‘My favourite Christmas abroad’: readers’ travel tips | Christmas and New Year holidays


Winning tip: A zen Christmas with disco karaoke, Japan

One Christmas, I went to a zen meditation retreat in Oita, on the southernmost Kyushu island, because I was feeling very burned out. The meditation retreat, as you would imagine, was pretty relaxed and the resident monk and I got along very well. Oita is famous for its fugu – the poisonous puffer fish – and for Christmas dinner, I took the only other person at the retreat and the monk into the city for a fugu feast. After a visit to a karaoke bar where we sang I Will Survive, the three of us rounded our Christmas off at a whisky bar before riding the train back to the temple to meditate before bed. Best Christmas ever!
Sarah Martin

Festive fireworks on the beach, Bangkok

Beach at Ko Chang, Thailand
Beach at Ko Chang, Thailand

In Bangkok over Christmas, we decided to head to the island of Ko Chang. A five-hour drive was livened up by the karaoke machine in the back of the taxi. Our hotel’s attempt at roast turkey – served beachside – was not a great success. Fireworks and dancing at the Sabay Bar on White Sand beach that night were more like it. And splashing out on a speedboat back to the mainland on Boxing Day was a fun end to the trip.
David Hall

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The belénes of Granada, Spain

Alhambra, Granada.
Alhambra, Granada. Photograph: Alamy

Arriving late by bus, still wearing ski gear, we trundled our cabin bags over the cobbles in search of our rented apartment in the heart of medieval Granada. It was Christmas Eve. Everyone was out: drinking cava, sharing tapas or queuing to see the belénes, the nativity scenes set up in all the plazas. We went to midnight mass in the Cathedral, and on Christmas morning, climbed up to the viewpoint at the Albaicín, the old Moorish quarter. From there, the Alhambra looked sublime against its backdrop of snow-capped peaks, the same mountains we had skied down just the day before.
Helen Barnes

Romance on the 102nd floor, New York

Moonrise in New York City
Moonrise in New York City. Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

New York, 2009. Baggage handlers kindly mislaid our luggage, making our engagement more problematic than I’d have liked, but the snow and the scenery and the gasp of “really?” when I popped the question atop the Empire State Building on Christmas morning, followed by a Christmas dinner of burgers in the Diamond District, more than made up for it. There really is no other place like it, certainly not at Christmas. Visiting the Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, taking a horse ride through Central Park – they all sound like cliches but were simply magical moments we’d recommend everyone experience. We spent a lot on phone calls to the airline, but who cares?
Jonathan Greenbank

A bushveld feast, South Africa

Olifants River seen from Olifants camp, Kruger national park, South Africa.
Olifants River seen from Olifants camp, Kruger national park. Photograph: Alamy

We had a family holiday at Shimuweni, a remote bushveld camp down a small dirt track in the Kruger national park, self-catering. After a day of drizzle we spent an hour trying to extract ourselves from the mud before sundown. No Christmas dinner has ever been quite such fun as a spatchcocked chicken masquerading as a turkey, green peppers (the only greens in the camp shop) as sprouts, baked potatoes cooked direct in the embers and some barbecued pineapple for pudding. Having hidden tinsel and a few tiny gifts in our hand luggage the whole trip, pulling them out to my parents’ utter surprise was entirely worth it.
Sophie

Retreading the missionary path, India

For Christmas in 2016, my family and I went on a trip to southern India to see where my mum spent six years of her childhood in the 60s when her dad was a missionary. It was a fascinating trip and surprisingly Christmassy in a weird and wonderful way – a whole cooked turkey with the head and neck still on, anyone? At the Christmas Day church service Mum bumped into a friend who she used to play with when she was a child, and we swam in the sea at Kovalam beach just as she did with her family all those years ago.
Alex Robinson

A wondrous walk, Jordan

Petra Bedouin
Photograph: Andre Pain/EPA

Our twist on Christmas was set in Jordan and began with a sleepless night on Christmas Eve in a wind-battered tent – although “tent” was a loose term for the patchy tarpaulins we used for shelter, and a structural collapse occurred at 3am. Despite the mishaps, Christmas morning began in style with a sip of prosecco and a bite of Mum’s homemade Christmas cake for all. Once clad in festive antlers, we set off on a walk through the mountains to the majestic monastery in Petra. Festive greetings from home and an unusual Christmas dinner, consisting of a cucumber, an orange and flatbread, rounded off a brilliant Christmas Day in one of the wonders of the world.
Rhian Thomas

An alternative white Christmas, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni and cactus
Salar de Uyuni. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/Getty Images

My most unusual Christmas Day was on the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – white, but salt, not snow. We visited the Salt Hotel, then drove over packed salt to walk on a island with weird cactuses everywhere. Then it was on to a very basic hostel – no electricity (cold showers) and unisex dorms with cast-iron bunk beds – for a dinner of spag bol reheated over a gas cylinder burner and carols by candlelight. After a short night, Boxing Day saw us visiting the amazing Sol de Mañana geysers before heading to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, which was like a wild west film set.
Micki Hobbs

Viennese whirlwind, Austria

Crowd of people skating in front of Rathausplatza
Photograph: Tolga Ildun/Alamy

With no plans on Christmas morning we searched for an impromptu mini-break and chose three nights in Vienna, departing Stansted at 8pm. No traffic, no queues, last train into the city, and a taxi around the Ringstrasse – illuminated golden bright on a silent night – for chocolate in bed as the clock struck midnight. Cafe Hawelka, Wiener wurst, Christmas markets, ice skating, Belvedere Museum Klimts, the ferris wheel at Prater, feeling giggly after gluhwein, looking for the Third Man aboard a clanking tram … Vienna simply dazzles at Christmas. Sometimes the unexpected presents are the best.
Sonia Marshall

Mastering the haka, New Zealand

Piha beach and Lion Rock at sunset, New Zealand
Piha beach and Lion Rock at sunset, New Zealand Photograph: Andrew Watson/Getty Images

Taking part in a local haka contest – and winning it – on Christmas Day on a New Zealand beach was the last thing I expected to do during my backpacking trip around the world. While sunbathing on Piha beach near Lion Rock, just outside Auckland, I was invited to learn the ceremonial dance so decided to go for it along with several other tourists. My terrific trainer, Ari (whose name apparently means Lion of God), should take all the credit for my prize – a large live sheep and a Māori tattoo on my shoulder. Strictly Come Dancing it certainly wasn’t, but a Christmas with a difference it sure was.
Greta Cooper



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New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world: readers’ travel tips | Christmas and New Year holidays


Winning tip: When Jesus fixed my Jeep, Chile

Our all-girls group’s plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve while camping and stargazing in Chile’s eerie Atacama Desert almost went wrong. Thanks to Jesus, it all worked out. Our tight budget led us to rent a Jeep from a backstreet car-hire firm in San Pedro. Result – a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, a friendly group of locals led by the aptly named Jesus, who had some mechanical knowledge, were also heading out to the desert and stopped to help us. Result: a shared trip, wine, food, campfires and songs in English and Spanish under the mystical Atacama skies to see out and welcome in the year in a stunning setting and with great company.
Yasmin Cox

Cold night with hot music, New Orleans

The Rock’n’Bowl in New Orleans.
‘Overrun with revellers’: the Rock’n’Bowl in New Orleans. Photograph: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

One New Year’s Eve in the early 2000s, my partner and I were housesitting a friend’s shack in New Orleans. The temperature had plunged to -5C, remarkable for Nola. Totally unprepared for this unusual cold, we put on our onesie long johns and walked to Mid-City Lanes Rock‘n’Bowl. We rented a lane, ordered po’ boys (a Louisiana sandwich) and beers, bowled, and wandered downstairs to hear legendary local singer and guitarist Snooks Eaglin (sadly no longer with us). Around 10pm, the Iguanas came onstage and the bowling lanes were overrun with revellers juggling food, drinks and kids while dancing to the Latin-tinged R&B groove music. New Year’s Eve, but just a normal night a Noo Or-lins.
Donna J Hall

Out with the old, Bologna

New Year’s Eve in Bologna.
New Year’s Eve in Bologna, when the burning of a large puppet is part of the festivities. Photograph: Getty Images

To see in 2019 we went to beautiful Bologna where there is a traditional burning of a huge effigy of a man – known as the vecchione (the old one) – in the square at midnight. This symbolises the discarding of all the bad things that happened in the old year and the welcoming in of the new. The night starts with dancing and music where people of all ages drink and enjoy life. As the clock struck 12 we hugged and the flames engulfed the wooden figure as confetti fell from the sky and balloons bounced over the crowd.
Louisa Guise

A Méri old evening, France

Wooden chalet in the mountains, Méribel, France.
Wooden chalet in the mountains, Méribel. Photograph: Nick Daly/Getty Images

In Méribel for New Year’s Eve, a couple from our chalet invites us to the local bar. We are a mixed bunch; some of us in snow boots, some dressed very fashionably. The champagne flows, glasses are raised, then raised again as the mellow sounds of a saxophonist flood the room. The fire crackles, while outside the crescent moon hangs amid twinkling stars; this is paradise. Later, we head to the village square where vin chaud is served by chalet staff as we watch expert skiers descend carrying lanterns while fireworks burst above them. The hour is upon us as we gather around a tree and welcome in the new year. Perfect.
Jean Broad

Wine and jive, Cape Town

Fireworks over Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.
Fireworks over Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Photograph: Alamy

A sunset picnic on Table Mountain, washed down with silky-smooth Stellenbosch wines, was a great way to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Cape Town at the dawn of the new millennium. As the clock ticked towards midnight, I took the cable car down to the V&A Waterfront, looking down as the mountain tops of the 12 Apostles cast their dramatic shadows over the brooding Atlantic Ocean. An all-night open-air disco carried on the fun, welcoming in the new year for a crowd of all ages and races, with the then 81-year-old Nelson Mandela appearing on the big screen from his nearby home, jiving away, to join in the celebrations.
Gonca Cox

Salsa, sea lions and sculptures in San Diego

San Diego: Darth Vader and a host of stormtroopers join the annual Balloon Parade.
San Diego: Darth Vader and a host of stormtroopers join the annual Balloon Parade. Photograph: Alamy

The welcome sunshine was not just a bonus for me, but also for the sea lions who were basking on the jetty. The Balloon Parade was a party open to everyone, and it was a friendly family atmosphere along with plenty of salsa moves. At sunset, stunning stone sculptures were silhouetted against the skyline. Standing on the boardwalk in Seaport Village was the perfect viewpoint for the midnight fireworks and their sparkling reflections in the sea. A great way to see in the new year – and all for free.
Vanessa Wright

I found Paradise, Ethiopia

The View Of Lake Abaya from Paradise Lodge
Looking out on Lake Abaya from Paradise Lodge. Photograph: Grant Rooney/Alamy

One year I spent 31 December at Paradise Lodge, overlooking Ethiopia’s Lake Chamo in the south-west of the country, where the individual tukuls (round huts) could be described as primitive or charmingly rustic, depending on your take. At the gala dinner we ate berbere-spiced wats (stews) and injera, a flatbread that reminded me of foam rubber in looks and taste. The music ranged from Amy Winehouse to traditional Ethiopian tunes, and a group of Indian visitors proved funky dancers whatever the beat. Midnight arrived, along with a huge cake, poppers, streamers and more dance music. The international partying continued until the early hours when I returned to what seemed like a palatial room.
Helen Jackson



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My travel dream for 2021: top 12 readers’ tips | Travel


Winning tip: A perfect ’stan

Covid willing, we’ll be heading to Kyrgyzstan. It’s at that perfect point where the infrastructure supports a great travel experience, but it’s not become spoiled by tourists. Bishkek is modern and vibrant, and in the stunning rural areas it’s possible to stay with nomads living the traditional life. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with delicious locally sourced food. Kyrgyz community-based tourism proved an affordable way to experience the life of horse-riding nomads living in yurts, and the money goes into the community itself.
Minnie Martin

Where the map takes us, Wester Ross

Evening sunlight over Achnahaird Bay, Wester Ross.
Evening sunlight over Achnahaird Bay, Wester Ross.
Photograph: Lorraine Yates/Alamy Stock Photo

The west coast of Scotland is our wild goal. During the neverending house tidy of 2020, we found the Gairloch & Ullapool area OS map and pored over it – a bit of geography home learning for my son, who liked the wriggly contour lines and the consonant-heavy names of the lochs and mountains. We’ll take the high road to Gairloch to see orca and minke (Hebridean Whale Cruises, £64 adult, £35 child), stay in a wooden wigwam at Sands campsite (from £52pp), and walk to the beach humming the Skye boat song.
Nancy Gladstone

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Island dream, Lundy

Tourists land from MS Oldenburg on Lundy Island.
The MS Oldenburg landing on Lundy. Photograph: Backyard Production/Getty Images

My son, daughter and I have been making lists of where we want to go since the first lockdown. We’ve booked a few days on Lundy for next August in the hope that it will be safe to travel again by then. It only involves a five-hour drive to Ilfracombe, Devon, and then a couple of hours on HMS Oldenburg (which for my three-year-old boy will be the holiday made before we even get there). We’ll stay in Castle Cottage, in the keep of a castle built by Henry III in 1250. There’s nothing to do but explore cliffs, beaches and lighthouses, and look for the crashed bomber plane in the heather. And there’s no internet.
Kate Attrill

All a-Twitter for York

Curtor holding an 800-year-old figure of Christ
An 800-year-old figure of Christ returned to York last year and on display at the Yorkshire Museum. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

I’d love to go to York and visit the Yorkshire Museum as their wonderful tweets – mainly about odd or mysterious items in their collection – have kept me entertained and brought history alive this year. A pint or two in the city’s ancient pubs and a wander home to characterful lodgings would just cap a cultural visit off nicely!
Liz

Mind-Boggling Whitby, North Yorkshire

Boggle Hole YHA, Robin Hood’s Bay.
Boggle Hole YHA near Robin Hood’s Bay. Photograph: Ian Bottle/Alamy

Low cost and close to home, a stay with the YHA at Boggle Hole is always a welcome relief. A converted watermill with a reception, bar and cosy sitting room complete with a log fire and leather couches, it’s in a pebbled cove overlooking the sea, with wooded cliffs on either side. Go in spring or early autumn and the prices are as low as £29 a night. Walk across the sandy beach to Robin Hoods Bay or over the jagged cliffs to Ravenscar to see the seals.
Safiya El-Gindy

Golden Glasgow

Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Photograph: Black Jake/Getty Images

I long for the wide expansiveness of Glasgow boulevards: west-facing, bathed in the golden glow of light glancing off sandstone. I long for the cobbled alleyways, armpit-piled bookshops, curiosity shops crammed with treasure; and also the glitzy, glassy, high street emporiums filled with unafforded luxuries. I long for views of the university, the Campsie Fells, the high flats, the rivers snaking through. And the tearooms, pubs, gastropubs, curry houses, Asian street food haunts, delis and restaraunts high end and greasy spoon. It’s only two hours away but has been impossibly out of reach. I long for full immersion, to be sated by all its gritty, impossibly romantic, unabashed grandeur.
Fiona

Simply sublime, Cotswolds Way

The Cotswold Way at Crickley Hill.
The Cotswold Way at Crickley Hill. Photograph: Alamy

In 2021 I want to carry on enjoying the benefits of the simple pleasures of travelling that 2020 led us to – like walking and talking. I want to walk the Cotswolds Way from Broadway to Bath, breathing in fresh air, wondering at big skies, scanning rolling hills in the distance while getting fitter without going to gyms or swimming in chlorinated pools or using mobile apps. Its 120 miles should take about a week, staying in village pubs along the way. Travel, like life, should be about connecting reality to your imagination by inspiration, which can come in the purest, most simple of forms.
Nick

Faroes football

My dream is to fulfil a Covid-delayed bucket-list trip to see the ultimate sporting underdog story, and take my football-crazy nine-year-old on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We will be travelling to see the Faroe Islands play an international match on home turf. They’re due to play Scotland on 12 October in a World Cup qualifier. Fly into the capital, Torshavn, and you can walk to the stadium. Hire a car for the full Faroes experience: it’s the bird-watching capital of Europe. Hotel Streym in Torshavn has Atlantic views and doubles from £90.
John Connolly

Harvest festival with a difference, Ukraine

Harvest time on a farm near Lviv, Ukraine
Harvest time on a farm near Lviv, Ukraine. Photograph: Martin Charlesworth

It will take the best part of a day and a half but here’s my plan: a few buses, some trains and a flight from my home in the Ribble valley to Ukraine, crossing the Polish border at Przemyśl. I’m expecting Lviv to be “bruised but not broken” as the Ray Davies song goes, with coffee, cake and varenyky (dumpling) culture still largely intact. I plan to go in August for the Saviour of the Apple feast, an Eastern Orthodox celebration of harvest. The reason for going is not necessarily the destination or the festival but the sweet joy of a long journey to a foreign land and interaction with strangers at long last.
Martin Charlesworth

Totally ore-some, Mauritania

The iron ore train, Mauritania

For 2021, I want to travel somewhere that is remote with low population density and gives me an adrenaline rush. After a bit of research, I’ve chosen to go on the iron ore train in Mauritania. The 700km journey on a cargo train from the north of the country to the west coast takes around 34 hours. This train is among the world’s longest and heaviest and riding it is totally free. From time to time, I look at the photos and videos of the journey on the internet and instantly get goosebumps. See for yourself. It’s total madness.
Venkata K C Tata

Silk Road: Samarkand to Baku

The Registan place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
The Registan place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photograph: Andrey Vishin/Alamy

As we enter 2021 with unbridled hope and optimism for a better year filled with limitless freedom and a vaccinated global population, never have I wanted more to return to completing my journey of the Silk Road, started in 2019. Beginning in Xi’an and Kashgar, China, I headed west to Almaty, Kazakhstan, before crossing over into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. My trip allowed just enough time to reach dazzling Samarkand in Uzbekistan. My trip ended at the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, a breathtaking marvel from which I hope to restart my adventure in 2021. My aim is to reach Tehran, from where I will return to Baku, one of my favourite cities, for a deserved cup of coffee.
Scott Strachan

Mountain overload, Georgia

Kazbegi, Georgia.
Kazbegi, Georgia. Photograph: Franka Hummels

I want to be overwhelmed by Georgia’s Kazbegi region again. I want to get so exhausted by marvellous hikes – where I will not meet a soul – that the next day will be spent on a balcony with a book that gets little attention because the mountains take my breath away. I will only leave that balcony to eat terrific vegetarian Georgian food, with the same view. That balcony I left and want to return to is at Rooms Hotel, where doubles go for $100 – steep by Georgian standards but worth it and not as steep as those mountain slopes.
Franka Hummels





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