Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Movies That Made Me Fall in Love with the US

Movie tourism has always been big business; just like visiting the streets of TV shows and the real life locations contained within the pages of your favourite book.     I previously wrote about how much my favourite crime books encouraged me to visit Norway and Sweden, and  my favourite movies are no different.  In fact, some of my favourite movies are not so much cherished because of the story, but entirely down to where they're set.   

The Movies That Made Me Fall In Love With the US - Big Business
They have little soaps in the shape of swans...could you die?

Big Business - Manhattan, New York 
My favourite movie ever starts in some backwater in the south and moves on to the glamorous and sophisticated Manhattan, where we follow the stories of two sets of identical twins who were mixed up at birth.    Much of the movie is set in Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, which is now managed by the Fairmont Group.   That has no relevance to this story, whatsoever, but I found it on the website.   Moving swiftly on... 

When I first visited New York, I had to see it for myself and ended up in The Plaza for, what turned out to be, a rather expensive Caesar Salad and bottle of beer.   Seriously: it was extortionate.    However, it's a memory I'll remember forever as I spent much of my time in the hotel lobby and restaurant, pretending I was Bette Midler, flouncing around, reciting lines from the movie and trying to buy polka dot dresses.     

The Plaza is an iconic New York building, located on the corner of Central Park South on Fifth Avenue.   If you haven't seen it, or Big Business, your life will never be complete.

The Movies That Made Me Fall In Love With the US - The Runaway Jury
No one really minded that gun company losing their money, anyway.   

The Runaway Jury - New Orleans, Louisiana:
I love this movie.   I love John Cusack IN this movie.   I love John Cusack in any movie, TBH, but that's hardly the point I'm trying to make.   The movie adaptation of the fabulous John Grisham legal thriller is set in New Orleans and the location is what keep me coming back to to watch it time after time.   

From the first morning we see JC being monitored on his way down the street, stopping for take out coffee and a beignet, I knew I had to visit.  Fast forward about 15 years and boom, I was right there.    

From wandering along endlessly beautiful streets with their fabulous facades, front porches, the wonderful independent stores and the grand old city squares, all captured in the afternoon sunshine, it's impossible not to love NOLA.    The fact that you can also totally get a jury verdict to go the way you want it while annoying the life out of Gene Hackman just makes it all the more attractive, right?

The Movies That Made Me Fall In Love With the US - Bad Boys
Miami has plenty of dark, secluded posts to carry out your 'business'.   Also:  beautiful buildings and friendly natives. 

Bad Boys - Miami, Florida:
Between the sultry heat, the art deco buildings of South Beach, and the presence of so many massive drug deals, Miami is a must-see destination. I jest, of course, drug deals are bad, folks.   

It's the party atmosphere and heritage that makes Miami a stand out place.    It's a real melting pot of American, Cuban, Jewish, and many other cultures and traditions.   Depending on where you are in the city, there are so many experiences to be had from all over the globe.    

Bad Boys was the movie that showed me the city streets and the fabulous Biltmore Hotel, which Tea Leoni casually jumps off the top of in order to get away from bad men weeding guns.  Well, you would, wouldn't you?    Probably don't try that if you go, though.    Chances are you won't fare quite as well as she did.   

The Biltmore is located in the Coral Gables area of the city and is a designated historic landmark.   The architecture is outstanding and is of beautiful Spanish Revival design.    It just fits in completely with the surrounds and towers majestically over the street.   

The Movies That Made Me Fall In Love With the US - The Fugitive
Who doesn't want to hide out here?   
The Fugitive - Chicago, Illinois:
This is the movie that made me want to bust out of jail, go on the run and be hunted down by Tommy Lee Jones for a crime I didn't commit.  I mean, I don't even HAVE a wife, so it's clearly all been a mix up.   

Chicago looks great throughout the film, with scenes shot from the air over the massive city skyline to demonstrate just how easy it is to get lost in the streets.   Also:  some totally dodgy neighbourhoods and the meanest one armed man since Abu Hamza.    Don't let that detract from the city, though.    

From taking a ride on the El, breaking into Cook Country Hospital to clean the blinds in the prosthetic department, to running through a group of pigeons on Daley Plaza Picasso: Chicago has it all.   Who doesn't dream of doing these things on holiday?  I know I do.  

Just be sure to avoid jumping off that waterfall, won't you?   Thanks.    

Have any of your favourite movies inspired you travel destinations?

Suzanne x 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

My 2016 Travel Bucket List - Europe

Despite having travelled extensively throughout the world, I’m always disappointed when I look at my map of Europe and see so many countries and cities I haven’t yet explored.    I love travelling in Europe, but I have ignored it a bit over the past few years in favour of road tripping across the US.   I’ve decided I might put things right in 2016 and redress the balance.

These are my top 5 European destinations for 2016:

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Despite having been in Schiphol Airport for transfers to Minneapolis, Atlanta and Dallas, I’ve never actually had the chance to go outside.   I’ve long been interested in the cobbled streets, the network of canals, the Van Gogh Museum, and the story of Anne Frank, and I’m struggling to find an excuse to why I haven’t been yet.    There isn't one.   

I love wandering around museums and art galleries and lazily ambling around city streets without a care in the world.  Amsterdam has no shortage of places I can go to indulge in my favourite hobbies and allow me to overdose on its culture and history.  

Amsterdam, Netherlands
The beautiful canals of Amsterdam 

Cardiff, Wales
I see the skyline on BBC Cymru news every single night and it looks lush (to use a proper Welsh term…).  Cardiff has been the capital city of my adopted nation since 1955 and, over the past 30 years, it has been transformed into a thriving destination to equal any modern European city.  Plus, it's full of Welsh people, so it's clearly amazing, anyway. 

I’m looking forward to catching a show at Sherman Cymru, wandering around the Pierhead, visiting the Welsh National Assembly at the Senedd, and popping over to have a peek at the majestic Cardiff Castle.   

Cardiff, Wales
The very impressive Senedd (Welsh Assembly) building 

Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, sits on the Southern end of the Gulf of Finland and is a major hub for European banking, the technology sector (with Ericsson and Skype being amongst its start ups) and is also a massive draw for shoppers.    The old town in Tallinn is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city expertly mixes ancient architecture with modern, sleek buildings.  

Tallinn has a lot to offer visitors, with a wide range of cultural and heritage sites, in addition to one of the longest running pharmacies on the planet, and a previous holder of the title ‘world’s tallest building’.    Also: it looks glorious.

Tallinn, Estonia
The Summer Residence in Tallinn.   

Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a very well preserved medieval city in the Flemish region of Belgium.    The historic city centre is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has many sights to see.   One of the most famous buildings in the Bruges is the Belfry, which dates back to the 13th Century and still employs a bell ringer.   That sounds like my kind of job.

As well as indulging in a spot of bell ringing, Bruges is also famous for being home to one of the world’s tallest brick built buildings (try saying that after a few wines), in the Church of Our Lady, whose spire stands at more than 400 feet.   Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child is located in the transept and is widely believed to the only one of his works ever to leave Italy while he was still alive.  

I’m also very keen to sit with a beer in the beautiful Market Square in the city centre and spend some time wandering around the canals.  

Bruges, Belgium
Beautiful Bruges

Copenhagen, Denmark
I’ve been keen to visit Copenhagen for a while; particularly since I loved my trips to Stockholm and Oslo.    Copenhagen is the capital city of Denmark and is connected to the Swedish city of Malmo by the glorious Oresund Bridge, which you might recall if you ever watch the original series of The Bridge.   Like Stockholm, the city is surrounded by water, and boasts stunning architecture in a wonderfully clean and safe environment.  

Copenhagen earned the nickname ‘the City of Spires’ from the sheer number of places of worship it houses, whose spires jut out over the skyline.   Like Tallinn, it seems to have managed perfectly to retain its medieval charm and ancient, colourful waterfronts, whilst simultaneously winning awards for new architecture.    Also, obviously, it is the home of Carlsberg beer and dozens of microbreweries are located throughout the city, so it would be rude not to go, wouldn't it?  

Copenhagen, Denmark
Basically, I like colourful buildings and water.... 

Do you have any must see European destinations in mind for 2016?

Suzanne x 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How I Learned Spanish Without Getting Out Of Bed

OK, so I did get out of bed sometimes, but what I mean is, I didn't go to class or really do any kind of additional studying in order to learn a new language.    I studied (I'm using the term very loosely here) French at school and hated every minute of it.   If I'm going to learn a new language, Deans Community High School, Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland - I'm damn sure I'm gonna pick it myself.     

And, so I did.    These are the methods I used to enjoy learning Spanish and make it feel a little less like, well...learning.  

spanish books
It'll all sink in eventually....
I previously declared my love for Audible's audiobook membership as I suffer from insomnia and find they help me distract myself during the night.    However, not only are they great for anxiety sufferers, they're also great for languages.

I bought a set of 3 Collin's Spanish course and began listening to them on my countless hours of driving around Scotland for work.   I popped them on my iPhone or iPad and started my learning in the car.    The books are easy to understand are done in really easy steps and build up your language from there.     

You can look a touch odd, jabbering away to yourself about how many nights you'd like at the hotel and asking if you can pay by credit card while you're stopped at a set of traffic lights.  Particularly when you're on your own.     I also tended to take the books out running with me and conduct odd, one-sided conversation whilst jogging past random people on the street.   It soon gets you known around your neighbourhood, I can tell you that for free.

Kindle Downloads for Children:
Yes, people, download some easy kids books for your kindle and soon you, too, will be right up to speed on your chosen language.  Or, at the very least, you'll know how to name lots of different barnyard animals.   

Most of the books I've downloaded have been free of charge and range from very basic picture and text books for small children-type people, all the way up to classics, such as Don Quiote.   Amazon carries a massive range of foreign language text and story books and these are a great way to test out your language skills and expand your knowledge of sentence structure.  Also:  click on any word you don't understand and find out what it means.   Genius. 

habla español?
Oh, si, si, si...estoy hablo Espanyol!  Y Tu?  
Let's face it: Pinterest is awesome for pretty much everything.   It's also a fantastic resource for picking up tips and tricks for language learning.   I can't tell you (I'm totally going to, though) how many worksheets I've pinned on a massive range of Spanish topics.    Seriously, if you're looking to learn a language, this is brilliant.   

I've found everything from worksheets on the days of the week, how to tell time, weather systems (lloviendo is the one I've used most recently...), food stuffs, baby names (??).... you name it, Pinterest will have it.    

Post It Notes:
No, seriously.   Get some and plaster them around your house with the name of objects written on them and you'll quickly be shouting out for your other half to pass you some food from un amario de cocina (kitchen cupboard).   It works really well unless, of course, you have OCD, where you'd likely drive yourself insane worrying about the mess.   

This might well depend on which language you choose, but Spanish has some cracking artists to sing along to.   I mean, who doesn't want to know how to say the line: 'You know, I can't deny that my hips don't lie' in Spanish?  I mean, that's probably a widely used phrase, no?   So just me, then.     

Anyhow, regardless of your chosen language, you're bound to find something that you can get into.  I would probably advise against listening to David Hasselhoff if you're trying to speak German and Jean Michel Jarre doesn't speak during his performances, so you might want to stick with Edith Piaf for that.   You know, or not - whatever you can stomach...  

'Ni Rojas Ni Juguetes...' 
Google Translate App:
This is excellent for the odd word or sentence, but not so great if you want to hold a conversation.  I found this out that hard way so, trust me.   It doesn't always grasp the nuances in the languages before it translates it, so just be mindful of this.   In saying that, I'm sure you'll still be understood.   Entiende?   Si, entiendo... 

Learn with a Friend/Get a Stuffed Ladybug:
OK, so learning with a friend is a great idea but getting a stuffed ladybug might seem a touch out of the ordinary.   When I met LT, we were both in the process of learning Spanish, so it's been a god send that we both chat to each other at home.     It makes the process SO much easier if you have someone to practice your new words and phrases on.   it also keeps your motivation up.

If you don't have a human friend to learn with, then do what I do: speak to an inanimate object.  For me, this is The Travel Bug.   He also speaks Spanish (please don't ask me for an explanation) and converses with me on a regular basis.   I use him when LT is at work and I need to test out some new phrases.   I realise I sound like a mad woman, but it honestly works.     Probably don't tell anyone you're doing it, though.  Not like I just did.   

If you have children, why not try a local class aimed at little ones?   This is a great way to ensure your child starts learning early and doesn't end up, like I did, finding the passion later on in life.   As an example, if you're interested in French lessons around Liverpool and Wirral areas, you could check out the fantastic Maurice and Friends, which is run by a native French speaker, who also happens to be a French teacher, or if you're in Barmouth and the North Wales area, you can look up Hablemos School of Spanish.   

Take a trip...speak to people on the street!
Seriously...nothing will get you to grips with a language more quickly that actually living amongst the locals.    It's not an option for everyone, but even just a short city break to a native speaking country will absolutely help your language skills.    Ordering dinner, drinks (which is obviously the first thing to learn in ANY language), finding your way around, or even just saying hello to a passing stranger - these are the things that will help you increase your confidence.

I haven't really visited a county that wasn't pleased that tourists were just making the effort.   Most people I've met (particularly Spaniards and Germans), are so happy to help you improve your language and are very grateful that you've taken an interest in trying.    These are my kind of people.  

Have you learned a foreign language?  Do you have any tips for success?

Suzanne x 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The December Challenge Update: My Picks

I recently decided, after a period of feeling stale and set in my ways, that I’d set myself some monthly goals to shake things up.    I didn’t want to take on too much, because I’d only end up feeling overwhelmed by everything I said I’d do and end up having to take a nap from the stress.   THEN, I’d end up beating myself up for all the things I didn’t do and that don’t really benefit anyone, does it? 

I chose a few things, such as new books and new music, which I thought I could switch up to expand my horizons and all that crap.   These are the chosen subjects and December’s list of Things That Absolutely Must Be Done:

I decided I’d skirt away from the books I usually choose, which are either travel or crime related.   The last time I read anything that wasn’t in these genres was during my high school years  (a long, long time ago), when I had to choose a book for my English dissertation and my Mum suggested The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.   I read it, tried desperately to try understanding what the hell was going on and, somehow, managed to pass my exam.  I expect my Mum helped.    Having a teacher for a Mother is a very handy thing, let me tell you.   

Anyway, I was in the local charity shop browsing the other day, as I tend to do around lunch time,  and came across a copy of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee.   I thought this would be the perfect choice to kick of my whole Reading Books Without Murders In Them challenge.    I have actually read To Kill A Mockingbird and thought that, if the sequel was anywhere near as good, I'd be off to a flyer.    Plus, you know, the synopsis said nothing about murders, so it definitely qualifies.   

I'm all about country music.  I love it.   I can always, always be found listening to country albums, which mainly consist of Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and anything that includes lyrics about being dumped by your husband and sitting on your front porch drinking away your sorrows.   Who doesn't want to start their day with that kind of uplifting tune?  

Since I'm all about changes in December, I forced LT to download me Chaos and the Calm by James Bay.    I though he sounded a bit like John Mayer and I do love a raspy voice, so this is my album for this month.    

TV: As I previously said, my internet's a bit, well, rubbish, so I have to watch things when they're on.   Can you imagine that?   You probably can't...all sat there with your fibre optic broadband and your Netflix subscription.  I used to have Netflix.  Ah, the memories.   Anyway, I found a new programme this month and it's called 'Missing Person Unit' on TruTV and, yes, it's every bit as magical as it sounds.    

Actually haven't even started looking yet.   I've been far too busy trying to choose a book and a new artist.    Shame on me.   I'm totally open to suggestions, though!

Seriously...who has time for this nonsense?  
Hair: Yeah, well, I've gone for about 15 years with the same EXACT hair, so this one might take me a bit longer to crack.  I haven't even washed it for days, so lets not rush into something I might not be able to handle.   I did read some advice for girls with naturally curly hair on Pinterest recently which suggested I stop washing with shampoo and start washing with apple cider vinegar and baking soda.   Since I haven't quite gotten round to buying these things yet, this is absolutely the reason for the whole non washing thing*

Hmmm....this is harder than I thought.   I'm totally eating the same old stuff I was eating last month.  Who fancies chicken with baking soda and an apple cider vinegar glaze?  Yeah, me either.    Must try harder.  

So, now that I'm more than halfway through December, I'm a third of the way through the things I said I'd do.     Could be worse...could be much, much better.   Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.  

Have you managed to make any changes in December, or were you a well rounded person to begin with?   

*I'm very lazy.   

Suzanne x

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Edinburgh's Christmas Extravaganza

Over the past twenty years, Edinburgh has emerged as a major player when it comes to organising and hosting a thoroughly festive Christmas experience.   Every time I go, it seems to be bigger, brighter and busier.    It's already a stunning city, but the added glitz of the darker days with the sparkling lights from the Ferris wheels and the smell of warmed spices make it just that little bit more special than usual.   Even for me...and I don't even like Christmas stuff.

For 2015, the festivities run from Nov 20th until Jan 4th and include a Children's, European Christmas and Scottish Markets, along with ice skating (in various venues), giant Ferris wheel,  Santa Land, shows, games, music, and the most important thing: mulled wine.   Well, you can't really be taken seriously without it, can you? 

Edinburgh Ferris Wheel
There are worse views... 

Scottish Market:
Located just behind the main shopping venue of Prince Street in the beautiful St. Andrews Square, the Scottish market offers you a taste of, well...Scotland.   Including arts and crafts, food (and no, there are no deep fried mars bars because we don't really eat them), our wonderfully produced gins, whiskies and beers, and our world famous seafood, meats and a massive range of other goodies.   

Children's Market:
Incorporated as part of Santa Land, this is the place to be if you need to keep your little ones entertained with child friendly activities.    I have no little people and therefore, have no idea what this is like.  Thought I'd add it anyway, because I'm nothing if not inclusive.   Anyway, back to where the wine is...

Helter Skelter skate rink
European Christmas Market:
This is my favourite part of Edinburgh's Christmas for no other reason than that it makes me feel like I'm somewhere else.   The only other place I've spent Christmas outside of Scotland is in Las Vegas, so I've no idea why I feel like this, but I do.   This gorgeous little market area covers the area at the east of Princes Street Gardens towards the Scott Monument and takes in the delights of many European Christmas traditions.   It can be pricey (as with many other things in the capital city), but it does make for a fantastic experience.

Scott Monument at Christmas
The Star Flyer by the Scott Monument
Edinburgh's Christmas is seriously massive and there's no end of things to do and drink.   There's also a crazy big selection of rides to choose from.   The main event is the Ferris wheel which, when you see going up lets you know that Christmas is on the way.  It's like the Scottish equivalent of the Coca Cola truck.   But better.    

If you're too chicken for the big wheel, you probably shouldn't try the star flyer and you should almost certainly steer clear of attempting the ice wall. Stick to the carousels, some gentle skating, or some very relaxing beer sipping.  

Street of Light:
New for 2015 is the Virgin Money Street of Light, which is based in the city's beautiful Old Town.   Although you will need a ticket to enter, they are free of charge.  More than 60,000 lights and 26 arches have been installed up and down the streets and has transformed the area into a kind of Fremont Street Experience.    The event runs until Christmas Eve and runs twice a night for twenty joyful minutes.    

virgin street of light
the national grid must be bursting at the seams.
The Dome:

Not technically part of the official Christmas festival stuff, The Dome on George Street is located just a minute's walk from St Andrews' Square ice rink and Scottish Markets, and has become a bit of Christmas attraction in its own right because of the incredibly well designed and rather fabulous yuletide decorations.   The outside of the Greco-Roman building is already stunning and the lights looped around the pillars at this time of year make it even more special.   However, don't just settle for these - you MUST go inside and have a look around.   Chances are, you might not be able to get a seat at the bar, but it's worth annoying those who have in order to look at the tree and the beautiful lights within.  It's my very favourite thing.   

the dome
lights and drinks....what a combination.

Trains from all over run pretty much constantly into the city centre (no, honestly) to both Waverley and Haymarket stations and they are, helpfully, located at pretty much either end of all the main events.   There are also frequent trams, which will bring you in from the airport, the Gyle, Hermiston, and various other stops along the way.    Edinburgh is a very walker friendly city anyway, so it's really easy to get around on your feet.   It's also totally worth walking around to make sure you get to see all the everyday Edinburgh attractions that are sneakily dotted around in between all the Christmas merriment.  

Merry Christmas from Edinburgh!

Suzanne x 

Christmas in Edinburgh
I have no idea what this is.