The Travel Post #23: 5 Bars In Havana Not To Miss

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5 Bars in Havana Not To Miss

Late last year, I ticked off one of the cities that has been top of my bucket list for a while when I visited Havana, Cuba. Havana is a place that is buzzing with life and culture and one of the best places to experience the vibrant spirit of the city is in the local bars. With that in mind, I have put together my pick of the five bars in Havana you should pay a visit to if you find yourself in the Cuban capital.

El Floridita
One of the most famous bars in Havana, El Floridita is best known as the home of the Daiquiri and it still serves some of the best in the city with a whole host of flavours to choose from including a mango and a chocolate orange variety. It is also renowned for being a local haunt of Ernest Hemingway, meaning it is a bit of a tourist hotspot but it's worth the crowds for a cocktail or seven.

Bar in Havana Cocktail
Image by Valters Krontals

O'Reilly 304

A lesser known spot is the tapas bar O'Reilly 304, a definite must see bar in Havana. Named after the address of which it is found, this boutique spot is always packed with the local hipsters. As well as serving up some seriously impressive frozen cocktails, they have some of the best Sangria I have tried anywhere. Team this with some of their famous Tacos and don't leave without trying the Ceviche, which is said to be the best in the city.

Havana Bar Barman
Image by Ty Nigh

Patio del Hotel Nacional

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is one of the most historic buildings in Havana and if you head to the patio bar on the terrace - you can tick off two of the sights as you get a great view of the city's sea wall, the Malecon, too. There isn't much more on offer than the usual Cuban cocktails, but it's a great place for people watching. Grab a mojito and get yourself a seat right at the cliff edge to see the locals flock to their favourite meeting point at sunset.

Patio del Hotel Nacional Havana
Image by japs11f63

La Guarida

La Guarida is one of the most famous and most beautiful Paladars in the capital, but not many people know about the newly opened rooftop bar, which sits on the floor above the elegant Cuban restaurant. This uber trendy spot has lavish seating and serves up premium cocktails with the best city view out of all the bars in Havana. Don't forget to take advantage of the giant picture frame for the perfect Instagram shot.

Rooftop Bar in Havana
Image by Chris R Hee

La Factoria Plaza Vieja

La Habana Vieja, otherwise known as Old Havana is the best place to experience the Cuba you see in the guidebooks with its narrow streets and crumbling colonial buildings. Head to the Plaza Vieja, one of the most famous squares in Old Havana and you will find La Factoria Plaza Vieja, one of Cuba's original microbreweries. Pockets of people can be seen sitting outside with ice cold bongs of beer and the outside grill serves up tasty kebabs in the Cuban sun.

La Factoria Plaza Vieja Bar in Havana
Image by Angel Cuenca
Have you ever visited any of these bars in Havana? What are your top things to see and do in Havana?

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5 Havana Bars Not To Miss

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The Travel Post #22: A beginner's guide to Bangkok's Markets

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A beginners guide to Bangkok markets collage

For anyone planning to visit Bangkok for the first time, checking out the city’s famous markets is a must, however choosing which ones to visit can be a hard decision. Here is a rundown of four of the city’s markets which are a must see for a first time visitor!

Floating Bangkok Market
The floating markets of Damnoen Saduak sit roughly two hours outside of the centre of Bangkok and hundreds of visitors flock here every day to discover the unique experience of a market accessed completely by water by taking a ride on the vendor boats. Although most of the stalls are geared up for tourists, selling typical Thai memorabilia and souvenirs, at some of the smaller stalls you will find women from the local village wearing traditional bamboo selling deliciously fresh Thai produce such as sticky rice, bananas and coconuts. You can either float around the market with a guide or hire a boat and travel round by yourself, which will cost from 150B (about £3.50!) per person per hour (with a bit of haggling!).
Short on time? You can pay extra to have a motorised long tail boat, which will allow you to see the floating Bangkok market in about half the time. If you do opt for the early start with a guide, ask them to show you how to offer food to the monks yourself and receive a blessing of your own!

Top tip: Try and get to the market by 7am when the stalls start to open. This way you can avoid the crowds and may also get the chance to see Buddhist monks visiting the stall owners, where they will offer food in exchange for a blessing.

Weekend Bangkok Market
If you're looking for some serious shopping, then the Chatuchak Weekend Market is the ideal choice, and it is super easy to find located right next to the Mo Chit Skytrain station. Bangkok's biggest market takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 6pm and houses over 15,000 stalls with 27 different sections selling everything from flowers and food and drink to clothes and antiques.

Handy tip: The Weekend Bangkok Market is somewhere you can pick up some serious bargains as many of the stalls will often sell identical stock. To get the best price, approach vendors with a big smile and don't be afraid to walk away if you don’t get the deal you were looking for as often they will call you back and offer you a lower price.

How to get around: I am going to be honest, the market is huge it isn't too difficult to get lost, however there are systems in place that should help you find your way around. If you do lose your way, aim for the clock tower, which is often used as a central meeting point for visitors and make sure you pick up a map, which details all of the 27 sections and shows you what you can expect to find in each. If you can it is also a good idea to try and visit the market first thing in the morning or late afternoon as it often attracts over 200,000 visitors per day.

If you are looking for somewhere to spend the evening, the night bazaar in the modern Asiatique is the perfect place. A slightly more up market option, this Bangkok market is home to over 1,500 stalls selling anything and everything you can think of. As well as the stalls selling typical bric a brac and souvenirs, there is a selection of small and medium size boutiques in the mall area, offering more upscale goods including clothes and electrics.

Asiateque also hosts a number of restaurants and bars in a great spot overlooking the Chao Praya River. Being served up is a range of different cuisines, including authentic Thai (albeit a slightly milder western friendly version!), Italian and Turkish. After dinner, there is also lots of entertainment to choose from including performances in the famous Calypso Bangkok Theatre, and a fun filled Ferris wheel.

Getting there: Getting to Asiateque is easy as they offer a free shuttle running from Saphan Taskin pier. The shuttles run regularly until 11.30pm, so you can enjoy the buzz of the complex until late.

Riskey Market
Another Bangkok market you could visit outside of the centre is the famous Maeklong Train market, otherwise known as the “Risky Market.” This is because at eight times throughout the day the market descends into chaos as stall holders manically pack away their stock to make room for the very large train that passes straight through the centre. If ever there was a place to experience authentic Bangkok with all its fast paced craziness it's here!

Seeing how quickly the stalls are packed up to reveal train tracks you didn't even notice you were standing on and then watching the train fly through is an incredible sight and you will be amazed how quickly the stalls are back up and running afterwards to continue trading.

Another great thing about this place is that unlike the floating Bangkok market, which is now predominantly a tourist attraction, the Risky market is also frequented by many Bangkok locals, who come to shop for their fresh produce. This means you can get your hands on some authentic Thai delicacies, from dried herbs to exotic fruit and vegetables, there is loads of things to try. But a word of warning, there are quite a few stalls selling fresh seafood which is gutted and prepared right in front of you, so if you are a little bit on the squeamish side – this one might not be for you!

Have you ever visited any of these Bangkok markets? Which one was your favourite?

Charlotte x

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The Travel Post #23: New Year's Eve in Berlin

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New Years Eve In Berlin

Since heading to New York last year, I have decided it will be an annual tradition to go away for New Year's. This year the destination of choice was the trendy german capital, Berlin.

Known as one of Europe's party hotspots, there is plenty of choice for how to spend the new year with everything from massive night's in the top clubs, a family orientated celebration in one of Berlin's castles or the legendary street party that takes place at Brandenburger Tor (Brandenberg Gate), which is the option we went for!

Along a 2km stretch, all the way from the Brandenburger Tor to the Siegessäule (Victory Column) over 2 million people come out for the countdown to midnight. As well as the traditional impressive display of fireworks you would expect to see when the clock strikes 12, from around 7pm there are also a selection of artists performing and from 9.45pm the party is broadcast live on the official german TV channel, ZDF - this year we were treated to Jermaine Jackson and The Vengaboys!
One thing I really liked about this over other big public New Year's displays was that all the way along the stretch there were food and drink stalls, which made standing out in the cold for a few hours much more enjoyable! People from all over the world come together to join the party and it's a great chance to mingle with a whole host of nationalities and find out what brought them to spend New Year's Eve in Berlin.

For anyone considering heading to the Brandenburger Tor celebrations next year, I have put together some top tips for how to make the most of the night...

1) Time it Right
I always find it tough to get the timing right with these kind of things. Get there too early and you will be pretty bored of standing in the cold by midnight, but get there too late and you'll be right at the back of the crowd. We arrived at about 6.30/7pm and that was about right - we could still walk near enough to be within clear viewing distance of the stage and the fireworks and we didn't get frost bite by the end!

2) Pick your spot
Pack mentality will tell you to get as close to the front as you can, but there is usually a much better view - and you will be far less squashed, if you keep back a little bit. We found a spot right next to one of the bars about 200m away from the stage. This was ideal because we were out of the crowd slightly, had a table to keep our drinks on and easy access to a constant supply of mulled wine! What's New Years Eve in Berlin without mulled wine!?

3) Pack light
Security at any of these kinds of events is tight and after the tragic terrorism attack that struck the Breitscheidplatz market in December, the german authorities had really stepped it up. We had to go through five different search points, but luckily as neither of us had bags this didn't take too long. There is also always the risk of pick pocketing so the less you can carry the better. All you really need is your phone, a camera if you want and some money - but leave any big rucksacks at home.

4) Layer Up
It might sound obvious but standing in the Berlin air for five hours in December will be cold (no matter how much mulled wine you consume). Whack on your hat, scarf, gloves and plenty of layers and you will have a much better time than standing there freezing your butt off.

Have you ever spent New Year's Eve in Berlin? Have you ever been to one of the big public displays? Where did you spend New Year's?

Charlotte x

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The Travel Post #22: Sheraton Grand comes to London's Park Lane

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Sheraton hotels have long held a reputation for style and luxury and last month saw the arrival of England's first Sheraton Grand hotel. Located in the world’s most sought-after destinations, the Sheraton Grand chain offers sophisticated design, heightened facilities and service that goes above and beyond and I was invited down to the launch of Sheraton Grand London Park Lane to see what was on offer.

The launch night boasted showgirls on stilts, twenties style remixes of pop classics (we are talking NSYNC and R Kelly!) and a dreamy Champagne and cheese spread, but here's a quick lowdown of the hotel itself...

The Style
The hotel has undergone a multi million pound transformation which pays homage to the twenties era in which it was originally built. Lavish interiors and art deco style design combine to create a hotel that oozes sophisticated glamour.

The Rooms
There are 303 guestrooms on offer, which have also all been completely renovated in the 1920s style. For those looking to splurge the Sheraton Club Rooms and Suites provide exclusive access to the Sheraton Club Lounge, a private space where guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast, drinks and snacks during the day as well as a taster of the hotel's afternoon tea, a full bar and evening canapés!

Wining and Dining
Keeping up it's reputation as a vibrant social hub in the heart of mayfair, the Sheraton is home to three separate dining spaces. Mercante offers authentic Italian dishes and a traditional prosecco brunch, whilst Smith & Whistle keeps the roaring twenties style closer to home, pairing classic British plates with cocktails and craft beers. Finally the elegant Palm Lounge features impressive high stained glass ceilings and serves up a host of treats throughout the day including the signature Palm Court afternoon tea, which has been named one of the best in London.

Found directly opposite London's leafy Green Park, and just a short walk from Buckingham Palace, the Sheraton Park Lane is situated in the one of the jewels of London's crown. The grandeur feel of the hotel echoes that of the area, allowing you to step inside the world of Mayfair's elite.

To celebrate the launch, I've teamed up with the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane for an exciting giveaway, so check back in the next few days for your chance to win! Meanwhile I'm off to find out more about that prosecco brunch...

Charlotte x

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