7 reasons to try Apartment life on your next holiday.

Whether it be Birmingham or Bari, city breaks are still really popular, and there are a slew of hotels on all the various websites offering city centre rooms. However, increasingly we’ve been finding great deals staying in self-catering apartments, in super locations for very reasonable prices.

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Plenty of comfort

Why go self catering?

There are many benefits of staying in a self-catering apartment. This type of accommodation definitely feels like a home away from home because first of all you have freedom. Freedom to come and go as you please – in a hotel I usually feel obliged to stay out all day. Lie in if you want to without the concierge chasing you out in order to service the room – most will do the room every third day and you can ask if you want it done more frequently. Cook (or not) if you want to; with a fridge and cooking facilities to hand you can manage your refreshments as you want them, within your budget. The genuine comfort of sufficient armchairs/sofas in which to really enjoy a good sit down when you’ve finished foot slogging around town all day.

As a growing niche in the market it seems that the quality of these apartments is very high. Get a taste of loft style living in a big city like Birmingham or enter the lap of luxury in converted theatres or grand villas in Italy.

Location, location, location… you can find apartments at the heart of wherever it’s happening, (whatever it is your looking for). All of the usual online booking sites seem to do great deals on apartments too.

All the comforts of home are standard these days, television (often with DVD players), WIFI (I won’t stay anywhere that does not have it) and copious outlets for all of your gadgets are almost de rigeur.

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A kitchen fit for real life

Obviously self-catering means cooking, if you’re happy to bring your inner Domestic Goddess (or in my house Galloping Gourmet) with you then that’s great, but if part of your idea of a holiday is  to escape the drudgery of cooking then… just don’t. However, self-catering is a great way to balance a small budget and defeating “restaurant fatigue” by alternating the cooking/eating out. If one of you does most of the cooking at home maybe the non-cooking partner could take a turn on holiday.

Many so called ‘self- catering’ establishments don’t really seem to expect you to cater for yourself at all

What to be aware of

Self-catering can mean different things to different proprietors. Many don’t really seem to think you actually want to cater for yourself. So be warned, the level of equipment may vary considerably – I’ve been in places that seemed to have read my mind in having everything you could possible need but also some that have had 1 tiny electric ring that didn’t really work; insufficient or broken pans, impenetrable mechanisms with no instructions and a kitchen where turning on the oven blew all of the fuses in the property.

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Avoid this

If your holiday depends heavily on being able to cook for yourself, it may be worth an email to your host before hand, checking what they have. Just to be on the safe side here are some things to consider bringing with you.

  1. A tea-towel
  2. A small bottle of cooking oil
  3. A small container of salt/pepper/seasoning of your choice
  4. A few stock cubes
  5. A small jar of instant coffee/tea bags
  6. Mini bottle of washing up liquid and a dishcloth
  7. Universal sink plug (yes even after all this time)
  8. A small chopping board*
  9. Travel kettle*
  10. Sharp knife and scissors*

*If you have hold luggage.

You can of course buy all of these in the local supermarket but usually you will end up wasting a lot of it.

Even on a long trip you can fit in a “city break”. We are alternating between hotels and apartments depending on the deals available and that’s working out really well.

What’s do you think of apartments as holiday accommodation? Is there anything else that you think should be in a self catering survival kit? I ‘d really be interested to know if I’ve left anything out.

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Albania: first bite… Kings of the Kala

Although we had flown into the capital Tirana, we weren’t planning to stay there straight away. Our flight arrived in the evening and we had decided to drive straight to the town of Kruja, a little north of the capital. We had arranged a hire car that we picked up from the airport and drove to Kruja.

Kruja is a fortress town which has existed since ancient times and we chose it hoping to gain an instant immersion into the character of the country. The castle at above the town was a centre of resistance for the Albanians against the Ottoman empire in the 15th century.

We stayed at the hotel Panorama, which is situated directly across from the castle of Kala and seems recommended in every guide and it is indeed a very good place to start your travels. Access was a little tricky as you drive up the hill, all the time able to see the castle across a little valley.

It’s not always easy to tell if the mangled streets are temporary roadworks or if this is just the general condition of the roads but when we got into town our GPS-recommended route was curtailed with approximately 60m to go as the road was barred by a bit of construction.

We figured our way around it and found the hotel. We squeezed the car into a space and Gary went inside to announce our arrival. I stayed with the car as I was not sure if we were legally parked and we did not want to start off our trip with a parking drama! A man standing by showed us where to park and we checked in.

Our first impressions could not have been better.  The staff was very welcoming, the room was excellent with a commanding view of the castle and the restaurant served up some good food as well.

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In the morning Kruja proved to be a little treasure trove with it’s cozy bazaar, the castle and the museums. We walked through the town, and were almost immediately accosted by a couple of young lads who exhorted us to ‘take a picture’ – I had my photo taken with each of them on their mobiles and I took pictures of them for my 100 Strangers photography project.

We then carried on, gazing – but not looking too closely – at the traditional wares on display in roadside stalls and strolled up the hill to enjoy the view. There is a large new looking museum and an ethnography museum which we visited tagging along with a tour that had just started. I’m not going to apologise for nerdery – we like history, we like museums and I will be sharing them!

Exposure to other people’s culture is something I wouldn’t be without. It’s part of why anyone travels, it’s why you learn a language , it’s why you eat some dodgy looking food. I love it and it does make your world bigger. Seeing the styles of furniture, ways of living, food preparation and antique technology just made me see that we have a lot in common and also dispels a lot of preconceptions. Seeing the way that these people lived showed a lot of parallels with the history of my own country.

This is going to be a long trip and if it carries on as it started, I will be a happy girl.

How much history is enough for you on a holiday? I’d love o hear what you like to do while you are away.

 

 

Therapy for Itchy Feet … a trip to less known Europe

The count down is over, the tickets are bought the 24 hour starters orders when we can do our on line check in is ticking closer and the initial packing stage has commenced.

We are about to embark on our (becoming) annual early summer expedition and this is a big one. This year’s adventure is a trip to Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia with a little dip into Kosovo. Excitement is building with more than the usual amount of apprehension. Yes I have to admit I’m a little bit more nervous than usual at adding some new countries to our repertoire. The plan is to hire a car once we arrive at Tirana. Then we will be travelling around exploring the country and taking advantage of the reportedly incredible wildlife that is there. Apparently there is outstanding wildlife and birdlife especially so we will have plenty of opportunities to indulge our hobbies of birdwatching and photography.

I love to travel and I have been lucky enough to visit a very long list of wonderful places in my time, and approaching twenty-five years with my co-adventurer I’m still excited to be visiting new places always slightly off the standard tourist trail and always returning a better person.

“Why do you go? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

-Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I think the nerves are about the difference.  Now difference is no novelty to me, I am usually different and I’m accustomed to it. I used to find it uncomfortable but it has also been quite a surprising advantage, having been made to feel like a celebrity in places like China because of being different.  We will see.

I don’t know much about these countries at all and I’m ashamed to say that once again despite promising I would be a good girl and do my homework, I have left the research mostly to G while I have been sewing, reading, drinking wine and working on a burgeoning social media addiction since my latter-day romance with blogging and Instagram. I now have 72 hours to find out what I need to know about Albania and Montenegro despite having had months to do this.

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OK self flagellation aside this is a foray into a new world, new culture and it will be an amazing experience… Albania exists in my consciousness as a place in Europe but quite separate from it. Until very recently the idea of ordinary folk visiting there would not really even be an option. While we consider ourselves adventurous, I usually feel that we are still tourists. On the adventurous end of the tourist spectrum, maybe, but ‘tourists’ rather than ‘travellers’ nevertheless. We still use the usual transport carriers – British airways this time, we take suitcases rather than backpacks and we don’t veer too far from the main drag.

Anyway we are doing this, and it will be an adventure, come back and see where we get to.

Going somewhere really  ‘Out there’? I’d love to hear about it – it may go on my bucket list!