Sunday, 16 August 2009

San Francisco

In this post about my San Francisco trip I asked if any of my readers wanted to ask me questions about stuff I might have forgotten to mention, or just anything else you wanted to know about the place and what I got up to.

And some of you actually did!

So here are your questions and my responses:

Girl on a Journey said:
I've always wanted to see Alcatraz - how was it?! Any ghosts? I hear there are ghosts there.
Nic says: Alcatraz was brilliant, so interesting. I heard about the ghosts too, but no, I didn't see any. I was there in the daytime, and I don't believe in the 'paranormal' anyway. That's not to say I'm not open-minded about having it proved to me, but I would literally have to see a ghost with my own eyes before I believed it. But yeah, go to Alcatraz.

Ms Salti asked:
Which hotel did you stay in? I'm always looking for suggestions!
Nic says: I stayed at the Days Inn on Lombard Street. It's more of a motel really, but it was cheap and came with all the essentials. If you're on a budget, then it's a good place to stay. Just don't tell them it was me who broke their coffee machine.

Gwen's question was:
Not one interesting event while you were there?
Nic says: I wouldn't say anything really out of the ordinary happened. Well, there was the taxi driver who insisted on playing (and singing along to) Dion and the Belmonts songs at full volume, then proceeded to produce a pair of drumsticks and use the steering wheel as a drum. I just stared out the window, trying my hardest not to erupt into fits of giggles.

Nicole Elkington wanted to know:
Did you get scared by the Bushman?
Nic says: I think he was going to try, but I spotted him hiding behind his silly little bush and shot him my best jump-out-at-me-and-I'll-stab-you face. Yeah, I can actually do that face quite well. It's useful, where I come from.

ChinkyGirlMel asked:
So, how was the seafood at Fisherman's Wharf?
Nic says: It was good. I love seafood anyway, especially crab and lobster, and I tried clam chowder, which was...alright.

Cheryl said:
Why ARE people always so obsessed with the English accent? I've never figured it out.
Nic says: Search me. I'm not complaining, though. It's a useful pulling tool.

Bored Housewife wanted to know:
I heard they're putting a net under the Golden Gate Bridge to stop people jumping off it? Anyway, were you tempted?
Nic says: Is that true about the net? Can't be! But I heard that a lot of people do jump off the bridge. But no, I wasn't tempted, thank you very much! Although I was on a pier at one point, walking towards the end and thought, "I wonder what all these people would do if I just kept walking." Thoughts like that amuse me.

Thanks for your questions, people!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Travel Spotlight

As some of you know, I live just outside London. Being so close to the capital, my town is quite busy and hectic and there aren't many places you can go and relax. But this is definitely one of the few where you can:

Coalhouse Fort, Essex

A brief history: Coalhouse Fort is a Victorian coastal defence fort set in parkland next to the River Thames, completed in 1874, to defend the approaches to London from the perceived threat of invasion from France. It's considered to be one of the finest examples of an armoured casemated fort in the UK.

I love this place because my grandparents used to take me there all the time as a child. At the time I was just interested in the play park with the ridiculously high slide (which has since been taken away - safety hazard, more than likely) and playing in the ditch (when it was dry, of course...I'm not that disgusting.)

Now I go there when I need to get away from it all, relax, walk, sunbathe, be alone with my thoughts and write. I mean, how can you not be happy when you're surrounded by this:

(Click on the pics to enlarge)

The fort was also used as a coastal defence in World War II and there are occasionally open days when you're allowed inside the fort to look at the war memorabilia. I remember as a child being shown an unexploded German bomb and freaking out until someone told me it wouldn't actually go off as it had been diffused. Even then I kept an eye on it.

Interesting fact: In 2005, some of Batman Begins was filmed here. The scenes at the beginning where Christian Bale (Batman) is in prison were shot inside the fort. But it was kept quiet and even the locals didn't find out until a week later.

So...that's my favourite place. It's just a fifteen minute drive from my house and I feel lucky to live close to somewhere like this. Do you like it?

Where is your favourite place in your hometown? Leave a comment or even write your own blog post about it. Let me know if you do as I'd love to read it!

Sunday, 19 April 2009


It's my pleasure to introduce you to Jennine from Travelaholic Anonymous. She's here to tell us all about her globetrotting experiences! Enjoy.

Thanks for agreeing to be my interviewee today, Jennine. First question: If you had to pick just one, what is the best country/city you've visited and why?
As a "travelaholic" it's very difficult to pick just one place as my favorite, but if I have to pick just one I would have to say Santorini, Greece. It was so beautiful with its black sand beaches and white washed buildings. I also love Greek food, so that was a big plus as well.

Is there anywhere you haven't been that you're desperate to visit?
I haven't done much traveling in Central or South America, and I really want to see that part of the world. Recently I have gotten the bug to travel to Costa Rica. I would love to explore the rain forests and relax in the natural hot springs.

Do you always sample the local food and culture in a new country?
Definitely! That's half the fun for me. I can't say that I've loved every new food I've tried, but it's another part of the adventure.

Where was your biggest culture shock?
I think that living and studying in Spain was my biggest culture shock. Spain isn't that "foreign" of a place, but it was the first place I traveled to outside of the United States. I was a sophomore in college, and I jumped into a program in a new country where the language was not my first. It was tough at first, but one of the best experiences of my life!

What's the most unusual thing/event you've experienced while travelling?
I don't think I've seen all that many unusual things in my travels, or I've just gotten so used to unusual that it doesn't phase me. One thing that stands out in my mind was the first time I traveled to London I was staying in a hostel and making dinner. On the burner next to the one I was using some other hostel guests were cooking "mushrooms" to make "tea" as they were telling a friend and I about being deported from several countries. Not all that unusual, but at that point I hadn't really seen people cooking up drugs on a hostel stove.

What is your one travel essential?
A good attitude. That's obviously not a tangible item, but I couldn't think of one single other thing that I would consider essential. My first thought when I read the question was a camera, but pictures never do the sights justice anyway. The best pictures are your memories.

And finally...any tips for inexperienced travellers?
Do your homework. Figure out what the weather is generally like, what local customs you should be aware of, if there are any health or safety risks, etc. This will help you pack the things you need and be prepared for what you might experience.
My other big tip is to pack light! I am definitely guilty of being an over packer. I always want a bunch of outfit choices because I never know what situation I'll find myself in while traveling, but after hauling heavy suitcases through airports, train stations, and city streets I decided I can live without 3/4 of the junk I would cram into my suitcase. Plus, if you limit what you pack you can always buy a cool new outfit and have a story to tell about where you got it from.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Located in Western England and just an hour’s drive from the world-famous monument of Stonehenge, Bath is easily accessible by both road and rail.

Famous for - and named after - the roman baths which can still be found there, Bath is a city full of culture…but also amazing shopping! In fact, Bath boasts more shops than a city ten times its size. From massive department stores to tiny boutiques, this place really does have it all.

While you’re there you can explore the city any way you want. You could choose to join one of the many walking tours, or you might prefer to see the area by vehicle – in which case you should buy one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, which are great value for money.

The Romans were captivated by the miraculous stream of endless hot water Bath offered, the Georgians later came from all over the country to bathe in it, and now people can once again experience its powers with the opening of the Thermae Bath Spa - the only place in Britain where you can swim in the natural thermal water. It’ll cost you a bit, though!

Add to all this the plethora of restaurants, bars, museums, galleries and the abbey, and Bath succeeds in the near-impossible feat of being both a historic and bang-up-to-date city. It really is quite magical.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


Situated in the region of Attica, Athens is the capital and most visited city in Greece. And it's easy to see why. It’s surrounded by gorgeous mountains named Ymmytos, Pendeli and Parnitha and the sun shines over the city all year round.

The climate is one of the best in Europe, with mild winters and hot summers, ideal for tourism. It’s located just a few kilometres from the port of Piraeus, the central commercial port.

A walk around the famous historic triangle - Plaka, Thission and Psyri (the old neighbourhoods) - reveals the coexistence of different eras. Old mansions, some well-preserved and others worn down by time, luxurious department stores and small intimate shops, fancy restaurants and traditional taverns all have their place in this city.

Athens and Attica in general are home to some of the most important archaeological monuments in Greece – the Acropolis, the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Roman Market, the Panathinaiko Stadium and the Temple of Poseidon.

Don't forget to visit the city’s famous museums – the Archaeological Museum, Military Museum and Byzantine Museum.

By the time your trip to Athens comes to an end, you'll feel very cultured indeed!

Sunday, 26 October 2008


If you want to experience modern Japan, Tokyo is the city to visit.

About two days are needed to gain a superficial feel for the capital and at least a week to get to know it more intimately.

Places to visit and things to do in Tokyo

Old Tokyo
Visit the excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum and learn about Tokyo's history. Afterwards, explore the nearby Asakusa area around Sensoji Temple where a touch of the old Tokyo can still be experienced.

Futuristic Tokyo
From Shimbashi Station take the Yurikamome, an elevated train across the Rainbow Bridge onto a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. There, visit the shopping and entertainment attractions and view the futuristic architecture and landscape design around Odaiba and Tokyo Big Sight.

In Shinjuku, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, Tokyo's tallest building, for a free bird's eye view of the city. Then take a look around the area’s department stores. To escape the crowds, take a break in the Shinjuku Gyoen, a spacious city park. In the evening, experience the notorious Kabukicho entertainment district.

Shibuya, Harajuku, Meiji Jingu
Shibuya and Harajuku are the most popular shopping and entertainment districts for Tokyo's young generation. For some contrast, visit Meiji Shrine, located in a spacious wooded park just next to Harajuku Station.

Imperial Palace, Ginza
Visit Imperial Palace and its East Gardens before exploring Ginza, Tokyo's most expensive and famous shopping district.

Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disney Resort, just 15 minutes by train from Tokyo Station, consists of two separate theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Kids and adults of all ages will love it!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Niagara Falls

The city of Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada is home to one of the wonders of the world – Horseshoe Falls, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (the other side is in New York, USA). Its spectacular views attract 20 million visitors each year.

Beautiful park walkways run alongside the full length of the Niagara River where you can take a leisurely stroll while gazing at the magnificence of the falls.

If you’re more adventurous and want to view the waterfall from somewhere other than the ground, here are some suggestions:

1. From a tunnel behind the falls
Descend 150 ft by elevator then follow a short tunnel to two outdoor observation decks and two portals where you can view the falls from below and behind.

2. From one of many observatory towers in the area.

3. From your hotel room
Hotels line the streets facing the falls. The Sheraton Fallsview has one of the most stunning views.

4. From the Skylon Tower, a very posh, elevated revolving dining room.

5. From a helicopter
This is quite expensive (over $100) but the experience is well worth the money. Book online.

6. From the SkyWheel, a ferris wheel on Clifton Hill, located next to the falls.

7. From the Maid of the Mist, a boat which takes passengers right up to the foot of the falls. You get very wet.

The falls are especially captivating at night, when they are lit up in several different colours.

It’s easy to see why Niagara Falls is the honeymoon capital of the world.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Las Palmas

Las Palmas is the sunny Spanish capital city of the island of Gran Canaria - the largest of the Canary Islands located off the north-western coast of Africa.

It’s a bustling, vibrant city with three beaches and plenty of nightlife. Whether you want to rest and relax with the family or go clubbing with friends, you can do it in Las Palmas.

The weather in Gran Canaria has been referred to as “The best in the world”. I would call it “Hot”. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of personal taste.

During your trip, stay at the 4-star Reina Isabel Hotel by the main shopping area of Las Palmas. It has 224 rooms and the average price is 78 euros.

It’s well located for Canteras Beach and is the only hotel in the area with its own sun loungers on the beach.

A room with a sea view is a must. Alternatively, the views from the rooftop pool area (with sun loungers) are amazing, and there are screens to shelter you from any wind.

The promenade is just outside the back entrance to the hotel and is perfect for a stroll at any time of the day or early evening.

The food in the hotel is first-rate and there is free internet access in the reception area.

The annual Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is widely known not only in Spain but worldwide and is one of the main attractions for tourists.

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Located in New South Wales and known as Harbour City and The Gateway to Australia, Sydney is a dynamic and cosmopolitan city surrounded by gorgeous sandy beaches.

While the coastlines here are perfect in their natural state, there are quite a few that come with extras anyway - coffee bars, surf lessons, spas and even the odd dolphin, if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse. Sydney can more than cater to all your seaside needs!

Bondi Beach

The most famous beach in Sydney – if not the whole of Australia – has to be Bondi Beach. It’s a whole kilometre of golden sand and the closest beach to the centre of Sydney at approximately 20 minutes drive.

There is a vibrant café and restaurant scene on Bondi. Check out Campbell Parade, a strip of outdoor cafés and ice-cream bars running along the back of the beach. Just a street back from the parade you’ll find shops selling beachwear and streetwear.

On the beach itself you can learn to surf with Let’s Go Surfing, relax in the Icebergs Pool [above pic] or take part in the daily Bondi to Bronte Walk, starting from Bondi Beach and ending up at Tamarama Beach (nicknamed Glamarama) in Bronte, with refreshment stops and magnificent views along the way.

Manly Beach

More relaxed than Bondi, but somehow managing to be just as vibrant and fun, Manly Beach has all the essential criteria for a great day out – sun, sea, sand, surf, shops and spectacular views, not to mention a world-class dining scene.

Check out Oceanworld Manly, a fish’s-eye view of the underwater world. If you’re brave enough, try Shark Dive Xtreme, a scuba session with sharks. If you’re not that fearless, but still feeling adventurous, take a guided boat or shore dive with Dive Centre Manly.

For something a bit less adrenalin-filled, join the Manly to Spit Bridge Walk - a 10km stroll along beaches, through parks and forests and over cliffs and bushland.

At the weekend there’s the Manly Arts and Crafts Market, where you can buy such things as candles, jewellery, woodwork, paintings, leather and glassware.

Sydney and its beaches have been described as bold, brash and beautiful and this certainly seems to be the case. If you ever happen to be passing by Oz on your travels, stop and say “hi” to Sydney!

Sunday, 28 September 2008


Berlin is the capital and largest city in Germany. Throughout the year, it plays host to many events - including Popkomm, Festival of Lights, Art Forum Berlin and the Berlin Marathon.

But the most impressive event to be held in the city this year is definitely Babylon – Myth and Truth. Here’s what the official website has to say about it:

"With this major exhibition, the National Museums in Berlin, jointly with the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, venture to explore the myth of Babel and the true facts surrounding the ancient city of Babylon: two worlds - one exhibition.

The first section of the exhibition exposes the roots of our Western culture by looking at the archaeological remains of Babylon, thus revealing what lies behind the legends. This section centres around the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way of Babylon. Over 800 objects are exhibited, among them statues, reliefs, votive offerings, architectural fragments and documents.

The second section of the exhibition regards Babylon as a metaphor for the dark sides of civilisation - repression and the lack of freedom, terror and violence, hubris and madness. In European art and culture, the myth of Babel is closely related to mankind's primal fears.

Here, visitors experience the mythical story of the rise and fall of Babylon as a city of sin and tyranny, as the site of the confusion of tongues and the metropolis of eternal apocalypse. They venture on an expedition to the mysterious roots of these ideas, their emergence and establishment throughout the centuries up to the current day. The story is not one of a historical truth about Babylon, but of a truth about a civilisation that needs the myth of Babel in order to understand itself."

The exhibition is open now until 5th October.