It bounced, almost in slow motion, while I looked on horrified. Then it shattered on the tiled floor in a way that left me with absolutely no doubt that it was completely unrecoverable.
With a mixture of disappointment and disgust I picked up as many pieces of the broken blue glass as possible and threw them in the bin.
As something of a beauty junkie, one of the great joys of travel is getting to access all these amazing products around the world. I love walking into random pharmacies and stores and pulling bottles of skin care or unfamiliar lipsticks off shelves and debating a purchase. I love spraying, swatching and sampling everything and anything, even when I can’t understand a single word on the label. Some of my most favourite travel moments have been in American drugstores, French pharmacies and Japanese beauty stores.
The item in question here was a glass vial of facial serum I’d bought in France earlier on my trip. I’d tested it maybe half a dozen times in different places, wondering at the silkiness of the product on the skin on the back of my hand, before finally succumbing and handing over my Euros. Now after only a couple of uses it had met an untimely end on the floor of a hostel bathroom in Reykjavik.
The regret was real.
Another great regret of that trip was not buying the larger size of this incredible Erborian CC Creme. I’m kicking myself because I’ve used it before and loved it, so when I saw it in the Monoprix in Nice I couldn’t resist picking up a tube. Only I stupidly bought the 15ml one and now – of course – it’s not available to buy anywhere in Australia. Idiot.
For as much effort as I put in with my skincare routine, I need a foundation/tinted moisteriser/BB or CC to even everything out. I like a light to medium coverage so you can still see my skin underneath, it just looks a little better. The Erborian one is the type that looks white when you squeeze it out then “magically” adjusts to your skin tone as you rub it on. I use the lightest shade ‘Clair’ although I would probably describe my skin as being light to medium, and I like to add a little dollop of liquid bronzer given it’s currently summer here in Australia. The thing I like best about the Erborian CC Creme is that it gives your skin a kind of moist, dewy glow without any shimmer, like you’re utterly healthy and fresh. And it also has a decent SPF component, making it ideal for the Australian weather.
I just look 100 times better with it on.
For now I’m rationing out my tiny tube until I can stock up at Sephora in the US in a couple of weeks. Erborian is a Korean brand but for some reason it’s really widely available and super cheap in France compared to anywhere else, so I’m also kind regretting not getting a few more things.
Guess I’ll just have to make plans for a return trip…
PS The book I have photographed the product on is one I’ve just finished reading and loving. It’s called ‘Worn in New York’ by Emily Spivack and contains short essays about pieces of clothing beloved of a diverse range of New York residents. Not all are famous or well known and I loved seeing what they picked and the story behind it. If you have any kind of intersecting interest in style and travel, then it’s well worth getting hold of a copy.
Australians are the great adventurers of the world. It takes us so long to get to most places that we almost always go big, then go home.
But despite living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I would wager more people are planning a trip to Paris or New York this year than the Great Barrier Reef, Broome or Uluru. I think maybe we’re so complacent about what’s great around us that we overlook it in favour of a journey through somewhere perceived to be far flung and exciting.
Maybe we just look around us and think, “oh yes but I’ll get to it some day.”
I’m going to include New Zealand in the list of places we overlook because after all, they’re our closest neighbours and it’s quicker for those of us in Melbourne or Sydney to fly there than to Perth. New Zealand has always just kind of been ‘there’ and while we accept it’s probably inevitable we’ll visit at some stage, that day never seems to come.
I didn’t go to New Zealand until I was 34 years old and by that time I’d already been to Europe, North America and Asia.
Don’t be like me.
There’s so much to love about New Zealand! It’s visually stunning, easy to travel around, they make some of the best wine and beer in the world, and the people are friendly as long as we’re not playing each other in the rugby. It’s also reasonably cheap and so close that even just going for a long weekend is worthwhile.
Which is exactly what I did with Auckland. I snared a cheap flight over there and back and headed off on a three-day trip to check out the capital. I’d already been on a driving loop of the south island but this would be my first time in the north. It was a really easy and relaxing couple of days (despite having the cold from hell) and I got to just wander around the city and surrounding areas with little to no demands on my time. I went to great cafes, did some awesome hikes, checked out some cute local shops. And best of all – for us, anyway – no jetlag and only a couple of hours in the air.
Auckland feels more like a big country town than a true city so you don’t need a heap of time to get the feel of the place. Depending on what your interests are, there’s enough in the city and surrounding areas to fill a couple of days without having to rush from spot to spot. Auckland is really somewhere to take it easy and just chill.
New Zealand has become an increasingly popular destination for people all over the world and it’s easy to understand why, even for the stunning landscape alone. So instead of ignoring what’s essentially in our own backyard and thinking that we’ll get there some day, next time you’re looking for something cool and different to do – even just for a long weekend – then put Auckland on the agenda. It’s choice, bro.
Where to stay.
Because Auckland is such a compact city in a lot of ways, it makes sense to stay in the CBD area so you can easily walk around to shops, restaurants and other attractions. Queen Street is the main thoroughfare so if you stay anywhere reasonably close to there, from the waterfront end to the Wellesley Street end then you will be fine. The CBD is hilly in spots though so depending on where you land, you might have a bit of an uphill trek! I also felt really safe walking around the city at night in this area.
I stayed at the CityLife Hotel Auckland on Queen Street and it set me back about AUD$160 per night – accomodation isn’t especially cheap in the city I found, so this was probably at the low to mid end of the scale. That said, it was modern enough inside and the rooms were fairly large. Parking is also ridicuously expensive at NZ$45 per day for valet parking, though there’s nearby parking garages offering somewhat cheaper rates if you’re only getting your car out once a day then parking overnight.
Where to eat.
Something that surprised and delighted me was the fantastic cafe culture in Auckland. I did a little bit of research before I headed over there and there were so many delicious places to go – just narrowing down my choices was tough. I love a good breakfast and because I caught a red eye flight that arrived in the city about 6am, I got three in during my trip. The first was at Pollen on Shortland Street in the CBD, which I chose for the incredible looking doughnuts I saw online that they had. It’s a really open, Scandi style interior with a small but good menu, and doesn’t get too packed. I had a lemon curd doughnut that was incredible. My second breakfast was at Dear Jervois in Herne Bay, set on a street packed with other great cafes and really cool local boutiques. I went on a Saturday morning and it was packed, so best to head on in early if you can. That said, there is quite a few other places in the immediate area so if you can’t get in then you’ll have options. Dear Jervois had a great beachside kind of vibe and they were also stocked with really delicious baked goods (I’m sensing a trend here, Auckland…). My final venue was the excellently named Winona Forever, a cafe and bakery in Parnell. This place had a smaller and quirkier menu but a really lovely spot that filled up quickly as the morning wore on. And again, awesome sweet treats to take with you.
Because I was in Auckland solo, I picked some pretty casual places for lunches and dinners. The Federal Delicatessen in the CBD was my favourite – it’s their take on an old-school New York Jewish delicatessen and the interior looks like a really cool old diner (that’s it, two photos above). They have booths or you can just pull up a stool at the bar, plus they serve food until really late. It’s all very much in the comfort food style and I had the best poutine I’ve eaten outside of Canada – you’re gonna want to throw any kind of diet out the window here. I also had a great burger and chips at the Shakespeare Hotel, which is a good choice if you’re looking for a pub meal. If you’re around Ponsonby Central then Bird on a Wire does insanely delicious rotisserie chicken rolls, or if you’re down at Britomart and looking for something quick and easy, I really enjoyed Better Burgers.
What to see and do.
One of the great things about Auckland is that even though there’s a heap of fun things to in the city itself, there’s also a lot in the surrounding areas to take advantage of. And because it won’t take you too long to get anywhere, you really get both a city and country escape all in one.
I spent my first day exploring the CBD and started with the Auckland War Memorial Museum. It’s actually a couple of museums in one; as well as floors that explore New Zealand’s military past, there’s also great natural history exhibits, including a simulation of a volcano erupting and the impact it would have on Auckland. The museum itself is a stunning piece of architecture set in a massive green park, so it’s worth it just for the photo opportunity alone.
The area along Queen Street is great for a stroll in the city and you can spend some time ducking in an out of all the shops there. I ended up walking right down to the Britomart, which is the waterfront area of Auckland and has a bit of a village feel. There’s some more upscale shops there along with plenty of restaurants and bars. Ponsonby Central is another great area packed with shops, bars and restaurants – it’s a little way out of the CBD and has a market feel in a lot of ways, with stall food outlets in a big hall etc.
While you’re in Auckland you can’t possibly not go up the famous Sky Tower and there’s two options for your visit – the one for people who are scaredy cats like me when it comes to heights, or the one for people with a surfeit of courage and a desire to do crazy things. I just went up and had a look around the observation deck – which has glass floors that were frightening enough for me, thanks – but I got the shock of my life when a person hurtled past me. You can actually choose to bungee jump off the tower or do a sky walk around the outside. Just the idea makes me want to vomit so it was a hard pass for me, but the views over the city are magnificent and well worth the trip up there.
If you’re heading out of the city – and I highly recommend you do – there are heaps of great options for hikes, beaches, and just generally getting out and loving nature. I did the Te Henga Walkway hike, which starts about 40 minutes out of the Auckland CBD. The full hike is an 8km round trip that has easy and intermediate parts, however it’s easy to break it up into sections and just do a little. I only did the first part because I got too slow and distracted taking photographs of the amazing views then went down to check out the stunning beaches, such as Bethells Beach. All up I reckon I spent 2-3 hours there but you could easily make a full day of it. The track is super easy to locate and you won’t need more than a pair of runners to do the hike. If you’re after more information then this website is really handy.
No visit to New Zealand’s north island would be complete without a trip to Middle Earth aka Hobbiton. Doesn’t matter if you are a Tolkien fan or not, I absolutely recommend a visit if you’re heading to Auckland. Hobbiton is the set that was used for Bag End, the village where Frodo and Bilbo are from in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. It is an utterly beautiful, typical Kiwi setting and everything has been so well preserved. Before I went I’d read all the books and seen the movies, but wouldn’t necessarily have considered myself to be any kind of obsessive. However it’s such a fun day and the tours are exceptionally well run with really interested and interesting guides who know their stuff.
Hobbiton is (at least) just under two hours drive from Auckland and will cost you NZ$84 for the standard fully guided walking tour. It’s worth noting that to enter, you have to do a tour and you’re not able to just walk around yourself at your own pace. This tour includes a beverage in the dining hall, and you can also buy decent food there. I bought my ticket only a few days in advance but given the popularity of the tours, it would be worth booking online as early as possible so you don’t miss out – the place was packed when I was there. There are also tour options with banquet meals and I have some friends who did this and loved it. For those who are right into their Tolkein then there’s also a great souvenir shop with everything you could want. I really enjoyed visiting Hobbiton and highly recommend a visit to anyone visiting the area. Givent the distance from Auckland it really is a full day trip, so grab a good brunch then drive on down and you can be back in Auckland in good time to head out for dinner.
Because I was sick when I was in Auckland, I didn’t really push myself to hard and just took it easy. I’d planned on going to the Auckland Art Gallery on my first day but an afternoon nap ended up being a touch more appealing; I also missed out on heading up to Mount Eden to check out the views over the city. These are the two things I’d do if I went back. A lot of people also recommended Waiheke Island, which you can catch the ferry (or car ferry) across to from Auckland. The island has some great wineries and restaurants, as well as nature hikes and other outdoor activities. Had I not gone to Te Henga then I would have spent the day here.
Where to shop.
For those coming over from Australia, New Zeand has a lot of the same retail chains as us (Witchery, Seed, Country Road, etc) – Ruby is a local chain that has quite similar style to those and is worth checking out. For something a level above, then local designers such as Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester have boutiques and stockists in town.
If you’re in the CBD, then Queen Street and Britomart are the places to find chain stores and boutiques, while Ponsonby Central has a good mix of chain stores and boutique retailers. Jervois Road in Herne Bay has plenty of smaller stores with great mixtures of fashion and homewares, and is the perfect place for a wander after lunch.
While you’re in Auckland, I highly recommend trying as many local wines and beers as possible – they really do have some of the world’s best alcohol. Also no trip to New Zealand would be complete without loading up on Whittaker’s chocolate. You can get some of the main range fairly easily in Australia these days, but their Destination line is only available in New Zealand. I died over the Indian Cardamom and Italian Apricot flavour. It is just seriously so good.
Auckland: a snapshot.
How long should I stay: I spent three full days there and with the exception of a couple of missed things due to being ill and not wanting to push myself too hard, thought that was probably the right amount of time. It’s worth noting I spent the majority of two of those days out of the city, so you really only need one day to cover the Auckland CBD and immediate area. With four days I would have also gone to Waiheke Island, but I don’t think you need more than that.
Getting around: I hired a car. It was super cheap and meant I could easily get to and from the airport, out to Te Henga and Hobbiton, and any of the suburban parts of the city I wanted to see. I can’t speak for public transport there but I would absolutely recommend hiring a vehicle for your stay as driving is really easy and straighforward, without too much traffic.
When to go: Auckland is fairly mild in winter compared to the south island cities, so you can head there all year round without too much fuss. The city sits roughly parallel to Melbourne so temperatures are reasonably comparable for winter, though summer is far cooler there. I went in August and it was chilly but fine, so year round it’s a good option. If you were heading elsewhere in New Zealand as well, then spring or summer would be your best choices (unless you were there to ski).
Key places for first timers: Sky Tower, Auckland War Memorial Museum and Britomart in Auckland itself, but I highly recommend Hobbiton and getting to at least one national park or beach area outside the city.
Underrated gem: I loved walking along Jervois Road in Herne Bay, it had a relaxed, beachy feel with a lot of great shops and cafes.
If you could only eat at one place: The Federal Delicatessen was definitely my favourite, such a great menu and I missed out on dessert because I was too full!
Best photo opportunities: Sky Tower and the War Memorial Museum while you’re in Auckland, then Te Henga (particularly around Bethells Beach) and Hobbiton out of it. And you absolutely have to get a photo peeking out of a hobbit hole.
I remember exactly where I was when this photo was taken.
I was sitting on a cobblestone street in Prague, on the other side of the Charles Bridge towards the castle. Doorway of an old building. Starbucks hidden across the other side of the street. Not too hot and not too cold. Air infused with a golden light thanks to the combination of butter-yellow paint on nearby buildings and streaming sunlight.
In a few minutes I would go into a supermarket, buy a drink, then chase a couple up the street to tell them they’d left their (very expensive) camera at the checkout in front of me.
But for now, I had a moment paused in that doorway in Prague.
I had wanted to see Prague for so long, it was one of the handful of cities I was adamant I’d visit on my most recent trip to Europe. I had always heard wonderful things about it and seen those gorgeous pink-tinged sunset photos that made it look like some kind of magical fairytale place. When expectations are so high it’s almost inevitable that they’ll come crashing down in some way but not here it didn’t.
Prague was everything I had wanted it to be; I spent two days wandering along those old streets and loving almost every second of it.
Travel does something to your style. It almost makes you distill it in a way, particularly if you are away for a long period of time. Function becomes more of a priority over form because everything needs to be useful when you’re drawing from a limited pool. When I was considering pieces to take on this trip I really had to decide what my favourites were – what I would enjoy wearing on repeat for three months and what would hold up over that time.
This photo is a lesson in choice, really. The white cotton Bonds t-shirt with the crew neck and rolled sleeves, that sits perfectly on my body. The mid wash blue jeans with enough stretch to be comfortable and long enough in the leg to look good with boots. My beloved white Converse, the ones with the thinner soles because they are lighter, that look just as good with jeans as they do with a dress.
I didn’t need another bag when I bought this back in mid 2017, I just wanted one. In the end it proved itself as the perfect travel bag: roomy enough to stuff my wallet, phone and a guidebook in with space for snacks and souvenirs along the way; a crossbody strap that let me keep it close but freed up my hands to do other things; the zippered top to stop wandering hands as I walked through places packed with strangers at all times of the day and night; thick, quality leather that held up to the wear and tear, bumps and bruises of moving from city to city but still managed to look timelessly chic; the tan colour that went with everything and anything I could think to pack. It was perfect.
I love this photo, and maybe it’s because I remember everything from when it was taken. That moment, in a foreign city I had longed for, taking a breather to simply soak it all in, and consider how fortunate I really was at that particular time.
You don’t have to travel very far across Europe to see the scars still present from the two world wars past; and, that being the case, all roads historical lead naturally to Germany.
So it would be easy to have expectations about the country and it’s long divided capital. Whatever mine were – my recollection is uncertain on this point – by the time I left Berlin I only had one position on that city.
I damn well loved it.
Coming away from Germany I realised how overlooked it is by so many people who travel. I think there are cycles of trendy places to visit – for example, Iceland currently seems to be the destination du jour – and classics like New York, London, Paris etc, but no one seems to mention Germany when they talk about amazing places to visit. Which is such a shame because I absolutely adored it and the incredible mix of culture, great food and lovely people it offered.
Berlin is such an interesting city with an incredible past, and they’ve done a good job of preserving the lessons history has taught them there. But it’s also more than just a war capital; it’s fresh and modern and vibrant and eclectic.
Whatever type of Berlin you want, I promise you will find it.
I spent three days there and would easily have filled one or two more. The city is BIG and there’s so many different parts to explore. They have some really incredible museums, historical sights, restaurants and shops. I didn’t go out while I was there but I’m reliably informed that the Berlin night club scene is crazy good too.
I think the city is one of Europe’s often overlooked gems and if you’re planning an adventure in the area any time soon, then I implore you to add Berlin. Sure, Paris is always lovely, Copenhagen is cool, London is exciting and you’ll be well fed in Rome… but Berlin somehow manages to combine all of that in a package that is distinctly it’s own.
Where to stay.
Unlike previous cities I’ve posted about, I’ve only been to Berlin the once so I’m not able to compare different areas. I stayed in a private room at the Pfefferbett Hostel which is between the Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg areas of Berlin. It’s in a revamped brewery complex that’s set a way back off the street, so you don’t get too much noise. I found it super easy to get to and to get around from there – the Senefelderplatz U station is directly across the road and in about 20 minutes you can walk into the heart of Berlin’s museum district. There’s a scattering of restaurants around the place, with plenty more within walking distance radius, and I felt really safe there at all times. I paid about AUD $73 per night for the private room on weekdays, so it was a really inexpensive choice. My room came with an en suite bathroom and the hostel has a breakfast buffet, 24-hour bar and free wifi in the common areas. I would highly recommend Pfefferbett for anyone looking for a quality budget stay.
Where to eat.
Firstly, the Berlin specialty is currywurst, a sausage grilled and chopped up, then smothered with curry sauce and often served with chips. Did I love it? No. But you are going to see these stalls everywhere in Berlin and so you have to make an effort to try one. (It’s not terrible, just not my favourite.)
That said, there is far more to Berlin food than just currywurst. I found the options here really diverse; a bustling modern cafe scene and great Asian food just for two examples. If you’re coming to Berlin expecting nothing more than sauerkraut and schnitzel, then think again.
The Barn Roastery was only a couple of hundred metres from where I was staying and I went there every morning for their outstanding cold brew coffee and pastries.The space is really open and modern, with benches at the front window perfect for people watching. Plus when I heard the Aussie accents on the staff I knew the coffee was going to be good…
I had two great dinners in Berlin. The first was at a place called Angry Chicken in Kreuzberg, which was a recommendation from a friend. Kreuzberg is a grittier part of town and reminds me a bit of somewhere like Fitzroy or Brunswick in Melbourne. Angry Chicken is Korean fried chicken, the servings are huge, the quality is great and it’s fairly cheap as well. I ended up getting a larger bowl of the fried chicken and some chips, and didn’t come anywhere close to finishing it (in fact I gave the rest of my chicken to two blokes sitting in there). You can adjust the level of heat in the dish to suit, plus they serve beers and other drinks. Really cool place.
The second place I’d recommend is called SixtySeven and serves a range of Asian food, including bao burgers, in the Mitte area. The interior is insane and filled with all kinds of neon lights, lanterns and signs in a deep red tiled setting. Basically an Instagrammers dream. The bao burgers were excellent and super filling, plus they had free wifi. A really great low to mid priced dinner.
What to see and do.
As I said before, Berlin is a BIG city – this isn’t some tiny old town you’re going to easily be able to stroll around. The public transport system is excellent but if you’re there to play tourist then I highly suggest initially jumping on one of those red hop on/hop off buses which will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go and sight see.
If you’re into museums of any kind then you’re gonna want to start with Museumsinsel aka Museum Island – five museums all in the one location, with some incredible architecture to boot. The best part is that you can buy a combined ticket that will let you visit all five for a fairly significant discount. The Pergamon Museum is filled with ancient Middle Eastern antiquities, the Alte Nationalgalerie is Berlin’s biggest art gallery and has a fantastic range of 19th century artworks, the Altes Museum is home to Roman, Greek and Estrucean pieces, the Neus Museum is dedicated to Greek pieces, and the Bode Museum is filled with Byzantine artefacts. They all have their own speciality so if you’re running short on time (or don’t want to get museum-ed out) then just pick what your interests are.
While you’re in the area, it’s only a short walk over to the Berlin Cathedral which would have to be one of the most stunning buildings in the world. You can also pay to go up into the massive dome for some incredible views over the city – well worth it.
For those keen on more historical museums, the Topography of Terror charts Germany’s Third Reich and does so in a fairly unflinching manner. It’s a pretty brutal museum and doesn’t shy away from detailing the Nazi horrors of WWII. It’s free to enter and built at the site of the old SS Headquarters, with remnants of the Berlin Wall still in place here as well. It’s a really thorough museum that you’ll want to give yourself a good couple of hours for, however it is fairly brutal and confronting as well. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (aka the Holocaust Memorial) is also a must visit in Berlin. Again, it’s fairly brutal in content and tough to go through. The museum is located below the memorial, which are rows of concrete blocks of various heights that change as you walk through. Keep in mind that museum is quite small and there’s often a line to go in.
It’s easy to walk from Museumsinsel up to the Brandenburg Gate for a very Berlin photo opportunity, then across to the Topography of Terror and Holocaust Memorial museums. Also relatively close by is Checkpoint Charlie which is really just a couple of signs and a small museum, though this area is filled with souvenir stores if that’s your kind of thing. They have some interesting information about the Berlin Wall here and a memorial to those who died trying to escape to the West. Something I didn’t realise is that people still died trying to get over the Berlin Wall in 1989, the year it was eventually torn down.
For anyone wanting to take a good look at the Berlin Wall, then the East Side Gallery is the longest stretch still remaining. The concrete wall here is painted with all kinds of different murals over a 1.3 kilometre stretch. The artworks were painted in 1990 to document a time of change in Berlin and it’s really fascinating to walk along and take them all in.
The Berlin TV Tower is probably the only thing I wanted to do that I ran out of time for – though if you’ve alread gone to the top of the Cathedral then you’re only really getting a different perspective on the view over the city. Potsdamer Platz comes up a lot when searching for stuff to do in Berlin but to be honest, I’d skip it. It’s just a big touristy space in the style of Picadilly or Times Square that doesn’t really have anthing special to do or see.
Where to shop.
To be honest, I didn’t do a heap of shopping in Berlin. However if it’s something you’re keen on, then there are hundreds of stores along the Kurfürstendamm, starting in the area just below the Berlin Zoo. You could easily spend a good couple of hours wandering along and browsing. Otherwise there’s a lot of smaller boutique style places in the Mitte area or around Alexanderplatz.
Berlin: a snapshot.
How long should I stay: I wouldn’t give yourself any less than three full days in the city, four or five would give you plenty of extra time to get around and make the most of being there. Keep in mind that Museumsinsel is closed on Mondays and lots of shops, restaurants and other things shut on Sundays.
Getting around: As you might expect in Germany, super easy and super efficient. The S-Bahn is the trains, the U-Bahn is the underground/subway, and there are also trams and buses. Simple to buy tickets on the platforms and a daily ticket goes for about 7 Euro, which will let you jump on any of the public transport. Berlin is an easy city to walk around it but it is big and spread out, so you’re gonna be getting public transport at some point.
When to go: I was there in autumn/fall and the weather was perfect. If you can stand the cold then I’m told it’s utterly magical during December for the Christmas markets.
Key places for first timers: Topography of Terror, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral and then whichever of the museums best take your fancy on Museumsinsel.
Underrated gem: Berlin Cathedral is stunning inside and outside, with incredible views for those willing to climb up into the dome.
If you could ony eat at one place: I would have happily eaten my breakfast every day at The Barn Roastery so I’m passing on that tip to you.
Best photo opportunities: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral, East Side Gallery. If you’re taking photos at either the Topography of Terror or the Holocaust Memorial, please please please keep in mind that these are incredibly sombre places of mourning and memorial and it’s not really appropriate to fill your camera roll with smiling selfies showing you flashing a peace sign or acting silly. Please be respectful and mindful of what these places represent.
I got lost trying to find my accomodation the first time I went to Paris.
It was grey and rainy and I ran into a video shop for help, trying to understand the attendant’s broken English and relay my dilemma with a French vocabulary that didn’t extend much further than “bonjour”.
I couldn’t event tell you where it was that I stayed now. It was a little hostel somewhere way on the outskirts of the city, that I’d found online and booked via email. Given this was 2007, it seemed like a pretty big deal at the time.
Eventually I found my way there, dragged my bag up four flights of stairs, and stumbled into a tiny room with a bed, TV and window. It also had a small ensuite shower with barely enough space to stand in.
I didn’t love Paris on that first visit; the weather was glum and I think I’d built up a huge expectation for the place in my head. What I did love was Monoprix and their shelves of beauty products with undecipherable (to me) names. I spent ages in there on that trip, poring over products like a kid in a candy store.
What I bought was a shower gel that remains the single best shower gel I’ve ever used in my life. Whenever I see it on a shelf anywhere I always make a point of buying a bottle or two, it’s that damn good.
For those who grew up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, think this: caramel Paddlepop in a bottle. The brand is called Cottage and while they make plenty of other wonderful scents, the caramel is just sweet sugary goodness in a bottle for those who like to smell good enough to eat.
Later that night I took the bottle back to my room and used it, then lay on the single bed to watch a French version of Temptation Island. I was in a city I was just coping with, all by myself, on the other side of the world.
And every time I smell that shower gel again it takes me back there.
“She stood there bright as the sun on that California coast…”
There are few cities in the world as misunderstood as Los Angeles.
For years I’ve listened to the common refrain from returning Australians, who tell you they don’t like it. They stop there on a trip to somewhere else (usually New York) and complain that the city is touristy, dirty, soul-less, difficult. There’s cars everywhere. You can’t walk anywhere.
I’m gonna beg to differ here because I really love Los Angeles.
I’ve been six times now, book-ending three trips to the States with extended stopovers in the city and had a ball each and every time. I think LA is a really underrated city and one that doesn’t get the respect that it’s due. I still speak to a lot of people who race out of there, either on their way to somewhere else or home, and I reckon it’s such a missed opportunity. The weather is great, it’s packed with good beaches, you can go on some amazing hikes in the middle of the city, it’s so culturally diverse, the shopping is fantastic, there’s an ever increasing number of wonderful museums, it’s close to Disneyland, and – best of all – there’s In-N-Out everywhere.
Seriously, how could anyone not love this place?
LA suffers in a lot of ways because of it’s geography. While I abolutely think it’s a great place to visit, I’ll be honest and say that does come with a caveat: you need a car. Because it’s not New York, a city predominantly on an island that can be walked across in an afternoon. It’s not one of the beautiful old European capitals where all the action happens in a tiny old town quarter. Their public transport sucks. But if you can bring yourself to pull on your big girl pants and get behind the wheel, then suddenly LA is filled with infinite possibilities.
I remember getting off a plane at LAX a couple of years ago, dragging my suitcase into the rental car office, then sliding behind the wheel of a borrowed car. On the left side. Re-adjusting the windows and staring at the road and taking deep breaths until I could convince myself to turn the key and drive off. I get it, when you’re used to driving on the other side of the road then everything feels a bit harder. However I discovered that because LA is a city of cars, it’s actually a hell of a lot easier to drive there than expected because people make allowances for all types of drivers. Even semi-scared Australian ones. A vehicle really does allow you to access the best of the city easily and relatively inexpensively. I wouldn’t spend time in LA without one now.
LA is also a fantastic base for anyone coming from Australia or Asia to start a trip. It’s not just an awesome city in it’s own right, it also gives you really easy access to other wonderful locations like Palm Springs, San Diego, Las Vegas, down to Mexico, or – my favourite – up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. I did the drive over a couple of days a few years back and it remains one of the single best travel experiences of my life.
So what I ask is this: don’t discount Los Angeles. Don’t race off the plane when you get there to get another flight somewhere else. Get a car, drive into town and soak up a city where the weather is almost always fine, the food is incredible, and the people watching is something else indeed.
Where to stay.
The first time I went to LA I stayed in a dive of a hotel on Sunset Boulevard, collapsing in it after a long flight from Melbourne and excitedly eating blueberry pancakes at the IHOP across the road. It was a block down from the touristy grit of Hollywood Boulevard and while it was fun seeing the pavement stars only 100 steps from an In-N-Out, and easy to catch a tour bus to Disneyland, it’s definitely not the nicest (or safest) part of the city. On my last day there I was waiting for an airport shuttle outside the hotel at 5.30am when a guy started talking to me and just wouldn’t leave. I honestly thought I was about to be robbed.
While that’s maybe not the best hotel experience, I will say that Los Angeles tends to err on the expensive side when it comes to decent rooms. When I know I’m going to be there twice during a holiday (I tend to fly in and out of the US via LA), I try and pick two different parts of town so my experience changes each time. I’ve stayed in Culver City or thereabouts twice, both in really dive-ish places – a Super 8 and a place called Sunburst Spa & Suites, which each set me back between AUD $160-180 per night. Both had free parking and the Super 8 was walking distance from Venice. I like this part of LA because even though Culver City is absolutely nothing to write home about, it’s an easy trip to Venice, Santa Monica and Abbot Kinney without getting stuck in trafic for hours. There’s not a huge amount in the immediate area to walk around and see, but then, Los Angeles isn’t really that kind of city.
I’ve also stayed in the West Hollywood area and it’s a little bit sharper, cleaner and more interesting. The Beverly Laurel is my favourite hotel in town for it’s kitschy cool 1950s feel, the awesome diner downstairs, the highly Instagrammable pool, valet parking, and walking distance to The Grove and other good shopping and restaurants. For first time visitors to LA, this is absolutely the hotel I recommend staying at. It’s the most expensive option I’ve tried but it’s just so charming and so utterly Los Angeles. On my last visit I also spent a night at the Lexen Hotel which is a decent almost-budget option at AUD$200 a night. Clean and modern interior, very small rooms (but who is sitting all day in their room?), no frills experience. The driveway to the carpark is an absolute bastard and it’s easy to miss and hard to recover to. But if you’re looking for an easy base from which you can drive around the city or even walk down to Hollywood Boulevard, then this is a good option.
Where to eat.
Of anywhere in the US, I feel like Los Angeles food is the closest to Australian food. Sure, they still overcook the hell out of their bacon and their coffee still tastes mostly like tar (both solid American traits) but in LA you can get a lot more fresh and healthy meals instead of everything being deep fried.
For breakfast you absolutely cannot go past Egg Slut. They have a few venues across the city but I like the Venice one, and be warned – there’s likely to be a line. They make really simple egg and bacon rolls on a brioche bun and they are amazing… plus there’s the edgy Instagrammable branding. There’s only a few seats inside so grab it to go and wander down to the beach. Huckleberry Cafe in Santa Monica and Toast Bakery in West Hollywood are good if you’re craving an Australian cafe-style menu (think smashed avo on toast etc) and while you’re in West Hollywood, Joan’s on Third is one of my favourite places to eat anywhere in America. They have a great salad selection, one of the best toasted cheese sandwiches you’ll ever eat, and a bakery cabinet filled with treats. Highly recommend.
Although I’m not a big coffee drinker, I don’t mind one on occasion, and as a coffee snob Melburnian. It absolutely pains me to drink it in the States. I found the best way around having to choke down another burned cup was to drink cold brew, which America does exceptionally well. Intelligensia in Silverlake does my favourite cold brew in LA – perfectly located after you’ve done the Runyon hike and you can sit and relax in their beautiful terracotta premises with it’s stunning blue and white tiled floors. Decent cakes too.
For dinner if you’re staying in Culver City then you must head to Tito’s Tacos which would have to be one of the city’s best cheap eats. Awesome Mexican food and you can absolutely stuff yourself full for next to nothing. I’ll warn you that I went about 9pm at night and there was still a fairly long line, so beware that this place is super popular (and with good reason). If you’re in West Hollywood and you’ve aken my advice to stay at the Beverly Laurel, then make sure you head to their cool diner for at least one meal. It’s such a chill, laid back atmosphere and they’re open late.
Finally, you can’t really talk about food in Los Angeles without referencing In-N-Out. For me, they are absolutely the best fast food burgers I’ve ever had anywhere in the world and when I’m in town, I make it a priority to go there as much as possible. Their fries are crap. Their pink lemonade is delicious. Forget all the bullshit secret menu stuff and just order yourself a double double (or two) and enjoy.
What to see and do.
The criticism of Los Angeles is that is always favours style over substance, but I’ve always found it (maybe surprisingly) culturally rich. One of my favourite museums in the world is LACMA – otherwise known as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and it should absolutely be on your list of things to do while you visit. It has a really well curated selection of modern pieces in the permanent collection and always seems to have interesting temporary exhibitions on when I visit. Plus it has one of the city’s most popular selfie spots, under the Urban Light exterior art installation which shows 202 restored street lights. Speaking of museums, the Getty Center is another must do. Located in Brentwood, you need to catch a small train to the top where the art os house in a series of modern buildings with spectacular views across LA. Even if art isn’t totally your thing, it’s worth a visit just to check out the amazing vista. Another great museum is the Grammy Museum – I had never heard of it until a couple of women told me about it while I was on one of those giant wheel things in Vegas a few years back. I was heading to LA and they recommended I check it out as they’d just been and loved it. If you’re a music lover it’s absolutely awesome, with a behind the scenes look at a really diverse range of artists and their careers. Or if natural history is more your thing, the La Brea Tar Pits are genuine bubbling pools of volcanic tar in the heart of the city, with a great museum nearby.
Probably my favourite thing to do in Los Angeles is head up to Griffith Observatory and check out the view over the city. It’s free if you aren’t going inside and I highly recommend heading there at sunset to get some amazing photos, though it does tend to get busy. You also get a good look at the Hollywood sign. I like to bookend my trips in LA by heading up there and have been about four times now. If you’re in the area then you may as well do the Runyon Canyon hike. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it’s a popular but actually fairly short and easy hike that gives you more great views over Los Angeles. You don’t need to be super fit to do it but wearing a good pair of runners is advised. Oh and there’s a sign near the entrace saying to watch out for rattlesnakes, which shocked the hell out of me when I visited! Luckily I didn’t see any…
LA’s beaches are a must-do – Venice Beach is quirky and filled with skater kids, hippies, muscle men, and all sorts of odd characters. Spend an hour or two strolling down the boardwalk and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If you’re up to it, the walk to Santa Monica is a good one and will take you under an hour at a very easy pace. On my last visit I went to the Santa Monica Pier for the first time and even if you’re not going on the rides, it’s really fun just to wander around. I was there with a couple of mates and we ended up going from there up to the Third Street Promenade which is packed with all kinds of great shops and cafes for a few blocks.
For those visiting the city for the first time, as I’ve already warned it is quite spaced out, so trying to see it all can be tough. I did one of the red bus tourist tours and to be honest, it was fairly helpful in terms of giving me a broad overview of the city. I got to see a lot of things that I wouldn’t have necessarily gone to see myself, like Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, and got a feel for how everything was laid out. I was staying on Sunset Boulevard at the time so I walked up to Hollywood Boulevard and easily caught one from there. I haven’t done any other tours, such as where the stars live, so I can’t really vouch for them. However if that’s your kind of thing then you shouldn’t have much trouble sorting one out. I know it’s super cheesy and touristy (and a bit dirty) but it is worth at least one visit to Hollywood Boulevard to see the the Hollywood Walk of Fame and check out the handprints in the concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I’ve never felt like I needed to go back but seeing it once ticks the box for me.
One thing that has been recommended to me a couple of times but I’ve never found time to do, is a walking tour of Downtown. They’re meant to be excellent with the opportunity to check out some amazing architecture in one of the city’s re-newed neighbourhood.
Lastly, you can’t be in Los Angeles and at least not consider a trip to Disneyland. I went on my first LA holiday and I will admit that I absolutely loved it. A day going on rides and eating crap is pretty much my idea of perfection. From memory I just bought a ticket on a shuttle bus stop on Hollywood Boulevard but given that was eight years ago now, there’s probably a hell of a lot of other options you can pre-plan and book online. I didn’t go to Universal Studios, Knotts Berry Farm or any other parks so I can’t give you any tips there, but I loved Disneyland and being a kid for a day, and am probably due to head back next time I’m in LA. I’d also love to check out some of the other parks on my next visit.
Where to shop.
I love shopping in America though, to be perfectly honest, my tastes run fairly pedestrian. I love J.Crew, Madewell, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Zara, which are all easily attainable in most places and not special in any way to LA. I also love Athleta for active wear and bought my all time favourite pair of running tights there.
If you’re looking to do a bit of shopping of that type then you have probably two solid choices in Los Angeles – The Grove in (funnily enough) Beverly Grove or Third Street Promenade down in Santa Monica. The Grove is a mostly outdoors mall with a good range of shops, plus it’s right next door to the LA Farmers Market. Lots of celebs go here, it’s an upmarket and very people-spotting kind of place. Third Street Promenade is a solid couple of pedestrian blocks with shops either side and is good for a wander up and down for a few hours.
If you like smaller boutique shopping, then I’d recomend a stroll around the Abbot Kinney area or West Hollywood, both of which have smaller local stores. I haven’t spent a lot of time there so I can’t really offer any particular recommendations.
Los Angeles: a snapshot.
How long should I stay: For me, LA is a three day city with options to extend if you are looking at having a couple of beach days or heading to one of the theme parks. But if you’re not, three full days will let you hit all the main marks in the city.
Getting around: if you’re flying in then best bet is an airport shuttle. Public transport is fairly ordinary in LA, with buses really your only option. Otherwise resign yourself to catching Ubers, which are plentiful and reasonably well priced when not stuck in traffic. However my solid recommendation would be to hire a car and that way you’ll be a hell of a lot more mobile and able to see everything at your own pace.
When to go: Year round as the weather is almost always consistently good, though obviously hotter in summer.
Key places for first timers: Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Boulevard, LACMA, Getty Center, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Runyon Canyon. And Disneyland!
Underrated gem: Getty Center. The views across LA are magnificent and the art collections are brilliant. You could easily spend a whole day here.
If you could only eat at one place: In-N-Out. Hands down.
Best photo opportunities: Griffith Observatory, especially at sunset, Getty Center, Runyon Canyon, Santa Monica Pier.
I left my bloody runners in a hotel room in Vienna.
They weren’t especially special – black Nike Frees I’d bought for about sixty bucks at a shoe warehouse on Sunset Boulevard in LA – but it was annoying to have to pay to replace something due to my own forgetfulness.
Shoes are such a critical part of any trip; bring the wrong ones and you curse yourself to hours of sore feet or a lack of style options. Bring too many and they clog up your suitcase unnecessarily. After years of making terrible choices I’ve generally narrowed it down to a selection of pairs: black runners, white Converse, tan leather sandals and black Havianas thongs. If I’m going somewhere cold I’ll add boots, if it’s warm then a ballet flat. But those five pairs are pretty much it and while they serve me well, to lose one put me at a definite disadvantage.
Especially those runners, which are my saviours on 14 hour days walking across unexplored cities.
However I’m almost embarrassed to say how spectacularly late I have been to the Rollie game. I only bought my first pair less than a month ago after sitting at home scrolling through Boxing Day sales online. And it’s a damn shame because they would have been the perfect shoes to have in my travel wardrobe when I left those runners behind.
I actually hadn’t tried on any pairs of Rollies before purchasing them and my experience with them was limited to glowing reviews from mates and Instagram photos. I ordered a pair of the oxfords in a pale pink perforated leather with side cut-outs. They were simple but with just enough quirkiness and I thought I could just as easily wear them to work or on weekends.
When they arrived, I was amazed at how soft the leather was. Seriously. I made a friend touch it when we were out at dinner. It is super supple and so I knew I was going to be able to wear the shoes straight up without any worries about blisters. The second thing I noticed is that they’re incredibly light – even though they are a fairly substantial shoe, they feel like next to nothing on. The sole is a really light rubber that’s still thick enough to give you some cushioning.
The one point I would make is that they’re not especially cheap – my pair set me back AUD$135, even on sale.
I deeply regret waiting so long to get on board the Rollie bandwagon as they would have been the perfect shoe for my recent three-month trip across Europe. They look smart and stylish but they’re also exceptionally comfortable, so I wouldn’t have sacrificed form for fashion.I reckon I’m going to get a lot of wear out of them in the coming months and trips.
As long as I don’t leave them in a bloody hotel room.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
I’ve been to some incredible places around the world but from the moment I stepped off that plane into London 12 years ago, it had my heart. It was the first major international city I visited and it’s still my favourite.
I absolutely love London.
I’ve been there four times now; the most recent visit was only just over a month ago, purposely set as the glittering finale to a three-month tour across Europe. It gave me something to be excited about at the end and a way to finish what would likely be the trip of a life time on a high.
While I never really dreamed of travelling the world when I was growing up, London was the one place I always wanted to visit. I think because I read so many beloved English books as a child and teen, it really earned a place in my consciousness and became this city of history and adventure. Then I grew up… and I still feel the same way.
There are so many grand cities scattered across the globe but for me, it’s that tangible feeling of history that you get in London that makes it such an enjoyable place to visit. I love walking through neighbourhoods hundreds of years old, visiting landmarks that have stood for generations, admiring architecture rooted in another century. Whenever I walk through the Tube stations I still feel like I’m transported back to a WWII era version of London, even though it’s such a modern and contemporary city.
I also love the culture of London – the museums in particular – and the fact there are so many diverse things to do and see. You can be in a royal palace one minute then lost in a park in the middle of the city the next. At a world class sports stadium or taking in a show in the West End. The food is incredible and the shopping extraordinary, and there’s boundless opportunities to sample both.
London is easy and it’s fun. I love it’s grandness but also those tiny corners that reveal it’s wonderful character. It is absolutely the great regret of my life that I didn’t do what every other young Australian did and spend a few years living there, but I try and make up for it with as many visits as possible.
Because what Johnson says is absolutely true, when a man is tired of London then he is tired of life.
Where to stay.
London is a big city with any number of different boroughs all capable of accomodating you admirably. If it’s your first time in the city then I highly recommend staying somewhere central to the action in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting around easily to see everything.
For this I particularly like the Soho/Mayfair/St James/Fitzrovia part of town, which is in walking distance of a lot of the main attractions, access to plenty of Underground stations, and good restaurants and shops. It’s safe and well lit and you won’t have any problems navigating the area. That said, it’s also probably the most tourist-filled part of London and packed with people at all hours, so if you’re looking for something quieter and more relaxed then this isn’t it.
The last three times I’ve been in London I’ve stayed in a private room at the YHA London Oxford Street(https://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-london-oxford-street). It’s actually not right on Oxford Street but rather tucked into Noel Street, which runs parallel a block to the south. My brother recommended it to me and I’ve really enjoyed it every time I’ve stayed there. While they do offer a heaps of activities and discounts on visiting sights around the city, this isn’t a party hostel as such and a lot of diverse groups, families and travellers stay there. It has a common room, kitchen facilities and – best of all if you’ve been travelling for a while – washing machines and dryers. The location is also absolutely unbeatable and you won’t get anywhere better value in the area. I paid £325 for four nights in a private room at the start of December 2018, which is roughly AUD$145 per night. The rooms are clean, modern and fairly spacious, and although you will need to use the shared bathrooms, there’s a sink in the private rooms. Oxford Circus tube station is only a couple of hundred metres away, there’s a Marks and Spencer food hall a stone’s throw from the hostel, and plenty of other restaurants close by. Plus you’re obviously only a few steps from the biggest shopping street in London. If you’re after a private room here then the key is to book at early as possible as there’s only a few available. For my recent trip, this was the first accomodation I booked even though it was going to be at the end of my holiday, because I just didn’t want to miss out. I had this locked in by the end of February for a December visit, which gives some idea of how far out I was planning. I’d suggest if you are visiting London in peak times such as the summer months, you’d want to get on to a booking as soon as you could. Again, I can’t recommend this place enough for location and value, especially for solo travellers or people visiting London for the first time.
My other favourite place to stay in London is around the Kensington area, which is a little further west in the city. I really love the architecture and leafy streets in this part of London; for me it’s like the storybook/Mary Poppins version of the city. It is still relatively central and you can still walk to a lot of great museums, parks and attractions from here, plus it also has good public transport links. Kensington isn’t a cool or trendy part of town, so if you’re looking for something edgy then this isn’t it. Instead I find it relaxingly classic and a step away from the crowds of people around Oxford Street. I’ve tended to stay here when I have transit stops in London ie I’ve come into the city from somewhere else and am moving on reasonably quickly – I prefer Soho for more substantial stays. Last time I stayed here was for a night when I arrived from France and was heading to Iceland the next day, because I knew I wouldn’t be racing around trying to do or see a hundred things. I wanted somewhere easy and familiar with a good choice of restaurants and an Underground station close by. I’ve stayed in a few hotels in this area and per night it’s a more expensive than the more central hostel stay, however I’m generally happy to pay a bit extra here because the stay isn’t as long and comfort is key.
My absolute favourite hotel here (and actually one of my favourite hotels anywhere) is The Nadler Kensington (https://www.nadlerhotels.com/the-nadler-kensington.html) in Earls Court. It’s in a gorgeous old townhouse building on a beautiful street, and it’s just really nice and plush. Not over the top glamorous, just super comfortable and welcoming with lovely staff. There’s a Sainsburys supermarket in walking distance, I always have a burger down at Byron, and last time I strolled to the nearby cinemas on Fulham Road to see A Star is Born (worth it). It set me back about AUD$230 per night for a basic double room. Highly recommend. Also, if you can’t get a room here, anywhere along Courtfield Gardens or surrounds is well situated.
Where to eat.
I love to eat, I love good food, but I’m definitely not a huge foodie. My travels aren’t opportunities to try out high end restaurants and I’m generally pretty happy just eating in a good pub… or buying a pastry or two (or five) from an amazing bakery. Sometimes that lack of meal planning has let me down though, so it’s actually one of the areas of travel planning I’ve gotten better in over the past couple of years. Doing a little bit of research on where I should eat before I go so I don’t miss out on any fantastic experiences is something I now find really pays off. And food is also something people love to recommend – so if you’re going somewhere for the first time, ask mates who’ve been if they have a favourite spot to check out.
I’m not gonna lie, when I’m in London I will generally eat a lot from the Marks & Spencer food hall. I really love their stuff, they have fantastic fresh and healthy food and it’s especially a really good option for lunch. For under ten quid you can buy a decent sandwich (the Scottish salmon or ploughmans are always my favourites), salad, fruit, drink and chocolate or dessert. I actually find it easier to make better choices with my food here than if I head into a cafe or restaurant where I’m distracted by something deliciously unhealthy. Of course a lot of other supermarkets sell pre-packaged food, plus there’s places like Pret and Greggs, but M&S is my clear favourite.
On my last trip, I had two really nice breakfasts in places with Australian links. No one – no one – does breakfast like Aussies and I’d say our cafe food was the thing I missed most while I was away. The first was at a place called Caravan in Fitzrovia (https://www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk/fitzrovia.html) where I had smashed avo with a poached egg and a really drinkable coffee. The menu isn’t super extensive and it’s all light and fresh rather than your stodgy English style brekkies. I went on a Sunday morning when it opens at 10am and got there about quarter past, with very few people inside. By half an hour later it was packed. There’s a few branches of Caravan across London so if Fitzrovia’s out of your way, there should be another that suits. The second place was Granger & Co. in Notting Hill (https://grangerandco.com/notting-hill) and I would warn you – this place is popular. I was there on a weekday morning about 10am or so and was about eighth in line, with the interior already packed. Another really tight menu and sadly they were out of the smashed avo on the day I was there, so I just had scrambled eggs on toast with bacon, plus juice and a coffee that was probably the best I had in London. The service was excellent but the place isn’t particularly cheap. All of that set me back nearly AUD$40 and the bill includes a mandatory service charge of 12.5% and a one pound donation to charity.
I have a horrific sweet tooth and a friend of mine who is exactly the same gave me some absolute winners to try this time around. Bread Ahead (https://www.breadahead.com/) has the most deliciously insane ginger cake you would ever hope to eat – it’s so moist and tasty and just heavy with spices and goodness. They also have a ton of other great cakes and their doughnuts are a speciality, plus they have lovely sandwiches if a meal of sugar isn’t your thing. I went to the Carnaby location a couple of times and they also have a stall at Borough Market (which is an also an excellent food destination in itself). While I was in Notting Hill for brunch I stopped at Ottolenghi (https://ottolenghi.co.uk/) to pick up a couple of cakes to eat through the day and they were incredible, picking which two to eat was probably the hardest decision I had to make on my trip and I still have regrets about what I left behind… They were seriously incredible. There’s also Middle Eastern inspired salads available which looked fantastic, but in the end weren’t cake so I passed (ha). The cafe at the National Gallery used to be a favourite of mine but I went on my last trip and it’s been renovated and sadly just wasn’t as good. Otherwise most big museums in London tend to have decent places to grab a bite and are worth consideration.
For those who like burgers, I really love Byron Burgers (https://www.byronhamburgers.com/) and if I’m staying at The Nadler, I’ll always end up having one at the Earls Court location. If you’re after something a bit more traditionally English and happen to find yourself in Greenwich, then you must stop in at Goddards at Greenwich (https://www.goddardsatgreenwich.co.uk/), a pie and mash shop that’s been around since 1890. For just over £5 you can get yourself a truly delicious pie with a couple of scoops of mashed potato and either liquor or gravy. So bloody good and they have a really nice dining room upstairs with views over Greenwich.
There’s two dinners that particularly stand out for me – the first was a couple of years ago at a place called Bob Bob Rickard (https://www.bobbobricard.com/) in Soho, which is fancy-ish with prices to match. I had lobster mac and cheese from memory, so think along those kinds of lines. It is also super Instagrammable with those ‘press for champagne’ buttons in every booth that you might have seen previously. Indian food is generally not my favourite but when both a good friend and Mindy Kaling recommended Dishoom (http://www.dishoom.com/) then I put it on my list. They actually take bookings before 6pm so if you can sneak yourself in for a 5.30pm dinner then it saves you a potentially long wait because man, is it popular. The two tables either side of me when I was there were filled with Australians too, so I knew it was going to be good. Super delicious modern Indian with a focus on picking a heap of smaller plates to share. I thought Dishoom was really well priced too and for a couple of plates, naan and a cocktail it cost me less than AUD$40. I went to the Carnaby location but they have a few across the city. Again, really great service as well as good food, and if I was going to recommend somewhere for dinner in London then this is definitely it.
Finally, because I’ve been solo in London a lot of times I haven’t had big nights out drinking but if you’re looking for somewhere cool and quirky for a cocktail, then definitely head to Mr Foggs (https://www.mr-foggs.com/), which is inspired by Phileas Foggs, the protagonist in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. Here’s a weird twist of fate – when I went, I was actually reading the book at the time because I’d not long before been to visit Verne’s house and museum in Amiens. I actually didn’t realise at first that the bar – I went to Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, there is a couple of locations all slightly different – was actually modelled after the character in the book. The interior is pure Victorian era and it’s jammed with intriguing curiosities that Fogg could of picked up during his race around the globe. The cocktail list is not cheap but it is fabulous (starting at about £15 for a drink, plus they add a standard 12.5% service charge) and well worth going as a treat.
What to see and do.
When I’m travelling, I tend to have a particular skew when it comes to sightseeing and that is museums, predominantly art museums. So if that’s not your kind of thing then you may want to jog on for at least some of this (sorry not sorry). First and foremost though, London is a city you could spend infinite time walking around and still not discover every amazing thing or interesting niche. It’s a beautiful city to look at, it’s reasonably easy to navigate and it’s attractions are really diverse. Whatever you’re into, I’m sure you’ll find it in London.
The National Gallery is the only place I’ve been on every single trip I’ve made to London and with good reason – I think it’s the best art museum in the world. It has an incredible collection, particularly of British art (the Constables and Turners are excellent), with some of the world’s most famous works displayed here. You could spend hours wandering through it’s beautiful interiors so make sure you allocate plenty of time to see everything. Just behind it sits the National Portrait Gallery, which I visited for the first time on my most recent trip and really enjoyed it. Hit them both up then make use of the photo oportunity that is Trafalgar Square and it’s famous lions. The British Museum is walking distance from here so it’s easy to head there next and check out pieces from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt including the Rosetta Stone. I like the museum and it’s incredibly well curated, but things like holding on to pieces such as Elgin’s Marbles when Greece desperately wants them back always kind of jarrs my visit. The Victoria & Albert Museum aka the V&A is another fantastic choice and is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, so includes more than just paintings. They also tend to have excellent temporary exhibitions so it’s worth seeing what’s on while you’re in town. Both the Tate and the Tate Modern are great and if you’re at the latter, then hit up Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre next door for a tour, then walk across the Millenium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral (and, if you’re like me, spend the next couple of hours with “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…” stuck in your head). On my last trip I visited Somerset House for the first time for a Charles Schultz Peanuts exhibition – it’s worth checking and see what’s on during your visit because as well as holding temporary exhibits, they also do a range of other things such as ice skating in winter.
If history is more your thing than art, I highly recommend a visit to Churchill’s War Rooms in Whitechapel, which gives a unique look into England’s decision making during WWII. When you’re in the area you can also get a peek at 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade. If you’re still in the mood for a bit more war history then the Imperial War Museum is also fantastic and fairly sobering. For sports lovers, Lords Cricket Ground does really good tours and you get to see into the historic Long Room. If you’re travelling with kids or just love nature, then the Natural History Museum is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours.
I still kick myself that I missed the remembrance poppy installation at the Tower of London in 2014 after deciding not to go there as I’d done the tour a year earlier (do it, it’s good). Plus the Tower Bridge is such an iconic spot for a photo. Unfortunately Big Ben is in the process of being restored but otherwise makes for a perfect London selfie opportunity and while you’re there, head into Westminster Abbey for a look around then over to the Houses of Parliament for a tour.
Do the London Eye. Yeah, it’s cliche and touristy but it’s also worth it.
I also love going to see something, anything on the West End while I’m in London. Shows are pretty strongly advertised in tube stations, otherwise have a look online to see what’s running. If there’s something you really want to see and you have a limited time frame to get to it, I’d recommend purchasing a ticket online otherwise head to one of the booths in Convent Garden on the day and see what you can snap up for cheap. Last time I was there I bought tickets to the Magic Mike London show and uh, yeah, it was totally worth it. Nearby Picadilly Circus always gets a mention but to be honest, it’s touristy without having any real substance or things to actually see – just neon advertising.
Greenwich is my favourite part of London and I always head there for a day when I visit as it makes a nice change from the bustle of the city’s centre. You can easily get there by light rail but if you haven’t been before, I highly recommend doing a boat tour up the Thames that finishes there or take one of the regular ferries. A really cool way to see London. Greenwich has a real village atmosphere with lots of tiny stores and places to eat. Head to the National Maritime Museum then walk through my favourite park in London, Greenwich Park, up to the Royal Observatory where you can see the prime meridian and stand with a foot either side. The observatory also has one of the most incredible views (and photo opportunities) over London, with the beautiful architecture of the maritime museum spread out across the park and the city skyline in the distance.
Notting Hill is another lovely part of the city to find yourself strolling around in, looking at high end stores, pretty buildings and fancy cafes. Portobello Market is also in the area. If you like markets then make sure you head to Camden Market or try Brick Lane – both are a bit cooler and more modern with a Brunswick or Newtown type vibe. Borough Market is also an excellent place to wander and find yourself something really delicious to eat, and it’s open seven days.
London also has some fantastic parks so aside from Greenwich Park, Hyde Park and Regents Park (the latter including the royal parks) are perfect places to stroll and enjoy a bit of greenery in one of the world’s biggest cities. They’re also full of memorials and other historically interesting bits and pieces. I find the parks a good change of pace on a packed day or sightseeing and there’s plenty of great photo opportunities. Unfortnately I’ve never been in London during the short season where you can visit inside Buckingham Palace so I can’t give you any advice there.
Finally, if you’ve got some time on your hands or you’re a super fan, then I highly recommend the trip to see the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour (https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/). I like Harry Potter and have read the books and seen the movies, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with it. However this tour was exceptional and was such a fantastic experience all round. Book an audio guide then give yourself a couple of hours to wander around the sets and see how the books came to life on the big screen. What they have preserved from the movies is amazing and it’s such a wonderful insight into film making in general. A couple of things: if you want to make sure this is somewhere you’re going to visit, then you need to buy a ticket a few months in advance as they sell out. Seriously. I was a bit ambivalent about it and thought I might like to go see it, but didnt make any solid plans. When I looked online two days before the Decmber date I wanted to go, I found out all the tickets were sold out until mid-February (FOR REAL). In a piece of sheer luck, a ticket became available online for the day I could go and so I snapped it up, but I was incredibly fortunate to have this happen. Book a ticket early if you definitely want to go. Also, you can’t buy tickets there and hey need to be pre-purchased online. The studio is about 20 minutes or so on a train out of central London in Watford Junction, then you need to catch a shuttle bus there from the train station. It will take you about 2-3 hours to get through the tour so I would suggest setting aside a whole day for this experience – that will give you enough time to get out there and do it all without rushing.
Where to shop.
If you’re in London and you’re shopping, then there’s only one place to start – Oxford Street. It has every High Street store you could think of (Zara, H&M, Topshop, New Look, Mango, Uniqlo, Gap, Dorothy Perkins, Urban Outfitters, Warehouse, etc) plus department stores such as Selfridges, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. And that’s just a start. You’ll also be battling hundreds of other people at any given time as it’s probably the busiest street in London. I prefer Regent Street, which runs off Oxford and has stores that are slightly more high end. They have the awesome & Other Stories and Cos (my two British faves), plus a J.Crew, Reiss and more. There’s still a lot of people but it’s a smidge less full on. Tucked just behind the juncture of those two is the Carnaby Street area, which is a recent favourite for me. Lots of great shops with a slightly trendier feel and good restaurants and bars, with a really cool night time vibe. Liberty of London is also situated in here.
I remember coming to London years ago and being super excited by make up and skin care in Boots and Superdrug that I couldn’t get at home (think UK equivalent of Priceline or US drug stores), but this time I didn’t feel like there was as much unique stuff there. I do like grabbing random shower gels and cheap stuff like that, and they do have some inexpensive make up ranges that are worth a look. The Una Brennan or Liz Earle ranges are good for skincare you can’t get in Australia too. Space NK is awesome for high end products and they have a big store in Notting Hill (though plenty of other outlets across the city) – stop in there while you’re stuffing your face with cakes from Ottolenghi. Notting Hill in general is good for a wander as they have a lot of higher end stores if you’re looking for a splurge. I stopped in at the Goop pop up there, though I’m not sure how long it will be in place. In the big department stores, I loved being able to play with the Charlotte Tilbury stuff which we can’t buy in store in Australia. I ended up getting quite a few make up things from her excellent range, which has such beautiful products. Kiko is an Italian brand that has a couple of outlets in London and they have inexpensive but good quality make up – I love their eyeshadow crayons especially.
If you’re heading to any of the museums I mentioned, then a lot of them have great museum shops as well. I particularly like the V&A one which has a lot of textiles, jewellery, stationery and other things you’d buy for yourself – not just crappy souvenir type stuff. The British Museum tends to have a good book range too. Oh and speaking of books, if you’re a reader or lover of books in general then go to Waterstones. They’re a larger book chain but the stores have such a wonderful range of stock and I always find a heap of incredible things there that I want badly but are too heavy to bring back. This time I bought a gorgeous city guide there as a trip memento.
Finally, if you haven’t been to Harrods then definitely make sure you go. Even if you aren’t going to buy anything, it’s such an experience just spending time wandering through the gorgeous building and dreaming of what you’d buy with an unlimited budget. The perfume hall there is one of the best places in the world to buy fragrance, so keep that in mind if you’re perfume obsessed like me.
London: a snapshot.
How long should I stay: First timers shouldn’t come for less than five full days, four at an absolute pinch with the expectation that you will miss out on some things. The longer the better when it comes to London.
Getting around: There are train services from each of the major airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, London City and Stansted). These will come into London’s main stations, such as Kings Cross St Pancras, where you can get an Oyster card from the machine and top it up at any Underground (Tube) or rail station in the city. If you’re just in London, most of the time you’ll be catching the Tube and I reckon it’s one of the best public transport systems in the world. It’s easy, efficient and services run very regularly. The one downside is that it’s not the cheapest public transport in the world. London also has their famous red buses but I’m almost embarrassed to say I haven’t caught one since my first visit to the city. And I’ve never caught a black cab either! Walking and the Tube tend to be it for me.
When to go: I like London in autumn or spring (September to November, or March to May) because it’s cooler and slightly less packed. Summer is peak season with prices and crowds to match. In winter you’re getting sunsets before 4pm so the shorter days make sightseeing harder.
Key places for first timers: National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, British Museum, London Eye, Tower of London and Tower Bridge, St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park.
Underrated gem: Greenwich, which is lovely at every turn and always makes me feel like I’m in Mary Poppins.
If you could only eat at one place: Bread Ahead. I’m still dreaming of that ginger cake.
Best photo opportunities: London Eye, view from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the Oxford Street rush, retro interiors of so many of the Underground stations, Big Ben selfies.
I wasn’t the kid who marked exotic locations off on maps, the teen who planned a backpacking adventure, the young adult who couldn’t wait to see the world.
I was the Sagittarian who would read the descriptions for their horoscope, the ones that said we were the travellers of the zodiac, and laugh. “Wrong!” I thought.
I didn’t go overseas until I was 28, a trip that was really only motivated by the fact my brother was living there at the time.
I was 32 when I travelled solo internationally for the first time.
My point is this: travel isn’t something that always feels like it is in your blood; it can be as much of a slow burn or an acquired taste as something you feel you were born to do.
Since then, I’ve managed to tick off 40 countries and the experience of travel has become something of a priority in my life. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to afford it financially, to have a job that allows for the time off to take adventures, and to be emotionally resilient enough that travelling alone is an option for me.
Now, I’m always dreaming of where I’m heading to next.
Travel blogging has beome increasingly popular over the past few years and blogs are generally an excellent resource for anyone planning a trip to a particular destination. But what I had been noticing is that many of these blogs or sites weren’t really representing someone who travels like me. A lot of them were filled with elegant photos, girls in hats with one hand on their head and the other in the air faced away from the camera staring down an unpopulated road, but very little actual substance on the location. Recommendations as a result of paid partnerships for hotels that I could never afford. Lists of restaurants so extensive that they absolutely could not have visited them all. A lack of information on what to actually see or do once you got there. Style over substance and barely any genuine feeling or personal stories.
That’s not to say this is all travel blogs, however I was finding it harder and harder to find truly great or useful ones. And nearly none that reflected me.
I’m the person who takes pretty nice photos, but won’t get up at 6am to take a photo of myself ruminating in front of a coloured doorway without hundreds of tourists around. I stay in mid-priced hotels and awesome (and sometimes not so awesome) hostels. Love local food, but I also got super excited when I unexpectly found a Chipotle in Frankfurt and ate burgers in Vienna when I was all schnitzelled out. I like cool and quirky shops, hidden Instagram gems and discovering the unknown in a place, but I’m also an itinerary maker, someone who will hunt down the nearest J.Crew and the person who is absolutely going to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris even though millions of other people do it every year.
I wanted to create a resource based on personal experience and how I like to travel, and so Portret was born. The word is Dutch for ‘portrait‘ and got stuck in my head on a recent visit to Amsterdam’s incredible Rijksmuseum – I liked the idea of using it to represent my view of a place. I’m not fancy. I have diverse interests. Sometimes I’m willing to spend money, sometimes I’m not. I also wanted to create something that I had been trying to find myself in other sites and fill what I felt was a gap in what was already available in travel blogs.
My plan is to post about a different city each week and let you know where I stayed, what I ate, things I visited, how I got around, and more. Because I’m also obsessed with style and beauty products, there’ll be a little bit of that too plus it’s nice to get hints on what to buy when you’re wandering around Nashville’s 12 South area or staring at the shelves of a French pharmacy in Nice.
So, welcome. I hope Portret gives you some useful advice about travelling to some of the most incredible cities in the world, or just provides you with an escape or the opportunity to dream a little. As one of the most over-used quotes goes, “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”