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Best Texas barbecue: Eating at Snow’s, Lexington

Tweet God bless the little children, or at least the strong-willed teens. It was because of our 16-year-old’s determination that we have another “special” barbecue experience (something to contend with our half day stakeout attempting to eat at Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin) that the day after we travelled 13 hours from Taos, New Mexico, to Austin, we rose at 7am to drive an hour to eat barbecue. For breakfast. That’s because Snow’s BBQ in the small town of Lexington (population circa 1,100) is only open on Saturdays and only until the meat runs out – reckoned to be about noon. Snow’s has become legendary after it was featured in Texas Monthly in 2008 as the best barbecue in the state. In today’s parlance, it was disruptive. Snow’s seemed to come from nowhere to topple the heretofore uncontested Texas BBQ greats. Rankings have shifted as the years have marched on but Snow’s remains a top dog in the fiery world of Texas barbecue. When I had suggested as an alternative visiting Lockhart, another small town near Austin where two of the state’s most renowned barbecue joints reside, to eat lunch at, er, lunchtime, he shrugged his shoulders in that teenage way. “I would rather skip it than just do something standard.” You gotta love a joint that inspires fans to dig into smoky brisket or a half rack of ribs before they’ve even had their morning latte. So we set the alarm and readied our bellies for barbecue. Getting there Lexington’s about an hour from Austin, heading east on 290 then up Farm Road 696. The drive from 290 up Farm Road 696 is lovely – enjoy the view of ranches, fields and farm houses and the sun rises above the horizon. The queue At Franklin’s Barbecue – the current cause celebre of Texas barbecue, located in Austin itself – the queue was a commitment, a social occasion, a happening (read about our experience) but you can’t go to the fair everyday. Here, it’s a quieter experience. We are here to eat. There were never more than 25 people in the queue and everyone chatted softly in their own groups. We waited only 20 minutes before being served.   Ordering You can order by the pound brisket, pork ribs, pork steak, chicken, turkey and sausage – regular and jalapeño. In the queue, a lady with an electric carving knife was happy to carve our meal according to numbers and weigh it after – 8 ribs, 8 slices of brisket and...

Indoor sky diving at Windoor, Empuriabrava, Costa Brava

TweetWhen I first visited Costa Brava with a group of UK travel bloggers, we started off our exploration of the region with an activity that couldn’t have been better tailored for my then 9-year-old than if she’d organised it herself. It was “skydiving” in an indoor wind tunnel, at Windoor, in the town of Empuriabrava. Visiting a place like Windoor, you encounter an entire subculture, previously completely hidden. Men and women walk around in body-skimming jumpsuits talking animatedly about body positions. A viewing pit and restaurant tables are arranged in the WindBar outside the transparent tunnel, and groups sit drinking coffee or lager, watching the action inside and looking like they’ll be there all afternoon. We see indoor skydiving places occasionally at various places we visit, and I’d always wondered what they were all about. They sound a bit like a joke course you take at university, like underwater basket-weaving. But when we finally took the leap at Windoor, we were literally floating on air (sorry). What: Indoor skydiving at a facility that professional skydivers use but where amateurs are warmly welcomed too. Here’s the drill: You put on a jumpsuit, helmet and goggles; get a briefing from Pali (in our case), an easy-going instructor from Slovakia; wait outside the tunnel while watching professional skydivers practicing flips, spins and balletic swoops up and down the tunnel as if they’ve been sprinkled with fairy dust. The great thing is, with the help of Pali, it’s as easy as stepping out of an airplane. You get to the entrance door of the tube, lean your hips forward and basically fall into wind from below, which keeps you aloft. Kid appeal: Predictably, the kid appeal here is sky high. Young visitors are fearless and excited about zooming up the tunnel and throwing different shapes, testing how it allows them to move around the wind tunnel. Adults are a bit more suspicious that a strong breeze will actually hold them up. Everyone’s delighted when it works. What we liked: How easy the instructors make the entire experience. The staff is warm and welcoming and safety always seems paramount. On the day we visited, there were groups of advanced skydivers practicing their fast balletic swoops. Magnificent. What we didn’t like: When you arrive at the big warehouse-style building, you could be fooled into thinking the excitement within is nothing but hype. Resist that feeling. The whole morning was a fresh experience. Watch how the whole process goes, below, from entry into the wind tunnel...

iPhoneography: Staying at the Anassa in Cyprus

TweetWhen it comes to luxury family stays, the Anassa’s reputation precedes it. The resort in West Cyprus has won a slew of awards for its thalassotherapy spa and its family friendliness. We had the pleasure of visiting over the Easter break as guests of the hotel to check out what sport and adventures we could get up to over a long weekend. The resort is luxurious, oh yes. But even beyond enjoying this remote resort, we saw gorgeous, unspoiled Cypriot countryside, navigated slippery rocks at the dramatic Avakas Gorge, learned more about the Turkish/Greek divide, ate gorgeous food and lazed on well-sited terraces, admiring dramatic views. I’ll be posting video and reviews soon, but in the meantime, here’s a peek at what we did and saw. Jenography visited Anassa on a half board press trip. All opinions are my own.           Look for more about our Cyprus travel soon. Get vital advice and tips on travelling in Europe in my Europe section...

Cruising South London in the new Smart ForFour

TweetThe road trip is the beginning of all travel for most of us — how we first experience travel as a child, how we take our first trips as young adults with friends or partners. For me, the destinations were memorable but there are also the memories of the car ride itself. The dens made from sleeping bags and pillows. The detritus of snack-food packaging that accumulated in the footwell. The line drawn down the middle of the back seat. The chilled homemade sandwiches my mother would pull from the cooler when we ate at rest stops along the way. And of course I remember the cars. The Ford station wagon with roof rack with its expansive back area, spreading out like the a fairway before us kids like our private playground.   The custom cherry red VW bug with flared flanges installed by the previous owner, which carted me and my friends to and from Austin.   Because every road trip, every driving experience, is made that much better with an exciting car. That’s why I jumped at the chance to try out the Smart ForFour for a week. This version of a Smart car is designed to hold 4 people, better for families but still with all the benefits of the traditional It’s cute (check!), it’s fun to drive (check!) and the new iteration of the Smart car seats 4 comfortably, important for family outings (check!). This car left an impression. Was it up there with the station wagon and the red bug? It could be, it could be.     Get a peek at the Smart ForFour on my video and see what my pros and cons list, below.     Pros Adorable – Everybody wants a cool ride. For me, that means something cute, zippy and fun. Smart ForFour totally fits in the bill. It’s not all *serious face* with barely discernible lines and ho-hum interior. It’s orange and black and white, with contrast stitching, and looks like the kind of car in which fun happens. Perhaps we’ll laugh giddily like people do in car commercials. Petite – A small size is a boon in the UK, where parking is a bore. I drove this all around South London and never failed to find a space that I would have to pass by in our regular car but in which the Smart ForFour slotted perfectly. Don’t hate me because I find good spaces. Tech-enabled – You can connect via Bluetooth to play your music via...

12 things every female-friendly hotel needs

Tweet Over the years I’ve stayed at a wide range of hotels. Each time I’ve been female. As a result I can’t help but notice how some places get it right and some get it woefully wrong. There are simply some things that we ladies need when staying overnight. It’s not just a matter of convenience or luxury. It’s evidence that hotels don’t value their female guests (and the money they wield) as much as the men. It’s as much a feminist issue as having enough toilets at sports venues. It means the world is built for only half the population. For those getting it right, I thank you. For those trying to get it right, here is the Jenography list of what every female-friendly hotel needs: 1. Full-length mirror Sometimes I need to monitor my feet without craning my neck. Other times I need to make sure the shoes I optimistically packed for my holiday or business trip actually go with the outfit I put in. In any case, a full-length mirror makes sense for hotel owners, as it saves wear and tear on the duvet from when I have to stand on it to see my lower half in the mirror that’s mounted on top of the chest of drawers. 2. A proper, fully-powered hairdryer I don’t expect every hotel to have a hairdryer like the wind machine I paid up for at home. But I need an appliance that generates something more than a gentle breeze. As for those places that have a wall-mounted hose that looks salvaged from a vaccuum cleaner, we’ve gotten the message: only middle-aged balding men are welcome here. 3. A plug near a mirror for hairdryers and styling irons I hate that morning circuit of running from the side table with the plug over to the mirror to check the results, back over the dryer, back to the mirror, repeat ad infinitum. 4. A decently lit mirror To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, “You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here. It is an up-at-dawn, freshening-up-after-dark, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?” To save everyone from this horror, I need a well-lit mirror for proper makeup application. Help me. Help me help you. 5. Countertop space for face soap and moisturizer Here’s where budget hotels always win hands down. They mount their basins in a smooth Formica prairie of countertop, adorned only with a bar of soap and a plastic shrinkwrapped cup. Meanwhile “cool” design...

Preview: Visiting Anassa in Cyprus with children

TweetIt’s always exciting to plan for a trip but there’s something quite special when you’re upcoming trip makes people jealous. “You’re going to Anassa?” a blogger friend of mine cooed when I told her about our Easter trip to Cyprus, staying at the Anassa resort. “That’s the best place in Cyprus. You’re going to love it,” she said, while her Cypriot boyfriend leaned over and nodded. “It’s the best,” he affirmed. A week later while visiting a salon, the talk of upcoming holidays came round. “Anassa – just today another client told me they’re visiting over Easter,” the owner told me. I knew Anassa was going to be a great place to visit, but I hadn’t known it was going to be this good. This Western Cyprus resort is next to the Akamas peninsula and national park and has won a raft of awards for best family hotel (Conde Nast Traveller in April 2015, Tatler, Telegraph) and spa destination (Conde Nast Traveller Reader’s Poll, among others). It’s a good hour away from the hubbub (and aeroport) of Paphos and we’ll be going for a sporty getaway with children, making the most of the Cyprus countryside and the beach. What has also got me excited — and what had my daughter practically beside herself with joy — were the pictures of a gorgeous complex nestled up against the beach, with three separate swimming pools.       The anticipation in the run-up to a holiday is delicious, made all the most tantalising when we’re due to visit a resort as celebrated and beautiful as Anassa. Zeitgeist and bragging rights aren’t the reason for travelling but let’s be honest: they are a nice side effect of going cool places and doing fun things. I’ll be blogging about our visit to Western Cyprus and Anassa over the coming weeks. Have you been? I’d love to hear your experiences! We’ll be staying as guests of Anassa on a half-board basis, paying for our lunches and all alcoholic beverages. All opinions are my own....

Even after the Germanwings crash, I’m still flying

Tweet As the revelations have filtered out about Germanwings flight 4U9525, crashed in the southern Alps, I’ve done what so many other travellers have done: imagined the scene inside the plane as it dropped inexorably in altitutude, the mountains looming large in the windows. I’ve thought about the families and friends of the passengers as well as the parents of Andreas Lubitz and what they must be going through. One thing I haven’t done is worry that the same fate of 4U9525’s passenger and crew could happen to me. It would be easy to do, but I haven’t succumbed to fear of flying … and none of us should. Why we shouldn’t worry Partly this is because of the statistics. Despite this horrific incident, we know that flying still remains safer than travelling by car. Partly this is because, for me, I know the amount of control I have once I’ve settled into my seat is limited. I fly airlines I trust, with good safety records, but once I’m on the plane there’s little I can do. I’ve put myself in the hands of the crew. Thousands of people are doing that right now as you read this. Partly this is because I know I am going to keep flying. I have to. A lifelong love of flying I’ve always loved air travel. I boarded my first flight — on the quirky and charismatic Southwest Airlines in Texas — as a teenager, but for years beforehand I fantasized about the glamour and excitement of jetting off somewhere exotic. When I moved to New York and regularly flew home, I never understood some people’s fear of flying; I could only see the positive. Even in the days after 9/11, when a friend worried about our upcoming short-hop flight to a conference, I felt calm. What were the chances of something like that happening again inside a month? Anxieties can creep in It was only when I got married and had a child that I began to feel a modicum of anxiety before flying. When I flew with my family, I wanted to know we would safely arrive. When I flew alone, I worried about leaving them behind, never seeing each other again. I still get those feelings for time to time. But it hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm — from the excitement of walking down the gangway, settling into my seat, drinking one of those miniature bottles of wine, passing a period of enforced leisure with chat and card games, in-flight...

Review: Barbury Shooting School for kids

Tweet I come from Texas, so really I’m supposed to know all about guns. But since I won that riflery award at summer camp age 12, my shooting prowess has largely been on the wane. Don’t get me wrong — I love shooting (I did say I’m from Texas, right?), but the opportunities to practice don’t come along that often. When my 16-year-old stepson received a voucher from his grandparents for a clay pigeon shooting day, my husband and I decided to register our 11-year-old daughter too and, while we were at it, have a private lesson for the two of us. Or rather a private lesson for me and a bit of easy shooting for him. The day out was at Barbary Shooting School in Wiltshire, just on the way to granny’s. The school is top-notch and runs loads of activities, from “have a go” days for taster sessions, ladies gun club meetings, multi-activity parties, children’s parties, and individual and group lessons. Here’s what we thought of it:   What: Our 11- and 16-year-old went on one of the Young Clayshots Day. The group of children — there were upwards of 20 that day, which one of the staff described as the biggest they’d ever had — were divided into smaller groups then taken to various stations of Barbury’s grounds. In one area just next to the lodge/club house, they took turns learning how to shoot air rifles at neon-coloured water balloons tacked onto a board. In another they did archery — using seriously engineered bows and with some of the children standing remarkably close to the target. They they got instruction shooting “birds” (clays catapulted into the air) and “rabbits” (clays that roll along the ground). All the children were complete novices or just about. (Barbury also run children’s clayshots days for more intermediate shooters.) Kid appeal: “It was very easy to learn how to shoot and you felt safe. The instructors were very clear,” my daughter said, describing her experience a few weeks later. On the day she was more effusive, talking in detail how she did the best in her group in the air rifle shoot-out, hitting a metal crow to beat out the last boy standing. The 16-year-old beamed after getting a nearly perfect score shooting clays. Thanks to the attentive instructor, who stood next to each shooter in turn and gave shot-by-shot advice — along with an occasional hand in guiding the gun — every child hit at least one and we were...

iPhoneography: Preparing for Chinese New Year in London

TweetI’ve always loved Chinese New Year, even if we don’t always celebrate it in grand style. I also love walking through Chinatown in London whenever I’m in the West End. Compared with Chinatown in New York, which has taken over Little Italy and goes on for block and blocks, London’s Chinatown is basically one or maybe two streets. It’s tiny, really. But whenever I am on my way to Leicester Square Tube station, I try to structure my route so I can walk down Gerrard Street. Last week I was lucky enough to be walking by while they were preparing for Chinese New Year, so it was more colourful and busier than ever. I like that even on this one street I feel transported into a different world. Food hangs in windows that I can’t identify. Signs are written in a script I don’t understand. All around people bustle, carrying in boxes of exotic vegetables to the grocery stores, reading the menus outside the restaurants.   When I walked through last week, they were hanging lanterns for Chinese New Year. Huge boxes were piled up, as a worker unpacked lanterns — made in China? — that they would string between the buildings.     Of course the big question is where to eat in Chinatown. I’ve tried several places that were all fine, all just about the same. But last week my husband came home raving after a lunch with colleagues at The Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant on Wardour Street. This is, not surprisingly, not related to the hotel chain of the same name. He had some “very good” crispy pork belly but the reason they went was for special roasted duck, which he raved about. I haven’t been there yet, but I’m looking forward to checking it out, if only to have another excuse to wander through our Chinatown. For more information about visiting Chinatown, go to www.chinatownlondon.org....

New York City: A girls’ day out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Tweet No visit to New York City is complete without a visit to Williamsburg in Brooklyn — one of the coolest places in the city, at least for the next minute or two, if you listen to the buzz. (A lot of New Yorkers will tell you Williamsburg is past-it, and in my experience when the is-it-cool-or-is-it-over debate gets going in earnest, you know that the area has probably lost some of its edge and artsy cachet, but you can at last get a good meal and the loos in the bars actually flush.) The first time I visited Williamsburg was in the ’90s, when one of my coolest, most creative friends lived there. The walk to her loft from the Bedford Street subway stop went by a handful of trendy cafes on Bedford Street. The rest was a vision of ramshackle buildings, small houses with vinyl siding and guys loitering on street corners. Note: The guys were not wearing porkpie hats nor working as software developers. Nobody had a fixed-gear bike out of choice. Why go to Williamsburg now Now Williamsburg is home to a landslide of groovy shops, packed coffeehouses, and restaurants that give Manhattan’s best a run for their money. It’s got a reputation for being a hornet’s nest of hipsters, a place that could have artisan knot shops and is definitely well-furnished with bearded men. Either way, I firmly recommend anyone visiting New York make the journey out on the L train. It’s still a bit gritty and modish, where old-school Brooklyn residents mix with young families and with 20somethings whose lives, frankly, we just don’t understand anymore. No doubt your kids will like it. But on a recent girls’ weekend sans famille, my girlfriends and I did a grown-up version. Here, what to do and see: Top 9 things to do in Williamsburg 1. Go vintage shopping Williamsburg is lousy with cool vintage shops selling clothes, furniture, and home decor items. If your American aunt sold it in a garage sale 30 years ago, you can reacquire it here. I found a first-class 1950s structured ponyskin bag at Lavai Maria, which displayed its lovely selection of clothes, shoes and bags not in a dusty jumble but like a Soho boutique. One of our best-dressed friends (along with French Vogue) swears by Beacon’s Closet, a clothing exchange known for its designer labels at great prices. Even if you aren’t buying, come to wander the streets and stumble upon shops where you can browse vintage wooden...

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