Hong Kong.

comment 1
Asia / Travel / Uncategorized

“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.”

Nury Vittachi

It sounds like a cliche, but sometimes things happen for a reason.

I was lying on the floor of my parents place, less than 24 hours after being hospitalised for being as sick as I’d ever been. My brother threw up the idea of a sneaky bet on the footy, something I never do. My team played the reigning premiers with long odds to win. To cut to the chase, we picked up $410.

Serendipity.

The money burned a hole in my pocket in an unusual way. I was about to head overseas on the three month trip of a lifetime but for some reason I was reluctant to spend the cash there. I wanted it to go to something uniquely special and a week later, thanks to a Jetstar sale, I had it. I was going to Hong Kong.

Technically I’d been twice before; a few hours spent in the humidity of the airport en route to Europe a couple of years back. But I’d always wanted to go – properly – and the win, combined with a bargain $450 airfare, made it possible.

It was the right trip at exactly the right time.

I wasn’t happy before I went. Tough times at work. A shit time personally. My footy team consistently losing. A broken foot. Nothing was going my way. Hong Kong was an escape into the unknown, a chance to step out of my life and experience new things, see new places. It also had the benefit of a couple of old mates living in the city and some other friends visiting at exactly the same time. It was just the escape I needed.

I look back at the photos I took on my first day there, wandering around Stanley and I look so desperately unhappy. I can see it in my face; I’m smiling but it doesn’t reach my eyes. I remember taking dozens of selfies and thinking how terrible I looked in all of them. But then something changed. Hong Kong got to me. The unique opportunity to be away from my problems in a foreign location but with people I knew and loved, worked its magic. We laughed and drank and talked and ate. I went home drunk all but two of the nights I stayed there, swaying unsteadily at the Kings Road McDonalds near my hotel as I bought late night cheeseburgers. During the day I explored, taking it easy to account for the aforementioned only recently healed foot.

In short, I loved Hong Kong. It lived up to every expectation I had and then some. It’s a western eastern city with the best of its past and location. There’s plenty to do and see, a heap of day trips you can take and the food, shopping and people are good. It’s easy to get around, too. There’s not more you can ask for than that.

By the end of my week there I felt comfortable, like I’d been there an age. Sure, I was going to get on a plane and go home to a lot of the same problems but already I was feeling better about everything. I was refreshed. I had some perspective. And I also had a week of brilliant memories I’ll treasure for a long, long time.

Where to stay.

Hong Kong the city is split into two parts: you have Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and I would describe them as same same but different. Hong Kong Island is like almost any standard European orAmerican city dropped into an Asian context; think skyscrapers and complete modernity. Kowloon can be a little rougher around the edges, it has a bit more character and fits with what you expect an Asian city to be. Both are great areas and it’s easy to travel between the two on the Star Ferry – I chose to stay on the island part and would probably recommend that for other first timers.

That said, the island – while small – has a lot of different areas. The northern side is the main area with the majority of activities, restaurants, bars and shopping, while the southern side is a bit more relaxed. I stayed at the Butterfly on Victoria in Causeway Bay, which is in the north east part of the island. Sadly this hotel has since closed down, but there are six hotels in the Butterfly chain across Hong Kong and I’d recommend checking them out for a good, mid-priced hotel. In a city where space is an absolute premium, the rooms certainly aren’t huge, but they are modern and comfortable. I also liked that they had a device in the room with wifi that you could take with you around the city to use as a map or reference guide.

If I was heading back to Hong Kong I reckon I’d try and stay in Wan Chai or Central – Causeway Bay was fine but there was less to do in the area I was in, so I was having to catch the metro every day. That said, don’t underestimate how small Hong Kong actually is so if your hotel choice is slightly off in terms of location, it shouldn’t make too much difference. You’re only travelling for a few minutes on the train and lots of places are infinitely walkable.

Where to eat.

If there’s one thing there’s no shortage of in Hong Kong, then it’s good food. There’s a dichotomy to the city; it’s hideously, horrendously expensive in a lot of ways, but then it also has the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. It’ll cost you AUD$15 for a beer in a bar, but you can drink 7-11 beers on the street in Lan Kwai Fong for about a tenth of that. Ah, Hong Kong. There’s a lot of options at a lot of prices however I’d suggest that mid-range is going to be a bit higher than a lot of other cities and a visit to HK isn’t a cheap Asian holiday by any stretch, which includes food.

Tim Ho Wan has become something of a Hong Kong institution thanks to those Michelin-starred pork buns. I’m not a massive foodie but every man and his dog were recommending them so I put a visit on my list of things to do in the city. There’s four outposts across HK and I’d been warned they were prone to some long lines – think a couple of hours long – so go early. I went to the ifc one near Central just before midday and only waited about 10 minutes to get in. Keep in mind it isn’t the place for a leisurely lunch – it’s loud and brash and you get in and get out. While you’re lined up you fill in paper menus with what you want, then they take them and bring your food back in minutes.

It’s all pretty pork heavy but it’s also incredibly cheap. I went for the baked BBQ pork buns, deep fried pork dumplings and steamed pork rice rolls. All up it cost about AUD $15 but was far too much food for one person. The buns are great, they’re quite saucy and a bit like an Asian version of a hot pocket. The dumplings were good too but I took one bite of the rolls and coughed it into a tissue. It was like eating glue.

All up it’s a decent experience but I didn’t see hearts and rainbows and stars. It’s just simply nice food and there’s plenty of that around in the city. Basically put, if you miss out on Tim Ho Wan then don’t stress.

Another great spot around Central is Little Bao on Staunton Street. The food is fantastic – Westernised Chinese but incredibly delicious and the beers went down pretty easy.

People who know me well know I’m the fussiest eater (perhaps ever) but I braved a lack of English signs to eat the beef brisket noodles with soup at a place called Sister Wah because it’s supposedly amazing and meant to be one of the best in the city for the dish. It was absolutely worth it.

The soup was delicious, the noodles perfectly chewy and the beef was so tender it fell apart but wasn’t fatty at all. Washed down with a Coke, it was perfection. I even came back the next night for the chilli pork dumplings, which were splendid. Both nights set me back about AUD $10 which is practically free by Hong Kong standards. Sister Wah is located on Electric Road, take the A2 exit out of Tin Hau station and you’re practically at their front door.

In Hong Kong, they do brunch. Serious brunch. It’s called a free flow and basically you just get drunk for a few hours and eat a lot of good food. We booked into a place in Kowloon called Hutong. High on the 28th floor we had amazing views over the city and a buffet filled with Chinese food from (another) Michelin-starred restaurant. The drinks were either unlimited Veuve or lychee cocktails.

We stuffed ourselves with dumplings and pork buns while ‘free flow’ seemed an understatement when it came to the champagne. I don’t think our glasses were ever empty. For a while we switched to lychee cocktails but it was impossible to resist the lure of all that bubbly. It wasn’t a cheap experience by any stretch of the imagination – it set us back about AUD $150 a head – but it was the perfect Hong Kong Sunday. The price also includes a dancing show and a noodle display, which might sound odd but was pretty incredible to watch.

If you’re looking for a great roof top bar in Hong Kong then look no further – Wooloomooloo Steak House in Wan Chai is perfection. Go just as the city lights up and the views are phenomenal. Drink prices to match but hey, treat yo self and get amazing photos while you’re there.

Or, if you ever want to feel like you’re having a drink amongst the actual clouds, then Ozone Bar is your place. Situated at the top of the International Commerce Centre, which includes the Ritz Carlton, it’s the highest bar in the world. You’re 118 floors up and you feel it. One minute it was all cloud, the next we got a clear look over the city. And it’s bloody windy up there. At AUD $90 for four beers, it’s not a cheap experience but definitely one to tick off in Hong Kong.

Finally, Lan Kwai Fong is the nightlife district of Hong Kong and is packed with bars and restaurants. There’s also a bit of a street party vibe there, with people buying cheap drinks from the 7-11 and drinking them while walking around. I loved it because there’s all these crazy Asian beers you just can’t get elsewhere. It’s a genuine good time and well worth heading there even if it’s only for one night.

What to see and do.

So, Hong Kong is divided in two – there’s Hong Kong island and there’s Kowloon, which sits on a peninsula off mainland China. The two have incredibly different feels; Hong Kong island ostensibly gives off the vibe of a modern European or American city plonked down in the middle of Asia, which is in no doubt in large part to the enormous community of ex-pats who have resided there for decades, not to mention the influence of English rule. Kowloon is a little grittier, a little realer, a little more typical Asian metropolis, with alleyways full of markets and other local secrets. It’s the best kind of comparison and of course, there’s plenty to do and see in both.

The best part of travelling between the island and Kowloon is the iconic Star Ferry, where for one HK dollar you get a trip over the water with some of the city’s best (and most Instagrammable) views. It’s an event in itself and you’ll probably end up doing it more than a few times.

The thing I did last is probably the thing most people will want to do first – Victoria Peak. The peak is the highest hill on HK island and offers spectaular views across the city… provided the weather is right. Before I went I’d heard horror stories of people getting all the way to the top only to have the view obstructed by fog or clouds, and unfortunately this an be a fairly common occurrence. I waited until the very last day of my trip to go and somehow, it was magically clear. To get up to the top you can either pay to take the small tram or do a fairly strenuous hike. I was keen for the latter but at the time was recovering from a broken foot, so had to rule it out. The peak really is a must do though and while there’s not a heap at the top, the view really is marvellous enough to make up for it.

Even if you’re not a big fan of horse racing, try and head to the Wednesday night races at Happy Valley Racecourse. The atmosphere is super casual – no dressed up Flemington vibe here – and people are either there to have a lot of fun or do some serious betting. The venue itself is gorgeous, this open green space surrounded by skyscrapers, and it feels a bit otherworldly. Apart from the serious Chinese punters, there’s a lot of ex-pats there to drink the jugs of cheap (by HK standards anyway) beers and just generally have a good time. Even if you’re not up for a few cheeky bets, you’ll still have a great night.

I’ve been on a bit of a mission over the years to visit all the Disney theme parks – so far I’ve ticked off Disneyland (Anaheim), Disney World (Orlando), Disney Sea (Tokyo) and now Hong Kong Disney. HK is the smallest of the four and there’s not a lot of life threatening rides, everything is pretty tame (though a very high swinging car gave me heart palpitations). A lot of the Fantasyland rides are the same in every park, like the teacups, but apart from that Space Mountain was the only one here that I’d been on before.

I went on a Monday and the crowds were pretty small, I think the longest I waited in line for a ride was only about 15 minutes. Given how long you can spend waiting at the US parks, this is pretty amazing. It was also easy to get around without hordes of people everywhere. All up I spent about four hours there and did all the major rides. You won’t need a significant chunk of time to cover it unless you’re keen on staying for the night parade. Getting there is simple too – just catch the MTR to the Disney station. All up it’s a great excursion out of the city, because you’re never too old for Disneyland.

For anyone like me that hates heights but is obsessed with going up high things to take photos, the Hong Kong Observation Wheel will totally be your jam. It’s not excruciatingly high so for those that get a bit phobic, you should be right to manage it. Located in Central, it’s an easy ay to get the same views as the Star Ferry but from a much higher position.

On my first full day in Hong Kong I did the total tourist thing of buying a ticket on one of those hop on, hop off buses and used it to get my bearings in the city. I decided to take the trip south to Stanley and Repulse Bay, which included a sampan boat ride. There are some lovely quaint beaches there and it’s a nice change from the crowds in the main part of the city. Stanley also has markets and shops that you can wander through without getting harassed.

The weather wasn’t great and it spat rain for most of the day, so this was a chance to do something that didn’t rely on clear blue skies (like the peak). I really recommend it because while not cheap – it set me back about $85 for the 48 hour pass – it also gives you the boat ride, Star Ferry tickets and a tour, Peak Tram tickets and a pass to the Maritime Museum. There’s three different loops across the island and Kowloon, so it’s an easy way to see a lot of the city. Stanley probably isn’t too high on people’s list of areas to visit in Hong Kong but if you’ve got more than a few days, it’s a nice little break from all the high rise along the harbour.

Finally, it would be remiss not to suggest you take advantage of your time in Hong Kong to do a day trip to Macau. If you’re not a gambler then you won’t need more than a day there to explore; I’m not sure the island is a destination vacation in itself. The Portugese part of the old town is lovely, but you can knock it over in an hour or two. Mostly, Macau feels a bit like the land time forgot weirdly interspersed with some of the most tremendous buildings in existence. It’s all a bit of a puzzle.

Ferries leave every half an hour or so from the Hong Kong terminals and it will cost you about AUD $40 each way. No need to book in advance, I found it pretty easy to just rock up and grab one. The trip takes an hour and the boat is a decent size, do most people wouldn’t have too many issues with seasickness.

When you arrive in Macau there’s a heaping of free shuttle buses lined up to take you to the casino of your choice. My advice would be to decide where in the city you want to go and then take a bus run by the nearest casino. I ended up going to the Venetian first, which is on the mainland, because I wanted to go to the shops there. I won’t lie, it’s a pretty fancy experience. But after seeing it for myself and getting pushed about by all the tourists trying to take photos of the replica canal and St Marks Square, I got the fuck out of there. They call Macau the Vegas of the east and I reckon that’s a good description – it’s absolutely just as soul less as the US city.

I took a bus to the Venetian’s sister casino on the island and from there got a cab to Senado Square. It cost me about AUD $6 and drivers (and other vendors in Macau) will all take Hong Kong dollars so there’s no real need to change currency. Also the Macanese dollar is the same as the HKD so you’re all good.

Senado Square is lovely. It’s a little piece of Portugal dropped in the middle of Asia, all beautiful romantic architecture and flowing cobblestone streets. I had a wander through the square, desperate to find what I really came for – custard tarts. And they’re everywhere, make no mistake. Warm and fresh and cheap, they may even be better than those I had in Portugal. In Lisbon a few years back I smashed six I one day and I did four in Macau, though I maintain that because I was only in the latter for a few hours my ratio was better. (To be fair, I did feel a bit sick afterwards.)

From Senado Square I wandered up to the ruins of St Paul’s, which is basically just a facade at this point. Dating back to the 16th century, the church was built by Portugese settlers and the ruins are now a world heritage site. It’s a great spot for photos and it really is just the smattering of culture you get in Macau. There’s little shops and stalls everywhere where you can buy food and pharmaceutical products but I was pretty tired and stuffed with custard tarts at that point so I decided to roll myself out of there. To get back to the ferry terminal you just need to walk to a casino and get one of the free buses back. Too easy.

Where to shop.

I’m sure there’s a multitude of cute stores in Hong Kong (I know there’s a hell of a lot of high end places) but I actually didn’t do a lot of shopping there. I think I hit up Cos and Gap in Central, then maybe a few other chains like H&M off Nathan Road in Kowloon. Mostly I spent my money there on doing stuff rather than buying stuff. However I always enjoy a jaunt to an Asian drugstore.

Hong Kong: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: I had just under eight full days there and it worked out perfectly for me. I had a couple of friends in the city so it gave me plenty of time to catch up with them a few times, visit a lot of different areas of the city, and do some day trips out of Hong Kong. For a first timer, I reckon five days would be a good minimum start.

Getting around: The public transport is exceptional; there’s a train on the MTR every couple of minutes and it’s easy and safe to use them to get around. Otherwise there are the famous double decker trams (the ‘ding dings’) which are slower but afford you the opportunity to look around the city. Walking is also a good option, depending on where you are going (I felt really safe at night), taxis are plentiful and cheap if you’re out suuuuuper late, and of course you’ll need to take the famous Star Ferry between the island and Kowloon.

When to go: I went in late April and it was still really sticky and humid. Clearly winter is a better time for those who don’t like the heat and still fairly mild in temperature, otherwise you’ll need to do battle with the humidity.

Key places for first timers: Victoria Peak, Star Ferry, wandering around Central, Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong Disney. I’d also try and do a Macau day trip.

Underrated gem: Stanley/Repulse Bay is a lovely area away from the major crowds – and HK can really do a crowd. Give yourself a moment to relax before diving back in to the bustle of the city.

If I could only eat at one place: Rather than a place, I’d definitely recommend a free flow brunch, it’s totally worth the splurge. Have a look online at different places as most high end hotels and restaurants have them.

Best photo opportunities: Victoria Peak, Star Ferry, passing trams, the rooftop bars at either (or both!) Wooloomooloo Steak House or Ozone Bar.

We were on a break.

Leave a comment
Uncategorized

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how excited about or committed to something you are, life just gets in the way. When I started this site back in January I was ready to power through writing about 52 cities for the year (!), only to hit a bit of a road block when work started to get hectic and the idea of spending a couple of hours at home writing just seemed too much.

I also took a little bit of time off to travel, this time back to Hawaii which is one of my favourite places in the world. It marked my third trip there and I could absolutely still see myself going back for more.

So, feeling somewhat refreshed and rejuvenated, I’m ready to strike out again. I’m also considering how I best showcase my beautiful home city of Melbourne, following a conversation I had recently with a couple of friends. “What do you tell people visiting Melbourne to go do, see and eat?” It was interesting listening to their responses about what motivates and excites us in this great city. I want to create something that will hopefully answer those questions for people coming to Melbourne for the first time, or – if you’re lucky enough to already live here – just open your eyes to a few new things.

If this is your first time here or you’re popping back to see if anything new has happened, hopefully you’ll stick around. Regular posting will resume this weekend with one of my favourite cities in the world… Stay tuned.

Split.

Leave a comment
Europe / Travel / Uncategorized

“Croatia has been glorious – it’s so beautiful, and I want to go back as often as I can.”

Emilia Clarke

“I don’t want to have things anymore,” she said, “I want to go places and see things instead.”

It was hot and I’d bought an ice cream, scanning the Riva for a bench in the shade. I found one across from an elderly couple and almost immediately they started talking to me.

The woman asked me in heavily accented English if I’d bought my ice cream from a particular shop as they were meant to be the best. I couldn’t quite understand her but I nodded and smiled. The pair of them smiled back.

They’d emigrated from Chile to Canada years ago and now lived in the cold centre of that enormous country. Every year they escaped winter by returning to Chile but this year, she told me, she had always wanted to go to Croatia and so they came.

I heard about how much they enjoyed Zagreb and wish they’d had more time there. How they were staying just out of the city centre here in Split but their room was so lovely and so cheap, and the young man running it was so very helpful. How there was a hotel nearby with a breakfast buffet that was only eight euros and the room they served it in was so elegant. How they were here for six days and were off to an island next and had to catch the ferry there.

The old man told me they had a huge apple tree in their yard in Canada. A magic tree. Not much in the way of fruit grows there but this tree delivered baskets of apples every year. They’d juice them and make pies and give crates of the fruit away to friends.

We talked of Australia and my connection to Canada. How people in the two countries were similar and it was likely the Commonwealth influence.

Today was their wedding anniversary. They asked me to take a photo and I did, the pair of them posing with big smiles on their faces and the picturesque harbour in the background. I wish I’d captured them in motion, earlier when they were laughing as she discovered her husband had a piece of napkin stuck to his head.

When she said to me that she didn’t want more things, she wanted to see things instead, I nearly cried. I knew exactly what she meant. Don’t get me wrong, I like things too but I have made a decision to prioritise seeing things over having things. Things like a house or a fancy car or a hundred other lifestyle choices.

I don’t want to wait until I’m 80 to see things. I want to go when I’m able to enjoy them, to be strong and (relatively) young. To tick off lists of things I’ve only read about in books or seen on screens.

And so here I am now. Talking to this beautiful couple and seeing things.

(But to still be curious at 80 is a wonderful, wonderful thing.)

Where to stay.

Split isn’t as hilly as some other Croatian cities (cough Dubrovnik cough) but it’s still a veritable maze of cobbled streets and alleys. When I first arrived and walked from my hotel down to the Riva, I was slightly concerned I wasn’t going to be able to find my way back.

The Riva area is a really good starting point for booking accomodation – you want somewhere close to this as it’s the centre of the Old Town area and where all the action is. I stayed at the Divota Apartment Hotel, which is a lovely modern hotel and spa scattered around the north west corner of the Old Town area. I say scattered because the reception, rooms, and breakfast area are all in separate locations. The staff were just gorgeous though and will very helpfully walk you between buildings if you get lost (and you probably will get lost).

I thought this was an excellent hotel – very clean, bright and modern, well priced, in a safe area, and an easy walk to the Old Town/Riva. It’s also accessible by taxi, which becomes increasingly difficult the more you get into the older area. Techically you can walk to the port area, which also houses the bus terminal, from here but I thought it was a touch too hard with a suitcase and in the heat. If you were travelling light it’s absolutely do-able. Otherwise it’ll cost you about 10 Euro in a taxi.

Where to eat.

Coming into Split, I’d been horribly ill with food poisoning in Dubrovnik so my appetite wasn’t great. My energy levels were also pretty low so I knew I was going to have to try and get a decent meal into me so I’d be good to go for sightseeing the next day, especially in the heat.

With that in mind, rather that hunt down the local cuisine I decided to stick with tried and true on my first night and headed to Toto’s Burger Bar which is right on the water down the Marjan end of the Riva. Really good food, huge burgers, great chips and decently priced. Plus you can sit overlooking the water and make the most of Split’s gorgeous views.

The next day I went with a hotel breakfast and plenty of ice cream while walking around the Old Town. It was so bloody hot that I couldn’t really stomach the idea of anything else. For dinner I tried one of the restaurants lining the Riva – sure, they are a bit touristy but I just wanted to eat an easy meal with a pretty view. Have a walk along them before you make your choice as the prices vary quite a bit, as do the menus. I ended up having local fish and a huge beer to try and ward off the heat. This isn’t necessarily the cheapest option for dinner but I’d definitely do it at least one night.

What to see and do.

Split is a fairly small city and most of the main attractions are concentrated in one area, making it really easy to get around. The Riva is the main boardwalk area along the water and backs on to the Old Town. Along the Riva you’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes and stores and it really comes to life at night with market stalls and glittering lights everywhere. It’s the most buzzy, populated and touristy part of Split. There’s also benches all along the waterfront so you can take a break, eat a meal in front of the view, or head there in late afternoon to catch one of Split’s glorious sunsets over the water. The Riva runs for maybe a kilometre so is infinitely walkable.

At one end you’ll find the Diocletian’s Palace which – rather than being a single castle building – is really a historical complex once you pass through the city gates. It’s open 24 hours so you can head in there whenever you choose and take your time looking around. The complex includes an array of ruins as well as restaurants and shops. The key areas to visit are the Peristyle (main square), each of the city gates (gold, silver, iron, brass), the Vestibule, and the Temple of Jupiter.

Possibly the main attraction within the Diocletian Palace is the Cathedral of Saint Dominus. Outside the cathedral is an open area where you can sit and relax, there’s often music playing here and restaurants nearby will bring you a drink to enjoy. While it is free to enter the Palace complex, there is a small fee to enter the Cathedral and it’s definitely worth it. You get to have a good look around a number of buildings including the Mausoleum and can also go up inside the Bell Tower for amazing views over the city. Massive disclaimer: I paid to go up the Bell Tower but chickened out after the first level. The building is old and the steps are narrow and heights petrify me.

If you’re a scaredy cat like me, the other spot to get an incredible view of Split is from Marjan Hill. Marjan is a national park area to the west of the city. You can walk a lap of the park over a couple of hours or climb to the lookout/restaurant in about 15 minutes or so. (You can imagine which I chose.) The climb is not especially steep and is well maintained stairs for most of the way. The access point is down the far western end of the Riva and it’s decently signposted so if you stroll down there, you shouldn’t get lost. I came up close to sunset so got some really amazing views, though it does get packed around that time.

Where to shop.

To be honest, I really didn’t do any shopping in Split. That said, I did discover a store called BIPA which is like Priceline, Walgreens and Boots all rolled into one and made Croatian. It has a huge array of skincare, toiletries and cosmetics all at very decent prices. I ended up buying a few random things in there like shower gels and if this is your kind of jam, then I definitely recommend you head in. There’s a massive store just metres from the water down the western end of the Riva and you can’t miss it’s bright pink paint trim.

Split: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: I had a day and a half there and don’t feel like I needed any more. Unless you’re looking to head out to the islands or do any day trips, you don’t need more than two full days in the city.

Getting around: I walked everywhere in Split, with the exception of getting a taxi to the port/bus depot because I was sick/tired/hot. I caught a bus into Split from Dubrovnik and a flight out to Prague, with both leaving and arriving at the same location. There’s an airport shuttle which I just paid for a ticket for at the depot, no pre-booking.

When to go: I was there in late September and it was still pretty hot. Split isn’t really a cold weather town though; all of it’s attraction is for beautiful sunny weather. For that reason I’d stick with summer or late spring/early autumn.

Key places for first timers: Diocleatian’s Palace, the Riva area, Marjan Hill.

Underrated gem: Definitely do the climb up to Marjan. Surprisingly, I didn’t see it rated too highly in travel guides before I left but it gave me the absolute best views over Split and a nice step out of the crowded city area.

If I could only eat at one place: At least have one meal down by the water along the Riva. Yeah it’s touristy but it’s a nice experience to have.

Best photo opportunities: Sunset along the Riva, Marjan Hill, the Bell Tower within the Diocletian’s Palace.

Portland.

comment 1
North America / Travel / Uncategorized

“Something about Portland just really resonated with me.”

Fred Armisen.

Here’s the thing: although I am petrified of heights, I have never had an issue with aeroplane travel. In fact, I’m an excellent flyer. (I’m also one of those shit people who can sleep for 10 hours on a long haul flight. Don’t hate me.)

Traveling to Portland, Oregon very nearly changed that.

Last time in the US I went to Portland, Maine but this time I was determined to visit it’s better known West Coast namesake. I’d only heard great things about this Portland from everyone who had visited – the people, the food, the sights, were all meant to be excellent. So I booked it in, thinking I’d head up to Banff next and cut over to Niagara that way.

The flight started like any other. A routine check in at LAX, window seat for me and two blokes in their mid-20s to finish off the row. I listened to music and probably dozed off at some point. It wasn’t a long flight, maybe three hours from memory, but as soon as something starts moving I get sleepy.

I knew Portland would be a lot colder than the shorts and t-shirt weather I’d experienced in LA and by default, the weather would be worse. As we got closer to Oregon the ride started to get a little bumpy. There’s been a massive storm there that morning, the wind was howling and it wasn’t quite raining but it wasn’t quite snowing. It was disgraceful weather for anyone on the ground, let alone those of us in the air.

Then the turbulence started.

And kept going.

And kept going.

The whole plane was shaking and even the flight attendants were strapped in, which is never a good sign. I can’t say I was ever truly frightened but I was certainly anxious, especially as we moved closer to the runway to land and the plane was still shuddering heavily.

Then we aborted the landing, maybe 100m from the ground.

Up we went again, still subject to that damn turbulence, and the pilot told us the storm was hampering the plane’s ability to land but we’d try again shortly. And we did, only to end up repeating the process: dropping to about 100m off the ground then pulling out.

By this stage, I wasn’t just anxious, I was nauseous. The constant moving about was enough to make anyone feel ill. We were told we’d head to Seattle instead, less than an hour away, and people started to pull out their sick bags. I could hear the sound of coughing and spitting, that awful feeling you get right before you vomit. The flight attendants got up and handed out cups of ice, promising us it would make us feel better. I took mine and it did, but barely.

We landed in Seattle without issue and were told that we’d be there indefinitely until it because safe for us to try again. Because we didn’t have a scheduled slot, we had to stay in the plane on the tarmac. The one caveat was that anyone with carry on luggage who wanted to get off could, but they’d have to make their own way to Portland. I’d been chatting to the two men sitting next to me and they’d called at friend who was in college there. The three of them had plans to go to a concert in Portland and they got their friend to drive the three hours from Portland to pick them up rather than wait. Very kindly they offered me a lift but I had luggage so I couldn’t get off.

We spent about three hours of our own sitting on that plane on the tarmac. I kept listening to music and waiting. Finally, finally, the announcement came that we were going to have another crack at landing in Portland. Off we went.

When we landed, the whole plane clapped and cheered. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to arrive somewhere.

And luckily, Portland ended up being just as wonderful and worthwhile as everyone promised me it would be.

Where to stay.

Portland has a relatively small downtown/CBD area so no matter where yo stay in it, you should find it easy to get around. The street blocks are fairly small and the city is really walkable, plus there’s a good tram service for the times you just don’t want to walk any more.

I stayed at the Downtown Value Inn which is close to the Portland State University and kind of feels like an old dorm building turned into a hotel. That said, even though it wasn’t fancy the room was huge and it didn’t cost me a fortune to stay there (about AUD$120 per night). It’s at the southern end of downtown, which is a bit quieter and there aren’t as many restaurants in the immediate area but it’s an easy walk up to the more populated areas. There’s a college bar downstairs and around the corner, but I wasn’t troubled much by noise. It’s also really easy to get transport to and from the airport from close by the hotel, and I found it felt really safe to walk around at all hours.

If you’re looking to stay downtown, I wouldn’t go any further south than this and then anywhere up to Burnside Street in the north will be good.

Where to eat.

Portland = food carts.

If you’re visiting the city then at least one food cart stop is a must, even if it’s just to say you did it. Pick your favourite cuisine and I bet it’s represented. There’s plenty of blog posts out there about what’s good and most hotels can give you a recommendation or two. Otherwise this website has a great map of current carts so you eat your way around the city.

The majority of the food carts are set up in little blocks in different hot spots across the city. Because I was staying downtown, I hit up the one between Washington and Alder, 9th and 10th streets. There’s probably about 30 options all up and mostly international cuisine, especially Asian and Middle Eastern. I cut a lap of the block before ultimately deciding that the Grilled Cheese Grill was going to take my money.

I loved this sandwich. It was hot and fresh and ready fairly quickly. I don’t get the American thing with serving chips like these with stuff, but I’ll take ‘em, and I always like the salty/sweet/sour of a good pickle. Not too expensive and super filling – I ended up giving part of mine away to a random guy who was hanging around.  I also tried an Asian noodle cart the next day and really enjoyed that one too.

If you have anything even close to a sweet tooth, then you’re going to be heading to Voodoo Doughnuts. The place is somewhat legendary and as a person with an unremitting sweet tooth, I’d already been given the heads up by a fellow sugar lover. So when I arrived to this little shop on the corner about 6.30pm at night, I found a long line winding back from a permanent chain rope set up.

As though I wasn’t lining up though. This is doughnuts we are talking about. About 20 minutes into my wait I got a shock when a man walked past and sneered at us, saying “these doughnuts aren’t even that good… and they’re VEGAN!!!”

Say what?

Ain’t no way I’m lining up for no bullshit vegan doughnuts. That is not in my wheelhouse. So I madly set about googling Voodoo Doughnuts to see if he speaks the truth and I discover that yes, there are vegan doughnuts there but there are also plenty of garden variety ones. Phew.

Soon after I came to a large poster tacked to the outside of the store that outlined all the different types of doughnuts. I used this time wisely to read through a select a couple of options. Other people clearly didn’t bother with this because once I got inside, I saw they fucked around and around and around, trying to choose while everyone had to wait in that long line outside at the mercy of their incompetence. Do us all a favour and pick your damn treat out early.

I got inside and went for three: the moon pie, which had marshmallow inside, a chocolate chilli, and the fruit loops covered doughnut you can see in the background. That was my first night’s dinner in Portland. True story. The doughnuts were good though… real good. I can’t in all honesty say that Voodoo Doughnuts is the best doughnut of my life but they are excellent and definitely worth the 25 minutes I had to line up for. And they’re cheap – from about US $1.25 to $2.65 per doughnut from memory.

Weirdly, given we’re almost as far north in the US as you can go, some of the best Southern food I’ve ever eaten was in Portland. I’m a brunch connossieur and every search I ran for an early meal in the city led me to Screen Door. It’s a little way out of downtown but the reviews were so good (and there was a shop nearby that I wanted to visit) that I hopped on a bus and headed over.

Biscuits – the American kind, the ones like a scone but savoury – are one of my favourite things in the world and the fact they haven’t caught on in Australia is criminal. Any time I see those damn things on a menu I‘m all in. I had the Cat’s Head, so named because the piece of fried chicken is as big as a cat’s head. The grits are basically some kind of cheesy porridge that I do not care much for, however the gravy, chicken and biscuit were all sublime. Seriously good stuff.

Finally, coffee. Serious business for Australians, particularly us Melbourne people. Stumptown Coffee was recommended to me and I had more than a few cold brews from the outlet at the Ace Hotel. Best place to get your fix.

What to see and do.

Portland is quirky and weird and everything they say about it is true. It’s just different. But it’s also a city that’s gorgeously laid out and easy to navigate, pretty to look at, filled with great people and even greater things to do, eat and buy. I loved it straight away and knew we were going to have a good time together over the couple of days I was there.

Because the downtown area is so compact, it’s easy to get around on foot (which is always my favourite way to see a city). No matter what time you arrive, I’d definitely start by heading to one of the food cart locations to get something amazing to eat. From there, have a wander around the downtown area’s shops and parks – including the lovely Courthouse Square – before heading over to the Portland Art Museum. It’s not the biggest art gallery but it has a great collection, particularly of modern and American pieces. It’s definitely worth a wander through.

If you’re into art, Portland also has a lot of street art and murals scatered throughout it’s streets. I saw some fantastic works while I was there and it’s worth hunting some of it down. This website is a great resource for those who prefer to view their art outside.

From the art museum, head north to Burnside Street. This area has a lot of great boutiques, restaurants and bars – including probably the best shop in Portland, Powell’s Books. This place is absolute heaven for book lovers. It’s enormous for a start, and there were so many incredible books there I would have loved to taken home (damn luggage weight restrictions). To be honest, I could have spent hours in here just browsing through. Powell’s carries an immense amount of stock so if there’s ever been a book you’ve tried to find without luck, it’ll probably show up here.

This area is also home to a ton of breweries – Portland has the highest number of breweries per capita in the whole of the US, so it’s a beer lover’s delight. Lots of these places are smaller, micro/craft brewery style places so they have a really welcoming feel. I went to a place over the Williamette River called The Commons Brewery which was fantastic, however it has sadly closed since my visit. That said, there are heaps of other places to check out.

Finally, if you’re in Portland on a weekend then definitely check out the Portland Saturday Market which runs every Saturday and Sunday. It’s packed with food and crafts stalls and is set up in parkland next to the Burnside Bridge over the river, so it’s lovely to just wander through and enjoy.

Where to shop.

I mean, obviously you’re going to Powell’s Books. Goes without saying.

I first heard about OLO Fragrance in the comments on a niche perfume post on Into The Gloss; being something of a fragrance connoisseur it stuck in my mind. Once I made the connection between it being a Portland company and my impending trip, I knew I’d pay a visit.

So I did. I checked their socials beforehand, too. Only to be met with a sign saying they were closed and would be reopening the following day, the same day I was leaving the city. FML/first world problems.

I went back into downtown and found myself at The wonderful Frances May, a boutique store that stocks an array of great brands including OLO. I reckon I smelled every single fragrance tester they had before finally deciding on the dark juice of Victory Wolf. I’m not much of a floral or fruity perfume gal and VW is right up my alley. It smells like secrets around a campfire in a forest, all woodsmoke and pine. Nothing like your garden variety department store scent. But I loved it and I bought it, then wore it for the rest of my trip.

Portland: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: I arrived at 8.30am on my first day so ended up with three full days in Portland. I reckon that was absolutely perfect – long enough to enjoy the city at an easy pace and not miss out on anything, but I also ensured my days were full.

Getting around: It’s an easy city to walk around, however there’s also a tram service through downtown or buses if you want to cross the river. The tram also goes to and from the airport really cheaply and really easily, so there’s no need to organise transfers.

When to go: I went in April and it was cool without being cold. Being the Pacific North-West then winter would be pretty rough, so I’d stick to the warmer months.

Key places for first timers: Powell’s Books, food carts, breweries, Portland Saturday Market.

Underrated gem: The street art scene is fantastic and it’s such a great surprise to see a piece pop up.

If I could only eat at one place: Voodoo Doughnuts. As a renowned sweet tooth this tops my list but Screen Door is a very close second.

Best photo opportunities: Head down to the Saturday Market and grab some snaps by the Williamette River of some of Portland’s famous bridges. Also you want a classic shelf shot inside Powell’s for sure.

“And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared…”

Leave a comment
Beauty / Uncategorized

I kind of have a weird obsession with being clean. I’d take half a dozen showers every day if I could, and my favourite products to buy when I’m overseas are cleanser and shower gel.

A few years ago when I was in Japan I was almost overwhelmed with joy when I came across these immense drugstores stocking every kind of beauty product you could imagine. With many of them I couldn’t even understand the label. But I still wanted it all.

Shiseido make a few excellent diffusion lines that are solely stocked in Asia and the ‘Perfect’ series of cleansers are one of them. I’ve tried a few different iterations, all in their cornflower blue packaging, but by far and away my favourite of them all is the Perfect Whip cleanser.

It’s probably my favourite cleanser that I ever used in my life.

It’s a marshamallow-y white cream that foams up beautifully on your face. Somehow it manages to remove every last scrap of make up and grime, leaving your face squeaky clean but never ever dried out. I genuinely love it.

Whenever I’m back in Asia and see it somewhere I can’t resist picking up a tube or two. And if you ever find yourself at a Japanese beauty counter, confronted by a heap of products you don’t understand, at the very least let me give you a tip and a reason to pick this one up – it’s an absolute winner.

Rome.

comments 3
Europe / Travel / Uncategorized

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.”

Giotto di Bondone

I’m going start with a very bold and very honest statement – I did not love Italy.

I say this because it’s all too easy in forums such as this to wax lyrical about everywhere you’ve been and pretend that every city is a dream destination. It’s not. There are places I’ve been that I’ve adored, some that I’ve not enjoyed at all, and then some that fall in the middle.

I liked Italy – very much in some places – but I did not love it.

Do I recommend going there? Absolutely.

I’ve been to Rome twice now; the first time was for an extended stay five years ago, the most recent was for a mere 24 hours after arriving from Australia and before flying on to Croatia.

On my first trip I did all the things you’re supposed to do in Rome – I went into the Colosseum, toured the Vatican, walked through the Roman Forum, wondered at the Pantheon, battled crowds at the Trevi Fountain, sat on the Spanish Steps, admired the pieces in the Galleria Borghese, strolled through the Piazza Navone, ate 9355 gelato cones.

The second time, because t was such a short stay and because I’d already ticked all the main sights off my list, was to simply walk down to the Colosseum, shop a little on the Via Corso, admire the Trevi Fountain, take photos at the Spanish Steps and find the best pizza in Rome.

Oh and still eat as much gelato as I could in my time there.

I like Rome; I like the palpable sense of history there and the fact there’s so much to see and eat. But the spirit of the city didn’t particularly strike me like it does so many other people and if I were to make a list of the top 20 cities I’ve been to, it wouldn’t be on there. That said, I definitely recommend people see it at least once in their life time.

Yes, it is crowded, yes there are lots of tourists, yes it can be overpriced. But it’s also unique and well preserved and interesting. It’s a place that in many ways has helped give birth to the modern world and being able to reflect on that history and see these extraordinary landmarks with your own eyes is really something else.

Rome is a lovely city, I’m just not in love with it.

Where to stay.

I’ve stayed in the same hotel in Rome twice because it is perfectly located near main attractions, well priced, close to airport transport, and there’s plenty of food and shopping options nearby. It’s called Okapi Rooms and is just below the Piazza De Popolo and adjacent to the Via del Corso, which is one of Rome’s main streets.

Nothing about this place is fancy but it’s clean and has kind of an old school Italian charm to it with it’s terracotta tiled floors and wooden furniture. Last time they gave me the enormous attic room, which had a bank of fully openable windows that overlooked the Rome skyline – plus when I arrived at 8.30am in the morning they let me check in straightaway and go up to my room. After almost 24 hours on a plane this was absolute heaven.

The area around here is great at night, safe to walk around, and from here you can easily walk to a lot of the sights or get on Rome’s metro at the Piazza de Popolo stop and get to pretty much anywhere that’s not within walking distance. It’s set on a smaller side street and you don’t get a huge amount of street noise either. Again, this is not a glamourous hotel but it’s outstanding for what you’re paying and where it’s placed.

Where to eat.

I actually can’t remember any specific places I ate when I first travelled to Rome – most of the time I think I just wandered around the city and stopped anywhere that looked good. I know there was pizza on a side street over near and huge government building, a steaming hot cheese and tomato filled foccacia plus a standing up cappucino on the Via Del Corso not long after I landed, and the aforementioned hundreds of gelato.

Another point of honesty: I find the food in Rome and in Italy in general tough. I love Italian food and when you first arrive, it’s exciting to be eating all this incredible stuff. But for me there’s a lack of diversity in the food and after a couple of days I started to struggle. Everything is meat, cheese, tomato, bread and gelato. Everything. Salads and sandwiches and fruit are almost non existent unless they’re manipulated into the previous five categories. This isn’t like Melbourne or London or New York where you can go and eat a ton of different stuff, food in Italy is fairly one track. At least that was my general experience, though I’m sure plenty of others have done it differently and I’m not disrespecting that.

However with that in mind, on my last trip I had two goals: eat as much gelato as possible and find the best pizza in Rome. I was only going to have one dinner there so it needed to be good. After much online reviewing (wherein lies intense debate), I settled on a place called Piccolo Buco. It was located in the Centro area, not far from the Trevi Fountain, so I knew it would be close enough to where I was staying. The place opened at 6pm and when I walked past about 20 minutes prior, there was already a short queue. That seemed like a pretty good sign to me. It’s only a small place and luckily I managed to snag one of the tiny tables and put my order in quickly. I had a simple margherita pizza and a Coke, but I swear to you it was indeed the best pizza of my life. MY LIFE. It was hot and fresh and chewy and the buffalo was perfectly melty and the basil so beautifully aromatic. I definitely recommend heading there for one meal.

For breakfast on bth mornings I was in Rome, I headed to a place called Rosati on the southern end of the Piazza De Popolo It’s a classic cafe/restaurant/bar done in the classic Italian style. They have coffee and a ton of pastries for breakfast, or head there for dinner (I’m pretty sure I went there on my first trip as it’s right around the corner from my hotel). Service is snobby to tourists and I couldn’t figure out if I paid first or after I’d eaten, but the sweet treats made the confusion worth it.

A final note on gelato in Rome. Everyone will have a recommendation and many of these are tiny hole in the wall places. By all means search up a storm before you go, but honestly? I’ve never had a bad gelato in Rome. Find a place with a heap of people lined up or someone that’s selling a flavour you love, and I can pretty much promise it will be good.

What to see and do.

The best thing about Rome is that there is so much to see – so much history that’s been preserved throughout the city and much of it can be checked out just by walking around. There’s ruins literally everywhere, churches and city squares hundreds of years old, and of course the wonder of the Vatican museums.

First things first – start by checking out the Colosseum. Yes, you can get some great photographs from the outside but I definitely recommend going in – and buying a ticket in advance if you want to avoid some fairly long lines. It is a really interesting place to explore (and get even more incredible photos inside) so make sure you go in at least once to experience it for yourself. From there you can stroll over to the Roman Forum and spend time wandering through the ruins at your own pace. Everything is really well signposted so you get a good understanding of what you’re actually looking at. The Palantine Hill gives some of the best views across the city and is the perfect spot for photos. It is a really incredible thing to see altogether – the quintessential Rome experience.

If you’re in the area, it’s a reasonably short walk up the Via Del Corso to do a little shopping, or stroll off the side streets to check out the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps. A word of warning: both of these will be completely packed with people at most time of day or night. Like, seriously packed. But really you’re just there to take a moment and see these things with your own eyes – once you’ve thrown your coin in the fountain and made your wish, there’s not actually anything to do there. If less busy photos are your thing then think about going as early in the morning as you possibly can.

The best art museum in Rome would have to be the Borghese Gallery which has such an incredible collection of Italian pieces. There is so much to see in there and this is another place that it’s highly recommended you book as early as possible prior to going as entries are timed and only limited numbers are allowed in. The gallery is set in the Park Borghese, just to the north east of the Piazza Del Popolo (so an easy walk from there if you’re staying in that area) and the park itself is just stunning to walk through. There’s gardens and outdoor artworks everywhere. Give yourself at least a few hours (half a day would be good) to enjoy this area.

In the Centro area, the two most important things to see are the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona. The Pantheon is a church that has one of the most incredible domed roofs in the world – it’s the largest unreinforced concrete dome in existence and was built some time around 113AD. It’s also surrounded by 16 colums and is an awe-inspiring piece of architecture. Entry is free so definitely worth wandering in. The Piazza Navona is Rome’s main city square and packed with cafes, stalls, street performers, fountains and more. This is the place to enjoy a coffee or a spritz and then people watch to your heart’s content.

There is no way that you could visit Rome and not see the Vatican. There’s a couple of components to it, firstly St Peter’s Basilica, St Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel and then the Vatican musems. The square is the setting for the Vatican and is where you want to grab some good photos outside because it is an imposing piece of architecture. The Basilica is the ‘church’ part – the head of the Catholic Church and as impressive inside as you could expect. It’s absolutely huge. Conversely, the Sistine Chapel seems almost tiny in comparison but is home to the famous Michaelangelo frescoes including The Creation of Adam (you know, the two fingers touching). Because the crowds are immense here, you do get moved through quite quickly. The museums are filled with artworks and other artefacts, and it’s worth spending some time here after you have done the churches.

A couple of points worth noting when it comes to the Vatican – it will be absolutely packed with people, no matter when you go. You’re going to be lining up a lot and it is going to feel like you’re surrounded by tourists at times. Just go with it – everyone wants to see this place and that’s completely understandable. Buy your tickets online and ahead of time and that will likely save you a fair bit of queueing during your visit. Also keep in mind that you are entering a church and there are some dress restrictions. Dress appropriately and conservatively ie short shorts and a midriff top won’t cut it. I got in with shorts (though the sign says they aren’t allowed) but definitely make sure your shoulders are covered and that your footwear is better than just flip flops.

The one part of Rome I haven’t had a chance to explore is Trastevere, a cobblestone street filled area across the Tiber River. It’s meant to be quaint and cute and filled with great restaurants. Have a look and report back to me how you go.

Where to shop.

I’m sure there are plenty of brilliant boutiques scattered all over Rome, and no doubt there’s flagship stores for major Italian high fashion brands, however the majority of shopping I’ve done there is all down Via Del Corso where the chain stores live. International Zara and H&M is still a bit of a novelty to Australians so it worked for me.

I didn’t get much of a chance to see it on my last trip but I understand the Termini (aka main train station/transport hub in Rome) has been seriously renovated with amazing shops and restaurants. Would be well worth checking out.

If you do find yourself in Italy, Kiko is a local make up brand that has stores all over the place and has some incredible products. I’ve been obsessed with their eye crayons and eye primers for years. They always do seasonal collections and have little snap sales, so definitey have a look if you see a store. Plus it’s not expensive at all – probably about the equivalent of general drugstore cosmetics prices.

Rome: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: There’s a lot of sights to see in Rome, so you’re gonna want a little bit of time. Four full days would be absolutely perfect but at a stretch and with planning, three is fine. If you stretched to five then you’re easily going to be able to keep yourself occupied too.

Getting around: I walked ro so many places given I was stayig in the Centro area. So. Much. Walking. Rome also has a fairly good underground Metro if you get sick of pounding the pavements, and I’m a big advocate of the red bus type hop on/hop off tours, which will get you to all the major landmarks. I used one of these when I visited the Vatican, which was a little out of walking range. Also if you’re coming in from the airport, the Leonardo Express train will get you into Termini quickly, easily and fairly cheaply.

When to go: I’ve been in September and October and both times it was still fairly hot (temperatures above 30 degrees celcius). Summer has high temperatures so if you’re into that, enjoy. I like cooler weather so I’d recommend late autum/early spring, or even winter.

Key places for first timers: Vatican, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon.

Underrated gem: I’m not sure that there’s anything too underrated in Rome but the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum would be my favourite places to see.

If I could only eat at one place: I can’t go past the pizza at Piccolo Buco. Best ever.

Best photo opportunities: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the spiral staircase at the Vatican, any cone of gelato anywhere.

“I am finding out there’s just no other way / That I’m still dancing at the end of the day…”

Leave a comment
Style / Uncategorized

Nothing will test your bank balance quite like a three month trip.

I was at the end of a jaunt across the US, Canada, Cuba and Mexico; somewhere just before Palm Springs I’d almost well and truly run out of money. Even though I was a 37-year-old adult, I still called my parents and asked if they could please spot me a grand to cover the week I had left.

I drove a hire car into LA and spent the last few days living as cheaply as I could. Given this consisted of a fair amount of In-N-Out, I wasn’t really that upset.

On my very last day I found myself whiling away time at The Grove, one of the city’s more upmarket shopping malls. I’d sat in Barnes & Noble reading, bought a frappucino, then wandered through the other stores for a last browse. I probably had enough to buy one last thing, if it so took my fancy.

I’d heard of Athleta before but couldn’t say I’d ever bought anything there previously. It’s in the same family of brads at Gap and Banana Republic, and they make an assortment of activewear – probably similar to something like Lorna Jane here in Australia.

I ended up buying a loose fit khaki sleeveless top there and it’s still one of my favourite exercise tops I’ve ever worn. The fit was excellent and the quality matched it. From memory I paid about AUD$40 and it was wildly on sale, so not quite bargain basement prices. It was definitely worth it though.

A couple of years later I found myself back in Los Angeles and trying to find a pair of black sports leggings with mesh inserts. I’d tried on quite a few pairs at different places, like Victoria’s Secret and some Gap Fit ones, but none were quite right.

Of course the Athleta ones were.

Of course they were about AUD$150.

Of course I bought them.

I was in far less dire financial straits on this trip so it was more of a treat to finish up the holiday. And again, almost two years on, they remain my favourite pair of tights to wear. They’re a really thick, flattering material that doesn’t show up every lump and bump, they stay up during even the toughest F45 class, there’s very little sign of wear and tear even though I wear them probably twice a week, and they still look damn cool.

I’ll admit that because I wear active wear to the gym so often, it’s not an outfit of choice for me unless I’m exercising. But for those who are disposed, Athleta’s pieces would do very nicely because they seem to combine a bit of street style with genuine function.

It’s not a brand that I ever hear many people talking about when shopping in the US, so here’s a couple of seconds of fame for it. If you’re looking for stylish but hard working pieces then I’d highly recommend checking out a store if you find yourself travelling through the States.

After all, anywhere that makes stuff you’d spend your last handful of dollars on and not regret it must be alright.

Ho Chi Minh City.

comments 2
Asia / Travel / Uncategorized

“Our resistance will be long and painful, but whatever the sacrifices, however long the struggle, we shall fight to the end, until Vietnam is fully independent and reunified.”

Ho Chi Minh

Whenever I think of the places in the world that excite me to travel to, Asia rarely makes the list. I get caught up in thinking about the North American cities I’ve missed or want to revisit, or European countries with centuries of charm laid into their old town streets.

I’m not sure why I don’t ever get too excited by Asia; I’ve been to Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Macau and none of those were terrible trips. In fact, Japan is the place I’m dying to go back to and I had one of my favourite holidays ever in Hong Kong.

But I mostly don’t feel the pull of adventure in Asia and I can’t quite figure out why.

I chose to go to Vietnam for several reasons – firstly, it was cheap and secondly, it was only a relatively short flight. Thirdly, Halong Bay was one of the places in the world I wanted most to see, so it seemed to be as good a time as any to consider going when I got notification of a Jetstar sale. I booked a AUD$340 return flight and set about planning my holiday with few genuine expectations, apart from the fact most people who went there spoke fairly highly of it.

By the time I finished in Vietnam, I spoke fairly highly of it too.

I’m not a beach holiday person; as much as I love sand and salt and the sea, I can’t lie down by the ocean for eight hours a day a feel relaxed. I crave culture and newness and low-key adventure; I want to see every museum and every landmark, feel the hustle and bustle of a place. Vietnam did this for me and in every city I went to, I felt there was always something exciting to explore. Of course, if you’re looking for a beach holiday, Vietnam has that too. Or maybe you can combine some version of both.

In more ways than almost anywhere else in Asia except Hong Kong, I felt the European influence. The grand architecture in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it was once known) was a throwback to the days of French colonialism and often were it not for the heat and humidity and hum of motorcycles, you could of been standing in one of those old European capitals.

I spent just under two weeks travelling around Vietnam and I loved it. I’ve recommended it to so many people – apart from being amazing value for money, it’s just such a wonderful place to explore with an incredibly rich history. The cities are diverse and it’s interesting to watch the gradual change in the feel of places as you move from the north to the south or vice versa.

Of the two main cities, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, HCMC was my favourite – though most people seem to go the other way. I just preferred HCMC’s modernity and found it easier and fresher than the northern hub. That said, both are great and are different enough that I think any trip to Vietnam warrants a visit to both.

And maybe one of them will make you fall in love with Vietnam a little bit too.

Independence Palace Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

Where to stay.

The main thing for me to tell you about accomodation in Vietnam is that you can stay in some fabulous hotels for (comparatively) very very cheap prices. I stayed at the Silverland Jolie for under AUD$100 per night and it was fantastic. The rooms were small and the decor had a touch of old fashioned elegance, but otherwise they were really well appointed. The Silverland Jolie was located in the Ben Nghe Ward (District 1) and I’d recommend this area if you are looking to be able to walk to all the main attractions. I didn’t end up catching any kind of transport in HCMC apart from coming in from the airport, because everything I wanted to see was so accessible on foot. The more west you can stay in the district the better I think because you’ll be closer to the main CBD area, but you’re really just saving yourself another 5-10 minutes walk. I also found this area well populated and it felt safe to walk through at night.

Street food on the Urban Adventures tour in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

Where to eat.

First things first – if you are any kind of coffee lover at all, then you’re going to want to have 9468 Vietnamese iced coffees during your stay. Condensed milk with hot coffee poured into it so it melts, then the whole thing is put on ice. They are incredible and I was drinking several a day.

Now, food. One of the best recommendations I got was to do the Intrepid Urban Adventures street food tour. It goes for just over three hours and a guide will walk you through the city and you’ll sample food from about half a dozen places. I’m both allergic to shrimp and a bit overawed by street food sometimes, so this was the perfect way to make sure I was testing it out in a really comfortable environment. Because the tour was relatively short it didn’t take up my whole night, I got a great walk around the city with a knowledgable guide, and I got to meet a few people too. We ended up at this bar/cafe in an old building about four floors up – not somewhere I probably would have found by myself. The tour is super worthwhile and costs less than AUD$50 so I really couldn’t recommend it enough. I actually ended up doing them in every city I visited in Vietnam, they were that good.

I terms of places I tried myself, I went to Quan An Ngoc in District 1 for my second night’s dinner. The place is absolutely enormous, super airy (which is great in the humidity) and gets packed out – though people move through pretty quickly. The traditional Vietnamese menu is huge and well priced, so you’ll definitely find something good to eat here. I think I paid about 15 bucks for what amounted to almost mountains of food (the spring rolls were to die for).

For a drink, you can’t go past the rooftop bar at the Sheraton Hotel. The cocktail list is great and reasonably priced, they’ll bring bar snacks, and you can try and escape some of the oppressive humidity of the city. The night I was there, there was a cracking thunderstorm and I got the best view of the incredible light show over the city.

A friend also gave me some recommendations but with only a few nights I didnt get to try much out. Top of her list was Cuc Gach Quan, followed by Koto Saigon, SH Garden, Au Parc and Chill Bar.

War Remnants Museum in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

What to see and do.

The majority of sights within HCMC itself are all within a fairly small area, so it makes it the perfect city to walk around in. It’s easy to get between places and I really found there was no need for taxis or other transport if you were happy to stroll for a bit.

The main thing to be done in the city is the War Remnants Museum, which charts the history of what is referred to here as the ‘American War’ but called the ‘Vietnam War’ pretty much everywhere else. This is a confronting museum. Something you should definitely know before you go in. The photography and exhibits are fairly brutal (there’s a deformed foetus in a jar for example) so I think it helps to be prepared for that and to decide if it’s something you’re comfortable seeing. I wouldn’t say the museum is an enjoyable place to visit but it’s certainly educational and very much gives the local perspective on that war and it’s ongoing effects in Vietnam.

From there it’s an easy walk to the Independence Palace (also known as the Reunification Palace). It’s set in beautiful grounds and you can go inside and have a wander through. The building is not particularly grand inside but it’s a good way to spend an hour or so. From there head to the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, the famous pink church of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a great example of the mark the French left on the city’s architecture. Sadly it was closed for renovation during my time there so I didn’t get to take a peek inside. Then you can cross the road to the Saigon Central Post Office, which is a glorious throwback to another time. It’s such a beautifully grand building inside and out with it’s French colonial architecture and it’s been really well maintained. There’s gorgeous old telephone booths and clocks telling the time at cities all across the world. Definitely step inside and check it out.

Cu Chi Tunnels Vietnam

For those who are right into markets, then Ben Thanh Market is the place to head to. It’s the ideal place to buy souvenirs, local handicrafts, and hundreds of other random things you could ever want or need. It also has food stalls so you can keep your energy up while you’re wandering through – the market is absolutely huge. It’s open from 6am until 10pm so is good to visit at pretty much any time of day or night.

Some of the best aerial views of Ho Chi Minh City are at the Saigon Skydeck, otherwise known as the Bitexco Financial Tower. It’s the tallest building in HCMC and the viewing deck is 178m high. It’ll cost you about 200,000 VND to go up, so it’s a super cheap way to get some amazing views and photographs across the city and Saigon River. The area around the tower also had some great shops, including an enormous bookshop that I spent about an hour browsing through.

You’d also be remiss to vist HCMC and not do a day trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were used during the Vietnam War as a base for the Viet Cong and provided integral supply routes and hiding places during the war. You are able to crawl through the tunnels at various spots (tough some are a very tight squeeze and definitely not for the claustrophobic) and they have been preserved as part of a larger war memorial park. There are plenty of tours available to take you out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, I booked mine through Intrepid Urban Adventures and it included the bus trip there and back, a guided tour through the tunnels, and a visit at a local home to see rice paper being made. It cost just under AUD$60 and I was really happy with it, so would definitely recommend booking through them. The tour goes for at least half a day and there’s always the pressures of the immense Saigon traffic to deal with, so I’d make sure you allowed the full day and didn’t book too much in the afternoon. From memory we left about 7.30am and got back into the CBD about 3pm.

Central Saigon Post Office in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

Where to shop.

I wouldn’t suggest Ho Chi Minh City is a huge mecca for shopping – while there’s a lot of smaller random local stores, it’s very much not a Western style shopping experience. I also like to check out spermarkets and drug stores while I’m overseas to see what the local products are, but I didn’t find a heap of either of these about.

The markets at Ben Thanh are probably your best place to buy any local goods or souvenirs that you’re after. Across the city are smaller local stores but this has the best concentration of goods anywhere in HCMC. There’s also small convenience stores throughout the city for snacks, toiletries etc that you might need.

In terms of shopping mall style places, there’s a couple. The Vincom Center in Ben Nghe is probably the most accessible to the District 1/CBD area and has a lot of chain stores such as Zara, H&M and so on.

Food in the window of a store in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: If you have two days in the city you’ll be able to get to all of the main sights, plus add an extra day to do the trip out to Cu Chi Tunnels. At a pinch you could get away with just the one full day to wander around the city but two will make for a more relaxed experience.

Getting around: I walked everywhere. The only thing I didn’t walk to was the Cu Chi Tunnels. I think HCMC is a really easy city to get around the main attractions on foot, it felt safe and after a while you can pick up the rhythm of the swarms of motorcycles and cross the road with a little less fear. The only time I caught a taxi was coming in from the airport, it’s worth noting most hotels do pretty price competitive pick ups and drop offs.

When to go: I visited in October, it was still humid and hot and there was the odd storm but overall it was bearable. December to March is traditinally the dry season but keep in mind it will always be some level of warm weather when it comes to Vietnam.

Key places for first timers: War Remnants Museum, Central Saigon Post Office, Ben Thanh Markets, Saigon Skydeck and then definitely Cu Chi Tunnels if time permits.

Underrated gem: I loved the architecture and colonial feel of the post office.

If you could only eat at one place: I can’t recommend the street food tour enough, we got plenty of food and got to try and really diverse range of things. Plus it was such a nice just wandering the city and getting to meet new people.

Best photo opportunities: The view from the Saigon Skydeck or Sheraton Rooftop bar will give you the perfect city skyline shots, otherwise the Central Saigon Post Office is a classic HCMC landmark.

Street view in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

“It’s 3am and the moonlight’s testing me…”

Leave a comment
Beauty / Uncategorized

I’m not a particularly superstitious person but I like the logic of routine and over the years I’ve developed a series of little steps I do before or during every trip.

For example, I always buy a new shower gel from the Body Shop to take with me. I eat the same chicken sandwich and drink the same lemon mineral water from the same cafe at the airport before I go. I take a roll of Hydralyte tablets with me. If there’s a Sephora where I’m going, I’ll always buy one of those tubs of sleeping mask and carry it along wih me to use in different cities. These aren’t big things by any stretch, but they let me settle into travel and being in new places.

The other thing I do on the way home from (nearly) every trip is buy a Chanel nail polish at duty free.

It started 12 years ago when I took my first international holiday. I was at Kuala Lumpur airport browsing through a wonderment of high end beauty brands at reduced prices. So many lovely things to buy. I settled on a Lancome Juicy Tube (but of course, this was 2007) and a sparkling pink lip gloss and shimmery black eye shadow from Dior.

I was also obsessed with a shimmery maroon Chanel nail polish that I’d seen previously only in the pages of magazines. It was limited edition and seemed so incredibly chic to this country kid who owned Chanel nothing. The shade was called Tulipe Noire – even the name was fancy – and I had to have it. The deep berry and gold colour was elegantly beautiful and it is still one of my most favourite nail polishes I own.

That purchase sparked a long line of future Chanel nail polish buys. It was such an easy and fun way to mark the end of a tour somewhere and I’ve accumulated quite a few over the years. I also have some that were bought for me, some that marked other events in my life, and some that I bought simply because the colour was so gorgeous.

I still don’t own a lot of Chanel but I treasure my collection of polishes. They might only be small but in nearly every case, they represent a big adventure.

Nashville.

comments 2
North America / Travel / Uncategorized

“It’s funny how certain cities get under your skin. I’ve been around, but there’s something captivating about Nashville, Tennessee…”

Unknown.

My brother and I were in a car together; we’d just picked him up from his flight home from Toronto, here for a short week to celebrate my dad’s retirement.

We were talking about my upcoming trip – three months across the US, Canada, Cuba and Mexico – and a trip he was taking to the States to renew his Canadian Visa.

I mentioned that I’d booked the accomodation he suggested in Nashville and he said he was going to stay there again too when he went.

“When will you be there” I asked.

“November 13,” he said.

“I’m arriving on November 14.”

Talk about serendipity. I’d booked a private room at the hostel, which was essetially just a two bunk room there to myself, so my brother moved on in and we prepared to tear up the city.

This was my first long haul trip away and I was immensely grateful for the friends and family that travelled parts of it with me. Getting to spend some time, just my brother and me, in one of the best cities in the world is now a priceless memory for me. And by god we had fun.

I beyond adore Nashville and if I’m recommending places for people to visit on a USA trip then it’s always number one on my list. I love the hum of the South, the gorgeous people, the incredible food, the immensely talented musicians littering every bar and street corner along Broadway. Nashville is a fun city and a place to go to for a good time. I absolutely love it.

One of the things I love best about travelling through America is the diversity of it’s cities – New York is different to Portland is different to Palm Springs is different to Memphis is different to Chicago. There’s so much range and scope to find places that really suit what you love to do and do. Nashville is perfect for me because I’m a huge country music fan who likes a good night out and great Southern cooking.

It’s becoming a more popular city to visit for Americans themselves (you will be confronted by many hens parties if you head there) but I’d love to see more people embrace it when planning a States trip. There’s a whole great country to see outside of just New York and LA and Vegas and Washington, and Nashville is just the start of it.

Belle Meade plantation in Nashville

Where to stay.

If there’s one thing to say about travelling to Nashville, it’s that accomodation is absolutely not cheap. In fact, it verges on the hideous, especially if you’re looking to stay downtown and close to Broadway, where all the action is. I’ve stayed in two hostels for my trips to Nashville and they’re both different but good. The first was the Nashville Downtown Hostel which is located just off Broadway on 1st Avenue. This place has a great industrial chic feel, 24 hour reception, clean spare looking rooms, good bathrooms, washing machines, a massive kitchen and everything else a great hostel needs. If you’re only spending a couple of days in Nashville and want to be able to stumble home quickly and safely every night, walk to the Ryman or Nissan Stadium or a hundred other sights easily, then this is the place for you. They have private rooms available and the location really is second to none, especially for what you’re paying. However what it doesn’t have is parking, so if you’re getting a car in Nashville to do some exploring, then this isn’t an easy option. For that, you want the Music City Hostel which is located in Midtown. It’s much smaller so private rooms are harder to grab, but it has a much more homey feel. From there it’s about a 30 minute walk to downtown (though I probably wouldn’t walk it at night) but you could easily head out on nearby Division or Demonbreun Streets. I found the latter was better for meeting people (um I ended up going on a 4.30am bender with people I’d met just hours earlier at Music City Hostel) but both are really good, well priced accomodation options, especally for first time visitors to Nashville.

Mason jar beers from Pucketts Boat House

Where to eat.

I’ll start by saying this: I’ve been to Nashville twice now and there are still places to eat with enormously good reputations here that I haven’t gotten to. You will NOT be short of a good meal in Nashville, ever.

The absolute starting point for food in Nashville is Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. The city is famous for it’s style of fried chicken and this place is absolutely the best proponent of it. You will line up. It will be worth it. Amazing chicken and incredibly delicious sides, all washed down with sweet tea. So cheap and so damn good. For Tennessee BBQ, you’re going to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. OMG. Incredible brisket, perfect sides, so much food I kept eating until I couldn’t take another bite. And they do free sweet tea top ups! We went at lunch time to the Belmont location and the place was understandably packed. The meat just melted in your mouth, it was perfectly cooked… I’m salivating now just thinking about it.

If you’re staying downtown, I’ve been to Puckett’s Boat House for dinner both times in Nashville and I love it. They have the best gravy on their fried chicken that I’ve ever tasted, along with amazing cobblers for dessert. It tends to fill up really quickly but you can book online and I really recommend doing so. If you’re around Germantown then Henrietta Red is a great place for a drink and a dozen oysters. Super chic.

100 layer maple doughnut from Five Daughters Bakery

The 12 South area has a lot of great restaurants and cafes but the absolute best thing there is the Five Daughters Bakery. Again, there’s likely to be lines. I bought something called a Maple 100 layer doughnut, which was pretty much like an angel cried in my mouth. It was incredible, more like a cro-nut, filled with soft layers of pastry and a kind of cream. I could have eaten 100 of them.

For coffee, Barista Parlour in The Gulch does a great cold brew and also has a small selection of breakfast items on offer. I’d been in the area because I really wanted to go to Biscuit Love – I am a massive fan of Southern style biscuits – but no joke there was a queue of about 100 people and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Ryman auditorium in Nashville

What to see and do.

You don’t have to be a country music fanatic to love Nashville but if you are, then you’re definitely in for a treat. They don’t call this place Music City for nothing. That said, even if country is not necessarily your number one jam but you just love to hear great music played by talented people, Nashville is still one of the best places to visit. There’s music everywhere and so much of it is damn good.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is the city’s premier museum and it’s a really fantastic place to lose yourself for a couple of hours. I’ve been twice and loved it – they do excellent temporary exhibitions too, so the content is always being updated and changing. It’s a really interactive museum as you might expect from a place with music as it’s primary theme, and plenty of exhibits such as costumes, cars, instruments, hand written lyrics, awards and more to keep you occupied. Last time I went I also did the RCA Studio B tour which leaves from the hall of fame and takes you down to the studio in Music Row. It’s worth noting that you can’t show up to the studio direct, you’ll need to book the tour and leave from downtown. Some of the greatest performers in music and country music history have recorded in the studio and it’s a great little tour for music fans. There’s also a Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville which I’m yet to go to but have heard great things about.

If you’re in Nashville then live music is a must and the best place to see it is at the ‘mother church’ – the Ryman Auditorium. It is a literal church that is the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and hosts performances a couple of nights a week. It’s located in downtown Nashville so super easy to get to if you’re staying in the area. The Opry itself has relocated a little bit further out of town to a much larger venue, and also has performances a couple of nights a week. At either you could hear from country legends, modern day superstars, or up and coming performers, it really is luck of the draw. Tickets can be bought online in advance (highly recommended) and it’s worth keeping an eye on their website so you can check the days you’ll be in the city for who’s playing. I went to the Ryman last time because of it’s history but either are good choices. The Bluebird Cafe is also another famous music venue that’s been on my list for a long time but I haven’t made it there so far – it can be tough to get in as it’s quite small.

Radnor Lake State Park

If you’re looking to escape from downtown for a little while, then there’s a couple of good options. The Belle Meade Plantation runs daily guided tours and you can check out a grand old Southern estate and hear about the history of the Jackson-Harding family. I really enjoyed this and found it thoroughly interesting. The estate is well preserved and gives a good insight into how the affluent lived 100 and more ago. Radnor Lake State Park is only a short drive out of the city and has a variety of great bushwalks around the lake. A friend and I did this as saw turtles, snakes, squirrels and more up close. It’s a bit of an oasis and was nice to head there for a couple of hours and just escape the hustle of the city, plus there’s plenty of great spots for photos.

If you’re looking for other non-music options, then Nashville isn’t a bad place to go and watch some sport. Because people generally aren’t coming to the city with games as their number one priority, it can be easier to get tickets to events. The local NHL ice hockey team, the Predators, have been pretty good in recent years and their home rink Bridgestone Arena is right in the heart of downtown. I’d never been to the ice hockey before we went to a game here, but it’s super fast paced and really enjoyable. Nashville also has an NFL team in the Tennessee Titans, who play at Nissan Stadium – this is just a short walk over the Cumberland River from downtown. I’d never seen an American football game live either and while the game itself is pretty slow, istening to the crowd sing and chant, plus as the extra on field stuff, was pretty fun. Both are good days out and you really don’t have to be the biggest sports fan to enjoy it.

NHL Predators in Nashville Bridgestone Arena

Nashville has a few sections that are good for wandering through. Downtown is really the heart of the city and there’s plenty of bars, restaurants and small shops to check out. The Gulch is another great area with cafes and upscale boutiques, 12 South has a gorgeous village feel (and is home to the Nashville mural everyone gets their photo taken in front of), while Germantown has some up and coming restaurants.

Finally, if you’re going to Nashville then you’re gonna want a big night out down on Broadway. The place is lined with great bars filled with people all there to have a good time, drink some Tennessee bourbon and listen to amazing music. I’ve had some of the most fun nights of my life in Nashville so I definitely have a soft spot. Downtown I like The Stage for it’s country pub type feel but honestly, you could probably walk into any place and have a good time. If you’re looking to get away from downtown then head up to the Division/Demonbreun Street area which has a row of grittier feeling dive bars. I like Winners and Losers, two bars sitting alongside each other catering for however you’re feeling that night. Both of these also have food, and Losers has a great rooftop section. The Thompson Hotel in the Gulch is a lovely place for a cocktail and has the highest rooftop bar in Nashville, so you get some beautiful photo opportunities across the city. It’s a little more upscale than the other two areas so is a nice place to kick off your night before things get loose.

Country Music Hall of Fame and museum records

Where to shop.

Nashville isn’t one of those cities where the best shopping happens in the main downtown/CBD area; instead, they’ve filled that part up with bars and so the good shopping gets done out in the suburbs. My favourite area for shopping is 12 South which has a lot of smaller boutiquey type places including Reese Witherspoon’s excellent Draper James label store. You walk in and they offer you sweet tea while you browse – very Southern. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely good for a splurge. The Gulch also has a lot of boutique style stores as well as some great vintage places and local brands. The area also has some of Nashville’s best cafes and lunch spots, so it’s a nice place for a wander. Otherwise if you want the full American mall experience then head off to Opry Mills which is huge and has all the usual labels and chain shops.

Nashville: a snapshot.

How long should I stay: Ideally you want three full days here and for the love of god, do it over a weekend so you can really go all out and tear the place up. Arrive Thursday night, leave on Monday would be my strong recommendation.

Getting around: Public transport is almost non existent in Nashville unfortunately so your options are either car or Uber/taxi. If you’re staying downtown then you should find most things easy to manage and within walking distance, then organse a ride if you’re going to head out of the area. I had a car the second time I went because I’d already done downtown pretty well and wanted to explore some of the other parts of the city. If you can go with the latter it will give you more freedom (especially if travelling solo) but it’s not a complete necessity.

When to go: Summer in the South is violently hot so if that’s not your jam, then June-August are out. I went in late April and temperatures were already in the low 30s (degrees celcius that is) with humidity.

Key places for first timers: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ryman Auditorium, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, downtown bars.

Underrated gem: I loved Radnor Lake State Park because it was great to step out of the city for a bit to somewhere really lush and relaxing. And it’s so close to Nashville.

If you could only eat at one place: Hattie B’s by a whisker but if it was Martin’s or Puckett’s then I wouldn’t be disappointed either. Nashville is filled with incredible places to eat.

Best photo opportunities: Head up the the Thompson Hotel’s rooftop bar, it hands down has the best views of Nashville. The I Believe in Nashville mural in 12 South shows up a LOT on the ‘Gram. And once that neon lights up down on Broadway, that’s a pretty good snap too.

I believe in Nashville mural