Roaming the streets and stalls of Montmartre and being awed by the beauty of the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica perched on its summit – think flickering candlelight reflecting off stunning gold-painted alcoves and arches. Looking out over the superb symmetry of the Champs de Mars from the second level of the city’s global cultural icon – La Tour Eiffel a.k.a the Eiffel Tower (even if I was terrified being over 600 steps up from the ground)! Strolling from the Arc de Triomphe in the Place Charles de Gaulle, down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, eyeing up all the theatres, cafés and luxury shops along the way. People-watching in the Place des Vosges, a sweet little town square lined with gorgeous old french buildings complete with red flowers cascading from every window box, located in the lovely Marais district. Rambling around around the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens and along the River Seine. Listening to the bells and marveling at the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the masterpieces of van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and others at the Musée d’Orsay. Taking a snap outside the iconic red windmill of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ cabaret house (see a show if you can). Finding my padlock (Cara and Bobo forever) from 2013 on the ‘Love-Lock Bridge’ – a truly romantic spot in the city of Love!
In a lot of the touristy areas of Paris, I was approached by illegal street sellers, beggars and people waving petitions in my face. Of course you always want to help people if you can, but there are literally hundreds of these individuals, not just in Paris, but all over Europe, and you just can’t help them all. Also, sadly, many of these people have fairly harassing or sometimes even aggressive tactics and/or are professional pick-pockets. It really is best to just stay clear and use a firm ‘No, merci!’ if approached.
Ok so maybe this sounds like an obvious one but anyway… always have a really warm jacket packed in your suitcase – no matter the country you’re traveling to, no matter the season you’re traveling in. I never imagined I’d need a puffer jacket in Paris in May but I ended up wearing mine every single day I was there. You just never know when out-of-season weather may strike and it pays to be prepared. My black Macpac puffer jacket is fantastic for traveling as it’s super warm, doesn’t show the dirt, and squeezes down into a tiny pouch that hardly takes up any room in my case at all.
This also may seem fairly obvious but i’ll say this one anyways too… learn a few key phrases in the language of the country you are traveling to – even a couple of basic words/sentences (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where is the bathroom?, can I have the bill?, how much does this cost?, etc.) will really help you out in a foreign country. I’ve found that people, especially the French, are much more friendly and obliging if you at least try to communicate with them in their mother tongue. Even if you just start off in French and then have to swap to English, you’ll probably have better luck than if you use none at all.
A 20-minute ride away from Paris on the local RER* C line I located my ULTIMATE DREAM HOME – the Palace of Versailles. This royal chateau is one seriously pimped out crib! The opulence is breathtaking. If it’s not gold, it’s gold-trimmed. King Louis XVI and his infamous wife, Marie Antoinette used to kick it here and they were certainly spoiled for choice when it came to fab spots to hang out around the property! I mean, the palace itself has over 700 luxuriously decorated rooms. Then there’s the acres and acres of gardens dotted with grand fountains, quaint ponds, splendid sculptures, manicured mazes and even a huge cross-shaped canal (where you can hire a row boat if you so wish). Not to mention the Grand Trianon (a gorgeous collection of buildings including an adorable pink marble and porphyry palace), the Queen’s Hamlet (a group of thatched-roof houses encircling a pond and surrounded by farmland), and Marie Antoinette’s Estate (I would have died to attend one of her lavish tea or dinner parties here). I really love how each room of importance (i.e., practically every room in the whole place) was decorated with a different bold and beautiful colour, adorned with copious amounts of gold, and finished off with a gigantic sparkling chandelier. I think if I had been resident at the palace, you would have been most likely to find me in either the ‘Queen’s Bedroom’ or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – truly truly magnificent spaces.
* RER trains are similar to metro trains, but travel longer distances outside the Paris city limits. To get to Versailles, take the train headed towards ‘Versailles-Rive Gauche’ — this is the stop to jump off at and also, conveniently, the last stop on this line so you won’t need to worry about missing it. The palace is only about a 5 minute walk from the train station and when you exit the train you will soon see signs pointing you in the right direction.
To get the official low-down on all the fabulous aspects and features of this UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site you can visit: http://www.chateauversailles.fr
To be perfectly honest with you I was disappointed by the French cuisine that I sampled in Paris – most probably because I had such high expectations (I mean, ‘cuisine’ is a French word for pete’s sake)! Of course you can always get a delicious ‘petit dejeuner‘ (breakfast) anywhere in France – just grab a hot ‘croissant’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ with a ‘café au lait’ or ‘chocolat chaud’ – but as for lunch and dinner, well, it was all overly cheesy (and not even the good cheese) baguettes made with rock-hard bread, overpriced salads or chunky cut chips (not the skinny FRENCH fries that you’re assume you’re getting). At least the waiters were always very charming and entertaining (insert winky-face). Disappointed by the traditional local fare, I opted to eat at non-french restaurants, and here I was pleasantly surprised. I ate a mountain of tasty tempura vegetables with beautiful fresh salmon and tuna sushimi at a lovely little ‘Restaurant Japonais’, which I unfortunately didn’t jot down the name of, and a simply scrumptious serving of of garlic naan dunked in a creamy chicken tikka masala curry (my standard order) at a colourful and warm ‘Restaurant Indien’ named ‘Kastoori‘. Both of these eateries were located a couple of minutes walk around the corner from the Saint-Georges metro station.
Admiring the masterpieces housed in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Geeking out over animals, rocks and dinosaurs galore at the Natural History Museum. Being enthralled by the fabulous vintage fashions and stage costumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Oogling the famous exhibition windows and luxurious homeware and clothing of department store Harrods. Monkeying around at infamous Kiwi/Aussie backpacker sunday session institution ‘The Church‘. Strolling through bustling Trafalgar Square and beautiful St. James’s Park. Having a laugh at the giant dancing M&Ms at M&M World (where you can find every type of M&M merchandise imaginable). Touring the Tower of London guided by a very entertaining and informative real-life Beefeater (well worth paying the extra pounds on top of the entry ticket price for the Beefeater tour) and checking out probably the world’s most insane bling collection, i.e., the Crown Jewels, housed inside – think heavily bejeweled crowns, swords, orbs, scepters and solid gold feasting utensils! Applauding a fantastic performance of the Billy Elliot Musical at the Victoria Theatre. Finding my inner child through the wonder of toys at Hamleys – ‘the Finest Toy Shop in the World’.
Talk about raining on my parade! I was so excited about going to see the ‘Changing the Guard’ ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas – it rained cats and dogs and the event was canceled (booooo!). A ‘wet change’ was undertaken however, so at least I was still able to see the guards march past in their fabulous tall black fluffy bearskin hats and catch a glimpse of their scarlet uniforms from underneath their raincoats.
For riding the tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London you are going to need an ‘Oyster Card‘ – a smart card which holds pay-as-you-go credit to pay for your travel on these transport services. I was able to purchase a £40 Oyster Card that gave me unlimited travel for 7 days (even though I was only there for 5). The best idea is to ask an attendant at one of the tube station information desks when you arrive – they will advise you of the best option for your needs, or you can visit www.tfl.gov.uk for all the info before your trip.
Always have an umbrella or ‘brolly’ handy when exploring London!
It was such a delight getting to feast my eyes on the most beautiful collection of fashions and styles from different eras at the Victoria and Albert Museum – an absolute must-visit for anyone interested in art and design. A selection of famous stage costumes and make-up was being exhibited when I visited, including an entire recreation of one of Kylie Minogue‘s dressing rooms – amazing! Until March 2015 there is also a special exhibit at the V&C showcasing the development of the ‘wedding dress’ and it’s take by various big name designers (think Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, etc.) – gorgeous! Visit http://www.vam.ac.uk for all the details on current and upcoming exhibitions.
If you’re a fan of Italian design powerhouse PRADA then my goodness you are in for a treat on the fourth floor of department store Harrods, as here you will find yourself in the PRADASPHERE – an incredibly exuberant exhibition of the fashion house’s historic collections and special collaborations and projects, a.k.a PRADA heaven!!
For a fun and trendy dining experience head on down to Brixton Village – a funky set of covered arcades lined with a great selection of rave-reviewed eateries in Brixton, South London. Here you will find cafes and restaurants pumping out flavours to tantalize your tastebuds from every corner of the globe – Europe, India, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
I chowed down on some seriously delicious Chinese food at ‘Dumplings Legend‘ in the heart of London’s Chinatown. Crispy-skin chicken, chicken stir fry with chinese broccoli, and pork and vege dumplings washed down with traditional Chinese tea was the order of the day, and my oh my did it go down a treat!
Ok, Ok, Ok, so I know that it’s French, but there is the most beautiful Ladurée tea salon in Covent Garden’s iconic Market Building where I treated myself to a simply scrumptious serving of rose hip and strawberry gelato, four of the store’s signature macarons, and the most divine fruit tea named ‘Marie Antoinette’. I would just sit among all those pastel tones and gold trimmed edges scoffing their delicious desserts forever if I could!
There’s nowhere else like LONDON. Nothing at all, anywhere. – Vivienne Westwood
Riding the Peak Tram to see views of the city from Victoria Peak. Perusing the Ladies Markets on Tung Choi Street. Strolling down the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ promenade along the harbour front. Taking the Star Ferry from Kowloon Peninsula over to Central in the evening, timed with the ‘Symphony of Lights‘ skyscraper light show. Admiring astonishing sea creatures in the huge aquarium, doing a trillion loop-the-loops on crazy roller-coasters, and riding the gondola overlooking a beautiful coastline at Ocean Park theme park. Lighting a candle at the Man Mo Temple and finding antique gems on Hollywood Road. Learning about fascinating Chinese medical histories and advances at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences in Sheung Wan Province.
The travel money card that I had pre-loaded with Hong Kong Dollars ($HK) just would not work at any of the many ATMs I tried. Remember to always have a second option when it comes to travel finances.. you never want to find yourself strapped for cash overseas! Luckily, I had a credit card for back up (recommended!).
You need need need to grab yourself an ‘Octopus Card‘ for riding on Hong Kong’s public transport networks. I purchased a card for $HK150 that came with $HK100 free credit and received $HK50 back as a refundable deposit – if that’s not a bargain I don’t know what is! And that initial amount saw me all around the city on the MTR over 4 days -Bonus! (They can also be loaded with cash for use at convenience stores and supermarkets, etc.).
When exploring any big city, more than likely, you are going to end up pounding a bunch of pavement and for this you are 100% going to need comfortable footwear. For any big day on the feet I just can’t live without my NIKE trainers – with a huge election of fun colours available these sporty shoes will have your tootsies feeling and looking fab all day long (and you don’t always have to pair them with sports clothes either)! THE place for all your big name brand sports gear at pretty good prices in Hong Kong is Fa Yuen Street.
If you’re planning on exploring all the fantastic shops in the ginormous very clean and very sparkly shopping malls (such as Hysan Place, the Times Square Mall, and the IFC Malls), make sure to take a warm top with you as they seriously crank the air-conditioning in these joints. The extreme temperature differences between the hot and sticky streets and the cool interiors of the malls could leave you with a chill or cold if you’re not careful!
There was a truly fantastic selection of fake or rip-off brand sunglasses to be found at the Temple Street Night Markets – I’m a firm believer that one can never have too many sunglasses (I may or may not have 11 pair stashed in my suitcase) and priced at between $HK69-89 a pair of these snazzy sunnies will have you looking fabulous without breaking the budget!
Girls – have some fun and easy up do’s ready for exploring Hong Kong. Cute top knots or high ponies are the go here – with high humidity and temperatures above 30°C, backs and necks get super sweaty, super fast, and you don’t want long hair anywhere near them, trust me!
Believe it or not I actually struggled to find eateries serving cheap authentic Chinese cuisine! There was western food to be found everywhere I looked. One place I would recommend however was a rooftop restaurant called ‘The Glasshouse‘ on the top level of the IFC Mall. There I gorged on small plates of delectable small fried fish, marinated chicken thighs and tempura prawns topped off with a sensational peach juice-based mocktail presented in a fun little glass jug.
And we’re off! All of the saving and planning has finally come together and today is the day my sister and I start our big Overseas Adventure! Oh the anticipation! Oh the excitement! Two girls from little old New Zealand with Kathmandu backpacks packed and last kiwi pies stomached ready to explore the wonders of the world. The Grand Plan: visit Hong Kong, London, Paris, Athens, the Greek Islands, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Tomorrowland, Morocco and Italy ALL in the next four months… (then reassess the bank balances, eeek, and hopefully plan for some more destinations).
Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures… – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland