Wanderer

My European Top Spots.

It’s nearly April… I’ve been wondering where to spend my summer. While I’m looking at spreading my wings as far as Thailand or America (I know, completely different ideas there!) this year, I think I’ve definitely scattered my heart across different cities of Europe, including good old England. Then again… I tend to say that about pretty much every city and country I visit, so no doubt as I wander further afield, that list will just grow longer and longer.

I love the diversity of Europe; the array of cultures and languages and delicacies, the contrast of stark differences and intermingled traditions from border to border. There are some cities that I just find myself going back to again and again, and it never gets old – there are always new cafes serving coffee even more delicious than the last, more landmarks that I haven’t found the time to visit yet and beautiful little streets that are deserted but for myself and the occasional knowing local.

This wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to order my unruly top 10:

1. Paris. For years Rome held this top spot, but France’s capital has rather snuck up on me over the years – every time I go I love it more and more, even if I’m literally just passing through on a train, and somehow, it overtook Rome. Yes, the people can at times be a little snooty, but most of the time the snooty-ness that I have witnessed against tourists is purely because they are not meeting Paris’ standards – arriving in Paris in dirty clothes and Birkenstock with a tatty rucksack on your back is not going to make you the darling of the city. It’s quite like trying to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a ball. Everyone makes an effort in Paris, even if it is in that je ne sais quoi, ‘I just fell out of bed’ Parisian sense. They’re experts at putting in a lot of effort in looking effortless. Try to blend in, and that snooty-ness will disappear. Or so I find. 

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2. Rome. See, my ex-top spot has not slipped far. I love history. I love art, architecture, literature and the renaissance, all of which can be found on every corner of Rome. I feel comfortable walking around the city without getting lost – I can act as tour guide to fellow travellers. There’s no better feeling than realising that you know a foreign city. It’s not just a place that I have visited a few times anymore. I’ve always been and will continue to be lured to Rome for its history, its art, its food and its coffee. Yes, yes, yes and a very big yes from me on those fronts!

My one pet peeve when in Rome? Arrogant, metrosexual Roman guys who still live with their mothers well into their thirties. They linger around Trevi Fountain in droves. Huge, huge pet peeve of mine.

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3. Prague. When I first visited Prague, I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s just not a place that I have looked into too much before I arrived at  Hlavni Nadrazi station. Until then my Pinterest (what came before Pinterest? Good old fashioned cut-and-paste scrapbooks?) had been full of photographs of Paris, Rome, Athens, The Great Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Buddhist Temples. I’d always planned to visit Prague, but somehow looking at what it was like never occurred to me. The beauty of the place blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of East and West European; some streets could easily pass for France or Italy – or even England, when suddenly you’re surrounded by Eastern European architecture, Czech music ringing through your ears and people drinking brands I can’t even pronounce.

Also, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

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4. Venice. Yes, it’s quite a pricey city, but then I’ve found that I can still keep my budget low – Venice is not a city teaming with museums and must-see sites with expensive ticket fares like other touristic cities. I’m also not big on souvenirs, which could prove to be super pricey if I were. Venice is the city I head to if I want to see Italy, without the hustle and bustle of Rome or Milan or – to some extent – Florence. I tend to avoid the few busy spots of the city – St Mark’s Square and Ponte di Rialto. Two or three streets from these Venetian hot-spots, and you’ll find deserted streets, a woman beating sheets over her balcony perhaps, the occasional cat, but otherwise you’re entirely alone. No cars, no noise. It’s wonderful.

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5. Florence. Yes, Paris may be my number one city, but Italy is clearly my number one country. Florence is a nice balance of everything I love about Italy. It’s not as mad as Rome, or as busy and metropolitan as Milan, and while it has that same peace as Venice, it’s gifted in sprinkles rather than spades. It is quintessential Italy in the country’s best region: Tuscany – I love taking day trips from Florence to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.

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6. Lisbon. I tend to yo-yo between Porto and Lisbon when choosing my favourite Portuguese city, but right now, I’d choose Lisbon. It’s true what they say – ‘Porto works and Lisbon plays’. Things are much more relaxed in the south, and people seem to mysteriously work less and yet are richer. I do have one issue with Lisbon – its treacherously slippering paving stones.

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Seriously, I had to buy a new pair of shoes just because wearing my sandals or ballet flats was about as effective as wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers. Otherwise you pretty much have to choose between risking your life by walking in the road, or risking your life because every step could end in a broken neck.

Still, Lisbon is beautiful, not majorly touristic and yet not entirely isolated to the lone traveller who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – like me. Actually, that’s a lie. I can say thank you. I think thank you is the most important phrase to learn in every language. Even more so than hello.

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7. Budapest. Another city that I had little knowledge of – like Prague. I knew it to be cheap, but that’s about it. Yes, it is cheap, though as tourism grows, so do those prices. The architecture is sophisticated, the people are sophisticated – but for a few old men who linger on park benches whistling at passing women. So many people have apologized for ‘the habits of the older generation’ – honestly, it’s fine. Clearly they have never passed a building site in the UK. The famous thermal baths are wonderful. I recommend visiting the bath houses during winter – it’s instantly even better when you’re lounging in the steaming water watching the snow fall outside.

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8. Barcelona. I’m not a fan of gaudy Gaudi, but of course, his architecture makes Barcelona what it is. I find it amazing how we all flock to see a building that is not due to be finished until 2026. I mean, of course, La Sagrada Familia. However, one place where I feel Gaudi’s unique style does work within the city is Park Güell – also the spot of my favourite (yet discovered) view in Barcelona. In Park Güell you will find pianists, violinists and musicians of instruments so exotic that I don’t even know what they are. They claim a spot and play beautiful classical pieces to entertain tourists and locals alike. It’s quirky and amazing.

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9. Vienna. A haven for museum-geeks like me, my favourite being the Sisi museum; a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s cleaner than Paris and Rome. It’s more efficiently run than England, but it’s not as frustratingly perfect as a few cities I have been to; so perfect that they no longer feel real. Also, the people who live there are unbelievably lovely.

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10. Off the beaten track. Finally, while I could go on and on about this city and that city, for me, one of the best parts of Europe is the little villages whose names I never learnt before I moved on to the next. I love the lakes, beaches, rivers and hills. I’m a country girl as well as a city girl, and I love rambling around woodland and climbing hills to see the view at sunset. So if you’re going to Europe, don’t just stick to the ‘must see cities’.

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Not the best wardrobe for backpacking…

When it comes to fashion, I think the 1950s were the best time for travelling. How on earth they managed to so perfectly pack those huge Grace Kelly skirts without completely ruining them, I’ll never know… how they managed to find the space to pack anything other than those space-hogging petticoats and skirts, I have no idea. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve tried in the past to be ‘sensible’ in what I pack for my travels. Jeans were banned (in the summer, anyway), my love for big midi-skirts was ignored, and I’d stick to a boho, mix and match, Free People-esque capsule wardrobe; lightweight, fold-resistant fabrics that take up minimal suitcase space . You’re mocked if you’re a girl with a big suitcase (especially one like these), full of the latest trends, which is definitely flared or pencil midi skirts right now. People – guys especially – roll their eyes out if they catch you applying lippy, or straightening your hair (though that last ‘backpacking offence, I am entirely innocent of, despite the cowlicks). You’re supposed to wander around with a grubby backpack (been there) – something ‘serious‘ (aka, ugly), or if you’re fashion conscience, vintage and canvas, which therefore feels like a bag of bricks hanging from your shoulder blades (done that).

I prefer to step off every plane, train and bus like this:

Minus the pin-perfect curls. I really don’t care that certain people who I meet on my travels openly presume that I am a) rich b) spoilt c) a bimbo and/or d) ignorant to the reality of backpacking. I’m not about to climb mountains in a pair of stilettos! Especially as I can barely walk down a perfectly flat and even pavement in stilettos without falling flat on my face… needless to say, while stilettos are pretty to look at, I never take anything higher than kittens abroad.

Fashion and travel don’t always work well together, of course… take the second Sex and The City movie. There were some great outfits in that film – I love the Dior tshirt-and-big-skirt combo. But equally, sometimes it was like a car crash headfirst into the wardrobe department. For example:

Personally, I think people have become lazy when it comes to fashion when travelling. I get that when travelling, people don’t want to spend hours and hours getting ready each morning. It takes me half an hour. Bam.

I think this is an expansion on my RSS… my fashion style is definitely ‘settled and working in the big city’, while my passion is to keep on moving, moving, moving. I’m molding the two tough, into something that works well for me.

Now days, besides making sure that I have one or two practical outfits for things like rock climbing, long, long, long walks or anything else that can’t be done in ballet pumps and kitten heels, I pack whatever I want, and just keep my fingers crossed that it will all fall naturally into a perfect capsule wardrobe. I seem to repeat the same go-to fashion habits again and again when it comes to colours and patterns, so generally, my entire wardrobe works well together. I guess in a way, I’m not particularly imaginative.

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Bottega Vetena

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Fashion week still fresh in my mind, I’ve been thinking about my packing wardrobe of the season… Yes, the skirts are staying, along with tuxedo jackets – buttoned and bra-less… or maybe a cute lace bustier…hmm…), big petticoats beneath midi-skirts, patterned pencil skirts and amazing shoes.

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Look One: BlazerPetticoatSkirt. Shoes. Bag.

Look Two: BustierTrouser. Bag. Shoes. Belt. Necklace.

Look Three: Top. Skirt. Shoes. Bag.

Look Four: TopSkirt. Shoes. Bag.

Basically, I travel Audrey and Grace style.

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Wanderer

My 5 Travel Site Musts

The verdant limestone bluffs that form the Phi Phi Islands open at Wang Long, a famed dive site with submarine tunnels and caverns. Though hit hard by the December 2004 tsunami, the place has been cleared of debris, and diving is as popular as ever

At a glance, I have about 1050385 travel-related web pages listed in my web bookmarks. I’ve become weirdly OCD about organising my bookmarks, so I know exactly how to find just that exact website whose entire url name escapes me.

Still, out of those 1050385 bookmarked web pages, there are a select few that I use again and again, be it for booking my flights, finding a bed for the night, or reading about the adventures of others.

  1. Skyscanner. Let’s start with the most addictive, shall we? Skyscanner is simple enough: select the airport/city/country from which you wish to depart, choosing either a specific date or the month in which you will be flying, select where you’re flying to, and behold, a list of prices with various airlines. It’s a flight comparison website. What I find most addictive is the ‘fly anywhere’ option… I love browsing and seeing where I can jet off to. Many a spontaneous trip has been born from my Skyscanner addiction, I can tell you. Sure, it has a few hiccups – sometimes it will display an incorrect flight price, but generally it’s accurate. And you always find those mistakes before booking any flights, so no worries there.
  2. Couchsurfing. I have met so many lovely people through this website, many of whom I’m now fortunate enough to call my friends. Thanks to the freedom of modern day travel, I have friends in more countries than I have visited – often due to this website! This is the perfect website for if you’re short of cash, or, like me, you simply prefer to stay with locals when you’re travelling. It’s an online community designed to bring together ‘surfers’ – aka, the adventurous traveller, to you and me – with hosts, who will offer them a bed for the night, or if they can’t do that, their company, a drinking partner, a tour guide – whatever. Yes, there can be some safety concerns. I’ve heard them all from my loving but a tad over-protective friends. You know, warnings about lone young women staying with strange men, in a strange city, in a strange country with a strange language and no money. Blah blah blah. Honestly, as long as you’re careful, and you keep your creep-radar on full at all times, you’ll be fine. There are women hosts too, you know (if it does worry you).
  3. Seat61. While I love flying (a little too much, perhaps. I get such a rush from take off), I like to travel by train as often as possible. The views are nicer (and there are many more window seats, so it’s much less likely that I find myself wrestling with strangers over the best seat), the ride kinder on my ears, and it gives me a chance to say ‘ooo what a lovely little village… I think I’ll go and explore’. Somewhat adrenaline junkie I may be, but I am not about to jump out of a plane because ‘ooo, that mystery space of Earth 30,000ft (at a guess) below me looks pretty… I’m sure they won’t notice if I borrow a chute and just float on down there for a browse.’ This site is the creation of Mark Smith, ‘career railwayman’, who luckily saw a need to breakdown to us wanderlusters exactly how to get from any A to any B via train, from routes, approximate prices and timetables. Very handy!
  4. NomadicMatt. This guy is something of a budget travel king. His blog focuses a lot on money-saving tips, from how to get cheap flights and cruise tickets, how to choose the best insurance and credit cards, to how to build a successful travel blog of your own. While now days he has a base in NYC (though according to his blog he only spends a few weeks there at a time before jetting off again), he travelled constantly as a digital nomad from 2006 until New Year 2013. Six and a half years of travel!? I think he’s definitely earned his crown.
  5. BlaBlaCar. Again, for when I want to see the world pass me by – or I just want to nip to the next nearest city or a quaint nearby village with no public transport links. If people have planned a car journey, they can sell spare seats for a small fee. Tip: even if you think you’re travelling light, always message the driver to check that there is space for your luggage. Don’t just presume that they will have room for your matching LV luggage set – or your teeny tiny rugged canvas rucksack, if you’re me.

Honourable Mentions:

Finding the bare essentials:

Airbnb.
Hostelworld/Hostelbookers.
Warm Showers. <—-so useful when you’ve just stepped off a stuffy train/bus/boat after a day-long journey with no air-con, having spent the entire trip stuffed into a sweaty overweight stranger’s fat folds. Yes, such an event has happened to me. Yes, therapy is ongoing.

Money makes the world go round…

Global Work and Travel. A great site for finding work abroad; paid, voluntary, internships, etc.
‘7 digital nomads explain how they live, work and travel’ <—- very inspiring post, and links to several great blogs.
WWOOF. While it’s really useful that every country has it’s own WWOOF website, I find it a little annoying that each of those websites requires a seperate membership, and even more so that each membership ranges everywhere from £0 to £50. If you’re planning to ‘wwoof’ and travel across many borders, this can get quite pricey. Still, a great source for finding fruit picking/farm work if you’re looking to experience something different than museums and beaches.
Verbling. Teach English online.
’50 Travel Magazines that want to Publish your Writing’

Inspirational bloggers:

Adventurous Kate.
JacksGap.
The Odyssey Expedition.
The Runaway Guide.

A to B:

Hitchhikers.org 

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Wanderer

Quirky Corners of the World: Tasmania’s Totem Pole

How amazing would this spot be to climb?

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Found in Tasmania (I bet you’d never have guessed with a name like ‘Tasmania’s Totem Pole’!), which for those of you who are utterly rubbish at geography, is a state island 150 miles from the southern coast of Australia, and a part of its commonwealth. To be honest, you say Tasmania, I think devil:

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The totem pole is in fact, a stacked rock, and, you guessed it, the result of years, and years, and years, and years of erosion stripping away layer after layer of rock, etc etc. Basically from erosion, the cliffs and rocks become arches similar to this one:

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More erosion…. blah blah blah, the top of the arch crumbles away, the sea smooths out the stack, and one day… you have a totem pole. And lo, where you have interesting vertical rocks, soon enough you get a load of skinny, taut-muscled, free-spirited travellers (or you know, Aussies), with dreadlocks, a van full of climbing gear and the same climbing itch that I get – little old dreadlock-free, skinny, invisible-muscled English me.

I don’t really know why I get such an urge to climb any rock I see. Especially big ones like this one. I’m terrified of heights. Skydiving did not cure that fear. Nor has climbing. What is even more unnerving is the fact that the constant base erosion of the waves beating against it, means that sooner or later, the Tasmanian Totem Pole will collapse. Even now, its base stands at just four metres wide. Not something you’ want to topple mid-climb, right?

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I suggest, if any of you are getting the itch to skip on over to Tasmania (or in my case, a whole ten thousand, five-hundred and seventy-one, according to Google Maps), i’d be quite quick about it, because who knows for how much longer this amazing, adrenaline-inducing climb will even be an option!

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Holy Condoms, scorched Celebrities and Bernini Porn…

My first week back in Rome was quiet, calm, you know. Nothing worth blogging about. And then today happened, and it was one of those days where the world just seemed completely hilarious and you just walk around collecting funny stories and strange observations to later share with friends – and the blog, of course!

The weird and wonderful highlights of today (and the reasons why I’ve spent most of the day laughing so much that it now hurts):

  • Pouring hot coffee over Joaquin Phoenix
  • Having the Pope accidentally bless a condom
  • Spending a bizarre hour with 20 rather confused Chinese tourists who each insisted that I have my photo taken with each of them… and every possible pairing!

First of all, I have to say.. Joaquin Phoenix really needs to pay more attention to where he’s going. I swear he just appeared out of no where, charging towards me – and my coffee – and I had about a split second to consider my options:

  1. I could have jumped in front of the passing bus to avoid him
  2. I could have wildly thrown the coffee in the air, covering us both
  3. I could have chosen which way to tilt the mug – and therefore choose which one of us was about to be covered in coffee.

I of course chose the third. He’s rich enough to duck into the nearest clothes shop and replace his ruined shirt, I’m sure. I wasn’t at this point aware as to who it was who was storming towards me like a raged bull, but I bet that’s exactly what he did as soon as he ran off after our brief.. chat? It wasn’t so much chatting as a lot of ‘what the fuck’s (on his part) and ‘watch where you’re walking, stronzo’ (on mine). And that was that, another minor celebrity story to add to the collection, along with reluctantly sharing a bag of jelly babies with Donny Osmond, saying hi to George Clooney at Lake Como and discussing shoes with Gok Wan… such a thilling collection!

Honestly, if my run in with Phoenix hadn’t happened in front of the Colosseum, I probably wouldn’t have twigged to who it was… though he doens’t look much like he did in his Gladiator days any more.

That’s definitely not the best story of the day, however. The best story came afterwards.

Today I was tricked by a lovely so called friend into enduring a tediously slow few hours eternity in complete silence, and worse, suffering with a completely numb arse after the first twenty minutes. By tricked, I mean tricked, as in, I was told that the ‘free spare ticket’ was for the Vatican museums. And it has been a few years since I’ve last been inside the museums, and then I only saw about 15% of everything on display, so of course, I accepted her invitation immediately.

But no, no tour, no museums. I was tricked into attending the Pope’s weekly audience (not cool, Val), an Atheist surrounded by crying nuns and rosary bead-grasping Catholics, all of whom have a penchant for nonsense muttering… is lying not a sin, Val? Hmm?

So once we were there, it was too late, I had no choice but to sit it through. Well, I’m sure I could have tried to leave, but there has been something so drilled into me over the years, perhaps simply Englishness, that makes it almost impossible for me to cause a scene with a dramatic exit in a large crowd of strangers. And by dramatic, I don’t mean screaming and shouting and jumping around, I mean, they were sitting there so silently, and so patiently, even just to get up and quietly walk away would have turned every eye on me and everyone would have started muttering and wondering why I was leaving. How dare I leave! Because of course I was so fortunate to have a ticket (you know, a totally free, easily available to all ticket)!

I couldn’t tell you what the Pope talked about, even if I had decided to listen, I wouldn’t have understood a word, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t have agree with most of what he said, unless it was just a simple ‘be good, don’t murder, don’t lie’ (Val), in which case, why do I need the Pope or the Bible or God to tell me that? Surely religious people don’t read the 10 commandments and are surprised that they say ‘do not murder’, ‘do not cheat’, ‘do not steal’ etc.

I swear I started to fall asleep. One minute everyone is sitting there, listening intently while I glare at Val, and the next, everyone starts rummaging, holding up rosary beads, crucifixes (crucifi?), little prayer books, and Val starts nudging me, getting rather pissed off at me and pointing out that people are staring because I’m not taking advantage of his blessing, and again that very English side of me that doesn’t want to offend kicks in, and I think, ‘I don’t believe in this mumbo jumbo anyway, so why not’. And I grab the first thing that my fingers touch in my bag; my travel journal. Yes, my travel journal has been blessed by the Pope. How that would in anyway change my life, I have no idea. Is it supposed to bring me good luck? Or is it a necessary ticket to heaven? Do I have to make sure that when I die I’m carrying it in my hand? Fuck knows.

I just so happened to glance up at my hand, which was mimicking everyone else, holding up my journal, and what do I see poking out from between the pages? A stow-away condom. And my mind begins to panic, because it’s just there, in bright pink foil, about 70% of it clearly visible between the pages, and I’m holding it up in the air, surrounded by hundreds of very devout Catholics, holding it towards their Pope, practically pointing it right at him. And of course, we all know just how much Catholicism hates condoms. I wonder if throwing condoms at a priest has the same affect as throwing holy water at the Devil? He starts his blessing mumbo jumbo, and I just stand so, so still, biting down on my cheeks to stop myself from laughing (because that is literally the only thing you can do in that situation), and hoping that no one notices, because they’re all standing so still, if I moved even an inch, all eyes would be on me, and they’d see what I was holding.

The condom has been taped into my travel journal. I may be Atheist, militantly so at times, but I’m not about to test my beliefs (or lack of) by using a condom that has been blessed by the Pope. Could you imagine what would happen if I was wrong, and if Catholicism was right? Surely there would be nothing more insulting to their God than laughingly using a Papally-blessed condom, and so… he’d be pissed. I’d probably be punished by it splitting and I’d be infected with the 12 plagues of Egypt… the 12 plagues of foo (ew), or worse – yes, worse is possible – impregnated by the anti-Christ… or by octuplets… 8 bearded little Jesuses (Jesi?).

Definitely not worth the risk in my opinion.

As for ‘Bernini porn’… that’s just a strange observation of mine in Santa Maria della Vittoria. I’m a big Bernini fan, I love his art, I love his sculptures, so of course I had to go and see the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which frankly, I’ve always raised a brow about, because it definitely looks like ‘worldly ecstasy’ to me! There’s hardly anyone in the church, just me and a small group of old women, who I quickly gather to be very devout Catholics. They’re muttering to themselves about how ‘beautiful’ the statue is and how it captures the ‘essence of the holy father’, and so I look up.

I don’t see something awe-inspiringly religious. I see a woman clearly in the middle of a hell of an orgasm, a very child-like guy hovering over her, and on either side, two marble-carved theatre boxes, filled with men. And they’ll all carved to look in her direction, watching her, nudging each other, whispering, generally looking very questionably and.. pervy. How no one but me could see that, I don’t know. Yes, yes, I’m sure you could argue that ‘holy ecstasy’ would make you look rather ‘ecstatic’ (wink), but why did Bernini choose to flank the statue with several gawping men watching from a theatre box?

Religion bewilders me. It’s just completely blind to common sense. Among other priceless ‘saintly relics’ that I’ve heard about since I arrived back in Rome: Jesus’ foreskin, Jesus’ umbilical cord, and – in Germany – the breath of Jesus contained in a vial. And people pay to see this?! Insane.

Oh, and as for the confused Chinese people, I don’t know if they mistook me for someone, or if choosing a random foreigner is a strange travel tradition for them, but I won’t complain because they insisted on buying me lunch, in exchange for about 200 smiling tourist photos (peace signs compulsory) with each of them. I gave one of them my business card in the hope that they’d share a few with me, and then you can see for yourself just how well I perfected my bewildered ‘what the fuck’ smile.

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My Favourite London Hotels

Today I’ve had three friends all ask me to recommend a hotel/hostel in central London, and as I started rambling, as I do, and listing places for them, again, as I do, I started to miss London. It only made sense to post something on here about it.

The Ones I’ve Stayed in in the Past:

Clink78, on Kings Cross Road. For a start, this building is 200 years old; it was once a courtroom, in fact, what is now the internet lounge was once the very courtroom where The Clash stood trial in 1978, which geek-me found rather exciting.

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All images for Clink Hostels are from here.

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I stayed here for two nights, and to be honest, I had to force myself to come back to Derby (lectures can be such an inconvenience). Prices start at £12 for a mixed/girls only dorm (boys, you don’t get the choice of a men-only dorm, though I’m sure few of you would mind about that 😉 ). There are also ‘Deluxe girls rooms’ for £15 which are a little bigger and include hairdryers, free towels and extra mirrors. I chose a ‘Deluxe girls room’, and it was just so pretty and peachy-pink; beautifully decorated and so cosy.

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Or, you have the option to stay in a private single/twin/double or triple room for £40 or, best of all, a prison cell for £50 – recently re-decorated so that it’s just as cosy as the other rooms, but they are English Heritage-listed with original prison features still in tact. I hear these are snapped up pretty much immediately though.

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I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

As for other old features of the courtroom, the magistrates court is now an internet lounge (£3 for 14 days unlimited wifi), again, English Heritage-listed. A second courtroom is now a TV and film lounge, with some bizarre red leather sofas. Possibly the comfiest I’ve ever been in my entire life was curled up on those sofas at 3am watching lord-knows-what and eating nutella cakes. The bar is also incredible.

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Go there.

*There is also a second Clink Hostel; Clink261, which you can find on Gray’s Inn Road. I haven’t stayed at this one, but it looks equally incredible (though I’d say the decor at Clink78 wins), as you can see, and prices are almost identical.

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Blue Skies Hostel. I clearly have a real thing for hostels/hotels that are renovated somethings; courthouses, pubs, camper vans (I’m yet to find one of those), whatever.

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Photo from here.

This time, it’s a renovated pub. They need a better photographer for their website to really show it off for what it is (hint hint); beautiful. They haven’t stayed as far from the original style and feel of the pub as Clink78 have, but it’s still so modern. You’ll find this gem next to Tulse Hill station, which of course makes it a little more out of the way than some of the hotels I’ve listed here, but transport into central London is piss-easy.

…I can’t help giggling, as 80% of my friends have either Londoners, born and bred, or spend as much time there as I do and therefore may as well be, and here I am blogging about London, despite knowing that the only people who will read this will sit there rolling their eyes and saying ‘yes, Emma, we know‘. Sorry guys.

Anyway.

The Dictionary in Shoreditch. This hostel was only recently recommended to me in May by a friend, and I spent one night there in June. What is it with beautiful hotels filling their website with terrible photographs? Again, hint hint!

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Photo from here.

It’s percentage average on hostelbookers.com is 83.1%, and prices range from £21 for a 13 bed mixed dorm to £31 for a 4 bed mixed. Worth it. Best part is, the staff can always recommend great events around London to check out while you’re there, in fact, they have a page on their site purely for ‘What’s on’, from galleries to clubs to markets. Wifi is free, as is breakfast, and there are drinks discounts at certain times, on certain days, etc etc. It’s not a place to stay if you want to actually sleep and relax, though; everyone is always laughing, dancing. It’s just one big party, without the awful mess to clean up in the morning. If you wander outside at any time of night, you’ll find that the streets are still buzzing too, so seriously, don’t stay there if you want some quiet, unless you plan to bring ear plugs, though with dorms of up to 13 beds, they wouldn’t help much anyway. It’s Shoreditch; it’s expected.

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Photo from here.

Shoreditch House. This one definitely isn’t a hostel. They have some interesting rules for when you are within the club:

  • No Mobiles
  • No Cameras
  • No Suits
  • +1 Guests Only

It’s an interesting place to stay. Prices are generally £200 for a night – double room – but if you book far enough ahead, at the right time of year, it can dwindle to about £140, and I’ve heard that they can be as low as £85 for non-members, though I don’t believe it.

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Photos from here.

I much prefer the madness of Clink78 and The Dictionary. There you can meet people and laugh and enjoy yourself, rather than having to behave like a responsible adult. But for those rare occasions that I accept my age, this place is perfect. For one, look at the beautiful restaurant!

The Ones I will stay in in the Future:

So, Ace Hotels are opening a new hotel in Shoreditch London this September. That’s going on the ‘to visit’ list, that’s for sure. I imagine room rates will be pretty affordable. They’re also teaming with local London businesses, such as That Flower Shop and I’ve heard rumours about indie coffee stores, both of which will also open shop within/alongside the hotel. Personally, I’m most excited about the décor; each room will feature British Revo radios and record players! It’s so – dare I say it? Hipster. But good.

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Photo from here.

It doesn’t look like much so far, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing.

The Ritz. One day I will stay here, even if it’s only in the cheapest room, though that’s still £440 a night. £570 including breakfast! Maybe one day I’ll be able to really splash out and book the most expensive suite on their website: £3600 a night, £3660 with breakfast. Add it to the bucket list.

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Image from here.

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Images from here.

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Wanderer

Sandeman tours and Midnight walks

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I think it important that everyone who visits Porto should go on at least one Port cellar tour and tasting. For a start, they are extremely cheap, generally around €5 for a tour and tasting (I believe Taylor’s tour is only €3). I personally went for Sandeman, which seemed to be one of the most popular, but the whole of Gaia’s river front is lined with well known brands; starting with Burmester and Calen as you cross the Ponte de D. Luis I, and ending with Ferreira and Graham’s (and those are just those shown on my map), and if you were to turn off the river front, you would find Taylor, Offley.. I could go on and on.

Of course, I recommend that you only choose a few, or perhaps one or two a day if you seriously like your port… but take it easy, it’s strong stuff at about 20%! And with two or three half glasses per tasting… that wouldn’t end well.

As I said, I chose Sandeman, with it’s €5 tour with two wine tastings. I overheard that for €9 you can taste three types of wine; red, tawny or white, or for €10 you can have three cellar tours (with 2 tastings each); Sandeman, Offley and Ferraria. I think I was mostly drawn to Sandeman because of it’s striking logo; no, it’s not Zorro, he’s called the Don.

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Image from here.

The tour took perhaps half an hour, including a ten minute video about the Douro region, where the vineyards are located. The tourguide even dresses as the Don, hence the rather ‘noir’ (according to Matt) photo below:Image

Of course the best part is always the tasting. I’ve never tried Port wine before, and while the  tawny was nice (very rich and fruity), I wouldn’t choose it again and I really couldn’t finish the white, which tasted quite coarse, nutty and spicy. Everyone else enjoyed it though, and I by no means pretend to be some sort of connoisseur.Image

Still, I’m glad that I can now tick it off my travel bucket list, and I learnt something new in the process; firstly, I don’t like port, and secondly, I learnt allll about the port making process, and the difference between the different ageing processes. Useless information no doubt, but I like to learn. Definitely worth €5! And the three cellar tour is definitely worth €10 too!Image

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In the evening, I went to see Porto at night with a friend. I admit I haven’t seen much of the city at night before; I’m always too exhausted from walking up and down hill after hill after hill (seriously, I’m a strong walker, despite having broken my foot in April, but those damn hills under the heat of the sun kill me!) I had to see a night time view of the city before I left though, and so me and Phelgo went for one last walk before I left for Lisbon.

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This is one of my favourite parts of travelling; the music. All across Europe, everywhere you turn there are people busking (and I am yet to come across a terrible musician *touch wood*), concerts, festivals, musicians entertaining people as they dine. In fact I love buying a meal at the supermarket and then seating myself on a step or bench near a fancy restaurant, the sort with a band or an accordion player. We’re listening to the same beautiful music, but while they are paying at least €20 for a meal, I’ve paid perhaps €5. Sneaky sneaky.

So last night’s walk was no exception; music everywhere. Everyone was laughing, dancing, I mean, it was a friday night, but it was very different to friday nights in England. People go out but there’s no crazy drunks slumped in doorways or lying face first in the street. Everyone just seems so much happier and less ‘I’ll just drown my sorrows and pretend I’m happy’.

Tonight I arrived in Lisbon, and while it hasn’t started amazingly well; taxi drivers running off with my change and hostels losing my reservation, for example, I’m excited to explore a new city in the morning. Let’s just hope the 40C heat doesn’t kill me…

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