Grey Skies, London Highs

Where does one begin to describe London?

After the last six months, I have learnt that you should never nurse expectations when experiencing a new place. All expectations do is harbour disappointment – and what would be the point of that?

Stepping off the train at Paddington Station, I immediately found myself transported back to big city life. After shying away from the masses for the best part of three months, I ached to lose myself once again in the faceless crowds. In a city of nearly nine million people – over twice the size of my home country – I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be difficult.

In true British fashion, we were welcomed with miserable, melancholic weather. Cursing my photographic luck, I readjusted my scarf, kept calm and carried on (sorry, I had to). It was the first time I had been reunited with the Metro since my week in Paris, and I wasn’t expecting to have missed it so much. There’s that galvanising feeling of silent camaraderie between passengers that you just don’t experience on buses and trains. Or is that just me? Yeah… that’s probably just me.

“… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”
Samuel Johnson (1777)

The modus operandi of this trip wasn’t so much participatory as it was observatory. We had arrived for one day only with a very special objective – to see Star Wars – and the rest was really just the icing on the cake. I was quite content wandering around the streets and getting hopelessly lost in the hopes of learning even a little about this beautiful, monstrous metropolis.

We strolled down the River Thames and lapped up the intoxicating scent of mulled wine from the Southbank Centre Winter Market. I had never before encountered such a market culture before arriving in England, and could wile away hours at a time exploring the myriad stalls.

Weaving our way through buskers and tourists alike, we looked up to find ourselves bathed in the shadow of the London Eye. Spoiler alert: it’s freakin’ huge. There are certain landmarks over the world that I have found somewhat underwhelming in size – the Pyramids and Big Ben, just to name two – but this iconic ferris wheel certainly lives up to the hype. Whilst we didn’t join the queues to see London from above, we enjoyed the view from below, and then carried on our merry way towards Parliament.

“London is a roost for every bird”
Benjamin Disraeli (1870)

Without a doubt in my mind, I can say that the highlight for me was the Camden Market. Unlike most people (I imagine), I had never before heard of this place. This fact was met with disbelieving ears, but I digress. Upon arriving, part of me felt like I had been thrown back in the MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok, with it’s eccentric labyrinthine marketplace. Camden Market has over one thousand shops, stalls, bars and cafés nestled inside, plus spectacular events on the daily. My personal favourite food hubs include the infamous Cereal Killer Café (you know, the one with over 120 types of cereal on the menu) and the Cheese Bar (try the rosemary goats’ cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary butter grilled cheese toastie! Phew, that’s a mouthful…). This is also a neat place to visit if you’re vegan 🌽

The ‘Deats

Name: Camden Market

Website: www.camdenmarket.com

Location: Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF

Hours: 10am – late

I also discovered that one of my favourite artists – Amy Winehouse – lived and died in Camden. For this reason, a lot of places in this district pay homage to her, such as the striking statue found right in the heart of Camden Market, as photographed below.

The day concluded under the evening glow of Leicester Square. Located in London’s West End, this pedestrianised square is home to some of the city’s most iconic shops. Think M&M’s World and the LEGO Store – but honest opinion? The LEGO Store is slightly overrated, and M&M’s World didn’t even sell my favourite flavour (peanut butter, in case you were wondering). But hey, this trip wasn’t about retail therapy. After digesting that M&M’s could warrant four floors worth of consumerism and merchandise, we withdrew back to Leicester Square and explored the lights and the art and the Christmas atmosphere. London is most beautiful at night.

I will be returning to the Old Smoke very soon. I barely scraped the surface of London, and next time, I want to get my hands dirty. There are so many things to see, so much to do… far more than a day could ever afford. What do you recommend?

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my London travel vlog, which will be uploaded to the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates! I will also be writing about my favourite London café’s in January, so keep your eyes peeled. Last but not least, if any of my readers are based in London and would be interested in meeting up next time I’m around, flick me a message on any of my social media profiles, or else email me at thegingerpassports@gmail.com – till then! 👋

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Could This Be the Most Photogenic Street in Europe?

When I was planning my itinerary for Paris, I would scroll endlessly through travel blogs to find the most beautiful photographs, and then track down where they had been taken. I figured that I was going to be in France, one of the most heavenly countries in the world; why not surround myself with as much beauty as possible?

Aside from the usual landmarks – I’m talking the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe – I began to notice a certain thread between pictures. There was always this one street that travellers – especially bloggers – seemed to gravitate towards. It’s not hard to see why; this narrow street had the most quaint houses, all painted different shades of pastel.

After some sleuthing, I discovered that this dreamlike place is called Rue Crémieux, and that it is located in Paris’ 12th Arrondissement (between Rue de Lyon and Rue de Bercy). When I finally visited the city, I took the Metro across La Seine to Gare de Lyon, and a short stroll later, found myself standing in the middle of the cobblestoned street I had become so familiar with through my screen.

Rue Crémieux is a pedestrian street, so you can lose yourself through your lens without having to worry about getting run over (or – a little more realistically – tooted at by impatient Parisians). Paris is known for it’s Haussmann architecture, but this is a somewhat pleasant exception; the houses give the impression that you have stumbled into a countryside lane, despite being smack bang in the middle of one of the most populous cities in Europe.

Fashion bloggers frequent Rue Crémieux to use it as a backdrop for their photographs – and who can blame them? This street is beyond idyllic, and bloggers have the luxury of choosing just what colour palette they would like to pose before. Whilst I am quite content to work behind the camera, most of the other tourists were making the most of the prismatic opportunity. This street has been likened to Portobello Road in London, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The only downside to this online exposure is that Rue Crémieux is no longer one of Paris’ best kept secrets. Now, it seems that every man and his dog is flocking here (and I suppose I’m not helping on that front, either 🙈). So perhaps be thoughtful and don’t overstay your welcome; I’m sure the locals aren’t too fussed about all the attention.

The ‘Deats

Name: Rue Crémieux (originally Avenue Millaud)

Location: Rue Crémieux, 75012, Paris, France

Psst, don’t forget to watch my Paris travel vlog if you haven’t already done so (catch Rue Crémieux from 0:58). If you’re looking for more showcasing the French capital, get your hands on my Paris photo diary and layover itinerary 🇫🇷

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2017 Blogging Recap: Running Away From My Problems

A year ago — well, a year and one month, to be exact — I told myself that enough was enough. I had been flirting with the idea of starting a blog for years now, but the technical side to things really threw me off. I’m not a complete numpty when it comes to technology, but words such as RSS and permalink could have been part of a foreign language for all I was concerned.

In the end, it was a trip to Southeast Asia in late 2016 that really pushed me to throw the Ginger Passports together. I saw it as an ideal opportunity to generate content and launch my brand. Gritting my teeth, I went the budget route and signed up to wordpress.com (I would later swap over to the more professional wordpress.org), recruited a talented friend to speak code — and here we are: thirteen months later with a blog I couldn’t be more proud of.

2017 was one hell of a year. I mean that in both the best and worst possible sense of that word, but for the purposes of positivity, I am going to focus on the best.

2017 began with a bang – quite literally. I spent my favourite New Years Eve yet in a high rise in the Auckland, curled up with a bottle of Shiraz and watching King Kong (adrenaline-pinching, amiright?). When the clock struck midnight, I ran out to the balcony and watched fireworks cartwheel over the luminescent city.

I began the year how I intended to finish it: with a map in one hand and a suitcase in the other. For the first week of January, we road tripped across the North Island of New Zealand. Beginning in Auckland, we zig-zagged our way down south, making pit stops in iconic places such as Hobbiton. We concluded the journey in Wellington, where we filled several action-packed days making the most of the capital’s cultural scene.

Trying to be all creative and such at Hobbiton in Mata Mata

Stumbling across a painted piano on the waterfront… just your average Wellington shenanigans

Feeling nosy? Get your business all up in my travel vlog of the North Island road trip 🎬

February was a milestone month for me in that it was the first time I published a piece of work on an independent platform.

I had been a follower of the feminist travel blog – Travelettes – for some time by this point, and was eager to try my hand at submitting a guest post. Not expecting much, I wrote an article on navigating the turbulent landscape of homesickness, and voila! How to Get Comfortable with Traveling was published a few weeks later.

This was also a time that I began to realise the value of my home. Foreshadowings of change in the coming months were beginning to creep into my life, and I began to feel a need to explore and appreciate my own city before the opportunity escaped me.

On the hottest day of the summer, I launched my beach review series at Saint Kilda Beach in Dunedin. On what was likely the windiest day, I made the trek up to Lover’s Leap to take in the jaw-dropping views of the Otago Peninsula.

Totally not posing at Saint Kilda Beach

Channeling my inner Tolkien at Lover’s Leap

If you ask me what my favourite part of New Zealand is, my answer will irrevocably by Central Otago.

For some reason or another, I decided in March that a Central Otago escape was in order. Drawn by the temptation of vineyards and gourmet cheese, I packed my bags and left the coast behind.

Quite by chance, my trip synchronised with a spontaneous roadie of my friend Becky (check out this interview with her), and one Saturday morning, we decided to go on an adventure up the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown (the tourist capital of New Zealand). A bottle of mulled wine later, and we decided that skinny dipping in glacial lakes seemed like a good idea.

Becky being the badass that she is

The stunning Lake Dunstan in Cromwell

Central Otago is the most beautiful place on Earth, and no one can convince me otherwise

(Let’s just pretend I didn’t just skip two months, okay?)

If anyone ever tells you that running away from your problems never solves anything…. well, they’re wrong.

Okay, so that’s probably not the best advice to be giving you. But in this particular case, it worked wonders.

Midway through 2017, I was not a happy chappy. As special as my home country of New Zealand was to me, I just wasn’t prepared to invest in a short-term future there. I was nearing the last semester of my degree, and needed to be thinking about what I was going to do once I walked out of that exam room for the final time. During June, I really worked myself into a state over this, and — against the wishes and logic of nearly everyone I knew — I resolved that unhappiness by buying a one-way ticket to Spain. You could say I was quite literally running — flying? — away from my problems.

I landed in Madrid a week later and I never looked back. I fell in love with Spain in the same way you might fall in love with someone who saves your life. The language, the culture, the people… I was starving for change, and took everything in my stride.

Palacio de Cibales in Madrid

As chance had it, I arrived in the Spanish capital the same weekend of World Pride, and had the unmissable opportunity to march down Puerta del Sol with three million other supporters. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the first LGBTIQ pride parade in Spain, so it was a particularly special event indeed.

There’s nothing like a bit of ELO

After falling for Madrid, I bought a train ticket south to the Mediterranean paradise of Andalusia. I delighted in tastes of Málaga, Granada and Seville before bidding a short adiós to Spain and flying to the City of Love.

Just east of Málaga… those beautiful moments before I was reduced to a sun-burnt lobster

As I wrote on the blog, Paris is… well, Paris. And as Anne Rice said, “Paris was a universe whole and entire unto herself, hollowed and fashioned by history… as vast and indestructible as nature itself”. One of us definitely nailed it.

To me, Paris was always one of those places where the idea surmounted the reality. To elaborate, I never actually thought I would make it there. Not in any macabre way or anything – it was just that Paris always seemed so far away and distant, as though belonging to someone else’s dream. To stand in her very midst was a surreal experience.

Because nothing screams Paris like the same photo taken by every tourist ever

I didn’t think it possible to consider any part of France to prevail over Paris, but that was before I stumbled upon Nice. Nice – the Mediterranean heel of France – drew me for reasons I cannot fathom. Perhaps it was the landscape reminiscent of Andalusia, or the local culture that made it so effortless to feel not on holiday, but at home. All I knew was that when I left – with my pockets full of truffle oil and lavender sweets – I almost felt homesick for a place I barely knew.

A local food tour with the French Way

August was punctuated with one last nod to Spain; I flew to the Catalan capital of Barcelona to immerse myself in Gaudí’s dreamscapes for a couple of weeks.

Blown away by Gaudí’s Park Güell

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year where 2017 would take me, I would not have said Egypt. Not because it didn’t intrigue me – quite the opposite – but because it existed in a completely different world that was incompatible with all safe intentions of the independent, female traveler. And yet – much to the joys of my mother and father – I found myself spontaneously stepping off the plane at Cairo airport in the early days of September.

Cairo was all I wanted it to be and more. I ticked the touristic activities off my bucket list – think Pyramids and Citadel – but I also had the opportunity to explore a more authentic side to things such as markets. Staying with locals certainly didn’t hurt, either. I was also treated to some classic street harassment, which was neither appreciated nor altogether surprising. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t pick and choose the positive aspects of a culture.

Making friends in the desert

Taking in views from the Citadel

After over three months of living out of a suitcase, I eventually made it to my final destination: the United Kingdom. There, I began my final semester as an undergraduate on exchange in England.

It was relaxing to be able to focus on my studies for a wee while without another trip looming on the horizon. As invigorating as I find travel, it does mean sacrificing the little things. Like routine. And gym memberships. And a proper bed.

It is now mid-December, and I have itchy feet again. My restlessness has me trawling through budget flight search engines, keeping an eye out for deals. My camera has sunk into the depths of my wardrobe, and the Ginger Passports feels naked without fresh content three times a week.

The last two and a half months haven’t produced the same content as when I first left New Zealand, but I’ve still managed to be productive; just last week, I had a second piece published on the Travelettes called Barcelona vs. Madrid: Which Spanish City Is For You?

I’m not choosing to think of 2018 as the beginning of something new. I’ve learnt that seeing starts and ends to things isn’t always healthy, and can pre-empt failure if intended plans don’t exactly take shape. Rather, January 1st will just be another day. I won’t set goals for the next twelve months, nor will I foster expectation. My blog – and myself – will grow at our own pace, and enjoy what life has to offer on this side of the world 🌍

P.S. Hello from January! 👋 For a more audiovisual recap, check out this little flick

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4 Reasons Why Travel is Rewarding for Everyone

People travel for lots of different reasons. Whether you’re setting off on your dream holiday, taking the opportunity to go traveling in between studying, or getting some much-needed time away from the everyday grind, visiting another country (or countries) is on a lot of people’s to-do lists.

No matter what your motivations are, it’s an experience you’ll never forget — for all the right reasons. But in case you need convincing, here are four reasons why travel is rewarding for everyone…

You’ll learn about different cultures

Staying in a place which has different traditions, a different way of living, and a different way of thinking to what you’re accustomed to can be a bit of a shock to start with. But over time, you’ll become more open-minded and learn to see and understand life from the locals’ perspective (even if you don’t always share the same opinions).

A particularly vivid memory of mine is when I spent several weeks in Vietnam and had the opportunity to learn the process of growing rice and experience riding a water buffalo. At the time, I wasn’t convinced by the prospect of getting my hands dirty (literally), but afterwards, I had a newfound appreciation for rural Vietnamese life and agriculture.

In addition to locals, you’ll meet new people from all over the world; some of whom may become friends you will stay in touch with long after your trip is over.

You’ll have new experiences and give your brain a workout

Travel can be the perfect way to mix things up if you’re stuck in a rut. New places, new food, better weather (sometimes!)… all of these combine to create something fresh, which is ideal when you need a break. You could even take a class — why not try learning traditional dancing in India or cooking in Thailand?

Furthermore – just like any other muscle – your brain needs exercise. Being thrown into a new situation is an excellent way of making it work hard. The pathways in the brain that are used most often stay strong, whilst those that aren’t are more likely to become weaker. Having a break from your usual routine will force the lesser-used parts of the brain to become active, so the more you travel and try new things, the stronger your brain becomes.

You can tailor the trip to suit you

Whether you’re a student on a gap year, a family of four, a traveller with a medical condition or an office worker taking a break, the flexibility of modern travel means your plans can be shaped around your needs. This means that it’s worth doing some research to find deals that suit you.

There are lots of options available. A quick internet search will take you to the most thrifty budget options if you’re cautious about spending too much money or need to book family-friendly accommodation.

Don’t forget; travel doesn’t have to be exclusive. There’s plenty of information online about the best destinations for disabled travellers. Any attraction worth its salt will have taken accessibility into account, with many providing designated tours, guides, and mobility aids such as wheelchairs.

You’ll overcome challenges

Unexpected hiccups happen. It’s part of life, and it’s part of travelling. But don’t let that put you off — you’ll get a confidence boost after you deal with them and you’ll be better equipped for the future.

The day I had planned to visit Ha Long Bay (because apparently everything happens in Vietnam), I was struck with ceaseless bad luck: first I woke up terribly ill. Then my friend and I were given the wrong itinerary and nearly missed the bus. Then I left half of my luggage in the hotel room. Then I had hot coffee spilt all over me. And then – just to top it off – our boat was cancelled and replaced with one not nearly as thrilling as the one we had booked and paid for.

Things weren’t exactly what you would call smooth-sailing (pun intended). Nevertheless, I was left with two options: either let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fly by, or chug on. As I wrote in my blog post, despite all of the misfortunes, three shining positives came out of what was set to be a very negative experience. 1) I saw the unforgettable grandeur of Ha Long Bay 2) I gained the confidence that I can take ownership in a sticky situation 3) I unearthed the ability to put a dreadful incident behind me and see it, not as a waste of money, but as a learning curve.

You’d be surprised at what you can do when you need to solve a problem, and there are few things more rewarding than successfully tackling any obstacles in your path.

This article was co-written with Matthew

Matthew has always been a weekend traveller. He is currently finishing his Master’s degree in Forestry and Environmental Studies, and works as a freelance writer for a few travel and pro-environment websites. He has traveled to Europe and North America, and he’s planning to tour around Asia once he’s completed his studies.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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