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Antwerp a Girls Best Friend

Fashion and diamonds

Antwerp for over 400 years has been known as a centre of trade and commerce firstly by importing herbs and spices such as pepper and cinnamon and then through the lucrative trade in diamonds.  It is also known as a centre for lace making. More recently Antwerp has reinvented itself as a hub for the fashion industry in the hope of competing with the likes of Milan, Paris, Rome and New York.

Antwerp’s Diamond District

As 80% of the world’s raw diamonds pass through Antwerp it is natural that the city will have a district dedicated to these gems. Situated near the distinctive central station this area is teeming with diamond and jewellery shops, polishers, cutting workshops and dealers.

For those intending to spend lots of time looking for diamond jewelery whilst visting Antwerp the Astrid Hotel is ideally situated opposite the magnificent train station. Guests shopping for Antwerp diamonds can walk to the sparkling Diamond District in about five minutes.

Read more on the Telegraph’s Girls Guide to Antwerp

Shopping in Antwerp

The main shopping area in Antwerp is the Meir, a street which runs from the Keyserlei, near the central station right down to the Groenplaats. The Stadfestzaal is a shopping centre worth visiting, magnificently restored in 2007 after a fire, it is now a popular place to browse and get retail therapy.

Any visiting fashionistas should get on down to the Hopland and Schuttershofstraat areas of town. This is where you will find all the designer labels and fashion brands such as Cartier, Armani and Hermes. While the Kammenstraat shops just off the Meir possess some attractive outlets. The Kloosterstraat is where you should go if you are looking for antique or vintage purchases as this is where the majority of second hand and bric-a-brac stores are located.

Fashion sense in Antwerp

One place you can trace the roots of Antwerp’s fashion credentials is at the MoMu Museum of Fashion. Here they have on exhibit examples of clothing, lace, fabrics and accessories, also displaying tools of the trades from down the centuries and telling the story of social changes in fashion over the years.

The museum also works in close collaboration with the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, annually promoting the third year students work. The middle of June is the best time for catwalk action as this is when the top world designers descend on the city, while the art school puts on its show at the start of the year.

A special place to discover Antwerp’s cool fashions is in the Graanmarkt 13, a house with fashionable outfits on every floor. Enjoy a light bite in the café and browse the familiar alongside the up and coming designers. This is the perfect setting for those with an eye for the chic.

Cool places to stay in Antwerp

A great place to drop off your shopping bags between trips is a room at the Radisson Park Inn, situated right in the middle of the Diamond District and perfectly placed for the best in Antwerp shopping.

The Park Inn has 59 cool modern rooms, minimalistically decorated with accents of colour splashed throughout. The hotel dishes up a copious buffet breakfast and offers generous discounts for its sister hotel’s gorgeous Square Brasserie & Terrace Restaurant.

Let’s Get Physical Abroad

Guest post form Erin Prickett who is an experienced traveller.  She spent five months traveling in Europe and lived in Mexico for a summer.  Also former athlete, Prickett enjoys combining her love of travel and fitness.  She recommends using a Travelocity promo code to save on flights for your next adventure abroad

Erin tells us: I’ve never been a huge fan of congested gyms, where muscle men flex in front of mirrors and show off for spandex-clad women furiously burning calories on the elliptical.  Richard Simons’ home work-out videos never do it for me either.  Maybe if I took speed I could keep up with that little leprechaun!

Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy the simplicity of outdoor adventure.  It’s much more exciting and liberating!

I’ve done some traveling in my day and discovered that one of the best ways to explore a new city and make a trip more memorable is to incorporate physical activity—something unique to that location which requires athleticism and audacity!  I’ve hiked the Cinque Terra coastline trail, completed a 20-mile bike ride through the Tuscany hillsides, snorkeled in the Gulf of Mexico, and scaled the pyramids of Teotihuacán.  That being said, my travel days are far from over, and I’ve created a ‘to-do’ list of future adventures.  You might add these to your travel list, as well!

Canyoning in Interlaken.

I have never been to Switzerland, but it’s at the top of my list.  Located between lakes and surrounded by gorgeous mountains, Interlaken is one of the oldest and most popular tourist resorts in Switzerland.  Visitors are drawn to ‘canyoning,’ or traveling in canyons using a variety of techniques, such as walking, climbing, jumping, abseiling, and swimming.  Canyoning in Interlaken is an awesome way to get in touch with nature, work out, and just have a blast.  I highly recommend searching for a YouTube video to witness canyoning.  A few friends of mine have done this activity, and they said it was the best part of their European travels. 

Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage

While living in Madrid for four months, I learned all about Spanish history and culture.  One Spanish tradition, which has existed over a thousand years, is a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain.  Every year, people from all over the world make the Christian pilgrimage to visit the Cathedral, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.  There are a number of routes that lead to the Cathedral, the most popular being Camino Fances, which stretches nearly 500 miles from France to Santiago.  Clearly, this is not a task for the weak.  The journey requires mental and physical stamina.  I would love to participate in the meaningful adventure. 

Toboggan down the Great Wall of China

My older brother traveled to China with his Business School classmates a couple years ago, and one of his favorite activities was tobogganing down the Great Wall of China.  Ascending the Great Wall is a journey in itself- a rather long, physically demanding walk through history.  Once you reach the top, you reflect on the grandeur of this world wonder and admire the scenery.  You then have two choices: descend by foot or by toboggan.  I’ll take the latter for 500 please, Alex??  There are three main sections of the Great Wall: Badaling, Jinshanling, and Mutianyu.  The toboggan ride is unique to the Mutianyu section. Passengers can ride down the German-built steel toboggan track, which winds through the forest in a series of twists and turns. Each toboggan carries one person and has a hand break for adjusting speeds.  Without a doubt, I want to ride down the Great Wall someday.

In order to get physical abroad, you first need to figure out how you’ll get there.  Look for cheap flights on Travelocity.com.  I recommend using a Travelocity promo code to save money on your airfare.  You can find coupons at CheapSally.com. So pick a place, search for flights, and start thinking about the outdoor adventures your destination has to offer.  Time to get cultured AND physical!

Top Banana Guide to Visiting York Minster

As you can see in the video below York, the northern capital of medieval England has a wealth of tourist attractions and places to visit, such as the Jorvik Viking Centre, the York Castle Museum or a wander along the path of the old city wall.

Visit York Video

York is surrounded by the spectacular rolling countryside of the Yorkshire moors and is a place of wild romance and remote villages.

One of the most spectacular sights one can visit in York is the Minster, Northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral and a magnificent old building to tour. It is full of history, intrigue and pleasure; its rose window is one of the most magnificent examples of medieval stained glass work around.

York Minster’s story

The cathedral at York was started in 1220 and finished some 200 years later, prior to its last incarnation the church at York was built and destroyed on a number of occasions starting as far back as 671, although evidence exists that there was a place of worship on the site before this.

Even in modern times the cathedral has come under threat and the last great fire occurred on the 9th July 1984 when a fire started by lightening destroyed the roof of the south transept.

Guided Tours of York Minster

Every weekday and Saturday between 9am and 3pm you can take a guided tour around the Minster with experienced tour guides who will happily explain the history and significance of the marvellous building.

Visitors can climb the 275 steps that lead out on to the top of the famous tower and are able to gaze down on the medieval gargoyles, the narrow streets below and the beautiful panorama of the Yorkshire countryside. The undercroft beneath the tower is also worth exploring as here in the 1960’s workers discovered the remains of old Roman York and visitors today can still see these ancient remnants of the city’s early history.

Cathedral walks

Another popular trip around the cathedral takes in the West End, the crypt and the walkway above the Five Sisters windows. The highlight of the tour is a walk through the Mason’s loft above the vestibule.

One of York Cathedral’s greatest assets are the breathtaking 128 stained glass leaded lights and visitors can not only look at these wonderful windows but also go behind the scenes of the 13th century studio where they are still cared for today.

Where to stay in York

Whilst staying at the Park Inn hotel in York (North Street, York, YO1 6JF) you will find that you are much closer to the lively surroundings of the city centre and within easy walking distance from the Minster. The accomodation provided at York Park Inn includes 200 impeccably furnished rooms, with at least a quarter being afforded glorious views across the river Ouse.

There is plenty to keep you entertained on a holiday in York but one of the most memorable times you can have is by taking a turn around the cathedral, steeped in history, gloriously lit and magically situated its worth the trip even if you only visit York for a day.

Save Money Going on Holiday

Below we share some top banana money-saving travel tips from Sweet Circle Travel on how to save on where you’re going to stay, what you eat, what you see and how you see! on holiday.

Save on accommodation

1. Home swaps

If you want to go on holiday but are tired of the usual hotel chains and expensive, soulless rooms then why not consider a home swap? It may sound daunting but it gives you the opportunity of paying virtually nothing and getting to visit a new country whilst enjoying all the comforts of a home.

2. Do ‘chic on the cheap’

Generally expensive destinations like Paris or New York needn’t be out of reach for those on a budget. There are plenty of ways to rub shoulders with the glitterati without spending like them; cheap hotels, hostels and value eateries all allow those on modest budgets to enjoy a visit to these destinations too.

Save when you’re there

3. Eat like a local

Not only is tasting new cuisines part of the joy of travelling but you’re likely to eat better, as well as saving money, when you eat like a local. From £1 bowls of noodles in Vietnam to backstreet French bistros, produce is usually locally sourced and tastier, rather than being imported. If they’ve had to ship a tin of baked beans 4,000 miles, it’s not going to come cheap!

4. Don’t worry – be ‘appy’

In this era of technology and gadgets, your smartphone can be a handy money-saving travel buddy. There are apps on the market for everything, including travel guides, maps, phrasebooks and even torches!

Download these and you’ll make significant savings on paper copies of these essentials and also save space in your case meaning less chance of excess baggage charges!

5. Save on foreign currency exchange

Withdrawing money abroad can cost a lot in charges as well as not getting the most favourable exchange rate. Although using a debit card can be cheaper than a credit card, be aware that most banks will charge for each cash withdrawal on top of a commission fee. So if you’re going to do this, it’s better to take out larger sums so you’re charged less frequently but take care and don’t keep all your money in the same place.

Getting your currency before you arrive at the airport is also a way of securing the best rate you can and almost always works out a cheaper.

6. Get paid

If you’re off on extended travels it’s possible to entirely fund your trip or even come home with some extra cash in your pocket if you’re able to work as you travel. From grape picking to teaching English, there’s a whole host of options available. Alternatively, if you’re the creative or eloquent type, there are companies who may be able to offer some kind of sponsorship or payment in exchange for writing something about your destination.

7. Volunteer to travel

In an era where more of us feel a sense of social responsibility than ever before, helping the most needy can be both an inspiration and a chance to see the world by paying with your time rather than your money.

With so many opportunities out there from trips that last a few weeks, to two years or more, everyone can discover new places and do their bit for building a better future and see the bigger picture as they go!

More Saving Tips

8. Cheap ski holidays

Love skiing but get nervous about mounting costs? Fear not, there are many ways to cut the costs of a snow trip. Choosing a cheaper resort, going right at the start or end of the season and budget accommodation will allow you to enjoy the mountains for less.

9. Weigh your luggage before you leave home

Last but not least, some of us get to the airport to find we’re over our baggage allowances and end up paying excess and/or excessive charges. Avoid this by weighing your bag before you leave home and take out any unnecessary items if you find you’re over the limit. “Travel light” is always sound advice!

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