Around this time last year I wrote about the trips I took in the first half of the year and what I had learned from each of them. I never published the second part of the post, but there’s definitely some great stuff to shout about, so here are all the places I visited in the last 12 months and the lessons I learned.
I’m saying Eastbourne, but I really only walked from the station to the pier and then on to Beachy Head. Which led to the Belle Tout lighthouse where I stayed for a night in the actual keeper’s hut before walking the Seven Sisters towards Seaford the next morning. My favourite bit was reaching the ocean at Cushmere Haven and dipping my toes in the ice-cold water.
Lesson l learned – I can handle a 4 hour hike. Also, put on another layer of sunscreen, even if you already have.
The journey from London to the Dutch Island took me 9 hours and 6 modes of transportation to reach, but boy it was worth it. I forgot how much I love the charm of the little places in the Netherlands: staying in a hut at an eco camp, cycling across the island and relaxing at the beach. Next time, I hope it will be a bit quicker to get there though.
Lesson learned – E-bikes are the best way to explore the island, where have they been all my life?
I got the most out of my first trip to New York and saw everything on my list, well except MOMA which was closed during my visit. But I managed to do everything else that I put on my New York For First Timers list: from exploring Central Park to seeking shade in the museums and getting the ferry to Staten Island to get a closer view of Lady Liberty. And not forgetting running around at Sleep No More, cheering at an ice hockey game and trying out all the ice-creams the city could offer. But don’t worry, the list for my next visit is three times as long.
Lesson learned – Don’t book accommodation in Brooklyn on your first visit. For convenience, it’s really easier to stay in Manhattan.
I was sooooo surprised by what the island had to offer! I was always put off by the all-inclusive holiday image it had. But there is always room to admit one is wrong! And I owe Lanzarote an apology, because the landscapes were amazing and I really enjoyed Timanfaya National Park, Cueva De Los Verdes and the Cactus Garden. But the definite highlight was dipping in the pool that came with the house.
Lesson learned – Don’t judge a place by its image.
Amsterdam changes so much that every visit feels like new. This time I crossed off Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, Museum van Loon and the Amsterdam Light Museum. And I got to devour all my favourites including pancakes with syrup and powdered sugar, a cheese sandwich and glass of buttermilk combo, and, of course, Dutch fries with satay sauce.
Lesson I learned – The Red Light District is quiet and empty from 8 am until 9.30 am
Does 4 hours in Paris count? I mean it was for a meeting, but I did have to take the metro to a new neighbourhood, where I walked through the main street, ate a Quiche at a random corner bakery and had a glass of wine. So yeah.
Lesson I learned – If there is a queue in front of a bakery, chances are the €2,50 quiches are to die for.
The last trip I took before lockdown. It was only a few weeks after the first COVID-19 case was there and I initially wasn’t sure I wanted to go, in the end I was happy I went and explored the different ages via the city that is York: from the Roman walls, to Medieval streets and Georgian buildings. I’m still dreaming of the pastries from The Bakeshop.
Lesson I learned – I really need to explore the UK more.
What has been your biggest travel lesson this year? Or well … if you travelled in the first 2.5 months of 2020
It has been many many moons since my last Reversed Bucketlist post, where I rank and rate the items I’ve ticked of my persona list. In the meantime, I’ve crossed off these additional items from my wanderlist, and here they are, complete with a mark of ten to help see if you should be adding it your list too.
Go to Studio Ghibli
There was a point where I wasn’t sure I could get tickets to Studio Ghibli and I almost didn’t even want to go to Japan, because what was the point of travelling that far with no Ghibli? Thanks to an angel I ended up going and explored every little corner of the museum, enjoyed strawberry cake and spent way too much money in the gift shop.
9/10 – But only because I couldn’t go into the Cat Bus (it’s for children only).
See Sleep No More in New York
I saw my first Punchdrunk show in 2013 and had been craving for something similar and though I’ve tried a few other immersive theatre pieces, nothing has ever hit that sweet spot. This was the first thing I booked after the NY flight confirmation e-mail came through and it was everything!
10/10 – Could have probably gone three times in a row.
Eat all the Mexican IN Mexico
Sure the beaches were nice, and the historial sites were ok, but it was the food in Mexico that did it for me. I could eat tacos with salsa verde and hibiscus juice on the side every day all day long for eternity. I can’t wait to one day explore more of the cuisine Mexico has to offer.
20/10 – I’m still recreating some meals I’ve had there.
Overnight stay in a castle
Ok, ok, it was a room in the Tudor Village that was later built next to Hever Castle, but wandering around the lounge, billiard room and the hallways was dreamy. The best bit was exploring the castle grounds and gardens when the estate closed to the public.
8/10 – I’ve since added 10 other castles to my list.
Walk the Cinque Terre
When I visited in 2018 only two paths out of the five were open and I walked one of those and enjoyed the views and photo spots from another view. I was absolutely not dressed for a hike, but I somehow made it back alive.
7/10 – It was the lemonade at one of the restaurants that made it bareable.
Stay in a ryokan
Staying at a traditional-style Japanese inn where I got to sleep in a tatami room on a futon, soak in the communal onsen bath followed by drinking green tea and chilling in a yukata was high on my list and it was everything I wanted it to be and more.
10/10 – On my next visit to Japan I only want to stay in ryokans.
Afternoon tea at sketch
10 years of an amazing friendship seemed like a good reason to splurge at sketch. I’ve had more afternoon teas since then and have to say that compared to some of the others, I’m wasn’t that impressed by the actual food. No, it was the pink decor, the minimalist art and of course the outer space toilets I paid for.
6/10 – The service was average and the scones dry.
See a show at the Royal Albert Hall
When I read that Snow Patrol would be playing the Royal Albert Hall for their Reworked tour I knew I had to be there, this was THE show I wanted to see on my first visit to the venue. The stress I had booking the tickets cost me about two years of my life, but it was so worth it to cry along to Run while thousands of people lit up the venue with their phones. Would book again and again and again.
10/10 – Even the woman behind me shouting along could not ruin this.
Sleep in a lighthouse
There aren’t that many places in the UK where you can actually sleep in the actual lighthouse tower, as it’s usually a building next to it. In Belle Tout in Eastbourne however you can and I got to stay in the actual lightkeepers’ hut. It was tiny, it was slightly claustrophobic, but it was so much fun!
10/10 – I don’t think any other lighthouse can top this experience.
Swing above Amsterdam
Amsterdam has the highest swing in Europe, located atop the 22-storey A’DAM Tower, showing you what it’s like to have Amsterdam at your feet with a possible bit of vertigo induced nausea thrown in for good measure.
8/10 – It would take a lot of courage, but would probably go again.
Travel guides…once a must-have companion for globe-trotting now seem to have lost their way amid an endless sea of online content – whether just socials, videos, or even humble blogs like this here publication. Of course, these titles have also expanded online, but with patchy updates and content hidden for the paid-for editions, they don’t seem too dissimilar from any free content.
So, is there any need for paper travel guides in 2019/2020?
1. Authority and Trust.
The idea is that the person who’s been commissioned to do a travel guide is a respected, neutral and trustworthy source and so worth listening to. In theory that makes sense. However, when I read that a really big name publication wasn’t paying fair wages – which encouraged writers to not visit everywhere they wrote about and also try to get as many freebies to actually be able to afford to live – it got me wondering about how these people are any different from the millions of bloggers out there.
2. Maps and routes
One of the best things I used enjoyed about guide books was using their maps, they were well-designed and had all the places of interest cleverly pinned. Sadly with the introduction of online maps, complete with everything of interest labelled and transport and travel times, plus the ability to create your own maps has left these in the dust.
I would argue, despite online maps being incredible useful, that one of the strong suits of travel guide books is their suggested itineraries. If you’re planning a big trip across lots of places, they are extremely useful in their suggested routes and timings that will not always be easy to judge from online research. For example, the fact the ferry leaves only on the last Tuesday of the month, that once a week bus route is something you don’t wanna miss!
4. Out of date
As mentioned earlier, these publications do have online presences, but sadly the fast changing nature, particularly of out of the way places, means hotels, restaurants, and other sites they write about in their main editions are prone to close, move or suddenly be not worth visiting. So you will always end up online to find what you need.
5. When you just read them for fun
If you really want to visit somewhere but life gets in the way, they do feel like a guilty pleasure to read in lieu of not actually going there ‘yet’. If you get a good, well written one it can inspire you to actually get off your ass and make that trip finally happen. Also they make your bookcase look much more interesting.
6. Inside knowledge
While trust can be an issue, if you get a good recommendation on a travel guide, I think it can still be worth snapping up for some proper inside knowledge. There are a few authors at certain guides who have lived, worked and travelled in their countries, meaning they offer real proper local tips and tricks that can actually save you quite a bit of money and time as well embarrassment.
So are travel guide publications still worth your time? I’d say increasingly not, unless you need a good cross-country itinerary or get a recommendation for a really well written one from someone who’s lived and travelled there extensively.
From Notting Hill in London and Rue Cremieux in Paris to Rainbow Row in Savannah, residents everywhere are complaining about people disturbing their day-to-day lives while holding photoshoots outside their front door. We’ve all been guilty of a snap or two in front of a colourful house, street art or cute doors. But who’s actually crossed the line and walked into someone’s porch, done a yoga pose leaning against a front door or even filmed a dance routine? And while it’s not exactly someone’s house, is trampling through flower fields for that perfect pixie photoshoot really worth it?
Is this an increasing phenomenon? We can all agree that articles like 12 Instagram Photo Spots in Paris That You Have To Visit, 15 Best Places to Take Pictures in London and 7 Pretty Cafes in New York are more and more ever-present, whether on blogs, or even bigger sites like CN Traveller and Visit London. I even recently read that 37% of Dutch people look for Instagrammable places to visit during a city trip – that’s quite a lot!
Now, of course this isn’t a new thing, remember picture postcards, seaside photo boards, and of course photographs in general (we’ve all got our horror stories of Auntie and Uncle bringing their holiday snaps to share), plus famous pop culture photo spots like the Beatles on Abbey Road and any movie set in Paris, New York or London. Today, the latest flavour is Instagram or your favourite social media platform of the month.
So why do we all want to snap ourself while on our travels? Is it for the memory, immortalising that moment, or for the likes? Either way, layouts, arranging people and composition can be a tough cookie to crack, especially if you’re in a bit of a rush, meaning it’s often so much easier to replicate something than to think of one yourself. Have you ever found a nice photo spot and suddenly found quite a few other people want to join and see what the fuss is all about?
This is definitely something Kodak must have realised when they introduced Kodak Picture Spots in the 1920s. Interestingly, the Kodak signs started as roadside markers across the US highlighting general points of interest to photograph, which helped popularise picture-taking behaviour. Then they found their way into Disney theme parks, national parks and historic landmarks. But now we’ve gone from helpful signs saying ‘Why not take a photo here?’ on landmarks and tourist sites to ‘No photos allowed’ to protect against people’s houses getting a tad overrun by influencers. So what’s the answer? Shooting-guilt free I reckon.
Want to keep your shoot guilt-free?
How about keeping these in mind?
Covent Garden is frontrunner when it comes to curated photo opps that don’t invade people’s porches. It recently started off with flower-decorated swinging benches, but now includes seasonal curated corners as well as the Covent Garden Infinity Chamber, as well as sponsored sections which pop up from time to time. If you want all of these to yourself go out and explore it on Christmas Day, when it’s all empty.
The red phone boxes are the ultimate London landmark and as no one uses phones anymore, you’ll free as guilt-free as a zero-calorie ice-cream (but beware their aroma if you step inside!). You can find the famous red ones in Covent Garden (the market, and nearby Broad Court), Bloomsbury (Byng Place), Parliament Square and Smithfield Meat Market. There’s also a sponsored phone booth in Spitalfields Market that’s designed and placed with the aim for everyone to take a photo and display the big DW in the background.
Street art murals are perfect backdrops if you’re looking for something colourful. Some of the best examples include the Redemption Bar angel wings near Old Steet, the colourful Lakwena mural right behind Liberty in Carnaby Street, or pretty much all of Brick Lane. Don’t forget to credit the creator when posting these, it’s the least you can do.
For an overdose of photo-spot cuteness head to cafes like created-for-the-Gram Peggy Porchen, flowery heaven Dalloway Terrace or the pink perfection that is Sketch. They’ve built their identity around creating the perfect photo setting. So get yourself those overpriced scones or eclairs and take as many shots as you like.
Shall we make make an unwritten pact to not disturb, distress or bother people (or nature) in their natural habitats, even if it means missing out on that perfect snap?
Once in a while when I’m stuck for inspiration I end up on one of those blogs that dispense blog topics you should write about. So I pick a few that seem interesting, write out a breakdown and then realise I’m too straight to the point and can’t even reach 200 words! I don’t want my golden answers to go to waste so here is a good old listicle…
How to Fit Everything in a Carry On – Roll your clothes, get packing cubes and if it doesn’t close a bit of violence may be called for.
What’s In Your Camera Bag – Camera bag? You mean my tote bag where let my camera and extra lens swing around? And extra battery if I’m feeling daring?
The Ultimate Paris Packing List – You mean the extra two t-shirts I packed during my 36 hours trip back in April? I’m the last person you should take fashion advice from, but I can tell you that whatever top you pack make sure it has stripes.
10 Tips on How to Save For Travel – Why 10 when you only need one: over the years I’ve tracked my average daily holiday spend so I just multiply that amount by my vacation days and divide by 12, this way I know how much I need to set aside every payday. I always calculate a bit extra, but in case I need a bigger budget for a more expensive destination I would look at cutting expenses like skipping on eating out, lunch take-away and going for drinks.
How to Plan a Trip with a Big Group – Ignore the emoji-filled Whatsapp groupchat until someone with actual planning skills steps up and volunteers.
Best Photo Spots in London – London is photogenic, so literally anywhere as long as you don’t stand in the middle of the road and in the way of people trying to pass by.
How to Book the Cheapest Flights – I don’t want to be that person that advises you to book a 6 AM flight from a regional airport 3 hours from your home just to save £30.
What posts do you have that you can’t seem to finish?
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