Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munich

In December, I went to Munich as part of my annual visit to explore a new European Christmas Market. While I was there, I had the opportunity to spend part of my stay at the wonderful Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munich. It's located in the heart of Munich on the grand Maximilianstrasse, just a few blocks away from key sites, such as Marienplatz, Munich's most famous beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus, the State Opera House, and fabulous shopping. This hotel is also steeped in history, having been built in 1858 originally for King Maximilian II.

From the moment you arrive at the Kempinski, you are warmly greeted by sharply-dressed doormen who whisk your bags away to your room for you once you have checked in so they are waiting for you. 

The Kempinski has transformed the entrance of the hotel into an apres-ski scene, where you can enjoy a cozy glass of mulled wine, hot chocolate, and some warming food inside traditional ski lift cabins! There is also a bar set up in the centre of the ski-lift cabins with tables to stand at and enjoy some warming drinks with friends. It is such a great idea and helped add to the festive atmosphere. 

When you enter the grand lobby, your breath will be taken away by the stunning art nouveau style glass ceiling, creating a warm and cozy glow over the room which is also a popular Munich bar. In this case, as it was Christmas, a large floor-to-ceiling tree stands covered with sparkling Swarovski ornaments. Great service also greets you by the reception staff, who make checking-in (and out) a breeze, and warmly welcome you for your stay. 

Back to the main lobby, you can enjoy tea, coffee, cocktails, a meal, afternoon, or a tasty snack here. In fact, you can enjoy over 30 different teas, with Joel Belouet helping you make your choice, who is a certified 'Tea Master Gold'. You can also enjoy a traditional British afternoon tea with fresh classic sandwiches, pastries and scones. If you just fancy something sweet, there are many options to make your mouth water having been carefully made by the Kempinski Munich's expert patissier, Ian Baker, who also holds the honour of being Patissier of the Year 2015! Having enjoyed a few of the cakes, including the delicious stollen bread, I can highly recommend indulging. 

There are 300 rooms available, which include 67 suites. Each room is uniquely decorated, inspired by the period of Maximilian II. Although each room is a bit different, there are common features, including a mixture of traditional and modern materials and techniques using glass, lumber, marble, and mosaics. The plexi-glass chairs in the rooms were designed by one of my favourite designers, Philippe Starck. 

The moment I walked into my room, I felt instantly at home (and wasn't just because of the lovely welcome bottle of red wine and pastries!). The room exudes the mix of modern and traditional glamour perfectly, making you feel this is true luxury comfort. One of my favourite features in the room (both the main bedroom, and the bathroom which was a surprise!) were the replica paintings from the Old Pinkothek in Munich so you can enjoy your own Rubens or van Dyck in the comfort of your room. Essentially, the paintings were photographed and then wallpapered to effectively recreate these masterpieces. These re-created pieces of art made up for the fact that my view unfortunately was not very good. 

I also loved the use of plush fabrics and linens around the bed. There is nothing better than an inviting bed to sink into after a long day of exploring. The bed has a suede headboard, which also extends onto the ceiling. The white linens are high quality, helping make your sleep extra sweet. 

Another great touch is the custom white cabinetry. Stylish and functional, it makes you feel like you're in a 'real' bedroom, and has plenty of space to unpack and tuck everything away. 

The bathroom was another favourite feature due to the unique decor and high tech features. Though, I think I loved the cuddly robe and soft slippers even more! 

Make sure that you wake up in time to properly enjoy the delicious breakfasts at the hotel. What I loved is that the buffet is served in a room that recreates a beautiful home kitchen, adding to that luxury comfort feel. The food is fresh, tasty, and a wide selection to choose from - including the chance to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine. The staff are friendly and will help arrange anything you need. 

My Sunday in Munich brought lots of rain and wind - and an unawareness that pretty much most of the shops and sights in the city are closed! What to do? Enjoy the luxurious spa on the top floor of the Kempinski, of course! I was definitely not alone in this idea, with quite a few others enjoying the lounge chairs around the pool with cups of tea and magazines, having a swim, or enjoying a treatment or two. 

I chose to have a reflexology treatment with Tyson, having walked for miles and miles over the previous few days exploring. It was incredibly relaxing and I hated that it had to stop at the end of the hour. Whether you are staying at the hotel or not, try a treatment here (and ask for Tyson!). There are a range of services to choose from, including massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, or body treatments. If you feel so inclined, there is also a fitness centre to keep up with your fitness schedule while you're away. 

The Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munich has a 24 hour concierge to help you with your every need, including 24 hour room service. There are also laundry and cleaning services, a hairdresser, boutique, Bulgari shop, and flower shop. You can also have a limo arranged to get to the hotel from the airport when you book your room. Or, if you have driven, there is a car park underground.

I truly loved my stay from the moment I arrived to the moment I had to drag myself away to return home to London. For me, the glamour and luxury struck the right note. It wasn't over the top and puts a focus on comfort in quality surroundings, service, and privacy. It is also an an ideal location to base yourself to explore the city, saving travelling time. You truly feel like you're staying somewhere special. If you're thinking about visiting Munich, don't hesitate to have the Kempinski at the top of your list to stay! 

3 of London's Most Iconic Shops

London is home to some of the world's best shopping. Here, you can find everything from flagship big brands to the quirkiest independent shops selling things you didn't even know you needed. 

My advice is to focus on the shops that are unique to the city (or country). Don't bother with chain stores that you can find at home; save your time and money on seeing new and unique things. Also, for British chain stores that you may not find at home, avoid the congested areas of places like Oxford Street, and head to areas of the city where you'll find the same shop in a less crowded area and discover somewhere new. 

In London, there are some incredible shops - here, I'm sharing three of my favourites that are must-visits when in the city. 

 

Liberty London:

Liberty is a must-see and must-experience for so many reasons. You've probably seen its flower shop display at its front entrance all over social media as it is an Instagrammers' dream! Liberty's building just off Regent and Oxford Streets is in a beautiful Tudor building that is worth seeing on its own. Its window displays, especially for Christmas, are stunning. The interior of this historical building is beautiful, set over several floors. 

Go for:

  • The famous Liberty prints (available in fabric rolls, scarves, bags, and more)
  • Fantastic beauty and skin section which carries hard-to-find and coveted brands (including Biologique Recherche products and spa treatments)
  • The Soho Home brand collection
  • A beautifully curated contemporary women's fashion department
  • Stunning newly renovated shoe department
  • Delicious section dedicated to chocolates, including unique and carefully selected brands, particularly UK-based ones 
  • Beautiful Christmas Shop

 

Selfridges:

Selfridges is one of the main (and only) reasons to trek to Oxford Street. This iconic building takes up a massive block filled with all kinds of treasures. Try and go earlier or later in the day to explore without big crowds making the experience unpleasant. 

Go for: 

  • Terrific and fun beauty and skincare department: It's filled with all kinds of fab latest and greatest brands that you may struggle to find elsewhere, including Korean skincare goodies (everything from creams to miracle sheet masks). There are also quite a few mini shops within the department to get the latest in high-tech facials, a Cowshed spa, Nails Inc nail bar, henna bar, and blowdry bar. 
  • Food and confectionary section: Here, you'll find delicious UK brands and imports from North America for those feeling a bit homesick. You can stop and snack on everything from cupcakes to champagne and oysters. 
  • Mariage Freres: there is an outfit of my absolute favourite tea brand, Mariage Freres, from France that I stock up on whenever I'm there. 
  • Handbags: There is a fantastic and extensive department focused on handbags and accessories to explore. 
  • Contemporary Women's Fashion: you can shop for brands exclusive to Selfridges or hard to find elsewhere in the city/country, as well as small outfits of some of the most popular 'high street' chains. 
  • Aubaine: This Instagram favourite is a french bistro restaurant on the second floor next to the extensive women's shoe section. Decorated with whimsical wisteria falling from the ceiling, it is a beautiful space for lunch or a glass of champagne.  
  • Housewares. There is an extensive collection of home goods to check out.
  • Quirkiness. There is even a psychic available on the lower ground level in the home goods and accessories floor!

 

Fortnum and Mason:

Fortnums is such a special place to visit. Located between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus, it is housed in a beautiful building spanning several floors to explore with a rich history, including creating the Scotch Egg! Founded in 1707, Fortnum and Mason also holds a Royal Warrant by Appointment by HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales. 

Go for:

  • Impressive selection of tea
  • Wide selection of own brand and imported goods and confectionary 
  • Unique gifts 
  • Housewares section
  • Afternoon tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
  • Made to order picnic baskets and hampers
  • Beautiful window displays
  • Magical Christmas Shop

Hotel München Palace

In making my annual Christmas Market visit to a new European city, I stayed at the lovely Hotel München Palace in Munich for part of my stay. This family run, five star boutique hotel is located in the beautiful, upscale Bogenhausen quarter of the city. The hotel is owned by the famous Bavarian restaurateur family Kuffler. This hotel provides a personal touch that focuses on making sure that its guests have a comfortable, warm stay in an exclusive, elegant, and private environment. 

Walking into this hotel for the first time, I was warmly greeted by a sharply dressed doorman and friendly reception staff. The small but warm and inviting contemporary lobby was festively decorated with a large Christmas tree twinkling in the corner with cozy armchairs and sofas to relax in. My first impression of the hotel was that it felt like a well-kept secret in Munich, an exclusive hotel to enjoy in privacy and peace. 

A boutique hotel, the Hotel München Palace has 74 rooms all individually decorated in an elegant, modern style by Kuffler Inn Design. You can choose from a classic single room through to one of the suites in the hotel, including the large and luxurious Presidential Suite for the ultimate in comfort. All of the rooms have parquet flooring, a minibar, safe, a/c, a flatscreen television, a PC connection, and high-speed internet access. 

I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Deluxe Double Rooms. My room was cozy and comfortable, with a lovely homey feeling. Plush furnishings and a comfortable bed with high quality white bed linens envelop you when you tuck in during the night. Beautiful details included parquet flooring, high ceilings, and a marble bathroom. My room had a large window overlooking the interior courtyard, where I enjoyed looking at the Bavarian architecture facing in. My room also had high speed internet and a television with multiple international channels.

Those who follow me know I have a big thing for the toiletries offered by hotels, and is one of the first things I look for. I truly believe that the sign of a quality hotel is the provision of quality brands for its toiletries. So, I was very happy to walk into the bathroom to see luxurious Molton Brown products to enjoy!

Inside the hotel is a Bar, Restaurant, and Garden to enjoy. Breakfast in the morning was a complete joy with a large spread of delicious food to choose from to start your day off right! The Palace restaurant features international cuisine and Bavarian specialties as well as the fantastic breakfast buffet and afternoon tea service. Head into the cozy Palace Bar to enjoy a cocktail, which is a popular meeting spot. The Palace Garden is a wonderful place to enjoy a drink, lunch, or dinner in this oasis in the middle of Munich. 

Feel like relaxing? Indulge in a pampering shower, sauna or steam bath, or get some exercise with the gym's quality equipment, all with access to the rooftop terrace. Even if you don't fancy working out, you can head up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy some beautiful views of the surrounding neighbourhood. 

The hotel also offers various event room facilities for conferences and private events, as well as business suites for meetings up to six people. Other services to enjoy from the hotel is a complimentary minibar, daily newspaper, bicycle rental, 24 hour room service, concierge services, garage parking, limousine service, and shoe shine services. 

Near the hotel, visit the sprawling Englischer Garten, or take in some culture at the Philharmonie and Opera, Villa Stuck Museum, or Prinzregententheater, or see the Friedensengel Monument

Getting into the city centre takes about 15 minutes, which you can access easily by public transport. The subway and bus (Museum line) stops are a few minutes walk from the Hotel, and the city's fairgrounds (Messe and ICM) are a 10 minute drive away. 

Sketch - London's Most Glamorous Place for Afternoon Tea

Sketch has become instantly recognizable due to its iconic art deco-inspired, glamorous pink salon that is an Instagrammers dream. 

Located in Mayfair, Sketch hosts a series of bars and restaurants over two stories in a converted 18th century building. 

The Gallery, designed by India Mahdavi and David Shrigley, is the eponymous room in Sketch that features the afternoon tea, which, in my opinion (and probably many others, considering how busy it gets), is the most glamorous in London! If you're looking for a classic experience in a beautiful room, particularly with a group of girlfriends, this is a perfect place. To note, it is also open for dinner, with creatively styled and interpreted classic dishes. 

 

Sketch London Afternoon Tea

From the moment you arrive at Sketch, the service is impeccable, adding to the luxurious experience you have there. Start by choosing either a classic or Champagne afternoon tea; as you can see above, we went with the Champagne tea! Served in classic Champagne glasses, it automatically ups the glam factor. Sip your champagne slowly while taking in your surroundings, which include 239 pieces of quirky artwork lining the walls by David Shrigley - the largest group of original drawings Shrigley has ever exhibited.  

Start with creative and delicious sandwiches, served on an afternoon tea cake stand, created from stacked cups and saucers. The tastiest ones in my opinion are the coronation chicken, and truffle croque monsieur. If you fancy some more, your server will gladly bring you a refill of your favourites!

But don't forget that you've got fresh scones and cakes to enjoy as well, so don't fill up too much on the sandwiches to save room for the other things! 

You can select from freshly baked, warm plan or sultana scones, served with classic clotted cream and strawberry jam. I went with a classic plain, which was delicious. It was also a nice balance between the savoury sandwiches and sweet cakes. 

The cakes offer a nice balance of flavours, from a citrus tart, to chocolate gateaux, to bubblegum marshmallow knots (very light in flavour so not overpowering), and a delicious cheesecake pudding. 

Sketch London Afternoon Tea
Sketch London Afternoon Tea
Sketch London Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is served between 12:30pm - 4:30pm Mondays through Sundays.

sketch Afternoon Tea as from Monday 13 March:
sketch Classic Afternoon Tea, £58 per person
Champagne Afternoon Tea, £72 per person
Children's Afternoon Tea, £29 per child - including Pat the Bear

 

Oh - and don't forget to make a stop to check out the quirky, beautiful, space-like bathroom pods before you go!

City Break in Paris

I absolutely adore Paris. I know that won’t be earth-shattering because let’s be honest – who doesn’t? One of the things I really love about it is that you can have a different Parisian experience every time you are there – an art focused weekend; girls weekend; romantic weekend; foodie weekend; shopping weekend; or a combo of any of those.

I want to share a few of my current favourite things to do, see, and eat in Paris that hopefully provides some inspiration for you!

Eat

First things first – where are you going to eat?? There are too many wonderful restaurants, cafes, bars, patisseries, and markets to name, so I’m going to share just a few of my current favourite places:

  • Start the day off right with doing as the Parisians do and stop off at a patisserie or boulangerie in the morning and grab a croissant or pastry to go. When I was visiting in the spring, I stayed in the Marais and stumbled across an amazing little bakery called Au Petit Versailles du Marais. Turns out it has been voted as one of the best bakeries in Paris!  It's tiny but wonderful, and regularly wins awards for best bread. I highly recommend their pain au chocolat, as well as one of my favourite pastries, Paris Brest.

 

  • Fish La Boissonnerie is a lovely restaurant in St Germain. I don’t usually do this when travelling, but the food is so good that I usually end up there more than once on a trip to the city of light. The food is seasonal, tasty, and never disappoints. It also has a fresh, regularly changing menu, and brilliant wine menu to boot. Across the street from Boissonnerie is its sister restaurant, Semilla, which is also fantastic though a bit fancier or more upscale. Expect a delicious, seasonal menu and terrific wine as well. 
  • I’m a much bigger tea drinker than coffee drinker, so if you’re with me on that (and even if you aren’t), my absolute favourite tea is Mariage Freres. I discovered it a few years ago and stock up whenever I’m there. My favourite flavours are French Breakfast and Vanille des Iles. There are various locations across Paris, including a few where you can sit in and have afternoon tea. 

 

  • A lovely brunch and coffee spot is called Claus in the Marais, close to the Louvre. It's always busy and I have never organized myself enough to book a table, so I've usually just grabbed some of their lovely pastries to go and eaten them with their coffee on one of the benches in the Louvre square (perfect for people watching and stunning surroundings).  

 

  • My best friend and I went to Le Marie Celeste for the first time together a couple of years ago and LOVED it. Tricky to find (thank goodness for google maps), it’s deep in the Marais, located on a corner, and tiny. It’s also absolutely wonderful. It’s got a young, cool vibe, with a menu to match. The menu is fresh, features seasonal ingredients, and changes regularly. It’s great to go with friends and try various things through small sharing plates. But the real star might just be the incredible cocktails they concoct.

 

  • Bistrot Paul Bert is possibly one of the most traditional French restaurants I’ve visited. Fantastic food but what really stands out in my mind is the dessert course. It may have been the enormous cheese plate they brought to the table (think a large cutting board with big pieces of cheese and a knife to cut off the amounts that you pleased!), the rum cake that came with an entire bottle of rum to pour yourself (incredible!), or the magnificent Paris Brest that I tried for the first time and fell in love.

 

  • If you’re looking for a great quick lunch or snack, pop into the fab food hall at Printemps! I stopped in while shopping on my last visit and sat at the counter of a Spanish tapas vendor enjoying sparkling wine and tapas. Lovely!

 

  • Mama Shelter is an excellent place for cocktails at night and is where cool Parisians hang out.

 

  • I have saved the best for last. Promise me that you will go to L'Eclair de Genie for life changing eclairs? Yes? Ok. Seriously though, these eclairs are out of this world good. There are a few locations now but the one in the Marais is my favourite.

See/Do

There are a million things to do and see in Paris that it would be impossible to list them all – especially as everyone’s interests and tastes vary. If I was to recommend a single thing though, it would be to just wander around the city without a plan and few glances at the map. Perhaps start wandering along the Seine and crisscross over the bridges, such as Pont Alexandre, Pont Marie, Ile Ste Louis, etc.

Here are some of my other favourite places to visit at the moment when I’m there:

  • Check L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Zaha Hadid designed the building, so it is not only stunning to see on its own, but it features an incredible free view on the roof terrace. The café is great to stop for sparkling wine, mint tea, and some baklava too!
  • Visit the parks in Paris as each are unique and beautiful in different ways. The Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes are my favourite parks to wander through.
  • My current favourite museum is the Rodin Museum. Much of the museum is actually outdoors in their beautiful gardens, which is also a favoured location for Dior during Paris Fashion Week.
  • I’ll come right out and say that I'm obsessed with the Eiffel Tower. I think the best place and time to see it is at Trocadero super early in the morning - like 7.30/8ish when there are barely any people around. There's a wonderful little mobile coffee place there where you can grab a cappuccino and enjoy the view before wandering down the Champ du Mars. Alternatively, when it sparkles at night (each hour from twilight to 1am for 10 minutes on the hour each hour).
  • The Place des Vosges is lovely to wander and hang out in, as well as the newly re-opened Palais Royale. Cafe Kitsune is in the Palais Royale, so it’s a great place to grab coffee and sit outdoors when the weather is nice.
  • If you plan to do the Louvre, plan it carefully and have a game plan. It is enormous and overwhelming, so don’t put pressure on yourself to see everything. Do your research beforehand and pick a few things you’d like to see and focus on those areas. The best times to go are early morning when it first opens, or later in the day a couple of hours before closing to avoid crowds.
  • Walk up the steps to the top of the Arc du Triomphe as the 360 view is fab from the centre of Paris!

 

Shop

  • Bon Marche is a must! It’s personally my favourite place to visit and shop when in Paris. They have the best in beauty, contemporary fashion, accessories, and homewares - and the store itself is stunning! While you're there, take a break and stop in at the Rose Bakery inside and have one of their famous carrot cakes and coffee or tea.
  • Printemps is a fun store, though my favourite things about it are the food hall (across the road in a separate building from the main store) and the rooftop terrace where you can enjoy stunning views across Paris free of charge (one of Paris’s best viewpoints and little known to many tourists). There’s a great café up there to enjoy something to eat and drink while overlooking the city.
  • If you're as obsessed with toiletries like I am, you have to visit City Pharma in St Germain. For many in the know, it is an essential pilgrimage and I would happily take the train from London just to stock up. It has the best products, like Caudalie, Avene, La Roche Posay, Klorane, etc, at inexpensive prices. Be forewarned - it gets insanely busy I suggest going early on a weekday morning or later in the evening on a weekday if you can.
  • Shop some of Paris’s local independent shops as well as homegrown talents, such as Isabel Marant.
  • I can’t forget to add Colette to this list, possibly Paris’s coolest shop! You can find Colette and many other wonderful upscale stores to shop along one of Paris's most famous shopping streets, the Rue Saint Honoré.

 

 

Getting To Paris

Paris is easily accessible as a major transportation hub:

Travel Smart - Save and Spend Where It Matters - Before You Go: Part II

 

So, you’ve booked your flight and hotel and no doubt you’re getting pretty excited for your upcoming trip! In the lead-up, a little bit of planning and research can go a long way to finding the coolest, best places to visit, eat, and explore according to your travel style, as well as help you decide where and how you should save and spend your money.

Everyone has different travel styles, interests, likes, and dislikes. Full disclosure: I really hate travel itineraries. I find them to be too constrictive and focuses more on ticking things off a list and hurrying from one place to the next without allowing yourself to fully enjoy a place by wandering or lingering at a spot if you want to. I would much rather go with the flow and see how things play out because if there’s one thing about travel, it can often be unpredictable and you need to be flexible enough to understand that it happens and not let it stress you out too much.

What I do like to do though is have an idea of the things I want to do and see, and the neighbourhoods they are in. I’ll then pick which neighbourhoods I’ll ‘bundle’ together on a given day for the trip. If there’s one tip I can give you, avoid criss-crossing around a city unless you absolutely can’t avoid it because it wastes time, money, and energy unnecessarily.

Transportation

  • Look into your options for getting from the airport or station ahead of time.

  •  Many cities have great transit links from the airport via train, bus or coach –and at a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi.
  • For many cities, it will be more cost effective to buy a transit pass to get around once there because chances are you won’t be taking the bus/subway/tram just once. 

    • In London, for example, NEVER buy a one-off journey ticket because it is outrageously expensive.
    • Instead, get yourself an Oyster card and top it up with money as you go, or buy a day pass if you are going to be using the tube more than four or five times in a day. Recently, ‘Contactless’ payment has been introduced where you can tap on and off with a bank card; however, it should be noted that this may not work with all foreign cards so check with ticket agents in advance. 
    • Alternatively, walking is my favourite way to see a city as you’ll be able to discover things that you’ll miss if you’re underground. Think back to the neighbourhood bundling I mentioned as I’ll typically take transit to the neighbourhood and walk all around from there. 

 

Research & Planning

  • I like to look at blogs and Instagram accounts of local people in the destinations I’m going to visit to get some ideas and inspiration for the places and things local people like to go, do and see. Instagram hashtags for destinations are a great way to find these accounts.

  • For me, there is nothing worse than spending your time in places with lots of other tourists because you don’t get a real feel for the culture and life of a city.

  • There are, of course, some places that absolutely should be seen or visited as they are big sites for a reason, such as the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, and Park Guell. But make sure to get yourself off the tourist trail too and experience what real life is like there. Consider alternatives in visiting these sites - for example, in addition to buying tickets in advance, major sites can often special events or programs.

  • For example, the Colosseum offers evening tours that you can book where there will likely be fewer people and you can avoid the searing Roman sun as there is no shade and the heat is unforgiving at this site during the summer. It’s also a pretty cool and different way to see it! The Castel Sant’Angelo also offers a really cool summer evening experience, where you can walk part of the secret path that connects it with the Vatican (especially for all of you Dan Brown fans!), as well as evening concerts (e.g., classical, opera, etc). 

  • Consider doing something different than taking a bus tour to see the city. There are often very cool alternatives available with a bit of research. Two of my favourites were an awesome morning of exploring Rome with Annie from Scooteroma Tours on the back of a shiny red Vespa, or with Oz from Circle Tours which took us to many places off the beaten track in Istanbul. Not only do you get to see the city, but you get a much more personal and memorable experience.  

  • I also like to look at more boutique travel sites such as Fathom and Wallpaper, as well as travel magazines such as Lonely PlanetAfar, and Conde Nast Traveler.

  • For city guides, I like to get ideas from the New York Times 36 Hours In... seriesThis is a fantastic series of books (and a great gift for the travel lover in your life!). 

  • I will sometimes take a look at TripAdvisor but please use a healthy dose of skepticism when looking at it, and don’t use it as your only source of research. 
    • Restaurants, for example, may score more highly on TA either for actually being great, or simply due to a higher volume of reviews as opposed to a great restaurant off the beaten track or new.
    • Also look at who is doing the reviewing. For example, which country are they from? How old are they? Do they sound like they have a similar travel style to you? Keep in mind what is important to you. Some places get lower scores because there may not be a kettle in the hotel room, the weather was bad, or museum was closed that day. Let TA be a guide but not the ultimate determinant.
    • Also beware that there may be fake reviews (for better or worse) from competitors. Although TA has taken steps to cut down on this, be aware that this happens. 
  • Check out the details of some of the places you want to visit. Are they closed on certain days? Are there any public holidays happening that can shut things down (I made this mistake in Florence recently by forgetting about the May Day holiday)? Are they offering any special free days? Are there special late night openings?

    • Many museums are free (such as in London) or free on certain days of the week or month, as well as staying open late.
    • If you’re planning on seeing lots of different sights, museums, and attractions, it might be worth looking into whether the city has a ‘City Pass’. A City Pass offers discounted admission and often includes a transit access and other perks. It will be worth it if you are planning on visiting many of the sights offered within the time you will be there. Check any restrictions though, such as having to use it within a certain period of time (e.g., over 72 consecutive hours).
  • Food can also be a tricky thing while travelling. Doing a bit of research on areas and restaurants/cafes/markets ahead of time can take the stress of choosing a place to eat away. There are some great sites to do research on, such as Chowhound.  

 

Logistics

  • Before you go, look into the currency you will need and foreign exchange rates. Also consider whether you need a visa or not. For this, check with your country’s Foreign Office for the latest information. Some countries require you to apply beforehand, and some you can purchase when you arrive at the airport (such as in Istanbul). Please also double check the expiry date on your passport as some countries will not accept them if it is within a certain period of time to expiry (e.g., three to six months).  

  • I recommend bringing some local currency with you because you don’t want to be caught out in a situation when you arrive where it’s needed. I was recently in Hong Kong and discovered that the taxis there only take cash, so that resulted in a long search for a bank machine to withdraw money. A few notes:

    • For some currency, your bank may need to order it in because they may not have it (or enough of it) in stock and you’ll need to factor that time in.

    • Don’t change currency at the airport unless you really can’t avoid it as the commission rates tend to be exorbitant.

    • Keep your receipt from your foreign exchange provider as if you return with money, you can be guaranteed the rate you exchanged at. Note that the vast majority of currency exchange/banks will not take back coins, so spend those before coming home! Some of my favourite currency exchange places are Marks and Spencer’s Bureau de Change as they are easy, reputable, usually well-stocked and convenient within store locations across the UK, as well as the TD Bank Foreign Exchange desk located in Toronto in the Path in the TD Centre. I like this place because they have many different currencies available and in stock versus a regular bank.  

  • I will usually use debit or credit cards for other purchases along the way during the trip. Just check with your bank around any need to notify them that you are travelling so that you aren’t cut off (also an important point about having cash just in case your bank card won’t work).

  • Check for any key things you need to do ahead for flight with your airline, such as luggage restrictions (have you purchased baggage; size restrictions; etc) and printing your boarding pass ahead of time (especially for Ryanair and Easyjet) to avoid potentially significant fees. Also check what time boarding is as some airlines (such as Easyjet at Gatwick Airport) have become increasingly strict in refusing entry to people and closing the gate 30 minutes before the flight. 

  • If you collect airline points (which you definitely should - remember, no travel should be point-less!), check whether you have enough to upgrade your seat, or if you have status to use the lounge (saves money if you do because you can get a good meal, drinks, and/or magazines and newspapers complimentary at the lounge rather than buying things at high prices in the airport itself).  

  • Check the weather ahead of time so you can tailor your packing and maximize space in your suitcase (and avoid luggage weight restrictions, which can potentially be very pricey!). 

  • Do you need to check-in and/or print/bring your boarding pass to the airport with you? Many low-cost airlines require this. Don’t get caught out as this can be very costly. 

  • If luggage weight might be an issue or you want to go hand luggage only, consider alternatives to the liquid toiletries you need to bring. For example, if you’re going on a beach holiday, consider buying your sunscreen and other toiletries after you’ve gone through security at a drugstore like Boots at the airport, or at your destination. At the end of the day though, there are few places in the world where you won’t be able to find a little shop at the very least to buy something that you forget. 

 

Part III - While You’re There - will be coming soon!

If you missed Part I, you can find it here, as well as much more travel talk at Woman Meets World

Exploring London Town

Living in London is never dull. It's chaotic, fascinating, exciting, interesting and never ever a shortage of things to do. I can't believe that there are still so many museums, events, and sights that I need to check out that I haven't seen before, but I'm making my way through exploring the city. Here are a few things I've been doing recently from Instagram - come follow along with me! You can find me on Instagram at @woman.meets.world

Travel Smart: Save and Spend Where It Matters

I truly believe there is no money wasted on travelling. I remember telling this to friends last year, who promptly began to laugh but then stopped and realized I had a point – while also pointing out to me that travel can be really expensive.

Over the past few years, I’ve had lots of people make comments to me about how much I travel, asking how I can do it, have I won the lottery, how much do you earn, the classic ‘must be nice’. It was starting to get to me because at the end of the day, I work hard and travel is something I love to do.

It also got me thinking about travel perceptions, misconceptions, and realities about costs. Yes, travel involves money, but it genuinely does not have to be expensive. Over the years, I’ve picked up various lessons and tips through experience along the way, trial and error, speaking to friends, colleagues, reading websites, blogs, and magazines. I realized that instead of getting upset when I perceived people to be questioning me, why not share how I plan and budget my travel because spending my money effectively and wisely is important to me! It really doesn’t have to be expensive, I promise, and all it involves is a bit of patience and knowing a few tips and tricks. A wonderful trip, long or short, can always be tailored to your budget, priorities, and preference.

 

I believe there are three stages to any trip:

1)      Selecting and Booking Your Destination

2)      Trip Planning Ahead of Departure

3)      While You’re There

 

Part I: Selecting and Booking Your Destination

  • For me, this is often the hardest part because I have such a long list of places I want to visit – where do you even begin?? Sometimes you have somewhere specific in mind, which can be helpful sometimes, such as visiting a friend or event. Sometimes you just want to get away somewhere – anywhere – or want to do a short city break or epic long trip.

 

  • There is one email that I enjoy receiving every Wednesday: Travelzoo’s Hot 20 Travel Picks of the Week. It’s always filled with some great inspiration. Not only are the Top 20 finds that they scour the Internet for great (free to sign up on their website), but they also have great deals that crop up for your local area (e.g., theatre, spa, restaurants). I’ve been using this site for years.

 

 

  • Do you have friends living abroad? Family? That can help you narrow your destination down. Or, just dive into your list and start somewhere when a great deal arises.

 

Flights

  • One of my new favourite apps is Hopper. This great little app helps calculate flight costs with a twist: it helps identify for you with a high degree of accuracy the best time to book your flight. You can put a ‘watch’ on a certain flight route you’re interested in and it will message you with updates if it goes down, up, or to take the plunge and buy now.

 

  • I recently also discovered a site called SkyPicker, which I used for my flight to Stockholm recently. It identified a fare to travel here for the weekend form London for £66 – how to say no to that! It also has a cool feature where you can put in your starting destination and select a radius (e.g., for me, I will pinpoint London and radiate out across Europe to find the best deals available).

 

  • The one site for flight research I always check out is Kayak – especially for planning multi-city trips as it gathers information from a large number of different airlines and websites worldwide and pulls together loads of options to choose from and customise, finding the best deals and combinations to pick from.

 

  • When searching for flights, regardless of website, check the ‘flexible with dates’ box (if you have flexibility). This will show you whether it is cheaper or more expensive to fly in or out a day or so earlier or later. This has definitely been helpful to me in the past.

 

  • Connecting flights can often be cheaper than direct. But, consider the money saved against time lost. There are some connection cities I avoid at all costs – NYC and Chicago airports in particular. I have rarely had a flight to or from these cities that has not been delayed or baggage lost. If this happens, missing your connection can be highly likely, which then cuts into your time, cost, and stress levels. Some cities are extremely efficient at connections though – Munich and Frankfurt in particular. But keep in mind that both of these airports are enormous and you need to be focused in finding your next gate to avoid missing your connection.

 

Hotels

  • Ok, so you’ve secured your flight, let’s work on your accommodation. In many ways, it’s all dependent on where I’m traveling and if I’m going with someone or on my own.

 

  • I have had a lot of luck over the past year with using Priceline – specifically, their Blind Bids or Express Deals. The catch with these is that you can grab a fantastic deal for 4 and 5*plus hotels, but you won’t know what the hotel is until after you complete the purchase. This can feel risky to many people (myself included) because you want to stay somewhere that you’ll feel comfortable and enjoy. But, you can do this using calculated risk:
    • Priceline allows you to select the neighbourhood you are interested in and the star level.
    • What I usually do then is do a google search for the hotels in the city and/or that particular neighbourhood under the star levels I’m interested in to get an idea of what I might secure.
    • Withthe Express Deals, there is a significantly reduced price named; with the Bids, you enter a price, which checks with the hotels to see if they will accept your bid.

 

  • Other sites that I have used are hotels.com, booking.com and Agoda, all of which have found me terrific deals. Agoda is particularly good for finding amazing hotel deals across Asia. 

 

Airbnb

  •  I’ve had terrific luck with Airbnb over the past few years, staying in terrific flats in European cities, such as Paris, Athens, and Rome, as well as beautiful villas in Greece. You can find fab places at customizable prices based on your budget. I’ve never had a problem with the Airbnb properties I’ve stayed in.

 

  • It works by setting up a profile and requesting to stay at a property. The owner has the ability to select who they have stay at their property because understandably, they want someone that will take care of their place too. Read the reviews of the property and do a bit of research on the area, and select where you’d like to stay. Consider factors such as proximity to transit, amenities, and safety.

 

Loyalty Programs

  • A colleague of mine says that no travel should be ‘point-less’ and he’s right. If you are travelling and/or staying with a company that offers a reward program, sign up for it and get the points. You never know what the future holds as you may end up staying with the hotel chain again or flying frequently with the airline (or affiliates, such as Star Alliance or One World). 

 

Check out Part II: Before You Go here

London Life

What else have I been up to since moving to London three weeks ago? Sharing a few of the places I've visited and explored. Follow along as I post on my Instagram at @woman.meets.world - I'd love to get your London recommendations!

Some of my favourite places featured in the photos below:

Three Weeks in London

It's hard to believe that three weeks have already flown by since I've been in London! But, it has been enough time to (re)learn and remember a few key things:

  • Never trust the weather forecast. Not your iPhone weather app or even the BBC. Just use it as guidance because most of the time, it will be wrong. 
  •  On that point, invest in a small umbrella that you can pop into your bag and carry it with you always because you will need it regularly. And carry sunglasses because I can guarantee that if you forget them and just bring your umbrella, or vice versa, it will be bright and sunny.
  • If you want to leave a restaurant or café, ask for the bill because they won't just bring it to you. This was remembered after sitting at various places for ages and wondering when they might bring it by. It’s considered rude for them to bring it unprompted.
  • With the exception of Starbucks, you need to specifically ask for the barista to put milk in your tea when they give it to you for ‘eat in’ or 'takeaway' (not take out), or you will receive it black. Example: if you want a breakfast tea with skim milk, ask for a 'skinny tea'. 
  • All stores close much earlier than Canadian and American stores do so plan ahead!
  • The joys of free newspapers and magazines: Metro in the morning; Evening Standard in the evening; Time Out magazine to let you know of all the happenings in London for the week; Stylist (my personal fave) every Wednesday; and, Shortlist every Thursday.
  • VAT (tax) is included in the price, so you pay what you see on the tag, unlike Canada, where tax is applied afterwards at the till and often a surprise.
  • British "you ok" = Canadian/American "how's it going"/"what's up"/"how are you". This is a hard one to get used to without thinking you are being asked if something is wrong!
  • On that – be prepared for multiple ‘byes’ on the end of telephone conversations!
  • Walk left, stand right. I repeat – walk left, stand right. This might be the most important thing to remember so that you don’t get trampled on the escalators on the tube.
  • Always have your Oyster card to hand when entering and exiting the tube. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person fumbling to find it and disrupting the flow and order of busy Londoners.
  • Check the streets left and right at least two or three times before crossing to make sure you won't get hit by cars coming in directions you aren't used to. Or cyclists for that matter on a mission.
  • How green it is here all year round!
  • The kindness of the Brits and their willingness to assist you - whether it be with suitcases, directions, or generally helping you navigate life here from taxi drivers, to people in banks, to random people in the street, and my lovely new colleagues!
  • How international London is. London is an incredible, frenetic, fascinating, chaotic, energetic, beautiful place to be and it’s easy to see why it attracts people from all over the world.

 

I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks and months bring!!

A Traveller's Best Friend For Packing

After being very excited that Muji finally opened its first store in Toronto, I made my over to visit. While there, I picked up my new packing hero - Muji's mesh double-zipped garment bag. Available in various sizes, I decided to pick up a medium and try it out. As a frequent traveller (currently travelling somewhere new for work every week these days), I am working on getting my packing down to a science to save time and effort.

This bag is lightweight, folds up into a small bag for storage, fits my small suitcase perfectly, and keeps my clothes neat, contained, and organized. All I have to do is lift it out of my case, unzip it, and find exactly what I'm looking for quickly without having to rummage through my case. 

I like using this bag to keep my work blouses, suit jackets, and t-shirts together. I've found that they wrinkle less now, saves room in my suitcase and saves time in re-packing. I feel such a sense of calm when I open my suitcase at my new destination and pull out this neat little package of clothing. And -  it also fits quite a lot inside the case. It's a great price and durable. I highly recommend trying it out! 

Photos above courtesy of Muji

Coastal Living Magazine

Coastal Living Magazine is a favourite publication of mine. Their magazine and beautiful regular posts on Instagram always provide daily inspiration and a breath of fresh air. The coast - and the ocean/sea/lake/river/any body of water - has always provided me with a sense of calm and serenity. This might be due to growing up in Oakville, ON, which is right on Lake Ontario, but I find peace in watching and listening to the regular rhythm of waves rolling into shore. I have recently purchased my first condo in Toronto and one of my favourite features is the fact that it has a view of the lake. I love to gaze out and watch sailboats float by on the shimmering water in the sunlight. It only made sense to also draw inspiration from the beautiful design inspiration of coastal properties to decorate that the magazine highlights!

So, you can imagine my delight and happiness that the wonderful Coastal Living Magazine shared one of my recent photos taken in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on their website on Saturday as their 'View of the Day' - and paired it with the most perfect soundtrack! You can find the post here: http://dailycatch.coastalliving.com/2015/07/11/beach-music-beyond-the-sea/

Parisian Architecture

In Toronto (and many places in North America), part of the thrill and appeal of Europe is the history of the buildings - many of which are much much older than our own countries. We live in cities that are very new, not the greatest at preserving heritage buildings, and lots of glass and concrete rectangular buildings which often look alike. 

Wandering around in Paris is a visual feast. Parisian architecture celebrates detail, beauty, and history, as opposed to solely function and efficiency. It also helps that the Parisian light seems ethereal and illuminates the buildings in beautiful ways. At sunset, so many of its buildings seem to glow in the sunlight. When in Paris (or anywhere in Europe to be honest), be sure to look up, down, and all around you as you'll never know what intricate details and surprises you  might find! Below are some of my favourites from my recent trip in April. 

xo Rheanne 

Postcards from Paris: An Ode to the Eiffel Tower in the Springtime

I have a confession to make. I am deeply in love with the Eiffel Tower and I just can't get enough of it. Yes, I realize how much of a tourist that statement makes me sound but I can't help it. I've been to Paris four times now and I often find that it's one of my first stops. I get a rush of excitement when I see it rising above the city. I love it in the morning, noon, and night. I adore it in the evening the most when it sparkles and glimmers - absolutely magical. Once it starts sparkling at the top of the hour for a few minutes during the evening, there are always people around who gasp and adore in its brilliance. I have heard more than one French person exclaim, "Ooh la la!", which to someone who is not French is fantastic! Its intricate details, its curves, its romantic design....it's no wonder it has become a worldwide symbol for Paris. There is something that draws people to it and can gaze at it for ages. 

I hadn't ever seen it just after sunrise in the early morning hours, so I made it my mission this time to do that. I went early on a Monday morning before the crowds had appeared and when the spring sunlight was hazy and glowing. This is my ode to the Eiffel Tower through photos and I hope you like it! 

 

xo Rheanne