Archive | November, 2013
November 26, 2013

Europe Bucket List!

Europe Bucket List!

When you’re young it’s easy to think you’ve got forever to see Europe. My inner monologue is always … I’ll do Europe when I’m too old for Asia or I have more money. However, gradually my European bucket list is getting longer and longer! We’re going to need to get started if we’ve got any hope of getting through the list. In no particular order….

1. Ride a vespa!

2. Find the mythical dairy free hazelnut milk gelato.

3. Do a bike tour, preferably a “credit card bike tour.”

4. Get invited to George Clooney’s house in Lake Como. haha.

5. A European river cruise.

6. Bounce all over Europe with a first class Eurail pass.

7. Meet the Will, Kate, George, and Harry.

8. Go to Wimbledon. (How to get tickets guide.)

9. Go to the French Open.

10. Go to Cannes.

11. Play blackjack in a Monaco Casino.

12. Drive a ferrari in Italy.

13. Eat at every venue in Europe that sells vegan cupcakes or vegan gelato.

14. Go backstage at a West End Musical.

15. See 5 plays/musicals in one week in London.

16. Sleep in a castle.

17. Rent an apartment for a month in Rome.

18. Rent an apartment for a month in Paris.

19. Become a regular at an Italian coffee shop.

20. Be able to speak in a few words of any non-English European language without turning beetroot.

21. Be in the audience at the Graham Norton show.

22. Stay in a suit at a Four Seasons hotel.

23. Rent an apartment in Berlin.

24. Live in London again without keeping myself on such a tight budget.

25. Go to Russia in summer (we’ve only been in Winter).

26. Spend an extended period Lounging around Sardinia.

27. Recover some $$ with a stint in Eastern Europe.

28. Get invited to David Lebovitz’s house to make desserts.

29. Cross the whole of Europe by land in one go.

30. Mix with actual Parisians in Paris.

My idea is that a bucket list doesn’t need everything ticked off. I might only ever do 20% of the things on this list but a bucket list is still useful for inspiration purposes.

What’s on your European bucket list? What’s your attitude to Europe? It’s too easy? It’s too expensive? Or, is it the continent of your dreams?

November 26, 2013

Our Quick Start Guide to England Outside London

Folks from the US often use “London” and “England” interchangeably but there is more to England than just London. Here’s our quick start guide to getting to know England.

  • England vs. the UK

    England is one of the countries in the UK. You can reach two of the other countries, Wales and Scotland, by land from England. Southern Ireland is also part of the UK, but Northern Ireland is not. Ireland is separated by sea from the rest of the UK.

  • Southern England.

    England follows the general Northern hemisphere rule that southern places are warmer than places further north. In England’s case, the south is still not really very warm but England has other appealing aspects. For example, tracing your ancestry and experiencing just the general differences in culture between the US and England. The South West of England offers relaxing breaks in Torquay hotels (where Agatha Christie was born), and other small towns in the provinces of Devon and Cornwall. Highlights of the region include the Eden Project (video below) and The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

    Excursions from London

    • Brighton

      If you go an hour by train south of London, you’ll find Brighton which is a seaside town and a fantastic side trip from London if you only have a day or two. It’s an extremely easy train ride from London Victoria. Brighton has especially good vegan and vegetarian options. Lots of Brits love Brighton so much they commute all the way from Brighton to London during the week so that they don’t need to move up to the city. Lots of folks who work from home live in Brighton.

    • Oxford and Cambridge.

      Visiting Oxford or Cambridge are good choices for excursions from London. If you’re on a super tight budget, the bus (eg Megabus) is usually cheaper, but less convenient, than the train.

    • Berkshire, South Oxford, and Buckinghamshire.

      Kate Middleton’s family home is in Berkshire which is about 90 mins drive West of London, slightly further West than Reading. It’s a decent choice of you want to see some English countryside.

      I think a lot of people want to experience “Midsomer Murders” type English villages and these do exist. The real filming locations can be visited around South Oxford and Buckinghamshire – videos.

    • North to Edinburgh

      If you’re going to head farther afield North of London then a trip to Edinburgh (Scotland) is recommended. You’ll get to add another country to your country count, hear some cool accents, and taking the train in the UK is pretty fun (Booking in advance is recommended for good fares, and traveling after 9.30am, which are peak fares).

      Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland’s two largest cities are only 1 hour apartment, however most people usually stick to just Edinburgh.

      My ancestors are from the North of England (around Durham), as are many people’s. Tracing ancestry is a must-do while in the UK if you have UK roots.

  • November 24, 2013

    Trips with Extended Family Suggestions for Brits

    Trips with Extended Family Suggestions for Brits

    We are massive fans of going on trips with extended family. With busy lives, it’s tough to see family often enough, even when they live close by. Traveling with your family, who you’ve got experience living and taking vacations with, beats traveling with friends in our opinion. If you’re traveling with kids in tow, having family accompany you on trips means you also get some built in babysitting and your kids will get to do some quality bonding with their grandparents or cousins.

    Here are some suggestions for places that make good family trips. Some of these are very affordable and close to home. Some are more aspirational (but still achievable).

    New Zealand

    With flight costs high, New Zealand is a “dream” trip for many Brits. However, New Zealand has options for renting holiday homes in various locations. The Marlborough Sounds, the area around Abel Tasman National Park, and the beach communities north of Auckland are all top picks. Vacation homes for rental will tend to be available where locals go for their weekends e.g., Kaikoura and Akaroa both near Christchurch.

    Portugal.

    The Algarve offers beach time and most importantly, sunshine. Temperatures stay warm into October, although perhaps not warm enough for swimming. If swimming i is not a priority, Easter temperatures are also pleasant (highs around 20C) for chilaxing. You’ll escape the crowds during these months and the temperatures won’t be too hot for hot weather phobic relatives (yes, we have some!)

    USA- Las Vegas

    The USA offers options for everyone. Although you might not immediately think of it, Las Vegas is a fun trip for families. You can easily rent an apartment with hotel style facilities like a pool. Rent a car for part of your trip and take an excursion to the Grand Canyon. Los Angeles is only a 5 hour drive away or a cheap flight. Book your car using UK sites to make sure you get the cost of the car insurance included. Trust us, it’s MUCH cheaper that way.

    There are of course many, many other great cities in the US. However, finding a large enough apartment to rent for an extended family will be tough in the major metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You might be able to find 2 bed apartments but they’ll probably still be tiny. If you want to vacation near your family but not stay in the same apartment,then somewhere like Miami could work. For Miami, avoid December to February where prices skyrocket due to snowbirds from Canada and the northern US. Renting a full size home (as opposed to an apartment) in a lesser known city is another worthwhile option to consider. If you’re Amerophiles, this will give you a taste of American life.

    Mexico

    Skip Cancun and head to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. You can rent two bedroom apartments for as little as $50 USD /night if you’re staying a month. It’s a walkable large town. You’ll have a kitchen and be able to shop at the supermarkets. Again, rent a car for a few days and explore down the Coast. Swim in the famous Ceynotes and see the more Southern beaches of Tulum and Akumal.

    Where have you spent enjoyable family holidays abroad?

    November 23, 2013

    How to Expose Your Kids to Travel

    lanikai-hawaii-beach

    lanikai-hawaii-beach

    Raising kids who will be good travelers as adults is a great gift to give them as a parent. Here are some ways to do that.

    1. Expose your kids to the outdoors.

    Even if you’re not comfortable with the outdoors, exposing your children to the outdoors is important. It’s just like kids who grow up with pets vs. without. Your childhood exposure makes a big difference to what you’re comfortable with as an adult.

    Do short hikes to to start out with (even just driving to a local bush walk). Move up to longer hikes of a few hours duration. If you want to expose your kids to staying in a tent, you could try doing it in the backyard or at a camping ground rather than attempting to camp out on a trail. You could also try renting both a unit and a tent spot at a holiday park and ease into it that way. For the UK, try family camping holidays in Looe, Cornwall if you want to stay in Britain but want the best chance of warmer weather. In the US or New Zealand, try camping at National Parks. You can book online for camping in New Zealand through the government’s Department of Conversation site. For Australia, of course you can’t beat beach camping, but camping is more difficult due to the extreme summer temperatures.

    2. Take a trip somewhere you don’t speak the language.

    Thailand is an excellent destination for kids. Friends who travelled there with their 3 year old said he learned basic words in Thai (like hello and thank you) and was very popular with the locals. Foreign kids can be TOO popular in Asian sometimes though. You may need to set some boundaries about people touching your children if they don’t like it. Give kids plenty of time and patience in terms of adjusting to the weather and different sights, smells, sounds and foods. You’ll help them learn to be adaptable. Don’t set them up to fail though. If you’re traveling with kids you need to travel SLOW e.g., stay a month in one place rather than bounce around different cities or beaches.

    3. Allow kids to take trips alone to stay with relatives or friends.

    I remember taking a 5 hour train trip as a kid, on my own, to stay with my Gran. It was both the both exciting and scariest thing I had ever done!! I think I was around 9. Maybe these days parents are more cautious but I don’t recall feeling unsafe. My Gran picked me up at the train station and my parents actually drove over a day or two later. My going alone on the train was purely so I could have an adventure. I even remember the snacks my Mum packed for me!

    As another example, we used to have smaller cousins come stay with our family during the school holidays. Never underestimate how much older cousins love looking after and entertaining longer cousins. It’s good for the development of all concerned and gives parents a well needed break during summer holiday periods.

    Figure out your comfort level and your child’s comfort level. I wouldn’t try to force a child into this. If they’re ready for this type of adventure and exploration, they’ll be excited by the suggestion of going on a flight or train trip without you.

    We didn’t take ANY exotic international holidays as children, but basic trips not too far from home were enough to give me a love of travel.

    November 21, 2013

    Is Visiting NYC in Winter a Mistake?

    Is Visiting NYC in Winter a Mistake?

    Someone asked me the other day if going to New York in winter was a bad idea. Definitely not! While visiting in winter is not as ideal as some other months of the year, NYC is well set up for winter visitors.

    1. The subway and subway stations are heated.

    Before you prepay your hotel, Google map it. Use the public transition directions option, put in the hotel as the “start” location and add the location of somewhere you know you’ll want to go as the “end” location. Check that the hotel isn’t more than 3 minutes walk from the nearest subway.

    Ideally you want to be less than 8 minutes walk from a second subway station. This gives you another option if there is construction at your nearest stop. Being 3 mins vs. 6-10 minutes walk from your primary subway station means you won’t need to rug up to go outside. Just make a dash for the subway entrance. Everywhere you go will be heated so it’s nice not to have to take your coat on and off or check it at shows and museums.

    You don’t need a hop on/hop off bus tour. Just get a subway pass. The hop on/off bus tours involve much more waiting in the cold than the subway, and the subway is just as convenient.

    2. Public atriums.

    There are various public atriums around the city where you can go and eat. This means you can still grab food at a foodcart or pizza by the slice joint, should you wish to, and have somewhere to eat it. Most of the public atriums are in midtown.

    3. Broadway shows.

    Broadway shows are the ideal thing to do during a winter trip. Broadway is in full swing throughout the holidays, usually with just Christmas Day off, and sometimes New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Most shows are “dark” on Sunday and Monday evenings, meaning they have those nights off every week.

    4. Ice skating.

    You can ice skate in Bryant Park or Central Park. Bryant Park skating is open till midnight so it’s a great romantic (or family) activity to do after dinner, allowing you to take in the lights of the city.

    5. It’s mostly not that cold.

    New York winters are highly variable. There are often a couple of big snows and then other days are quite balmy. Eleven days out of each month have some rainfall during winter so bring an umbrella. January and February are the coldest months. In December, and especially November, it’s usually still pleasant for walking in Central Park and walking around the city generally. Even in January and February, strolling is still pleasant if you’re not walking into a wind. Bring a scarf to protect your face from the wind. Evenings strolls amongst the twinkling lights of the city are usually still enjoyable in winter.

    6.You don’t have to wait for “Pay what you wish” night.

    Many NYC museums have pay what you wish hours once a week. A few, like the Met and the Museum of Natural History, are always pay what you wish (although they don’t advertise this widely once you get there, See here how it says “recommended” http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/hours-and-admission). Take advantage of this rather than wait in long lines outside other museums like MOMA on their pay what you wish nights.

    7. If you are willing to brave the cold, you’ll be rewarded.

    Many Broadway shows have ticket lotteries or rush tickets. Crowds will be small during winter, giving you better odds of snagging a $25 ticket via the ticket lotteries. They take place outside the theaters, usually 2 1/2 hours prior to show time. Check with the theater or Google “broadway rush tickets” or “broadway lotteries.”

    8. Make reservations.

    Instead of waiting outside restaurants, if it’s cold, make a reservation. Use resources like Yelp to identify places you’re interested in eating, before you leave your home town. You’ll spend less time wandering around looking for what’s good. Check online to find tours, shows and things you can do around the the city. Most line waiting in NYC is out on the sidewalk, so you’ll want to minimize this. Waiting in line, stationery, is a lot less pleasant than when you’re moving.

    9. Restaurants will still be hopping.

    As a general rule, NYers don’t cook. Therefore, even in winter, people will be going out to restaurants after work. The city doesn’t get sleepy just because it’s winter.

    10. Expect airport disruption due to weather at least a few times during winter.

    If you’re booking expensive show tickets, don’t book them for the night you arrive. Give yourself some breathing room in case you get delayed.

    Mostly importantly, have a great time!!

    November 20, 2013

    Where to Go for Christmas?

    Where to Go for Christmas?

    December and January can be tricky months to travel if you’re looking for somewhere warm. Let’s look at what the options are and some of the pros and cons of each.

    Hawaii

    Unless you’re a hard core surfer, don’t go to Hawaii in winter. It’s an expensive trip and you owe it to yourself to see Hawaii at it’s best. It’s not cold in winter but the surf is SUPER rough. Beaches that are a brilliant bright blue and calm for 6 months of the year are grey and horrible for the other 6 months.

    I went to Hawaii once in November and since then have only visited in Spring and Summer. I LOVE Hawaii (and we’re not the only ones). Just not in Winter.

    Bahamas / Caribbean.

    It’s winter in the Caribbean too. This can mean issues with wind and rain. There are still good spots for Winter breaks but places like the Bahamas aren’t as warm in Winter as I want for a beach vacation.

    Mexico

    We’re here now. The rainy season ends in November and the weather is getting better and better. We’re in Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean Coast and the temperatures are perfect for the beach.

    Expect to pay $1500 a month + electricity to get an apartment down here over Winter and you’ll need to organize ahead. Most of the places are well and truly booked for the Winter by now.

    Australia and New Zealand

    Australia can be VERY hot in their summer, even in places like Sydney and Melbourne. Temperatures can top 100F. That said, this won’t be everyday and I think it’s still a good choice. Be aware of Australian school holidays which last for around 6 weeks over late December through January. Flights get very expensive from around the 5th of December and getting tickets using frequent flyer miles is also tough.

    New Zealand is not excessively hot in summer. It’s not even beachy warm. If you’re not looking for a beach holiday and prefer temperatures to be more comfortable for things like hiking, then New Zealand in December/Jan is a good choice. February/early March is even better for New Zealand in terms of the best weather, fewer crowds, and cheaper prices.

    The Abel Tasman National Park camping experience and visiting the Marlborough Sounds, both at the top of the South Island are must-dos if you’re spending summer in NZ. For the National Parks, book well in advance through the Department of Conversation government website, especially for walking the Queen Charlotte Track.

    The same issues that apply to flights to Australia also apply to New Zealand because of NZ school holidays. Flights between Australia and NZ get extremely pricey at Christmas.

    Thailand.

    The West Coast beaches in Thailand are at their best over December / January. Hoards of European tourists descend on Thailand for Christmas so bookings can again be an issue, however there are also a lot of accommodation options to choose from once you have your flights in place. Shop around and shop early for flights. The islands around Phuket and islands like Koh Lipe to the South (a bit north of the Malaysia border) are loved by flashpackers, as is the area around Krabi.

    The East Coast islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan aren’t at their best weather wise at that time of year.

    November 17, 2013

    How to Splurge, Just a Little, in Sydney

    medium_6409684029

    medium_6409684029

    Sydney is a city that inherently feels luxurious because of the gorgeous Sydney Harbor and the jetset lifestyle feel to the beaches. Sydney undoubtedly has the best urban beaches of any major world city. These are luxuries you can experience for free. However, Sydney also offers to opportunity to splurge if you have a bit more budget available.

    Fine Dining.

    The city centre has views of the Harbor and world class fine dining options. If you’re an adventurous eater, try Rockpool, where hot, young Head Chef Phil Wood serves up novel Asian-Australian cuisine (Rave review in Sydney Morning Herarld). After winning some young chef awards in Australia, Phil spent two years at Thomas Keller’s world-famous The French Laundry restaurant in the US.

    Another hot restaurant in downtown Sydney is Tetsuya’s, which specializes in Japanese and French cuisine (Menu).

    A third stellar choice is Momofuku Seiobo, a relatively new restaurant with its own tasting menu and strong support of local farmers and suppliers.

    If your budget is struggling after those higher end (but not ridiculous) options, you can recover by having a hot chips lunch (as in Fish and Chips) at Bondi Beach. They’re the best hot chips we’ve encountered anywhere in the world!

    Adventure Options.

    People typically think of New Zealand when they think of adventurous activities down under, but you can also do these in Sydney. For example, the famous Sydney Bridge Climb or sky diving with Sydney Skydivers.

    Surf lessons with your own personal instructor are available throughout the year, and they include all the necessary equipment for you (summer and winter wetsuits, surfboards, and even sunblock).

    More on the water.

    If you’re splurging for a honeymoon or something similar, you might consider a private boat charter, which can include a night spent on the water or just a few hours sailing around the glorious Harbor.

    Between June and mid-November, Humpback whales can be seen in the Sydney area as they journey from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica. Seeing them is accomplished via a day or half day boat tour.

    Where to Stay

    Downtown Sydney around the Quay (where the Opera House and the Bridge are) has the most options for high end dining and hotels. It has easy public transport connections out to Bondi and Coogee beaches or any of Sydney’s other hip neighborhoods where you might want to brunch.

    Shopping

    The Westfield Sydney mall is a good place to see some Australian designers all in the one place as well as see what Aussie chains have to offer. Like the UK, Australia has some nice chains and you won’t be wearing the same as anyone at home. You can get 10% tax back if you spend over $300 at one store and departure Australia within 30 days. Late night is generally Thursdays when many stores are open till 9pm. Other sites 6pm is normal closing time.

    photo credit: szeke via photopin cc

    November 14, 2013

    25 Best Street Foods Under $1

    25 Best Street Foods Under $1

    In no particular order.

    1. Mango & Sticky Rice – Thailand

    mango and sticky rice

    2. Dumplings – China

    Chinese Dumplings

    3. Pho – Cambodia and Vietnam

    Pho

    4. Dosa – India and Malaysia

    Dosa

    5. Borek – Turkey

    Borek

    6. Steam Buns – Asia

    Steam buns

    7. Harira – Morocco

    Harira

    8. Hotteok – Seoul, Korea

    hotteok

    9. BBQ Corn – Asia, the Americas, most countries!

    BBQ corn

    10. Iced Tea – Thailand

    Iced tea

    Also Iced Coffee with sweet milk – Thailand and Cambodia

    iced coffee with sweet milk

    11. Tacos – Mexico

    Tacos

    12. Fruit Stalls – Asia

    fruit

    13. Satay Kebab – Singapore and other S-E Asian countries

    satay kebabs

    14. Pad Thai – Thailand

    pad thai

    15. Char-Kway-Teow – Penang, Malaysia

    char kway teow

    16. Banh Xeo – Vietnam

    banh xeo

    17. Bhelpuri – India

    bhelpuri

    18. Nasi Lemak – Malaysia

    nasi lemak

    19. Parantha – India

    parantha

    20. Koshary – Egypt

    koshary

    21. Lassi – India and Malaysia

    lassi

    22. Gai Dan Jai – Hong Kong

    gai dan jai

    23. Falafel – Israel and Middle East

    falafel

    24. Fried Milk – Taiwan

    fried milk

    25. Arepas – Colombia and Venezuela

    arepasAll the street foods listed would be under or close to US$1.
    Can you add more that you have come across in your travels?

    Photo credits via Photopin:

    Pho
    powerplantop
    Thai iced tea
    TheLawleys
    Taco
    suizilla / and the sea
    Chinese dumplings
    stu_spivack
    Asian fruit stalls
    Lummmy
    BBQ corn
    cmorran123
    Dosa
    leiabox
    Steam Bun
    jasonlam
    Satay Kebab
    pelican
    Char-kway-teow
    galaygobi
    Hotteok
    taylorandayumi
    Borek
    avlxyz
    Harira
    Rui Ornelas
    Banh xeo –
    sebadella
    Lassi
    Matthieu Aubry.
    Nasi Lemak
    sanguinie
    Bhelpuri
    barry.pousman
    Koshary
    Andrew 鐘
    Falafel
    yummyporky
    Gai dan jai – hong kong
    cherrylet
    Arepas
    stevendepolo
    Mango sticky rice
    meghantosh
    Pad Thai
    Pedro Alonso.
    Parantha
    Devika_smile via
    Fried Milk
    Edsel L

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