Browsing articles in "Travel"
Feb 3, 2012

Knowing when to travel – take note of the seasons!

I am constantly surprised by the amount of people who head off overseas after scoring a cheap flight or accommodation package and then complain when there are monsoonal rains/40+ degree humid weather/cyclones. Seasons regularly dictate when and where I travel and I am careful to research my destination properly so that I don’t end up spending my holiday trapped in a hotel as the heavens rain down.

The monsoon in Hanoi. Image source

I don’t want to bore you with detailing the weather conditions of every country around the world, but here are some popular destinations and tips on when to enjoy them.

Western Europe 

Western Europe can be enjoyed all year around and each season has its perks and drawbacks. My favourite time to travel to Europe is in Spring and Autumn – the weather is more temperate, the prices are moderate and there are (slightly) less tourists. Summer is a very popular time to travel as tourists enjoy the warm weather, long days and flock to the beaches – be aware of inflated prices, LONG queues to basically everything and and lots and lots of tourists. Winter can be COLD (although not as bitterly cold as Eastern Europe but more on that later) – but travelling to Europe in Winter has its perks. There is of course skiing and Christmas Markets, as well as the advantage of less tourists (so you can mingle with the locals more) and cheaper prices. But be aware of the drawbacks of shorter days, freezing temperatures and the risk of planes being grounded in blizzard conditions (learnt that the hard way).

♥ Eastern Europe 

Eastern Europe tends to be hot in summer and freezing in Winter, making autumn and spring the ideal times to explore the area. I remember sweltering in Hungary in the height of summer and nearly freezing to death in Prague in Winter (and it only gets worse the further east you go – there are scores dying in Romania and Poland as we speak). The South East is a hugely popular summer beach destination particularly around Croatia so be aware of inflated prices and lots of tourists like the rest of Europe!

♥ Northern Europe 

By far the best time to travel to Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland etc) is in the summer. Yes the prices are higher and the tourists are plentiful but the weather is by far the best and those long loooooong summer days make for plenty of sightseeing and partying time. Winter is long, dark and very very cold. HOWEVER there is the added bonus of seeing the Northern Lights and doing snow related activities such as dog sledding and visiting Santa in Rovaniemi.

♥ Japan

Japan’s summer months are hot, humid and WET – I would definitely avoid travelling in this period. Winter time in Japan is cold but absolutely feasible if you dress appropriately. Spring is absolutely amazing with the blooming cherry blossom trees however the Japanese love to also experience the cherry blossoms leading to high prices, busy trains and sold out hotels. Autumn is a great time to travel with temperate weather and moderate prices.

♥ USA 

The lower half of the west coast of America (San Fran, LA etc) is fine to travel all year round but Spring and Autumn carry the added perks of mild temperatures and less crowds. Further up the coast (Seattle, Portland) the Winters are bitterly cold and dark.

Similarly the East Coast has gorgeous weather in Spring and Autumn.  New York/Boston and the rest of the North East have bitterly cold winters and hot and humid summers.

♥ South Pacific

The best time to visit most of the islands in the South Pacific is during the dry season, which is between May and October. Outside of these months you are looking at high humidity, tropical rain and the risk of cyclones.

♥ Hong Kong

Avoid Hong Kong during the summer, it’s hot and humid and STINKS. Plus the pollution seems even more oppressive. Oh and there are typhoons from September. I personally prefer travelling to Hong Kong in Winter – it’s not too cold and the air quality seems almost cleaner.

One country that I have always wanted to visit but have been put off by its vicious climate is Vietnam. It seems to be either in the grips of a summer monsoon or a winter monsoon, with freezing cold weather or sweltering heat.

If you have been to Vietnam, when did you travel? What was the weather like?

 

Jan 25, 2012

Cities around the world – My favourites (and the overrated)

After sitting down and having a good think in response to the question “What are your 3 favourite cities in the whole world” I think I have settled on my top 3. I am sure as soon as I have posted this I will be madly apologising to Stockholm, Melbourne and Kyoto for neglecting them. But here we go:

♥ Reykjavik

I have visited Iceland on two occasions and have spent a lot of time in Reykjavik. Why do I love this tiny city of 120,000 people? I love the locals – so friendly, helpful and fiercely proud of their heritage and culture. I love the quirky shops lining the streets, the plethora of cool bars and the locals enthusiasm on weekends for the rúntur (pub crawl). I love walking along the harbour and watching the sunset at the Sun Voyager statue. I love that it no longer costs an arm and a leg to book a bed in a hostel anymore. I love that I can get on a bus and soon arrive at numerous breathtakingly beautiful natural wonders – the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss, Jökulsárlón. I love the awkwardly cute puffins and the small, furry Icelandic ponies. I love that when I land in Iceland my heart swells and I feel HAPPY!

♥ Tokyo

My first day in Tokyo I wasn’t sold. Maybe it was the jetlag but everything was too loud, fast and it smelt weird. Then on day 2 something just clicked and I fell head over heels for Tokyo. I love seeing the men in business suits picking up rubbish in the streets and shop owners frantically sweeping every morning (the place is so CLEAN for such a huge city). I love that despite the thousands of people swarming around stations and across crossings no one is rushing or rude. I love their respectful bowing and hearing “irasshaimase” every time I enter a store. I love their dedication and pride in their cuisine – I ate the most amazing food everyday.  I love finding a shrine in the middle of the city and temporarily escaping the hustle and bustle. I love that you can buy sexy transvestite costumes in the local department store. I love that they have cat cafes.

♥ New York

Forget the Statue of Liberty and Times Square, there is so much more to this amazing city. I love the variety of amazing food this city has to offer (the bakeries, the pizza, the bagels). I love the plethora of amazing vintage stores (seriously, Sydney is terrible for vintage shopping!) I love retreating into Central Park for a relaxing afternoon picnic. I love the nightlife – rooftop parties, hidden bars, drinks in a beauty parlour. I love that a complete stranger will tell me I have lipstick on my teeth (New Yorkers are famously direct and forth coming!) I love the mind boggling amount of art exhibitions, events and theatre that is on every night.

And the overrated…

Rome

Rome is essentially a tourist city. Wherever I turned there were hawkers trying to see me their flashing Colosseum key rings, gypsies trying to relieve me of my spare change, overpriced restaurants or a tour group blocking my path. Don’t get me wrong – the ruins scattered about the city are truly amazing and well worth a visit (after you have queued for hours). But keep your visit to Rome to a few days – see the sights and then head off elsewhere – Tuscany, Milan, Florence, the Cinque Terre… so many places to take in the culture, food and wine without the tourist hustle and bustle.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is like a large, souless, cement suburb. Avoid the Hollywood area like the plague – not only are there unsavoury types hanging around but it’s dingy and the tourist-driven tackiness is a bit overwhelming. Whilst there are some great eating spots in LA I would much prefer to spend my time up the coast in San Francisco. The only reason you need to visit LA is for Disneyland (yep I’m a kid at heart).

Frankfurt

Frankfurt, I have visited you twice and you bored the socks off me. In fact I got so bored by you I actually returned to my hotel in the early afternoon and watched TV (something I very rarely do when travelling). If you’re in Germany I strongly suggest you go north to Berlin for it’s rich and fascinating history, art scene and night life, or south to Munich for gorgeous architecture and Bavarian culture. Frankfurt is kinda like the boring cousin no one wants to hang out with.

What are your favourite cities? What let you down? Do you completely disagree with my overrated list? Let me know your thoughts and I may give those cities another chance :)

Dec 22, 2011

Christmas Markets in Munich and Prague

Wow, it’s hard to imagine that this time last year I was in Europe freezing my butt off and finally getting to experience a White Christmas! As an Australian, Christmas has always meant a stinking hot day with a BBQ and lots of salads followed by a swim and a nap. But I had always yearned for that quintessential white Christmas experience – snow covered buildings, mulled wine, and CHRISTMAS MARKETS!

First stop was Munich. The Christmas Markets in Munich are located in Marienplatz and run from Nov 25th – Dec 24th with opening hours of Monday – Saturday 10 a.m – 8.30 p.m  and Sunday 10 a.m – 7.30 p.m.

The most famous Christmas market is the Christkindl market.

The Munich markets are breathtakingly beautiful with fairy lights lining the streets and illuminated Christmas trees and stars dotted around the marketplace.

The Rathaus (new Town Hall) looks even more beautiful lit up at night and serves as the perfect backdrop for these markets.

I LOVE gingerbread. Gingerbread stalls are everywhere, coming in different shapes and sizes. Happy Swah!

There are beautiful Christmas tree ornaments, photo frames and dolls for sale throughout the market place.

There are other smaller Christmas markets dotted around Munich, we stumbled upon this one whilst out sightseeing one day.

I LOVE YOU gingerbread. I demolished this in a day.

My next stop were the Prague Christmas markets. I was only going to walk by and briefly check them out but I actually enjoyed these markets even more than the famous Munich ones! The Prague markets are located at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square and run from 26 November – 08 January. Their opening hours are Monday – Friday 9 a.m – 7 p.m  and Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m – 8 p.m.

Gorgeous Christmas trees are lit up with fairy lights throughout the Prague markets.

Similarly to the Munich markets, Prague stalls sold a variety of crafts, sweets and mulled wine.

The Prague markets also serve a dessert called Trdlo. It is a cylindrical pastry that is rolled in sugar and almonds. It looked and smelled amazing but as I am allergic to almonds I only could stare and sniff. :(

Even walking back to my hotel there were Christmas decorations and lights everywhere! It was like a fairy tale.

In the day time the Christmas markets are still beautiful (and a lot less busy). What a great time I had experiencing my first White Christmas :)

 

Dec 13, 2011

Footwear when travelling – what to pack

When you are packing for a big overseas adventure, shoes are generally something packed last minute and given little thought. But I am sure a week into your trip when your feet are covered in blisters, your lower back is aching and you are scolding yourself for taking 7 pairs of shoes you will wish you had been more organised!

Now firstly, for the love of god – please don’t wear sneakers when travelling. If you want the equivalent of a large sign strapped to your head declaring “I am a tourist!” then by all means go ahead. But if you like to look somewhat fashion forward and try and blend in as a local when abroad, there are other (comfy) options.

Summer

♥ DON’T wear thongs – they are easy to trip over in, are slippery when wet and don’t protect your feet properly from nasty things (broken glass or worse). Similarly, ballet flats look great but most provide no cushioning or support for your feet and can lead to lower back pain.

♥ DO look for nice sandals that have proper arch support and a sole with stable grip. I love Ziera shoes (formerly known as Kumfs)- they are designed with comfort and support in mind and whilst they used to be a bit daggy, they have released a lot of nice looking designs.

1. Ziera Black Pulp shoes

2. Ziera Talon shoes

♥ Dressing up at night – strappy heels/wedges are perfect for warm nights. But only take ONE pair that goes with everything – something black and timeless works well.

1. Wittner Hush heels

2. Wittner Glorious heels

 

Winter

♥ DON’T think you can get away with wearing just sneakers or low cut leather shoes. Not only will you freeze but your feet will get soaked through from snow.

♥ DO buy knee high boots preferably in leather (for quality, although I understand if you would prefer pleather for ethical reasons). As you’ll be wearing them everyday, select a simple style and colour that can work with all your outfits.

♥ DO ensure your new boots have a rubber sole to prevent slipping in the wet/on ice (if you find your dream pair of boots that have a leather sole, then go to your local cobbler and get them re-soled with rubber!)

1. Sandler Mason boots

2. Ziera Smash boots

♥ Dressing up at night – enclosed high heel brogues or heeled boots are the safest option. You’ll look sexy and won’t lose a toe to frostbite!

1. Wittner Lavish heels

2. Ziera Zoey heels

 

Mid season

♥ Ankle boots, brogues, mary janes – mid season weather is the easiest in terms of shoe options! Make sure you always have a wet weather shoe option.

♥ Team your shoes with socks or cute hosiery if it gets a bit chilly.

1. Ziera Briana shoes

2. Camper Mary Janes

 

And remember:

♥ Always break in your shoes/boots before you leave for your trip! You don’t want to spend the first few days of your holiday covered in blisters.

♥ Waterproof your shoes with a waterproof spray before you leave.

 

Stay tuned for a post on what clothes to pack for the various seasons!

Nov 3, 2011

How to stay healthy on a trip (and not come back 10kg heavier!)

Keeping healthy whilst on holiday not only keeps the waistline down but also can help keep your immune system up and prevent you from coming down with a sickness.

Before I start, don’t diet on your holiday! Food is such an integral part of experiencing a country’s culture. Do you really want to be angrily munching on a salad whilst watching your travelling companions wolf down steak frites in Paris? No.
 
Balance – everything in moderation

Whilst having pizza or pasta at every meal may sound wonderful, not only will you end up a few kilos heavier, you will more than likely feel sluggish and a bit uncomfortable in the tummy after a while. Consider having a healthy breakfast (porridge, wholegrain toast, fruit and/or yoghurt) or eat some sushi for dinner now and then to break it up. After a week of eating the delicious treats America had to offer me I felt SICK. I started buying some healthy (and cheap) breakfast supplies from the supermarket to eat for breakfast, and now and then for lunch or dinner I would have Japanese or a salad (with dressing on the side). I didn’t feel like I was depriving myself as my other main meal of the day featured delicious American treats, however it helped give my body some reprieve.

A decadently delicious burrito in LA that was as long as my boyfriend’s forearm…

 

…so we had Japanese the next night to balance it out

 
Don’t forget your fruit and veges

Just because you are on holidays doesn’t mean you stop eating your regular servings of fruit and vege like you do back home. I regularly visit markets or grocers wherever I am in the world to buy fresh fruit to eat (bananas and apples are great healthy snacks) and I’ve been known to buy a giant packet of raw veges to munch on just because “I felt like it”.

Mmm apples. Cheap and healthy!

 
Avoid drinking too much

This may be a hard one for some of you to stomach but alcohol is full of empty calories and tends to encourage ideas such as 3am kebabs and a huge fry up the next day for brekkie. I am ofcourse going to indulge in champagne in France, beer in Germany and sake in Japan but not every night. And I can’t tell you how many travellers (myself included) have wasted precious days of sightseeing by staying in bed with a nauseating hangover.

I sampled sake in Japan (left) and beer in Germany (right) but (nearly) always in moderation ;)

 
♥ Cook in your own kitchen

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are now many more accommodation options readily available for us to book online and many of these options include a kitchen(ette) – whether it be a hostel, someone’s apartment or an “aparthotel”. It’s great having your own kitchen when overseas as not only does it make things much cheaper but it means you can prepare healthy meals yourself.

The kitchen in the apartment I stayed at in Paris came in handy! Source

And finally…

Walk everywhere

I do a ridiculous amount of exercise when I travel because I walk everywhere. Not only is walking generally the best way to see a city, you burn a lot of calories whilst pounding the pavement all day everyday which helps offset your guilty indulgences. Win win!

Oct 21, 2011

My favourite place

Asking a travel fanatic where is their favourite place in the world is a bit of a tricky question – but if I had to answer, then I would say Jökulsárlón. Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon located in South Eastern Iceland and is quite possibly the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life (and I have had the pleasure of seeing it twice!).

Please click on the above image for a larger version

I only had my old Canon point and shoot camera with me but I think I still managed to capture the breathtaking beauty of this area of Iceland.

The second time I visited Jökulsárlón it was a gray and miserable day – however I still think the lagoon looks as stunning as ever, albeit slightly more eerie.

Please please please go visit! Even Leonardo Di Caprio likes to pose in front of it! :)

Image source

Now it’s time for me to get back to my many assignments, instead of fantasising about future Iceland trips.

Sep 27, 2011

Highlights from my Travel Bucket List

We all have some form of travel bucket list, even if only in our minds. I absolutely love writing lists and then crossing things off (I have notebooks filled with actioned lists, it is so satisfying!) and decided writing down some travel dreams were a good way of keeping oneself accountable and to give me something to work towards. Naturally I want to visit nearly every place on this earth, so as not to bore you, here are some highlights of my list.

See the midnight sun rolling over the horizon in Nordkapp, Norway

I actually tried to see this back in June 2007. However the weather had other ideas and I soon found myself in blizzard conditions (in the middle of summer! Humf!)

What I was meant to see (Image source)

What I actually saw – ripped off!

Visit Lake Bled in Slovenia

Breathtakingly beautiful, I cannot wait to see Lake Bled for myself and explore Slovenia.

Image source

♥ Go on a yoga retreat somewhere, anywhere.

I’ve been practicing yoga for several years now and would love to escape for a few weeks on a yoga retreat to focus on myself and my practice.

Image source

♥ Explore the Balkans

I have seen a LOT of Europe, however I am yet to visit this part of Europe including Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania etc.

Image source

♥ Visit China and see sights such as the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors and the Forbidden City

Image source

♥ See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Both times I have been to Iceland were in the summer, when the Northern Lights aren’t visible. Next time!

Image source

♥ Stay overnight in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya in Japan

Staying in a temple alongside Buddhist monks sounds like an amazing experience.

Image source

♥ Visit the salt flats of Bolivia

I am yet to set foot in South America, there are so many sights to see and the salt flats of Bolivia is high up there!

Image source

♥ Visit Greenland

I am so fascinated by this isolated and gorgeous country and its people.

Image source

This list could go on and on but this is just a taster of what I hope to experience sometime in the (hopefully) near future. Now I just need to win the lottery and clear my schedule for next year! ;)

What is on your travel bucket list?

Sep 23, 2011

Weekends Away: Orange and Millthorpe, NSW

A group of friends and I recently went to Orange for a weekend of nice wine, food and chats. It’s around a 4 hour drive from Sydney and yes, you do have to stop on the way and eat McDonalds (the only time I permit such a thing!) We arrived late on a Friday night to be graciously met with cheese and wine by our lovely friend Kat. Soon our tiredness got the best of us and we turned in for a good night’s sleep in preparation for lots of eating and drinking tomorrow.

We piled into 2 cars the next morning and set off for brunch at Tonic in Millthorpe, a 20 minute drive from Orange.

Tonic is located at 30 Victoria St, Millthorpe NSW 2798. The coffee was great and the range of foods tasted was delicious. Since I can never make up my mind I chose the sweetcorn cakes and pizza and shared with a friend.

Sweetcorn cakes with mascarpone and prosciutto, $16

Ham, bocconcini, egg and pesto pizza with rocket and parmesan salad, $16

Then we set off to explore Milthorpe. First stop, Galvanised (17 Pym Street, Millthorpe), a converted century old galvanised iron shed that sells everything from homewares and lollies to birdcages and coffee supplies.

The boys preferred eating their sherbert they bought from Galvanised instead of our next stop, the antique store!

Peppertree (23 Pym Street, Millthorpe) had a lovely assortment of antiques, homewares and modern furniture. I had my eyes on this pink and white floral tea set.

Our next stop on our tour of Millthorpe was Tomolly (7 Blake Street, Millthorpe), a store filled with cute gifts, homewares and stationery. The owner was lovely and very excited I was featuring her store on my blog!

It was well into the afternoon now and therefore a suitable time to commence wine tastings! Our first winery was Mayfield Vineyard (954 Icely Road, Orange NSW 2800).

Now, I am no wine expert so don’t expect me to go on about the heady aromas and nuances of blackberry or whatever. But the wine was tasty and affordable, the lady extremely friendly and helpful and we purchased quite a few bottles.

We returned to “downtown Orange” for some coffee and yet more shopping at Hawkes General Store (46 Sale St, Orange). The store was filled with gorgeous homewares and gifts. I loved the Paris gift tags.

Back in the car, we head off to another vineyard – the Philip Shaw vineyard (45 Caldwell Lane, Orange NSW). The views of vineyards on the way there were superb.

Philip Shaw has produced a line of wines called “The Character Series” with titles such as The Dreamer Viognier and The Wire Walker Pinot Noir. I adored the illustrations on each bottle.

The vineyard also had a lovely dog who wanted to play ball!

Our third and final vineyard for the day was Hedberg Hill (701 The Escort Way (Forbes Road), Orange). This vineyard had come highly recommended by my father who is quite a wine buff and personal friend of the owner, Peter Hedberg. We were greeted by more beautiful scenic views of vineyards on the way there.

Peter was a lovely host and we learned (and tasted) a lot. His Riesling and Viognier were delicious! We ended up buying about 3 cases of wine I think! Ooops…

The views from his cellar door was breathtaking, particularly as the sun started to set and cast a yellow glow over the landscape.

Then it was home time for a power nap before dinner!

We went to Bistro Ceello (179 Anson Street, Orange). The food was delicious, the service unfortunately not great. I think we must have gotten the new girl as she made quite a few rookie mistakes – not knowing what the specials were, failing to change glasses between wines, pouring the champagne into a wine glass (!!) etc etc. Nothing to ruin our evening but anyway… Here are a few samples of what was eaten.

House cured ocean trout gravlax, potato pancake, cucumber spaghetti and dill cream, $20 entree

Venison shank sausage, parmesan pudding, roasted tomato and balsamic reduction, $20 entree

Twice cooked pork belly, roasted root vegetables and fennel mustard, $32 main – I swear I could eat this everyday.

Beef sirloin, caponata, creamy polenta with veal jus, $32 main

We were all completely stuffed to the gills, but you know I am never one to miss dessert! We settled on 2 tasting plates and shared them.

Dessert tasting plate featuring lemon cheesecake, nougat ice-cream and choc cake terrine, frangelico panna cotta and steamed marmalade pudding, $30

The next morning we arose and cooked 1kg of bacon. I do not have a photograph of this as we don’t need a reminder. Oh god.

Then we drove off to Totally Local (426 Mitchell Highway, Orange) in search of MORE food. It has an amazing array of locally produced honey, cheese, olive oil and more.

And then we sadly bid adieu to Orange and started the 4 hour drive back to Sydney. What a lovely weekend away!

Aug 11, 2011

Purikura – Japanese Photobooths

One of the (many) things I loved about Japan was the “Purikura” or photo sticker booths that were everywhere! They cost 400 YEN (around AUD$5) and are so so much fun. They enlarge your eyes, smooth your skin, let you add makeup as well as random accessories like bows and hearts. I successfully dragged my boyfriend into 3 Purikuras whilst in Japan (and then 1 more time back in Sydney for good measure).

The advertising for the photo booths involve heavily made-up and Photoshopped girls and are usually marketed at either groups of friends or couples.

Our first photo booth we experienced (that’s right, it’s an “experience”) was love themed.

The computer advised us on what poses to strike and then let us add tasteful decorations at the end such as “Best Couple”, hearts and squiggles.

Oh the corniness and creepiness is simply wonderful!


Occasionally the computer shouts at you in Japanese and you have no idea what’s going on – thus this awkward and confused photo.

The next time we went to a Purikura, it was my birthday! Naturally a birthday themed photo shoot was chosen.

We added birthday paraphernalia and cat faces cause I freakin’ love cats. Party tonight!!!!

This particular photo captures the sheer delight we were experiencing.

Followed by a moment of calmness and self reflection. And bows.

Our third trip to the Purikura was the trippiest yet – it featured sheep and hatching chickens. But we LOST. THEM. Fortunately we had a few snaps of the actual computer screen.

Chin shelf yeh.

Sheep! In hats! What!?

Before we finally got to be hatching chickens. My life is now complete.

Naturally, upon returning to Sydney I went in search of more Purikura. I was hooked. We found some near Chinatown in Sydney – they are 2-3 times the price and don’t seem to doll you up as much but still are a fun time!

We went to town on the sparkles, blush and hair accessories.

And then had a fight whilst wearing fake glasses.

I hope I have sufficiently amused and/or traumatised you on this Thursday afternoon. For more whacky things to do in Japan check out my post on Cat Cafes.

Aug 4, 2011

Travel Guides

Hi everyone!

Over the past few months I have been writing travel guides based on my own personal journeys and research around the world. They are focused on the female demographic aged 18-40 but anyone can enjoy them. They feature my own photography and include a selection of hotels in each city with budget, mid-range and high-end options, sightseeing (and tourist traps to avoid), shopping, transport and most importantly EATING (each guide has a specific sweets section of course!) I so far have written guides on New York, Melbourne and San Francisco. I am planning on writing my next 3 guides soon but wanted YOUR input on what cities I should focus on next.

These guides will soon be printed and for sale on my blog – there will also be a cheaper downloadable PDF option available too.

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