Friday, 17 November 2017

Car Safety And Maintenance In Winter

Now that the winter months are rolling in, it is important to be vigilant about a number of things. This includes car safety and maintenance - roads can be much trickier to drive on during the winter so you want to make sure your car is 100% roadworthy before taking it out. You also don’t want to be stuck on the side of the motorway in the freezing cold just because you have forgotten to do some simple checks. Here are some quick tips on car safety and maintenance for the winter months.

Check the condition of your tyres

It is essential that your tyres are in good condition no matter what time of year it is but you want to be sure they are in perfect condition when it comes to winter. Driving conditions can often be wet and icy and you don’t want your tyre condition to be the cause of an accident. The legal minimum depth is 1.6mm but most places recommend a minimum of 3mm during the winter months, just to be on the safe side.

Is your battery ok?

Batteries can be the banes of our life - running out and leaving us stranded in random places. It would be horrid to get stuck in the freezing cold with no battery to drive anywhere or even heat up the car. Give your battery the once over to check it is running as it should be. If you feel you couldn’t be too sure if your battery is ok, perhaps take your car to your nearest Kwik Fit and they will be able to help you out.

Antifreeze is your friend

Make sure you always have antifreeze to hand. Top up your engine coolant with antifreeze as topping up with water dilutes the engine coolant over time. During winter, the diluted mixture will freeze so adding some antifreeze should stop this happening. Also top up your screen washer fluid with some antifreeze too.

Be prepared

Should the worst happen and you do get stranded, make sure you at least have a winter breakdown kit to hand. This should include a shovel in case you need to shovel snow, a torch, blanket, hi-visibility vest, extra screenwash, a scraper and some de-icer. Maybe also pack some food and drink supplies in case you are there for longer than expected. Make sure you have at least half a tank of fuel in case of any delays and enough oil too. Also, make sure your phone is fully charged whenever you set off on a journey.

Check your windscreen and other parts

Make sure there are no chips in your windscreen as these can grow in the cold weather. If you know how to (some people don’t), check everything brake related to make sure they are working to full functionality too.

Finally...know what you’re covered for

You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who don’t know what their car insurance covers them for. With winter being a prime time for accidents and damage to motor vehicles, ensure you know just what your insurance will and won’t pay out on. Comprehensive cover should, as the name suggests, be comprehensive - but so many people go for third party, fire and theft and then wonder why they aren’t covered in certain occasions. Be completely sure of what policy you have.

Do you have any more tips for car safety and maintenance during these cold winter months?

*PR collaboration

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Group Activities In Bath And The Surrounding Areas

Bath is a city that needs no introduction, but it's such an awesome destination so I am going to provide you with one anyway!

Bath is a historical Georgian and Roman city situated in the West of England approximately 100 miles west of London. As a weekend getaway destination Bath packs in a serious amount of sights and activities. It's not surprising that Bath features on many itineraries of overseas visitors to the UK. It's a must-see place after London! The focus of this article will be on group activities.

Situated where it is, close to the larger regional capital of Bristol, but also surrounded by gorgeous countryside, Bath is a great base for fun activities that lie just a few miles outside of the city. For instance, if you are looking for Bath activities that are active as well as fun then consider a local outfit such as West Country Games, more information later.

In the city itself, one of the must-do activities is a visit to the Thermae Spa, which happens to be the only place in the UK where you can bathe in hot natural waters. The spa is situated near to the original Roman baths which made Bath so famous. The Thermae Spa has an indoor and rooftop pool, the latter of which is particularly popular in the summer months and comes with an amazing view of the city. Packages for adults start at £26 with group discounts possible too.

When it comes to tours then Bath truly reigns supreme! As one might expect from a city that receives millions of visitors, tours come in all shapes and sizes. There are of course the ubiquitous open top bus tours which will take you around the main sites. However, there are also numerous other specialist tours, such as pub and bar crawls, historical tours and even spooky ghost tours (particularly popular with groups).

Some tours go beyond the city boundary such as day trips to the World Heritage site of Stonehenge. If you are in a group then you can always go on a customised tour somewhere like the nearby Cotswolds area. You could perhaps spend half the day touring the chocolate box villages and then go for something more active and visit The Cotswold Water Park where you'll find various aquatic activities.

Another out of town activity and an excellent idea for a group would be partaking in the crazy activities hosted by West Country Games. WCG are based just outside Bristol but are easily accessible from Bath too. The locally run outfit provides nine different activities all packaged up in an It's a Knockout style bundle. Games are on a West Country theme with prizes awarded. They are particularly popular with Stag and Hen weekends and booking far in advance is recommended, particularly in the summer months.

Back into the city now and one popular Bath activity is cycling. Okay, I confess there are plenty of hills in Bath, so it might not be everyone's idea of fun, but there are plenty of routes that won't leave you gasping for air! One of the most popular rides to undertake is the Bristol and Bath Railway Path which journeys through several villages between the two cities.

The distance one way is around 13 miles but don't despair, the popular thing to do is to travel back on the train with your bike. The route follows an old railway line and is mainly off road outside of the cities. It's a superb group activity because there are numerous places to stop off and relax including some very nice country pubs!

If cycling 13 miles is far too energetic for you then why not get yourself along to the Bath Rugby ground. Bath RUFC play in the top English division, the Aviva Premiership, and often compete in European games too. The venue is very atmospheric and is situated right next to the River Avon close to the heart of the city.

Matches are played most other weekends from roughly October through to May. Game tickets start from a very reasonable £15 and can be booked in advance online. Indeed if you are taking a group then you should book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment as matches are often sell outs.

I can certainly recommend Bath as an action-packed destination. The city will appeal to everyone and on top of lots of activities, there are also heaps of bars, pubs and top class restaurants galore.

Bath itself is very compact and easy to get around on foot and the main train station is right in the City Centre.

As you'd expect Bath is not short of places to rest your weary head. Everything from backpacker hostels to world-class luxury hotels can be found in the city. If you are planning on going in the high season then book as much as possible ahead, particularly hotels and activities.

*Guest post by Anthony Page

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Antwerp - The City Of Diamonds - Part 1

There are a lot of diamonds in Antwerp. In fact, I could probably say it’s the diamond capital of the world. So when I was invited to visit Antwerp to celebrate the city as being part of the diamond trade worldwide for more than 500 years, I could hardly say no could I?

This year there are a number of initiatives to celebrate the history of diamonds in Antwerp since 1447. So I flew over to Antwerp as part of a press trip with the tourist board Visit Antwerp to find out more.  Those of you that have been readers for a while may know that I used to own a third generation family jewellers and that is how The Diary Of A Jewellery Lover blog came about. So with my love of diamonds and also travel I was in the lucky position to be chosen for this trip. 

So a quick 55-minute flight to Amsterdam from Cardiff and then a two-hour journey on the train to Antwerp meant it was almost quicker to get to Antwerp than to go to London by car for me from South Wales. There are flights direct to Antwerp from London City Airport so if you live in this part of the world it is even easier to get there, and of course, you can also get there from London on Eurostar.

Did you know Lonely Planet's Best In Travel 2018 named Antwerp as one of northern Europe's best-kept secrets? So I was excited when I arrived for my two-night stay.

I got to Antwerp late on a Saturday night and walked the short 15-minute journey to my hotel. I felt totally safe walking to the hotel, but I obviously kept my wits about me in an unfamiliar place.

My stay for the trip would be at Hotel Franq. This boutique luxury hotel really has the wow factor when you enter. A gorgeous lobby with beautiful flowers, comfortable sofas and chic decor greets you. Check in was quick and efficient and before long I was in my room.

The room at Hotel Franq are well appointed and exceptionally comfortable. A large king sized bed graced the room, which also had a desk and chair, as well as a comfortable armchair. The bathroom had double sinks, a rainfall shower and luxury toiletries as well as a large flat screen TV. Little touches in the room such as complimentary water, an espresso coffee machine and a Marshall Bluetooth enabled radio set the room apart from other boutique hotels I have stayed in recently. 

The decor was simple but very well done, and the quality of the furnishings appeared to be exceptional. A dash of colour added some vibrancy to the room which was in muted shades of cream and beige.

That night I slept well and in the morning went down to breakfast.

Hotel Franq prides itself on using high quality and local ingredients in its restaurant. Continental breakfast was included and involved a variety of bread, homemade jam and homemade granola, whole yoghurt, meat and cheese, boiled eggs, and fresh orange juice with tea or coffee. If you wanted something more substantial then you could choose from avocado on toast, smoked salmon and other delights at an additional charge. If you want to read more about my review of Hotel Franq be sure to check it out.

The morning was at leisure so I decided to just wander the city and to take in some of the sights. When people in the UK think of Belgium we often think of Bruges with its magnificent architecture or Brussels being the centre of the EU, well I know I do, but Antwerp appears to have some great sights too and gorgeous architecture. One of my first stops was at the Grote Markt in the heart of the old city. This large public square is lined with picturesque traditional buildings including the City Hall. The City Hall is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. In front of the City Hall is a statue of Silvias Brabo. 

Legend has it that Silvius Brabo put an end to a giant that was terrorising Antwerp by vanquishing the giant and casting his hand into the river by way of revenge. According to the legend, this is where Antwerp got his name ‘hand werpen’ literally meaning “to throw a hand”. A fountain and statue in front of the City hallmark the importance of this story in the founding of the city of Antwerp.

As I strolled around Antwerp, I came to the main shopping street called Meir. As it was early on a Sunday most shops were closed. However, the shopping area looked great and contained a number of household names such as Zara, and H & M.

Just behind the main shopping street, I came across a large open-air market selling all manner of items, from fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables to stalls selling delicious smelling waffles and distinctive smelly cheese, as well as clothes, bags and other items.

Belgium is known for its waffles so I was keen to try these out later in my trip. 

Close to this area was the world-renowned Rubens House, a museum of the artwork of Peter Paul Rubens, known for his Baroque style of art. Admission costs 8 euros to get in for adults 25-65, concessions 6 Euros and free for certain groups. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit but I thought the cost was reasonable.

Time to return to the hotel before meeting everyone for lunch, but on my way back I saw the most wonderful chocolate shop called The Chocolate LineIt certainly looked THE place to go for artisan chocolates. I mean look at the cake above and the chocolate frog below!

A leisurely stroll back to the hotel and before I knew it I was back. Sylvia and Anja from Visit Antwerp had arranged to meet the press here and had arranged lunch for us all. 
Lunch was seafood bisque that was full of flavour followed by poached salmon in a light hollandaise sauce, that was utterly delicious and beautifully presented.

All finished with a selection of petit fours, all utterly delectable in their own way.

After our lunch, we took a short 15-minute walk to the MAS Museum

The MAS Museum otherwise known as the Museum aan de Stroom is a museum located along the river Scheldt in the Eilandje district of Antwerp, Belgium. It opened in May 2011 and is the largest museum in Antwerp. We were here to visit the newly open Dazzling Desire exhibition, which looks at how diamonds are linked to our emotions. 

 Diamond boots believed to be the worlds most expensive valued at 3.2 million dollars in 2014
Designed by Belgian fashion label AF Vandevorst

Themes of status, power, love, eternal life and wealth are woven throughout the exhibition. Stand out pieces include Mary of Burgundy’s engagement ring, the impressive Our Lady’s Jubilee crown, and the Cartier tiara worn by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 
Some beautiful original pieces also included these diamond boots above believed to be the most expensive in the world.

C.B. II by Subodh Gupta, 2009. Materials: Stainless steel, stainless steel utensils, neon, lightbox, fibreglass
Private Collection Switzerland

With a mix of original precious diamonds as well as models of diamond jewellery, showing incredible detail, make this exhibition well worth visiting if you have an interest in fashion, jewellery or diamonds. The admission price of between 8 and 10 euros is affordable too. Catch it when you can until 14th January 2018.

Crown of the Infant Jesus, Antwerp, 1899 Gold, Emerald, pearls, Ruby and diamond
Cathedral-Chapel of our Lady of Praise Antwerp

While you are here you can also see the other permanent exhibitions, and don't forget to go to the top floor and take a panoramic photo if the weather is good, which unfortunately it wasn't when I visited. 

A quick stop next to the Brilliant Foodies festival with stalls of street food, then back to Hotel Franq.

That evening we ate at restaurant RAS. This modern chic restaurant is perfectly positioned overlooking the water and designed by leading architect Bon Van Reeth. 

My starter was croquettes which are a speciality of the restaurant, made with tiny brown shrimps, onto a prawn linguine in a tomato sauce and then Creme Brulee.

The food was delicious, tasty and well presented and I have to say I really enjoyed my meal. The ambience of the restaurant was lovely too. Upscale but relaxed. It was busy but service was efficient and staff were welcoming, helpful, and explained any queries we had with smiled all around.

As I was in Belgium I had to try the local beer too! Considering I am not a beer drinker it went down well and was a great end to the meal.

pin for later

So it was with full stomachs, our party returned to our hotel to rest before day two tomorrow, where we would visit a high-end jeweller and the Antwerp Diamond Centre as well as hear about the new Diva diamond exhibition. 

There was so much to see in Antwerp in one day, so be sure to catch my day two very soon on my blog.

*I was a guest of Visit Antwerp. Silvius Brabo statue CC Wikimedia 



Monday, 13 November 2017

Hotel Franq Luxury Boutique Hotel Review Antwerp

Recently I was invited on a press trip with Visit Antwerp and was lucky to stay at the Hotel Franq. Hotel Franq is a new boutique hotel in the heart of the city, less than 10 mins walk from the Meir shopping street.

The hotel used to be a bank and that adds extra charm and quirkiness to the building. You can see the vaults where money used to be kept, and this is why the hotel gets the name Franq, from keeping Belgian Francs in its vault.

As you enter the hotel you go straight into the lobby area above. This area is really gorgeous and has the wow factor for sure.

I also liked the entrance, which is quite discreet except for the chic sign.

Check in was simple and straightforward, the staff very helpful, and before long I was in my room. 

My bedroom was a good size with a king size bed, a desk and chair complete with table lamp for working or writing,  plus comfy chair for relaxing in, two bedside tables with lamps, and a large flat screen TV. 

Complimentary water was a nice touch and you could use the fridge for other things as it wasn't a mini bar. Always useful to have that option.

The bathroom was sleek and modern with a rainfall shower and two sinks with power points and mirrors. If like me you have a partner that takes longer in the bathroom than you, then you will probably welcome the double sinks!

The toiletries provided smelt great and were from the Elemental Herbology range. These consisted of soap, hand and body wash, shampoo and conditioner as well as well as hand cream. 

Amenities were provided including a shower cap, sewing kit, cotton wool pads and a shoe mitt (I'm not sure exactly was that last item is but if you know dear readers please enlighten me). Large fluffy robes, as well as well as slippers were also included for use, and it had that hotel essential these days, a good quality hairdryer. A separate toilet was opposite the bathroom.

Occasionally I despair of hotel rooms that do not have the functionality for modern living but I needn't have worried here.  The room was well designed with both USB ports by the side of the bed as well as reading lights and normal table lamps too. A magnifying mirror in the bathroom was extremely useful, if like me you need to put in contact lenses and you are very short-sighted, or again is useful for putting on makeup or shaving. A full-length mirror which I feel is essential but not always provided in a hotel room was very welcome too. 

Chic touches included black and white prints on the wall, and a Marshall radio in a retro style with Bluetooth capabilities was a stylish addition. A Nespresso pod coffee machine meant you could wake up to freshly brewed coffee before you went down to breakfast.  Free Wi-Fi was available in the room and throughout the hotel.

If you wanted to order room service, a small menu was available which included chicken Ceasar salad, Galloway beefburger and homemade pasta.

Breakfast in the morning was included in the rate and was of the continental breakfast variety. A selection of breads, croissants, meats, cheeses and a soft boiled egg were included as well as a delicious homemade buckwheat granola, and a very smooth and creamy locally produced yoghurt. Fresh orange juice, tea and coffee were also available.

With your breakfast you get a breakfast paper, like a newspaper, explaining about the restaurant, its ethos and where the food comes from. It was interesting to read that almost everything was locally produced and the quality of the produce was of the utmost importance to the hotel.

I found the breakfast was big enough for me but if you wanted something more substantial you could order from a range of additional choices at an extra cost, including avocado toast, smoked salmon and fresh fruit salad. If you wanted to, you could even order a glass of Bollinger champagne with your breakfast too. How fabulous darling! One small point, I would have liked fresh fruit included in the standard option for breakfast considering it's a boutique hotel, however, I was very impressed that they made their own jam and nut spread (think Nutella but sooo much nicer).

After breakfast, I explored the rest of the hotel.

Next, to the breakfast room, there was a small bar area which looked smart and inviting, although I didn't get the chance to use it.

On the first floor, there was a quiet lounge area from which you could look down onto the lobby.

A small gym with running machines as well as a fitness ball and weights were in the basement.

There are a number of spaces for informal meetings and a decent size meeting room.

While I was staying at the Hotel Franq I was treated to lunch one afternoon, seafood bisque and poached salmon. 

The seafood bisque was well seasoned and packed full of flavour and the poached salmon in a delicate hollandaise sauce was very well executed. 

My salmon almost looked like a work of art and was delicious.

The petit fours were totally scrumptious and a highlight for me, the little chocolates even had the FQ letters for Hotel Franq!

As Hotel Franq used to be a bank, it was interesting to see the old bank vaults in the basement. You could really imagine diamonds and other precious items being kept here when it was a bank. If you do stay, I recommend you go and have a look.

You may wonder if I had any issues during my stay considering it had newly opened. The only issue I had was minor and due to a faulty keycard.  The pleasant reception staff attended to this issue quickly and with smiles. Nothing appeared too much trouble for them, this is the mark of well-trained staff.

The hotel is aimed at the luxury market, and a night at Hotel Franq starts at 174 Euros per night, with suites from 299 Euros per night. 

Hotel Franq is a beautiful well-designed boutique hotel in the heart of Antwerp. I felt like I was enveloped in luxury during my stay and this modern boutique hotel certainly has a touch of class. I think if you are looking for an upmarket hotel in Antwerp you cannot go wrong with staying here. I would certainly stay again in a heartbeat.  Highly recommended.

Kipdorp 10-12
BE - 2000 Antwerpen
0032 3 555 31 80

* I was a guest of Visit Antwerp on a press trip
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