London in the Summertime

London gets a bad rap for weather, which is sort of…deserved. But that’s not to say that you won’t get at least two glorious weeks of summer each year. Since the summer is famously fleeting, be ready to make the most out of it. When the sun comes out, so does everyone else. Although London gets part of its personality from the ubiquitous drizzle, it shines during the summer.

When you’re planning your trip, look at Hotels4U for London Hotels that are close to transport links so you can access all that the city has to offer. Most of central London is walkable, but there’s plenty to see on the fringe and for that, your best option is usually the train system. Here are just a couple of suggestions to get you started.

Richmond

Set on the banks of the Thames, Richmond is the perfect place to find a pub and claim an outdoor table for the afternoon. If you want to do some exploring before settling in, check out Kew Gardens or Richmond Park. You could also visit Hampton Court Palace on the way in or out of London. Bear in mind that when it rains in Richmond, it pours:

High Tide 2 London in the Summertime
Well, that’s unfortunate. But at least the sun is out!

Greenwich

On a sunny day, jump on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich, ground zero for the modern concept of timekeeping. This is where time starts, and you can get a photo of yourself straddling the prime meridian. Greenwich is its own little center of activity, with the Royal Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark (the world’s last surviving tea clipper) all within walking distance.

Covent Garden

If you’d rather stick to the heart of the city, head down to Covent Garden. It’s an old covered marketplace that is a constant flurry of activity. You can shop, watch street performers, eat, drink, and generally be merry. Is it touristy? Yes. But for good reason.

Notting Hill

Admittedly, I’m biased towards Notting Hill because I used to live there. It’s close to Portobello Market, a long street lined with a hodgepodge of shops and its main attraction, the Saturday market. It is rammed with people but don’t let that stop you. Get there early and investigate what the stalls have to offer – you could find anything, from trinkets to the best chocolate banana crepes this side of Paris.

London revels in its brief, blissful moments of summer. It’s a time when people break out the Pimm’s and (somewhat bizarrely) eschew the sunscreen, soaking up as much of the season as they possibly can. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you are in London, because you’ll be able to sense the way people’s moods have buoyed. Pull up a chair and join them, but bring an umbrella – just in case.

High tide London in the Summertime
May as well go to the pub.

Rail Tours: Destination Checklist

If you thought rail travel was only about commuting to work or visiting family, think again. From desert odysseys to mountain adventures, city breaks to luxury safaris, railways holidays come in all different sorts of shapes and sizes.

Here’s a quick guide to just some of the many different kinds of trip on offer.

Short breaks

If you’ve only got a few days to spare or want to make the most of your weekends, a short UK railway break could be just what you’re looking for. Hop on a train in London or closer to home and be whisked to the Highlands of Scotland, the wilds of Wales or the beauty of Cornwall. Your travel and accommodation will all be arranged for you, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the view!

4703986442 1d0e91a2f4 Rail Tours: Destination Checklist
Train station in Berlin

Historic journeys

If you have a love of trains and a love of history, taking a trip on a classic steam train through timeless countryside could well be your ideal summer break. All around the UK, steam trains carry enthusiasts to some of the most beautiful parts of the country, but if you’ve got more time then you could even visit Belgium, Austria or Germany by rail.

For anyone interested in the battles of World War One, a train journey to the sights and monuments of the conflict would be a weekend to remember. Your guides will talk you through the momentous events that took place in these now peaceful towns and villages and give you a real insight into what life was like back in the early 1900s.

Exotic excursions

Those who want to travel even further afield may think rail journeys are out of the question – but they’d be wrong! Go on safari in South Africa, visit the temples of Sri Lanka or walk round the imperial cities of China with sensational rail journeys throughout these countries.

3936628067 dba65bcc37 Rail Tours: Destination Checklist
Tracks to adventures and travels still unknown!

Long haul breaks can last anywhere from one week to three weeks, but you can also arrange a custom-made trip and experience everything that your chosen destination has to offer at your own place.

If you’ve got a list of places that you want to visit, a rail tour is almost guaranteed to take you there. As train holidays let you travel around and experience cities, towns and villages at a more relaxed pace, you’ll come back with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what your destination has to offer.

Top Three Winter Sun Destinations for Brits

With the worst winter in decades supposedly on its way to Britain this Christmas, it’s pretty clear that some of us will need to get out of here quick sharp if we can – unless you fancy hibernating in your bedroom after the boiler inevitably packs up. It might be in your best interests to treat yourself to a warm, sunny Christmas instead, perhaps.

Fortunately, there are plenty of continental locations for you to hop over to for some sun-soaked respite from the coming icy blasts. Winter sun destinations are simply the best thing when it comes to beating the winter blues. Here are our favourites.

 

The Canaries

Visiting the Canary Islands is great value for money. They offer some of the most diverse holiday destinations in Europe and if you can visit more than one of the islands, you’ll really benefit from the variety. Cheap holidays to Fuerteventura are particularly popular.

11653511925 1c60cac864 Top Three Winter Sun Destinations for Brits
Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Center

There are seven islands on the peninsula in total and they all have their own individuality and particular charms to offer as well as enjoying year-round sunshine.

If you want to spend your Christmas indulging in wild parties, head down to Tenerife for its legendary party atmosphere. On the other hand, if you prefer more than just nightlife, head to Lanzarote, which offers more family-friendly activities, like the Submarine Safari and the Guinate Tropical Park.

 

Cyprus

For such a small island, Cyprus is chock-full of local culture and history, and importantly, some impressive nightlife to enjoy. It’s a great Christmas getaway: you’ll be able to justify your cheeky little break with all the culture and have your New Year’s Eve party fun, too.

327430381 bff95eb162 Top Three Winter Sun Destinations for Brits
Photo courtesy flickr user Chany14

Limassol, Larnaca and Ayia Napa all have famously exciting nightlife scenes – particularly the latter, which plays host to over 20 nightclubs on the main strip in town alone. The only thing about visiting Cyprus during Christmas time is that you may not want to return to Britain; the sunshine, warm lapping seas, halloumi cheese, wine and all the fresh seafood will make you forget all about going back to reality.

 

Madeira, Portugal

If you’re thinking of a later winter escape – around February (when the cold is at its worst and there’s nothing to look forward to), then consider heading over to the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. But never mind the (admittedly excellent) beaches and the cuisine; your priority will be Madeira’s version of Rio’s famous Mardi Gras Carnival.

11171173874 893a37f502 Top Three Winter Sun Destinations for Brits
Photo courtesy flickr user Gertrud K.

Traditionally, there are two Carnival parades in Madeira. The first one takes place on the Saturday of the Carnival Weekend – expect a riot of Samba dancing and the most outrageous and vibrant, colourful costumes. The second parade follows on Shrove Tuesday.

 

Staying in chill, grey Britain over winter is not an appealing prospect for most people. But when there are so many gorgeous and sunlit locations so close by, it’s not necessary to suffer the chill. There’s simply no sense in enduring it when you could be enjoying yourself in much warmer climes. So make sure you make the right decision this winter – you certainly won’t regret it!

 

 

 

3 Insane Hotels You Won’t Believe Are Out There

According to Jake Bush, a Braun & Steidl hotel architect and developer, anyone who makes it their business to craft a hotel considers the following: “who is the guest, and why are they here”. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why hotels across the board vary wildly—each one is trying to accommodate a specific kind of traveler.

For the most part, hotels are trying to cater to the business traveler, the luxury vacation traveler, and the budget-friendly traveler. However, there’s still another kind of traveler out there that some very unique and utterly strange hotels try to cater to, which is: the adventurous, experience-seeking, explorer.

These travelers want accommodations that are nearly the polar opposite of all the others—they want intrigue, danger, and a unique experience they can’t get anywhere else in the world—plus, they’re often willing to sacrifice a substantial amount of comfort, just for the experience. For every other kind of traveler, comfort is the last thing to be sacrificed when it comes to hotels. You can find out more at Accor, http://accorhotels.com.au/.

So, what kind of hotels does this kind of traveler frequent? Here’s my top picks for the world’s most insane, strange, and quirky hotels—some, you just won’t believe actually exist!

THE MIRRORCUBE |  Location: Harads—Sweden

What is This Place? Well, The Mirrorcube is exactly what it sounds like, actually; it’s an extremely lightweight aluminum box (4x4x4 meters) with one-way mirrors for walls.

Accommodations: At most, it can only accommodate two guests at a time—imagine the waiting list! However, the interior—albeit small—provides a double bed, a living room space, a bathroom, and the exterior roof provides a nice roof-tip terrace.

What the Adventure-Traveler Loves: Per the description thus far, The Mirrorcube might not seem that interesting, but I haven’t mentioned yet that this mirrored box is actually camouflaged within a tree canopy, suspended above ground, around a tree trunk that shoots up through the center.

How the world do you get in?! By way of a rope bridge, connected to a neighboring tree!

Fun Fact: Since The Mirrorcube is located in a tree canopy and is made of mirrors, occupants are provided a 360-degree view of the surroundings. Sounds cool, right? Well, to local wildlife—specifically birds that might fly right into it—it’s not so cool. To handle this concern, all of the reflective glass is embedded with an ultraviolet color that only birds can see.


mirrorcube 3 Insane Hotels You Wont Believe Are Out There

ICEHOTEL Location: Jukkasjarvi—Sweden

What is This Place? Again, the name really is what it is—it’s an entire hotel made from snow and ice! Apparently, it’s the largest in the world, which sparked this comment from me: There’s more than one?!

Accommodations: While the beds—as well as the furniture and fixtures—are made of solid ice, they’re covered in the finest, warmest, furs. From what I understand there aren’t individual rooms; guests enjoy a more of a community experience—sharing body heat probably helps!

What the Adventure-Traveler Loves: It’s a hotel made of ice—what wouldn’t an adventure-seeker like about that?! With temperatures never rising above minus 5 degrees Celsius, adventure travelers will have a wonderful time walking around in snow pants and furs, while enjoying the company of other like-minded travelers.

Fun Fact: The ICEHOTEL only exists in the winter months—it melts after that! Every year, in November, the ICEHOTEL architects get together and design a whole new structure. Several hundred tons of ice is used in the process and it provides return guests a different experience every year!

icehotel 250x250 3 Insane Hotels You Wont Believe Are Out There

KAROSTAS CIETUMS | Location: Leipaja—Latvia

What is This Place? It’s a prison—no, really, it’s actually a prison. Well, a former one, anyway.

Accommodations: It’s not terribly dressed up from being anything other than a prison. Guests sleep on grungy prison bunks, eat prison food, and even take a substantial amount of abuse from the guards—I’m assuming they limit that to verbal abuse. I think even the adventure-traveler draws the line at paying for physical abuse from the hotel staff.

What the Adventure-Traveler Loves: “A good hotel has got to be safe, clean, and have a good staff,” says our hotel developer Jake Bush, so the adventure-traveler loves that this hotel does all of the opposite. Karostas provides an experience—one that you can’t typically get unless you commit war crimes for a living.

Fun Fact: As a former military prison—constructed in 1905—Karostas imprisoned Stalin-era war criminals, revolutionists, and even KGB operatives.

KAROSTAS CIETUMS 3 Insane Hotels You Wont Believe Are Out There

All photos courtesy of the respective hotels.  adventure travel 3 Insane Hotels You Wont Believe Are Out There

Discovering the Romance of Berlin

When I was nine, my fourth grade teacher held up a small velvet pouch.

“Inside this bag is something very important,” she said.

The class was entranced. What was in it? Gold? Money? Chocolate?

She reached into the bag and slowly pulled out…a rock.

Our faces screwed up in disappointed confusion. A rock? Half of us could have turned out our pockets to reveal the very same thing.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Mrs. Trettin said. “What’s so special about a rock?”

Our interest was piqued. That was exactly what we’d been thinking. Mrs. Trettin’s mind-reading capabilities kept our attention where the rock couldn’t.

“This rock came all the way from Germany. It’s a piece of the Berlin Wall.”

Berlin Wall Discovering the Romance of Berlin
The Berlin Wall.

She went on to explain how the Berlin Wall had been formed and subsequently destroyed. I was fascinated. It was like the imaginary line I made in the living room that my little sister couldn’t cross, but real.

For the next 18 years, Berlin existed in my mind as a city full of rubble, war-torn and grey, host to an atrocious leader and military enemies.

I was wrong.

Berlin holds a special kind of romance. It’s not obvious, like the gondolas of Venice or a sidewalk café in Paris. It’s gritty but beautiful, scarred but alive.

Where I expected blandness and institutionalism, I got elegant architecture, archways, and mint-green rooftops. I wanted to stay longer than three nights; I wanted to rent an apartment and spend the whole summer there. Berlin has layers that can’t be peeled away in a few days.

The history is what made Berlin shine, and I’m not a history nut by any means. But when I stood in front of the remnants of the Berlin wall, I was fully awed. I love that pieces of the wall still stand as a silent acknowledgement of the past, twisted with metal and fractured by time.

Church Discovering the Romance of Berlin
Beauty in Berlin

Berlin’s romance comes from the way the German people have built towards the future without erasing the past. There are gorgeous old churches and museums to gape at, mysterious sculptures to stumble upon, and colorful murals in unexpected places.

It seems odd to call a place with such a tumultuous history ‘romantic,’ but it is. The city gets in your soul. In the Bebelplatz, formerly known as Opernplatz, the Nazis burned 20,000 books one night in May 1933. I stood there, 75 years later, staring at the memorial embedded in the ground. Unlike coming face-to-face with other pockets of history, like the coliseum or Gettysburg, this felt real. Right there, at my feet, history happened.

I remembered being nine and learning about Berlin for the first time; being introduced by a humble little rock. Mrs. Trettin told us about the burning books, and I was as horrified as a fourth-grader can be; who would have the audacity to burn books? I never imagined that one day, I’d be standing there in Berlin, seeing it for myself.

Berlin invokes feelings of nostalgia, love, and loss, even for someone like me who wasn’t there to experience any of it. The city still stands, vibrant and modern, yet somber and worn, ready to teach us all a thing or two about what it means to be romantic.

Sculpture Discovering the Romance of Berlin
Unexpected artwork