A late Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope everyone is having a happy holiday. I’m home right now, spending some decent time with my family before heading back to Scotland. This obviously means copious trips to Disneyland and wine, though not necessarily in that order. (Sometimes even simultaneously!)
It’s been an interesting past few weeks, with my friend Katie coming up to visit (of Australia fame), my other friend Chrissy coming to visit, (all the way from the States!), and my exams at Uni, followed by one very…sober…celebratory evening with my classmates.
And those posts are coming!
But for now I’m going to go spend some time with my family.
I know you’re all waiting with bated breath to hear my next country of visitation. Bad luck for you all, I’ve already been there. Good luck for you all, I went to a bunch of new places! So, where did I go? Israel, of course.
I’ve brought this up once or twice, I know, but this issue stands at the forefront of my mind. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is something I keep coming face to face with, and I’m constantly struggling with my own thoughts about it. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
But since this topic happens to be one that particularly interests me, I’ve tried to make the most out of the time I’ve been spending in the Middle East. What does this mean? I want to learn both sides, see both narratives for myself and figure out just what exactly I believe.
Now, when I had planned originally on coming to Israel, I had signed up to go visit Hebron (since the Gaza Strip is closed from the Israeli side, I figured Hebron was the next best), and also arranged for a trip down to Sederot, the nearest Israeli town to the wall that seals off Gaza. Like I said, I’m trying to be the best student I can.
Unfortunately, my trip to Hebron was cancelled, due to conflict in Hebron closing down the Old City. That was truly unfortunate. Next time, I suppose.
Fortunately, though, I managed to spend some awesome time in East Jerusalem, visiting the Garden Tomb (where Jesus may have been buried?)
and walking around, eventually meeting a nice Palestinian girl who inquired if I was lost (in English). I answered her, in Arabic, and we became fast friends, her taking me to lunch and then to her workplace, hanging out there before boarding a bus to…somewhere else? A church somewhere? Anyway, we walked around, walking and talking, and I had an excellent time. We were supposed to meet up again, heading to Jericho for the day, but unfortunately never got back in touch.
You all know that the best times I have are when I learn to stop saying “no” and just go with things. So it was with her, when she dragged me on the bus and out of town we went, stopping for a photo of “the best view in town.” She wasn’t wrong.
Next up, my visit to Sederot, (probably) the world’s most fortified city, and an excellent insight into certain aspects of life in the Middle East.
Have you ever wanted to know where to go in Stockholm that won’t be the most expensive thing in the world? Me too.
I’ll let you know when I find it.
Just kidding. I know that’s probably like the 10th time I’ve brought it up, but truly that’s how pervasive the pricing is in Stockholm. Take for instance, this delish lunch we ate at The Hairy Pig Deli, in which I ordered 4 tapas and some dried ham, and we both had a glass of hot mulled wine. It was very, very good. It was also over $100.
Anyway, we spent the next few days mostly on the island of Gamla-Stan, otherwise known as Old Town. It’s incredibly picturesque. It’s also home to the Medieval Museum of Stockholm, which is a neat little place under the King’s Palace and also happens to be free.
We also visited the Photography Musuem, which I would absolutely recommend but I feel like there should be a warning. I wasn’t anticipating the…sensitive nature of the photos. Of course, photography speaks to humanity, and the photos really do that. But there is a lot of gore. A lot of suffering. So be prepared.
I think probobly my most favorite night was my last, in which we wandered Gamla-Stan, drank a few cups of Glogg (hot mulled wine) and ice skated in our shoes on an as-of-yet unopened ice skating rink in the center of town.
Tons of fun.
Have any of you guys ever been to Sweden? What did you do there?
Ok, I promise I won’t do a thousand posts in a row about Scotland. It is, after all, where I live now, so it’s not exactly traveling, is it?
But you know what is traveling? Sweden!
I mentioned in the last post that we spent 4 nights there, and we had an excellent time. The only downside to Stockholm (and Scandinavia in general) is that it’s ridiculously expensive. I knew this, having been to Norway last year, so had booked a hotel that included both breakfast and dinner in order to cut down on costs.
Side note: I booked this hotel using my Citi Prestige card, which gave me the 4th night free. It was also the first time I had stayed at a Nordic Choice hotel, whose Platinum status I received from a status match with IHG. I got my IHG status from the $49/year Chase credit card they offer, which I highly recommend.
Part of the reason I booked this hotel was because I wanted to see what kind of benefits they gave to their top-tier elites. The answer: a resounding meh. The hotel itself, while stylish on the outside, was pretty mediocre overall, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since it was running about $125/night in an area where the median hotel cost is closer to $250/night. I did receive an upgrade to a superior room, which was absolutelymoot due to the fact that my sheet was covered in someone else’s blood, which I only realized on my 2nd night there. At least reception was appalled and gave me 4 free drink vouchers and a giant apology spread. Still…I probably should have been comped the room. I mean…blood? Really?
Anyway, we were a bit limited in the fact that Stockholm was so expensive. A beer? $10. A museum entry? $30. So it was everywhere we went, which meant we spent quite a bit of time perusing the less expensive options, of which Stockholm still has plenty.
So, today I’m going to do something a bit different. I began writing this blog as a catch-all for travel- from rewards points to fancy hotels to stories about the things I do. But lately it feels like all I’ve done is tell you guys these stories. And that’s good, really it is. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
The thing is, I’ve got more to say. So I’m gonna try this a bit. Maybe some reviews on cool travel items I’ve found/used (no, they don’t pay me for it…yet (Though I did join Amazon’s affiliate program so if you buy through the linked photos they will maybe give me money? Who knows!)) Or some recommendations for what to pack based on where you’re going. Maybe even inspirations for dream vacations (I did a couple of these some months back, but wasn’t sure of the reception)
Do these things interest you guys? Let me know in the comments!
And without further ado, my abbreviated list of the coolest and best travel gifts for the holidays (and no, not the awesome novelty ones that you’ll use once and throw into the back of your closet):
1.An excellent travel backpack:
I found my current backpack, an Osprey FarPoint 40, using this list. And it’s gone with me everywhere. I switched from a rolling bag to a backpack fairly early on, because cobblestones are hell and most of the world isn’t paved.
I know, these sound dumb. I was as skeptical as you, believe me. But then I got some, and my life was changed. These things squish your clothes smaller than you would have ever thought possible, and keep everything super organized so when you get to where you’re going, you can unpack in seconds.
3.A plane amenity kit:
I can’t tell you how many flights I took before I finally gave in and accumulated my amenity kit. Half the time airlines will give you bits of these free- but if you don’t want to take forever to gather it all, buying premade ones is cheap- and worth it. My own kit has a pair of socks, chapstick, an eye mask, earplugs, breath mints, a toothbrush/toothpaste, and some lotion. Trust me, they make a huge difference on the plane.
4.Noise canceling headphones.
This probably seems obvious to a lot of you, but I can’t recommend these enough: I initially went with a huge, bulky pair (like the ones you’re probably thinking), but I got tired of carrying them around all the time. Now I use noise canceling earbuds, and they’re both tiny and effective. Awesome!
Look, travel isn’t always glamorous. And if you’re gone for a long time, your clothes are gonna get dirty. I always keep these laundry sheets in my bag, so any sink I come across can be turned into a makeshift washing machine and I don’t have to keep turning my underwear inside out.
6.A universal adapter:
I actually forgot this once, in Australia, and ended up paying $25 Australian dollary doos for an Australian adapter. Don’t be like me. Bring your own. This one is good for basically the whole world and costs much less to purchase online.
7.A microfiber towel:
I’m going to guiltily admit to you all that I don’t have one of these. But I wish I did. I have dried myself off with t-shirts…at least 5 times. Do yourself a favor. Save your clothes. Bring a towel.
8.A reusable tote:
Raise your hand if you buy souvenirs on vacation! Right, that’s 99% of you who said yes, and 1% who were lying. I always bring my extra bag with me because I end up bringing more crap home than I left with. I also use it as my mini bag on planes, in which I stash all my carry on necessities (amenity kit, iPad, cellphone, etc), so I never have to take my backpack out of the overhead bin. These things can cost 99. cents and take up no room. Get one!
9.A portable battery charger:
People make fun of me for this brick- I don’t blame them, because it is literally the size of a brick and who needs that much charge? But I’m the one laughing after I’ve recharged both my iPad and my cellphone 4 times without needing to rejuice this thing. It’s excellent for things like camping trips where you’ll be away from electricity for a day or two.
Ok, this one can be changed up, truly, depending on how attached to your laptop you are. But I didn’t want to haul a heavy computer around the world, so I invested in an iPad and a keyboard case, and saved myself a lot of back pain while managing to stay relatively functional. (I do all my blogging on here, even).
11.A laundry bag:
Again, something really simple but really necessary. I hate packing dirty clothes with clean ones, and a cheap bag keeps everything neatly separate.
12.A packable rain jacket:
Something small, light, very foldable and super useful when it’s yucky drizzling outside.
So there you go. I realize this list isn’t all that glamorous- I mean, soap, really? But these are the kinds of gifts that will make a big difference in the quality of your travel. I’ve tried and error-ed in a lot of big ways through my trips, (falling into a volcano, anyone?), and these are the trusty things that have made the cut and earned a permanent place in my bag.
I truly thought that when I moved to Scotland I’d settle down. Y’know, sit a bit, rest on my laurels, establish a home and a space. And while I have got a flat (and Nala!), I’ve found that far from sitting around, Edinburgh has actually made an excellent base from which to travel.
Of course, it helps that I’ve had quite a few visitors. In fact, just last week, PJ (my older brother, of Dubai fame), came to visit. He was around for about ten days, and while I wasn’t able to skip class to hang out with him, (you know, all 10 hours a week), I did manage to show him a few cool things while he was here.
And then, y’know, we went to Sweden.
What?! It was like $50 to fly there. Obviously I was going to do it. We spent some really cool days in Stockholm, where, as you’d likely expect, it was approximately -1000 degrees.
But before that we had this awesome dinner at a place in Edinburgh called the Dome.
Tip of the hat to Shuaib here, who took his cousin and whose photos were so enviable I went the next day.
PJ and I now both have a new favorite drink: the French Martini, which tastes like joy and deliciousness and is deceptively dangerous.
We experienced quite a few of these at our fancy-ass dinner, which was the best I’ve had since moving to this city.
Our final day in Baku dawned bright and not-very-early-because-it-was-vacation. We had a tour of the Old City to do, but otherwise the day was ours, and we had a blast.
But first, I just need you to take a look at the donut wall available in the executive lounge.
How am I supposed to not eat that?
Anyway, I liked this tour guide a lot better than the other, and we ended up spending an extra couple of hours after the tour together, grabbing lunch, trying pomegranate wine, and convincing him to show us where to actually buy it. (You better believe I was bringing some home. That stuff is delicious).
The guide was pretty new, so the “guiding” ended up with him mostly walking around with us through the old city, showing us the old palace and reading off the same plaques we were looking at. That’s ok though.
We finished up fairly early (like 3ish?), so had plenty more time to explore. The guide had suggested we head to the funicular, which went up past the city and gave some pretty incredible views.
Speaking of incredible views.
Once at the top, there were tons of people taking tons of photos. And I like a good selfie as much as the next guy, you know? That’s cool. But there was this one guy.
Oh my god. This guy….
His recently bleached tracksuit glinted in the setting sunlight as he held his selfie stick in front of himself- lips pursed, cooing for the camera as he tilted his head left, then right, his oiled locks just brushing his popped collar and his free hand coming down to rest, ever so gently, on his crotch.
I am not making this up.
He was there the entirety of the time we spent there, conducting his own personal modeling session, even asking Harrison to man the camera as he turned, making sure his butt was peeking out cutely in front of the magnificent background from which he posed.
He didn’t speak much English, which was good, because my lord was I talking some shit.
I then held my own modeling event, which was…mildly less successful.
We had a ton of fun, being silly and walking around up top, even managing to sneak into the Flame Towers, one of which houses the Fairmont Hotel.
I managed this by arrogantly walking inside and demanding to know where the bathroom was. Obviously, only a guest would do something so outrageous.
Yes, it was beautiful.
We then finished up the evening by returning to Marivanna, spending hours eating as much as humanly possible.
Baku was an excellent trip. It’s dirt cheap and different, full of Russian (and Arab!) influence with less possibility of being kidnapped. (Probably).