It’s that time of the year when gift guides pop up everywhere. As a self-styled ‘traveller’ (whatever that means) I’ve seen my fair share of gifts aimed at us wanderlusters and they really didn’t get my globe spinning. So here’s my handy list of things to avoid if you want to please your favourite globetrotter.
I don’t need ANOTHER notebook, that is unless of course it comes with a certain Gosling included.
Oh more mini-toiletries? If it’s not my usual brand they’re getting flushed down the toilet where their name suggests they belong.
I am very very very picky when it comes to guides so they’re not likely to hit the spot. (Unless of course it’s my book TBC 2020)
There was a time you could give a scratch map to us, but that time has passed just like sneaker wedges (you know)
Candles. That famous uninspired gift. Avoid at all costs as it’s the present equivalent of a slap in the face. But if there’s a freshly baked cevapcici smelling candle, I’m in.
X marks the spot. But not for me with maps – or anything with maps on them. They’re a very personal thing so it’s very hit and miss, so one to skip.
While I love a good travel quote as much as the next blogger I think I’ve filled my lifetime quota.
One more sarong, one more sarong and I might have to use it to hang myself up by the neck. Just kidding, but no more please.
Who doesn’t love plugs? They go in holes and stuff. But seriously, I’m always in need of travel adapter, so these will find a coveted place on my wish list.
My Christmas season officially kicked off last weekend as I sat down for three Christmas movies – I’m not talking about Home Alone, Elf or Die Hard, but classics like Annie Clause is Coming to Town, Matchmaker Santa, Mrs Miracle and other Hallmark Christmas season movies that are too embarrassing to admit. But it wasn’t all bad. It got me thinking about something that’s been on my wanderlist for a while; a Polar Express Ride experience. If you are not from the States, didn’t grow up with the book of the same name or haven’t seen the 2004 film you might you might be wondering; what is a Polar Express ride?
Well, once a year you can get hop on an old fashioned locomotive and get treated tо a rеаdіng of Thе Polar Express whіlе ѕірріng a hоt сhосоlаtе (or two), enjoying a cookie (or three) and getting a surprise visit from the characters. For someone who loves immersive theatre (me, me, me) and the Polar Express (both the book and movie) this sounds like the ultimate Christmas experience. I first heard of it when I saw photos of my cousins on one and ever since then it has been enshrined on my to-do list.
Hеrе аrе ѕоmе of the Pоlаr Exрrеѕѕ Rіdеѕ I would love to jump on-board for.
Saratoga & Nоrth Creek Polar Express Ride, New Yоrk, USA
The main reason the Saratoga and North Creek is number one on my list is probably because they encourage guests tо wеаr thеіr pyjamas, juѕt lіkе in the book! And I have family in the area so it would be the perfect excuse to visit them and hop on the train with my cousins.
Santa Claus Express Night Train, Finland
Ok, ok, so this Finnish night train (dubbed the ‘Santa Clause Express’) doesn’t involve a locomotive, or someone reading the story, nor does it have the free cookies, hot chocolate or any surprise visits by the characters, but it travels to the city of Rovaniemi, which is the official home of Santa – where Saint Nick himself іѕ wаіtіng and where you can visit Santa’s Village. So I am more than willing to bring my own audio book, a thermos with hot chocolate and lots of cookies for that experience as I head to meet the famous bearded Christmas hero.
Grаnd Cаnуоn Rаіlwау Polar Express Ride, Arіzоnа, USA
I didn’t realize it snowed in Arizona until I saw photos with snow covered cacti and one of their famous red rocks in the background and I honestly can’t think of anything more magical than a Pоlаr Exрrеѕѕ ride through snow-covered Arizona.
Dartmoor Polar Express Ride, UK
I don’t have to go all the way to the States to experience a Polar Express ride as they even offer it in Dartmoor of all places. I try to stay away from the UK trains much as possible, but if in a few years I haven’t had the chance to do one in the States I will have to head to Dartmoor.
New Hope & Ivyland Polar Ride, Pennsylvania, USA
And last but not least is this Polar Express ride in Pennsylvania because in addition to the reading, cookies and hot chocolate you also get Christmas carol sing-a-longs, live music, and you can get a classic photo with Santa – the site didn’t mention it was kids only so I assume I can strike a pose too. Plus, it features the cutest little quaint train station I’ve ever seen.
Have you ever been on a Polar Express Ride or would you like to?
Aaaaah Aruba…the little dot on a map in the Caribbean (and as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands I feel super related to it) has been on my Wanderlist since I watched a segment on it on a kids travel show that used to air in the Netherlands in the 90s. This one is for the Dutchies: how many of you wanted to win that Cartoon Express train with your name on it?
Anyhow … what is it about Aruba? Sun, sea and beaches of course. But there is more to that and today I am sharing my wanderlist with you:
I have to start with a walk on the beach every morning just so I can realize I am not dreaming. Hell, maybe I’ll throw in a walk in the evening breeze too.
I can only but imagine that Aruba is the perfect place to snorkel and spot Nemo and co chilling out between takes filming the new Pixar sequel, and whoever lives in the bluest ocean these days.
I’d also go stare at the Old Dutch Windmill from the 1800s that was shipped piece by piece and reconstructed on Aruba in the 1960s. Guess the Dutch really missed those windmills – I can’t imagine the postage costs were cheap!
I am obsessed with everything aloe related and the Aloe Museum and Factory sounds amazing. I’m going to need a lot of suitcases to stock on all of their beauty and care products – can’t get them fresher.
Visit the charming looking Alta Vista chapel on the north coast.
I normally can’t be bothered to lay down and relax at the beach (there is too much to eat, pray and love see, eat and do), but I honestly think I could make an exception for Aruba. I would roll from one beach to another. Yeah.
Climb the unusual Ayo Rock formation – leftovers of The Arawak people (the earliest settlers of the island) who used it so that they could hear incoming thunderstorms closing in on the island – hopefully I won’t be seeing any dark clouds on my trip!
Take an overload of snaps of everything from the coloured houses to the famous Dividivi tree and spam Instagram with it.
How about eat all the food?! I’ve heard amazing things about The Screaming Eagle and Papiamento and the photos that I found on Instagram screamed for a visit.
Yoga on the beach? Is that happening? If yes, then I am definitely in.
Get very excited when I spot one of the wild animals like iguanas, flamingos and snakes that are wandering around the island, maybe I’ll find a spirit animal iguana.
Visit Nationaal Park Arikok with it’s wonderful flora and fauna. And while I am there I should check out the caves with its paintings and bats.
Now if you will excuse me, I am going to dream away here.
Now the days are colder and shorter all I want to do after work is go home and curl up with Netflix and Chill Earl Grey. But that isn’t always socially acceptable, so I once in a while I do go out and try something new, so here are some awesome things I’ve seen and done (more like places I had a bite or two).
I am passing on one the best favourite budget tips I was given: BiBimBap in Soho. It’s the ultimate South Korean rice bowl topped with vegetables, meat or tofu and an egg topped off with various sauces. All that and a drink for just under £10 in Soho – you feel like you’re ripping them off! The walls are also plastered with super happy instant film shots of their customers, so you can’t help but smile.
Looking for a caffeine hit in Angel? Check out Saint Espresso for your latest fix: they serve a mean sencha tea, make the best chocolate chip cookies in London and according to my co-workers the coffee definitely hits the spot. It has a raw, concrete and unfinished vibe and I absolutely love it.
Hoi Polloi under Ace Hotel used to be the hottest place in town (well in Shoreditch) until people grew tired of the crowds and rushed off to the next best thing. But this doesn’t mean their food has got any less tasty, and though the menu might need a translator (what is sorrel, dulce, purslane??) it all tastes so good you don’t care that you can’t pronounce it. I prefer their breakfast and lunch over the dinner, but you can’t really go wrong with any of their menu items, and the menu looks so stylish you’ll want to steal it for your website theme.
Most of the photography exhibitions I’ve been to lately haven’t sparked my interest and I almost didn’t go to Noémie Goudal’s Southern Light Stations exhibition at the The Photographers Gallery because of this. I’m very glad I did though because I was blown away by the intriguing pieces, the photos felt like another world, and even went twice. You can visit it till January 2016.
When I heard that matcha ice cream, french toast and chicken wings were all available at the same place, I took a mental note to try Shackfuyu one day and oh boy was it good. I’m not a fan of chicken wings, but this place converted me and has definitely claimed its place on my must-eat list. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but worth it if you’re over eating Asian cheap take away, because life is too short not to treat yourself and stuff your face with ice cream.
Central & Co sits opposite Liberty and Carnaby Street – usually not my favourite places to go. But I’d stick around here if there were more places like this. I give it the Tea stamp for approval: it’s reasonably priced (for where it is), great service (once they notice you) and exciting menu (why the hell have I never put ricotta on pancakes?!). They also do brunch, dinner and drinks and all that fizzle, but more importantly their toilets have a Monkey gone to Heaven poster in them – both for the Pixies song and the actual simian heroes who went into orbit.
Want to know what I was up to on my last full day in Reykjavik?
Nope, I wasn’t hungover, searching for a lost passport I swear! Instead, I got up on time to catch the sunrise at the Hallgrímskirkja – Because you know … I obviously had to get that infamous top of tower shot before it was swarming with people like the finale of a zombie film.
Even the most seasoned blogger gets lost sometimes – this is how I ended up at the Culture House. Despite mistaking it for the National Museum (to be fair it had a flag outside saying National Museum), it was a hit. It’s kind of like sorting through a grandma’s yard sale / lots of hidden gems – art, memorabilia, costumes – with sweet stories behind them.
Now, the museum I actually wanted to go to was thankfully just a 15 minute walk away, past Lake Tjornin. This place will take you on a journey through Iceland’s history with surprisingly charming interactive videos and lots of … you know, stuff. It’s a shame there wasn’t enough details as I wanted to know more – and I was sad I couldn’t go inside the Icelandic house they had on display – it looked so cosy.
Lunch at Bergsson Mathus is a great option for someone craving a healthy veggie-packed meal at a reasonable price, I mean, it’s a little on the expensive side but the dishes are pretty large. And I appreciate the fact that they make hot chocolate with actual chocolate and not just some instant crap.
Now I don’t want to sound like a cheapskate, but I wanted to use as much of the City Card as I could so I was on the hunt for another museum. Call me shallow but I went for the one that had the coolest font. The exhibitions will vary but the ones I saw made me feel higher than when I stood on the waterfall: I stuck my head in a upside down box, watched a drone fly around the cathedral and saw a man and a woman being chased by a giant phone and then they became robots.
Tea and sweets at C is For Cookie. I judge these places by the quality of carrot cake and the one I was served was incredible good, it comes in a little cup so you don’t feel too guilty and you can hide how much you’ve eaten so you don’t look like a starving person. Also a great spot for if you just want a basic, warm breakfast or brunch.
And then this happened. Although my Air Bnb host had texted earlier that it might happen, it was a surprise as I didn’t think I would get to glimpse at the Northern Lights. Especially considering the fact it was cloudy and I was in the middle of the city – in the central square. It wasn’t particularly strong or breathtaking as it could have been if I had been nearer the waterside, but it was enough to take my breath away for about 30 seconds.
The rest of the night involved enjoying some off venue Iceland Airwaves shows, having a tasty Umami burger at the kitsch K-bar (yes I couldn’t get that terrible Electric Six song out of my head), which also featured a Kim Jong collins cocktail, and hunting down the best happy hour – yes – drinks are very expensive, so if you want to drink out, only do so at happy hours (there’s an appy hour app to help), or you might run out of money and have to go work on a pony farm to pay off your debt (which actually sounds cool right!?)