Friday, 23 February 2018

Things to do in Gran Canaria instead of sitting by the pool all day

Here I am working in a tall office block in London with spectacular views of mist and fog and ALL THE RAIN. It's days like today where I try and remember what it feels like to have sun kissing at your skin (I tried to remember and failed. It's been too long). And with that, I reminisce about past holidays. One holiday that holds a very special place in my heart is Gran Canaria.

I'll be honest. I'm not someone who can sit on a sun lounger or a beach every day for 2 weeks. I can maybe do 2-3 days tops, but ultimately I live to explore and go on adventures. It sounds simple, but just the act of leaving your hotel can be therapeutic. You can be in the nicest hotel but with the daily struggle of DAWN WARS with the reserved sun loungers (who knew that a towel was legally binding??) and you just want a pool day but there is nowhere to sit and arghhh I'm meant to be on holiday y'know and the tension and knots that were unraveling from your shoulders are coming back in full force...  Sometimes it's nice to step outside and take a breather. So with that, comes my guide of things to do in Gran Canaria away from your resort.

Start slow, explore the local area first

I loved staying in Maspalomas and Meloneras. Seen as one of the more luxurious parts of Gran Canaria, it is a very well kept and nice looking area. Besides their beautiful stretch of sand (more on this below!) there is a great running path alongside the sea with beautiful greenery which reminded me of a mass invasion of succulents (pic below!). This is not solely a criticism of Gran Canaria as this happens everywhere, but resorts that have buffet meal options are usually very much tailored to tourists, meaning that you don't have always have the chance to try local specialties. For this very reason, I like leaving whichever hotel I'm staying in to scope out local food. I tried some lovely Canarian specialties including their local mojo sauce (oil, garlic, vinegar, red pepper and assortment of herbs and spices) drizzled across a potato based dish. There were also some lovely tapas places (I never want a huge meal when it's hot!). I love sizzling hot skillets of garlic prawns with a generous sprinkling of parsley.


Watch a film under the stars

Step outside your hotel one evening and head to Moonlight Cinema for a rooftop open air cinema experience. They usually have some fairly recent titles (you can find their latest film schedule here). Snuggle under the blankets provided, and order food and drinks from the comfort of your seat, by simply pressing a light on the arm of your chair. There is a full array of movie friendly snacks like pizza, nachos and popcorn. Drinks wise, there is an extensive alcohol list, but hot drinks are also available if you happen to visit on a cooler evening!


One for the playas

Playa of course being Spanish for beach. The beaches in Gran Canaria are well worth a visit. I stayed in Maspalomas which has the second longest beach in Gran Canaria. If you follow the sea around, you will reach the Playa del Ingles which is a busier, more touristy beach, but it has more in the way of water activities. It was amusing watching families bobbling along the waves on - I kid you not - a swan pedalo. Mid way between Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles is nature at its very best (revealed below!), so persevere and keep on walking because it's worth it.


And if you REALLY like water, how about a water park?

The Canary Islands are great for water parks and Gran Canaria is no exception. Aqualand is located in the south of the island within easy distance of Maspalomas. Of if you prefer to keep your feet on land, try a different sort of park at Palmitos Park  (more of a zoo).

THOSE sand dunes

If you go to Gran Canaria you HAVE to visit the Maspalomas sand dunes. One minute you're in the Canary islands, the next you are transported to the Sahara dessert. This amazing natural phenomena was formed during the last last ice age where the wind blew sand from the bottom of the ocean towards the coast of the island. Pretty incredible, huh? Word of advice: take plenty of water with you and a water spray if you have. There are food kiosks peppered along the way on the sand of the main beach, but drinks here are extortionately priced. And wear shoes if you go up the dunes. The sand is so much hotter here. I wore cut out sandals, took some quick pictures from the top of a dune and literally ran down from one into the sea to soak my feet! Another way of seeing the sand dunes is by camel safari (you can book this up here) or for adrenaline junkies, a 4x4 tour. However you choose to navigate the dunes, I really recommend you pay them a visit for an out-of-this-world experience.


Visit Little Italy AKA Puerto Mogan

Located in the south of Gran Canaria, Mogan is a beautiful sun dappled coastal town full of white fronted houses with pops of pink from numerous flowers and window boxes, and narrow winding streets made for exploring. Travel guides quote Mogan as a taste of Italy and say that is is Venetian inspired. I would have to agree. As well as beautiful streets, a booming local market, boats and yachts galore and a beach, Mogan have excursions like their yellow submarine tour. The day I went, I climbed to the top of the hill for outstanding views. Looking through my Gran Canaria photos, I don't have any from my day in Mogan which says a lot. Generally when I am in total awe of how wonderful a place is, I look with my eyes not a camera. But if you want a sneak peek of beautiful Puerto Mogan, there are some pictures here. It was really refreshing to be away from the tourist heavy parts of Gran Canaria and to find an idyllic slice of paradise.

Visit Las Palmas

One year I was royally ripped off by a day excursion to Las Palmas. Hoping for some culture and to actually visit Las Palmas, instead this excursion turned out to be €50 to be driven in a coach to a shopping centre and given some time to spend even more money before being taken back to the hotel later than day. And on the way there "highlights" were pointed to us out of the window like a new shopping centre that was being built that would have a Primark. I mean honestly. So if your hotel offers you a  Las Palmas excursion, double check the small print and make sure it's not this shopping one! The real Las Palmas is beautiful (pics here!) and is well worth a visit. The shopping centre (Centro Comercial Las Arenas) I spoke of is decent and has some great shops (most up-to-date list here) with firm favourites like Mango and Zara (I found Zara items from back home sold at much lower prices!). I also sniffed out a McDonalds and stopped for a super refreshing smoothie. But my advice: make your own way to Las Palmas. In Maspalomas there is a bus stop where you can take a bus (€6 rather than €50!) to the shopping centre and back.


Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia

In spite of the disappointment from THAT "excursion", every cloud has a silver lining. Without going on that awful €50 excursion, I never would have discovered Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia (essentially a science and technology museum) which was just opposite the shopping centre. Easily reached by bus ((€6 rather than the €60 you would need to shell out for a taxi), the museum contains something for everyone and is perfect for those of all ages. I loved how interactive and immersive an experience it was. I'm not sure if and how often the exhibits are refreshed, but when I visited I made rainbows, had all the fun with a green screen and concealed myself into the Gran Canarian landscape.


Have you ever been to Gran Canaria? 

Maspalomas is picturesque and serene and has a more of luxury feel to the resorts, shops and local area. But in this case don't read 'luxe' as expensive. Maspalomas does affordable luxury and gets the balance right. Case in point of how beautiful some of the hotels are...


If you are more of social butterfly, Playa del Ingles is buzzing with nightlife and I would compare this more to Playa de las Americas in Tenerife.

Regardless of where you go, Gran Canaria as a holiday destination isn't expensive and I have always had the best time there without having to shell out a fortune and without having to live on beans on toast for months afterwards. You can travel to Gran Canaria from a little as £149 per person and some examples of good Gran Canaria holiday packages can be found here. I love the look of the Dunas Mirador Maspalomas which has stylish and light and airy bedrooms and also Marina Bayview which has a Santorini feel about it and the most incredible views.

I have only scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in Gran Canaria and I can't wait to go back again one day so I can add to this travel guide. I really recommend going off the beaten track, exploring nearby villages and of course the Maspalomas sand dunes!

Post written in collaboration with Holiday Gems but as ever, all content and opinions are my own

Friday, 9 February 2018

Simple life hacks to help make a house a home

What you wear and how you present yourself can say a lot about you, and this same logic can extend through to your home. It doesn't matter if you own your home or rent it, it's a given that you want to come home at the end of a long day to a piece of you - rather than feeling like an intruder in your own home. Owning your property outright means you can delve straight into all manner of home improvements, whereas if you have a landlord or someone else to answer to, there may be restrictions in place preventing you from being able to rip out existing built-in units / flooring, or from painting over those dastardly yellow tinged magnolia walls. If you are in student digs, renting, or anywhere else that holds decorating restrictions, there are small changes that you can make here and there to make your space feel more like your own. And the good news? None of these have to cost the earth.

Throws and soft furnishings

A godsend if you have secondhand / inherited furniture that isn't to your taste. Or if you have pets that shred ALL THE FUR (I'm looking at you, Bailey). I moved into my - unfurnished - house as a first time buyer with ALL THE SHOES but not really anything useful i.e. furniture. Fortunately I acquired an entire living room set from family who simply fancied a change. All of these items were virtually new and in immaculate condition, and as thankful as I was to actually have chairs right from the word go and not be sitting on the floor, the fact still remains that a beige sofa isn't very... me. It's a bitch to keep clean and beige chairs in a room with magnolia walls isn't the one. Future me dreams of replacing them with a grey L shaped sofa or a tan leather affair, but for the time being they can be easily transformed by adding layers of throws and soft furnishings like cushions. What was once a beige cat furr magnet is now covered with a black and white geometric pattern throw (as seen later in this post!) which I'm pretty certain only cost me £5 or less from Primark. For colder evenings, I add extra textures like a rust coloured chunky knit which contrasts nicely against the monochrome geometric fleecy throw. Sheepskin rugs are really versatile as they can be draped on a chair or a bed - not just the floor. Whilst there are pricier options out there, you can also get sheepskin rugs from as little as £10 from IKEA. I also really love those chunky knit blankets knitted with the humongous knitting needles. But no matter what you opt for remember this: don't see it as hiding a piece of unloved furniture - see it more as transforming a piece and making it more you.

Prints & typography

I love an inspiration quote. So a bland looking magnolia wall transformed into a gallery wall of framed motivation quotes... count me in! Choose quotes and artwork that is personal and means something to you. If your accommodation prevents you from nailing things to the wall, choose wall friendly options like command strips or propping frames up on a shelf (I have my print of M, the kittens and I freestanding... as seen here!). I know from my uni accommodation days that blu tack is not the one (chipped paint on the walls meant I lost a chunk of my deposit. Sad times). Whilst you can buy readily framed quotes online, why not create your own for something extra personal? Frames aren't expensive (I bought some from Asda for less than £1 each for my wedding table plan) and can be filled with either handwritten quotes (particularly if you are a calligraphy whizz kid!) or something typed and then printed off from the computer. I also like saving pages from magazines and postcards from Paperchase - both of which also frame well.

Flowers

I don’t know about you, but I love having flowers in the house. They are a great way of incorporating some colour into your life if a) you don't have a garden or b) you have decorating restrictions where you live. Plus they make the house smell lovely, don't they?


The other day I had a surprise delivery from Prestige Flowers who very kindly sent me one of their Lomond bouquets from their luxury range. I have dark inky blue walls in the lounge and I find that bright whites or bright colours like hot pink can look sensational against darker walls. So Prestige were spot on with their colour choice! An arrangement of brightly coloured blooms can help lift a dark room that doesn't see a lot of light (because not all of us are fortunate enough to be living somewhere with huge bay windows!)


I love the contrast of the greens (aren't the shamrock blooms beautiful?) against the pinks. The pinks in particular make a bouquet like this the perfect choice for Valentine's Day or Mother's Day (Prestige do some lovely other Mother's Day bouquets here!). Although to be honest, flowers like these would make me happy all year round! The arrangement filled the house with a beautiful fresh scent and gave the house a spring essence despite the fact it was snowing / sleeting / raining outside. I'm so ready for Spring!


The black gift bag that came with it was a nice touch and would be a lovely way of presenting the flowers if you were invited for dinner somewhere, or to welcome friends into a new home. I liked the high gloss wrapping (also black) and even the box it arrived in was pretty. I'm all too used to boring brown boxes (I'm STILL unpacking from moving house...) and I really liked the chic black and white design. It shows extra attention to detail and pride of presentation at every stage - not just with the flowers themselves.


I was impressed with the condition they arrived in (it can sometimes be a bit hit and miss when flowers are sent by courier) and how they thrived in the days that followed. One thing I did notice unlike other flowers I have had before, is that they drank water like it was going out of fashion. So my advice would be to keep an eye on the water level and keep it frequently topped up so you get a good long use out of your flowers.

Prestige also offer add on items like balloons, fruit baskets, prosecco and so on. They also very kindly sent me Charlie the bear (who for the record Bailey absolutely adores!), a vase, and a box of chocolates - all of which were lovely added touches. I usually avoid the fruity chocolates in chocolate boxes as I can find them a little artificial tasting (also if I wanted fruit, I'd have fruit). But I have to say, the fruity ones I tried were the first I have liked and enjoyed. I think this was because they had a higher chocolate to fruit ratio which I prefer. How cute is the chocolate crown?


So with that, a flower summary: fill your home with fresh flowers and potted plants (pink / purple orchids are a personal favourite of mine!) for an instant injection of colour. Green heavy arrangements can really help lift a neutral space dressed in white or magnolia. Flowers are a great life hack if your living space is one that you don't have permission to paint or make any major changes to, and can really make a house feel more like a home.

Candles

When I first moved into my house, there was a stale smell in the lounge which I couldn't get rid of. I took down and washed the curtains, I hired a Rug Doctor and deep cleaned the carpets, and I washed the walls down with sugar soap. None of these things helped. Then enter the humble candle. Once my living room was a little more put together (read: actually had furniture), I brought out my candles. Candles add a signature scent to your living space rather than eau de previous tenant. And yes, that stale smell in my living room is now a thing of the past (hooray). I don't know about you, but candles instantly make me feel more relaxed. There is something very soothing about watching episodes and films by candlelight. Candles don't have to be expensive, so can be a fairly low cost way of transforming your home. I love Aldi's candles which are a spookily accurate dupe for the Jo Malone candles, but at a fraction of the price. Primark also do some great options.


A huge thank you to Prestige for the flowers (aren't they gorgeous?), the chocolates and Charlie. Prestige have flowers for as little as £19.99 and offer next day delivery (check the site here for order deadlines), weekend delivery, and free chocolates with selected bouquets. I hadn't heard of Prestige before, but was really impressed with the flowers I received and how they were presented and will definitely be ordering from them again in the future!

What are your favourite ways of making your home feel more homely?