Oh the Places You’ll Go: My 2015 Travel Plans

 

If I’m being honest I wasn’t planning on travelling that much in 2015. There’s a lot happening this year for me on several different fronts. I’m closing out a graduate program, studying for exams, and of course there’s the whole permanent residency thing. Don’t you just hate it when life gets in the way of…life?

Anyway, as it turns out I’ve still managed to squeeze in a fair bit of global galavanting over the next 10 months or so. I’m staying put in London for most of the spring, but after that I’ve got a few major trips planned:

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Giant's Causeway Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland Image Source: http://whc.unesco.org/

My BF and I have been entertaining the idea of visiting Ireland for quite some time now. We’re finally going this year and during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations no less! It will be a quick four-day trip to Dublin where I’m sure much Guinness will be consumed, with a day trip to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.

Viva Las Vegas

Las-Vegas-Strip-featured

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this in person!

It’s happening. I’m going back to America for the first time in 4.5 years. My brother is getting married and that means I’ll be headed back to Sin City for a week or so to reacquaint myself with the American way of life. For the uninitiated, this translates into eating lots and lots of food. Then taking a break, and eating more food. When I’m not shoving food down my face, I’ll you’ll probably find me at Target marvelling at all the cheap prices.

Returning to Iceland

ohtheplacesyoullgo_fi

Continental Divide – Iceland

I first visited Iceland in October 2013 and was absolutely blown away. The people are lovely, the food is excellent, and the scenery is out of this world. This summer I’m returning to the island to explore the coastline – all of it. I’ll be going off the grid and onto a ship to circumnavigate the whole of Iceland. There will be whale watching, bird watching (puffins!), glacier hiking, volcanic golfing, fishing, and lots more. Needless to say, I am really really really excited about this trip!!

Nordic Nations

Seurasaari Island – Helsinki, Finland

If you take a look at the travel section of my blog you’ll probably notice my affinity for Scandinavia. Northern Europe is without a doubt one of my favourite travel destinations, so when an old friend told me he was visiting from The States it immediately set the wheels in motion for another trip. This time around I’ll be visiting Stockholm and Oslo for an extended working holiday and city break. Old friends and new places. It doesn’t get much better than that!

If any of you have any tips or advice on things to do in any of these locations they would be much appreciated. As always, you can follow my journeys on Instagram @girlinlondon_rtw. Happy travels!

Thailand Through a Square Lens

 

Well my lovelies, it’s the festive season and that means I’m getting ready for a new travel adventure. I’ll be spending Christmas in Germany this year and will be separated from my beloved laptop. That means, unfortunately, that I won’t be able to post anything to the blog until the New Year.

You’ll be able to follow my adventures through the German winter wonderland on Twitter and Instagram.

In the mean time, here are some Instagram snaps from my latest trip to beautiful Bangkok.

Happy Holidays!

Folk Band at a Talad Nam (Floating Market) on the outskirts of Pattaya.

A photo posted by Girl in London (@girlinlondon_rtw) on

If you’ve been to Bangkok before then you’re probably familiar with the city’s distinctive above-street cross walks. Not only do they keep pedestrians away from the [insane] traffic, but they also offer up great views!

Who doesn’t love a good #strideby? This one comes courtesy of a local tuk tuk.

Bangkok is the unofficial capital of street food and it’s easy to see why. Street food stalls are quite literally on every corner!

Speaking of street food . . .

This is my favourite photo of the trip. It may not be the best from a technical perspective, but it just reminds me of the contrast between Bangkok and London.

 

A photo posted by Girl in London (@girlinlondon_rtw) on

The Chao Phraya River runs through the centre of Bangkok and if you visit I recommend taking a water taxi through the city. It’s a traffic-free way of seeing Bangkok and there are so many different little areas to explore.

Itinerary: 5-Days/4-Nights in Nice, France

 

Flight: British Airways

(hurray for Avios points!)

Hotel: La Villa Hotel 

La Villa Hotel

La Villa Hotel

La Villa Hotel Bathroom

La Villa Hotel Bathroom

La Villa is a 3* boutique hotel midway between Gare Nice Ville (Nice train station) and Vieux Nice (Old Town Nice). It’s a short walk from the corner of Boulevard Victor Hugo and Nice’s main thoroughfare, Avenue Jean Medecin, where you’ll find a shopping mall, restaurants, and coffee shops. There’s also a convenient tram that runs up at down Avenue Jean Medecin, which connects Vieux Nice with Gare Nice Ville.

La Villa is a modern that still manages to retain lots of French character. Our room was located in the corner of the building, which meant that we had lots of space and excellent views. Everything was clean and comfortable, and much nicer than what you’d expect from a 3* hotel in Europe – there was free Wi-Fi, a flatscreen television with several English stations, a writing desk, separate seating area, and an ENORMOUS bathroom with views of the neighbouring church.

Day 1 – Promenade des Anglais

We arrived at Nice Cote d’Azure Airport in the early afternoon and took the #99 bus straight to Gare Nice Ville. Tickets were €6 (they were valid for the whole day) and the journey lasted about 25 minutes. From the train station it was another 15-minute walk to the hotel where we checked in, and promptly vegged out in front of the TV for a few hours.

Nice Beach . . . in Nice!

Once dinnertime rolled around I managed to pull myself together and take a walk down to Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais. There are plenty of restaurants lining the coast, but they were all extremely overpriced. So what is a budget traveller like me to do? Go to Subway, of course!

My boyfriend and I started a ‘tradition’ of eating Subway sandwiches in France during our first trip to the country a few years ago. It was winter and we were staying at a not-so-nice hotel next to Lyon’s major train station. Weary from our travels, we flocked to the first familiar restaurant logo we saw – and it was a Subway. Since then, it’s been a bit of running joke that when we visit the culinary capital of the world, we eat horrible American sub sandwiches.

Nice was no exception. I ran into a Subway about two blocks from the beach and order a foot-long sub, a pack of cookies, and a drink. Our dinner for two in Nice was a whopping €7/person and we took our little subway bag straight to the beach, where I got to watch the sun set over the French Riviera on a fabulous autumn evening. THAT, my friends, was priceless.

Day 2 – Monaco and Nietzche’s Footpath

Day 2 turned out to be a real calorie burner. One of the main reasons I chose to visit Nice was its proximity to Monaco. Monaco, as you probably already know, is an über wealthy micro nation nestled along the Mediterranean coastline. It also happens to be a scant 20 minutes from Nice.

Monaco

Monaco

I took the SNFC from Gare Nice Ville to Monte Carlo after a bit of a late start to the day. Tickets were about €3.50/person and trains leave several times an hour, so I didn’t have to time my arrival. The short train journey to Monaco offered beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and of lovely little seaside villages.

I was excited to arrive in Monaco, but after a few hours of wandering around, I discovered there’s really not much to do in the tiny country. I saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino (but didn’t go inside) and ventured over to the local beach to dip my toes into the water. I then followed part of the F1 race track before settling in for lunch . . . at McDonalds.

To be honest I was a little disappointed by Monaco. Yes, parts of the principality are very pretty and yes, there are Ferraris and Bentleys everywhere and plenty of well-dressed people, but everything was very much crammed together. There wasn’t a lot of space and a lot of the buildings clashed with one another — I guess to put it another way, Monaco seemed like a really opulent, beautiful mansion that is full of busy furniture and bad artwork. You can still appreciate the house for what it is, but the furniture is a little distracting.

footpath

Nietzsche’s footpath

After a deliciously fattening (but cheap!) lunch at McDonalds, I caught the 112 bus from Monaco to Eze Village, a pretty little medieval town overlooking the sea. The bus departs every few hours and you can pick up a schedule from any tourism office in Monaco. The bus ride was only €1.50/person and took us along a beautiful coastal road.

By the time I arrived in Eze, I was pretty tired and the thought of climbing further up to get a better look at the village had lost its appeal. Instead, I made the monumental mistake of thinking the hike down to Eze sur mer (to the coast) would be easier. The hike is called Nietzsche’s footpath, and it’s a rocky descent that takes at least 40 minutes. On the plus side, the views from the walk were absolutely spectacular and the natural surroundings were a nice contrast from cluttered Monaco. After reaching the coast, I caught the train back to Nice and promptly laid in bed. I probably walked at least 10 miles over the span of 5 or 6 hours and was completely spent.

Day 3 – Train des Pignes (read about my trip in detail here)

After running myself ragged the previous day, day 3 was meant to be a ‘relaxing day’. The plan was to take a scenic train right into the heart of Provence and enjoy a day out in the countryside. This is what happened in reality:

We woke up at 8am, which is 7am London time, in order to catch the 9:20 train out of Nice. Still monumentally sore from the previous day, I schlepped myself out of bed and began a mad search for the train station. You see, the scenic Train des Pignes doesn’t depart from Nice’s main train station. It departs from the tiny Gare des chemins de fed de Provence, which is a few blocks north. It took 20 minutes of walking before we found it and by that time it was 9am.

I purchased two return (round trip) tickets to Annot, a little town about halfway up the line. Because we didn’t have time to stop for breakfast that morning, we stocked up on vending machine snacks before boarding the train. Once the train departed and reached the outskirts of Nice, the scenery really began to transform. Gone were the tropical palm trees and Mediterannean villas. They were replaced by pine forests, mountain streams, and ancient villages.

Entrevaux

Our first stop was the medieval village of Entrevaux, where we were supposed to enjoy a nice lunch and have a leisurely stroll. The first part of this plan went off without a hitch. We found a great restaurant called Restaurant du Pont-Levis that served excellent local food. After lunch, however, we made the last-minute decision to climb up to the village’s citadel. Perched high above on top of a mountain, this turned out to take an HOUR. The footpath to the citadel was well paved, but it was pretty tough considering my legs were already sore from the day before. Nevertheless, we came, we saw, and we conquered. Next stop: Annot.

Annot

As it turns out, Annot doesn’t have a great deal to offer other than an impossibly cute central square and some great autumnal scenery. The train journey back to Nice took somewhere between two and three hours. I don’t know the exact time because I fell asleep. On our way back to the hotel, we picked up – you guessed it – Subway and enjoyed a feast of sandwiches and cookies before tucking in for the night.

Day 4 – Villefranche-sur-mer

Thoroughly exhausted from the previous two days, I really made it a point not to expend too much energy on day 4. After waking up blissfully late, we took a 10-minute train ride to beautiful Villefranche-sur-mer. Located between Monaco and Nice, Villefranche is built around a beautiful natural bay and boasts an actual sandy beach, unlike the pebble beach at Nice. The day we visited it was nearly 25 degrees, which was perfect beach weather. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my swimsuit so all I managed was a quick wade in the sea before heading in for lunch in the village.

villefranche

Villefranche – this photo doesn’t do it justice.

Day 5 – Vieux Nice

My flight didn’t take off until 16:45, so I still had a half day to do a bit more exploring. After checking out of the hotel, we walked down to Vieux Nice to have a look around before heading off to the airport. The weather didn’t quite cooperate with us and it drizzled most of the morning. Even in the rain, Old Town Nice had its charms. The neighbourhood comprised of twisting pedestrians alleyways and candy coloured buildings that bore a striking resemblance to the architecture in Venice. Indeed, Nice used to be a part of Italy and that definitely shows in its older buildings.

Old Town Nice

Old Town Nice

After touring old town thoroughly, I head back to the Promenade des Anglais for a quick lunch before catching the #98 bus to the airport.

An Instagram Tour of Copenhagen

 

I just got back last night from a 3.5 day/3 night trip to Copenhagen and this morning I was greeted by a pile of e-mails in my inbox and a mountain of work to do. As a freelancer, I should be thankful for the work, but it’s left me precious little time to keep you updated on my travels.

In the next week or so I definitely plan on sharing with you guys all the juicy details on Copenhagen, but in the mean time I’ll wet your whistle with an Instagram tour of the Danish city.

The first place I visited after checking into my hotel was Tivoli Gardens, the 2nd oldest theme park in the world. This is the view from the top of the ferris wheel there.

More Tivoli Gardens

Christianshavn is a hippie colony just outside the city centre. It operates independently from Denmark and is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited.

Copenhagen is famous for its design and architecture prowess. These converted boat buildings caught my eye on a canal tour through the city.

Colourful Nyhavn is probably the most popular tourist attraction in all of Copenhagen.

Smorrebrod (Danish open faced sandwich)

On Sunday I took a half day trip to Hillerod to visit Fredriksborg Castle

Of course, no trip to Copenhagen would be complete without visiting Carlsberg Brewery :)

Carlsberg proved to be the perfect place to spend the afternoon before heading the airport.

Just a reminder – you can follow me on Instagram at girlinlondon_rtw.

Laid-Back Kos

 

“This is where people should go to retire”, said my significant other.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Kos, but I’ll try my best to explain what he meant.

Kos is a small island belonging to Greece in the Aegean Seam, but it doesn’t bask in the same level of notoriety that other Greek islands like Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, and Santorini enjoy.  Geographically closer to Turkey than the Greek mainland, the climate here is pretty hot and dry, and you won’t find as many ancient ruins here compared to the more famous islands in the Aegean.  However, I don’t think that takes anything away from Kos if you’re in search of a laid-back beach holiday as opposed to an archeological hunt.

I arrived at Kos late on a Saturday night and took a bus into town.  Once it had journeyed from the airport in the center of the island to the northern coastline, I began to see dozens of tourists making their way between towns on foot in the middle the night without a care in the world. “This seems like a really safe place”, I said to my other half.

Kos, Greece

For our 5-night stay, I chose an apartment-hotel about a mile outside of Kos Town in a suburb called Lambi.  Our 75-Euro/night room was large, clean, air-conditioned, and came with a fully-stocked kitchenette. We were about a 5-minute walk from the ocean and a 15-minute walk into town, so for our first day we decided to take in the major sights of Kos Town.

Kos Castle

Kos is a very friendly island for pedestrians and cyclists, which is no doubt an adaptation made in response to the large number of Dutch tourists that come here each year.  Kos Town itself is a bit kitschy, but has a lovely port and a well preserved crusades-era castle, along with both Greek and Roman ruins.  There is also a bus from the center of town that will take you up to the Kos Asklepieion, which was where Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) received his medical training.

As far as dining was concerned, we struggled to rack up a bill exceeding 25 Euros, even after ordering alcohol.  The affordable prices allowed us to try all the Greek staples – gyros, souvlaki, moussaka, and even Greek wine. Add to this the fact that there were plenty of duty-free shops offering everything from traditional desserts and imported beer, and I found myself shoveling food into my mouth for almost the entire duration of my holiday.

Casual seaside dining @ Angelica’s

While an argument could be made that Kos doesn’t have much going on, it’s worth noting that it’s pretty easy to get on a boat and tour other islands from Kos Town.  There are frequent ferries to Bodrum, Turkey; Rhodes, Greece; as well as several other smaller islands.  A “3-island Boat Tour” is a must for all Kos visitors,  and was at the top of my to-do list.  For 30 Euros, you can get a day’s worth of island hopping, swimming in the Aegean Sea, and lunch.  Most boats stop at Kalymnos, Pserimos, and Plati.  These are all tiny islands that rely heavily on tourism, so the locals are naturally extremely friendly and appreciative.

Kalymnos

Back on Kos, we had a few days to really enjoy the island. All the major towns here are connected by fairly reliable and extremely affordable bus routes. From Kos Town, we took the bus to the resort town of Tigaki, which is known for its shallow beach. Most of Kos’ most famous beaches are in the resort areas of Kefalos and Kardamena, both of which were on the opposite side of the island from Kos. At just 20 minutes from our hotel, Tigaki was a great compromise. Tigaki beach is extremely long and broad enough to cram in thousands of sunbathers. Luckily, there were only a few hundred people lounging about when we visited in the peak of summer. The water off the coast was clear and shallow, which is perfect for those of use who aren’t strong swimmers.

Tigaki Beach

Kos may lack the “wow factor” of its more famous island cousins, but its also more laid-back and affordable. The locals are friendly and it’s perfectly safe to walk around town in the middle of the night. The beaches are nice, and getting around the island is as easy as hopping on a bus or renting a bicycle. So while I suppose it does fit the criteria of an ideal retirement community, it’s a pretty nice place for anyone to vacation as well.

Wanderbliss Highlight: Tallinn Old Town

 

tallinn

As much as I love London, I also enjoy travelling the world. For those of you who told already know, I author a travel blog named Wanderbliss in addition to Girl in London. After a lot of consideration, I’ve decided to marry the two blogs and from now on Girl in London will feature a post from Wanderbliss every Saturday.

This first Wanderbliss Highlight is a photo essay of Tallinn, Estonia. I took a day trip from Helsinki over to charming Tallinn over the Easter Bank Holiday and found it have one of the prettiest Old Towns in Europe.

British Airways flies directly from London Gatwick to Helsinki in less than 3 hours. Flights are extremely affordable (I flew for about £100 round trip).

High speed ferries operated by Linda Line Express run between Helsinki and Tallinn every 2 hours daily. Day trippers enjoy 40% off fares and if you book online, you save an additional 10%. After it was all said and done I think my round trip journey ended up costing 40 € – 50 €, which is pretty reasonable.

An Overview of London Airport Travel

 

One of the frustrations both residents and visitors face when traveling in and around London is dealing with the amount of airports in the city’s metropolitan area.  There are 5 commercial airports operating within a relatively small area and this can cause havoc when trying to work out travel logistics.  Those of us without a car have to rely on London’s messy underground and rail network to get to these various airports, so I thought I’d provide a comprehensive overview of London airport travel options.

1. Heathrow Airport**
Heathrow is the largest of all the airports in London with 5 terminals and supports major airlines like United Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways just to name a few. It is by far the most frequented airport in the UK and services flights to nearly all major international destinations.

Transportation Options*

London Underground: Heathrow T 1,2,3; Heathrow T 4, Heathrow T 5
– Frequency: Every few minutes
– Transport time: Allow 1 hour from Central London. The journey will take 45 minutes under ideal conditions.
– Cost: (Zone 6) under £10
– Website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk

Heathrow Express: Paddington Rail Station to Heathrow Airport
– Frequency: Every 15 minutes
– Transport time: 15 minutes to Paddington Station (Central London)
– Cost: £20.00 for adults, £10.00 for children
– Website: https://www.heathrowexpress.com

Heathrow Connect: Various London Rail Stations to Heathrow Airport
– Frequency: Twice an hour
– Transport time: Approximately 45 minutes
– Cost: £5.60 – £9.50, depending on final destination
– Website: https://www.heathrowconnect.com

Car or Taxi
Heathrow is easily reached by car.  Pre booked minicabs from Central London will cost anywhere from £40 – £60, depending on the individual company and the area you’re travelling from.  Regular black cabs travelling along the same route can cost upwards of £95.

 

2. Gatwick Airport**
Gatwick is the London metropolitan area’s second-largest airport. It supports several major airlines as well as numerous lower cost airlines servicing continental Europe and select other destinations.

Transportation Options*

Gatwick Express: Victoria Rail Station to Gatwick North Terminal
– Frequency: Every 15 minutes during peak times
– Transport time: 30 minutes
– Cost: £19.90 for adults, £9.95 for children
– Website: http://www.gatwickexpress.com

Rail Network: Victoria or London Bridge Rail Station to Gatwick North Terminal
– Frequency: Every few minutes
– Transport time: 45 – 52 minutes
– Cost: £8.90
– Website: http://nationalrail.co.uk

 

3. Luton Airport
Luton is well north of London and is a primary hub for budget airlines like easyJet and RyanAir.  It mostly services destinations in continental Europe, including seasonal holiday locations.

Transportation Options*

ThamesLink/First Capital Connect
– Frequency: Every 10 minutes or so
– Transport Time: 21 – 36 minutes
– Cost: £8.90
– Website: www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk/

A bus services the journey from Luton’s railway station to the airport every 10 minutes. The fare is  £1.50 for a one-way ride.

 

4. Stansted Airport
Stansted is 48 km northeast of Central London and a regional hub for Ryanair.  Easyjet and Germanwings also operate flights from here to various cities throughout continental Europe, including popular holiday destinations like Palma, Venice and Rhodes.

Transportation Options*

Stansted Express: Liverpool Street
– Frequency: Every 15 minutes
– Transport Time: 46 minutes
– Cost: £22.50
– Website: https://www.stanstedexpress.com/

Car/Taxi
A taxi journey from London to Stansted for one to four people costs about £99, depending on the exact destination.

 

5. London City Airport
London City Airport is a small commercial airport located in East London and mainly caters to business travellers. CityJet, Swiss International Airlines and British Airways are the main airlines operating here and most flights occur during the week rather than on weekends.

Transportation Options

London Underground/DLR: London City Airport stop
– Frequency: Every 10 minutes or so
– Transport Time: 21 – 36 minutes
– Cost: (Zone 3) under £10
– Website: www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk/

Car/Taxi:
Taxi fares from Central London to London City Airport typically vary from £25 to £45.

 

————————–
* Coach/Bus service is also available. Scheduling and pricing varies:
http://coach.nationalexpress.com
www.easybus.co.uk

 

** Direct transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick (or vice versa) is available through National Express (http://coach.nationalexpress.com).  Travel time is 75 minutes and a single fare is £25. Alternatively, you can travel from Heathrow to Victoria or London Bridge rail station on the rail network and take a further train to Gatwick from either location.