This autumn I embarked on my first totally solo trip, taking on the Czech capital of Prague for three nights of intensive sightseeing. These are some of the little moments that proved I was right to go it alone; the times when I knew it was okay not to be part of a group or, as the copywriting cliché goes, ‘with that special someone’ (highly unlikely, as a man has never treated me to a city break, though two have taken me on dates to Burger King… but I digress).
You know Prague is perfect for solo travellers when you can…
There are some travel experiences just begging to be dropped into conversation, like the times when you bump into famous people staying on your remote island (oh wait, that’s never happened, except on an episode of Poirot). Or how about the times when you get into hilarious situations involving animals on safari? (That has yet to happen to Poirot, correct me if I’m wrong, and it hasn’t happened to me either). Ok, so my anecdote isn’t going to cover any of those topics, but it’s hopefully good enough for someone to buy me a drink down the pub.
The reason Cuba fast-tracked its way to the top of my priorities, bypassing much-longed-for trips to India, Peru and Mexico in one fell swoop, was embarrassingly based on hipster logic. “Get there before everyone else does!” Screamed the travel journalists, bloggers and guidebook authors. “Cuba’s about to change forever!”
With the gradual and inevitable decline of the president, Fidel Castro, there’s no escaping the fact that the country is teetering on the precipice and is headed for modernisation and – gulp – Americanisation. It’s only mere months since Beyoncé and Jay-Z rocked up on its shores for a holiday, with little Blue Ivy in tow, but already there’s a sense of urgency for people to follow in their footsteps.
Funnily enough, I arrived at the College of Psychic Studies, on the first day of the Open House London initiative (a.k.a. legitimate house and public building snooping), through a set of unforeseen circumstances. Well, unforeseen to the staff at Open House London, who failed to anticipate the crowds of 18,000 people wanting to roam the gutteral insides of Battersea Power Station before it’s refurbished. Not like that would be a big deal to the general public or require any kind of sensible ticketing system whatsoever… anyway, I digress in my bitterness.
Part of being a blogger is having the freedom to legitimately over-share many aspects of your life, essentially brandishing a megaphone and yelling about what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and what you think about the issues of the day, with the enthusiasm of a small child.
Under that umbrella of over-sharing, telling you about my latest trips (whether you want to hear about them or not) makes up a large part of my travel blog, adding a sense of immediacy once I return to my laptop and a secure internet connection. Yet last week I went on a secret solo trip abroad, and I’m not sure when I will be allowed to talk about it fully.
For the morbidly curious (that’d be me), the words ‘death’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence are like music to the ears; throw in the word ‘debauchery’ and I’m easy like Sunday morning. So, when the kind people at Insider London offered me the chance to experience one of their quirky tours, this option immediately jumped out from the list.
As it happened, I couldn’t have made a better choice, because Death and Debauchery is the ultimate experience for anyone with an anatomical fixation, an interest in social history or a desire to know about the grimier side of life in one of the world’s most famous cities.
There are moments when you’re in the thick of your time away and you start taking experiences in your stride, as if it’s commonplace to wake up in an incredible eco hotel and then scramble up rocks to glimpse an incredible panorama, just days after you’ve sipped fresh coconut water from the source and ridden on the back of an elephant.
Flash forward a few more days and you’re haggling like a pro in the market, making a ferry crossing in a storm and… somehow making it through the trip with an ever-increasing inner ear infection brewing under the surface the whole time (more on that later). Then you come home and think, I really did all that? Little old me? Yup. Somehow, I did.
Ok, firstly a confession: it turns out that the most northerly curry house was different to the one I blogged about before my trip. I’d initially written about Shalimar, but realised on the plane over that Lonely Planet’s alternative suggestion of Austur-Indiafjelagid was the correct owner of the title. It’s been bringing Indian food to Icelandic people since 1994 and counts Harrison Ford amongst its happy customers, so who was I to argue with facts as good as these?
My friend Katherine and I set out to visit on our first night in Reykjavik, with rumbling stomachs and the craving for a decent naan bread that only fellow curry addicts can really appreciate (none of that microwave rubbish, thanks – it needs to be pillow-soft, thin and slightly sweet).
So, you want to see culture in Paris without spending a fortune? So did I. Being short on both time and money when I visited (I was working at a trade show as part of Paris Fashion Week), I created my own adventure and ticked off some of the well known and the more obscure sights of the city, knowing that every second counts when you’re trying to absorb a new destination.
Along the way, I stumbled upon some great places that I think you should know about, too – just put down the guidebook for a second and you’ll see what I mean. Get ready to try out your finest Franglais phrases and enjoy a whistle-stop tour.
Having visited north Cornwall regularly for more than a decade, it’s fair to say that I know the place pretty well. However, the majority of tourists seem to think that the county consists mainly of Newquay and the Eden Project, but there’s far more to it than that. Here are your more laid back and often less crowded alternatives in the land that the locals call Kernow, from Lusty Glaze to Padstow and beyond, where you can genuinely relax.
Our first stop is just a stone’s throw from Newquay – in fact, you can walk there in a few minutes along the coastal path, before traipsing down the narrow steps to the beach, complete with cafe/restaurant and beach huts. Fact fans should note that it featured in an edition of Blue Peter, where the finer points of lifesaving were discussed in a digestible, child-friendly manner, obvs. More obscure fact fans should also note that I once went in the sea here on Christmas Day and it wasn’t as cold as I’d anticipated.