Postcard from the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

I love a castle.

I love the history, the sense of thousands of people who’ve walked the same corridors you’re now walking. I love exploring winding staircases and narrow battlements and cramped cellars. I’m less interested in learning the actual facts of what happened there, in what century, involving which people, and would rather just run around, pretending to be in Game of Thrones or a Philippa Gregory novel; treating the whole place like an acceptable grown-up version of a playground.

But it’s not just any castle that makes it to third on my list of all time favourite castles (yes I really have a list of all time favourite castles. I swear I’m perfectly normal). The Castel Sant’Angelo makes the cut because it is a sprawling maze of interconnected rooms and passageways and you never come out quite where you expect to – perfect for losing yourself from modern life for a day. It feels like nowhere is off limits, which is never usually the case. And there’s nothing that crushes my daydreams about being Cersei Lannister quicker than a cordoned off staircase marked ‘do not enter.’

It’s not on the typical tourist agenda for a trip to Rome because, I suppose, comparatively it’s not really that old. What’s a castle built in the 14th Century AD compared to a Colosseum built in the 1st Century AD? But it just had that bit of magic to it that won me over completely.

Postcard from Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Yesterday afternoon I dropped almost £700 on a return flight to Australia. The stress of it all nearly gave me a panic attack but now it’s done and been triple checked for errors and I can actually start to look forward to three weeks exploring a completely new country. A completely new continent. A completely new hemisphere.

The furthest I have ever been from the UK is Vancouver but we built up to that – flying into Orlando and slowly making our way around America to end in Vancouver. And on the way back we had a day layover in Iceland so the flights never got beyond a manageable length.

London to Brisbane though is a completely different ball game. I leave on the Saturday and don’t arrive until Monday. And how that takes 29 hours makes my brain boggle but even with my mental block against time zones I can tell you – that’s a hell of a long time.

Will it be worth it? Of course it will. Because even though I’ll probably get bitten by poisonous spiders, lose limbs to great white sharks, spend the whole time suffering from sunburn and have spent over two grand in the process I’ll get to see places that look as close to paradise as I can imagine.

New York for a third time

Last week there wasn’t my usual Thursday postcard because instead of being stuck at home writing about travelling I was actually off doing some – jetting off for four days in New York City.

I’ve now been to New York three times and to be honest, I’m just a little bored of it.

I know, I know, cry me a river.

This time more than any other time I’ve been it struck me that despite all the hype and romance, it’s just like any other city – big, noisy and dirty. And that’s just not my thing. As distinctive as the New York skyline is to see out of your window, I’d rather have some rolling hills, a gentle stream and maybe a couple of sheep.

I was also feeling deprived of history. My favourite holiday activity is a trip to something, anything, with a bit of history – a strange thing for the girl who hated history at school and until she discovered Philippa Gregory couldn’t name more than four English monarchs and definitely no foreign ones. A day out at a castle is a guaranteed vacation highlight. For my holiday to the south of Spain later this year I’m already plotting out the schedule for da trips to the Alhambra in Granda and the Alcázar of Seville. New York, and the USA in general, just doesn’t have many places like that. No Tudor buildings or places where people from history have walked – just a sea of concrete and glass. 

But before you all threaten to throttle me in the comments for being so damn miserable about a trip to the holy grail of city break destinations, I should perhaps segue into talking about my three highlights.

Bateaux Dinner Cruise

This is by far one of the fanciest things I’ve ever done. There were people wearing bow ties for crying out loud. Thank god no one cheesily proposed because it was exactly the kind of place where I could imagine that happening. And for good reason because the champagne was flowing, the food was great, there was live music, the Manhattan skyline and a sunset. What more could you want? I imagine it was hugely expensive (my mum is a bit of a splurger when it comes to holidays) but if you can afford it, do it. And make sure to order the chocolate and salted caramel tart for pudding.

Ellen Stardust Diner

There’s definitely a food theme going on here… Unsurprisingly really when America does have the best food in the whole world. Italy? Pff. You can’t get french toast at 9pm in Italy. Ellen Stardust Diner is, as it sounds, a pretty regular American diner, just off Broadway, serving burgers and fries and milkshakes and all that American goodness. What sets it apart is the waiting staff who are all out of work Broadway actors and they take it in turns to sing while they serve you; a mix of songs from musicals, chart hits and classics (the best of the night was Party Like It’s 1999). It all sounds kind of cheesy and I was a little apprehensive going in – after all, I am British, and this did not sound very stiff upper lip. But it was just amazing. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so because we went at 3pm, hardly prime time, and queued for 30 minutes to get in. But totally totally worth it. Don’t bother forking out for Broadway tickets – just eat here every night.

Bryant Park

This is a park with a library in it. I repeat, a park with a library in it. Granted quite a small library but they had enough Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy to keep me going for months. And it’s really pretty with coffee shops (for the necessary food purchases), metal tables,bumbrellas, flowerbeds and an old-fashioned carousel. We visited once on a dreary Friday when it was practically deserted and again at lunchtime on a sunny Monday when it was rammed with office workers escaping their cubicles. And for a moment it made me want to move to London and get an office job, just so I could come and eat my Pret salad with views of the Empire State Building. But only for a moment.

Postcard from San Francisco

I did not much enjoy San Francisco. It was hyped up to us so much everywhere that we went and by everyone that we met but when we got there it was either boring, if you were just walking up ridiculously steep hills looking at the houses (I mean really – who thought it was a good place to build a city? It’s like living in a giant skate park), or overly touristy, if you went down to Fisherman’s Wharf.

We also got attacked by mutant seagulls while we eating calamari and chips. Continue reading “Postcard from San Francisco”

Postcard from Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana

This is such a cliché of a photograph. But you can’t go to Oak Alley Plantation and not take a photo of the Oak Alley. That’s like people going to the top of the Rockefeller Center and not taking a photo of the Empire State Building. Or going to Venice and not taking a photo of the Rialto Bridge. Or going to Piza and not pretending to push the tower back upright. Continue reading “Postcard from Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana”

Postcard from Regent’s Park, London

Sometimes a photo fades from being a way to recall a memory to nothing more than a pretty picture. And others even years later can still take you back to that spot and that time and make you live it all over again.

This photo is the second type and I’m so happy it is because it was taken on one of my favourite ever days. Continue reading “Postcard from Regent’s Park, London”

Postcard from Washington DC

Sometimes my cheap-skated-ness is for the best. Sometimes I can use it to get a real bargain. Other times it goes to extremes that are borderline ridiculous. The day we spent sightseeing in Washington DC is a prime example of that.

Our first day in the city was spent cowering in our hostel as the weather outside turned biblical so when on the second day we woke up to bright skies we thought we’d make the most of the sunshine and set off to see all sights on foot.

And we walked, and walked, and then walked some more. About fifteen miles in total. All the way from the Capitol Building to Arlington National Cemetery and everything in-between. Because once we’d got so far without using public transport it seemed stupid to cave in.

Postcard from Ostia Antica, Italy

I’m in two minds about this postcard because although on one hand this is perhaps my favourite tourist destination of all time, it also feels like my own little undiscovered secret. Somewhere absolutely incredible and yet flying under the radar, still keeping its hipster credentials.

But I do write a blog so I really need to get over things like that.

Ostia Antica is the Pompeii no one’s heard of. Mostly, I guess, because its demise wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic. No erupting volcano, no clouds of ash, no thousands of dead bodies; people simply abandoned it with the fall of the Roman Empire.

Only a fifty minute train journey from Rome and €8 later and you can wander the rooms of Roman houses, climb up Roman staircases, walk on Roman mosaics. We even found ourselves underground at one point until I got creeped out and insisted we go back to daylight. I love places you can freely explore and really immerse yourself in the history, spending the day pretending to be Roman nobility, and nowhere has been better for that than Ostia Antica.

Postcard from Seattle Space Needle

The view from the top of one tall building looks much the same as the view from the top of any other tall building. Especially as the tall building you’re standing at the top of is probably the most interesting and defining thing on the skyline and now you can no longer see it. Like looking at the New York skyline from the Rockefeller Center rather than the Empire State Building.

There is no such alternative in Seattle; you go to the top of the Space Needle or you stay at ground level (or you walk to Kerry Park Viewpoint up a very very steep hill and be so out of breath once you make it to the top that you can’t enjoy the view at all). So yes, the Space Needle was a pretty major disappointment.

But as we were coming to the end of our trip and had just worked out we were substantially under budget, we splashed out on the double ticket to see the Chihuly Garden as well. And it was amazing. It’s just blown glass, just different colours of blown glass, but the way it’s lit and the way it’s displayed make it completely captivating. And you can be wandering around there for hours and still be finding new things to look at.

So maybe poke your nose out at the top of the Space Needle, just so you can say you’ve done it, but the real treat is to be found downstairs.

Five things I will absolutely be doing when I am next in New York

It’s only two months until my next trip to New York and I’m starting to get excited. Actually, I’ve been excited for the past three months, I’m now getting very excited. Which is  a little strange because the previous two times I’ve been to New York I wasn’t exactly enamored with the place. Oh it’s spectacular for sure and one of those must-see-before-you-die kind of destinations; I’m just not sure it’s worth three visits. But I was offered a free trip by my aunt so how could I refuse?

In my first two trips I ticked off most of the big tourist attractions – Empire State Building, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, Highline – and although I’ll be doing some of those things again, there are also a few new things on my list. Continue reading “Five things I will absolutely be doing when I am next in New York”