This year I’m determined to travel differently. Though I’ve taken self-catering holidays before, I’d never booked an apartment, so when I was recently introduced to SACO (the Serviced Apartment Company) the time had come to see what I’d been missing. Apartment rentals are a rapidly growing part of the travel industry, celebrated by 2015 trend reports and highlighted by the likes of Travel + Leisure magazine. But what gives a serviced apartment the edge over other types of accommodation?
I’m the proud owner of the complete Poirot DVD box set. It’s pretty addictive watching a moustachioed David Suchet (as Hercule Poirot) solving crimes with his little grey cells in overdrive. However, I’m under no illusions that real crime is anywhere near as neatly solved as Agatha Christie would have us believe.
Whilst Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime is Poirot-less, it does contain more than enough genuine artefacts and stories to keep whodunit fans in suspense. I’d already read crime writer Val McDermid’s book (of the same title), which acts as the official companion to the exhibition, so I had an inkling about some of the displays and their place in the history of forensics. If you haven’t already bought the book and don’t have time to read it beforehand, try to get your hands on a signed copy from the Wellcome shop.
Picking a hotel in London isn’t an easy task, even in the Internet age, but when I was nudged in the direction of the Mercure London Bridge, I soon stopped dithering; it has a four star rating and comes recommended by Expedia, Hotels.com and Booking.com. I recently checked in for a one night stay, armed with my camera and notebook to report back to you.
If you’ve never heard of the brand before, here’s a quick primer. There are over 700 Mercure properties around the world, often with unique selling points, including the Ink Hotel in Amsterdam (part of the MGallery Collection), based in a former Dutch newspaper office. Closer to home, Hythe in Kent has the Imperial, a sprawling Victorian house complete with a spa and golf course. London has several different hotels under the brand, from Kensington to Greenwich, and a Hyde Park branch will open in October 2015.
2012 was all about London courtesy of the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee, whereas 2014 saw Yorkshire in the spotlight thanks to the Tour de France, resulting in a tourism boom that lasted long after the cyclists had left. As for 2015, I predict it’ll be South West England’s year. Here’s what you should aim to do when you visit the region.
Step Inside Wolf Hall at Montacute House, Barrington Court and Wells Cathedral, Somerset
The latest BBC period drama is based on Hilary Mantel’s hugely popular novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, which cover life at Henry VIII’s court for Thomas Cromwell and others close to the king. Historic locations across England, particularly in the South West, were used as backdrops to the program. Montacute House (open for the season from 3rd March) stands in for Greenwich Palace, with scenes shot here including jousting sequences and Anne Boleyn’s arrest. The house itself is Elizabethan and contains a series of Tudor and Elizabethan paintings loaned by London’s National Portrait Gallery. A whole generation of my ancestors used to work at Montacute so I’m particularly fond of it!
The website says it best: ‘At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.’ Not to discuss the weather, or your latest celebrity crush, but something much more dramatic and important that affects us all. You know, the big impending sense of doom that we Brits are generally too polite to talk about.
Death Cafe is a unique not-for-profit franchise, spearheaded by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004, pops up all over the world. The UK-led website (inspired by Crettaz and run by Jon Underwood) lists 1325 previous meetings, which have been held everywhere from San Diego to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and from Brisbane to Beijing; it’s hoped a permanent cafe can be established in London soon.
A recent article in the British travel press saw a freelance writer taking her baby daughter along with her around the world. It’s an admirable move and incidentally gives the girl some amazing bragging rights when she grows up, but it made me wonder: could that baby, when an adult, really say she has experienced these countries if she only has photos, and no memories, to rely on?
Whilst the article was about the logistics of working parent duties rather than said bragging rights, it spurred me into thinking about the many different ways we measure ‘doing’ a country or a destination. Just Google ‘travel blog + country counting’ and you’ll see there are plenty of people out there with a tally to monitor. There’s even a prestigious Travelers’ Century Club (American spelling) for those who’ve reached the precious 100 milestone. So, for everyday adventurers not indicted into any club, what could potentially be considered as a valid tick from the list?
If you’re craving a few days of culture in a classic British city, you can’t go far wrong with Bath – one huge UNESCO World Heritage Site ready to be enjoyed. It’s got the historical depth and arts connections to provide you with a bulging itinerary, or there are plenty of beautiful open spaces where you can just lazily take in the scenery at a much slower pace.
Whilst I’ve visited a handful of times before, I’d never really ‘done’ Bath in the traditional tourist sense, and I was looking forward to seeing it through new eyes. These are the places I made a beeline for…
A London City Airport survey has found that the average Brit has only visited seven countries, and only 31% have made it to 10 or more of them, despite there being an incredible 193 countries in the entire world that could be explored. This data, which I was reading about in Wanderlust Magazine, really got me thinking about my own travelling past, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started accumulating a respectable country count.
Rather than tally up where I’ve been, I’m going to admit why I haven’t been to as many places as you. It’s time to come to terms with my travel inadequacy and look back on those few countries with fond memories.
The town of Rye in East Sussex is exactly what I’d imagine the whole of the UK looked like if I hadn’t lived here all my life. Consisting of historic buildings, chocolate box views and what can only be described as ‘quaint’ shops (even though I loathe that word), this is definitely the tourist board’s gold standard version of the British Isles. A former Cinque Port and part of legacy-rich ‘1066 Country’, it combines maritime heritage with the feel of an Agatha Christie village.
There’s something about watching photogenic fashion tribes that conjures up a David Attenborough or Bruce Parry voice-over inside my head. Something that says I’m in the presence of a species fundamentally different to my own, no matter how much I might want to understand them or imitate them. Ultimately there’s a little bit of fear in not knowing what their next move might be, or whether they’re about to bare their claws. Welcome to London Fashion Week, where the beautiful and the strange gather.