Hannah Drake

Travel

What's On Our 2019 Travel List

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Last year I shared the top ten countries we want to visit next. It was such a fun post to create because it sparked some really exciting conversations between me and Luke and researching your dream holidays with no consideration for your budget is really fun. So I decided to make it an annual post as we cross some countries off our list and set our sights on new corners of the globe. We each make a list of five countries that would be our dream vacations if money and time were no object. The only rule is to make it onto the list, it has to be a new country for that person and if there’s overlap, only one person can claim the country and the other has to pick a new one. Even though we have separate lists, we both agree that in a perfect world, we would travel all over the globe and see everything we possibly can!

In 2018, we crossed off two countries from our top ten, one from each list. We visited France in February with two of our friends. It was a quick weekend trip to visit Disneyland Paris, but on the first night, we did go into Paris for dinner (gotta love steak and frites!) and to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. France is definitely still on my list as I’d love to spend more time in Paris and the country as a whole. (Read about our trip here and here.) In September, we honeymooned to Italy and spent nearly two weeks travelling around the southern part of the country. We visited Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome. We would both love to go back to see more of the country, like Florence, Venice, the Lake District, and more!

Hannah's 2019 Travel List
Luke's 2019 Travel List

AUSTRIA

Austria would probably be my dream winter vacation. (Hello Hallstatt, amirite?) This year, I would love to go abroad to get some proper winter weather and experience more authentic Christmas markets. Countries for that kind of trip would include Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Belgium. But Austria definitely takes the cake.

BELGIUM

Everyone I know who has been to Belgium couldn’t recommend it more highly. All of the photos I’ve seen from my friends’ travels seem like they’re straight out of a fairy tale. This might be one that’s realistic for us this year since it’s so close and would be so easy to get to. (Fun fact: Luke rode his bike to Brussels once for an Alzheimer’s charity.) We’re considering it for our anniversary weekend in September, so if you have any autumn in Belgium tips, let us know!

BRAZIL

Brazil was on Luke’s list last year too, actually. Last year he told me he wants to see the Amazon Rain Forest and São Paulo and I can’t fault him for that. We’ve talked about visiting South America on an extended trip (some day) to see as much of the continent as we can and we would certainly be remiss if we didn’t explore all of the wonderful culture and beautiful sights that Brazil has to offer.

CANADA

This was the only one that was in the top five for both of us, but I claimed it first. (Luke’s the real winner though because that means he gets six to my five!) We actually considered going to Canada for our honeymoon last year, tacking it onto our trip to Colorado for my brother’s wedding. We did a decent amount of research and I absolutely fell in love with the Banff area especially. When we were booking our trip back for Christmas, we looked into having a night or two layover in Old Quebec City, but it just didn’t make sense logistically. We have been looking at adding it to our dream road trip through New England though. Canada just seems like such a beautiful country on the whole, no matter what season, and I would love to visit some day. Actually, it’s also a country that has been in our discussions of where we might live in the future. To me, it seems like a good balance of having the space America has and the socialism that Europe has.

CHINA

I’ve noticed a shift in our dream holiday conversations. Instead of talking more about weekend escapes in Europe, we’ve been dreaming about longer trips to explore other corners of the world, particularly Asia. There’s so much about China specifically that intrigues both of us. History, architecture, food, culture, fashion. All of it, really. It would be a dream come true to see all the different things China has to offer from big cities to sweeping landscapes. And of course The Great Wall.

GREECE

I included Greece this year because we’ve been talking for months for taking a spring or summer trip to visit some Greek islands. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen anymore, but one can dream, right? After all, that’s what this post is for! I would definitely love to visit those picturesque islands one day and my sister found an amazing deal on a villa on a lesser-known island that’s just as beautiful. So win-win! Not to mention, I’ve always had a fascination with Greek history and mythology. I would love to explore some of those places mentioned and see as much ancient history as I can!

JAPAN

Japan seems like such a beautiful country with a rich history and delicious food. I’ve honestly been putting off watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix for years because I’m pretty sure I would just hop on the next plan to Japan and I might not come back! I know there’s a lot more to Japan than sushi, but that’s definitely the biggest lure for me at this point in time. I hope we get to visit some day so I can do more research about the country and its history.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand was on my list last year. To be honest, it will always be on my list. (Until we go.) From what I can tell, nothing beats the beauty of the New Zealand landscape. I mean, there’s a reason why Lord of the Rings was filmed there! We would love to rent a camper van and drive it around New Zealand for a month. And try to count all the sheep!

RUSSIA

I probably could have guessed the others on Luke’s list, except for Russia. I was really surprised he included it. Especially since a few days before we talked about our top five, I told him that if we ever visit Russia he has to wear one of those big fur hats. He hates hats! I don’t know why he would agree to it! But now, with these stakes, I’m more determined than ever to visit Russia!

SINGAPORE

Okay, full disclosure: I have become obsessed with visiting Singapore since I saw Crazy Rich Asians last fall and read the books over the holidays. The way that Kevin Kwan describes the food and landscape seriously make me want to hop on the next plane. I didn’t know a lot about Singapore before I started reading the books and it just seems like the most magical (and cleanest) place! Ever since reading the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, I firmly believe a tourism company needs to start a CRA tour that offers similar experiences from the books. I would pay serious money for that, I promise.

What’s on your list for 2019?

6 Things to Do in London at Christmastime

TravelHannah Drake4 Comments

There’s just something so magical about London at Christmastime. All year, there are so many shops and restaurants that have gorgeous seasonal displays. But Christmas is another level in London. There are twinkling lights, oversized baubles, pastel gingerbread houses, and beautiful window displays. Of course London is one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat no matter when you visit, but it truly outdoes itself in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You’re bound to find something beautiful and magical on every corner. It’s absolutely my favourite time of year to visit the city!

GO ICE SKATING

Two of the biggest—and most picturesque—ice skating rinks are at the Natural History Museum and Somerset House. You’ll see photos of skaters circling the Christmas tree in front of the beautiful buildings on any Londoner’s Instagram, but if you plan ahead, you can be one of those skaters!

The rink at the Natural History Museum is open for three months, from the end of October to the end of January, though it’s closed on Christmas Day. Times vary, but the website lists its operating hours as 10:00 to 21:00. Tickets are available from £12.65 for adults, from £8.80 for children, and from £39.60 for families. Museum members save 10% when tickets are booked onsite. You have to book 50-minute tickets in advance and certain days or times might be more expensive. The rink also offers upgrades, special packages, and fun events throughout the skating season.

The nearest tube station to the Natural History Museum is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

The rink at Somerset House is sponsored by Fortnum & Mason and is open from mid-November to mid-January. The rink is also closed Christmas Day. Times vary, but it’s usually open from 11:15 to 22:15 and the full schedule is listed on their website. Tickets are available from £11.00 for adults and £8.50 for children, but a one-time booking fee of £2.95 applies online. Fortnum & Mason has set up a rink-side lounge with seasonal treats like champagne and fondue or mulled wine and mince pies.

The nearest tube station to Somerset House is Temple on the Circle and District lines, Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line, or Charing Cross on the Bakerloo and Northern lines.

No matter which rink you choose, you can definitely have yourself a merry time skating and enjoying everything the rinks have to offer.

SHOP ON (AND OFF) REGENT STREET

Regent Street is one of the most famous streets in London and lined with little shops and cafes. No matter the season, you’ll find it bustling with shoppers, but it’s something entirely different at Christmastime. The streets are lit up with twinkling Christmas lights, the windows are adorned with giant wreaths, and the shops have gorgeous window displays.

Just off the busy road is the quieter Old Bond Street, which is always worth strolling down, even if it’s just to gaze in the windows and see the decorations. Both years we’ve visited London at Christmastime, there have been peacock feathers above the street and gorgeous displays on the facades of some of the most luxurious shops in town. Last year, Cartier was covered in a giant red bow and it made all my big city dreams come true!

Down the cross street from Tiffany & Co. is Burlington Arcade, which is absolutely worth walking down. There are so many little shops and they all seem to be in competition with each other for who has the best Christmas decorations. The arcade itself is lit up by twinkling trees and the light bounces off the giant red baubles hanging from the ceiling. It’s certainly a wonderful walk and it goes on forever! There are other lovely arcades off Regent Street as well, but in my opinion, none as lovely as Burlington.

The nearest tube station to Regent Street is Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

SEE THE HOLIDAY INSTALLATIONS AT COVENT GARDEN

Seriously, nowhere does holiday installations like Covent Garden! They’re always oversized and over-the-top and I love them! On one end, you’ll find a towering Christmas tree with sparkling red and white lights. On the other end, you’ll find a gigantic prancing reindeer in a gigantic sleigh full of gigantic presents. This year, they also had a cool old car piled high with presents. And of course the three arcades in the centre are not to be missed. I love the giant mistletoe that lights up and the huge silver baubles. It’s definitely crowded, but there seems to be a photographers’ understanding that you keep a bit of a distance from everything to people can get photos without you in them. They’re usually quite good about taking turns and not taking an insane amount of time.

Covent Garden is like an outdoor shopping area, so there are also plenty of places to shop, which means there are plenty of beautiful shopfronts around the square and surrounding streets. Some of the best at Christmastime are Balthazar and Clos Maggiore.

The nearest tube station to Covent Garden is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

WARM UP WITH TEA AND CAKE

When in London, you must stop for tea somewhere. There are a lot of fantastic places to have tea in London, including Sketch (an Instagrammer’s heaven) and Biscuiteer’s (home of the most beautiful biscuits), but in December, Peggy Porschen Cakes and Claridige’s are sights to behold.

Peggy Porschen Cakes is located in Belgravia, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. It might just be the most photographed facade in London, but there’s a reason. They never skimp on the seasonal decor and you can always count on them for stunning photo ops and the perfect flatlay on their little pink tables. But in all seriousness, come for the decor and stay for the lattes and cakes. They have beautifully decorated cakes and cookies available inside their tiny little corner shop and the baristas are talented with the on point seasonal latte art. Make sure to plan plenty of time for your stop here because the later it gets in the day, the longer the wait for a table is and they don’t accept reservations. (This is why I wholeheartedly recommend cake for breakfast!) The majority of their tables are outside too, so bundle up!

The nearest tube station to Peggy Porchen Cakes is Sloane Square on the Circle and District lines or Victoria on the Victoria, Circle, or District lines.

Claridge’s is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city and offers lots of holiday cheer in December and boasts a magnificent afternoon tea. In the hotel lobby, you’ll find a carefully designed Christmas tree that changes every year depending on the designer behind the tree. In recent years, they’ve had an upside down tree, a mirrored tree, and even a full on forest one year. It’s truly something! Their Festive Afternoon Tea is on the pricier end (and even more so on the weekends), but they certainly make it worth it.

The nearest tube station to Claridge’s is Bond Street on the Central and Jubilee lines or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

STOCK UP ON HOLIDAY GOODIES

Petersham Nurseries is just off Covent Garden and always worth a wander, no matter the calendar, but especially at Christmas. Pop in to pick up some holiday decorations, Christmas baubles, or even just general home goods. Wander to the back for the plant nursery and even next door to the deli!

The nearest tube station to Petersham Nurseries is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

Fortnum & Mason is an experience. It’s located on Regent Street and is famous for its tea and hampers. Here, you can stock up on luxury grocery items, peruse their home goods floors, and even do some personal shopping in their men’s and women’s departments. Everything is located around a stunning spiral staircase between the first two floors, but the opening goes all the way to the top and they make sure you know it!

The nearest tube station to Fortnum & Mason is Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, Leicester Square on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, or Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Lavender Green Flowers is located in Chelsea and a great place to stop around Christmastime, especially if you’re looking for some DIY materials for a wreath or other home decor. You can stock up on everything you might need: cinnamon sticks, dried citrus, pine cones, greenery, and more. Just imagine how good it smells!

The nearest tube station to Lavender Green Flowers is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

WANDER THE MOST FESTIVE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Normally, I’m all about Notting Hill when I’m in London. There’s just something about those soft pastel houses lined up behind the street market. But I’ve actually never been at Christmastime. I’m sure they do it up good, but I’m always drawn to other neighbourhoods this time of year.

Belgravia is where you’ll find the picturesque Peggy Porschen Cakes, but make sure to plan some time to wander around the streets as well. The shops and offices and cafes and even houses have great kerbside appeal all year, but especially at Christmas.

Chelsea is great to see some really fantastic displays outside shops and restaurants. Whether it’s springtime an there are lush floral displays or Christmastime and larger than life Christmas decor, Chelsea never disappoints.

Soho is the neighbourhood I’ve spent the least amount of time in, of these, but they have some great Christmas decor as well. Just don’t make the same mistake we did and not go into Liberty!

Mayfair is one of my favourite neighbourhoods all year, but it’s even better at Christmas. It’s also home to Annabel’s and nobody does installations like Annabel’s.

Check out my London in Bloom post to see London all decked out for spring.

PIN FOR LATER!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Over the summer, Luke and I visited Blenheim Palace twice. First with my sister Sam, then again in August. The first time we visited, we converted our day tickets into annual passes, which was good because we barely got to see anything the first time we were there. Because we’re on the annual pass list, I got an email for their Christmas events and I immediately knew I wanted to go back for it. We still had to buy tickets for the events, but they were cheaper with our annual pass.

So last Saturday, on the 1st of the month, Luke and I got in the car and headed down to Oxfordshire, blasting Christmas songs on the way and trying to prefect our White Christmas duet. I also learned I really need to work on the lyrics for Wonderful Christmastime. It was hilariously fun and neither of us even minded it put us a bit behind on our podcasts. We bought tickets for both Cinderella - A Fairytale Experience inside the palace and the Illuminated Lights Trail on the palace grounds.

THE PALACE

The sun was already setting when we got there ahead of our 15:40 entrance time for the palace and we didn’t have much time to spare, so we bee-lined for the palace entrance. There was a long line on the steps as the staff was scanning tickets and making sure people were in the right order for their entrance times.

At 15:40, we were let into a small room they built just off the door before we were let into the entryway of the palace. The man just inside the door, was dressed like one of the staff members from Cinderella and told us to pay attention to the mice throughout the palace. Immediately, we were taken straight into a fairytale.

THE CHRISTMAS MARKET

In the courtyard outside of the palace, they had an extensive Christmas market set up with local vendors in each booth. I’ve only been to three Christmas Markets so far (in Birmingham, at Blenheim Palace, and in Nottingham), but this one was by far the best one. Okay, maybe it was because every other booth seemed to be a local distillery with dozens of samples. We walked around sampling gin, sausages, cheeses, chutneys, and more. They had local artists and people were selling their woodworking pieces, knitting, ornaments, beauty products, and just about everything else you can think of.

Back toward the entrance, they had some rides and food and drink stands. We got our first German sausage of the season and later went back for luxury hot chocolates and fresh donuts.

THE GROUNDS

On the grounds, they had set up the Illuminated Lights Trail that was absolutely magical. Each section was set to different music, everything from classic Christmas songs to The Nutcracker to the Harry Potter score. The lights twinkled and danced and lit up the night. Everything was so gorgeous and mesmerising. Halfway through the trail, they had more food trucks and some fire pits. Toward the end, we passed through the North Pole where Santa was putting on a show for some kids. The big finale was the light displays against the palace set to everybody’s favourite Christmas tunes.