Once upon a time, the Formula One calendar wasn’t the world tour it is today. It was dominated by the Grand Prix circuits of Europe, the continent which pioneered the sport. There are now eight European destinations in 2014′s Formula One line-up, but today I’m highlighting five of them. Not only because of their appeal for quality Grand Prix racing, but also because they are found in parts of the world well worth visiting.
What’s he up to? What’s he dropped this time… Nothing? Then why is he bending down? Why is he… Wait! What’s that he’s pulling out of his pocket? And why is he… Oh my goodness! Is he really doing what I think he’s doing?
Now, isn’t that what you want your partner to think as you get down on bended knee? You want some shock don’t you? Especially as you’re planning on doing it around Valentine’s Day, Mr. Obvious. So, yes, shock is what you want.
And awe… Awe will go a long way and get you plenty of brownie points. Shock and Awe. So, how are you going to go about making this proposal the most awesome thing that ever happens to your significant other?
You do that by choosing one of these not-too-obvious, but-still-ridiculously-romantic places to propose that I’ve helpfully handpicked for you.
Giardino degli Aranci, Rome
Put the Roma into romance by proposing in this little known and even less visited corner of Rome, the garden of orange trees – also known as Parco Savello. High up on Aventine Hill, Giardino degli Aranci promises some of the best views of Rome and you can distract her by showing her the very special view found at the ‘Keyhole to Rome’ in the gates to the Priory of the Knights of Malta.
If the one you love wants a fairytale proposal as well as a fairytale wedding, then you’d do well to whisk them away to Sintra, near Lisbon in Portugal. A small town famous for its abundance of theatrical castles and palaces, you can take your pick of views and romantic backdrops.
Bridge of Love, Helsinki
credit: Tina Maria
Of course, there’s Pont des Arcs in Paris and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but one of the least known, and yet most romantic, bridges covered in love locks is the Bridge of Love in Helsinki. This small and modern bridge connects Meritullintori to Katajanokka, a regenerated waterfront area home to the Uspenski Cathedral, lots of bars and restaurants and many examples of art nouveau architecture. Don’t forget your padlock (or the ring!).
Leeds Castle, Leeds
Leeds Castle is England’s answer to the Taj Mahal…albeit a monosyllabic one by comparison. Originally built as a Norman fortress, two centuries later Leeds Castle was presented as a gift to Anne of Bohemia by her soon-to-be husband King Richard II, often regarded as one of history’s most romantic monarchs. Anne went on to spend a whole winter at LeedsCastle preparing for their nuptials – let’s hope your bride doesn’t take that long to get ready!
Hotel de Ville, Paris
Scene of arguably photography’s most famous kiss, L’Hotel de Ville in Paris is the place to propose if you’re heading to Paris for V-day but still want to surprise the one you love with a less obvious location (unlike the Eiffel Tower or in front of Rodin’s kiss statue). Just ignore the fact that the kiss as photographed by Robert Doisneau was staged. Yours will be 100% original and authentic.
LOVE Sculpture, Montreal
The original LOVE design by Robert Indiana was created in the 1960’s for a Christmas card design and can now be seen at Indianapolis’ Museum of Art. I’m not too confident of Indianapolis’ qualifications as a romantic city, but I know very well how quaint and cute Montreal is, which is why it’s the perfect city to find a LOVE sculpture worth proposing in front of. Despite several cities now having their own LOVE statues, this one is definitely more of a surprise, found outside Lhotel on Rue Saint Jacques, just a few steps away from Montreal’s romantic old town.
Jo’s Hot Coffee, Austin, Texas
Another unassuming North American location, but one that admittedly has been photographed a lot thanks to the simple graffiti-ed message you’ll find there “I love you so much”. But the story behind the street art on the corner of South Congress Avenue is a really romantic one. Written as a spontaneous love note by Austin musician Amy Cook for her partner, Liz Lambert (who happens to be one of the owner’s of Jo’s Hot Coffee), the original was sadly removed a year after its creation in 2011, but together the couple painstakingly restored the original message so everyone could keep sharing the love.
In what has to be one of the most romantic films to not feature a single sex scene, few can forget that poignant scene from Lost in Translation when Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen say goodbye to each other in the busy shopping district of Nishi-Shinjuku, a.k.a. the last place your lover will expect you to propose. And as for what he whispers into her ear when they share their tender embrace? Well, that’s entirely up to you.
St Pancras Station, London
No matter how late you’re running for your train most find time to stop and gaze at the bronze statue of a couple kissing in St Pancras station’s international terminal. Known as the Meeting Place, this 30ft statue was actually modelled on the artist and his wife (aww!). If you’re catching the Eurostar to or from London this could be a very unexpected but utterly romantic place to propose.
So, there you go, and I’ve done all the hard work for you. Now you’ve just got to book some flights, find yourself a swanky apartment to stay in, buy the ring, hide it somewhere it’s not going to be found, maybe arrange some flowers and some chocolates, keep your cool and of course, don’t overlook a celebratory dinner for afterwards. Oh, and don’t forget the Champagne… See? Easy!
This post by Ryan Levitt, seasoned city explorer and PR Director for HouseTrip.
The first time I went to Paris, I was ten years old and my family went to the City of Lights on a two-day weekend that involved a rocky ferry trip across the Channel, a stay in a B&B on the Rue du Temple that had obviously seen better days and a trip through the Louvre that was so quick that the Mona Lisa barely cracked a smile before I was whisked off to my next destination.
Fast forward two (OK, really three) decades and I now have the pleasure in saying that Paris is a second home. OK, not literally, but it often feels that way.
In my role as PR Director for HouseTrip, business hops to Paris are a frequent need. And while the locals might laugh at my funny French (I am Canadian, after all), I still adore their passions, affectations, foibles and quirks. I love exploring this most romantic of towns and uncovering things along the way.
So without further ado, consider my top five list of Parisian locales – some obvious and some less so. It is not intended as a guide to secret finds, merely a guide to my secret finds. And what is secret to me might be blindly obvious to you. But this is my list… So my list, my rules. Allez avec moi!
CHEZ PRUNE, 36 Rue Beaurepaire, 10e
Ask any hipster where to go in the achingly fashionable tenth and chances are they will point you here. The food isn’t amazing (think warmed, over-veggie lasagna) and the interiors have certainly seen better days, but that’s simply part of its charm, n’est ce pas? Once a no-go area of down and outs, the Canal St Martin received an injection of interest after it made a stunning appearance in the film Amelie. This body of water saw Amelie’s stones skip on the surface after she flicked them from atop the famous bridge that straddles its banks. For many Parisians, the film shone this starlet back into their affections like an old lover rediscovered after a decade-long parting. Chez Prune opened to capitalize on this newfound interest in the district and is now the spot for models to hover over drinks and pick at salads, bad boys to pretend they are the new Belmondo and everyone to pout magnificently. Order something suitably unique and sit down for the evening. This is all about the long haul and not the short sip.
SHAKESPEARE & CO, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5e
I know this one really isn’t secret at all, but Paris’ most famous English-language bookstore is too often glossed over by the guides. A good friend of mine once worked at this store and regaled me with salacious stories about the hippie founder and his coterie of young ex- and current female lovers. Still clinging to its 60s roots, aimless bibliophiles can still negotiate the opportunity to spend the night inside in return for a day filing the stacks or filling order forms. Those benches you see stacked high with weighty tomes? Well, someone’s head was on it in the wee hours reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald by the light of the interior incandescents. If all you want is a quick purchase of a Parisian souvenir book, it makes for an easy stop situated, as it is, near Notre Dame. But if you want tales of intellectual fervor – and maybe a romance or two, befriend the team who work here and listen to the tales they tell.
RUE DES ROSIERS, 3e
Paris is dead on Sundays. The streets are empty. The shops are shut. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your travel preferences. As for me, I like a little buzz and the Rue des Rosiers is where you can find it on a traditionally slow Sunday afternoon. This is the heart of the Jewish community – home to deli, bagels, falafel and, of course, a synagogue or two. But I come here mainly for the meat – smoked meat. Chez Marianne, Sacha Finkelstahjn, L’as du Felafel – it’s all good. Just look for the long queues and follow the scent of heaven. The best part of the day is swapping stories and making new friends with the other food lovers around you. After all, it’s not just about the sandwiches. (OK, it’s mostly about the sandwiches, but the experience is great too).
LE BON MARCHÉ, 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7e
Everyone knows the grand department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. But my favourite salute to copious consumption is found on the Left Bank in Paris’ oldest department store, Le Bon Marché. Now owned by the Louis Vuitton group, this shop lays claim to being the oldest department store in the world. The building was built, in part, by Gustave Eiffel and even has a novel by Emile Zola – Au Bonheur des Dames – that uses the shop as its setting. I love it because it combines Left Bank uniqueness with Right Bank class and sophistication. You get far fewer tourists out to make a purchase of a branded bag or souvenir mug here. This might brand me a snob, but I am far from being at that class level – I just like to pretend it once in a while.
PARC DES BUTTES-CHAUMONT, 19e
I’ve given you places to shop and sup. Now, it’s time for a locale to get away from it all. While there are other parks with more famous names (I’m looking at you the Bois de Boulogne, Tuileries and Luxembourg), but this park has them beat. Because it is a little out of the way, first-time visitors to Paris tend to avoid it. But, they are missing out on something rather special. Opened in time for the 1867 Universal Exhibition, the Buttes-Chaumont is the most rustic of Paris’ greenspaces. You won’t find manicured lawns, or ordered symmetrical pathways like you do in other French parks. Instead, it’s a place of meandering paths, waterfalls and faux-rustic strolls complete with a temple. Bring a book and a baguette and you’ll be set for the afternoon.
This report comes from Russia, with love… and Olympic fever, lots of Olympic fever.
As all eyes look east to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I wanted to take a little time to consider Russia as a year-round holiday destination, and to explain why staying in a self-catering apartment during your visit to this vast, varied and fascinating country is really the best way to travel. I’ve also included some of my top picks from HouseTrip apartments in Russia.
Save on Money not Style or Space
There’s no denying that Russia is an expensive destination for many travellers. Accommodation and eating out are two of the key ways your rubles can quickly disappear when here. However, renting a holiday apartment for your stay saves not only on accommodation costs but also gives you the option to cook for yourself and eat at home. Apartments come in all shapes and sizes to suit all budgets and promise comfort as well as style. HouseTrip hosts are often very happy to leave directions to the nearest supermarket and will provide recommendations for local, affordable places to eat and drink, as well as a list of affordable things to do in the area.
Central Location, Neighbourhood Charm
If you’re hoping to visit one of Russia’s two largest cities, St Petersburg or Moscow, by staying in an apartment you’ll be able to balance seeing all the central sights with experiencing a little local life.
St Petersburg is very easy to navigate by public transport or on foot, so you shouldn’t be put off staying a little further away from the centre of the city. Moscow also has an extensive public transport network that runs well even in the deep of winter.
Furthermore, both cities’ Metro systems have some of the world’s most beautiful underground stations. In St. Petersburg there’s the marble work and chandeliers in Avtovo and the elaborate mosaics at Mayakovskaya, and in Moscow you can enjoy the 1930s Stalinist architecture on show at Ploschad Revolutsii or seek out the art covering the walls at Kievskaya, where you can find the Parisian style “Metropolitan” sign marking the Europe Square entrance.
Do Something Different
Did you know that nestled on the coast of the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania is the small Russian exclave Kaliningrad Oblast? Don’t worry, you’re not alone as not many people are aware of this Russian oblast or that is a very interesting place to visit. Once an ancient Prussian settlement that was established by the Knights of the Teutonic Order, the administrative capital, Kaliningrad, was handed over to Russia after the Second World War. While much of the city was flattened by war-time bombings, there are historic sights to be seen, including a charming waterfront cathedral that sits close to the so-called “FishingVillage”, a collection of historic houses with red roofs that look more Western than Eastern European. You can experience this unusual and unique part of Russia from as little as 41 Euros a night.
Snow (and Summer Sunshine) in Sochi
As I mentioned in my recent round up of past Winter Olympics, Sochi is actually considered more a summer holiday destination than a winter wonderland, as the blue skies in the photos for this apartment suggest. However, if you’re thinking of a last minute trip to soak up some of the Olympic atmosphere you could stay close to the piste in nearby Krasnaya Polyana, Russia’s premier ski resort, where the Alpine skiing events will take place. Alternatively, head along the Black Sea’s coast to Adler, which is where the skating and other indoor events will be held during Sochi 2014.
Moving and shaking in Moscow
Russia’s capital city is also its number one tourist destination thanks to culture, history and a cosmopolitan feel. Whether you’re in Moscow to explore the Duma, admire St Basil’s Cathedral or to experience its growing foodie or nightlife scene, pick an apartment to suit your budget and save your rubles for what you really want to do in Moscow.
East meets West in St. Petersburg
An entry way to Russia from Europe in more ways than one – it’s considered the country’s most European city – St Petersburg is a destination full of historic buildings, world class museums and galleries, and plenty of romantic bridge scenes along the famous Griboyedov canal. It’s also packed full of stylish apartments that won’t cost anywhere near as much as one of the city’s beautiful Imperial Palaces.
So, before I settle down to watch the action in Sochi – on TV, unfortunately – have I done enough to tempt you with a stay in an apartment in Russia?
This year’s Venice Carnival (February 22nd to March 4th) is themed on the ‘Wonder and Fantasy of Nature’. If you’ve never been to Venice for the 12 days of carnival leading up to the start of Lent, you’d be forgiven for assuming they were going all out this year with a bit of ‘fantasy’ because usually it’s such a sober affair, grounded in reality and maybe involving the odd courtly dance. Well you’d be wrong.
Venice may not go in for the New Orlean’s beads and tribal dancing and you’d be advised against the scanty attire beloved by Rio de Janeiro (if it’s cold enough to ice skate on the Campo Polo you shouldn’t be running around in a bikini) but the city’s annual carnival celebrations are just as excessive in their own way.
And that way is very Venetian: mysterious, sinister, elegant, refined, bawdy-up-to-a-point, artistic, cultured and comes with Gondolas – this is the only time Gondola’s are acceptable unless ‘self-conscious’ is your preferred default position.
So if you’re one of the 3 million people planning to descend on Venice for Carnival this year what exactly should you expect?
Masks for a start. I’m always a bit confused by the confusion over the mask wearing tradition to be honest. It’s accepted that no one quite knows the origin of the custom, but I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be totally out of the park to hazard a few educated guesses. Especially since Venice is such an icon of intrigue, when it turns up in movies my first thought is, ‘oh, here we go, intrigue.’
I’m opting for ancient ‘democratising’ – if no one knows who you are they don’t know where you are in the great Venetian pecking order, pop on a mask and you’re sorted. And I’m going to second guess with ‘anonymous seduction’ because with 40 days of Lent and self-imposed abstinence of all sorts looming, I’m not thinking the Venetians were traditionally filling the 12 days of Carnival with anything close to restraint.
credit: Guandomenico Ricci
My musings aside, this year Venice will be masking up for Carnival as ever. Street stalls sell the tacky variety for not much money, artisan creations are available for the price of a small car or you can make your own and enter the annual Best Masked Costume Competition daily at Gran Teatro San Marco (the finale’s on March 2nd and comes with a very nice prize). If you’re of a mind to pack your suitcase full of craft glue, feathers and sacks of sequins you’ll find an entry form for the competition at www.carnevale.venezia.it. Alternatively you may just want to go along and watch. The audience chooses the winner so your vote counts.
Since Barcelona decided to do without a grand carnival opening procession a few years ago, I’ve been slightly anxious that other cities might follow their lead. I’m sure the Catalan capital had very right-on reasons for choosing ‘community events’ over an all-out bacchanalia, but I’m sorry: no procession, no carnival as far as I’m concerned. Happily, Venice is not about to give up its gowns and wigs and excessive merrymaking in favour of snoods and sandals any time soon.
This year’s opening procession promises to be as fantastic (in the truest sense of the word) as always, get there right at the start for some serious spectacle. And if you want to dress up at least once (and who doesn’t like a chance to frolic around in satin) the 22nd of February is the day to do it. The Gran Ballo Delle Maschere (Masked Ball) rounds off the Venice Carnival opening night and all you need for entry is a costume and a mask. It’s the biggest, most colourful, glamorous and typically Venetian party of the entire Carnival and although the venue is kept a secret as long as possible it’s almost certain to be more Grand Palazzo than aircraft hangar www.carnevale.venezia.it.
Consumed by Carnival would be a fair way to describe Venice between February 22nd and March 4th. You’ll eventually get used to the overload of brocade, doublet and hose, trailing cloaks and big-buckled shoes. There may even come a point when a ‘Plague Doctor’ mask doesn’t make you shudder. But I defy anyone to be complacent in the face of the frenetic non-stop activity that characterises Carnival in Venice.
Some events you can just pick up on, like The Streets of Venice Walking Theatre. Harking back to the good old days when Venetian Aristocracy had a special servant to accompany them on walks and tell stories, the Walking Theatre lets you wander round Venice in the company of a performer prepared to reveal the city’s secrets in English, French and Italian.
The Venice Kid’s Carnival is in its fifth year this year and going from strength to strength. There are special screenings of classic children’s movies, performances of Peter and the Wolf and Babar The Opera (a singing elephant in spats, who could resist?), workshops every day at the Peggy Guggenheim museum for children aged 4 – 10 and, if you really want to ramp up the insanity, there’s even a festival of sweets and chocolate to dip into.
Jousting and tournaments are the relatively sedate side of Carnival spectator sports. But if you want to see the normally civilised Venetians kick-off and really get down and dirty, then take in at least one Calcio Storico match. Played across the city over the first weekend of Carnival, Calcio Storico sees players dressed up in traditional costume knocking lumps out of each other in a bid to get a ball across a field. There are probably a few nuances I’ve missed here, but you get the idea.
Naturally the classical concerts, art exhibitions, private and public balls, street theatre, parades, parties and performances are all liberally eased by the addition of great food and plentiful wine. You’re expected to enter into the spirit of Carnival at least a little, so even if all you do is eat a lot, do it with gusto.
credit: Roberto Trm
Carnival ends on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday March 4th) with the procession to end all processions. This is where the iconic Gondolas really come into their own, the Venetians make their previous costumed efforts look restrained and everyone parties like it was almost Lent.
With 40 days and nights of repentance in front of you, I suggest you give the sinful pleasures of Venice Carnival 2014 your best shot while going’s good.