Author Archives: Karen Bryan

About Karen Bryan

Hello, I'm Karen Bryan, I created Europe a la Carte in 2002 to highlight the best places to visit in Europe with travel tips, photos and no fluff reviews. I’m also an artist; my artworks are often inspired by my travels

Review of Blacklane Professional Driver Service

On my recent trip to Porto, Blacklane offered me vouchers to try out their professional driver service for my airport transfers.

I booked my rides around five weeks before my trip. You can cancel your Blacklane ride free of charge up to one hour before pick up. The price quoted includes taxes, tolls, fees and a tip.

I went for the cheapest option which was a Business Class where the vehicle would be a BMW 5 or Mercedes E Class equivalent. The price quoted was around 50 Euro.

My Ryanair flight from Edinburgh was due into Porto at 20.20. Blacklane include a one hour wait at the airport in their pricing. I reckoned that although I would only have hand luggage, that I would play it safe by arranging the pick up for 20.10, as it usually takes more than 30 minutes to get off the plane, get through passport control and walk to the airport exit.

As I like to arrive at the airport two hours before my flight departure time, I allowed thirty minutes for the return transfer. The return journey to Porto Airport was slightly cheaper at 47 Euro.

I was glad I had been cautious time-wise for the Blacklane transfer from Porto Airport, as the flight from Edinburgh was delayed by one hour due to the requirement to find a replacement crew member for the plane.

I switched on my mobile phone when I reached Porto Airport’s terminal building. There was a text message and an email informing me that my driver was waiting for me with a name board. I was also told the name of my driver.

It was great to know that I’d be taken straight to my Airbnb apartment, without having to get to grips with the Porto Metro system and then find my way from the Metro station to the apartment.

My driver was very polite and welcoming. The journey from Porto Airport to my apartment only took around 20 minutes.

The return transfer from my apartment to Porto Airport seven days later went just as smoothly. The driver arrived a couple of minutes before the pick up time. It was a hot day, so it was great to be whisked straight to the airport in a air-conditioned car.

7 Sure-fire Ways to Make Travelling Stress Free

They say that ‘half the fun is getting there.’ However, this is not always true. Travelling not only leaves you exhausted and fatigued, but commercial flights also waste your time and can potentially kill your excitement. Regardless of whether you are a business traveller, leisure hunter, regular tourist or honeymoon goer, you can make your travelling experience stress-free by preparing for it in advance.

Here are seven sure-fire ways of making your travelling experience stress-free and exciting.

Create a Handy Itinerary

You might have already done your research about places to visit and things to do. For a stress-free travelling experience, it is necessary to do thorough research about hotels, transport services etc. Prepare a handy itinerary which contains information about the hotel’s address and number, details of the transport service and number and address of anyone you know at the destination.

Use a Flight Radar for Optimum Safety

Delayed flights, late arrivals and other such incidents will not only leave you stressed, but can also worry your family and friends back home. Using a live flight tracking application such as http://www.flightradar.co.uk/ can help relieve the stress in many ways. An online flight radar obtains all the information of domestic and international flights round the clock. The application works as a radar to provide you with the necessary information, including updates on flight timings, delays, late arrivals or any kind of weather changes that may cause a delay. These insights keep your family updated about the status of your flight.

If you are a business providing pick-and-drop services from the airport, you can obtain flight updates simply with the help of a flight radar. Flight tracking is highly effective for staying updated and keeping your loved ones stress-free. All it requires from you is a good internet connection!

Pack Light

Lugging around heavy baggage can be stressful. Do you want to spend one hour every day packing your stuff and checking the drawers and cupboards of your hotel room before moving to the next

place? Also, it is difficult to travel with lots of bags, especially if you’re using the public transport system. If you are a tourist, make sure to pack minimum luggage. By packing light, you can avoid carrying heavy suitcases or shopping bags.

Learn Common Words from the Local Language

Communication is one of the biggest problems, especially if you are unfamiliar with the language of your destination. If you are planning to hire a tour guide, learn simple words, such as thank you, welcome, please, sorry etc. If you are not planning to hire a tour guide, learn some basic words and short questions, such as where is this place, which bus I should take to reach XYZ place, etc.

Create a Personal Care Pack

You may easily be able to get anything at your desired destination however; searching in aisles marked in the local language can elevate your stress and even make you feel homesick. A useful tactic is to create a personal care pack that contains basics such as lip balm, lotion, face mask, sunglasses, cotton balls, medicines and other products which you cannot live without.

Carry Copies of Your Important Documents

Important documents include your passport, biometric residence permit, national insurance number and your photograph. Make sure to carry at least three copies of your passport when travelling abroad. You might be required to submit a copy of your passport anywhere. When travelling domestically, make sure to carry a small diary with the names and numbers of people close to you, including your family members, friends and colleagues.

Keep a Track of Expenditure

You can choose to travel modestly or spend as much money as you want – it all depends on your budget. Let’s be honest and accept that when we spend extra money on travelling (which we definitely love to), we all are stressed afterwards.

When planning your trip, calculate your budget and create a list of affordable activities. Distribute the budget into obvious expenses, such as accommodation, transportation, food and souvenirs. Keep track of your expenses from the very first day. Even if you exceed your expense limit in the first few days, you can adjust the expenses after that to ensure that your vacation remains within your determined budget.

Overall, calculation is the key to setting up a stress-free trip. Follow the aforementioned tips faithfully to make the most out of your vacation.

Jewels of Turkey: Five Sparkling Coastal Gems

Turkey’s long and varied coastline is among the most beautiful and varied in the world. With its warm, sunny climate, miles of beaches, rugged coves and bright blue waters, plus an amazing history going back thousands of years, there’s something here for everyone. Here are five of the Turkish coast’s best resorts.

Olympos – step into the past

The incredible historic centre of Olympos lies tucked away in a river valley halfway along Turkey’s southern coast. Little more than a village today, albeit one which boasts unique treetop hostels for backpackers, this was once among the most important places in the Mediterranean. Everywhere you look, winding pathways lead through the trees to take you to extraordinary ruins and ancient statues, some of them dating back more than 2,000 years. For those with energy to burn, a walk into the mountains that ring Olympos is immensely rewarding, as is an evening trip to see the eternal flames of the Chimaera of Cirili.

Belek – pearl of the Turkish Riviera

Nestling at the heart of the sheltered Antalya Bay coast, Belek enjoys the luxury of over 30 upmarket hotels. Golf enthusiasts will be in heaven, as this is one of Turkey’s most important centres for the sport; international superstars like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have competed at the Antalya Golf Club. If a round of golf sounds a bit too much like hard work, why not relax at one of the resort’s spas? Belek is noted for the purity of the water that flows from the springs that surround the town. Or go birdwatching in the pine forests and search for the famous “secret cave” behind the Kurşunlu Waterfall.

Didim – get away from it all

Didim is heaven if you want a place where you can truly relax! It’s a perfect resort for families and those who want a more laid back pace of life, with long, safe stretches of golden sand and plenty of quiet coves to discover. There are attractions for kids nearby, especially the very popular waterpark, while traditional live folk music is on offer at many of Didim’s welcoming bars. Not far from the resort is Lake Bafa National Park, renowned for the groves of ancient olive trees which grow wild along the lake’s northern shores.

Çeşme – The Truly Turkish Resort

This northern Aegean town remains relatively discovered by international tourists, making it a great way to experience authentic Turkish culture. You’ll mingle both with local people and holidaymakers from nearby İzmir, and discover a host of independent shops – perfect for picking up that special souvenir of your visit. You won’t go hungry in Çeşme, either, as the local cafés are both inexpensive and of high quality, while there’s a buzzing nightlife scene thanks to the many bars. Visit the Genoan castle or simply wander along the promenade and enjoy the views towards thisland of Chios.

Trabzon – Intriguing, Ancient Black Sea Port

Many tourists ignore Turkey’s northern coast, but they’re missing out! The ancient city once known as Trebizond has caught the imagination of Westerners since the time of Marco Polo. These days, Trabzon is a thoroughly modern city, but it’s lost none of its air of intrigue. The central square, Atatürk Alanı, is lined with excellent restaurants, while the Bazaar to the west brings a real taste of Asia. Winding cobbled lanes take you deep into Trabzon’s history, and you shouldn’t miss the chance to marvel at the incredible Byzantine frescoes in the Aya Sofya church.

Travelling to Turkey? Don’t forget to book your holiday transfers Turkey with Holiday Transfers.

Photography Exhibition About the Huni Kuin People at Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis Porto

When I visited the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis in Porto this morning, I enjoyed the Photography Exhibition About Huni Kuni People. The poster at the musuem foyer said that the exhibition ran from 13 – 16 June 2017, but it was still there on 18 June 2017.

Below is a selection of my favourite photos.

I looked online and The huni Kuni are an indigenous people of Peru and Brazil.

10 Reasons to Visit Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey made up of geological anomalies, known for its ‘fairy chimneys’, rock hewn churches and bronze age cave homes. Used in ancient times as a refuge and shelter, the region has a notable history, in recent years it has become one of Turkey’s top tourist destinations and it is definitely a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting Turkey.

Landscapes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Set between lush valleys, high mountains, dormant volcanoes, cave houses and natural rock formations, Cappadocia is a photographers paradise. Centuries of volcanic eruptions, erosion, wind, water and the arrival of certain ancient civilizations have all played a part in forming the surreal landscape, Cappadocia tours can take you to the famous places to see sights such as the fairy chimneys, cinder cones and Rose Valley.

Explore Underground Cities

Carved into volcanic stone as early as the Hittite time, there are many cave-cities in the region, originally used to hide from plundering armies who crossed central Anatolia now they are open to tourists. More than just tunnels these were real cities with churches, schools, stables, living quarters, wells, kitchens and wineries. The most extensive and frequently visited are Kaymakli, the widest, and Derinkuyu, the deepest, with 8 floors. Descend on vertical staircases and wonder through the maze of narrow rock passages. An 8KM tunnel connect the two cities so if you’re feeling energetic you can walk the ancient road between them.

A Museum Like No Other

While most museums involve four walls and glass cabinets, the Goreme Open Air Museum, UNESCO world heritage site since 1984, offers its visitors a more interactive experience. You could easily spend a few hours here exploring rock-cut churches with their beautiful frescoes, the most well preserved can be found in Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church). At only a two kilometers from Goreme village you will be able to stroll back to your hotel after.

Sleep in a Cave

Yes, a cave! But your cave will have a bed, bathroom and maybe even WIFI. Due to the nature of the land locals have been building their homes inside the rock walls for centuries and a range of very comfortable cave accommodations are available. Gerӧme and Uchisar are both good places to base yourself while exploring the area. Uchisar, situated at the highest point in Cappadocia, is the quieter of the two, with more luxury hotels and a castle nearby. Goreme, with good transport links, offers more budget accommodation.

Authentic Turkish Villages

Although the Cappadocia region is vast the main villages of historic and cultural interest are relatively close to one another. Avanos is known for its pottery and ceramics, a busy market is held on a Friday, walk through the cobbled stone streets or taste some local food one of the cafes along the bank of the Kizilirmak (Red River). Mustafapaşa is historically and architecturally very interesting, today you still see examples of old Greek houses with decorative facades and blue doors, the village is home to 26 Greek churches which are slowly being restored. Alternatively Ürgüp is a lively market town, take advantage of the fresh fruits, meats and homemade cheeses, browse for locally made handicrafts or visit a Turkish hamam. While these towns have been influenced by tourism they are not dominated by it and you could spend a pleasant day or two experiencing real Turkish life.

Experience Remarkable History

With archaeological records that date back to 5500 BC Cappadocia is a historical gem, the region played an important role in early Christianity and later Islam, influence of both religions can be found. Meanwhile previous occupants include the Hittites, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and the Ottomans. There are few places that can claim such an impressive background.

Go Hiking

For outdoor lovers there is also plenty to do in the region, there are many beautiful valleys with well marked trails in the area, so don’t forget to pack your hiking boots. Some of the best trails are around the Rose and Red valleys, Pigeon valley, Zemi Valley, Ihlara valley and Zelve Valley, with many cave dwelling to explore. Each route will bring you to diverse geological features and fantastic panoramic views, between Ürgüp and Goreme is especially stunning.

Enjoy Local Cuisine

To say that Turkish food is delicious would be an understatement and Anatolian food is particularly exquisite. Gozleme (Turkish pancakes), Yogurt Çorbasi (soup), Borek (savory baked pastries), Çig Köfte (spicy vegetarian meatballs), Dolma (stuffed peppers). Along with fresh fruit juices and locally produced wines at far lower prices than you would find in Istanbul, you may put on a few pounds during your visit.

See The Sunrise From A Hot Air Balloon

Every morning, in the early hours, 10-15 hot air balloons float high above the legendary Lunar Landscape while far below the town is just waking up. Where else could you enjoy a birds-eye view of unique rock formations under the glow of the rising sun?

Private or group hot air balloon tours are available and leave daily, alternatively if you are based in south-west Turkey or are short on time you could take Fethiye to Cappadocia tour, transport can also be organized from other destinations.

Cappadocia has so much to offer, whether you’re an adventurer, history-buff or outdoors-enthusiast, whether you’re young or old, looking for relaxation or a cultural immersion, you are sure to find something that suits you and you’ll probably wish that you could stay for longer in this magical region.

Review of the Angus Hotel Blairgowrie

I stayed at the Angus Hotel in Blairgowrie, Perthshire in Scotland, on a Friday night in late May 2017. I was looking for the cheapest room that was located fairly close to Alyth, where I was attending an arts and crafts festival that weekend.

I started off searching on the HotelsCombined price comparison website. I found a single room at the Angus Hotel costing around £41, including breakfast, on several hotel booking websites. As I had an 11% discount voucher for Hotel.com, I booked through them, paying £37.

The hotel looks quite traditional from the front. But the majority of the rooms are in more modern buildings at the rear.

There is free parking in front to the hotel. But there were no spaces left. However I found a space at the nearby free public car park.

It was 27 degrees Celsius when I checked-in at the Blairgowrie around 5pm.  My single room felt so hot. I opened all the windows wide. That didn’t seem to make much difference to the temperature in the room.

Then I discovered that the radiator in the bedroom was on. I had a fiddle with it, but there wasn’t an obvious knob to turn, as there was on the bathroom radiator (which was off). On my way down to reception to report the radiator, I spoke with anther guest, who had informed reception that radiators in the corridor where on. Evidently, that guest had been told that there was no way to switch them off. I came to the conclusion that some of the radiators must be on the same pipe system as the hot water system. As there was  a queue at reception and I wanted to go for a walk along the River Ericht, I didn’t bother reporting the fault then. But, I did mention the hot radiator to the receptionist when I checked out.

 

I took the duvet out of its cover. I was warm enough during night with only the duvet cover.The bed was firm and comfortable.

My room overlooked the courtyard. I thought that it might be quite noisy until late. But there was no noise after 10pm. However, with all the windows wide open, I could hear traffic noise all night. I could hear every move made by the guest(s) in the room above, as the floor was really creaky.

I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the bathroom and the fact that it had two windows. Many hotel bathrooms have no natural light. The bath was a good size.

I didn’t try the hotel WiFi, as my mobile broadband signal was good, and I spent very little time online.

There was no fresh fruit for breakfast, only tinned mandarin, and grapefruit, and prunes. The yoghurt in glasses with various jam like fruit at the bottom was good. The cooked breakfast was buffet style. I didn’t like the look of the bacon and sausages, I stuck to mushroom, tomato and fried eggs. Tea or coffee and toast is served to your table.

In summary, I think that I may have enjoyed my stay at the Angus Hotel in Blairgowrie during cooler weather. My room would have been a more comfortable temperature and I wouldn’t have heard so much road noise if the windows had been closed. However there would have still been the issue of noise from the room above and the not too great breakfast.

Click here to check prices and availability at the Angus Hotel Blairgowrie.

How Distance Learning is Revolutionising Your Education

Distance Learning is fast becoming a popular alternative to the traditional university education, and so many are benefiting from its practicality
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A typical university student is bound to experience heaps of debt, surrounded by personal torment and an ever growing appreciation for sleep. As tuition fees rise, so does the mountain of work you’re expected to tackle.

Three years in the same place can be a strain, even if you’re enjoying the uni lifestyle. But that feeling of being locked in, with no real escape, is something that can be avoided through the new dawn of distance learning.

With that in mind, here are a few reasons why distance learning could be perfect for you.

1) Your time, your rules

Many of us are extremely busy with our own personal commitments. Once engaged with a distance learning course, you can complete your educational story while still balancing your work and life.

The opportunity to travel is such an important factor for many students. Ever thought about a trip around Europe, exploring new cultures and visiting famous sights? Take inspiration from us and see what you’re missing out on.

2) Saving Money

Student loans are still available to those who choose distance learning. This means that the government will provide financial support for your tuition fees, which you’ll repay once the course is complete.

Also, boarding costs can be a real pain. Accommodation is always expensive, whether it’s halls with ants in the kitchen or a brand new, catered, on campus complex.

3) Prove yourself, to yourself

Nothing shows independence more than handling six different aspects of life in one, especially when one of them is a degree.

And imagine how impressed employers will be when you’ve managed to complete a degree-level qualification alongside every other aspect of your life. It’s a balancing act which shows how reliable, flexible and hard-working you are.

4) Name a time or a place

Many universities, such as Anglia Ruskin, have a growing range of distance learning courses that could be ideal for you. From business and management, to finance and law, a formidable number of learning opportunities are just a few clicks away.

5) General Convenience

Travelling to university not only costs money, but takes up a lot of time. If you move across the country, you’ll have to fork out plenty of cash to see your loved ones back home. Staying within close proximity to your family, job and childhood haunts could be the perfect blend for you.

Now it’s your turn. There are so many avenues to travel. It’s just about finding the one that’s perfect for you.

Distance learning is taking over, and it could be the right time for you to jump on the bandwagon.

Visiting Gibralfaro Castle in Malaga

It’s a steep walk up to Gibralfaro Castle in Malaga. I decided to visit one morning when it was forecast to be cooler. The downside to that was that it the weather was windy and cloudy.

There’s a viewing point a few hundred metres below the Castle, which offered great views of Malaga Bullring.

On your right after the viewing platform, you’ll see the Parador de Malaga hotel.

The entrance fee  to Gibralfaro Caste was 2.20 Euro (in April 2017). You need to make sure that you have cash, as the ticket machines don’t accept cards. You can buy a joint admission ticket for Gibralfaro Castle and the nearby Alcazaba for 3.55 Euro. The joint ticket is valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase.

There are 360 degree panoramic views from Gibralfaro Castle.

I advise you to wear shoes with a good grip when visiting Gibralfaro Castle. Both the paths up to, and around the Castle grounds and walls, are uneven and slippery.

Gibralfaro Castle was pretty busy during my visit on a Friday morning. There was a large party of school kids and several coach loads of tourists of various nationalities.

If my time in Malaga were limited, I’d choose to visit the Alcazaba rather than Gibralfaro Castle. This is because it is easier to access the Alcazaba; there is a lift up. Despite the Alcazaba not being in such an elevated position, it still offers great views over Malaga. Plus, the gardens are much prettier at the Alcazaba.

The 2017 Degree Show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Dundee

The Degree Show at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee runs until Sunday 28 May 2017. If at possible, you should get to Dundee to see this fabulous show.

I didn’t have the energy to get round the whole show, as I’d been at the McManus Galleries and Dundee Contemporary Arts earlier that day.

Below are photos of some of my favourites from Fine Arts and Jewellery sections at the 2017 Degree Show at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

In the Jewellery section, I thought that the name Zydrune Auksoriute (her work in pictured below) sounded familiar. I checked on Europe a la Carte. Sure enough she was the artist whom I stumbled upon in the Howff Cemetery in Dundee in 2014.

Zydrune hadn’t modelled her own jewellery, but I spotted her (on left) modelling for Jenny Gillies.

 

Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in the textiles section. I was dazzled by the colours, patterns and textures of the various textiles.

I hope that my photos have enticed you to visit the 2017 Degree Show at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee.

Summer Trips to the UK: Some Tips to Get Off the Beaten Track

So you are thinking of somewhere unusual to spend your time outside major European destinations this summer. In this case, it is likely that Italy, France or Spain are not at the top of your list.

My first suggestion for travellers like you would be to think of all the UK has to offer and aim for more than the usual weekend trip to London. Sure, there is no reason to avoid London on your British summer trip, but it is worth venturing further West and North to see all this often underrated destination has to offer.

For a start, it will make sense to use London as a departure point given that it is connected to all major American airports as well as many European destinations with low-cost flights. Sure, you may have already visited the usual City, Westminster and Oxford Circus haunts as well as glossier ones such as Harley Street and Piccadilly.

Cafe in Brixton Village

This is a good enough reason why this time you should try to consider the London suburbs instead. Explore the vibrant area of Brixton and its Caribbean heritage, venture West to discover the peacefulness of Richmond or go North for the quintessentially British area of Highgate with Hampstead Heath and its fantastic views over London.

After three to four of days in the Big Smoke, I recommend heading out by train knowing that all major destinations in England will be less than a four-hour ride away.

Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol

First, consider Bristol and its artsy background. The city is a must-see not only for the thriving pub and music scene but also for the street art influence that has revolutionised it over recent years. This is where from one day to the next you will be able to see new influential graffiti from the likes of Banksy appear around town. Bristolians are a friendly lot and the city is easily walkable, so you will easily feel at home around here.

Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester

From there, the North-West is also close by with Liverpool and Manchester being two must-sees for different reasons. Liverpool is the city of the Beatles with spectacular views over river Mersey and the Irish sea, whereas Manchester is proud of its industrial past and owes much of its recent fortunes to a buzzing art scene. What’s more, true Northeners always speak their minds, and know how to welcome a traveller.

Finally, why not take the chance to explore some magic scenery around the Lake District, which happens to be the wettest place in England but also one of the country’s largest national park, the most scenic and fascinating. A trip here is a fairytale experience that all hiking aficionados will hardly forget. Who knows, after your visit you may want to never head back to London and take your return flight.