An Adventure with Alex Hotel.

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As far as overseas travels go, Jamie and I have always favoured small, design/boutique hotels over large, fancy establishments. We’re super independent and self-sufficient travellers – mostly out of sheer necessity, always being on a shoestring budget and all that.

So it goes without saying that we jumped at the opportunity recently to indulge in a little staycation with the new Alex Hotel in Perth. We’re both such inner-city urban nerds and have a thing for innovative design and architecture, so we’ve been anticipating the opening of the new boutique hotel ever since construction started a couple of years ago.

Notwithstanding one golden nugget of advice every parent has given me so far; to learn how to do everything one-handed…and to do all the things you can now that might be difficult to do once the arrival of a baby flips our entire world upside down lol.

An itinerary was thoughtfully put together for our two-day stay. We’re both born and raised in Perth but rarely get the chance to (or never really think to!) do things like seeing theatre performances or spending an afternoon at the gallery.

After dropping our weekenders off and soaking up the incredible room that was ours for the night, our itinerary kicked off at the nearby Art Gallery of Western Australia (which I ashamedly haven’t visited since I was in primary school). They had this incredible video installation upstairs – a Screen Space – which was my favourite part about the whole experience. The installation that’s showing at the moment is a piece by Angelica Mesiti, who documents the individual and heartfelt performances of four migrant musicians. As someone who can’t stomach the patience to sit through a movie (I’m so Type A it’s embarrassing) I could have lost myself in Screen Space the whole afternoon. With the latter half of our itinerary spent having the most incredible dinner at Lot Twenty, then catching a live performance at the Blue Room Theatre next door, it was the perfect kind of mini babymoon we could have ever imagined, without getting on a plane.

I am such a homebody at heart though, so to be completely honest, having a chance to put our feet up at the hotel was never far from the back of my mind or from the agenda. We took the next morning really slow; having a little complimentary breakfast up on the amazing mezzanine, then heading downstairs for a coffee. The vibe and the thoughtful touches reminded me of the design hotels we’d stay at in Stockholm (Story Hotel was such a standout), as well as Oslo and Helsinki; adventures a million miles away but memories we’ll keep forever.

Travel has aways had a funny habit of making me learn more about home whenever I leave it, and our little staycation made me realise what Perth has been missing all along.

Photography by Michelle Lau | thanks so much Laura + Alex Hotel!

Part 2: A Weekend in Copenhagen.

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My love for Scandinavia knows no bounds, from the moment I spent my honeymoon (and birthday!) in Stockholm, to being immersed in Nordic culture and cuisine a mere three months ago in Norway. Copenhagen, though, always has a place in my heart; forever fuelling my wanderlust to do it all over again before it becomes a wistfully distant memory.

These are five things on the itinerary my perfect weekend in Copenhagen would never be without.

Retail therapy

In the heart of town, the incredibly chic and beautifully merchandised boutique Birger Christensen is where I make a beeline. Slightly off the beaten track, I love exploring little boutiques along Værnedamsvej in Vesterbro and Pilestræde and Grønnegade for a little designer shopping as well as browsing inimitable Scandinavian labels. Don’t forget to drop into Hay (Østergade 61) – it’s Scandinavian homewares on fleek.

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Rent a bicycle and see the city on two wheels.

The first thing that blew my mind about Copenhagen was the sheer amount of bicycles that seemed to outnumber cars on the streets. With quirky hidden back streets and rabbit warrens scattered throughout the city, the best way to see everything when you’re short on time is on a pushbike. My favourite neighbourhoods to explore include Parisian-esque Vesterbro, edgy Nørrebro, and beautiful tree-lined Frederiksberg. Don’t forget to rent a bike with a basket to carry all your Danish pastries and shopping home!

Culture fix.

The Copenhagen Opera House is one of my favourite works of modern architecture in the city. Perched along Copenhagen Harbour, the Neo-futuristic design building is the perfect place to end up after walking along beautifully Nordic Nyhavn, ice cream in hand.

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For brunch, do as the locals do.

Granola in Vesterbro is a favourite, as is cosy Parisian-inspired café/wine bar Beau Marche in Ny Østergade. Beau Marche is tucked away at the back of its homewares and antiques store which also happens to be my favourite boutique in all of Copenhagen – I could spend hours endlessly browsing here.

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Have the best – and most interesting dining experience – of your life.

I was lucky enough to secure a reservation at Noma (it took 3 months of patiently waiting, no less) but the three-hour lunch degustation was not only worth the wait but one of the best experiences of my life. I recommend putting this at the top of your Copenhagen bucket list.

Head over here to read Part 1 – How to Pack for Copenhagen.

The Allure of Broome.

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While we’re all traipsing the world in search for the perfect holiday, it’s so easy to forget that heaven’s actually closer than we think. Having spent so much of our travels in far flung places overseas, it was refreshing to explore the natural surroundings that have always been right on our doorstep.

Jamie and I were lucky to have the opportunity to head up to Broome for a weekend in August (staying at the luxurious Cable Beach Club and to attend the Broome Cup as a guest of Allure South Sea Pearls). It didn’t take us long before we were blown away at discovering how beautiful northern Western Australia really is – with all of its ochre red dirt, turquoise waters and fiery sunsets and all.

Each afternoon as the sun set before our eyes and the chill from the Indian Ocean softly blew in, it let us take in the enormity of what lies before us and appreciate what would be the last spontaneous adventure we’d enjoy with just the two of us. Something tells me the next adventure we’ll soon be embarking on will be the most life-changing yet. I can’t wait.

Wearing Allure South Sea Pearls jewellery, Hello Parry Isadora sweater and Morrison Pippin silk dress (available soon).

Styling by Michelle Lau | Photographed by Jamie Lau on location at Cable Beach, Broome.

 

Part 1: How to Pack for Copenhagen.

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Effortless style is in the DNA of all Scandinavians. When it comes to dressing the part on a chic holiday to Copenhagen, the look is all about the concept of less is more: uncomplicated but interesting colours, relaxed tailoring, and simple but sophisticated separates – with a dash of the 70s trend thrown in the suitcase for good measure. Making the case for a certain kind of minimalism involves exuding that Scandi-chic vibe without trying too hard. I teamed up with Country Road this month to share a little of my travel and packing tips for one of my favourite destinations in the world. So with a trip to the Nordic city in mind, what does one pack?

1.  The layered effect

Packed two entirely different pieces that you were planning to wear independently of one another? Make your travel wardrobe go the distance by pairing the two together. Here, I’ve layered the Broderie T-Shirt over the Linen Fringed Dress for a play on proportion, colour, and texture.

 2. Depend on denim

No travel capsule wardrobe is complete without your favourite denim. My take on the 70s trend involves teaming the beautiful Drop Shoulder Blouse to soften these Indigo Flare Jeans. The illusion of height these jeans give are always welcome, too!

3. New neutrals

Although packing light and right for a holiday usually goes hand in hand with black and white (i.e. go-with-anything colours), live life on the edge a little and include other neutral shades that work just as well as monochrome. I always love adding camel to my travel wardrobe mix – not only does it pair perfectly with white but it also looks great pared back with this season’s burgundy.

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4. The easy-peasy playsuit

Something that’s easy to throw on (and wrinkle resistant!) is always one of the first things that goes into my suitcase. Just add a classic wool fedora and a pair of suede ankle boots to give an added 70s vibe to this kimono-esque printed playsuit.

Look out for Part 2 of my Country Road travel series up soon – How to spend the perfect weekend in Copenhagen.

In collaboration with Country Road | Styling by me & Photography by Jamie Lau.

Travel Journal: Iceland Road Trip.

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Everyone seems to raise their eyebrow when I tell them – emphatically – that the most beautiful place I’ve ever travelled to is Iceland. Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s a country you’d probably have to see for yourself, but no other place – not even Santorini – has blown my mind in the same way Iceland has. I mean, where else can boast the biggest natural hot tub in the world?

When it came to planning our two month trip around the world, Iceland was always on the cards. It was going to be our second trip (with only 4-5 days spent here on our first trip, we barely scratched the surface). This time, we’d be driving around the entire country for eight days. It’s probably the craziest thing I’ve done travelling (aside from cycling around the South of France for a whole week by ourselves) but hey, you only live once.

After a ton of planning (thanks, Google!) using the Ring Road as our overarching guide seemed the most sensible and scenic. If you’re thinking of doing the same, I’d definitely start with other people’s itineraries on the internet (there’s heaps) and use mine (below) as a rough guide.

If you’re living vicariously for now, make yourself a mug of milo. This is one adventure I’ll be telling my grandkids about.

DAY 1 – Reykjavík > Borgarnes

We flew into sub-zero Iceland from sunny New York (it was only a 5.5 hour flight!) landing at Keflavík airport at around 6am. After collecting our luggage, bleary-eyed, we picked up our car from the rental company (it’s a short walk from the airport) and then made the 45 minute drive into Reykjavík. The plan was to stop into a cafe (Kaffitár – very decent coffee), acclimatise a little to the weather, and pick up a few grocery supplies from Bónus (a supermarket chain in Iceland with the unmistakeable cartoon pig as its mascot) for the road trip out north-west to picturesque and very, very remote Borgarnes.

The idea here was to set up camp in Borgarnes for the night as a pit stop before our bigger legs of the trip. The drive to Borgarnes was achingly beautiful. It rained for most of the way there but with the soothing strains of Sigur Ros accompanying us, it made for the perfect storm. It’s a shame that I will never be able to find the words to accurately describe how breathtaking the landscape unravelled before our eyes, so you’ll have to rely on our photos on this occasion.

After a couple of hours, we finally arrived at our airbnb and settled in for the night. This airbnb was more like a bedroom with an ensuite attached (it’s a semi-detached house so the host actually lives next door with their family) – but all the personable and thoughtful touches they added to the room made for such a lovely stay.

Because I wasn’t kidding when I said this town was tiny, we had dinner at a service station that actually had a really hipster-looking burger establishment attached to it (in typical Icelandic fashion) so you can guess what we had for dinner that night. It was the best. PS if you’re more of a hotel person, I’d recommend IcelandAir Borgarnes – in fact, all the IcelandAir hotels are modern, clean and such great value for money.

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DAY 2 – Borgarnes > Snæfellsnes Peninsula > Akureyri

We spent the morning exploring a little more of Borgarnes before setting off further west for Snæfellsnes and Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall. After packing up our things, we had brunch at the only open-looking restaurant in town that morning – The Settlement Centre – and we dove into pickled herring and the like. The restaurant is situated near the peninsula so after brunch we took a walk and found ourselves at one of the most incredible places my eyes have ever seen (above).

A few quick snaps later, we jumped into the car en route to Snæfellsnes to check out Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall. The plan was to get to Akureyri by the end of the day, which – and we only discovered this later after my husband miscalculated the route – that it was no picnic in the park (or leisurely drive) from Snæfellsnes. But anyway, our drive from Borgarnes to Kirkjufellsfoss was honestly my most memorable. It was like a scene out of Walter Mitty (sans skateboard) with its winding, deserted roads and layers of majestic mountains that lay before us (photo below).

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We stopped to take a few photos and filled our bottles with water from the glacial streams by the side of the road and it was the most incredible thing ever. Home felt such a long way away.

Because it was fucking cold and unbearably windy and rainy as hell, I set up camp in the car whilst my husband explored Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall (before you start thinking I’m a spoilt brat, even my husband insisted I stay in the car lol). The waterfall itself is modest but it sits opposite from Kirkjufell mountain which is a magnificent sight to behold on a clear day.

Time was escaping us quickly, so we decided to drive straight to Akureyri which was located in the far north. What we thought was a 4 hour drive turned into a 7 hour one once we correctly inputted it into the GPS, so after a minor freakout about driving 7 hours straight with no break and an arrival time of 9:30pm, we got our act together and hit the road.

The first half hour of arriving into pretty Akureyri was spent endlessly lost in pitch black darkness with our GPS losing its shit (Murphy’s Law after a 7 hour drive). We finally (finally!!) found our airbnb though and promptly dropped our bags off before driving back into town for a super late dinner. Note: restaurants in Akureyri (and there’s not many of them, by the way) tend to shut around 9pm. We managed to find a cosy cafe serving pizza and toasted sandwiches though and they opened til quite late, around 11pm.

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DAY 3 – Akureyri

As Akureyri gave us a good base to explore surrounding areas (though you wouldn’t have thought so, being a mere 100km from the Arctic Circle) we organised to stay here in Iceland’s second largest city for two nights. It’s always lovely being able to spend longer than a night in any one town so we made the most of it and took in the area at our own pace.

We woke up late and then headed into town to make the most of the rare blue sky and sunny weather, exploring the city centre (love this bookshop cafe) and having fish and chips for lunch here (it was okayyyy, but it has nothing on Reykjavík Fish & Chips – THIS is a must do, by the way). But back to Akureyri, to be perfectly honest, you can hear the tumbleweeds rolling through the town on any given day so it didn’t take long before we ran out of things to do.

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We spent the rest of the day making a pitstop at Bónus (our airbnb was equipped with the most amazing kitchen so rather than pay $40 for a mediocre burger that night, we thought we’d stay in and cook a roast for dinner) then taking a short drive out to the spectacular Godafoss waterfall. The best thing about visiting Iceland is turning up to a “major tourist attraction” then finding you’re the only one there (or being in the company of two other tourists, at most). Iceland makes it so blissfully easy to remember how far away you are from civilisation.

Calling it a day, we then ventured back to our airbnb and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon. Nothing beats that feeling of not needing to do anything else or be anywhere else.

Day 4 – Akureyri > Myvatn > Námafjall > Eglisstadir

We woke up to a BUCKETLOAD of snow this morning (about 10-15cm deep) which showed no sign of letting up. The plan today (before it was forecast to be snowing) was to have a dip at Myvatn Nature Baths (a geothermal pool) then let the Ring Road guide us around the Lake Myvatn area (to get your bearings, it’s north-central Iceland).

Breakfast was leftovers from dinner (so good!) and my husband and I mulled over the prospect of peeling off our seven layers of clothing and stripping down to our bathers to go swimming in negative-something temperatures while it snowed.

We decided to take the plunge and do it. And it was, hand on heart, the highlight of our Iceland road trip. Which is saying something considering I’m a tragic Perth girl who complains about how it “cold” it is during “winter” in Perth. Safe to say, after my trip to Iceland, I’ve hardened up. A LOT.

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So we piled into the car, played a few Monsters and Men tunes, and 90 minutes later, we changed into our togs and went swimming. It was still snowing, I shivered my ass off, but I loved it. Myvatn Baths isn’t as fancy-pants (i.e. no Parluxes or GHDs in the bathrooms) – or as big – as Blue Lagoon, but that was the magic of it. It wasn’t deserted, but it wasn’t swarming with tourists either, so it was the perfect way to unwind at your own pace at this blissfully unpretentious haven. It’s also half the price as Blue Lagoon and you don’t have to pre-book so I highly recommend visiting it if you’re going to be in the area.

Afterwards we drove to nearby Námafjall where mud plots and lava fields awaited us. I swear, this is what Mars or Venus must look like; Námafjall felt like we were literally on another planet. It was so bone-achingly cold (real feel was about -7 to -9 degrees celsius) and blusteringly windy (the kind where you have to hold onto the car door as you open it otherwise it’ll literally fly off the car). It was so cold that my runny nose froze on my face – not even kidding. That said, Námafjall was as surreal and spectacular as you could imagine; an almost-eerie, menacing wasteland that back in the day, was a place where they banished outlaws.

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Eglisstadir (so tiny it’s probably not even a town, really) was our port of call that evening so we jumped back on the Ring Road, explored a little more of Myvatn on four wheels (it was heavily snowing at this point) and made our journey across East Iceland. The plan was to call in for one night just to sleep before setting off tomorrow to Höfn. The drive to Eglisstadir from Myvatn along the Ring Road was beyond incredible: we were treated to cotton candy sunsets, dusk clouds that blazed across the sky, and snow-capped mountains and glaciers that stretched for miles and miles.

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Day 5 – Eglisstadir > Höfn

We woke feeling fresh from the previous day, but it was a pity the weather had other ideas. As we checked out of the hotel (we stayed here) we were told a fair portion of the Ring Road was closed due to severe snow storms. They weren’t kidding. I stepped outside (it took a brave soul to even do that – the locals were having none of it) and the snow was at least 30cm deep. Our itinerary that day was a 186km drive from Eglisstadir to Höfn (south-eastern Iceland) but now we had to re-calculate the route and take several detours, it would take us double the amount of time to get there. Bummer.

As some of you may have experienced yourselves, it’s pretty fucking scary driving through snow and teetering on the edge of vertigo-inducing mountains (I must admit I feared for my life a few times) so for most of the way we were travelling at around 40-50km/h. But, better safe than sorry, even if it took us a few hours longer than planned to get to our destination in one piece.

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So after another trip to Bónus to fuel up on car snacks, we set off for Höfn. The weather in Iceland has a way of either going really badly really quickly or really sunny just as swiftly but thankfully as we inched closer to Höfn, the snow stopped falling and the sky gave way to a spectacular sunset and scenes like these.

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We checked into this simple but sweet motel/hotel that was literally plonked in the middle of nowhere (it was a great place to stay though), then ventured to the local pub to have dinner as it seemed to be the only place to be open. There didn’t seem to be much happening in Höfn at the time (honestly, I think things pick up more in summer) so we spent the rest of the evening resting up at our sleeping quarters, planning the next leg of our road trip.

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DAY 6 – Höfn > Jökulsárlón > Vik

Only a couple of days left of our road trip! Having already driven three-quarters around the entire country, it’s hard to believe that although we’ve seen so much, we’ve only really scratched the surface.

Still, the best was yet to come.

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We left Höfn after breakfast with Vik in mind as our final destination that evening. On our last trip to Iceland in 2013, we didn’t get the time to visit Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon so we made a point of finally dropping by. I was completely blown away by its untouched beauty, and its overwhelming sense of complete stillness. Being in Iceland – or a place like this – makes you realise how insignificant we all are when we’re in nature’s grip. Jökulsárlón had me completely floored.

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We didn’t do the hike or anything fun and crazy like that, so we spent a couple of hours at Jökulsárlón, taking it all in and visiting the nearby black sand beach (which was a sight to behold in itself). The beach – with all its life-size icebergs washed up on shore – is just on the other side of the Ring Road. The ice bergs were like diamonds in the rough, if you will.

The cold was unbearable after a while though, so we piled back in the car, cranked the heater, and headed to Vik; a place we visited a couple of years prior but never really explored all that we wanted.

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We arrived at Vik in the afternoon (staying here – I can’t recommend this hotel enough) and had an early dinner here. My husband had on his to-do list a sunset photography excursion to the Reynisfjara Beach, which translated to shivering in the cold until 10pm (it was almost summer so late sunsets were beginning to set in) whilst he got his time-lapse shot. With not a single soul in sight though and a blazing sunset that painted a fire across the sky, we were in good company. After that, we made our way back to the hotel, kicked back with a hot drink in the amazing lobby, then got some much-needed beauty sleep.

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DAY 7 – Vik > Reykjavík

Ideally, you would set aside around 10 days for the Ring Road road trip – it’s at least a 1,332 kilometre drive.

We attempted to cram everything into 7-8 days. I had been booking the flights for the entire two months of our travel, and my husband was in charge of the Iceland itinerary so somehow we miscommunicated along the way and when we found out, he was not too pleased I had accidentally booked too little time in Iceland (the plan was 9 days but I mistakingly booked for 7-8). Whoops. Day 7 was our last leg of the road trip before heading back to Reykjavík and staying in the capital for one night before flying to our next destination (Munich).

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We woke up in Vik with a few sights on the agenda before arriving in Reykjavík: Reynisfjara Beach (again) and nearby Dyrholaey (sadly we were in the wrong season to see Puffins); the site of the Crashed DC 3 Plane; and Skógafoss – which is known as perhaps Iceland’s most famous waterfall aside from Godafoss (the copious and incessant amount of tour buses gave a good indication if nothing else). I couldn’t even begin to tell you how windy it was that day; the day after we heard all roads around Vik were closed due to severe sandstorms, so we counted our lucky stars I mistakingly booked a day too little haha.

Anyway, visiting the eerie wreckage of a crashed U.S. Navy aircraft was kind of cool; my husband obviously enjoyed it more than I did, taking photos of it from a gazillion angles. Trying to find it was an adventure in itself, though. If you’re planning on checking it out also, the wreckage is located a loooooooonnnnng way from the Ring Road – as in, go off-road (there’s a small sign/open gate that’ll guide you through) and keep driving for about 10-15 minutes until you see the plane. We saw a couple of people make a wrong turn along the way but just remember to stick to the faint markings along the dirt road and you’ll eventually find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Next stop was Skógafoss. This was absolutely mindblowing. The walk from the car to the waterfall was a bit of a workout (it was so windy everyone was walking more backwards than forwards) but the sheer scale and overwhelming beauty of Skógafoss draws you in like nothing else. It was pretty barren in April (it’s a lot more green and thriving in summer) but the sun conditions that afternoon made it favourable enough to see a rainbow stretching across the 60m tall waterfall.

After battling the wind for long enough, we embarked on our final leg to Reykjavík to spend one last night in Iceland.

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DAY 8 – Reykjavík

Despite how tiny the city really is and having spent a few days here already last time, I would have loved to have a couple of days up our sleeve in Reykjavík to wind down from the epic road trip we’ve just done. Last time we booked an airbnb, but this time we stayed here. It was okay – the wifi was a bit sketchy but it offered free parking for our car.

We were intent on making the most of our last day in Iceland, so I suggested a half-day trip out to Geysir (it was one of my highlights from our last trip). It was pretty shitty weather though and the Geysir was a lot more disappointing on this occasion (very infrequent and small eruptions) but we were pleasantly surprised to see a new restaurant and shops open up across the road (which weren’t there a couple of years ago) and decided to kill some time there. Weather-wise, I do recommend visiting Geysir in the summer just because it’s so much more green and beautiful during that season, which really adds to the charm of the area.

When we arrived back into Reykjavík in the afternoon, we explored all the little shops on foot and stopped in for a coffee at Reykjavik Roasters (best place in Reykjavík for a cup, in my opinion). That evening we had fish and chips for dinner (surprisingly not that expensive for what it is) and called it a night shortly after, as we were due to be at the airport at 6am the next day. And we all know how the next morning panned out…

For more recommendations in Reykjavík itself, check out my travel guide from my first visit to Iceland, if you haven’t done so already. You’ll find lots more things on that list that you won’t find here (and vice versa).

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A FEW TIPS

The best time to travel to Iceland is May – October, particularly if you’re thinking of embarking on a similar road trip (less chance of inclement weather). If you’re visiting in early May or late October, it might be worth asking the rental car company to fit the car with snow tyres, just in case. The weather is unpredictable in Iceland and can turn very easily, very quickly.

Hiring a car is obviously essential. Our favourite rental car company is Budget. The cost of hiring a car is about the same as here in Australia. Definitely book online before you depart as you’ll be picking up the car as soon as you arrive at Keflavík airport (it’s super easy!).

A GPS is also essential. We downloaded the Tom Tom app on our iPhone (you’ll also have to download and pay for the Iceland map) but it’s money worth spending. If the car you’re hiring doesn’t come with a mount for your phone, make sure you bring one.

Set aside a fair portion of your budget for food and petrol – Iceland is as expensive as it gets in Scandinavia (almost as Norway) so be prepared to spend a bucketload on fuelling up (in the case of petrol, we were paying around $1.60 per litre).

Speaking of budget, I couldn’t tell you precisely how much the roadtrip cost us in total (unfortunately we are not one of those freakishly organised travellers who keeps a running tab of how much we spend in an Excel spreadsheet). Off the cuff, I’d say we averaged $150 per night for accommodation + $40-$60 per day for food (for two of us – and that included grocery supplies and 1 meal eaten at a restaurant whether it was lunch OR dinner (we rarely ate out for both lunch and dinner in a single day). Car hire was around $90 a day I think. We literally didn’t shop or buy anything other than food, hotels, drinks and fuel for the entire 8 days of our roadtrip, and tried to keep things pretty frugal (impossible when you’re in Scandinavia though).

When it came to food, most of the towns we passed through were so heinously remote that cafes and restaurants were few and far between. Each morning we’d start by heading to the nearest Bónus (there’s plenty of them around) which had everything you could think of under the sun. We pretty much bought our breakfasts and lunches from the supermarket, and then had dinner out once we reached our final destination. I definitely recommend filling up the car with snacks as there’s very few chances to do so as you start driving!

Pack as many layers and practical shoes as you can. In summer you can get away with sneakers and a couple of layers but during winter and the shoulder season, I was wearing up to 7-8 layers on the coldest days.

Lastly, if you’re searching for a blissful geothermal spa other than Blue Lagoon and Myvatn Baths, check out Fontana Spa. It’s new and I haven’t been there yet, but it’s only an hours’ drive from Reykjavík and perfectly located if you’re doing the Golden Circle on the same day.

Photography by Michelle and Jamie Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

Packing for Santorini.

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Those of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning know that the Type A in me loves nothing more than a good packing list.

So I’m really excited that the next three months will see me teaming up with Country Road to share my travel and packing tips from my travels around the world and around Australia.

First up, a summer in Santorini and all my must-have packing essentials for a blue sky holiday.

Head over to the Country Road journal to read the full post.

Vogue Spy Style: A Santorini Summer.

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If any of you have had the unfortunate experience of standing at the baggage carousel after taking four flights over 14 hours with everyone’s luggage coming out except for yours, you would probably have an idea of how our first half hour of touching down in Santorini kinda went.

With our suitcases lost somewhere in Madrid, it was probably the most unfairytale start to the final leg of our two-month trip – and arguably the world’s most fabled and romantic destination in the world. But as our driver quipped when he came to pick us up at half past nine in complete darkness, “once you get to Imerovigli, you’ll forget everything; all your troubles in the world will disappear.”

And in a way, it did. But in another way, we knew we were doomed for the rest of our days. Because when we awoke the next morning, the view before us – the white-washed everything and an eternity of a velvet blue – was something that’ll linger in our minds forever.

And this is why.

In collaboration with Vogue Australia & Olympus Australia #seetheworldwitholympus

Travel Journal: New York

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“I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later — because I did not belong there, did not come from there — but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” – Joan Didion

New York City, there’s no place like it.

SEE/DO

New York Public Library – a thing of architectural beauty, inside and out. I was lucky enough to catch a photography installation when I was there, but I think there are exhibitions running all the time. It’s an achingly beautiful place inside and out. After you’ve explored the Library, take a moment to soak up the bustling city outside at Bryant Park (tip: there’s free wifi here for you to plan your next move)!

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, first thing, or at sunset. The bridge’s lights are switched off at sunrise but you’ll have the bridge almost all to yourself (save for a few joggers and photography enthusiasts). The lights stay on in the evening  (so magical to capture at sunset!) but you’ll be jostling for position amongst tourists, so choose your own adventure.

Definitely walk the Manhattan Bridge – it still affords amazing views of Manhattan (including the Brooklyn Bridge) and there are no tourists! Hurrah! My favourite thing to do (if staying in Manhattan) is to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, spend the day in Brooklyn (go on a Sunday and visit Smorgasburg/Brooklyn flea markets), then walk back along Manhattan Bridge just before sunset. Manhattan Bridge will take you directly to SoHo and Chinatown which is handy if you happen to be staying near there. It’s in a more convenient location than Brooklyn Bridge because with the latter you’ll have to walk 2km through Wall St/Financial District to get back up to SoHo.

Meander your way through SoHo – my absolute favourite borough in NYC. SoHo has it all – postcard-perfect New York streets, amazing shopping, a huge number of great coffee haunts in close proximity to one another, and very instagram-worthy cafes. Shopping along Broadway (go all the way up to ABC Carpet and Home near Union Square) is a New York ritual!

Spend the afternoon in Greenwich Village – also one of my favourite NYC boroughs. Unbelievably dreamy tree-lined streets, quaint boutiques (Bleecker Street), Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, terrace houses with those unmistakable stoops, and just basically a New York dream. You can also walk to the Highline from here (it’s about a 8-10 min walk). There are little boutiques hidden down small streets so it’s the best place to set aside a few hours and just get lost.

Explore Central Park on a pushbike – at the very least, your feet will thank you for it! You can walk it, too, if you’ve a whole day spare. Bring your sneakers, though! Central Park is also close-ish to the MET so you could probably make a day of it.

For 360 views of the city, Top of the Rock is the place to go. Book your ticket in advance online to skip the queues. This is probably as touristy as I’ll get but the views are SO worth it and it’s relatively inexpensive, too. Once you’re up there, you can stay as long as you like. And there’s no heart attack-inducing hike that sights like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris imposes on you – you actually go up via an awesome elevator ride!

Wander through the pretty part of Brooklyn – Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill and Park Slope are just a dreamy dream. My favourite thing to do is to explore the neighbourhood at sunset then walk to the wharf and along the East River all the way to Brooklyn Bridge as the sun goes down. Then have dinner at the fancy pants Shake Shack there (or even better, Luke’s Lobster!).

EAT – CAFES/RESTAURANTS

Egg Shop, SoHo – I was so lucky to have met the owner and brainchild of Egg Shop at a dinner party whilst in NYC who convinced me to have brunch at her adorable café the morning after. Best decision ever. Aside from the egg dishes, the fried chicken and hash browns are a must, must try! There are some MAJOR queues on the weekend (about 2 hours’ long) so try to go on a weekday.

Two Hands, SoHo – love love love the avocado toast here and the coffee is pretty good too! Be prepared to line up, though – especially on weekends.

Jane, SoHo or Greenwich Village – everyone orders the avocado toast but the other items on the menu are just as delicious, like the meatballs!

Ippudo, East Village – crazy expensive ramen (after all the tipping and currency conversion) but crazy good – the noodles here are on par with its Tokyo counterpart and the service is equally as attentive. The price difference is stupidly crazy though – to give you an idea, a bowl of ramen at Ippudo NYC is around $25 (this is after tipping + currency conversion) whilst in Tokyo you’ll pay around $10 tops (and you get free pickled beansprouts haha).

Luke’s Lobster Bar,  Brooklyn (near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge). I used to go to Ed’s Lobster in SoHo until I found out Luke’s is half the price (you’ll pay roughly $30 for a lobster roll at Ed’s). Nevertheless, I love the lobster rolls in NYC – I enjoy them way more than I did in Boston.

EAT – SWEETS

Momofuku Milk Bar – a New York rite of passage. There’s quite a few of them scattered around to make it convenient. Not sure about the other locations but the one in East Village always has queues!

Morgenstern’s Ice Cream – hands down my favourite gelato place in NYC. So many flavours, so much deliciousness.

Doughnut Plant – you haven’t tasted doughnuts until you’ve tasted Doughnut Plant. Not even kidding. It’s so good you probably won’t want to have doughnuts anywhere else again. And it’s so good, we bought half a dozen and carried them with us on the plane to Iceland. They were still alright days later (just goes to show the sugar content, ha)!

COFFEE

I used Trottermag’s new coffee iphone app to guide me to the best (and most photogenic!) coffee spots in New York.

My particular favourites include Happy Bones, Bluestone Collective, Two Hands, Gasoline Alley, and Brooklyn Roasting Company (my absolute favourite).

SHOP

The Apartment by The Line – my favourite store in NYC and an interior dream! Even if you don’t buy anything (the whole ‘apartment’ is shoppable) you could easily spend a whole afternoon soaking up everything this beautiful space has to offer. It was almost surreal being here after stalking its online store for years!

La Garconne – I sadly didn’t have time to visit the store in Tribeca but if you’re a fellow Francophile who has always admired LC from afar (and by that I mean via the world wide web) it’s a total must-see/shop.

ABC Carpet & Home – an incredible home & lifestyle store showcasing a thoughtfully edited selection of homewares from Mad et Len candles to beautiful, handmade ceramics and wares you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a photography props dream!

SoHo – my favourite area in NYC to shop. I especially love the crazy beautiful COS store (it’s conveniently around the corner from The Apartment), the equally gorgeous And Other Stories space (on Broadway) and Wooster Street  – such a charming part of SoHo!

H&M – I hear the biggest H&M in the world has just opened up on Fifth Ave! Perfect timing for that upcoming collab with Balmain…

Brooklyn Flea – I picked up a pair of awesome specs here on my last trip. The Flea is a great place to tinker around for the afternoon!

WHERE TO STAY

SoHo is my favourite borough to stay in – it’s just so convenient getting to uptown and it’s just so close to everything I love too.

Greenwich Village is lovely for airbnb apartments – it’s a lot quieter than, say, SoHo and has a more quaint, local and laidback vibe to it.

East Village – definitely stay here if you want a more upbeat New York vibe without all the tourists/people that descend on Times Square/Midtown. East Village has the highest concentration of bars in NYC, so you’ll never go thirsty (or hungry) if you stay in this borough.

For more (slightly) affordable options, Brooklyn is really great. We stayed at Aloft (in Downtown Brooklyn) and would absolutely stay there again. It’s on a quiet street and next to a Sheraton hotel, with a couple of main subway stations within walking distance. The room rate we paid (mid-April) was US$182 per night for a King Room. The wifi was kinda sketchy (which was frustrating for me as I was working every day from the hotel) but it may have just been our room.

Finally, if the thought of tourists getting in your way with their Nikons and Canons breaks you out in a rash, do not stay in Midtown or anywhere close to Times Square. Just sayin’.

A FEW RANDOM TIPS (because if you’re anything like me…)

Bloomingdales in SoHo has free wifi (it instantly connects once you’re inside!) and free restrooms, and the only thing it’ll cost you is to look as inconspicuous as possible.  It’s in a super convenient location (backs onto Broadway/Crosby Streets) so I always camped out here when I got lost and needed google maps. Lol.

New York is a very walkable city but if you’ll be riding the subway, buy a metro card at any station. Subway fares are so cheap in NYC and you can use the trains as many times as you like within the allotted days. Also, please make sure you download the Hopstop app because once you’re in Midtown the chances of getting lost are very, very real.

Before you head to NYC (or while you’re there) visit ny.racked.com for all the sample sales that are happening in the city – it’s updated daily!

To get from JFK airport to Manhattan (or Brooklyn) it’s worth swallowing the pill that is the $60 taxi fare and catching a yellow cab. It’s about AUD$60 to Manhattan and $50 to Brooklyn (it’s closer to JFK) and as it’s an hours’ drive, you don’t want to mess around too much, especially if you’re arriving late at night. JUST MAKE SURE you catch a taxi from the official taxi stand outside the airport (it’s to your left as you come out of Arrivals). The most important thing is to ignore all the shady people stopping you in your tracks along the way to offer you a ‘cheaper taxi fare’ – it may be slightly cheaper but a lot of them aren’t insured or registered properly if something goes awry. And a word of warning – they are super persistent and very convincing to unassuming tourists.

As far as tipping is concerned, 18% of the bill is the bare minimum or you can probably get away with doubling the tax at the more casual sit-down places. Don’t tip if you get crap service, though!

Like Tokyo, New York is one of those cities with the very likelihood of you getting trampled on by locals if you stay still (or walk really slow…). It’s the little things like making way for people on their way to work on the subway or the Brooklyn Bridge that will make life a little less stressful for everyone. Time, life, and people go at extraordinary speed in NYC – things just go faster and you’ll either love it or hate it.

Finally, be prepared to line up everywhere in New York. I was naively under the impression that a big city with so many places to eat and things to do would be exempt from queues but I was so wrong. So plan accordingly and, most importantly, have fun!

Photography by Michelle and Jamie Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

Let’s never leave.

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It’s a little crazy to think that it was only three weeks ago when half the contents of my unzipped carry-on bag literally flew halfway up the street outside our Iceland hotel as we piled into the car en route to the airport. A tour bus load of passengers who – with much amusement apparently – witnessed me running after my Roshe Runs as they made for a great escape along with the ferocious wind at 5am.

I can’t begin to tell you about the howling and unforgiving Icelandic wind that morning, but let’s just say steel lamp posts were swaying rather precariously from side to side and it took no less than 10 minutes for my husband to successfully put one suitcase into the boot.

And if that wasn’t enough, my hands were jammed in my pockets out of fear they’d turn blue and fall off in -9 degrees celsius weather.

So I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to (and dare I say, earned) sun-drenched Santorini – and the daily overdose of vitamin D – to end our two month-long trip.

Of course, the excitement was kinda dampened when our airline lost our luggage on the way to the Adriatic coast – but that’s another story for another day (see, I wasn’t ever joking about packing that spare change of undies).

The short story is that eventually our suitcases turned up and the long story? Maybe I’ll just let these pictures speak a thousand words.

In collaboration with Topshop Australia | wearing Finders Keepers pinstripe top + culottes available at Topshop.

Photographs by Jamie Lau.

On packing lists and two month trips.

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When I first started putting together this post (just under 4 weeks ago), I was on my way to Tokyo, leaving the 98% humidity and 35C temps of Vietnam (thankfully) behind me. I’ve already spent the night on an unforgivingly hard chair in an airport thanks to a missed flight at Narita and a few days ago I left New York City where spring has definitely sprung, with some days hitting a max of 26C, the warmest since summer ended. This week, I’ve been traipsing glaciers and snowstorms in Iceland, where the average real-feel temperature has been a blistering 0C. The last leg of my trip involves spending time in Greece until mid-May for my first taste of a European summer.

So in light of my current travel situation, the idea of packing light to visit 10-12 cities with a million climate extremes seems laughable. Because I’m flying various airlines, my limit is 20kg of checked luggage, so packing for a two-month trip around the world has been about packing smarter, not necessarily lighter.

And by ‘smarter’, I mean packing a spare change of underwear in my carry-on.

My new-found fear of flying has nothing on my fear of packing too much for a holiday. I have these horrific visions (stemming from past travels) of lugging my suitcase up six flights of vertigo-inducing stairs to my Copenhagen airbnb, or walking 2km from my Paris hotel to the subway station negotiating cobblestoned paths and an erratic GPS that sends me astray the entire way.

Many of you have asked for a run-down of my packing list so I thought I’d put together a small insight + guide as to how I’ve packed for my two-month holiday.

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FIRST THINGS FIRST – PREPARING A PACKING LIST

My overarching goal is to ensure everything goes with everything – lots of easy, wearable and fuss-free items from pants and tops to shoes and dresses. This also always means I tend to stick to a very classic and neutral colour palette – grey, white, black, and navy, with the ‘colour’ I add being khaki, blush or mid-blue denim.

My other ‘deal-breakers’ include:

Shoes that I can walk all day in

Summery clothes that can also be worn for a wintery climate

Things that can be replaced + wouldn’t be devastated to lose or damage on my travels

Wrinkle-resistant items or those that require little ironing

In preparing my packing list, I always use Pinterest as my main packing list tool.

I first start by putting together a (secret) board of items I’m thinking of packing for my trip. This helps me to clearly visualise my packing list at a glance to see if I’m missing anything or have too much of something. I add items and/or refine or cull as I go along. For this particular trip, I created two boards – one for winter and one for summer. It just made it a lot easier to achieve a good balance of summer and winter items.

The second phase involves creating an inspiration board filled with travel outfits that could work for the nature of my holiday.

It doesn’t always happen but I try to complete my boards the week before I fly out. I start packing the day or two before – never any earlier as I find the wrinkles in my clothes are much harder to iron out.

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A TYPICAL IN-FLIGHT OUTFIT

When I’m flying 30+ hours, then walking my bedraggled self and catching a train to my hotel, comfort wins out every single time. I’m all about loose layers, relaxed silhouettes and comfortable, easy pieces, for a long-haul flight:

A merino or cashmere sweater

A relaxed long cardigan or an oversized slouchy coat

Acne Canada wool scarf which I use as a blanket

Black ponte pants or soft leggings

Porselli black ballerina flats (I slip off my shoes as soon as I get on a flight and put on a pair of soft cotton socks)

A large black tote bag

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WHAT I PACKED

WordPress would probably have a meltdown if I listed every single item in my suitcase right now, so here’s a good run-down of a good proportion of my packing list for this current trip:

COATS + JACKETS

Isabel Marant khaki down parka

Zara nude wool long robe coat

Balenciaga navy wool jacket

The rationale:

This is actually packing ‘light’ (for me) especially for such a long trip. I always pack a statement blazer for more dressy occasions and although it’s super heavy, the calf-length Zara coat keeps my legs warm when I’m only wearing one layer of pants. I’ve gotten the most wear out of this coat the most. The parka is virtually indestructible – I packed it specifically for exploring the fjords in Norway and Iceland.

I’ve bought a Uniqlo quilted down jacket on my travels which has proved to be indispensable to wear on its own or as a thin layer underneath my coat. It rolls up like a sleeping bag, too!

What I wish I packed:

Nothing. I think I’ve ticked all the boxes with these three options.  

KNITS + SWEATERS

Topshop charcoal grey coatigan

Isabel Marant merino turtleneck

Country Road mens’ grey merino sweater

Country Road grey knitted sleeveless roll neck

The rationale:

The Topshop coatigan is perfect for plane trips and can be easily layered underneath a coat. For wintery destinations, roll-necks and turtlenecks are essential. The Country Road mens’ grey sweater goes with everything.

What I wish I packed:

I may have packed way one too many grey knits (even though they are varying shades of grey… lol), so I kind of wish I had packed my classic mens’ black sweater by Country Road.

DRESSES

Bassike striped dress

Seed black silk trapeze tank dress

Alice McCall playsuit

The rationale:

Because it’s far less versatile than separates, I tend to pack the least dresses as possible. The Bassike stripes are ideal for in-between weather, the Seed black silk dress is my LBD that works on its own or layered in winter, and the playsuit is my ‘dressy’ piece for my summer destinations.

What I wish I packed:

Nothing, except for maybe my black Witchery jumpsuit. It’s just so heavy, though! 

SHOES

Chanel espadrilles

Porselli black ballerina flats

Birkenstock Arizona in black

Converse trainers

The rationale:

Shoes are always always, always the most challenging part of my packing list. I never want to travel with any more than three pairs of shoes but it never happens because, well, FOMO. For this trip, however, I made sure that every pair of shoe I packed could be worn all day without a hint of a blister.

One thing I always do is to place the insert from my Nike Frees into my shoes (like the Converse sneakers) for added comfort. It makes such a difference to shoes that don’t have a thick sole.

What I wish I packed:

My COS black Chelsea boots or Isabel Marant Dicker boots. It broke my heart to leave them at home this time – they are heavy and they just weren’t versatile or comfortable enough for me to wear through all seasons. Sneakers can make me feel so dowdy though and they’re not waterproof. I’ve almost caved into buying a pair of ankle boots on this trip…

BAGS

Celine Trio in navy

Celine Cabas in black

Everlane backpack

The rationale:

Only the ‘basics’ this time and I really wanted to go light on this – I even left the Le Pliages at home. Even though they’re super compact, all the weight adds up – it’s so important to remember this when you’re packing.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever travelled with a backpack and I swear I will never travel without one ever again. I haven’t yet figured out how to make it look less schoolbag-ish but when you’re travelling for 8 weeks, practicality trumps all.

I brought the Trio as it can be worn cross-body, and the Cabas doubles as a sturdy and expansive carry-on bag.

What I wish I packed:

A larger bag with a shoulder strap that fits my OM-D E-M1. I’ve hardly used my Celine Trio because it doesn’t fit my camera, and the Cabas is too impractical for all-day walking. Also, I wish I had brought my Longchamp expandable weekender – I’m really missing the practicality of a zippered carry-on bag! I’ll never learn…

ACCESSORIES

Acne Studios ‘Canada’ scarf in grey

Country Road black leather belt

Ray Ban oversized Aviators

Knitted grey beanie

Straw boater hat

The rationale:

The scarf doubles as a blanket on the plane, the beanie will keep my ears warm in Iceland, the boater hat works in both summer and (kind of) winter, and the belt is really my only accessory.

What I wish I packed:

My black wool fedora as it’s such a classic winter staple and (call me pedantic) but it just feels weird wearing a straw hat when it’s snowing outside.

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THE VERDICT SO FAR

So I’m at the halfway point of my two-month trip now and the general consensus is that I’ve neither packed too much or too little. If anything, I think I’ve packed slightly more than I probably need, even though when I departed Australia my checked baggage weighed in at roughly 13-14kgs.

My only major regret is not packing a pair of ankle boots because some destinations have turned out to be way colder, snowier and rainier than I anticipated. You can never predict the weather, I guess, and I didn’t own any boots that I could walk all day in plus be ok with trashing them in mud puddles!

At the end of the day though, I’d say 99% of what I’ve packed can be worn together so, and off the cuff, I’ve worn about 90% of what I’ve packed so far. So given packing smarter (as opposed to lighter) was my goal to begin with, my packing list has performed relatively better than others of mine in the past.

And in case you missed it, read my Spy Style post over at vogue.com.au for more of my packing tips + essentials.

Travel Journal: Tokyo

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I always leave my heart in Tokyo.

The midnight vending machine run; the beguiling sense of order and chaos at Shibuya Crossing; the meticulously wrapped fruit and stationery; the simple fact that you can find good ramen on every street corner; and the way not many Tokyo-ites can hold a conversation in English but always try to – even if it means walking you 500m to the nearest subway station when you find yourself lost in this incredible labyrinth of a city.

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Truth be told, I love Paris for its architecture and New York City for its old-world, well-mannered grandeur, but I love Tokyo for everything. There is no other city that comes even close and no other place I could definitively say I love most.

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As with my other travel journals, my guide to Tokyo is by no means definitive. I’m the non-tourist tourist – I prefer to spend my afternoon at a café sipping coffee rather than line up for hours at a major tourist attraction. So with that in mind, the recommendations I’ve shared below is a snapshot of how I like to spend my time travelling.

This is my Tokyo.

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EAT

Ramen

Ippudo Ramen – in my opinion, some of the best ramen in Tokyo is right here. I’ve been countless times and it’s such a different experience to the chains in Sydney and New York.

4-10-3 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo

Ichiran Ramen – ramen in your own booth, ordered from a vending machine. It’s a tiny restaurant in a basement and its main aim is to minimise customer contact as much as possible for the sake of efficiency. A classic and compulsory Japanese experience. If you have trouble finding it, it’s just a few doors down from Zara.

1 Chome-22-7 Jinnan, Shibuya

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Japanese the locals love

Maisen Tonkatsu – life-changing tonkatsu, not even kidding. Maisen has ruined eating tonkatsu anywhere else in the world for as long as I shall live.

4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya

Harajuku Gyoza – cheap but cheerful gyoza and, in my humble opinion, the best in Tokyo. Remember to order the mince beansprouts and pickled cucumber with your dumplings! Also, try to go for an early dinner or late lunch as queues form quickly here.

6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya

Café hopping

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Bread, Espresso & – people queue up for the French Toast and understandably so – it’s served in a cast-iron skillet (enough to share between two so for 650 yen it’s a bargain) and it’s also to die for. I did read somewhere, though, that it’s only served on the skillet for the 3pm run.  In any case, I’d jump on a plane to Tokyo just for this. The French Toast is only served before 10am or after 3pm and not in between so don’t try getting a table at 2:30pm then ordering the French Toast when it hits 3pm. You’ll be refused and told to go back outside to line up. It’s a Japanese thing, I think.

3-4-9, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

Café Kitsuné – I love the matcha lattes here. Pricey at $6 a pop but it’s surprisingly difficult to get matcha lattes anywhere else in Tokyo (even from a vending machine).

3-17-1 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku

Nicolai Bergmann Nomu Café – this breathtaking space is a sight for sore eyes. It’s a florist and café in one. Order the Scandinavian lunch set.

1F, 5-7-2, Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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Sweets

Shozo Coffee Store – the cutest little store (try their famed madeleines) with an amazing courtyard at the back. Don’t miss it!

3-13 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Sadaharu Aoki – Japanese pastry chef who honed his craft in Paris. Make sure you try the eclairs!

Shinkokusai BLD, 3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Rose Bakery – for the carrot cake, of course. Be sure to do a little window shop at Uniqlo and Dover Street Market after!

7F, 6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Snacks

Onigiri from the corner store – my most favourite part about visiting Japan is the convenience stores! I’m obsessed with having onigiri for breakfast. It’s hard to miss, but look for a Lawson, Familymart or 7-Eleven.

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Specialty Coffee

See my five must-visit spots in Tokyo on vogue.com.au. 

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SEE

Meji Shrine – a beautiful shrine in the middle of a forest in the middle of Harajuku. An experience like no other when in Tokyo.

Mori Tower – an amazing 360 view of the Tokyo skyscapers. On a clear day I think you can see Mount Fuji.

Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa – go on Sundays when all the food stalls are peddling everything from Doraemon cakes to takoyaki.

Get lost in Omotesando – the best thing. I could spend hours walking around and dropping my jaw at all the architecture here.

Get lost in Daikanyama – one of my most favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo. There are so many small cafes and shops hidden at every corner. Go here before everyone else does.

Ghibli Museum – I’ve only seen (though really enjoyed!) a few Miyazaki films, but this one is definitely something you shouldn’t miss if you’re a huge fan.

1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms – refer to my Hanami section below.

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Hanami in Tokyo

‘Hanami’ is Japanese for ‘cherry blossom viewing’ and it’s one of the most magical things you’ll ever experience if you visit Tokyo during March and April. It’s the happiest and most exciting time of year in Japan. The season doesn’t last long – two or so weeks tops, so it pays to research the best time to go!

When should I book my trip?

As far as Tokyo goes, the last week of March to the second week of April is generally a safe bet. I have visited Tokyo for the past two cherry blossom seasons and found that full bloom peaks around the 26th-28th March give or take a couple of days.  This year, I was in Tokyo 26th-31st March and full bloom fell the day or two after I arrived.

Because it’s the most popular time of year to visit Japan, it’s typical for hotels to book out a year in advance. Book your accommodation and flights as early as possible if you’re planning a cherry blossom trip.

Where is the best spot to see/photograph cherry blossoms?

If you don’t mind crowds and have a whole day to spare, Ueno Park is beautiful, vast, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It seems everyone and anyone in Tokyo is here at any one time!

For cherry blossoms with a lake view, visit Inokashira Park and Chidorigafuchi Moat of the Imperial Palace. Both of these parks also give you an opportunity to hire a row boat. I love photographing Inokashira after everyone’s gone home and as the sun’s setting – just before 7pm.

Nakameguro is probably my most favourite spot for hanami with its cherry blossom-lined canal and shops/cafes on either side.  It’s packed with tourists during blossom season though, so bear this in mind.

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SHOP

Omotesando – shop your Chanel bags, Church’s boots, and Dior earrings here. Don’t forget to comb the backstreets for cool little boutiques.

Minami Aoyama – Prada, Miu Miu, Diptyque, Acne Studios and tons more (including amazing architecture).

Found Muji – located near Omotesando, it’s the most inspiring and incredible place to shop a curated edit of one-of-a-kind Muji homewares. APC is also just around the corner if that’s your thing.

Margaret Howell – the Ginza store is beautifully merchandised and the sales ladies here are always so lovely!

Rag Tag – Japanese consignment stores are seriously amazing. I’ve found archival pieces from Balenciaga and Isabel Marant here for heavily reduced prices in immaculate condition as well as designer handbags for so low. It’s also shoe heaven here if you’re a size 36-38. For the best and largest designer handbag selection (think Celine, Chanel, Balenciaga, Prada, LV, Hermes), head to the Harajuku and Ginza outpost. For accessories and jewellery, Ginza wins. The Harajuku store is by far the biggest though in terms of all designers. Rag Tag Shinjuku has the most range of pre-owned Acne Studios. As you can tell, I’m such a discount shopper!

Nakameguro and Daikanyama – you can find all the indie boutiques here, stocking everything from Bassike and Isabel Marant to local Japanese labels.

T-Site –  the most incredible bookshop in Daikanyama, Tokyo. It’s so easy to spend hours here.

Muji – no Japanese retail experience is complete without a visit to this iconic and quintessential Japanese store. I love stocking up on wearable and chic wardrobe basics (Breton striped dresses and linen skirts) from Muji as well as stationery.

WEEKENDERS/DAY TRIPS

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Kyoto – it’s an easy Shinkansen (bullet train) ride to and from Tokyo. For me, two days is enough but I’m not fanatical about shrines as others! Arashiyama (the beautiful bamboo forest) and the surrounding parks/markets can be done in a couple of hours.

Hakone – a beautiful and serene escape from Tokyo, which you can combine with a trip to Mount Fuji. I’d love to stay at Hakone Ginyu next time, but it always seems to book out at least a year in advance during peak season!

Mount Fuji – I’ve done the Mt Fuji/Lake Ashi Viator day tour and highly recommend it. It’s about 13 hours in duration and it’s easy to get to and from Tokyo. It was inclement weather to go up to the 5th station but the sky was clear enough to see Fujisan in all its symmetry!

Visit an onsen – I’ve stayed at Manza Onsen Hotel and although it’s nothing overly fancy, it offers a truly authentic and charming Japanese experience. The all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet was a highlight, haha. The hotel offers bus transport to and from Tokyo from a bus terminal in Shinjuku. 

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ESSENTIALS IN TOKYO

Suica/PASMO metro transport card – budget around 1500 yen per day for moderate metro use. These cards can be purchased at all train stations or at the airport upon arrival.

Portable wifi – I’ve used Global Advanced Communications twice for my trips to Japan and highly recommend it. Order it a month online before your trip and have it delivered directly to your hotel on the date you arrive. The wifi works throughout Japan. I order the ECO Pocket WIFI 21mbps + extra battery. The cost was around AUD$70 for 11 days. It might sound expensive, but it’s really not as Tokyo is hugely difficult to navigate without the benefit of having wifi with you at all times – this far outweighs the cost.

Google Maps – absolutely essential when in Tokyo, but you will obviously need wifi to power it.

Basic grasp of the language – learning how to say thank you goes a long way in Japan!

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WHERE TO STAY

My favourite areas to stay include

Shibuya – a distinctively youthful and frenetic part of Tokyo that never ever sleeps. Close to all you’ll ever need, really.

Shinjuku – quite similar to Shibuya, home to the giant department stores, and a great base to explore Tokyo.

Shinbashi – an affordable option if you want to be close to Ginza, Asakusa, and the Yamanote line (to get to and from the airport).

Omotesando – close to boutiques and some of the coolest cafes in Tokyo. I’d try and book an airbnb here as there’s probably not much in the way of hotels.

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Hotels I’ve stayed at + recommend

Park Tokyo (Shiodome), Granbell Hotel Shibuya, Granbell Hotel Shinjuku, Sunroute Shinbashi (no-frills, tiny, but a great location). For those of you lucky enough to be not on a budget, try Claska or Park Hyatt.

Photography by Michelle Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

To see more of my travels, follow my Instagram + #seetheworldwitholympus for real-time updates and a peek at where I’m off to next.

What I’m wearing today: Oslo

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A quick snap of today’s outfit in Oslo.

We started the day off at noon with a trip to Birkelunden flea market, meandered through Grünerløkka in (a fruitless) search for coffee, then ended up at Fuglen where I experienced my first snow fall whilst drinking my coffee out on the pavement (magical!). The afternoon consisted of a quick visit to the beautiful opera house and an impulsive coffee at Stockfleths at the end of the day just because the sun came out. I’m already becoming one of those Europeans who gets so excited and runs outside to sun bake when the temp hits above 15C.

Sundays are eerily quiet in this small city. All the shops are closed so people either stay indoors or retreat to flea markets, parks, coffee shops, or spend their Sundays along the beautiful river. In a lot of ways, Oslo reminds me of Perth – it’s a distinctively relaxed city, where you can hear the tumbleweeds rolling through the city centre on Sundays, and everyone kind of wakes up real slow (and has no real problem about it).

Today’s outfit is an ode to the black turtleneck. I’m crazy about them at the moment, especially when tucked into denim with an oversized coat thrown over the top. This particular turtleneck I’m wearing is actually from Uniqlo’s heattech line which I swear by to stay warm in the northern hemisphere winters (or spring, funnily enough).

I wanted to wear ballet flats today (instead of my Converse) but with the amount of walking we did, these espadrilles seemed like the best compromise to make me feel a little more polished but comfortable. I’m also going to wear holes in my Scanlan low-rise boyfriend jeans (they’re the perfect ankle-grazing length and sit really relaxed on the hip) and this Zara coat from last winter has been pretty much superglued to me.

With all that being said, I’ve been in Europe for a grand total of six days and I’m missing the Australian sun so much already!

From Norway with love.

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Wearing Zara robe coat (tracked this one down from eBay), Maurie & Eve top and skirt, Porselli ballerina flats from My Chameleon.

Checking in for a hot second from Norway!

I’m currently bundled up in a cosy cafe in Bergen (Norway’s second biggest city, behind Oslo) determined to finish a deadline that I’ve procrastinated on for the past few days. Aside from our first day in Norway (above) the weather has been dreadful so it’s not such a traumatic experience having to coop up indoors and work.

As for outfit details, after calling practically every single boutique in Perth, I managed to track down this Maurie & Eve Gravity two-piece (top + skirt) literally the day before I flew out. As I harped on about in my latest blog post for Vogue, there’s something about matching sets that makes travelling in style a little bit easier. I also stumbled across this Chloe Paraty for $290 in a Tokyo consignment store last week! The leather is understandably a little worse for wear, but I’m planning to breathe new life into it by professionally dyeing it black when I get home.

In the meantime, we’ve decidedly been keeping our travel itinerary low-key and relaxed, so there’s been less sightseeing and more getting lost in the city’s winding, cobblestone paved roads. It’s been refreshing and so good for the soul.

Travel Journal: Vietnam.

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So 18 years have passed since my last trip to Vietnam. Back then, I was a pimply, tracksuit-wearing, makeup-inept teen, so much has (thankfully) changed for both myself and my native country in that time.

Whilst the palm-leaf conical hats, rickshaws and the food-on-a-stick epidemic has remained, the incredible cafe scene in Vietnam was a wonderful discovery. Who knew this South-East Asian country known more for brewing their coffee in a Moka pot could embrace the specialty coffee movement (and accompanying minimalist and concrete cafe interiors) that’s sweeping the world, one bearded hipster at a time?

It was a travesty I only had a few days in Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang to dedicate to some coffee exploration (the rest of my time was spent visiting relatives I haven’t seen in 18 years). That said, I managed to uncover some of HCMC and Da Nang’s best coffee spots so I thought as part of my Olympus Travel Journal for Vietnam, I thought I’d share them with any of you planning a visit to this part of the world soon.

HO CHI MINH CITY

L’usine Cafeteria

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My favourite, hands down. They have two outposts, both of which are beautifully merchandised with a thoughtful edit of homewares (including Copenhagen’s Madam Stoltz & local Scandinavian-inspired wares) as well as clothing (think Kenzo, Cameo, and labels for both men and women).

Open daily 7:30am – 10:30pm / website

151/1 Dong Khoi St., 1st Floor, Hồ Chí Minh (features beautiful marble tables, larger retail store)

70 Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh (slightly smaller retail space, but still super lovely + photogenic cafe!)

The Workshop Coffee

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They take their coffee pretty seriously here, in an Aeropress/Chemex/Kenyan brew kind of way. It’s a beautiful space (floor to ceiling windows, amazing light, and free wifi!), with impressive latte art to match. The dubious ground floor is full of motorcycles, so once you get past that, head upstairs to the first floor where you’ll see the cafe.

Open daily 8:00am – 8:00pm / facebook

Address: 27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé, 1, Hồ Chí Minh (upstairs)

 

DA NANG

Wonderlust Bakery & Coffee

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If you happen to be in this neck of the woods (Da Nang is towards central Vietnam) and you’re craving a matcha latte, head here. Not too sweet, the matcha has an authentic green tea twang.

Open daily 7:30am – 10:00pm

101 Trần Phú, Da Nang / facebook

Cafe Caricoli

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Okay, so my mother dragged me here because she’s obsessed with this old guy from YouTube who happens to be the founder/owner of Cafe Caricoli. The coffee here is more of the traditional Vietnamese than specialty kind (i.e. drip coffee sweetened with condensed milk). To my surprise though, it was all kinds of amazing. The beans are selected by hand and roasted in-house. I absolutely recommend it if you’re after traditional local coffee with an emphasis on quality and provenance.

Open daily 6:00am – 10:00pm

2 Duong 3 Thang 2, Da Nang, Vietnam / tripadvisor

 

Photography by Michelle Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

To see more of my travels, follow my Instagram + #seetheworldwitholympus for real-time updates and a peek at where I’m off to next.

Travel Journal: KLIA Minimalism.

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I have this thing with airports. I almost always hate them with a passion – my Type A, hyperactive, impatient self has too little attention span for waiting. But on the other hand, I’m a believer that airports see more sincere kisses than wedding halls.

On Christmas Eve a few years ago, I was picking up my husband from the airport when I realised that the arrival hall of any airport the day before Christmas Day must truly be one of the happiest places on Earth.

So it didn’t feel right to start my Olympus travel journal without sharing these quick snaps I took at KLIA2 airport with my OM-D E-M1 (whilst running for my departing plane, no less). I don’t usually photograph airports ever as I’m so pre-occupied with getting to my destination on time and in one piece, but as soon as I landed at KLIA2, I drew an audible and incredulous gasp at how put together the arrivals and departure terminals at KLIA2 now looks.

KLIA2 is the new, rejuvenated home for all low-cost carrier flights, leaving all horribly tedious layovers at drab LCCT in the past (which has now become a cargo hub). And needless to say, this one took me by complete surprise.

With the afternoon sunbeams flooding the minimalist, grey and white interiors (fact: this kind of thing never goes out of style) it was as if KLIA2’s departure hall spoke an insouciant charm that knows the way to my heart.

Photography by Michelle Lau with OM-D E-M1 | in partnership with Olympus Australia

F*** it, let’s go to New York.

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I’ve been averaging roughly two hours’ sleep for the past few nights (last night it was down to an all-time low: 0 hours – fun!) but there’s still a fire inside me as I begin this post by sharing one of my most exciting pinch-me moments to date.

I could not be more excited to announce that I’m partnering with Olympus Australia as I travel around the world for the next two months with their flagship OM-D E-M1 camera in hand. My Olympus journey will take me through 10-12 cities in total (yes, including New York!) with my wanderlust documented through the lens of my E-M1 every step of the way.

I’m leaving this morning and I’ll be using my camera to share my journey with you on the blog each week (along with my usual travel tips + tricks!). And starting this morning, I’ll be posting unique content on my Instagram via #seetheworldwithOlympus and #olympusinspired, so do follow along for real-time snapshots!

My Best Japanese Beauty Buys.

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A new month means a new adventure.

In case you missed it, I took some of you to Japan last week by way of this carefully curated guide to the best Japanese budget beauty buys (at least in my humble opinion) for Vogue Australia. The post has actually been nine months in the making – but it means every single product in my guide has been tried and tested for almost a year by me. And I have to say, I had much difficulty narrowing down my favourite products!

I’m heading back to Japan later this month (look out for my packing list shortly) so I hope my list of beauty recommendations helps those of you also visiting this breathtaking and hypnotic country!

Read the full post on how to shop for Japanese cosmetics over at Vogue.com.au.

Paris Travel Guide.

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This travel guide – in all its quintessential Haussman glory – has been a year in the making, if not more.

There was always one more thing to add, half a dozen things I’ve forgotten to share, or one more trip to make before I could really feel ready to share my personal take on Paris. My laptop crashed three times today finishing this off. So those of you who have emailed me countless times, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting this long! As you know, I do nothing by halves but I hope the wait was somewhat worth it as you read on. Having said that, this guide – as with all my other ones – is by no means definitive. It’s essentially based on my own personal recommendations as well as those of others. It’s a bit less touristy than other itineraries (you’ll notice I’ve left out obligatory must-sees like Notre-Dame) so it’s best to take what you’d like from it and add to your other research.

Lastly, I can’t sign off on this without thanking Hannah (who’s earliest memory of Paris probably coincided with the same time she could pick up a book), Alex (who has just finished up a 6 month exchange in Paris), and Grace (who threw caution to the wind, left everything behind, and spent a year immersing herself in Paris) for graciously and selflessly sharing their own tips and itineraries with me without even me having to ask (or beg!). I hope with this guide I’m paying it forward and sharing a random act of kindness with you all, as they have done with me. Enjoy.

SEE

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Best view of the Eiffel Tower

Champ de Mars – this gets you to the base of the Eiffel. 2 Allée Adrienne Lecouvreur, 75007.

Trocadéro – a large square that overlooks the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. Metro: Trocadéro

Avenue des Camoens – where Abdu’l-Baha delivered many speeches and also a really photogenic spot!

Rooftop of Galeries Lafayette – it’s free and a good resting spot from all the shopping. 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009.

Arc de Triomphe – buy a ticket to climb the 284 spiral steps to the top. There’s no elevator and you’d probably need to be reasonably fit, but the view alone will be worth the trek, especially as you can stay for as long you like. Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008.

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Museums

Palais de Tokyo. 13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116

Musée de la Vie romantique. 16 rue Chaptal, 9e (metro: Blanche)

Musée du Louvre (metro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre)

Centre Pompidou. Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004

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Gardens & beautiful open spaces

Jardin des Tuileries. 113 Rue de Rivoli, 75001

Jardin du Luxembourg. 6e Arrondissement, 75006

Jardin du Palais Royal. 6 rue de Montpensier, 75001

Place des Vosges. Place des Vosges, 75004

Parc Monceau. 35 Boulevard de Courcelles, 75008

Palace of Versailles – this one’s best done as a day trip. Place d’Armes, 78000

Monet’s Gardens – Giverny. If you’re a fan of Impressionism and, in particular, beautiful French gardens, a visit to Claude Monet’s house and garden is a must. It’s a 45 minute train ride out of Paris. From the train station, you can either catch a bus or ride a bike to the gardens (you can rent them cheaply from the corner shop opposite the station entrance/exit, and along a good proportion of the route, there are safe, dedicated bike paths). My friends and I cycled – it’s a roughly 20-30 mins ride depending on how fast you can peddle!

Walk along the Seine at sunset – one of my favourite things to do is exploring Paris on foot and seeing all the bridges and the architecture bathed in the soft afternoon glow. I love taking my Instax with me and documenting the afternoon with all the sights along the way. Remember to wear comfy walking shoes – it’s all cobblestones along most of the route! I particularly love starting from the Eiffel Tower to just past Notre Dame. If you’re not into walking, I also recommend hopping onto a ferry (I think there’s a few that dock in on the left bank, near St Germain way). It goes all the way from the 1st to the Eiffel Tower. You don’t usually have to book tickets in advance as the boats and ticket booths run all day.

 

EAT/DRINK

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Coffee:

Telescope – hands down, best coffee I’ve had in Paris. 5 Rue Villedo, 75001

Recommended:

Maison Kitsuné

Ten Belles

Cafe Coutume – they roast their own beans here and is Hannah’s favourite!

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Patisseries/Boulangeries/Sweets:

Rosa Kiwi – frozen yoghurt! Quite similar to Pink Berry. Rue Mouffetard is also one of my favourite streets to stroll in Paris. 4 Rue Mouffetard, 75005

Rose Bakery – this goes without saying but you cannot leave without having their carrot cake. This English-style cafe is dotted around Paris – 46 rue des Martyrs or at Le Bon Marché (which is the most spacious) or in the Marais (30 rue Debelleyme 75003). They have really delicious, vegetarian options, too, which is a nice change from all the meat, cheese and decadent cream sauces!

Plan B – If you happen to drop into Rose Bakery on rue Debelleyme, it’s worth popping into the little organic juicery and canteen next door for a quick pick-me-up. Claudia, who runs it, previously worked at Candelaria (so it must be good). I ordered the most refreshing freshly squeezed organic orange juice with a French tart/quiche to go. 32 rue Debelleyme 75003.

Les Marquis de Ladurée – Ladurée’s newest venture, entirely dedicated to chocolate. 14 rue Castiglione 75001

Du Pain et des Idées Kristy says the fig tart is AMAZING. 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010

Pierre Hermé – you haven’t done Paris if you haven’t done Pierre Hermé. 72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006

Recommended

Patisserie Ciel

Poliane (famed sourdough)

Patisserie des Reves (a hop, skip and jump from Trocadéro. Hannah says it’s like Zumbo on crack).

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Room with a view:

Le Café Marly. People watching at the Louvre. 93 Rue de Rivoli, 75001

Top of Pompidou – Georges. Amazing at dusk. Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004

Le Ciel de Paris. Tour Maine Montparnasse, 33 avenue du Maine 75015

 

Drinks (I don’t drink much so these are Alex/Hannah’s recommendations!):

Hotel Costes. 239-241 Rue Saint-Honoré, 75001

Le Prescription Cocktail Club. 23 rue Mazarine, 75006

Club Silencio. David Lynch’s boutique nightclub in Paris. Make sure you go before midnight to avoid hefty fees. 142 Rue Montmartre, 75002

Bar du Marche. Open til super late. 75 Rue de Seine, 75006

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Restaurants/Cafes:

Café de Flore. For Caesar salad and people watching, obviously. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006.

Crêperie Brocéliande. Cute place in the middle of Montmartre with the most delightful, highly coveted crepes! Be prepared to queue a little bit. 15 Rue des 3 Frères, 75018

Café des Deux Moulins. Obviously a bit touristy due to Amélie but surprisingly really good value for money. Grab the breakfast set here. 15 Rue Lepic, 75018

Bob’s Kitchen. A bit pricey but the smoothies and juices live up to the hype. Great pitstop whilst exploring Canal St Martin. 74 Rue des Gravilliers, 75003

Claus. Breakfast/brunch here is a must (they open from 10am). Christian Louboutin’s flagship store is literally across the road too. 14 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001

Merci Café. My favourite place in Paris. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais 75003

Chez Omar. Sofia Coppola eats here and so does Clemence Poesy apparently. Amazing and well-priced Moroccan food (really generous portions!) but the longest queue you’ll ever see in Paris. 47 Rue de Bretagne, 75003

La Maison Mère. Best fried chicken. Ever. Thanks, Alex! 4 Rue de Navarin, 75009

La Rughetta. Went here with friends (we were all staying in Montmartre) and enjoyed the most delicious Italian food with the most gracious, personable service. 41 Rue Lepic, 75018.

Chez Hannah. Falafel, falafel, falafel. Cheap and cheerful food. Muji is nearby and so is a host of other amazing shopping in the Marais. 54 Rue des Rosiers, 75004

L’Ardoise. We chanced upon this as it was conveniently located next to our hotel in the 1st. Excellent French food and a real crowd-pleaser amongst tourists, funnily enough. 28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001

Le Castiglione. I went here for the cheeseburgers (if it’s good enough for Sofia Coppola…) and it was quite pricey but great for people watching and the burger was decent. 235 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001

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Recommended (restaurants/cafes)

La Favorite

Aki

Frenchie To Go

Nanashi

Da Rosa

Bar du Marche

Candelaria

Mamie Gateaux

Tuckshop

The Broken Arm

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SHOP

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Favourite areas to shop:

Jardin du Palais Royal (Acne, Stella McCartney, vintage shopping)

Saint Germain (Celine, COS, Acne, Dries et al)

Le Marais (Isabel Marant, Merci, COS, A.P.C. et al)

Rue Saint Honore (everything all on the one winding street – Christian Louboutin, Hermes, Chanel shoe boutique, as well as Zara and & Other Stories)

Avenue Montgaine (as above but super high-end)

Montmartre (best for small French boutiques)

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Department stores:

Galeries Lafayette – best place to make those designer purchases as you can claim the VAT back downstairs. 40, boulevard Haussmann, 75009.

Le Bon Marché  – beautifully curated and merchandised. Pit stop at Rose Bakery is a must. They also have their own VAT office upstairs which is really convenient. 24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007.

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Homewares/Bookshops:

Fleux – jaw droppingly beautiful and such a vast range of homewares and furniture. Even if you can’t take most of it back in your suitcase, it’s a great way to while away an afternoon in the Marais. 39 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004.

Zara Home – this is on another level. 2 Boulevard de la Madeleine, 75009.

Shakespeare & Co. – I couldn’t not include this even though after three trips to Paris I still haven’t been! One day. 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005.

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Lifestyle/Fashion/Concept stores:

Colette. It’s always packed to the rafters here. Try to go on a week day (though even then there’s probably some event happening!). 213 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001.

& Other Stories. Such a beautiful store and the only one that hasn’t made it to Australian shores yet. I love the one on  277 Rue Saint Honoré, 75008.

Chanel – 31 Rue Cambon. Okay so even if you don’t buy anything here, it’s worth a visit and a window shop!

Merci. Aesop, Church’s boots, Isabel Marant and Maison Michel hats all under the one (pretty) roof. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003.

Espace Kiliwatch. For vintage aficionados. I haven’t been but I really want to. 64 rue Tiquetonne 75002.

shpping

French beauty buys:

City Pharma. 26 Rue du Four, 75006

Parisian markets (thanks to Grace for this!)

These two markets offer something a little bit different from the (what Grace and myself believe to be muchly over-hyped) Rue Montorgueil. They are a lot more local food/produce-oriented, if that’s your jam (see what I did there?).

Marché Raspail. Boulevard Raspail 75006

Marché Maubert. Place Maubert, 75005

In terms of flea markets, I visited Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (metro: Porte de Clignancourt) with friends. It’s huge – set aside a whole morning for this – and it’s filled with the most incredible treasures. It’s very, very, pricey though, but if anything, it’s worth having a gander if you have time.

 

STAY

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A brief overview of where I’ve stayed in Paris and the pros/cons:

1st: Louvre/Tuileries/Vendome et al. Location is amazing if you want to be close to the prettier parts of Paris. Cons: Ruinously expensive.

3rd: Marais. More quaint, slightly less frenetic and you’re close to a lot of the most amazing shopping and parks in Paris. Cons: Still quite expensive.

11th: Bastille. Right next to Marais but probably slightly cheaper. Great area to find an airbnb and it’s still quite centrally located.

18th: Montmartre. One of my favourite areas to stay in Paris. It’s out of the way but that’s the beauty of it. It’s become a little touristy in parts, but it’s still got that quaint, village, local feel that other parts of Paris have lost.

Recommended

6th: Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Would love to stay here as Saint Germain is my favourite area of Paris but it’s on the expensive side!

10th: Canal Saint-Martin. Very hipster but still quite affordable especially if you book an airbnb.

 

All photographs by Jamie and myself.

FURTHER READING:

My past Paris/France travel posts

My travel tips and tricks – Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Sofia Coppola’s Paris – NY Times

Paris in Four Months – Carin’s beautiful blog was practically my Paris bible when I was planning!

Paris City Guide – Trotter Mag (don’t miss the curated section on sweets!)

Travel Tips & Tricks: Part 3

I have to admit, I’ve spent at least two or three weeks writing this, mostly out of fear that I’ve missed ‘important’ nuggets of info for you all to read word for word (ha!). This is the third and last part in my Travel Tips & Tricks series and, at around 3,500 words, I honestly hope it is helpful to at least one person out there. As per Part 1 and 2, this has been generally written for the novice/first-time traveller – so whilst this isn’t a definitive guide – there are plenty other invaluable tips and tricks if you scour the interweb!

Like most things in life though, I’ve learnt you can never be completely prepared for a bout of travelling. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s this opportunity to conquer the unknown; discover far flung places before any ‘city guide’ can; and find a new perspective that no textbook can give you. After all, they say that to learn more about home, you just have to leave it.

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MONEY MATTERS

Even with the best of intentions, travelling on a shoestring is so hard. I’ve tried on my most recent Europe trip and (according to my husband) I failed. Miserably.

Leaving expensive purchases aside, I’ve found food and metro tickets to add up frighteningly quick, particularly in places like Paris, London, Switzerland, and generally all Scandinavian cities.

From my own travels, here’s a brief and general guide as to the cost of day to day living (food, transport, accommodation) is in various cities:

CENTRAL EUROPE

Paris $$$ (e.g. a 330ml bottle of Coke will set you back 4.50 euros at a café) | South of France $$

London $$$ | Prague $ | Leuven (Belgium) $$ | Berlin $ | Rome $$ | Cinque Terre $$ | Venice $$

EUROPE – SCANDINAVIA

Copenhagen $$$ | Stockholm $$$

EUROPE – NORDIC

Reykjavik $$$ (car hire is reasonable though – on par with Australian prices) | Helsinki $$ (in my experience, the least expensive Scandinavian city)

EUROPE – BALTIC

Tallinn $

ASIA

Hong Kong $ | Singapore $$ (food is inexpensive but designer bags/clothes are the most expensive in Asia)

Ho Chi Minh City $ | Kuala Lumpur $ | Shanghai $$ | Bali $ | Tokyo $$ (whilst food is reasonably cheap, hotels are pricey for their sqm)

Maldives (ok, not exactly Asia, but close enough!) $$$

USA/CANADA

New York City $$$ | Las Vegas $$ | Boston $$ | San Francisco $$ | Vancouver $$

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HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD

These days, we spend our dinners in the comfort of our hotel room or apartment, rather than at a café or restaurant.

As an example, a typical 2-course meal at a mid-range restaurant in Paris would typically set us back 50 euros for both of us without beer/wine. A stop-off at the local Paul’s patisserie or a nearby Monoprix gets us dinner sorted for under 10 euros in total (and that’s with beer or wine!). Whether we were eating in the middle of Jardin de Tuilluries (Instagrammable picnic or not) or on the banks of the Seine, or taking it back to our apartment, it was still fun. And the great thing about most parts of Europe is that public drinking (in the civilised sense, at least) is not illegal like it is here in Australia. So you don’t have to be sitting at a restaurant and having a meal to be enjoying a drink.

Of course, though, holidays are meant for splashing out, and we’ve been fortunate to experience the most incredible dining experiences in the world (aside from the Michelin-starred restaurants, Noma and Waku Ghin have been notable highlights). But whilst my husband would have no qualms eating pre-made cous cous from Franprix each night in an effort to save money, I would. I prefer my food fresh and not pre-packed with preservatives and what-not.

The deal was that we’d eat a big breakfast (preferably by booking a hotel that offered a breakfast buffet), then skip lunch (most times we’d pick up a small snack in the afternoon to tide us over) and then only eat out for dinner every second (or third) night. It’s not a shoestring solution by any means, but it’s a good compromise for us.

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THE RULES OF EATING OUT

On the other hand, if you are eating out in a very tourisy city (e.g. Paris, Rome, et al) and you prefer not to be ripped off by exorbitant restaurant prices, I have a few tips that might point you in the right direction:

Get off the beaten track

Often the more authentic (and cheaper) places are found away from main tourist drags. I’d walk at least 800m-1km away from touristy areas to find something that fits the bill.

One time in Rome, we made the mistake of having lunch at a pizza and pasta bar around the corner from Trevi Fountain (in our defence, we were hangry. And my in-laws were with us). When the bill was brought to the table, there was a mysterious 6 euro charge for the four of us, in addition to the food we ordered. Guess what that charge was? A ‘sitting’/service fee. I was so livid. I mean, my pizza cost 6 euros. It’s probably quite common amongst ‘touristy places’ to be honest but that was the only restaurant I had eaten at in Italy that demanded such surcharges. Moral of the story? Get off the beaten track.

Try to avoid restaurants that openly advertise English menus

Ok, so it sounds a little stupid given I don’t speak any other languages except some really awful Vietnamese, Teo Chew (Chinese) and English, but if you want to go to the other end of the extreme (assuming you couldn’t care less about accidentally things like reindeer meatballs) then go for it. My husband gets anxious when he can’t understand a menu but I’m personally ok with it, aside from that one time I accidentally ate reindeer meatballs in Helsinki. What’s the worse that could happen? Unless you’re in questionable parts of remote China (like I have been) food’s food at the end of the day. I’ve found restaurants with no English menus tend to have the most authentic food going around.

Download apps

There are some really great apps for your phone which help you find nearby restaurants and save you money. Think of it as Urbanspoon with coupon codes.

If you’re heading to France, Spain or Switzerland, it’s worth downloading The Fork. My friends used this app on our last night in Paris and we ended up having a really fantastic dining experience at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

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GETTING OVER THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

That said, sometimes it’s just impossible to fly by the seat of your pants when you’re eating at a restaurant or navigating your way around a foreign city and you don’t speak an ounce of the local language.

If you don’t have internet access when out and about, there are heaps of free language apps that you can download on your smartphone (some are equipped with phonetic functions!) or you can carry a pocket-sized phrase book with you too.

It always helps if you at least learn how to say “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” in the language of the country you’re visiting without referring to a phrase book.

We were so lucky to be seated at a restaurant next to an Austrian English-speaking couple in Dijon recently that sensed my husband’s anxiety and offered to translate the menu for us from French to English. It was so kind of her to do so, and we ended up chatting about our respective travels and cities. Although French is not the most difficult language to decipher (try Japanese!) it just goes to show if you ask someone nearby (whether it’s a waiter or a fellow traveller), chances are they’ll be willing to help.

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HOW LONG TO SPEND IN EACH CITY

This really does come down to personal preference. Some people are satisfied with two days in Paris; whilst for others, two months isn’t nearly enough!

As a general rule of thumb though, I try not to spend any less than 2 or 3 nights in any one city (there are exceptions to the rule – usually this applies to tiny towns). It’s tempting to squeeze in as many countries as you can when you’re a 36 hour flight away from home (heck, even I’ve done 3-4 cities in one week…), but I’ve personally found after factoring in the time, cost and hassle in actually getting in and out of cities, visiting a place for such a short amount of time is really such a waste. For me anyway, it takes a few days to truly soak up what a city or town to the point where I feel unhurried and can leave knowing I’ve had a good chance to explore both the sights and the hidden back streets.

It can be hard to gauge how long to spend in a city when you’ve never visited the place before (asking friends/family helps, but it’s not infallible!). For those curious, here’s roughly how long I’ve spent in some of the cities I’ve been to:

Berlin – 4 days (7, if I had my time over)

Boston – 2 days (about right, though could spend up to 3 or 4 days here)

Copenhagen – 4 days (5 or 6 if I had my time over)

Cinque Terre – 3 days (about right)

Helsinki – 4 days (about right, but probably no more than 4)

Hong Kong – 5 days (not nearly enough – I could spent up to 9-10 days here!)

Las Vegas – 3 days (just right)

London – 2 days (more than enough for me – I didn’t enjoy London and almost went bankrupt after a couple of days! For the average traveller though, I’d say 4-5 days)

Maldives – 3 days (about right, though more if we signed up to activities & day trips)

New York City – 9 days (it didn’t even scratch the surface. At least 2 weeks here)

Paris – 8/10 days (see NYC)

Reykjavik – 4 days (could definitely have spent up to 6 days here)

Rome – 2 days (I didn’t warm to Rome either – I blame the dodgy area we stayed in! So 2 days was perfect, and I also got to explore the Roman Forum at a comfortable pace).

San Francisco –  3 days (4-5 days would have been ideal. It took me so long to enjoy San Francisco and when I started to, I had to leave!).

Shanghai – 3 days (could have spent an extra day or two here)

Tokyo – 12 days (at least 2 full weeks, if I had my time over. See NYC & Paris)

Vancouver – 3 days (about right, but we didn’t go doing ski season. I LOVED Vancouver and could definitely spend more time here exploring the landscape)

Venice – 1.5 days (2-3, if I had my time over. Venice is incredible)

Of course, the best way to get around the conundrum is to not plan or book anything. At all.

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EASIEST WAY TO GET AROUND A CITY

Aside from a map in hand, GPS (we download the TomTom app on our iPhone – it’s not free but it’s worth the money) and/or Google Maps app have saved us so many times. During our self-guided bike tour in the South of France, we ended up ditching the paper maps we were given and used our TomTom instead (let’s face it, a map is only as good as the signage). If you’re heading to an Asian city (like Tokyo) be prepared. Even with a GPS, finding a place can be impossible. And if all else fails, ask for help.

As for public transport, this is our most used option. Walking or cycling is our preferred option. You see so much more of the city this way, but only if time is a luxury. Cycling gives you the best of both worlds though – and it’s easy on the feet!

Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, most cities in Europe including Scandinavia have some of the most efficient subway systems in the world. NYC can be chaotic and slow (and deafening!) and the Tube in London can be horrendous. F0r such a populated city, Paris is really efficient and easy (aside from peak hour).

For my husband and I, we don’t have the luxury to be chauffeured from place to place and taxis are only ever used to and from the airport (if it’s an early morning or late night flight) because it’s often crazy expensive, too.

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TAKE SCREENSHOTS

If you don’t have internet connection when you’re out, taking screenshots on your phone (I’ve never owned one but I’m sure you do it on an Android too) before leaving your hotel in the morning is indispensable (assuming you’re using wifi in the hotel). I take screenshots of everything when travelling – addresses, maps, photos, you name it. It beats writing everything down. All I have to do is open my Camera Roll and then type the address into our TomTom app. It’s foolproof.

Oh, and this is also a good thing to know.

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CLAIMING TAX ON HOLIDAY PURCHASES

This is probably the best (though laborious!) part about shopping overseas.

It’s important to note not all countries and cities offer this option (definitely Europe and most of Asia, but – correct me if I’m wrong – not all parts of the US yet).

Basically (to the uninitiated) if you’re a traveller, you can claim back tax on your purchase. In Europe it’s called the VAT. In places like Singapore, it’s called the GST (like in Australia). The only condition is that you have to be leaving, say, the EU within 3 months of purchasing that item.

It’s also worth noting that tax rates differ from country to country. Minimum purchase amounts also vary from country to country. And some countries (like Denmark) adopt a tiered approach to tax rates and purchase amounts. You can find all this information on websites like Global Blue or Premier Tax Free. Generally, you’ll find you can get anywhere between 10-20% off your purchase.

Because getting your tax back on your purchases in a foreign country can get a little tricky though, I thought I’d impart a few tips based on my own experience:

At time of purchase

– Unless you have a rather intuitive sales assistant, you’ll have to tell them you’d like to claim the tax back on the purchase. They’ll then fill out the form & attach the receipt for you which you’ll need to claim tax. Do not lose these forms!

– Generally speaking, you’re not allowed to open or use your purchases before taking them to the airport’s tax refund office. Some countries (like Finland) will actually staple your shopping bag together. Some countries don’t, so with purchases like handbags, it’s possible to sneakily use them and then pop them back in its dustbag (just keep the swing tags)!

– If you’ve made multiple purchases, claim them all back at your last stop within the EU. Aim to arrive at the airport at least two hours earlier than usual (more if it’s a big airport and you have heaps of stuff to claim). You’ll need this time to line up, get the customs stamp, line up again at the foreign exchange counter, then post off the forms, and then to re-pack your suitcase.

At the tax refund counter

– If you’re wondering if customs check specific contents of your purchases at the airport… they usually don’t (in my experience!). That’s all I’ll say… in terms of packaging (paper bags/boxes), you generally don’t need it, as long as you have the actual item with you. This is handy if the packaging is really bulky! My girlfriend purchased a Birkin in Paris and was able to obtain a tax refund at the airport after shipping her empty Hermes box back to Australia.

– You can opt for a credit card refund or cash refund.

– In cities like Paris (and I assume in other cities too) there are tax refund counters dotted around the city from which you can receive your cash or credit refund (instead of receiving it at the airport). I’ve done this and it’s super simple and convenient if you need the extra cash. An important note: you STILL need to obtain the customs stamp at the airport though as a final ‘paperwork’ step, even though you’ve technically already received the refund. If you don’t get the stamp and post off the forms at the counter, you’ll have your refund debited from your credit card (which is why they ask you for your credit card at the counter).

– I know most people head to Paris to make big-ticket purchases (because it’s well-priced and the range is bigger). I recommend the Global Tax Refund office on the ground floor (next to the shoe department) at Galeries LaFayette. For the love of God, though, go early in the morning – before 10am – to beat the hoards of impatient, pushy Chinese tourists (only speaking from experience here). Global Blue can give you a cash refund (in euros) on the spot, and will only charge you (a small) commission if you didn’t make that purchase at Galeries.

– If you want to carry your purchases in your checked luggage, head to the tax refund counter before the check-in counter. This is why it’s important to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours earlier than you normally would – Rome, especially!

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DUTY FREE PURCHASES IN AIRPORTS

I just wanted to include some sage advice on this so that you can all learn from my (costly!) mistakes.

Things like cosmetics and alcohol can be much cheaper than back in Australia, so whilst it’s tempting to while away a huge chunk of transit time at the airport by shopping, there are a few things to keep in mind:

– Be mindful on liquid restrictions if you don’t have your checked luggage with you at time of purchase (because you’ll get them confiscated through security screening, obviously).

– Be mindful of your destination. We once travelled from Europe to the Maldives and stocked up on super cheap whisky at Heathrow. We forgot that Sunni Islam is the state religion of Maldives, so upon arrival at Male Airport, we ended up having $300-$400 worth of whisky confiscated (you’re not allowed to consume or purchase alcohol in Maldives, unless you’re at a restaurant/resort). We tried everything – asking to have the alcohol shipped back, asking if we could store it at the airport and pick it up upon departure… but there’s only so far you can push the envelope with poker-faced guards carrying machine guns.

– Be mindful of where you’re travelling from and where you’re travelling to. One other time, my husband wanted to stock up on whisky at HKIA but thankfully before he made a purchase, a sales assistant thoughtfully advised us that if we were travelling from Hong Kong to Australia, we weren’t permitted to bring alcohol back in our carry-on, due to tough restrictions Australia has imposed on incoming liquids. One other time, we were at Shanghai International Airport and I thought I’d stock up on Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream. The duty free store even sealed the clear zip lock bag for me so that it could (apparently) get through the security checkpoint. Well, guess what? It didn’t. I ended up having all 3 tubes of it taken away from me by Qantas at time of boarding. There’s a brief explanation on alcohol restrictions here but you can obviously find more info on Google.

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STAYING SAFE WHEN TRAVELLING

I couldn’t round off my Tips & Tricks without mentioning a word or two about safety and security when travelling. The rise of cashed-up tourists in certain cities, comes an influx of petition-signing, string-wielding, pillow-carrying scam artists and ‘gypsies’ who try to make a buck (or more) off an unsuspecting traveller.

I travelled with my father in-law through Rome last year and he was (almost) the victim of a pickpocket who shoved a pillow in his face and put his hand into my FIL’s shirt pocket. I have to say; it wasn’t the worst part of my Rome experience, though. To the first time traveller who has all these romanticised notions of cities like Paris and Rome… please be mindful, prepared, and your expectations (and common sense) in check.

– Don’t use an ATM in a deserted, dark, or dodgy place. If you have to use an ATM (even in a seemingly scrupulous place) try to have a friend or your partner with you.

– If you’re asked to sign a ‘petition’, ignore them and walk away. Fast.

– Same goes if someone comes up to you with string in their hands and asks if you speak English.

– If you’re standing on the street waiting for a friend, try to have your back to a wall at all times.

– Don’t carry more cash than you need.

– When dining outside at a café or restaurant don’t leave your phone or wallet visibly sitting on the table.

– When walking out of a luxury store after making a big purchase, keep your blinkers on and purchases close to you. It’s also a good idea to drop your shopping bags at your hotel room – it’s not only a pain to lug them around all day, but it can also be bait for a not-so-nice mugging.

– Using a money wallet (slung unfashionably underneath your clothes is a great idea – I usually get the husband to do this. Hahaha.); as is carrying a crossbody bag in front of you. If you’re carrying a shoulder bag, make sure it has zips and always carry it in front of you on the subway or when walking through a crowded place. I also always make sure the ‘zip’ faces the front, not behind me. In some cities (like Kuala Lumpur), it’s best not to carry a handbag at all.

– If you’re travelling with valuable jewellery (like your engagement/wedding rings) turn the rings around (on your finger) when on public transport. Of course, the most cautious thing to do is not to travel with expensive stuff in the first place.

– We always carry our passports with us (for shopping purposes – ha!) but my husband always tucks them into a money wallet under his shirt.

– As far as hotel rooms go, we’ve never had an issue with getting our stuff stolen by housekeeping or others etc. But we do exercise a bit of common logic, like stowing away shopping bags out of sight, locking the suitcases before we leave the room, and not leaving cash, laptops, tablets and other valuables around (we lock them up in the luggage).

Jump to Part 1 and 2 of my Travel Tips & Tricks:

beforeyougox  onyourway

And you can browse the rest of my Travel posts here.

A Cartier Fairytale in Paris.

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Nothing worth it ever came easy, and none more so than my recent collaboration with Cartier and Vogue.

Whilst in Paris last month, I had the opportunity to look to some of the most fabled (and my favourite) parts of the city to serve as the backdrop for the centenary celebration of Cartier’s iconic panther jewel with its new ‘Panthère de Cartier’ collection – the biggest in the French maison’s history.

But there is always a stormy undercurrent to fairytales. Haughty princesses are kissed by frogs; tales are riddled with runaway slaves and lions with thorns in their paw, and sleeping beauties and a cursed eternal slumber; fables tell of lost slippers and wicked step-mothers; there is a story of a mermaid who gave up everything for love but lost her beautiful voice; and Aesop’s tales that teach us that although it’s tempting to envy another person’s life, their life is rarely as great as it seems from a distance.

Though I can’t quite begin to describe how much of an honour it was to work with such an iconic brand so steeped in a fabled and bejewelled history, it was our most challenging assignment yet for various reasons. We ended up with only fifteen minutes to shoot the entire editorial (when usually we set aside an hour or two) and I’m sure most photographers can emphathise when I say I feared these photos would be confiscated from us at one point!

But like all fairytales, mine had a happily ever after, so it goes without saying that I’m so pleased (and relieved!) to be able to share my latest Spy Style editorial with you. It’s not every day I’m in working in Paris, alongside Cartier (and my husband!), and wearing a bracelet with a price tag equivalent to a small apartment.

See the full post on Vogue.com.au here.

Photography by Jamie and Michelle; post-processing by Michelle.

Travel tips & tricks: Part 2

Apologies for the radio silence. As many of you may have already figured out, I’m home!

The jet lag is finally starting to wear off (so is that horrible virus, thankfully) and reality/normality is beginning to settle in. Although I could travel the world three times over and still have a sense of wanderlust tugging at my heartstrings, there’s a certain bliss that comes with being home after a month away.

I know Part 1 of my Travel Tips & Tricks was a hell of a lot to take in (I’ve made minor updates to the post if you would like to cast your eye back on it again – I’m sure I’ve still left something out, though). And thank you to those of you who left your kind words and thoughts (more importantly, thank you for those of you who managed to get to the end of the post!).

With that in mind, this next instalment is decidedly short and sweet, because let’s face it, the less drawn out the ‘layover’ is, the better, right? If you’re playing the part of travel agent for your upcoming holiday, I’ve harnessed a few lessons I’ve learnt from my own travels to help you take out the guesswork with the dreaded layovers.

Safe and happy travels!

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Getting to the airport on time

My general rule of thumb:

Two hours for an international flight if you’ve already checked-in (but still need to do a baggage drop).

Otherwise, arrive three hours before your flight is due to depart if you need to take care of some housekeeping (like visiting the Tax Refund counter – but more of this in Part 3) and are unfamiliar with the airport. This is super pertinent if the airport is a major hub). And time flies even when you’re not having fun, trust me!

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Web check-in

I’m not sure if everyone makes a point of checking in online before their flight, but judging by the 100-person deep queue (wish I was kidding) at the Qatar check-in counter (compared to the three-person deep line for web check-in) before we flew home, I thought I’d mention this.

Regardless of whether I’m travelling to Sydney or Stockholm, I always take some time the day before (or day of) my flight to check-in online. Most airline send a courtesy email to remind you, so I just follow the link. It only takes five minutes and just in case, have your passport handy.

Even if you still have baggage to drop (even better if you don’t), checking in online saves so much time queuing up, so I highly recommend it.

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Connecting flights & layovers

Usually when you’re booking your own flights, you’ll have a few different departure and arrival times to choose from. The devil is always in the detail – allowing enough time to make it to a connecting flight without re-enacting your own version of the Amazing Race through Heathrow, but not having so much time up on your sleeve that you end up snoozing in a corner of an airport just to pass the time.

From my experience, you should always – if you can – allow around two hours (the control freak in me says, no less!) between a connecting flight – especially if the connecting flight is on a different airline. 2-3 hours allows me to comfortably disembark, collect any luggage off the carousel, proceed through customs/security checkpoints, find my gate number for the next flight (and, if necessary, travel to a completely different terminal), then arrive at the gate 30-45mins before the first call for boarding. This is usually how the two hours is tediously spent!

Allowing at least 2-3 hours for a layover also comes in handy if your flights are slightly delayed.

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Not all airports are created equal

It’s a fact of life that some airports are a lot less efficient than others. It’s best to keep this in mind when organising your flight times so that you allow enough time as a contingency.

In my experience, some of the most efficient (major) airports have been:

Changi, Singapore

Hong Kong (there is a massive Zara store here, too!)

Tegal, Berlin

Haneda, Tokyo

All the Scandinavian airports (Stockholm, Copenhagen, Reykjavik)

Charles de Gaulle, Paris (ok, so not the best but not the worst, either)

All of the above airports also offer free (and usually quite fast) wifi.

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The not so efficient (i.e. slow to check in, lining up to get your passport stamped, slow to get through security, and a pain in general):

KUL, Kuala Lumpur (KLIA2 terminal – where the Air Asia hub is – is especially painful) Fiumicino, Rome (we arrived 4 hours before our flight was due to leave and we literally had 10 minutes spare)

LAX, Los Angeles

Heathrow, London (security is to the hilt here)

My essentials for a comfy flight

Ok, so I have never actually tried, but the thought of getting on a long-haul flight in skinny denim and four-inch heels terrifies me. How do you all do it? I’m always the one in Economy with two-day old hair in sweatpants, makeup-less, and a cardigan three sizes too big for me (so cosy, though!).

The following are things I always keep in mind when thinking about what to wear on a plane: Is it easy to take on and off during security (i.e. shoes/coats/belts)? Same goes for in-flight bathroom trips. Will I be traumatised if I spill free airplane food on these clothes? (i.e. don’t wear anything white or too precious). Does it stretch? Will it wrinkle? Because let’s face it, nothing is safe or sacred after 36 hours in transit. I also rarely take my designer handbags onboard (unless it’s stowed away in the overhead cabin) as I find my Longchamp nylon totes are durable and well-sized enough to fit under the seat in front of me.

This is a typical outfit I’d wear, whether I’m flying 5 or 15 hours. travel part 2

1. Saint James striped shirt (love this online store!) 2. Equipment cashmere sweater 3. Etoile Isabel Marant trackpants (these ASOS ones are also a favourite) 4. Acne Studios mohair oversized cardigan 5. Acne Studios Canada lambswool scarf (doubles as a blanket) 6. Porselli or Repetto leather ballet flats 7. Muji travel accessories (I swear by the eye mask and travel pillow) 8. a good tote bag, and a good book (currently reading Joan Didon’s The Year of Magical Thinking).

Find Part 1 here and stay tuned for the third and final part in my Travel Tips & Tricks series. If you have any specific questions at all, just leave your name and comment below!

Travel tips & tricks: Part 1

Would you like the good news or the bad news first? Well, in between all the Instagramming, I’ve somehow caught a pretty nasty virus this week and have spent 20 of 24 hours sick in (a hotel) bed today. The good news is that a post I’ve been working on (more at the back of mind than anywhere else) is now finally complete. At least Part 1 of it is, anyway.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have seen some of the most interesting and beyond breathtaking places around the world with my own eyes. With not much more extensive travels on the horizon for perhaps the next decade (at least that’s what friends with babies tell me…) I thought I’d share some of the valuable lessons I’ve learnt from the travelling I have already done. I’ve split this into three parts as Part 1 is so much more epic than anticipated. For the seasoned travellers out there, you might find this post kind of redundant (or better yet, encouraged to share your own tips and tricks in the comments section below!) so this post primarily goes out to many of you who have emailed me for travel advice at some point or another.

Either way, whether you’re a frequent traveller or about to embark on your first adventure overseas, I hope you’ll learn something new for your upcoming travels and to fuel the wanderlust that’s burning fervently inside all of us.

beforeyougo

First things first, researching.

I Google everything, I talk to friends, family, and randoms on the internet (a special thanks to those of you who kindly and selflessly randomly email me with your tips!), and I also take to Pinterest for some really great visuals (seen my Bucket List board?).

Specifically speaking, some of my favourite travel websites to trawl include Trotter Mag (they have the best Paris sweets guide – you have been warned), Guided by Cereal (it’s an inexpensive, one-off cost for a years’ subscription), Kinfolk (though it profiles specific spaces, not necessarily places, it’s still pretty good), and the Benah Blog for something a little left of centre. I’ve also heard wonderful things about Superfuture Guides, which can be purchased in digital/PDF format.

For something tangible, I like to use (and collect!) Wallpaper City Guides as they offer a comprehensive but concise (and often off-the-beaten-track) glimpse into the cities I’m visiting. If you’re in Perth, Planet Books, Oxford Books & Crow Books stock WCG, otherwise Book Depository is the best place to buy online – they usually have a wider range than eBay (with free shipping!).

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Planning

Much to the delight of my time-poor (read: lazy) husband, I’m an organisational control freak when it comes to travelling so this deserves a sub-heading of its own.

For my travel itineraries, I use Google Drive as I can easily share it with whomever I’m travelling with (I use the Excel spreadsheet function).

To see all my flights & hotel booking at a glance (and to make doubly sure none of them conflict) I use the Tripit app on my iPhone.

To store any important travel docs (like a photocopy of my passport) I use Dropbox so I can access it from any device in the world with an internet connection.

When it comes to packing lists (more on this below) I first use Pinterest to create a secret board so that I can see all the items at a glance (trust me, it makes it so much easier!) and then once I’m happy with the board, I email myself the list so that it’s within easy reach when it comes to actually putting clothes into a suitcase. Me? Type A? Never…

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Booking planes & trains

Planes

If you actually care about saving a bit of money and not landing yourself a 20 hour stopover in the middle of nowhere, this is the most time-consuming and often frustrating part of organising an overseas holiday. This is also assuming you’re not using a travel agent. Or flying first class, for that matter.

Personally, to book international flights on full-service carriers, I prefer using the airline’s website directly – you can still make multi-city & open-jaw bookings.  I have never really used sites like Expedia so can’t comment on that.

For those of you who haven’t heard of an ‘open-jaw’ ticket, it’s basically a return airfare that lets you arrive in one city and depart for home from another. I highly recommend this option as you can save at least a couple of days in doing so.

When it comes to Europe, I prefer flying Emirates (not that I ever need it, but they allow 30kg checked baggage per passenger). I am flying with Qatar at the moment and it’s been a huge disappointment (in terms of service, inflight entertainment, amenities, seat selection – or lack thereof, and food). I haven’t flown Singapore Airlines in about a decade but they come highly recommended.

Edited two weeks later to add: Qatar on our journey home was an absolute dream. The food, the service, and the little luxuries that are associated with a premium carrier (e.g. we didn’t get offered any alcohol options on our first leg) were all there on the last leg. So bizarre.

When flying domestically within Europe, I book via Skyscanner (it harnesses all the available flights from all the available airlines and ranks the search results from cheapest to most expensive). There are no booking fees with Skyscanner and I have cross-checked prices with the airline websites themselves and the prices are pretty accurate.

For Asia, I usually fly budget as Perth is such a close neighbour, unless flying from Perth to Hong Kong, China or Japan. I flew Air Asia to and from Tokyo earlier this year and flying 13 hours (with a stopover in between) without the creature comforts was something I wouldn’t recommend. Nonetheless, I book Air Asia 99.999% of the time – they have some really amazing deals from time to time (my Japan airfares were around $600 return in March/April this year but I did book a year in advance).

To and from the USA, I have only flown with Air New Zealand. Didn’t have the most memorable experience with them but airfares were on special (around $1200 return) so no real complaints. I’d love to fly Virgin Australia to the States next time.

Trains

This mostly applies to train travel within Europe… I highly recommend going for this option whenever you can (as opposed to planes). It’s the easiest, breeziest thing in the world and often cheaper than flying. You’ll also avoid having to get up at 3am to catch a 6am flight (been there, done that…too many times) and you’ll also save yourself from all that stupid hostility airports have become known for.

Train tickets can be easily booked online and well in advance (like airfares, the earlier you book in advance, the cheaper train tickets will be). To save time make sure you book the high-speed trains (e.g. TGV, SCNF, Thalys, Deutsche Bahn). Prices aren’t too bad, especially if you compare it to a flight. As usual, Google is your friend, so research and read forums to find the best option for your travel plans.

On a side note, if you’re doing the Paris-London or London-Paris jaunt, always always always book the TGV (between Gare du Nord/Paris & St Pancreas/London). The trip itself is around two hours and you’ll avoid hefty airfares (because Heathrow has some of the highest airport taxes in the world). It’s also super easy to get to and from each respective train station.

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Hotels vs. Airbnb

The only thing I find as much of a pain as synchronising fifty billion flights is booking accommodation. There’s the hopelessness when you’re trying to find something under $300/night in NYC or London, and the sheer depression that sets in when you discover you can’t.

I’ve done the hotel and Airbnb thing and generally speaking, I prefer hotels for their convenience and general cleanliness. I also have this thing about staying in an apartment with someone else’s baby/buck’s party pictures stuck all over their fridge – I feel like I’m invading someone’s space. My husband finds it a major inconvenience to line up key drop-offs and pick-ups, and he also is a neat freak who can sniff out mouldy bathrooms kilometres away. That said, we’ve had generally positive experiences with our Airbnbs (Rome, Copenhagen, Paris, and Reykjavik) and they’re great if you’re travelling with friends. It’s SO cheap as well. So cheap. If you’re thinking of booking an Airbnb, search by neighbourhood first (I love their neighbourhood write-ups!) and then filter, filter, filter.

The wonderful thing about airbnb, though, is the fact that you have so many more amenities than what a 3 or 4 star hotel would offer (basic but handy things like a kitchen & cutlery, washing machine, clothes line, an iron, a kettle – few and far between in European hotels! and so on).

Booking hotels is pretty self-explanatory but I will say that I exclusively use booking.com unless the hotel website itself is offering a cheaper rate for the same date period (most of the time, they don’t, but it always pays to check). The reasons I only use booking.com are: 1. no fees and 2. you can cancel your hotel booking up to 2 days in advance. Which is handy if you’re booking way, way, way in advance – and let’s face it, things can and will change.

Also, when it comes to deciding between hotels, I treat Tripadvisor reviews as gospel (whilst taking some comments with a grain of salt…) and then make the reservation through booking.com. As an aside, booking.com email confirmations synchronise perfectly with Tripit!

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Packing

I’ve written multiple essays (with diagrams!) on this in the past so I’ll summarise some general points that haven’t been yet mentioned:

I only begin putting clothes into a suitcase 1-2 days beforehand. Clothes will get wrinkly no matter what but I find they’re even more wrinkly if I pack too much in advance.

Because I’m an obsessive control freak with so much time on my hands, I start my packing lists around 3 months before I leave. Pinterest board first – and then let the items ‘marinate’ for a while before I compile the final list days before I have to pack.

If possible, organise your suitcase by ‘categories’ (I know, it sounds stupid but you’ll thank me later). Just as some of you hang your jackets in one corner of your closet, and dresses in the other; do this in your suitcase. Having your clothes grouped together will make it easier for you to find stuff when you’re trying to find something to wear on day 1 of your holiday without having to dump the contents of your suitcase all over the hotel floor just to find your undies.

I also roll in favour of folding. Not to stop clothes from creasing (trust me, they will do this no matter what) but because I personally find it’s the most space-conscious method.

Snap-lock clear bags (A4-sized) for your shoes are the best things ever invented. My husband sources them from the depths of his pharmacy’s cupboards (I’m assuming) but I suppose you can find them on eBay too?

Speaking of shoes, I’m guilty of always packing too much but I try to stop at 3 (ballet flats/loafers, sneakers, sandals OR ankle boots, depending on the weather). Can I just say, though, unless you plan on being Uber-ed everywhere, do not pack your heels if you’re trying to pack light (and don’t have a specific occasion to wear them to, like a wedding). Even my ballet flats get ruined by the cobblestoned paths in Europe.

For a 3-4 week trip, I always try to have my suitcase weigh in at around 13kg at the point of departure (14kg if I’m packing for winter). By the end of my holiday, my suitcase usually weighs in at around 20kg. This stuff matters if you’re flying domestically within Europe too – a lot of the budget airlines charge extra for baggage so you don’t want to be lugging around a 30kg suitcase.

Suitcase brands: I’ve used Samsonite and Antler hardcases but my HG is Rimowa, which I want to upgrade to for future travels (you can purchase Rimowa in Australia but they’re cheapest in Germany i.e. Frankfurt/Berlin/Munich).

Lastly, I try to always keep in mind that there’s always a possibility that my suitcase will get lost in transit – sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. Any valuables & sentimentals go in my carry-on and nothing in my suitcase contains anything I can’t replace.

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Keep calm and carry-on

For long-haul flights, this requires a certain precision.

To get from Perth to Berlin a few weeks ago, I flew to Singapore; Singapore to Doha; Doha to Paris; then finally Paris to Berlin. That equated to around 50 hours of travelling (because I stupidly booked a 14 hour stopover in Singapore) and a lot of pantyliners (because let’s be real, here).

What was in my carry-on luggage? Headphones, Kindle, iPhone (with tunes), iPad (for Newstand), toiletries (toothbrush & toothpaste, beauty wipes, said pantyliners, La Roche Posay moisturiser, dry shampoo), two pairs of undies, my Muji travel kit (inflatable pillow and eye mask) and a change of clothes.

I always use my Longchamp Planetes tote and expandable weekender as my carry-on bags. They’ve been through the war and back and still look as good as new.

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Photography equipment

Thought I’d include this as I always get asked. In short – I travel with my iPhone 5 (I shoot with this a lot & plan to soon upgrade to a 6), and my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (a lot of my Instagram photos are taken with this camera). Sometimes I’ll also pack my Fuji Instant Camera (with roughly 100 film) but as it’s quite heavy and cumbersome to travel with, I often leave it at home. My husband takes his Nikon D600 + a couple of lenses. The only time we’ve bothered with tripods is when we visited Iceland and wanted to try our luck at capturing the Northern Lights.

Electronics

My husband’s usually in charge of this, with our essentials being:

Laptop (even though it’s still quite heavy we take the MacBook Air as I always need to work remotely)
External hard drive
Battery pack & cables for iPhones
Powerboard
Universal adapter with USB ports

Staying connected whilst travelling

Usually this stuff needs to be taken care of before you leave.

Organise international roaming if necessary. I usually don’t bother with buying an overseas SIM as I would rarely use it (thanks, Whatsapp!) so between my husband and I, only one of us signs up for roaming in the case of emergencies.

I therefore rely on wifi in my hotels. More and more countries are getting on board with aspirations of being a Digital City (Tallinn has been the most impressive so far!) so you’ll find free wifi in a lot of places in Europe including airports. If all else fails, buy a terrible coffee at Starbucks.

Japan is the worst with wifi though. You won’t find it anywhere – not even in a lot of hotels. We swore by hiring Japanese pocket wifi here. It’s reliable, secure and reasonably affordable. Going by how difficult and frustrating it was for us to navigate the chaos of Tokyo, you will need it and use it, trust me. The easiest thing to do is to have it delivered to your hotel the day before you arrive. To return it, just get to the airport half an hour earlier and drop it off at the post office there. Easy-peasy.

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Money

Everyone’s different but my husband and I travel with mostly plastic (i.e. credit/Visa debit card) and very little cash for security purposes.

We used to use 28 degrees as a travel credit card but have since found a better one (zero fees) – the Citibank Plus Visa Debit (you can sign up for free online). Before we depart, we’ll load up the card with enough funds to see us through 2-3 weeks and treat the card like a debit/ATM card. If we need cash, we’ll use the Citibank Plus to withdraw from a local ATM where Visa is accepted. Again, no transaction fees, so it’s pretty sweet. Usually by the 3 week mark, we’ve gone way over budget and log onto our internet banking to top up the card. My husband is a stickler for paying for our holiday with our savings and never on credit.

If you’re planning to apply for a new travel card, make sure you apply at least 1-2 months in advance of your trip. It can take this long for them to process and verify your application (and to send out your card).

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Housekeeping

Remember to organise travel insurance (even better if your credit card company offers this as a free perk – just be sure to purchase your airfares with this card). Ours don’t so I think we go with Allianz – it’s around $200-ish per couple and you can easily sign up online up until the day of departure. My friend also made a very excellent point about booking travel insurance as soon as you purchase airfares – if for whatever reason you can’t go on holiday, some travel insurance policies will cover any out of pocket expenses as a result of airfare cancellations.

Print out everything or at least screenshot them onto your phone/iPad etc before you leave. I’m talking hotel confirmations, flight itineraries, train tickets, restaurant bookings, etc etc. Some hotels and check-in counters are still pretty old-school and/or they don’t speak English. Either that or just plain lazy. 

Leave copies of passports and flight itineraries with family/close friends. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it, too.

And call up your bank before you depart if you’re planning to access your bank accounts overseas so that they don’t inadvertently bar your account, leaving you high and dry on holiday. It’s no fun trying to call up your bank when you’re in a foreign country in a completely opposite time zone (and yes, we’ve been there, done that, too).

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Travel Tips & Tricks as I explore how to best make the most of stopovers, layovers, and connecting flights; how I try to stay fresh during a heinous 36-40 hours of transit, and more!

In the meantime, you can read more about my past travels here or by navigating through the Travel category at the top of this blog.

Happy travels!

Happily ever after.

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So it’s been all tumbleweeds and crickets for the past week and for that I’m sorry! In short, we left for Europe on Friday and didn’t arrive in Berlin (via Paris) until Sunday just before midnight. As you can imagine, the first thing I did was take a much-needed shower and sleep horizontally after 50 hours (!) in transit. I won’t lie; it was horrible. More specifically, it was all baby wipes, packing PJs and two changes of clothes in my carry-on, and brushing my teeth in airport bathrooms.

Since then though, we’ve enjoyed travelling through Berlin and Nurnberg; and are currently in Helsinki accidentally eating reindeer and going on a Granit and Marimekko bender.

After literally breaking out in hives all over my face a couple of hours before we flew out (I put it down to stress/exhaustion/self-promotion-fatigued), I decided enough really was enough and unplugged for the first few days of my trip. For the most part, this holiday is a very personal and sentimental one for my husband and I, and it was the wedding of our two good friends over the weekend which I was looking forward to the most.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a handful of personal holiday snaps from the wedding day as it really was such a beautifully personal, heartfelt celebration with some of my nearest and dearest friends. A castle wedding (at the Schloss Faber-Castell in Nurnberg – yes, as in the Faber-Castell that made your watercolour pencils and Connector Pens) wouldn’t have been anything but achingly perfect in every single way.

I’ve always believed the single most incredible part of any wedding – that makes the sheer effort that goes into it worth every moment of wanting to elope – is the simple fact that everyone who matters to you has come together to be the same room (in my friend’s case, her guests travelled from 16 different cities to be at her wedding). My girlfriends and I, ourselves, were 13,678 kms from home to see two beautiful people make the sort of promise that comes after living apart for three years. With love like that and friendships like this, it was all at once, and wonderfully all too much.

Melbourne in a day with Farage.

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How does one ought to spend 36 hours in a city that boasts the best coffee (and cafes with the most Instagram handles) in the world?

This is how: hand-dipped doughnuts for breakfast, raspberry Ispahans for lunch, and popcorn macarons for dinner.

After all, when in Rome…or in this case, the capital of coffee supremacy, Melbourne.

I love this city. Heck, I was ready to pack my bags if it wasn’t for this guy I had just met (who, erm, also happened to take these photos). But it’s the grey sky on a good day, the electricity in the air down Flinders Lane. The pour over and the stirring of a Synesso on any given streetcornered cafe; and the places and spaces in all their white-washed glory. It’s the appreciation and celebration of which – according to Market Lane – making coffee for the city that loves drinking it. It’s this paying-it-forward that kind of makes me want to wear my heart on my sleeve, too. Above everything else, it’s the doing what you love and only what you love, that speaks to me now, more than ever.

Meeting the wonderfully inspiring and uplifting team at Farage during the time I spent in Melbourne last week made me realise how staying true to yourself teaches us something about survival. And aside from the two things that struck the world for me (the very fact that the incredibly lovely and down-to-earth Joe & Katy have been in the business for a remarkable 17 years and Farage have never been stronger; and that all the beautifully crafted clothes are still made right here in Melbourne) that maybe it’s not always about charisma, but instinct. Honesty. Trusting yourself. And being okay with making mistakes. As I got back on the plane en route to home, it gave me so much food for thought.

Speaking of, I wasn’t about to come home without my take on tuxedos (men’s silk bow tie essential) as well as my mini-guide to Melbourne’s best sweets, best coffee, best brunches, best everything. Next time, I shall be bringing friends.

Bon appétit!

Sweet Tooth?

LuxBite | 38 Toorak Rd, South Yarra | @luxbite

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio | 647 Chapel St, South Yarra | @burchpurchese

Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier | Claremont St, South Yarra | @ilovezumbo (the popcorn Zumbarons!)

Doughboys Doughnuts | Mercat Cross Hotel, 456 Queen St, Melbourne | @doughboysdoughnuts

Chez Dre | Rear of 285-287 Coventry St, South Melbourne |  @chezdrecafe

Gelato Messina | 237 Smith St, Fitzroy | @gelatomessina 

 

Notable Coffee

Market Lane | 109-111 Therry St, Melbourne | @marketlane

The League of Honest Coffee | 8 Exploration Lane, Melbourne | @LeagueofHonest

Bluebird Expresso | 134 Johnston St, Collingwood | @Bluebird3066

Proud Mary | 172 Oxford St, Collingwood | @proudmarycoffee

Industry Beans | 3/62 Rose St, Fitzroy | @industrybeans

Barry | 85 High St, Northcote | @barrycoffeeandfood

 

And if you have more than a day…

Tall Timber | 60 Commercial Rd, Prahran | @tall_timber

Top Paddock | 658 Church St, Richmond | @toppaddock (the pancakes!)

The Kettle Black | 50 Albert Rd, South Melbourne | @kettleblackcafe

Hammer and Tong | Rear 412 Brunswick st, Fitzroy | @hammerandtong

The Grain Store | 517 Flinders Lane, Melbourne | @GrainStore517

Supernormal | 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne | @supernormal_180 (the lobster rolls, the white cut chicken, everything, really.)

 

Photographs by Michelle & Jamie Lau. Creative Direction & Styling by Michelle. 

I’m wearing the Scarlet tuxedo, men’s silk bow tie, Monica silk shirt and the Goldie soft pink trouser from the upcoming Farage SS14/15 collection.

Thank you Farage, Emily/WM Media & The Olsen.

Before the madness.

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Conversations with April prompted me to revisit a series of photographs from a road trip I took along WA’s south-west a few months back. It still amazes me that these photos were taken on the same afternoon (except for the Yallingup Bakery one) before and after the storm clouds rolled in.

As I sifted through these photos and devoured all of its sombre shades of greys and blues, it made me realise that this is the only place in maybe the world where summer is as photogenic as the winter. And that change – of the impulsive, heart-stirring, spontaneous kind – is always, always, a good thing.

Photographs by Michelle and Jamie.

This is my city.

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Those close to me will know that my Benah zip pouch has never left my side since it arrived on my doorstep. I’ve taken to clutching it everywhere – from meetings and quick stops at the grocery store, to easy simple date nights.

With a mutual love affair in mind, Benah turned to me for a mini travel guide to Perth – my take on this ever-sunny, never-wintery kind of city. As some of you may know, I’ve compiled a more lengthy version here for my blog, but if you’d like to discover more of Perth’s secret spots head over to the Benah blog for a mini-guide to my home town.

Thanks for having me, Benah!

Spy Style: Tokyo Travels

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See the best of Tokyo in 24 hours with my essential travel guide to Tokyo.

Where to go, what to do, what to eat, and where to stay – it’s all right here in my latest Spy Style post for Vogue Australia.

P.S. I’ve put together this guide under the assumption that you’re not crazy enough to be spending just a day in this supercharged city where only your stamina will dictate when you’ve had enough – and I hope that my guide will give you a great starting point to plan your own trip. For my husband, a month in Japan wouldn’t even have sufficed. As for me, I’m still dreaming about onigiri all day, everyday…

The road less travelled.

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Monday sleep-ins are such a rare commodity. Fortunately I’ll be getting to do just that tomorrow morning, as it’s a long weekend for us here in Perth. Still, it amazes me how quickly Sunday rolls around – never mind half the year that has already flown by.

I’ve spent nearly the entire weekend flicking through Cereal’s travel pages and booking flights, train tickets and hotels with my mother in-law’s famed baklava to keep me in high spirits. Close friends of ours live in Germany, so my husband and I are taking a couple of weeks off at the end of August to see them live happily ever after in the heart of Europe.

Having never been to Germany before, we’ll be spending some time in Berlin, as well as extending our travels through to Paris and Helsinki – the latter of which I can’t wait to start planning for. Finland’s the kind of place people ask why we’d even bother visiting, but that’s it, isn’t it?

Because it’s always when we take the road less travelled that memories seem to linger in our minds so much longer upon returning home.

In full bloom.

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It was such a wonderful stroke of luck that the first day of bloom happened to fall on our last day in Japan. Knowing it was an opportunity of a lifetime, we decided to devote our last day to cherry blossom hopping from one corner of Tokyo to the other.

As soon as breakfast was eaten and our suitcases packed, we hopped on the subway to Nakameguro. Having eaten dinner there the evening before (unfortunately the lanterns weren’t lit by the time we got there), we were itching to see the blossoms lining the Meguro River in all its daytime glory. Words can’t describe what it felt like seeing all of it and finding our way through it with our own eyes, so I won’t even try.

It’s just that moments like these deserve a post – or a homage, rather – all on its own.

Photographs by Jamie and me.

 

Morning Situation.

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You and I both know that I would ordinarily put hundreds of dollars towards a pair of shoes, so it even surprises me that these Bang & Olufsen headphones were one of the most treasured purchases I made in Japan.

I wanted something to get me comfortably through the long flight back to Perth, so I took the plunge and picked up these headphones on my last day from the monstrously huge Bic Camera store in downtown Tokyo. I deliberated for the longest time (I’m talking weeks here, haha) whether to opt for the tan leather or give into timeless, classic black (like I always do).

In the end, I decided to live life on the edge with the tan. The buttery soft lambskin (and, um, the sound quality…of course) ultimately won me over. They’re so practical too; for long-haul flights (I happily and comfortably wore this for 8 hours on the plane) and long, languid walks on the beach.

 

Tokyo Dreams.

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Where do I even begin?

A part of me wants these photos to speak for themselves, stand on their own, convey a thousand words. I’ve been contemplating for days – weeks even – how to aptly describe our two weeks in this beautiful country but all I could come up with was that Tokyo – particularly – was such an out of body experience.

It was all too much to take in; the obsessive compulsive tidiness, the fantastical overstatements and embellishments in Shibuya, the chaos and order in Shinjuku, the stark contrast between Shinbashi and Ginza – it’s unimaginably well-heeled neighbour, the romantic, storybook sensibilities of Daikanyama, and the cherry blossoms leaving its cloud-like lustre in Nakameguro.

We came, we saw. And as I look back on all these photos, my heart still has this way of caving in.

Snowed Under.

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Country Road sweater, my husband’s chambray shirt, Target merino wool long johns, Hunter Wellington boots.

When I was throwing things into the suitcase before I left for Japan, I had no idea I was going to be met with snow – let alone be snowed in – for the few days we were hot spring-ing at Manza Onsen Hotel.

So it was rather fortunate that I had made the then-irrational decision to pack my Hunter boots (though they did come in handy the one day it did rain in Tokyo) along with a ton of thermals, stupidly big sweaters, and three pairs of socks.

I remember the afternoon these photos were taken so well. We were snowed in for the entire day – from breakfast until half past three in the afternoon. I was passing time finishing the last few chapters of Memoirs of a Geisha, looking out the window and not being able to see a single thing. Being 1700m above sea level in the heart of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, we literally had our heads in the clouds. And for seven hours it stayed that way, until the clouds gradually turned into wisps of nothingness, revealing the bluest sky I had seen so far in Japan.

Those kind of days – or afternoons, rather – are such a photographer’s dream.

Hastily pulling on my wellies, we scampered out and stayed until the sun went down. The light scintillated the pavement in ways I will probably never see with my own eyes again. And like the rest of our time in Japan, it was magical, indescribable, almost inconceivable. Something kind of wonderful.

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In Tokyo.

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I’m sitting up in bed savouring every last crumb of the fresh Manneken waffles I picked up in Ginza on the way to dinner tonight. And now, I’m brewing a cup of green tea in my hotel room, deciding whether to read a few chapters of Memoirs of a Geisha or attend to my overflowing inbox that clearly didn’t get the memo about taking a holiday.

As most of you have figured out, I’ve been in Tokyo for just over a week now. To say it has been captivating, culturally-enriching, gastronomically-out of this world, and maddeningly exhausting and downright frustrating (why is everything tucked inside an office building?) would be doing the sensory overload no justice at all. Over the past week, I’ve seen snow, felt the downpour, had my hair cut (!) and laid my eyes on the beauty of Mt Fuji.

Tokyo is one hell of a city and I’m kicking myself for not discovering it sooner.

We’re leaving for the mountainside first thing tomorrow, spending three nights at an onsen situated 1700m above sea level. It’s probably as far from civilisation as you could get, but I’m looking forward to truly getting away. And maybe, just maybe, those emails will come away with me too.

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To Pack and Wear.

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As far as packing lists go, Joan Didion’s is inexplicably boss.

But I do love a good list. Doesn’t this particular one just make you want to pile all your hair on top of your head, find a cosy seat on the plane, snuggle up in a knitted sweater with a face free of make-up, and just be done with it?

There’s a certain appeal to approaching a brief excursion out of the country with a packing list that you’ve revised a thousand times over. That’s me at my most happiest.

In packing for Japan, I’ve decided to take a leaf out of Joan’s book (The White Album, FYI) – or at least tried to.

I will be wearing on the plane: black soft leggings (I’m bringing two – wool long johns whilst I’m up in the air, and fleece-lined leggings whilst transiting). An Acne scarf. Always an Acne scarf. A Bassike loose-fitting striped shirt at high altitudes and a crisp, classic white shirt from Witcherywhen I arrive at my destination. And lastly, a pair of black Chanel ballerinas, because who doesn’t love the ease of kicking off a pair of ballet flats to soothe their feet in a pair of cosy socks?

As for the rest of the notable contents in my suitcase: a couple of collared shirts, three sweaters, two pairs of jeans, and erm, four coats (yes, I know). I’ve accepted the fact that coats and shoes will always, always, win.

Longchamp is a tried and true travel favourite of mine. I’m travelling with this tote as an every day bag and this expandable overnighter as carry-on.
Oh, and if anyone who follows me on Instagram is wondering, I’m taking the black pointed oxfords and leaving the grey Dieppas at home. And yes, my heart broke into a million little pieces in deciding to do so. I’m a creature of comfort, though. And as such, I’m leaving the heels at home this time.

Iceland Travel Diary.

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It’s hard to describe what Iceland is truly like without having words fail me. It’s as about as far away as I can be from home, yet as soon as I touched down, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm wash over me. As if to suggest that I had, indeed, found home in this city so beautiful it could move me to tears (and it did).

Here’s my (mini) guide to Iceland. I hope it’s useful to anyone planning to visit soon.

See

Greater Iceland

Gullfoss – often coined the most amazing waterfall in Iceland. Basically, it’s three waterfalls falling into one – so special and unique. Make sure you have lunch at the nearby cafe, Gullfoss Kaffi – more details in the Eat section below.

Geysir (above, and part of the Golden Circle). One of the most incredible, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping things I have ever seen in my life and in the world. The Great Geysir, as it is often known, erupts up to 70 metres of boiling water into the air at a 10-15 minute interval.

Thingvellir National Park – this world UNESCO site has planted strong roots in the minds of the Icelanders and in the country’s history. I was most amazed by the fact that the Þingvellir area is part of a fissure zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. So, basically, I was literally standing between two continents – North America and Eurasia.

Blue Lagoon – oh my God, amazing. Even better if you take a dip in 2 degrees Celsius temps. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal pool that never dips below 37C degrees and is conveniently located on the way to and from Reykjavik and the international airport. To save time and to recuperate from the flight, we decided to go for a swim as soon as we arrived. This was, hands down, the highlight of my time in Iceland. Just a small tip though – DON’T get your hair wet. I did, and it took over a week for the sulfur to come out, even after washing my hair every single time. Imagine having 5-day dirty hair every day and not being able to wash it out. Yeah, not fun.

Vik & Bassalt Cliff – a black sand/lava beach unlike any other and perfectly typical of the unique Icelandic landscape. Pictures don’t do it any justice but if you’re interested or curious, there are a few on my husband’s blog.

Northern Lights – we sadly didn’t get the opportunity to see the Aurora, not helped by the fact that we didn’t have the time or inclination to drive a few hours out of Reykjavik at 2am! If you do want to muster the effort and try your luck at catching the Northern Lights, try driving out to Hólmárfossar cascades, Dettifoss and Selfoss, or Westfjords (they’re all around 5-7 hours east and/or north of Reykjavik). You’ll have a better chance when the skies are clear, when it’s super cold outside (so late autumm/winter) and the more north of Iceland you go.

Reykjavik 

Hallgrimskirkja – to get your bearings, take the elevator to the top of this austere, imposing pale gray church with a distinctive stepped-slope facade. I loved seeing a bird’s-eye view of the city’s colorful rooftops from the top. Admission costs 700 kronur, or about $6 at 118 kronur to the dollar.

Harpa Concert Hall – this is so, so, so, beautiful. It’s a dazzling geometric structure with a honeycomb-like facade that sits on the Waterfront and built (after much controversy) in May 2011. Home to Iceland’s symphony orchestra and opera – I wish we could have seen Sigur Rós perform here!

Waterfront – the walk along this magnificent stretch of water is best enjoyed on a languid and clear afternoon – you’ll get uninterrupted views of the majestic Esja mountain range across the water. I was gobsmacked at how something so relaxing and naturally beautiful could be right on Reykjavik’s doorstep.

Eat

Icelandic Fish & Chips – best in town with some of the best fish in the world. There, I said it. I love that the fish here is battered in oat flour and not oily or greasy in the slightest. The Skyronnaise dips are a must-try with your choice of fish and sweet potato chips. http://www.fishandchips.is/

Laundromat – a quasi-cafe, quasi-laundromat. So cute. We had breakfast here and loved its lived-in, relaxed atmosphere. It’s also “baby and boob-friendly”, according to a postcard I picked up at the cafe, lol. For matters of housekeeping, there is also a bank/ATM nearby – we personally found it so difficult to locate one in Reykjavik!

Gullfoss Kaffi – the only cafe near waterfall Gulfoss therefore a popular lunch spot. Also a souvenir shop, Gullfoss Kaffi serves up authentic, Icelandic home-style dishes – try the soup of the day!

Grillmarkadurinn – if you’re after a fancypants place, this is it. It’s not pretentious in the slightest though; but as Icelandics are generally quite humble and conservative, it’s a world away from the quaint pubs and scruffy cafes outside. This is where all of Reykjavík’s social set seem to eat (at least on the evening we were there, anyway). There’s charcoal-grilled steak of Icelandic horse (5,490 kronur) and a sampler of three mini “burgers” featuring lobster, puffin and whale. Yes, my husband ate puffin and, yes, I have never let him forget it. The restaurant can be hard to find from the street (even with a GPS) but look for the big red building tucked away on Lækjargata.

I also love this guide on dining in Reykjavik, which you might find useful.

Shop

Think of Iceland and Reykjavik as a sight-seeing experience, rather than a shopping expedition. There is zero high-street shopping here (i.e. Zara, Topshop et al) but there are certainly a couple of boutiques that stock Scandinavian and Icelandic labels, as well as international ones. There’s two streets in downtown Reykjavik that all the stores (and cafes/restaurants) are situated – Laugarvegur and Skólavördustígu. Definitely worth having a look – my favourites included a vintage store (I loved Spúútnik which is where I purchased this hat), a bookshop (they stock magazines like The Gentlewoman) and a few boutiques stocking local Icelandic and international labels. And like its Scandinavian neighbours, things are quite expensive here (i.e. I saw a pair of Hunter Wellies for around A$300).

There is also a flea market in Reykjavík’s Old Harbour area, open only on weekends (11am – 5 pm). Plenty of stalls selling all kinds of stuff, from vintage clothing (it’s more like your local swapmeet than a retro Vinnies, though) to typical Icelandic food, such as fermented shark, dried fish, and sour sheep testicles. Look out for the big white warehouse shed across the road from the Waterfront. Address: Tryggvagötu 19, Old Harbour.

How we got around

Public transport (buses, no train or subway) is available but only through Reykjavik, really. We decided to hire a car (booked it online before we left) and picked it up at the Budget rental counter straight after we touched down at the airport.

really recommend hiring a car to get the most out of your stay in Iceland. Car hire is reasonably cheap (same as what you’d pay in Perth or Sydney) and you don’t need an international drivers’ licence. Just be careful driving if it’s snowing – the car should be fitted with snow tyres. Also, you drive on the right in Iceland, and all cards are left-hand drive. Having said all that, it’s pretty easy to navigate around Iceland but do yourself a huge favour and download the Iceland TomTom or similar GPS on your smartphone.

Around downtown Reykjavik, we walked everywhere. We stayed on a street called Vífilsgata which was an easy 10-15 minute walk to the shopping strip and to the Waterfront. For anything further (like to the abovementioned restaurants) we drove, especially at night. I found Reykjavik to be one of the safest cities I’ve ever visited, though, and with everyone speaking better English than most people, it was so easy to get around.

Where we stayed

Because I was travelling with my parents in-law, we booked an airbnb apartment in Reykjavik. There are some good hotels around but because the Icelandics are very house-proud, there are plenty of modern, clean and well-furnished apartments available on airbnb at such cheap rates (compared to the rest of Europe). I think we paid $120 per night for 4 people and that included heating, a fully-equipped kitchen, a nice big bathroom, free (fast!) wifi and a place to park our car (for free).

Getting there

We flew from London via WOW Air for $214 per person. It’s a 3-hour flight from Heathrow to Keflavík International Airport and it was a pretty comfortable experience for a budget airline.

We stayed in Iceland for 4 nights during the second week of October 2013.

See my Iceland Photo Diary: Part 1 & Part 2

Europe travel guides.

As an appendix to my photo diaries, I’ll be putting together mini shopping and travel guides for a few of the cities I visited last October. I hope that those of you who will be hopping on a plane en route to Europe over the coming months will find my mini-guides useful! More to come soon.

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Rome Photo Diary.

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I thought I’d revisit my travel diaries before the year’s up. Here are just a few snapshots I had on my camera from our whistle-stop visit to Rome.

It’s a real shame I didn’t take more photos, but with only 48 hours to spend (with a large portion of it lining up at The Vatican), I ended up putting the camera away for the most part and took in the magnificence of this ancient city. My highlights? The Roman Forum, the best (anc cheapest!) coffee I have ever tasted in Europe, and discovering Grom, of course.

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My favourite travel finds.

Of all the things I enjoy about travelling overseas, the most exciting would be coming home with a suitcase brimming with special and sentimental finds that I can fondly remember my holiday by, even long after I’ve returned. 

From the London high street and Parisian pharmacies to vintage treasures in Reykjavik, here are some of my favourite finds from my recent Europe holiday.

1. & Other Stories cropped culottes

Whether it was the rich, lustrous satin or the salmon pink hue; or the fact that I’m madly besotted with hems that barely graze the ankle yet cascade just past the calf (otherwise known as having a ‘midi moment’); these cropped tailored culottes, sure enough, had me at hello.

2. Isabel Marant sweater

The Isabel Marant boutique in Paris is so beautifully merchandised that it’s impossible to walk out without at least one souvenir from the store, located in the heart of the Marais. I chose a grey sweater which features a beautifully exaggerated rolled collar and made from the softest wool.

3. Embryolisse 

A quick pit stop at a French pharmacie is essential when visiting Paris. I’ve been using Embryolisse for years, and love to take it travelling with me as it does doubles as a cleanser and a moisturiser. You can’t find it in Australia, though, so I always stock up when I’m in Paris.

4. Celine wedges

I found these Celine wedges sitting pretty on a shelf at the beautiful Birger Christensen boutique in Copenhagen. So perfect for summer and such a lucky find – I scored them at around 80% off! Birger Christensen, a boutique that pioneered high-end luxury in Copenhagen, is also exquisitely merchandised with coveted labels such as Valentino, Miu Miu, Givenchy, as well as Tod’s loafers and hard-to-find Celine handbags.

5. Vintage fedora 

Aside from paying homage to pristine waterfalls, driving through a winter wonderland of snow and witnessing awe-inspiring geysirs in Iceland right before my very eyes, I also managed to stumble across one of my most favourite holiday purchases from Reykjavik, no less.

6. Acne Canada scarf

The newest Acne boutique in Paris opened recently in St Germain des Pres, on the wondrous and iconic banks of the Seine. I highly recommend visiting the store if you ever get the chance. The boutique is wonderfully stocked with both womens’ and menswear and the staff are so lovely also. Clemence Poesy inspired this purchase of mine – the Canada scarf in light camel – and it has been my favourite thing to keep me cosy on flights.

7. Beautiful lingerie 

I love that & Other Stories really has everything you’d ever need for a wardrobe update. I decided to replenish my underwear drawer with a couple of silk and lace bras from their beautiful lingerie section. If you’re ever in London, check out the Oxford St store – and be prepared to pick up your jaw up off the ground as soon as you step inside!

8. Art deco Vogue framed mirror print

Some friends and I were moseying our way around little antique shops in the quiet and picturesque town of Malcesine, Lake Garda, when we came across some framed prints of Vogue covers from 1919. I fell in love with this one that was illustrated by Georges Lepape – the snow reminds me of when I woke up one morning in Iceland and looked out the window to see the entire street covered in snow. I love how this print is a constant reminder of that one magical morning in Reykjavik.

Paris Photo Diary.

Not only did I save the most photogenic ‘til last, but also the longest, it seems. A mere five days in Paris resulted in close to a thousand images – not even including the ones that I captured through the lens of my Instax. I’ve narrowed it down as best I could and, although, I haven’t included everything I wanted to, these 30 snapshots of the City of Light paint a clear enough picture of me falling in love with Paris madly, wildly, unsparingly.

From its sepia-toned sunlight that washes over the buildings at dusk; and the winding cobblestoned alleys that take you to a part of St Germain that no one’s been before; to the twinkling pyramids at the Louvre and the view (oh, the view!) from the top of the Arc de Triomphe that makes you realise that no matter how many times you go, no two trips to Paris are the same.

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Cinque Terre Photo Diary.

Arriving into Manarola from Lake Garda was, in the metaphorical and literal sense, quite the sea change. Cinque Terre is breathtaking as it is shabby with all of its perfect imperfections that captivated us from the moment we caught a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea from the edge of Cinque Terre’s vertigo-inducing cliffs. 

We wasted no time in seizing the rugged landscape and all of its charms, catching the boat here and there and exploring all the unique offerings each town seduced its visitors with. We bought pizza with spare change and filled our bellies with sciacchetrà; then worked it off by scaling some of the prettiest and steepest paths that loomed dauntingly before us.

Each morning, we watched the world languidly go by from the balcony of our apartment accompanied by a breakfast basket that was brought up to our room at quarter to eight – and always on the dot. It’s the Cinque Terre way. And the Way of Love, after all.

London Photo Diary.

I’ll put it out there: I found it difficult to love London. Like, even.

Maybe it was the fact that I had just come from Paris; the claustrophobia synonymous with the Tube; the well-documented melancholy and dreariness; the dreadful coffee; or perhaps that sour taste in my mouth from the overly inflated prices that sucked the fun and charisma out of our short time there.

That said, the thrill of being in a place I’ve never been before, discovering winding paths I’ve never tread, and seeing things I’ve only ever caught a glimpse of in a magazine enabled us to enjoy all that London had to offer us.

We were even treated to a blue sky afternoon on our last day in the city which timed perfectly with our sightseeing plans on the River Thames and cruising past my favourite landmark in London – Tower Bridge.

From our base in Paddington, we also explored pastel-hued Notting Hill and the Portobello Road Markets (a pitstop at Hummingbird Bakery is a must). Lazily meandering our way along the boutique-lined Westbourne Grove after tucking into breakfast at Granger & Co. proved to be my favourite way to escape the madness of Oxford Circus.

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Venice Photo Diary.

Stealing glimpses of Venezia on the water taxi was kind of like looking at an Instagram of the City of Bridges with an Earlybird filter.

I didn’t see it coming at all, but this permanently terracotta-coloured city stole my heart in more magical ways than one; earning its title as the highlight of my Europe itinerary (big call, I know) and the most romantic place I have ever visited (yes, Paris comes second).

Our 24 hour whistle-stop visit meant we left no stone unturned, devouring as much Grom gelato as possible and filling in the gaps with vino, pizza, pasta, and fresh fruit from the street vendors.

We also stayed as far from San Marco Piazza as possible, rubbing shoulders with Venetians as they enjoy their evening digestif and taking in a quietude that is few and far between in this city that sees an average of 50,000 tourists a day.

Venice was all love and I left knowing I’ll never be the same again.

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Lake Garda Photo Diary.

I fell completely and perilously in love with Lake Garda even before we got off the bus that was bound for Malcesine.

After enduring the hour-long bus ride from Peschiera del Garda Stazione, we were rewarded over the next few days with breakfast views like these, a tiramisu that very nearly brought me to tears, the magnificence of Mt Baldo that was accompanied with sweeping views of the Italian Alps and the feeling that I really was standing on top of the world.

Copenhagen Photo Diary.

The first thing that hits you in the face – sometimes almost literally – is that there are more bicycles in this city than there are cars. Or so it seems, anyway.

It was that intimidating that we explored Copenhagen on foot instead to get a sense of the city. To be honest, I didn’t know how to ‘take’ Copenhagen at first. It was dirty, dreary, decrepit in certain places and a little shabby in others. My affinity for Scandinavia was suddenly thwarted by the proliferation of graffiti (no stone – or wall – is left unturned) and the absence of the same Scandinavian sensibility that I fell immediately in love with in Stockholm. 

We worked hard over the next few days to discover the ‘true’ Copenhagen; the Copenhagen that constantly appears on my tumblr dashboard with its all-white-everything and impossibly chic girls on pushbikes. I discovered that the true beauty of Copenhagen lies not in its Acne outlet in Nørrebro or our mind-blowing lunch at Noma (more on this later), but rather in its extensive network of rabbit warrens that gently persuades you that this city really is the happiest place on Earth.