are the widest I have ever seen. It was like crossing a double motorway and you have to move pretty fast to cross as the traffic is hurtling towards you. There are some amazing old style trucks here – think DUEL- imported from USA. They have most likely been rocking around since the 50’s.
We soon found our way to the shopping area (ahem) Calle Florida where I bought a pair of silver glitter platforms (think early Spice Girls) for the equivalent of £11. Everyone in Buenos Aires wears platforms. We ate Argentinian Steak and chips at 11 Gran Caffe. Mr B bought a belt and wallet from a lovely lady in a shop in one of the arcades. I bought a silver cross body bag. Leather is really cheap in Argentina but great quality. I also bought a picture book about Eva Peron which had been hilariously translated into English. I would like to read more about her as she was an interesting individual.
There were beggars in the streets who sent out their kids to beg. There was one angelic little girl who must have been about 4, she had a little worn green bag around her neck worn across her body, plastic flip flops that were two sizes too big, leggings and a plain cotton smock dress. As she asked for money she absentmindedly curled up the corners on the menus repeating her request over and over almost in a dreamlike state.
It was so heartbreaking, her little face, hair unbrushed, floating from table to table like a butterfly with a damaged wing.
She got some cash from people and she calmly stuffed it into her bag. As she played nervously with her bag repeating her mantra, a low value coin dropped out onto the pavement and she hastily picked it up, slipping it back in. Mr B told me that he had seen the grotesquely fat mother who was carrying another baby on her hip screaming at her kids to get more money.
It was truly heartbreaking and it did bring tears to my eyes especially when I saw another little girl, same age, but well dressed, holding her daddy’s hand going shopping. It made me think how the lottery of life can be so cruel sometimes.
We had booked that evening for a tango and meal event. It was brilliant although the meal was a little shambolic as they rushed to get the food out before the show began and then some meat came out tough, mine was delicious, but the young Brazilian girl next to me sent hers back and then had to eat it in the dark as the show had started.
She was very sweet and was very proud to practice her excellent english on me during our meal. Mr B thought this was quite funny as she was chattering away and asking me so many questions I could hardly eat my dinner. We were sat with some frightfully friendly Americans who asked me what English people really thought about Obama. I thought it was a funny question but then quickly changed the subject as I don’t like talking about politics during dinner it always gives me indigestion. Plus I had Mr B with me, who is an excellent person to have next to you as he knows interesting things about interesting subjects so can always get the conversation flowing almost as fast as the wine.
The story of Tango is fascinating.
It was brought over by immigrants from Italy, Spain and France and the African slaves and their wonderful dances and music. It started with the men dancing (fighting) with knives usually over women and then the prostitutes started to partner up and dance with the men. The sons of aristocracy wanted to dance with the prostitutes but high society wouldn’t accept it so the young men took the prostitutes to dance in Paris where it became adored and accepted by all members of society, especially the upper echelons. Once it had been embraced by high society in Paris, it was easy to import back into Buenos Aires and the elite accepted it and it became part of Argentina’s history.
There are many stories of how Tango originated I am relaying the one we were told en route to the venue.
We can be in Europe very quickly via the Eurotunnel, much more civilized than lumbering about on a big ferry. It only takes 35 minutes to cross and you don’t need to get out of your car. Belgium is a hop, skip and jump away when you reach Calais and we were soon on our way. We decided to call into Bruges first for a spot of lunch. We ate just off the main square where the a tragic scene in the film ‘In Bruges’ is set. Bruges is quite touristy, but quaint nonetheless and we spent a couple of hours meandering the ‘Venice’ of Belgium. If you travel onto Antwerp be aware that the traffic is always horrendous getting into the city, so allow extra time. Our sat nav in the car gets a bit confused in city centres, bless it, so it took us a while to find the hotel. It has underground parking which is a bonus in such a great location hotel. The 4* Hilton Antwerp is perfectly located for a walk around the fashion district and the main attractions of the city. We opted for the Executive Rooms which allow access to an Executive Lounge with complimentary drinks, snacks and free breakfast. It also has an outdoor roof terrace, while not offering a direct view, does give you a great aspect of the Cathedral and rooftops. There are sunbeds and plenty of seating.
Highlights of our trip to Antwerp were the great shopping area (of course) behind the hotel and a trip to the Art Museum there. Unfortunately we were stranded by the little land train that takes you on a tour around the city. The old gent who was the driver neglected to tell us not to get off because he would not let us back on. When we tried to board, he refused to stop the train and our eldest son, D, ran after it, trying to alert the driver. The passengers on the train must have thought they were filming an excerpt from ‘Indiana Jones’ the way my son was singlehandedly trying to stop the train. The train did not stop and we were resigned to walk back to our hotel.
Vinyl shops are good in Antwerp, we bought Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures and Nirvana – Never Mind.
After three nights in Antwerp we drove out to Lille to stay the night. I had read about Lille Modern Art Museum (LaM) in Villeneuve D’Ascq that had a vast free outdoor sculpture garden featuring artists such as Picasso, Alexander Calder, Lipchitz and other 20th century luminaries. It was idyllic.
Picasso sculpture Lille
Our favourite was the perspex wind chimes that were suspended on a grid of iron poles. Bells attached in the breeze made a wonderful sound as the wind blew softly. It is well worth paying to go into the art gallery featuring many 20th century artists including a very intriguing movement of Art called Brut Art started by Jean Buffet in 1945. This museum has the largest collection of Brut Art in the world. After touring the garden and museum we were ravenous, but the lovely on site restaurant had finished serving so we had to head into Lille.
It was the weekend of the Brocante, but that had been cancelled due to fears of a terrorist attack. We didn’t know it, and nor did about 3 million other people. It was impossible to get near our hotel to park so we had to park up in a multi story underneath the train station. We dropped off our bags in Best Western Lille which was supposed to be 4* but was not. It looked like we were in the middle of West Side Story as the Jets shouted at the Sharks across the street. Yes we were in the middle of gang warfare. Headlocks and fisticuffs were acted out in front of us so we decided to go and get something to eat and hopefully the opposing factions would have calmed down before we returned. Trying to get food at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon in Lille (even during the cancelled brocante) is almost impossible. Firstly, because it is so busy but also because most of the bars and restaurants stop serving at 2 ready to open again at 7. Quelle Domage! We eventually fell upon a Pain Au Quotidien where we got food to satisfy our souls. Things did not improve at our digs and we saw hotel guests almost get into a fight. If you were looking for trouble you had come to the right place. My fight was with the mosquitos who surprisingly had got into our room during late summer and hung out waiting for the next victim. Mr B is a virtual smorgasbord for mozzies so was in a foul mood upon awakening. Breakfast, however, was rather lovely with plenty of fresh croissants, eggs if you wanted them and great coffee. That is not a hotel I would either recommend nor revisit.
Luckily our anniversary fell on the day of our arrival in Punte del Este, the playground of the rich and famous. This is also the place of the famous sculpture LA MANO (hand in the sand) to warn against the strong currents on that beach. It reminded me of the poem by Stevie Smith ‘Not waving but drowning’.
The waters are too shallow for the cruise ship to enter the harbour so we needed to board a tender which whizzed us quickly to disembark. However, they did seem to keep piling everyone in and I looked across nervously at Mr B who gripped my hand reassuringly. There was a big trip organised to visit the Conrad Hotel but to be honest we shy away from these as we prefer to discover gems ourselves and not be herded along like cattle.
The hand in the sand is only about 10-15 minute walk away and we indulged in a cool beer on the very lovely white sand beach. I spotted a beach seller in the distance carrying a beautiful cotton blanket on a pole waving it like a sail. “That would be fantastic for D, (our eldest son) he would love that pattern!” Mr B marched off across the dunes to negotiate with the seller and came back a few moments later the proud owner of a bartered blanket. A beautiful textile according to the label MADE IN INDIA. That blanket would have a few airmiles racked up on it by the time it had travelled all the way back to the UK with us.
A little research online had helped us to decide which restaurant we wanted to dine at for our special occasion and we chose GUAPPA. It is right on the seafront and split into two restaurants, the beach front and the air con inside one across the road. We were lucky enough to get a front row seat on the beach and enjoyed a super delicious meal of fillet steak and a bottle of BOUZA Albarino.
Bouza is a local vineyard which you can arrange to tour and dine at, but we didn’t have time to visit unfortunately. The beef we had in Uruguay was the best we had ever eaten anywhere in the world.
A yacht race streaked past us as we ate and drank to our hearts content. What a place to celebrate such an auspicious occasion.
You dock right in the port here so it is really easy to get into Montevideo, this delightful city. We opted for the Tourist Bus which is easily caught behind the tourist office a mere few minutes walk from the cruise terminal. Mr B always groans slightly when I suggest the tourist buses, firstly he NEVER listens to the commentary through the headphones and secondly gets a bit grumpy sitting for more than an hour on the bus, lurching and trundling along the streets. I, however, adore them. I love to get a sense of my bearings around a city and in my book there is no better way to do it than by hop on, hop off bus. Except I tend not to hop on and hop off but stay and do the full circuit back to the beginning and then if an area tempts me for further investigation either walk to that spot if close, or stay on the bus until I can jump off and then explore that gem.
I dislike wandering aimlessly as you are bound to miss gems and can sometimes wander into dodgy areas. Montevideo is a charming city with lots to see and it is a coastal city too, obviously, so has a great stretch of beach. There is a real Italian feel here as many Italians emigrated here in the early 2oth century and English is widely understood. Spanish is the main language.
A must visit is the Mercado del Puerto next to the terminal. It is a rich cornucopia of smells, tastes and colour. Wandering around here really makes you feel hungry and we promptly headed for the nearest restaurant and soaked in the atmosphere.
A wander through the colonial areas reveal lovely squares and plazas with delicious food and wines. We fell head over heels in love with Uruguay.
Booking with all your travel included is good on one hand as you get the transfers included from the airport to your hotel and from your hotel to the cruise terminal and back to the airport. Our driver was very friendly but my Portuguese was virtually non existent so we enjoyed the breathtaking journey down to Santos without worrying about the need for small talk. An amazing part of the journey is the incredibly long tunnel you need to go through to scale the mountains behind the port terminal.
It is a feat of modern engineering. Santos itself is quite deserted and a little neglected, a far cry from the bustling town it would have been years ago when this was the main port for exporting sugar from the sugar cane factories. A sombre statue standing en route to the port with a huge sack on his back depicted the realization that many fortunes were made on the backs of slaves. Santos port is chaotic in the extreme. Our driver dropped us near to where we dropped our bags but then there was a bit of a bun fight as we tried to establish which queue to join for our ship. Mr B was getting quite fractious until I managed to get us into the VIP queue which was much shorter thus enabling us to get onto the bus for our boat sooner.
Your bags are loaded up onto the decks so you must chill out in the buffet restaurant whilst you wait for your deck call. Food was ok, plenty of choice but not a great standard. I likened it to food in a motorway service station. We resolved from that point to eat only in the main dining room or the Italian restaurant for which you pay an extra supplement. Promptly our deck was called and we could search for our cases before locating our cabin. We had booked a balcony cabin for the 7 night cruise and when I walked past the inner cabins and peeked in I was so happy that I had booked not only windows but outdoor seating too. Our cabin steward was very genial and welcomed us to the cabin. His name was Ida but was pronounced Ada. Mr B could not stop singing ‘Fucking Ada’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads throughout our stay and he was almost overheard by our charming steward. Mr B can be so naughty sometimes!
What a great balcony, spacious with two sun loungers and a table and chairs. Soon, we were under way and they immediately implemented the muster as a prep for an emergency. It went surprisingly smoothly to say that 1500 people from different nationalities and languages filed together peacefully and without alarm before dispersing to their cabins, entertainment, pools or more likely the buffet restaurant for more food.
We ordered two Mai Tai’s from the german cocktail waiter and headed back to our cabin. The coastline of Brazil beckoned as we slowly cast off and meandered down the Atlantic steaming towards our stops in Uruguay, Punte del Este and Montevideo and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Champagne, those magic little bubbles which became immortalised when the discoverer of the wonderful elixir, Dom Perignon remarked “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
My favourite champagnes are Bollinger and Laurent Perrier so me and Mr B decided to travel to the Champagne region itself and discover how this magical bubbly is made.
We booked the magnificent Chateau de Courcelles en route to Reims the capital of the Champagne Region.
The Chateau dates back to the 16th century and is rumoured to be the secret place that Napoleon met Marie Therese his soon to be bride. The concierge informed us that the wheel came off his carriage just outside and her carriage offered to help. He climbed in and the rest they say is history.
The Chateau is delightful. It has a charming conservatory where dinner is served and you can sit outside on the terrace and enjoy an aperitif. There is a pool outside if the weather is pleasant, too cool for us though this time.
Our bedroom was wonderful. Huge bed with coronet above and luxurious products in the marble bathroom. There was a separate walk in shower and deep bath. The slippers were embroidered monogram of the Chateau.
We opted for the tasting menu with accompanied wine and the service and quality was outstanding. Our kind Sommelier was very patient explaining the different wines we were tasting and where they were from. I am an amateur sommelier, well, I am enjoying the research more than the recollection but I am finding it fascinating. The chef who was from the Vendee region came out and introduced himself whilst we waxed lyrical about his delicious menu. We went to bed very happy that night.
The next morning we headed for Troyes but taking our time to drive through the magnificent Champagne region where rows of vines cling to the rolling hills.
Epernay is wonderful and where many of the larger champagne houses are based. We drove past many different big champagne houses their vines planted up close together. We noticed roses were planted at the end of each row. In the area of Bouzy the roses on the roundabout were literally ‘Scentsational’, they smelt absolutely incredible. I made Mr B drive round the roundabout three times so I could fill the car with the gorgeous scent.