Since November the world has been pretty focused on American politics but it's important to know that whilst Trump has been getting cosy in The White House the French President Francois Hollande is leaving his post due to high disproval ratings. The election which has just starting the campaigning is a short one in comparison to both American, Canadian and British elections all of which recently took place and had a big impact on travellers, locals and economics respectively. While I could prattle on about all of the intricacies of politics I've compiled the important factors of the election and what it could mean for travellers.
Front National - Marine Le Pen
There are eleven candidates with five major contenders for the role who I'll focus on for the sake of brevity.
The first is Marine Le Pen with the Front National (FN). Le Pen's party is historically far right as it remains today with strong anti-European Union ideals and similar immigration policies, specifically for Muslims. She is also a favourite to win and in previous national elections was close to doing so, beating Francois Hollande but not Nicolas Sarkozy. In the past, Le Pen's father and FN's party founder has expressed Nazi rhetoric a multitude of times however Marine Le Pen is more focused upon anti-Islam propaganda as the country has a strong history of this and with recent attacks from ISIS it has only grown stronger.
A win for the FN could affect travellers in a wide variety but the major impact would be "Frexit" as Le Pen is determined to leave the European Union. Now not that trading deals aren't important, because they are, that would actually mean a lot more for a traveller than a change in the worth of the Euro like we saw with the drop in the Pound Sterling after Brexit. It could mean that France would leave the Schengen Zone altogether as Le Pen's policies promise. If you're not aware of what the Schengen Zone is you should be aware that it is essentially a collection of European countries allowing for free travel within and around which allows non-Europeans and Europeans alike to travel through Europe without passport checks at borders and a lot of things that really just make travelling so much simpler. So if you're planning a Europe trip, be sure that you won't overstay three months in the Schengen Zone or else you could be in a world of trouble when you go to France.
Another big proposition Le Pen has made is to get rid of the Euro altogether. This would be after a referendum if elected but if this goes through it would not only affect travel in France but elsewhere because France and Germany are essentially the two countries which have carried the Euro to the strength that it is and has been even through the most recent recession. So while things in Europe might get cheaper for those of us from North America and elsewhere it will be more difficult. Who knows if this would bring back the Franc or not but it is certainly a risk that travellers should be aware of.
Most important, however, is the fact that Front National is a particularly racist party. If you happen to be Muslim (particularly if you wear Hijab) this will increase your risk of assault from members of the public although no "Muslim ban" has been suggested from Le Pen a la Trump as of yet.
Les Républicains - Francois Fillon
Similar to FN there is Les Républicains (LR) whose party leader is Francois Fillon who has clearly expressed similar anti-Schengen sentimentalities but not nearly as extreme as there is a proposition to rework the agreements rather than remove it altogether. However, he is not quite as Islamphobic as Le Pen seems to be. Fillon is more homophobic. So either way, minorities are pretty much not happy with either choice. Although Fillon has not put a policy against France's legalization of marriage equality LR has suggested to change adoption policies for gay and lesbian couples.
LR and FN differentiate with Fillon's pro-EU policies which for the most part wouldn't affect travellers only in that the risk of having to change from the Euro would be non-existant.
Francois Fillon is, however, a supporter of President Putin and would like to strengthen ties between France and Russia and remove sanctions against Russia after all that has happened in Crimea. What this could mean for travellers is more risk in Ukraine as at the moment the UN is working against the Kremlin.
En Marche! - Emmanuel Macron
En Marche! (EM) is the newest party, founded in 2016 by Emmanuel Macron who was the Minister for Economy under President Hollande. Macron wishes EM to be trans-partisan and more progressive than the other parties, whether they are Left or Right. This means that while one may be more fiscally conservative they may be socially liberal which is quite common around the world making En Marche! quite attractive to younger voters.
It seems that Macron intends on riding this wave of millennial attention by giving eighteen year old's a culture pass which would more or less not affect a backpacker unless they happened to be a French backpacker interested in seeing and doing more in their own country - which I firmly suggest they do. We should all see more of our own countries. Moving on, Macron also wants to improve transportation which will only benefit travellers because many local trains are quite old and are due for repairs so this will make seeing more of France easier and better in the long run for those of you with a Interail or Eurail pass.
Macron intends for France to be as secular as possible in public life. However, he has not suggested a veil ban like many party leaders which would allow for more ease for Muslim travellers and locals.
Parti Socialiste - Benoit Hamon
Thought to be the French Jeremy Corbyn there is Benoit Hamon to lead the Parti Socialiste (PS). As you can tell they are a left aligned political party with President Hollande being the currently leader and to be replaced by Benoit Hamon. As Hollande's approval rate is under 5% it's unlikely that Hamon will become the President of France thanks to his predecessor but he does have some interesting policies to discuss.
For many young backpackers leaving Amsterdam it's may be hard to be without good ol' weed. So you may be happy to hear that Hamon wishes to legalize cannabis which would take time to do similar to Canada's issues legalizing pot but it would come under Hamon's presidency. Not much else would affect travellers under PS's current policies.
La France Insoumise - Jean-Luc Melechon
Finally there is Jean-Luc Melechon running for President under La France Insoumise (FI) which is a fairly new party just formed in 2016 a month before En Marche!. Increasing in popularity Melechon is an unexpected twist in the polls but with a few weeks left before the votes are taken and counted there is a lot to do still for FI.
In truth, aside from making France a greener country there will be no foreseeable way in which a Melechon presidency could affect a traveller at this moment as all his policies would leave foreign travellers unaffected. However for French nationals under-25 you would have to take 9 months off of possible travel to serve in the military as drafting which is a lot considering how military friendly France is already.
With all this in now laid out for you, Bon Voyage!
London: beautiful, grey, and notoriously expensive. The English city can be the last place on any budget travellers list but don't let the stereotype sway you. If budget is all that remains in your way of going to the city well I'm here to tell you that there is more to do here for free than just breath, though some might lead you to believe that it can cost money with air bars that are a little too much for this traveller.
For The Art Lover
Looking to see some art that isn't a bunch of inaccurate white Jesus'? Well great because London has bucket loads of that if you're willing to give it a try which you definitely should! This dope art hit renaissance in it's keister on the way out, that's for sure.
1. Maybe it's because I'm living close to 'Straya now or because I'm a big fan of impressionism anyway (Renoir has my love forever) but I'm loving that there is an exhibition at the National Gallery from all sorts of Australian impressionist artists. The curated works are very different to most impressionist pieces mostly due to how young Australia is as a nation. Do check it out from now until March 26th! (National Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Charing Cross.)
2. If you haven't seen Alicja Kwade's Medium Median yet, you're missing out on an interesting commentary on the tie surrounding our relationship with 'space and time' as well as consumerism and religion. This is a moving exhibition wherein it acts as a mobile. It's free entry until June 2017 so get it while it's hot. (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
3. Opened first in 2000 is the Tate Modern which is one of London's free art museums featuring international artists. There are always a few exhibitions that are paid for unless you have membership however, with films, sculptures and various other mediums it makes it a fun trip. Sometimes it's even worth it to go and take the piss because some pieces are truly ridiculous and this is coming from a fan of modern art. (Tate Modern. Closest Tube Station: Southwark.)
4. Lady Bosses, it's time to stand up in the arts! Now Terrains of Body has been plucked from an American museum and Londoners should rejoice because this photographic exhibition it shows so much about how women view themselves, see the world and how these women use the female form to story tell. Definitely check it out between now and April 16th! (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
5. This might be one of two times in my whole life when I will be happy for BP or any company similar because I'm all about responsible, ethical travel and just life in general. BP is hosting the Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery with a free exhibition from June 22nd to September 24th where the winners will be revealed and all contestants works to be shown. Supporting smaller, more unknown artists is hugely important so kudos to BP for supporting this but luckily you don't have to support BP while supporting the artists. (National Portrait Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Leicester Square.)
6. A mixed gallery of all sorts of paintings is on at the Saatchi Gallery from a group of curated artists from now until February 28th and it's a great place to see this interesting contemporary art. (Saatchi Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Sloane Square.)
7. Now until March 11th, Park Seo-Bo's series Ericture is on display for free. These monochrome pieces are certainly interesting and scream aesthetic! They are more than aesthetically pleasing though, as these pieces are representative of action through non-action. Politically and personally moving as Park was a young adult through the Korean War it speaks to any one looking for calm in an introspective storm. (White Cube Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Mason's Yard.)
8. Bold. Subversive. Funny. Feminist. The Guerrilla Girls' works are all that and more. Their series Is it even worse in Europe? explores the lack of diversity in art organizations in Europe. The anonymous art collective, known only by their gorilla masks and psuedonyms, expose corruption, misogyny and racism in art in a way that is accessible for everyone and create a larger dialogue so join the conversation from now until March 5th. (Whitechapel Gallery. Closest Tube Station: Aldgate East.)
9. A big part of travelling is attempting to find places off the beaten path and one of the best ways to decide the places to visit is going onto Instagram so it's only fitting that there is an exhibition dedicated to the local spots from cities all around the world called #MyUnseenCity. This exhibition is on from February 2nd to February 16th and sounds like it's going to be such a cool thing to go see. (Brompton Bicycles. Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
10. Somerset House is one of London's more interesting free galleries because of how old the building is as the construction started in 1547. Princesses and other royals have lived here but now it is a museum, art gallery and from time to time it is a fashion runway. Located centrally it seems as if a palace was misplaced in the centre of London but I'm not complaining. Be sure to check out what exhibitions they have on while you're visiting. Now until February 26th Malick Sidibe's The Eye of Modern Mali is being shown to show the world more of Mali - a beautiful, culture rich African country. (Somerset House. Closest Tube Station: Temple.)
The Calendar Club
If you like to plan your travels around particular events these are a few that you should definitely add to your trip if they coincide with your travels or even take a special trip just for them. It's definitely worth going to - I know I've had unreal amounts of fun doing it.
11. Like any good Canadian I love pancakes but it seems Londoners do too with a race filled with tossers of all sorts. This charity event for London Air Ambulances is good, messy fun as a relay race in fancy dress. Whether you want to participate or watch, you should make it out on February 28th to Brick Lane where it's hosted!
12. Adulting is hard and I don't like it so let's go back to the good ol' days when we had pillow fights except now let's have it with a good few hundred people in Trafalgar Square because that's what being a twenty-something is all about. On April 1st at 2pm bring a pillow (not your hostels pillow, okay? That's a dick move) and hit people with it. However some people do go pretty hard so don't get stuck in the mosh pit unless you're intense like them too. It's a great time to check out Londoner's costumes too because they dress up like you've never seen before!
13. Held annually since 1856, excluding during WWI and WWII, is the Cambridge versus Oxford boat race. Even if you're not particularly loyal to either college or interested in boating, like myself, the culture that goes along with it is reason enough to go. There are dancers with literal bells on and more Pimms than I ever thought I could drink. Held on April 2nd for both men's and women's on the Thames there are several spots that one should go to watch.
14. Alright I guess I have to shout out to BP again as they host three public events with the Royal Opera House in London. Whether you're a seasoned ballet a tendu (I'm hitting them with those bougie niche puns, I know) or you've never seen an opera in your entire life there is no better way to see the classics for free. Bring some mates and a picnic and you're ready to see ballet Marguerite and Armand on June 7th, classic Italian opera La Traviata on July 4th (What a cool what to celebrate Independence Day if you're in London at the time), or romantic tragedy Italian opera Turandot (set in Ancient China) on July 14th. Locations are still to be determined but be sure to check them out because we should all get to see ballet and opera in our lifetimes.
15. Ever saw a bike and thought it might be fun it bike butt naked? Well World Naked Bike Ride Day celebrates that and acts as a protest for car culture (which luckily there is very little of in London because the traffic is already insane) and to show case the vulnerability that cyclists have. The only downside to this is that it'll make you never want to use a Boris Bike ever again! Participate or watch on June 11th all throughout the city.
16. As a queer girl I can safely say that Pride is one of my most conflicting events of the entire year. On one hand it's fun to be around other queer people when the majority of my year I'm left deciding if someone is open-minded enough to share this side of myself while I'm travelling and on the other hand it's meant to be a funeral march, it's surrounded by alcohol and rarely ever tackles the important issues queer people face. It's also the perfect time for biphobic people to exclude beautiful unicorns from the celebration. However, London's Pride parade can be fun to go to anyway. Just be sure to check out the Festival too for talks, secret tours, networking and even a few self-defence classes. Pride London will run from June 24th to July 9th - be sure to look out for more details.
17. Carnival is the largest European street party celebrating Caribbean culture, tradition and it's filled with colour, life and fun. Be sure to wear sunscreen and show up early as transportation is made difficult during Carnival but mostly just have so much fun. When I went there was a lot of rain #classic but it was great fun anyway and everybody was in great spirits. London Carnival is on August 27th - 28th in Notting Hill.
18. Totally Thames is a month-long event, you guessed it, centred on the Thames in September. With talks, performances, floats and races for the more competitive of the bunch it makes the month less about the end of summer and more about the fun that the Thames can provide so watch here for updates on upcoming events!
Parks and Recreation
Looking to escape the concrete jungle well no worries, travellers. You can go to any one of these free parks for a good time. Be sure to bring a few friends and some nibbles too! If you're solo travelling, don't worry napping in parks is done too just don't forget to put sunscreen on like I did in the above photo!
19. "I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill." Famous Londoner, Sir William Blake, wrote this about Regent Park's Primrose Hill and he's still right today even though the views are completely different. This spot has always been popular at sunrise and sunset but one might argue that it is even more popular now thanks to Netflix's show Sense8. During the summer this is a lively spot for picnics and cheeky champagne with friends and is not to be missed. (Closest Tube Station: Chalk Farm.)
20. There is the perfect spot for travellers because Greenwich Park has remarkable views of London but mostly because you have the ability to be in two different timezones at once! Be sure to get your photo while you're there to prove it to your friends back home. (Closest Tube Station: Maze Hill.)
21. Ever wanted to spot Bambi? Well you can do that in Richmond Park probably a hundred times over with deer all over the place. It's best not to bring dogs here if you want to see some cuties and be sure to come either at dusk or dawn for the best photo opportunities because you'll want to get them to put on your Instagram! (Closest Tube Station: Richmond.)
22. My worst kept secret: I have the biggest fear of birds so St. James's Park is not the place for me, however if you're brave and not afraid of sky beasts that will take our your eyeballs for fun then you should go because pelicans frequent this park and you can even see them being fed. (Gross!) Hopefully it's not eyeballs they are eating though. (Closest Tube Station: St. James's Park.)
23. The Kensington Gardens are the perfect place for the impromptu photography shoot because there are flowers abound, beautiful statues and a memorial to Prince Albert. Just in case that wasn't enough though there is a statue of Peter Pan throughout the gardens as well making this the loveliest walk one might take in London. (Closest Tube Station: Queensway.)
24. If you've ever wanted to walk where poets, sculptors, novelists and musicians have then the Epping Forest which is on the outskirts of London is perfect. This particular forest is also famous for being the filming location of the Black Knight scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail ('I'll bite yer legs off'). Epping Forest is popular for mountain bikers as is horse back riding but if you're like me and you had to leave your pony at home well a walk through the forest is lovely too because there are a lot of invaluable ecological spots throughout the entirety of the forest. Interesting side note: some of the lakes in the forest were created by bombings in WWII. Who knew? (Closest Tube Station: Loughton.)
25. Parks are fun, we all know that. But you know what's fun? Open-air public speaking and debate. Not just used for those attempting to convert people's religions there is an area of Hyde Park called Speaker's Corner or Hyde Park Corner where you're able to wax poetic about anything you please although hate speech isn't recommended and neither is swearing (it's a park, after all.) If you're not keen on vocalizing Hyde Park is also a great place to people watch or just relax and enjoy some of the strange features that might be on display at any give time. (Closest Tube Station: Hyde Park Corner.)
The London that a tourist knows is utterly different to what a Londoner knows however there are spots where the two meet - and I don't just mean the pub.
26. Similar to my experience in Trier, Germany where I saw Karl Marx's birthspot in London you can find his burial spot as well in the Highgate Cemetery. While hanging out in a cemetery can be a little grim or morbid for some this cemetery has beautiful stone work all around and it makes it worth the trip. (Closest Tube Station: Highgate.)
27. Gods Own Junkyard is a cool spot in the city that has neon signs absolutely everywhere! It's a quirky place to go and it's absolutely representative of the culture in the city so while you're in the city it's definitely worth the trip. There is a cafe there as well which isn't free, of course, but if you're feeling peckish it's nice to take a visit. (Closest Tube Station: Walthamstow Central.)
28. Lately there haven't been too many high profile cases however The Old Bailey remains a great spot to visit and to watch a trial. There are very strict security policies that are made worthwhile as you can see how the UK goes through criminal trials. As you are entering the courthouse be sure to look up at Lady Justice and notice how, unlike today, she is not blindfolded. This is because at the time of Old Bailey's construction the figure was not blindfolded - don't fret though justice is fair here so take yourself, friends and even the kids (provided they are over fourteen) if you've got 'em and watch a trial. (Closest Tube Station: Holborn.)
29. If you're a fan of movies and a bigger fan of free The Oxymoron has a film noir night once a month that starts at 7pm and goes into discussing the film later into the evening so check out the events page and see if you can make it to one! (Oxymoron website. Closest Tube Station: Elephant and Castle.)
30. The Wellcome Collection is "the free destination for the incurably curious" and rightly so as they have discussions about everything under the sun, allowing us all to learn more. As adults I think we stop doing as much for our minds even though educating ourselves is the most important thing so while you're experiencing different cultures and places you might as well engage as well. (Wellcome Collection website. Closest Tube Station: Euston Square.)
Things To Do
It's well and good to go to parks or galleries for free but sometimes we just need to have something to do so instead of burning into your wallet to have fun here are a few things that you can do for free in 2017. Totally worth the flight, right?
31. If you've ever wondered what work goes into the ballets you can see for free (scroll up, you'll find what I'm talking about) the Royal Opera House has a lunchtime recital every Monday at 1pm. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the up-comers in the ballet world and all on a budget! Although you can book online it's best to show up that day to see if a ticket is available. Be sure to get there by 12pm to do so and enjoy the fancy footwork! (Royal Opera House website. Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
32. With different events every night and varying performers Angel Comedy Club is consistently the best free comedy club in London. Now, actually, with two different venues! All you'll need to pay for are the drinks you need to pluck up the courage to join in on the open mic nights too. (Angel Comedy Club website.)
33. Somehow going to the gym is insanely expensive in London however a new way to exercise has popped up in the city but it's not your typical gym. Instead of ellipticals and free weights GoodGym offers a way to help the local community while helping you get healthy too. The way it works: run towards a task, complete task, run back to where you were before. It makes cardio fun and some of the tasks involve lifting as well which is essentially like an outdoor version of CrossFit that helps older members of the community. (GoodGym website.)
34. Skateboarding is not hugely popular in London however there is a skateboard park with great views on Southbank that is free entry (all you need is a board or something with wheels, really). The park does create an audience especially during peak tourist season so if you go to skate hopefully there are no performance anxieties you have because you'll be watched by a lot of passersby or similarly you can watch while you walk along Southbank too because it does make for an interesting thing to do, seeing all of the tricks I could hardly imagine doing. (Closest Tube Station: Waterloo.)
35. If you're a creative type and you want to learn more skills or hone your skills it's great to be able to have masterclasses for free in the centre of London instead of having to pay a fortune like many others. So check out which classes appeal to you and bring your creativity! (Haymarket Theatre. Closest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus.)
36. Banksy hunting is a popular pastime for any tourist in London but did you know that there is a graffiti tunnel dedicated to beautiful street art? Whether you are there to look, photograph or actually want to crack out a few spray cans yourself it makes for an interesting visit because you get to see into the minds of Londoners and the culture that breaths all around you in the city. Some are political commentary, some are funny, gruesome, cute but they are all original and that makes this worth it similar to the graffiti street in Toronto. (Closest Tube Station: Waterloo.)
37. Although this is an attempt at selling, you're actually able to take a free yoga class in the heart of London. Yep, free yoga! Every weekend (excluding holidays) in early mornings the Lululemon in Covent Garden moves all of their displays to make room for a yoga class which is an amazing way to start the day and moreover a great way to start your weekend. Afterwards they invite you to look at the stock they have but it's not necessary to buy anything though I do recommend pretending to look at least a little interested. The only thing you should know is that space fills up fast so check out the calendar and get in early! (Closest Tube Station: Covent Garden.)
38. Similar to America's huge variety of TV shows you can watch the taping of for free it's possible to do the same in London for a smaller variety of shows. My personal favourite is The Graham Norton Show but the list is long so if you've wanted to see what happens on set and be part of the real life laugh track it's a cool thing to do in The Old Smoke. All you need to do is pick the show you want, fill out the application form and hope you get the dates you want! (Audience member website.)
Sometimes it is nice to play tourist and there is no shame in that, because I've done it throughout my travels as well. I'd be remiss if I didn't offer suggestions on free things to do while you're in London relative to this as well.
39. Although my opinions on the latest updates J.K. Rowling has made about the Harry Potter universe has left me a little sour I still wish that I could walk through platform 9 & 3/4's so I could ride the Hogwarts Express to be sorted into my house (I'm a total Slytherin, if you're curious). While I won't be walking through walls into magical worlds any time soon it's nice to know that at King's Cross station you can still get a photo as if you were walking through on your way to Hogwarts. (Closest Tube Station: King's Cross.)
40. If you confused this bridge with London Bridge you wouldn't be the first - actually someone once bought the entirely wrong bridge because they thought that they would be buying Tower Bridge. Sorry buddy, if you had bought it what would the Spice Girl's have jumped over in their tour bus? (More niche 90s kids humour for you, sorry.) Tower Bridge is quite the busy spot for locals and tourists, whether they are driving, walking or boating. You can pay to walk up the towers or you can walk across the bridge and enjoy the views as it goes up and down at certain times of the day. (Closest Tube Station: Bermondsey.)
41. St Paul's Cathedral is beautiful and expensive as a tourist unless you go to the free Choral Evensong at 5PM. I'm hardly catholic and yet it's lovely to be able to go to a church, listening to people sing and knowing that they have hope in some sort of higher power even if you don't believe it or maybe believe a different higher power all together. Photography is not allowed during these services and I recommend dressing nicely just to remove any suspicion that you're a tourist looking for a cheap way in. It's certainly a nice visit so don't miss out. (Closest Tube Station: St. Paul's.)
42. The British Museum has iconic features from all over the world on display and some that have created a difficult relationship nation to nation which lasts today as many items were stolen from thieves in battles and ransacking. Like most of British history it is a black spot that many overlook which makes it interesting to see and visit with the knowledge of the trouble it brings as this is literally stealing part of a different culture which has been so widely debated lately. You're able to see the Rosetta Stone on display as well though there are certainly crowds around it at all times. (Closest Tube Station: Holborn.)
43. Stupidly I hadn't known that the iconic clock tower and Big Ben actually was a smaller part of a much larger building - parliament. Lately the English politics have been a giant clusterfuck but that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit - you might even see the disastrous politicians heading into office. (Closest Tube Station: Westminster.)
44.The changing of the guard is one of the icons of London and so while you're there you should bare the crowds and make your way to Buckingham Palace to watch. Be sure to hold on tight to your valuables while you do so simply because a lot can happen in a crowd. (Closest Tube Station: Victoria.)
45. The Grant Museum of Zoology might be a little creepy for some but if you have a stronger stomach it's an interesting place to visit as the catalogue of creatures they have on display is vast with nearly 70,000 specimens. If nothing else it adds a spin to the typical museums of London. (Closest Tube Station: Euston Square.)
So now you're armed with 45 free things to do in London this year so get your cameras ready and head to the brilliant city made inexpensive.
As you might've guessed because I'm a solo traveller, I am also single as a pringle. I freaking love being single just as much as I love solo travel - a whole damn lot. I'm not the type to pine over what might be or imagine my wedding day with some faceless person - or really ever - however there are some places I might travel to that my singledom is very noticeable. So much so that some might hesitate to visit like Venice or the Maldives. Both are the perfect honeymoon spot and have been portrayed as places for lovers but all you really have to love is having a bomb ass time.
Photography is a passion of mine - I hope to be consistently improving and learning which makes Venice one of the best spots to get a little snap happy. There is something about the sunsets against the green canals of the old Italian city which make everything that much more beautiful. Even taking photos of other couples can make you feel happy in your own romantic situation because you can create connections and friendships with people on their getaway if you capture candid photos you think they would appreciate. I like to offer to send them to the people I take photos of if I'm pleased with the photo because you never really know what sort of moment you are capturing. It can make the most mundane that much more beautiful or even capture people at their best. If photography isn't something you are interested in, Venice is the perfect place for any sort of art. Whether that is painting, writing or dancing. The shorelines and old while bridges are inspiring to any artist - however advanced or novice you might be. It is even a perfect place to pick something up you might not have tried before.
Not that I'm suggesting you drink but honey, you're in Italy so why not indulge with a few glasses of wine? It's worth the cost to drink a nice glass of wine while you people watch. Straight up the best place to enjoy your wine is in the Piazza San Marco because of the big hub it is for foot traffic and the historic Venetian landscape. You'll be able to people watch and drink while you look over the large Torre dell'Orogolio (Clock Tower) which has the typical Renessance architecture all throughout it - from the gilded Madonna to the two bronze statues which strike the bell every hour. If you're still lucid enough, you can walk up the tower too and find where you sat and the equally gorgeous Campanile. If you're not sold on drinking by yourself, you can go on a wine tour which includes Venetian tapas or chicchetti. You might even be able to meet some other solo travellers too!
Share Your Single Woes
From Venice, it's not far to Verona where Romeo and Juliet is set. Go to Juliet's house and write her a letter, retelling your love life woes and feel relief to think that at least you aren't a fourteen year old married to someone who murdered your cousin and then killed themselves because nothing can be that bad. When you return I can guarantee you will feel a lot better about being single if there was ever a doubt in your head about how truly badass you are for travelling solo.
Take A Hike
Once you're back to Venice, after all the main tourist attractions which I'm sure you've heard of so I will hardly bother putting them on this list. Go take yourself back to nature, become one with mother Earth and just escape the disgustingly cute newlyweds too with a boat ride to Torcello Island. It's very small and not many live there, less than 30 do as it's mostly a reserve but it was once an place people would seek refuge from Attila the Hun. Yes, we're getting historical over here. Don't mind that. Eventually Torcello turned to swamp land and people left but it's now a perfect place to see the local side of Venice that not many do as it's one of the furthest big islands from central Venice.
As well as a nice hike there is a beautiful cathedral which dates all the way back to the 7th century so you practically have to go, right? Right. From there, you may go to the museum which has curated an interesting set of artifacts and art from the abandoned island. Most exciting there, however, is Attila's throne. Okay, it's not actually Attila the Hun's throne but the people of Torcello say that if you sit on the thrown you will return to Torcello again as a very quaint superstition and who wouldn't want to be destined to return to Italy? I wouldn't complain if that were my fate.
As I've said on my Twitter, Facebook and even in a little exposé, Nishaa Sharma, did about Adventurous Alexis I lived in London for about a year and a half. While it's easy to brush off anyone who complains about London with the famous Samuel Johnson quote. You know the one, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." It's not so simple, especially when the world is going crazy about the capitol city because of a royal birth or some celebrity or just because you happen to live in Victoria and the tourists are driving you mad. Maybe it's a mix of all three but sometimes you need an escape, luckily it's not hard to do these days. This is why I went to Oxford.
I didn't know it before deciding to go but it's very inexpensive and easy to get to Oxford from London. All you need to do is book a bus ticket which costs practically nothing! For a single trip it's £11 (20$) and a return is £14 (26$) on the Oxford Tube which runs everyday with one coach leaving every fifteen minutes. I'd say that's a pretty handy last minute trip, especially when you're desperate to get away.
Once I'd booked my coach ticket, all I needed was to find a place to stay and pack a bag. Since I fancy myself an expert packer, I quickly got onto Hostelworld and booked a weekend's stay at Oxford Backpackers Hostel which happened to be the cheapest and the cheapest option. While on my way to Oxford, I did a google search and that was pretty well the extent of the actual trip planning I had at the time because all I truly knew about Oxford was about the University which I definitely needed to see. Harry Potter was filmed there, of course I was going to go!
Things To Do
A quick visit to Google was really not enough to see what to do, however I was already in the small city so a list of the best things to do in Oxford is below for those of you who either are like me and fly by the seed of your pants or even those who like to plan a trip a little more.
1. Oxford Castle
After dropping my things off at the hostel, I grabbed a map and was off. With a coffee from Pret, I meandered around the city and saw a hill and some older looking buildings around it. While I had no clue what it was because, as I said, I didn't plan a thing, I went up anyway. I later found out that the Oxford Castle which stood at the base of the mound was what I was looking at. While a little grim, I walked through the land following the route prisoners would in shackles.
The strangest part, however, was that there was a Pizza Express where the castle and prison had once been. Still the view of the city was really worth it because it felt open and less like the concrete jungle I was trying to escape. Oxford felt quiant in comparison and it was exactly what I needed. It was even reminiscent of a time when I had escaped from Paris to Bruges, which was perhaps why I instantly liked Oxford after seeing the Castle.
2. The Carfax Tower
The tallest building in Oxford was my next stop so that I could get a view of the city skyline and while I was there I learned that there had once been a church attached but it had been demolished for road construction in the late 1800s. While it's not the most exciting spot it's worthwhile to go up for a view above the city on a clear day.
3. Oxford University
Oxford University - a place where people from all over the world go to study - was easily my favourite spot and I even went twice. Once for the extensive buildings and to have nostalgia wash over me like a spell. Yes, because of Harry Potter. I saw a few spots where the movies had been filmed which made everything worth it. Sure, there was more to that. There were the libraries and the fact that some of the world's most acclaimed writers had stood there too but if you're in your early twenties, as I am, your focus would probably be the Harry Potter movies. Sorry, Wilde!
The best part, however, are the grounds. The beautiful parks which allowed me to feel a bit more at ease after a hangover. I went for a jog to clear my mind and was able to feel instantly like a part of the school just because of how many other people there were getting in an early morning run or were walking throughout the grounds. Even Professors seemed to be doing this similarly.
4. Mingle with Locals
Next to the hostel was a comedy club, which I skipped, and a normal club so with the staff of the hostel and a few of their friends I went for a few... okay maybe more than a few drinks (Hence the hangover. Sorry, Mom!). Luckily at Wahoo, where I went, entry was free thanks to the new mates I'd just met. It was as fun and as seedy as any club but it was totally worth it for the people I spent my evening with.
5. The Ashmolean
After my brisk jog throughout the grounds of Oxford University I decided to go to The Ashmolean Museum - a free visit too. Inside there was a wide range from modern to Pre-Raphaelite paintings which made sense as I learned it is the oldest public museum in the entire world. It's a rather understating place too, unlike the Louvre or The British Museum which both have grand entrances. In Oxford, the architectural design of the museum blends in almost. Possibly because the city has been mostly untouched by war since the 19th century, even remarkably escaping air raids in World War Two.
6. Walk Through Oxford
This seems like a simple thing and something you would do anyway but if you are going to Oxford the best thing to do is really just to wander around the city and find yourself in front of places like the Radcliffe Camera or the Bodleian Library or the old city. The cohesiveness and the multiculturalism of such a small city is really worth it entirely.
Oxford was a great place for a weekend trip. Have you ever been before and what did you like to do most? Did you stumble upon something great?
Things are daunting and everything hurts when you decide to move to Europe. It's stressful because you have so many things to do but really it's easier than you think. It's not like moving across the country at all where all you need to do is make sure you still get provincial heath insurance, assuming you're Canadian
As I do most things solo, I did my move first to Amsterdam and then later to England solo as well. After a few tries at it, I'm pretty sure I've got it down to a science - a science that had baby with art because it's damn beautiful too; just like the landscapes you'll be seeing and the accents you'll be hearing.
1. Where to Move
This is easily the most important step. Deciding where to move is a bit more complex than which place appeals to you most although that should be taken into consideration. I, for example, am fluent in English and until moving abroad spoke Cantonese and a little bit of French. If I were to move to Bulgaria, I would probably have a very difficult time finding a job or even a steady apartment because things are easily mistaken with Google translate, sadly. While it's not as fun to limit your options to what is entirely reasonable because living in Paris would be so much more romantic than living somewhere you can actually communicate and afford to live - it is important. Besides it does help your experience when you can actually create long lasting friendships because you are able to communicate in more than grunts and miming.
Once you've weighed the options between one country over another you you need to get a Visa to work and live in that country. If you're between 18-30 in most countries you'll find it very easy to get a travel visa, some might have stipulations that say you can only work in one place for three months at a time or that you are not able to be placed in permanent work. This is under the assumption that you are an unskilled worker, of course. If, like me, you're Canadian you are required to save approximately 3,500$ before applying for the visa as a means of showing that you have enough funds to last you until you find a job. I would suggest saving a few thousand more for your own stability. If the opposite is true it can be a little bit more complicated. Some professions require that you will have to do another exam before you take on the same position in another country. The best way to find out what steps you need to take is to go onto your countries travel website and visa regulations. They will be clearly stated there.
3. Resume and Work
This is the perfect time to update your resume because you will be giving it to as many businesses as you can. Be sure to research the standard resume form for the country you are moving to. For instance, it is required to have a photograph of yourself attached with the resume in some countries whereas it isn't for most industries in North America. Once your C.V. is updated, you should scope out jobs in the city you are moving to and apply online to jobs. This will, at the very least, tell prospective employers that you are interested in a position with them even if the time line doesn't work for them for the position you are applying to they might have something suited to you around the time of your arrival to your new home.
I grew up moving around a lot so I have packing my life into boxes down to both a science and an art form but for those of you who don't my biggest tip is to minimize your things. There are many ways to do that, my personal favourite is donation to a local charity that way you're helping others and the environment by not throwing away perfectly good items. Once you've decided what items you want to keep, you should still cut that down in half because you will find all of those things in the new place you are moving to and honestly, you will want a new wardrobe or new home decor to match the city. Finally you should slowly start to pack things away, preparing for your flight.
Unless you haven't secured a flat and a job already your priorities should be the many but small tasks you will need to do. Health Insurance, a tax number, a new debit card, a new cell phone or SIM card and finding important places near you i.e.: doctor, dentist, grocery store, etc. Once you get these things done your stress level goes down immensely. Some of these things are easily over looked until you desperately need them too. Just think of the services you use at home and apply them to your new home because chances are that you'll need them there too.
Don't stress too much about anything, though. Even if you get it wrong there is a solution to everything and people want to help you succeed so take the plunge! and move to Europe!
If you don’t have a lot of time off work but are able to take a cheap flight from any EasyJet or RyanAir port to the Dutch cultural capitol (a train works fine too) you’re in luck because there is now a guide just for you!
To begin, I must presume that your entrance to the city through Centraal Amsterdam Station, which is a piece of art in and of itself - especially during the wee hours of the night and morning when observation would do you good.
While the temptation to go towards the buildings ahead you see is strong, which I understand, you should do two things first. The skyline of Amsterdam is beautiful, it always will be and always has been and one of the best ways to see it is at the Skybar at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel. This is a time sensitive thing - noon is typically the best time to go, so be sure to plan that visit accordingly. The best tip I can give you is to walk in looking and feeling as if you own the entire place. That means not questioning yourself or looking too misshapen - just as you would expect someone might if they were allowed to go up the DoubleTree. The skyline is nothing short of fantastic and it’s quite the rush to sneak up! Following this there is a bicycle rental shop called Star Bikes which offers an eclectic set of choices for bikes without the need of a down payment and for such inexpensive prices rather than the standard tourist bike rental spot which is directly beside the train station for prices to hefty for any budget traveller. Once you have your inexpensive and unique rental bicycle the fun really begins!
The first place to stop is The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, which is over 100 years old. The Basilica lasted stands out strong against the surrounding buildings and is decorated with the religious imagery you’d expect. If you are willing to see a standing piece of history up close, please do. You won’t be disappointed. From there you may go through the Red Light District, where biking in certain areas is not allowed. Please be mindful of this and respectful to the volunteer police and police alike. You are not to take photographs of the men and women as they work, as well. But mostly, don’t be surprised when you see friends of the sex workers stop them for a regular conversation as it’s not taboo in the Netherlands as it is in other places to work in the sex industry. A confusing thing to wrap ones head around, I’m sure. As you go through you will see another church, called De Oude Kerk (The Old Church), which has a cafe and is surrounded by the Red Light District and was made in the 13th century with adaptations along the way. Aside from being so aged, it is host to many cultural events and can even be rented out at will. The entire church is put atop graves of many important Dutch persons, so the floor are all gravestones. A somber and interesting reminder mostly and if nothing else the contradiction between surroundings is utterly laughable. Even more-so when you look on the floor outside and see a bronze statue, called Belle. Look down for her; it’s quite the laugh.
Moving on, as 12 hours is hardly anything to sniff at, go to the Dam Rak where you will see a monument erected in the centre but mostly for the view directly across to the Palace. While it’s not in use much by the Royal family anymore, who knows you might see the new King. If you do, let King Willem-Alexander know who sent you! Provided you haven’t been knighted, you should move onto the Anne Frank House, where sadly you won’t have time to see the inside of but will get to see outdoors while snacking on some Dutch fries (try them with mayonnaise) and laughing at the ridiculous queue. From there I always like to go to my favourite neighbourhoods in the city - Jordaan. It’s a gentrified area of the city but for good reason as the culture surrounding that district is unlike any other in the city. It’s the perfect area for a drink, but you don’t have the time so a bike ride will do!
If you don’t know much about the Netherlands you should know, at the very least, that there is a very large market for Tulips. At one point men would have sold their homes and everything they owned for a tulip so beautiful but so doomed with cancer that it wrecked the Dutch economy. Yes, the Dutch love their Tulips so go see why at the Bloemenmarkt along the canals. Whether you buy anything or not it will be worth it to see all the colours - do pick your seasons appropriately.
Any trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without snapping a photo in the Museum District by the IAMsterdam sign and looking at the beautiful gardens attached to the museums - a thing for a later date, to be sure. For now, you must go onto the Vondelpark biking through for however long you like. It’s much larger than you’d ever expect and busy from locals and travellers alike. It’s the one place where everyone can truly enjoy.
Sadly, the day is slowly dying down and so as you leave the park, return in the direction to Centraal station and pass through the Rembrandtplein to get another few tourist-driven photos of yourself within the statue depicting the artist, Rembrandt, most widely recognized pieces. It makes for a good Facebook photo, if you choose to do it. From there, a view point by Bimhuis is a must. The horizon across the water is truly lovely, as you can see and with one more view point you may overlook the children’s science museum NEMO only to return the bike back, and go to Central station to say goodbye to the city.
With this much packed into such a short amount of time, depending on your pace of biking and preferences there may be things you can skip but all in all this is a wonderful way to spend half a day.
During a weekend off from work in London, I took a quick train from Victoria Station to Hastings for the day and walked through the old beach town.
Before a trip to Bruges I had never associated Belgium with religion except maybe my junk loving religion based around fries, beer and chocolate. This was the case until I stumbled upon a place called Heilig-Bloedbasiliek or... for those of us who don't actually speak Dutch: The Basilica of the Holy Blood.
The Basilica was tucked in the corner on Burg Square, barely noticable except that the aesthetics of the architecture was completely different to the buildings next to it. Churches and basilicas are all around Europe but for the most part they are large, grandiose things that stand alone. It was shocking to see something of this sort so I went inside. It was completely empty so I walked around lackadaisically looking about the practically barren walls of the chapel but as I left, thinking that to be it and admittedly disappointed because I felt like i missed out on some strange story to tell. Alas I noticed another set of stairs which lead up rather than to what I found out was the lower chapel for private prayer.
With a queue that was long I seemed to be the only one unsure of what was happening so I asked and ever the skeptic I had to see this to myself. This being blood of Jesus. Yep. That seams to be about as likely as the paintings depicting him as a European looking man. However it wasn't even three euros and so I joined the line. I didn't know what to do, if i should give a Hail Mary or something while I was looking but it took about twenty seconds at most and it was over.
The gold and glass encasement was beautiful and it was a strange thing to find in Bruges but then again Collin Farrell would've been even stranger. Sadly I didn't run into him there even though I sent him a tweet.
Conclusion: I doubt it but it's only 2.50 euros so check it out anyway. If you're in Belgium over Easter be sure to go see the procession the chapel puts on. Apparently it's quite an interesting thing.
Please note: No offence was meant by this post. My genuine apologies if I do seem to be insulting a religion by this post.
If you've never heard of Trier, I'll forgive you. I hadn't either until a girl I was travelling with told me she wanted to go so with our Eurail passes and backpacks in tow we went. It was one of the smaller towns I'd been to on that trip thus far and I almost instantly fell in love. It probably helped that on the journey there were the classic rolling hills that lead us to German wine country.
After finding the hostel, which had quite possibly the most beautiful exterior of any place I'd stayed in throughout all of Europe, and doing a lot of laundry we did a little research as to what to do in the town more than stop by the Moselle River or drink far too much Riesling. It wasn't a long list but it was paced out enough to not feel bored.
On our way from the hostel one of the very first things I spotted was a toy museum and jumped at the occasion. It's not everyday you can play with exhibits, right?! Plus I'd heard Germans were pretty good at making toys back in the day. Admittedly I was expecting it to be creepy but fun and probably not a far cry from my home base of Almonte in Canada where puppetry is big so I was a bit more prepared than I would've been otherwise but being the only adults there without children made it a little more fun as I could be both nostalgic and as childish as I wanted to be.
The next item on my list while I was there brought me back to a time when I was learning a lot about communism. Or rather Marxism. As Karl Marx was originally from Trier, along with a host of other famous persons I had only vaguely heard of. His house was a still-standing building which has been turned into a museum dedicated to his life and work as well as the beginnings of communism. It was nice to see the beginnings of a man whose work people based horrible doings on, although he never once stated he believed communism would be good in practice.
It didn't hurt that his home was next to Roman Ruins, either. Playing hide-and-go-seek in them was more fun than it ought to have been and a definite recommendation. Another is to carefully perch yourself on the brick windows on the upper level of Porta Nigra to have spectacular views. If you have better weather than I did, maybe even of the rolling green hills too. It also happens to be a World UNESCO Site that you could check off your list. It's totally worth seeing Porta this way.
While traipsing around Trier there was an Elephant Parade. Sadly, not with real Elephants instead with beautiful works of art on large sculptures for people to buy as a way to donate to animal welfare. Of course, I hardly knew that at the time and was just in delight that one of my favourite animals were so prominently featured in wine country. So after being given the kindest service in Germany with a lot of free pretzels and wine from a restaurant owner (sadly I can't remember the place but I wish I had) I walked the square in a complete daze as I looked over the castle that was almost in an alcove. Unfortunately while I was there it was closed but a beautiful sight anyway and I know that if I ever get the chance I'll revisit Trier.
With one last thing to do, I walked along the Mozelle River. It wasn't the clearest water I'd ever seen but it was the most tranquil spot I had been on so far and there are times that I am so grateful that I had that time to just breath and be near nature.
Aside from this I had hugely oversized and disgustingly unhealthy crepes and ice-cream while I looked over the city as my time there ended and I planned for my next spot.
All this makes Trier a must-do for Southern Germany, especially if you're on route to Luxembourg.
When you think of Greece there are a few things that come to mind: philosophy, democracy, and some of the most beautiful islands. It is, of course, easy to get stuck in Athens or even the Greek Islands and no one could blame you for it - I sure don't.
Still with a country so vast there is much more to explore and Thessaloniki is one of them! Founded in 315 BC there is loads of history to the city but in turn a complete ironic newage feel that we all love. Ruins are beside bars and old buildings are where you can get your Starbucks fix while you overlook the sea and the iconic White Tower makes an easy lifestyle, even when it's temporary.
With only two hostel choices - Thessaloniki feels like an intimate change to a busy traveller's life while still being everything you search for. The streets are lined with politically charged grafitti to match the times and people which you can begin to understand so much more of it, as I did by attending an anti-facism student-run rap concert at the local University with some fellow travellers and hostel staff of Studios Arabas. It was an experience of a lifetime that you would be hard pressed to find in Mykonos or Crete, where tourists seem to be more common than locals.
Thessloniki is home to gorgeous Greek Orthodox Churches which overlook the city and sea, some beside the old city walls. It also has a great nightlife with the markets you see in the day being turned into restaurant fronts at night, leading you to almost need a map just for that section of the city. Of course some places more interesting than others as I discovered when I stumbled upon Beeratis, a Pirate-inspired pub of sorts. It was fun, local and the beer was flowing. While the scene was something foreign to me, it was still such fun that I'd go back in a heartbeat to Beeratis but mostly to Thessaloniki.