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Monday 30 December 2019

Last Blog Post of 2019 - Looking Back and Looking Forward



Dear Readers,


Finishing the year as we meant to start it, in open-letter style, we reflect back on our year of blog posts.  First and foremost, we want to thank you for reading them!  Did we achieve our goal?  Did we entertain you?  Did you learn something? 


What we wanted to do was to introduce you not only to new places, but new experiences.  Visiting different countries isn’t just about the place as it were, and the monuments or cultural things to see there, but also about the experience.  We hope, dear Readers, that we have brought you a flavour of these places and we hope, from the comfort of your armchair we transported you somewhat into the vibrancy and essence of the wonderful countries we, together, have visited over the past year.


Did we meet our brief?  Did we explore “Travel Trends”?  Did you participate?  Thank you to those who did.

To recap briefly, for the benefit of those who haven’t had the time to read them all, we started off with the dreaded package holiday to Corsica of all unlikely places and we looked at Corsica as a destination in its own right, concluding that it's a very trendy and very chic place to go!


Then we looked at the most bonkers place we could think of for a Travel Trend:  Space.  Something we hope you enjoyed were the tunes we suggested you played whilst reading the post…we should have carried that theme on, if you liked it, and added more tunes in our following posts, so note to self for next year:  add relevant tunes in so readers can play them whilst reading!  Music really brings places to life, so perhaps that would be helpful, would it not, dear Readers?  We took you to Space and we examined the different options, coming to the conclusion that in all fairness, when you think of going into Space you think of actually going into Space, not just the upper layers of the atmosphere.  Having said that, Virgin Galactic continues to make strides.


Then we launched you into our backpacking series.  I really hope you enjoyed going round the world with us on a shoestring:  it was all true.  Nothing like, as a Blogger, being able to speak from direct experience.  I think it makes it far more real, and really, riding half way around the main island in the Cook Islands topless on a moped, well, you couldn’t make it up, could you?! 


We investigated various dos and don’ts when abroad, and also words that mean something very different in different languages…fanny pack, anyone?!


We looked at the ever increasing travel trend of themed travel…Game of Thrones was a good one to start, and we intend to investigate that travel trend further into 2020.


Then we went far-flung again, this time to Indonesia, looking at how you can successfully go there on a shoestring or in the last word of luxury and what did we conclude?  That you got a far more authentic experience on a shoestring, but, wow, what places you can go to in the lap of luxury, too.


We went on a beach holiday in the Gambia and safari in Senegal, getting all serious for a second on the real world poverty we saw there.  This is what I mean about real experiences, dear Readers, because how else would you be able to give a flavour of these places, the vibrancy, the colours, the people and yes, in Senegal especially, the poverty.

We looked at driving holidays and the trend of solo travel, which is becoming ever more popular, and we will certainly be looking at it much more in-depth in 2020.  Solo travel is one of the most fulfilling and enrichening experiences one could have, I hope you got that.


Thinking about keeping the children occupied in the summer holidays, we looked at “Grand Days Out” a la Wallace and Gromit, and we went to castles all over the UK, as well as London.  Nothing like a bit of personal experience to visit the “real” London, too!


We looked at eco-tourism, again, a massive travel trend that is only set to get bigger, and found out all sorts of exciting facts and tours we can go on.


We then went all spiritual, looking at the luxury, the pious and the just plain weird spiritual retreats, eventually coming to the conclusion that the cheapest ones were the most authentic…still dead set about going on the Greek Goddess one, don’t know about you?!

Really weird places to stay was another one, and the ones that suck in my head certainly were the tree houses in Sweden and the bed that wheeled out under the stars in the Loisaba Wilderness in Kenya with two Maasi warriors to guard you in case anything comes to try and eat you…

Image result for bath thermae spa


Usual city breaks in the UK came straight from the heart, I love these places, and with our top tips, we hope you will, too.


Then we went far-flung once more, to the luxury of Barbados in the Caribbean in search of winter sun, and then, less expensive but equally as hot, we went to the Canaries and Gran Canaria in particular, extolling, once again, the virtues of not where you are precisely, but the experiences you have and the people you’re with that make it a real travel trend to remember.


We also went skiing…again, more on that next year.


Lastly, we looked at different Christmas traditions across the world and really how different they can be.


Not forgetting, of course, our wing-men (or women) characters who have participated:  Jolly Hockey Sticks (the Hapless Blogger’s posh mother) and Daddy (well, Daddy).


There we are, dear Readers.  Have we achieved our goal?  Have you learnt a lot?  We certainly have…and we look forward to sharing more and more experiences with you again, next year.  Transporting you off your sofa or sun lounger into travel trends old and new.


Thank you for reading.  We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

Monday 16 December 2019

Christmas and Winter Festival Traditions: Spoilt Children and Boiled Sprouts



Dear Readers,


It’s that time of year.  You can’t ignore it, I’m afraid…Unless you try very hard and turn into Scrooge…Today, we’re going to combine Christmas traditions with travel…together at last!  We’re looking at different Christmas and Winter festival traditions from around the World.  Some more traditional than others…

Image result for christmas day australia


We’re going to start in Australia…as that’s the obvious place to start.  Thanks to the huge influx of British and Irish to the country, their traditions have stayed the course.  Although one massive difference is, of course, the weather.  The idea of a Christmas barbie dinner on the beach is heaven to some and hell to others….In fairness, dear Readers, apart from the sun, there appears to be absolutely no difference between an Aussie Christmas and a British Christmas.  So let’s move on to some stranger ones:


Of course, as we have found in previous Blog posts, Japan generally leads the way in the weird and the wonderful.  Christmas in Japan is something of a novelty and something they don’t really celebrate, however in recent years something of a tradition has developed:  the KFC Christmas dinner…yup, you read it correctly, and if you don’t believe us, then you can check it out at www.kfc.co.jp

Image result for christmas kfc japan


In Norway they get pretty weird and on Christmas Eve people hide their brooms…yup…hide their brooms!  This stems from the ancient belief that on Christmas Eve witches and evil spirits came out looking for brooms to steal to ride on…


In Germany, December 6th is very exciting as that’s when St Nikolaus travels on a donkey in the middle of the night and leaves treats in good little children’s shoes.  He also visits the children at home or at school where in exchange for a present, each child must draw a picture or sing a song.  However, in Germany, St Nicholas has some pretty dodgy followers:  Knecht Ruprecht is a devil-like bloke that punishes any children who are bad, and even weirder in Austria you really want to watch out for St Nicholas’ counterpart, Krampus!  This evil character picks up the naughtiest children and whisks them away in his sack!  Terrifying!  Basically in the first week in December it’s a chance for young men to dress up as Krampus and frighten the children…

Image result for krampus christmas


Let’s get weirder and go to Caracas in Venezuela:  you go to church early in the morning on Christmas Eve…on roller-skates!!!  It’s so popular now that roads across Caracas are closed in order for participants to skate safely to church…

 Image result for caracas christmas

We don’t all celebrate Christmas per se, and of course Hanukkah, the Jewish traditional celebration is not to be ignored.  One of the most elaborate is the lighting of the National Hanukah Menorah in Washington DC in the US.  For the eight days and eight nights of Hanukah in the grounds of the White House, a 9 metre tall Menorah is raised with the first candle being lit at 4pm without fail, and another one lit every day for the 8 days.  It’s really spectacular and has been a tradition observed since 1979.

Image result for menorah white house


Closer to home now, and what happens in Spain?  Well the 6th and 8th of December are national holidays, so people usually take the opportunity to put their tree up and decorate their house.  Christmas as the day itself is far less commercialised than in the UK or the US, and they don’t celebrate it as hard as we do.  However, one of their most spectacular ceremonies is held on 5th/6th of January where they celebrate the arrival of the three Kings or Wise Men to the birth of Jesus.  It’s called the Dia de los Reyes, or King’s Day, and it means the most beautiful parades and, more importantly for the children, it’s like the equivalent of Christmas Eve present- and anticipation-wise!

 Image result for dia de los reyes parade

France?  Sophisticated as ever, they don’t have the tradition of the gaudy outdoor decs that the Brits do.  It’s a much simpler affair, with presents being exchanged either at midnight on 24th/25th or in the morning of 25th if you have small children.  As you can imagine, it’s all about the food:  Christmas dinner must start off with seafood, especially oysters and salmon, and fois gras.  Then, like us, they tend to have turkey, and then a buche which is a bit like our chocolate log.

Image result for french bûche de noël


The dinner on 24th is also important, usually tending to be immediate family, then on 25th it’s the whole family together.  Unlike us Brits, the 26th is not a holiday, so work is resumed as usual.


Right, then.  Buckle up, dear Readers, especially our friends from overseas.  There is nothing as complicated, as political, as class-driven, than a British Christmas!!  I bet, if you’re in France or Spain or Germany for example, you never realised that just because of the very time you open your presents on Christmas Day denotes whether you are posh or common?!  Let’s start with the time of putting up the Christmas tree and the outside lights.  Basically, in the UK, the earlier you do these two things, the more common you are.  Thanks to Facebook, an almost pack mentality has gone on this year, with people inciting other people to put up their trees earlier and earlier.   Yes, of course, dear Readers, it’s true that Harrods open their Christmas department in August, but it doesn’t mean that you have to put your tree up then!

Image result for mega christmas lights


Again, the type of tree and outside display denotes class:  however, in the interests of political correctness, I will let you make up your own mind as to which way round these displays are attributed.  Some people love an inflatable snowman and Father Christmas, with lovely big “Santa Stop Here” signs and flashing lights.  One of your Hapless Blogger’s all-time favourites was spotted in the South East of England, and entailed an inflatable Father Christmas standing over the door of someone’s house, meaning they had to walk between his legs to get through their front door.  It nearly hospitalised me with mirth.  Another recent invention is a sort of projector that people buy for their houses:  you fix it up in the garden and it projects snowflakes and Christmas scenes onto your house…Some of us just have a few “warm white” lights.  Not coloured.  Not flashing.

Image result for christmas tree


Next, of course, we come to the tree.  This is a grey area.  There are the traditionalists who adore a real tree (moi) and then there are the pragmatists who store their trees in the loft ready for next year.  No pine needles, no worries.  Fake or real?  If it is fake, what colour?  Multi-coloured flashing lights or white ones?  Bows and feathers (presumably these are people without pets), matching bauble sets or a mismatch of homemade and acquired ones from over the years?  Being in the latter category re baubles, and the real category re tree, your Helpless Blogger had a jolly old time, with the Mini-Blogger and the Canine-Blogger (less said about those two the better!) getting said tree into the car (flash-back to a tree incident many years ago where I was caused to actually put the roof down on a car that was too small for the tree and drive the 20 or so miles home in December in the UK…frozen wasn’t the word), transporting it home, getting it out of the car, into the house, onto its stand and not at a jaunty angle.  The latter was not achieved.   It stands, as we speak, at a rakish angle but basically, dear Readers, no one will notice as the Mini-Blogger has decorated it and the Canine-Blogger has started to eat it…

Onto the Christmas Eve traditions:  this very much depends where you come from in the UK.  Some of us go out and get as drunk as possible (a national pastime).  Others prefer to watch The Snowman and play chess by the open fire whilst eating mince pies.  We make sure our stockings are hung up by the fireplace (in the absence of a fireplace because of course Father Christmas needs to come down the chimney, we put them on the ends of our beds – elaborate stories of leaving a key out for Father Christmas to get in ensues…in our household the dog stays up to give it to him…) and we go to bed extremely over-excited whilst beleaguered parents stay up until the early hours creeping around the house and wrapping presents…often quite drunk.


Now, another class minefield in British society is when you open the presents.  Basically the slower you are the posher you are.  Although this is disproven on various levels…and again, thanks to Facebook (oooh let me advertise to the World how many presents are under my tree), it also seems that the posher you are the fewer presents you give.  Sounds backwards?  Well, listen to this:  the Royal Family famously follow the European tradition and exchange presents on Christmas Eve, probably for practical reasons as well, as much as anything as they have church to go to on Christmas Day, and I suppose the Queen needs to be sober to deliver her speech…More on that in a sec…Also, it is apparently tradition in the Royal Family to find the silliest gifts ever for each other, as, quite frankly, what would you buy the Queen anyway?!

Image result for christmas tree with lots of presents underneath


However, speak to the average British household, and you’ll find the majority throwing themselves down the stairs at 6am and ripping all their presents open.  In the Hapless Blogger household such behaviour was never allowed, and after a demure stocking-opening ceremony, presents were then opened just before lunch (this is where spoilt children come in) and then after lunch we would go for a family walk, where my parents would stay behind to do the “washing up” (we had a dishwasher) and on the return from the walk, low and behold, Father Christmas would have visited again, on his way back to the North Pole.  This was a very clever way of my parents spreading the presents out and ensuring a happy child for the whole day…


Back to the Christmas Dinner.  Now, this is an exciting prospect for most households, and usually a complete departure from the norm.  Now, we as Brits, unlike the French, have generally no idea what to have as a starter.  So we habitually go back to our 1970’s routes and opt for prawn cocktail, or perhaps some smoked salmon.  We then like to buy the biggest turkey we can find (or if you’re my mother, insist we have something posh like guinea fowl or poussin – honestly, I’m not kidding, we went for years without a traditional turkey because we had to have something more cultured – then my father insisted on getting a goose and thanks to the amount of fat that came off it, we were never the same again and the turkey consuming resumed) and start roasting it at about 6am.  That’s when we generally put the sprouts on, too.  Again, unlike the French, we have not got our heads around the length of time it takes to rest after departing from the oven.  We like to take it straight to the table and hack away at it.  Of course, you mustn’t forget the stuffing balls, pigs in blankets, and again, a class thing:  how many types of potato can you have on one plate?  Starting from a couple of goose-fat roasted potatoes at one end, to roasted, boiled, mashed, goodness knows what at the other.  And the gravy.  Lashings of gravy, bread sauce (never been able to look bread sauce in the eye since my mother’s made me sick once) and cranberry jelly…All on the same plate at the same time.  Then it’s time for pudding.  One must have a Christmas pudding which you start making in September and boil for about a month (joking…ish) and set fire to (of course).  You have this with brandy butter and cream.  Only about 25% of the population like it but we all have it.

Image result for christmas dinner


Now, again, the time of the Christmas Dinner various wildly from family to family.  Some have it at lunch time.  Others have it slightly later but aim to finish before the Queen’s Speech.  Others have it about 5pm.  Then, afterwards, because you’re not a Brit if you don’t aim to eat until you bleed on Christmas Day, you need to have turkey sandwiches about 9pm.  This is essential.

The day after is referred to in the UK as Boxing Day, and was traditionally a day when servants would receive their “Christmas Box” from their employer and would go home to give such boxes to their families.  Traditionally it was the day of the hunt, certainly amongst the upper classes of course.  This is getting less and less popular for obvious reasons.  For everyone else, you either resume your eating as per Christmas Day, or for the really weird, you go to the “Boxing Day Sales”.  Another huge phenomenon in the UK and what’s even more disturbing is the Next Boxing Day Sale.  Now, Next is a sort of clothing/department store selling its own brand.  Mid-range I would say, not cheap, but not hugely expensive.  They have this famous sale wherein people queue up (favourite British pastime) at 4am to be the first people into the sale.  So you get up at goodness knows when in the dark and cold in hopes of a bargain…There are other stores too, but this is the bonkers one. 


Then it’s all over for another year…


So, dear Readers, which would you prefer?  A Christmas class minefield or a barbie on the beach?!  Or just keep to your own traditions and try not to burn the turkey…that reminds me, I need to go and put the sprouts on now!

Image result for boiled sprouts