26 March 2015

how to travel light

There is a art to travelling light. 

It's something that we all struggle with now and then, and over the years I've seen many travellers on planes, trains, boats and buses that seem to be lugging around way more stuff than they actually need. 

These days I can pack for a long weekend in under 10 minutes. And I strive to keep my luggage (preferably just a backpack) no heavier than about 6kgs. This makes getting around and exploring a lot easier. Some of the things I leave at home include make-up, shampoo, heels, sparkly 'just in case' changes of clothes and weighty reading material. If I happen to forget anything essential I buy it when I get there.

Here are my ten travel essentials...

1. A tote bag. It folds up neatly, weighs next to nothing and is very handy for carrying my daily shopping when away such as wine, cheese and morning pastries! 

2. Eye mask. Self explanatory really - perfect for those dodgy curtains in your hotel room, and the offensive interior lights of your budget airline.

Travel essentials: emotional baggage tote
emotional baggage tote
{image via The School of Life}

eye-mask, a travellers best friend
eye-mask, a travellers best friend

3. Scarf. This item has multi purpose - it can keep you warm in cool climates and cool in hot ones. A scarf is also perfect for covering up when entering religious sights.

4. One pair of comfortable walking shoes. You wear these onto your flight. No need to pack any other shoes.

travel essentials:  the travel scarf!
 the travel scarf!
{image via Go Chic or Go Home}

take comfy walking shoes on holiday
wear your comfy walking onto your flight
{image via La Cool & Chic}

5. Something warm. For those days when the weather turns sour. Depending on the time of year you might want to take more than one warm layer, but for Spring, Summer and Autumn I make do with just one when heading away for a long weekend.

6. Something cool. For those awesome travel days when the sun makes an appearance!

something warm and snugly...
something warm and snugly...
{image via Dara Muscat}

Travel essentials:  cool t-shirt
 cool t-shirt
{image via From Up North}

7. Something waterproof. I have a lightweight jacket that folds up small and is perfect for travel. Alternatively I suggest a small, compact umbrella.

8. Something with SPF. So important. Always look after your skin!

rain in New York
rain in New York
{image via Sugarfox}

SPF and staying sun smart while travelling
SPF and staying sun smart while travelling
{image via Pure Home and Body}

9. A camera/phone and charger. For capturing all your cool holiday moments.

10. Credit card. Last but not least. I travel cash free until I get to my chosen destination, and then withdraw cash from the first ATM I see. Generally the exchange rate is just as good, if not better than the official desks at the airport.

travel camera :)
travel camera :)

That's it. All of the above plus your underwear, comb (much smaller than a hairbrush) and jeans should easily fit into a backpack. No worries! Travel ahoy! 

Don't forget your passport.

23 March 2015

that time we went to Sofia, Bulgaria

A few years ago while on a skiing holiday in Borovets, Bulgaria hubby and I did the unthinkable. We gave up a day on the slopes, found a willing taxi driver and left the safety of our all-inclusive resort (much to our friends and tour guides disgust) for a day of unplanned adventure in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria...

Lake Iskar in winter - Bulgaria
Lake Iskar in winter - Bulgaria

Along the freezing cold, slippery fifty-five minute drive that really should have taken about seventy-five minutes (yep, our taxi driver was a bit of a speedster!) we passed by Lake Iskar - Bulgaria's largest inland lake. The water shone like glass in the crisp air and glittery sunlight.

our ride to and from Sofia - parked up while I snapped photos of beautiful Lake Iskar - Bulgaria
our ride to and from Sofia - parked up while I snapped photos of beautiful Lake Iskar - Bulgaria

We arrived in Sofia slightly traumatised by the drive and were surprised to find a very quiet city considering Sofia has a population of 1.3 million. It was a few days before New Years eve, and it seemed like most locals were staying warm indoors.

outside St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria
outside St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria

First up we visited the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

To this day it is the most memorable cathedral I've ever visited. Mostly because it scared the socks off me! It was very dark inside, and right in the centre was a ginormous painting of God pointing his finger down at you. It was honestly terrifying, and I can only imagine all the children who have been brought to this cathedral over the years and been told sternly by their parents 'God is watching'.

exiting an underground walkway - Sofia, Bulgaria
exiting an underground walkway - Sofia, Bulgaria

Over the course of the day we walked from one end of the central city to the other, admiring/gaping at the architecture and statues, and hopelessly looking for somewhere where we might find a bite to eat. We did have success in this late in the day, coming across a crowded little restaurant that had live piano music. It was warm - and we were happy!

a lion guards the Court House in the afternoon sun - Sofia, Bulgaria
a lion guards the Court House in the afternoon sun - Sofia, Bulgaria

wandering down Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia
wandering down Vitosha Boulevard, normally one of the busiest streets in Sofia...
it felt a bit like a ghost town

looking back down Vitosha Boulevard as the sun set - Sofia, Bulgaria
looking back down Vitosha Boulevard as the sun set - Sofia, Bulgaria

We amused ourselves by pulling faces in shop windows. There was no one around to see but us...

reflections - Sofia, Bulgaria
reflections - Sofia, Bulgaria

Our last stop for the day before heading back to the slopes was the famous Soviet Army Monument - one of the last remaining Soviet monuments still standing in Europe. 

The Soviet Army Monument was dedicated to the Red Army after it 'liberated' Bulgaria in the late 1870s. In recent years the monument has been the subject of vandalism several times - which is a indicator of how many feel about it today.

Soviet Army Monument - Sofia, Bulgaria
Soviet Army Monument - Sofia, Bulgaria

I could have spent longer here and taken a few more close up photos - but as I was snapping this last one our taxi driver was yelling at me to hurry up. We found out soon after that his headlights weren't working and he was keen to complete our snowy trip back to the ski fields before darkness fell.

21 March 2015

total eclipse of the heart - 2nd wedding anniversary

Yesterday at 9:30am London GMT time the UK experienced what news reporters were hailing as a 'once-in-a-generation event'. The sun and moon aligned in a partial eclipse.

The BBC were live streaming reports and online news channels were talking about nothing else, however sadly in London there was nothing to see but grey cloud. A group of my colleagues and I snuck outside the office to take a look at the sky and were greeted with a sheet of grey as far as they eye could see. It got a tiny bit darker momentarily, but nothing to write home about.

A more memorable event this week was my second wedding anniversary. I can't quite believe it's been two years already since hubby and I tied the knot back in New Zealand. (And it's been two years since we were last home in New Zealand!)

revisiting our vows - 2nd wedding anniversary

While most sensible people were making a toast to St Paddy and most likely drinking their local Irish bar dry of Guinness (my favourite beer by the way), we were enjoying an amazing New Zealand themed meal and bubbles at one of London's best kiwi restaurants Kopapa.

The traditional 2nd anniversary gift is cotton, and both of us managed to pull some great surprises out of the bag including Egyptian cotton pillow cases with our wedding invitation and honeymoon haiku poems printed on the front in a dreamy sleep-inducing typeface.

framed wedding vows

As an extra surprise I made up for skipping the anniversary pressie last year (paper) and had our wedding vows printed and framed. Now we are reminded daily of the promises we made to each other!

Hope you're having a sleepy, romantic weekend, and if you're in London today ignoring the grey skies like me.

19 March 2015

five photos that make me want to travel

I read recently that there is such a thing as a 'wanderlust gene' - and some people are just born to travel. Personally I'm not so sure. I think what really happens if that you get a taste of travel - exploring unknown places, getting a buzz from being a foreigner and having to rely on your survival skills to get by (sometimes), and travel just gets addictive.

Whether I have the wanderlust gene or not, travel is definitely something I think about a lot. I'm constantly adding to my list of places I want to visit one day, and it's photos like these five that continually make me want to travel...

1. Stags in snow
I have no idea where this photograph was taken, but I like to imagine it was in Finland. The stags seem so majestic against the freezing cold, silent landscape.

photo travel inspiration - stags in snow, Finland / Canada
stags in snow
{image via Cor Austri}

2. Lavender fields as far as the eye can see
Another photograph where the origin and place is unknown to me, but of course this photo makes me dream of Provence in France. When I gaze at this photo I visualise myself merrily skipping through a lavender field just like this one one day...

photo travel inspiration - lavender field, France
lavender field
{image via Charlie Waite}

3. Ice-cream flavours - Japan
One of the things I love about Japan is the endless variety available for some of the simplest things, and of course plastic display food. This photo ticks both those boxes. What flavour of ice-cream would you like - green soy-bean, melon or pudding?

photo travel inspiration - ice-cream flavours, Japan
ice-cream flavours - Japan
{image via Kaitlin Yapchaian}

4. Stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has been on my wanderlust list for a very long time, and photos like this only add to this travel itch I haven't yet scratched. Stilt fishing is a dying tradition in Sri Lanka.

photo travel inspiration - stilt fishermen - Sri Lanka
stilt fishermen - Sri Lanka
{image via Kimberley Cole}

5. Charles Bridge at dusk - Prague
Prague is one of the darling cities of Europe - famous in particular for Charles Bridge, which is 621 metres long and 10 metres wide. This photo evokes happy memories for me - the dotted lights against a cold sky, beer halls and steaming dumplings.

photo travel inspiration - bridge at dusk - Prague
Charles bridge at dusk - Prague
{image via Julia Dávila-Lampe}

If you're after some more travel inspiration take a look at my Pinterest travel boards:
Have a lovely, travel inspired weekend...

16 March 2015

3 reasons to take a trip to Bilbao, Spain

Barcelona, Madrid, Ibiza or dare I mention it - Benidorm (if I'm talking to some of my British colleagues) are the destinations that most of us consider when planning a holiday to Spain. However, I feel it's my duty to let you know there's actually a whole world of other interesting cities and towns in Spain all worthy of exploring - full of colour, art, music, delicious food and bright, friendly people.

One such city is Bilbao in Northern Spain, where hubby and I recently had a long weekend break in search of some winter sunshine. While it didn't end up being too sunny (sigh), we did have a cool time exploring somewhere new.

Here are 3 damn good reasons why you should take a trip to Bilbao, Spain...

1. The awesome architecture...
Bilbao is now one of my favourite cities in Europe for interesting architecture - boasting a long list of buildings designed by famous architects including the Guggenheim Museum (Frank Gehry), Metro system (Sir Norman Foster), airport (Santiago Calatrava) and community centre (Philippe Starck) among many more. A photographers paradise!

'Maman' by Louise Bourgeois the giant bronze stainless steel spider outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain
'Maman' by Louise Bourgeois
the giant bronze stainless steel spider outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao's own Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997 and is admired by critics around the world as one of the most important architectural works completed since 1980. The Guggenheim Museum is a landscape of curves and shiny titanium points that reflect the light and colours surround that it...

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao at dusk
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao at dusk

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao - looking golden in the afternoon sunshine
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao - looking golden in the afternoon sunshine

Zubizuri pedestrian bridge - Bilbao, Spain
Zubizuri pedestrian bridge - Bilbao, Spain
giant puppy garden by Jeff Koons - Bilbao, Spain
giant puppy garden by Jeff Koons - Bilbao, Spain

2. Delicious pintxos and 3-course lunch menus
A pintxo is a small snack usually eaten in bars and washed down with a glass of vino. In Bilbao pintxos were the food of choice in the evening and the old town was full of small bars serving wine by the glass and impressive displays of pintxos galore.

pintxos laid out at a busy bar in Bilbao, Spain
pintxos laid out at a busy bar in Bilbao, Spain

Each evening we bar hopped, trying a small bite here and a small bite there long into the night. I lost count of the number of places we visited, but believe me they were all amazing and incredibly good value. At each bar we ordered a glass of wine each and one or two pintxos - and the bill never came to more than 5 or 6 Euros at the most.

a pintxo bar that served amazing homemade cheesecake!! - Bilbao, Spain
a pintxo bar that served amazing homemade cheesecake!! - Bilbao, Spain

pintxos and wine - Bilbao, Spain
pintxos and wine - Bilbao, Spain

In Bilbao people tend to have a large meal at lunch and nibble on smaller snacks (hence pintxos) in the evening. Lots of local restaurants serve a 3-course lunch menu that include wine and coffee, which is incredibly good value. Here's what I had for lunch one day for the grand sum of 14 Euros...

lunch starter: salmon salad - Bilbao, Spain
lunch starter: salmon salad - Bilbao, Spain

lunch main: steak and potato fries - Bilbao, Spain
lunch main: steak and potato fries - Bilbao, Spain

lunch dessert: tiramisu - Bilbao, Spain
lunch dessert: tiramisu - Bilbao, Spain

3. A breath of fresh air and some outdoor activities
Just a fifty minute bus ride from Bilbao is the famed seaside town San Sebastian. Usually awash with tourists in summer, it was pleasantly quiet in February, and we practically had the beach to ourselves apart from one lone sand artist...

'sand artist' in San Sebastian, Spain
'sand artist' in San Sebastian, Spain

Set right on the beach was La Perla Spa. With a variety of thermal pools to choose from and a ocean view it was the perfect spot to spend the afternoon, while getting some exercise. And for those who like a challenge it is customary to have a dip in the sea before plunging into the warm spas (I was too much of a wimp to do this)...

La Perla Spa on the beach in San Sebastian, Spain
La Perla Spa on the beach in San Sebastian, Spain

We did our fair share of walking while in Bilbao and San Sebastian too - along the river, through both old downs and along the seashore, trying our best to burn off the mountains of food and wine we were consuming.

a view of Bilbao city, Spain
a view of Bilbao city, Spain

along Bilbao canal, Spain
along Bilbao river, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian, Spain

All in all, a fantastic weekend away filled with culture, activity and most importantly - good wine. Next time you're planning a trip to Spain I recommend you consider Bilbao.
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