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!
If you’re thinking it’s a bit early to be looking at ways to celebrate the Irish Saint of Green Face Paint and Guinness, let me explain. St. Patrick’s Day might be a few weeks away (17th March, just so you know) but the world’s a vast place and Irish Bars are many. So I thought I’d get a jump on the big day itself, do some background research and point you in the direction of a few places where St. Paddy himself would not feel out of place having a Craic and a pint of the black stuff – if he wasn’t a saint, obviously. But, before you go off dismissing my efforts as a thinly disguised excuse to trawl the drinking dens of Dublin, not one of my suggestions for this year’s celebrations is on home soil. They’re spread far and wide, but have one thing in common: a deep and enduring reverence for ‘the auld country’.
Someone once told me that all you needed for a traditional Irish Band was three chords and a Begorra. Working on that logic, it seems the only requirement for an Irish Pub is a leprechaun bobble-head, a liberal sprinkling of shamrocks and a road sign. There was even a tale doing the rounds about Dublin having to spend a fortune replacing street plaques removed by unscrupulous visiting publicans and hived off to add a touch of authenticity to Irish Pubs in less than Irish locations (Mongolia anyone?). That may be so, but my search goes far beyond the superficial window dressing of the Irish Pub to the heart of the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day – drinking, dancing and telling complete strangers that you’ve always loved them.
And where else would I start my arduous quest, but Boston? The city’s keeper of the flame when it comes to Irish heritage and has the pubs to prove it. Steer clear of the ‘theme’ bars (a green drink does not an Irish pub make). And if it’s part of a chain, I don’t think I need to tell you how that’s going to go. No, my money’s on the Brendan Behan Pub or ‘The Behan’ as it’s known locally. Four times winner of ‘The Best Irish Pub in Boston’ and loved for its wide range of stouts and ales, ‘craic-centric’ philosophy, live music and traditional (for Boston) atmosphere, The Behan’s named after the poet, Republican, political prisoner and hard drinker Brendan Behan. The Brendan Behan, 378 Center Street, Jamaica Plain (a trolley ride from Downtown Boston).
London’s tiny Tipperary is the city’s oldest Irish pub and has held its ground on Fleet Street since 1700 (the original pub is older but not Irish, so doesn’t count). Supposedly this was the first place in England to sell Guinness and it’s been upholding that fine tradition ever since. It’s small and very friendly and has the kind of cosy atmosphere you might expect if you really were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Tipperary and not in fact in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities. The Tipperary, 66 Fleet Street, London EC4Y.
If you’re a diehard traditionalist and you find yourself in Athens on March 17th, despair not, the James Joyce Irish Pub is celebrating like it’s Dublin on a Friday after 5. Everything’s where it should be from the draught Stout and whisky selection to a dark wood long-bar and Steak & Guinness Pie. But the music’s more DJ than Ceilidh and the folks you get to declare undying love for are of the younger variety. James Joyce Irish Pub, Astiggos 12, Thiseio 105 55, Athens.
No one’s going to accuse the world’s Irish pubs of imagination when it comes to names, so you’ll have to forgive Istanbul’s one and only for also heading down the route of James Joyce Irish Pub. But if you’re dying for a long, black drink and some Irish Dancing Classes you’ve arrived. The James Joyce, Istanbul is a bit of a favourite on a city pub crawl and does boisterous as standard so I’m thinking all stops will be pulled for St. Patrick’s Day. James Joyce Irish Pub, İstiklal Caddesi, Balo Sokak 26, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.
If an ‘Open Mike Night’ with Siggi Porbergs isn’t likely to have you weeping into your Jamieson’s, you’ll be right up for the Irish pub experience Reykjavik style. The Celtic Cross is one of two Irish pubs in the city both owned by the same Icelander (he makes no claims to Celtic roots) and while it might not focus on authentic music, the booze is plenty traditional enough to distract you. The Celtic Cross, Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavik.
Paris has always been a pull for Irish ex-pats and has more than a few literary and artistic connections to its Celtic counterpart, so finding an Irish pub is never a problem. For very traditional music, warm atmosphere and a great bar I recommend The Quiet Man, in Le Marais. A lot more authentic than the John Wayne movie it’s named for, The Quiet Man is open from 5pm to late, almost always has live music and will definitely be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The Quiet Man, 5 Rue des Haudriettes, Paris (close to The Pompidou Centre).
I couldn’t write about Irish pubs without including at least one ‘tavern’ – I love a tavern. It’s New York, of course, and if you like your Guinness surrounded by flat-screen sport The Kinsale Tavern is the place for you. Not that New York City’s lacking in Irish pubs (there’s even one at JFK, if you’re desperate). But The Kinsale Tavern does a mean Shepherd’s Pie and a Full Irish Breakfast. And everyone knows how important it is to max the carbs if you’re going to do St. Patrick’s Day justice. The Kinsale Tavern, 1672 3rd Avenue, New York, NY10128.
And come the 17th March, when the Guinness is flowing and the Craic is crackling, feel free to have at my all-time-favourite bad Irish Joke:
Q. What did St. Patrick say to the snakes when he was driving them out of Ireland?
A. ‘Are you all right in the back there lads?
Yes, that’s quite enough St. Patrick’s Day nonsense from me. I know.
I like lists. Big, long lists. So I’ll keep the preamble short for once and get right to it, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and many pound notes to pocket. Here are some unusual, low-cost things you can do in London. It’s one of the world’s more expensive cities, so happy saving!
Afternoon Tea At The Ritz …. Skinny, crustless sandwiches and your choice of tea. They do offers but I figure £45 per person is worth it so you can say you had tea at The Ritz! www.theritzlondon.com
Afternoon Tea At Claridges …. Go on and go all Nancy Mitford on me for just £50 per person – apparently they have over 40 types of tea, worth a visit for that alone www.claridges.co.uk
Lunch at The Savoy Grill for just £26 per person you can have lunch at The Savoy Grill – please tell me you’re not taken away with the romance of that? www.gordonramsay.com/thesavoygrill
Tate to Tate Go see Blake then Hepworth on a boat, all day long for less than £12 return www.tate.org.uk
Sherlock Holmes Museum people adore the imaginary, pompous detective and will pay up to visit his fictional home. You can “find” him, at home, for under £25 for a family of four www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk
The Garden Museum even if you have not one green finger this museum is worth a visit to see the Griffin and skull laden tomb of John Tradescant and the ‘Breadfruit’ on the tomb of Captain William Bligh and it costs less than £20 for a family of four www.gardenmuseum.org.uk
Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is in the iconic park and it’s got monkeys and who doesn’t love monkeys? A family ticket is £28 www.batterseaparkzoo.co.uk
Hackney City Farm is free and it’s the place I want to live when I have lots of money and capable farm hands. While you’re waiting for that to happen you can visit and see the charming oddness of a London farm www.hackneycityfarm.co.uk
The Windmill, Brixton is where you want to go if you need live music and beer. But it’s really about the music. Voted 3rd in Time Out’s Live London Music Venues and under £10 a ticket, what can I say? www.windmillbrixton.co.uk
Hammersmith Lyric is eclectic and bold and you can go see London theatre without ‘doing the shows’, so no risk of you feeling completely tragic. Tickets from £8 www.lyric.co.uk
Emirates Stadium is home to Arsenal Football Club and a £17.50 Stadium Tour lets you ‘marvel’ (their words, not mine) at the modern architecture, see trophies and have a look at football stuff – it’s also in Islington where you can always get a decent cup of coffee and excellent traditional Sunday Roast Lunch www.arsenal.com
The Michael Faraday Monument stands in the middle of the Elephant and Castle roundabout. It’s free. You just have to get over the road to see it. But in 2013 ‘selfie’ was the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year, so I can think of no good reason not to snap yourself next to the father of modern electricity’s monument.
Thames Path Walk runs from Hampton Court to The Thames Barrier. It’s about 50 miles of easy strolling and one of the best and most inclusive ways of seeing this magnificent city. For £12.95 you can pick up the official guide www.aurumpress.co.uk
One Hour’s Personal Style Consultation might be just what you’d like if you like what you see round and about London. £100 gets you an hour’s personal style consultation and £70 gets you an hour’s personal shopping www.orionarobb.com
London School of Painting and Drawing holds Saturday classes for £74 including oil paints, so if London inspires you www.thelondonschoolofpainting.org
Design Museum has a lot to irritate and a lot to impress but it’s certainly worth a visit and an adult ticket costs just £11.85 and children’s tickets are free – this is a good ‘un because there are regular short exhibitions and talks www.designmuseum.org
credit: Christina Waterson
City Academy is where you can taste a talent (or discover one) in singing, dancing, musical comedy, acting, public speaking. You don’t need to have any experience and I think taking home a skill from London is better than a tatty replica of Big Ben. Classes from £12 www.city-academy.com
The Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanical garden, founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (no matter how many times you say that it doesn’t sound any less marvellous). The garden’s open to the public during late Spring and Summer, but for just £38 you can become a Friend of the Chelsea Physic Garden and any time you’re in London you can visit – this is a really good deal during The Chelsea Flower Show www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk
Hyde Park is home to graceful Tai Chi classes, would-be marathon runners, cyclists, dog walkers and a lot of people who just like to sit about. For a whole day you can hire a deckchair (green and white striped, of course) to lounge in the sun, and it only costs £7 www.royalparks.org.uk
Visit a Thrift Store and acquire vintage fashion, good for getting a lot of unconventional presents on the cheap. Or bedeck yourself in penultimate London fashions at excellent value. Go indie for best quality used garb. My favourite is The East End Thrift Store
And there you have it, a big long list of stuff to do in London for less money that might not have seemed immediately obvious.
London is a huge city. Very few Londoners can claim to have explored every quirky village, secluded park and peaceful waterway that makes up their home. This is largely because, given the choice between spending an hour travelling across the city to a part of the city they perceive similar to their own or spending an hour travelling outside of the city to the countryside or beach, they will normally choose the latter.
A pity, when the scene changes are so varied and the shops, markets and foodie places really are different and there are activities that you can do with your children in one part of town that they wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else on earth.
credit: Tom Ward
Guide books, tour operators and travel articles also often steer tourists to stay in and concentrate their exploring around the centre of the city. But central London is not always the best place to base yourself, especially if you are travelling with children.
So why not venture out of zone 1 on the London underground and spend some mean time in Greenwich, reinvent yourself with the upcycling artists of Stoke Newington or get down on the farm in Islington?
Each piece of London needs to be lingered over, drunk tea and eaten cake in and wandered aimlessly around before you can truly say you know it. And to become a Londoner even for a holiday, you need to live like a Londoner, in a home that is, not a hotel.
To find a rental property that feels like a home, search HouseTrip.com. When you stay in a HouseTrip property the owners are never far away. In many instances they will greet you with the keys and after telling you the ins and outs of their home they will tell you about their neighbourhood.
Staying near Goodge Street, for example? Well just behind you off the beautiful little pedestrianised street of Colville Place is the sweetest little park, complete with a children’s play area that at most times of the day your kids will have to themselves.
Or perhaps you’re in the yummy mummy territory of Queens Park? You simply have to stock up on freshly prepared Italian meals to take away from the Salusbury Food Store.
If you’re staying near the Tower of London, then you need to try and get tickets for the Order of the Key, the traditional locking up of the Tower ceremony that has been carried out every night for at least 700 years.
Just across the river in Blackheath you must head to the heath itself to watch the seriously good kite flyers in action every weekend.
Lovely London neighbourhood accommodation
If you are staying a little further outside of the centre, it’s nice to be able to hire a car so that you can spend some time going even further outside the capital, perhaps to spend a day at Windsor Castle or to do the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio tour or to visit Whipsnade Zoo. There aren’t many properties in London with free on site parking, which is why I like this super stylish three-bedroom, two bathroom apartment close to Queens Park. It has a parking space right out front. There are quite a lot of stairs involved so it’s not ideal for young children, but perfect for school age and above. It’s within walking distance of Queens Park with its buzzy pavement café scene, cool boutiques and beautiful park, which has a great playground, pitch and putt course and even a little zoo.
This two bedroom ground floor flat right in the heart of Notting Hill is more suited to young children as it’s step free inside. It has a lovely open plan living area and two nice airy bedrooms. Plus it is just steps from the boutiques, restaurants and bars of Notting Hill and Portobello Market. There is a garden square with a playground up the road too and you can hop on a bus or the tube to be in central London within minutes.
Browse the range of holiday apartments in London by visiting: www.housetrip.com/en/london
Featured image of Richmond Park by Kofi Opoku-Ansah.