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!
Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and trace circles in the ice with your favourite people. Or if you like it a bit faster, carve furrows like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
Words by Anna Tobin of Ciaobambino, exclusively for HouseTrip as part of our #housetripping series.
This may surprise you, but children actually want to get the same from a holiday as most adults. Think about it: they want to relax; they want to have fun; and, they may not know it, but they enjoy soaking up new experiences too. We’ve just come back from a city break in Montreal with our eight-year-old and five-year-old and we accomplished all of this.
credit: AV Design
Okay, so the kids did want to do the having fun part at 5.30 in the morning, a couple of hours earlier than normal, because they were jet-lagged. They did want to relax in front of the TV watching the novel Canadian programmes right after lunch, just as we had mustered up the energy to cycle a quadricycle – a four-wheeled pedal bike that can hold up to six – around Old Montreal. But, when we finally headed down to the old part of town later in the day, they were so enthused about riding a quadricycle for the first time that they both wanted to ride up front and take control of the steering!
Keeping in mind that you and your children want the same things from a holiday, but might just have a different order of achieving them, here is my top five checklist to ensure that everyone has a great time.
1. Have a flexible schedule
Get your children involved in the holiday planning and spend time discussing with them what they’d like to do once there. Point out along the way the places you’d like to visit and why, to see if you can get them excited about those places too. If you have older children, give them a map of your destination and ask them to list each place of interest and group them into geographical areas to see which you can do on the same day.
We went through a photo-heavy guidebook with our two on the flight to Montreal and got them to write down where they fancied going, what food they’d like to try and what activities they’d like to have a go at during the trip.
2. Give yourself time
Kids don’t want to pack as many sites as you can drag their tired feet to into a day. Opt for no more than two activities a day and be prepared for lots of fun restaurant and snack stops.
We spent three days in Montreal, one of which was spent eating the infamous Montreal bagels and scooting around Mount Royal, the park that the locals call ‘the mountain’ as it towers above the city. Another day was centred around Espace pour la vie Montreal, an area given over to an Insectarium, botanical garden, Planetarium and Biodome. The Biodome is a series of huge climate-controlled dome spheres where you can watch 4,500 creatures interact with each other in four perfectly recreated American ecosystems. It’s amazing. The last day was spent exploring Old Montreal, hanging out at the port and visiting the Museum of Archaeology.
There was lots more we could have packed in, but we would have sacrificed the children’s holiday spirit and unpacked a stream of moans if we’d attempted anything else. This taster gave us all enough to talk about and made us all want to go back. Something we plan to do one day, hopefully timing our next visit for one of the many festivals that Montreal is famous for.
3. Base yourself in a family neighbourhood
If you’re on a city break, or plan to do a lot of sightseeing in your chosen destination, I always find that it’s preferable to stay in a local, family-centred neighbourhood, rather than be bang in the centre of town. These areas tend to have parks, where kids can just be kids; family-friendly eateries, including good takeaway joints; and, to be close to other amenities such as skating rinks, cinemas and bowling alleys, which are useful to have nearby if the weather turns against you.
With or without kids, I wouldn’t want to stay in the centre of Montreal – it’s too built up, both over and underground. I asked a Quebecer about the best area to stay in before booking and I was advised to limit my search to the neighbourhoods in and around the Plateau Mont-Royal or Mont Real, as the local French speakers call it, and in particular St-Viateur Street, known for its buzzy restaurants, enticing grocery stores and cool shops. It turned out to be ideal.
4. Opt for multi-bedroom accommodation
If you’re together all day, you don’t want to be cramped in one room at night. Look for properties that have at least two bedrooms; a living room where you can chill when the children are in bed and where you can send them to watch TV when they wake up too early; a decent sized bathroom, with a bath as well as a shower if your kids are young; and, laundry facilities. You don’t want to spend hours in the laundry room, but it’s nice to be able to have a regular stream of clean clothes and to know that you won’t have to return home to a pile of dirty washing. Plus, it means that you don’t have to go for that extra suitcase.
I let my children help in the accommodation search. I find that if they are happy and a little familiar with a place before we’ve arrived, it means they settle into it quicker. We began scouring HouseTrip.com for family properties around Plateau Mont-Royal.
We narrowed it down to these two houses:
A four-bedroom property, including a colourful child’s room full of toys; spacious open-plan living area and a garden – the sort of house that you would like to transport to your home city and move in to.
A three-bedroom house, which was slightly smaller, as reflected in the price, but just as practical and inviting.
The kids were scouring the photos for innovative toys to play with, bunk-beds and a TV room. Bunks hold a magical allure to kids who don’t have bunks at home. We went for the smaller property, as we didn’t need the extra room and it was a great base.
5. Grill the locals
The people who know how you will get the best out of a city are the people who live in it with similar interests.
Our property host met us on arrival and directed us to the local organic grocery store, the famous St-Viateur bagel bakery and the local park and playground. She also told us which of the numerous restaurants welcomed families and served the best food.
When we got to that park, we sat on a bench whilst the kids played, and got chatting to a few mums and dads who lived just along the block. They told us to get to the Biodome early to avoid the queues, about the best bus to take into town and to book for the simulated archeological dig experience at the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History. Meanwhile, the kids had got chatting to their kids and begun practicing their very limited school French.
Featured image by schilfregen.
One of the main reasons that people travel somewhere completely new, is to find and discover exotic cuisine. Every culture has it, a dish that you can find cheaply on the side of the road, that locals tuck into with relish and abandon and leave you thinking “Gosh that looks interesting I wonder what will happen if I put that in my mouth”, right before you do so and your tongue turns into a 60′s roller disco of flashing lights, groovy rhythms and jamming funkily.
So, to whet your appetite for our #foodietravels hangout this afternoon with Niamh Shields, here are 10 of our favourite street foods from across the globe. Interesting question: have you ever noticed that a lot of the world’s favourite street foods contains chips?
Crêpes - Paris
Currywurst – Berlin
Som tam (green papaya salad) – Bangkok
Fish Tacos – Playa del Carmen
Fish & Chips – London
credit – kerolic
Kebab – Istanbul
credit The Way of Slow Travel
El Lomito – Santiago
Hot Dog – New York
credit Lan Bui
Poutine - Montréal
credit Kyle Strickland
Pinxto – Bilbao
Oh and in case you missed the announcements, join us at 1pm today (UK time) for a live chat with renowned food blogger Niamh Shields. If you have questions for her, tweet them @housetrip with the hash tag #foodietravels and we’ll ask her the best ones.
Featured image by williamcho.
This post and uncredited images by luxury travel blogger Keith Jenkins, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
Montréal is one of those incredibly fascinating cities that one visits, falls in love with and keeps coming back to. The city has a lot going for it, from the amazing array of cuisines to its history, architecture and shopping, and not to mention its unique mix of European charm and North American energy. The first thing that struck me was how laidback Montréalers are. Everywhere I looked, people were simply enjoying, well, … life. I decided there and then to just go with the flow and let the locals show me their brand of joie de vivre! Montréalers are a very friendly bunch and they’ll gladly share their tips on where to go and what to do. Try your best French and you’ll make many more friends! Armed with a small guidebook from Tourism Montréal (http://www.tourisme-montreal.
Food is the first thing Montréalers love to talk about, and rightfully so, because there are countless excellent foodie haunts in this city. It was my first time in Montréal and the locals insisted I try two of the city’s most famous dishes: poutine and smoked meat sandwich. Poutine basically consists of french fries, topped with a brown gravy and cheese curd. Locals eat it after a night out and it’s known to cure hangovers. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it but I did… very much! Best place for poutine is arguably La Banquise (994 Rachel Street East). As for the smoked meat sandwich, there’s one famous place that everyone goes to: Schwartz’s (3895 St. Laurent Blvd). Their signature meat sandwich is something you have to see to believe!
Montréal also has many fine-dining options. My favourite was definitely Joe Beef (2491 Notre-Dame Street West). Located in a historic tavern, Joe Beef (www.joebeef.ca) has a quirky, cosy ambiance (the restrooms are particularly hilarious) with a patio/garden in the back where they grow their own vegetables. The food, a marriage of fresh local produce and subtle flavours, is sublime. Try the oysters or the scallops.
Montréal has a diverse shopping scene, from the chic boutiques on Sherbrooke Street to the more mainstream brands along St. Catherine Street, and the vintage stores in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. The city boasts a vibrant arts, design and fashion scene, much of which is centred around Plateau Mont-Royal. A local pointed me towards Crescent and de la Montagne Streets, where many of Quebec’s leading fashion designers have their boutiques. I discovered that these two streets, with their many cafés, are terrific places to sit back, relax and engage in some fascinating people-watching!
You can also opt to join a shopping tour (www.montrealshoppingtours.com
Montréalers are proud of their cultural heritage and the easiest way to get acquainted with this heritage (aside from food of course!) is to discover the city’s amazing variety of architectural styles. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Montréal was the beautiful spiral staircases. Each block had a different style and when I asked which neighbourhoods had the most beautiful staircases, a lively discussion with the locals quickly followed. I found the loveliest specimens along Laval Street and Christopher Columbus Street in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood.
Another local insisted I visit the Notre-Dame Basilica and stroll around Old Montréal, with its cobblestone streets and historic buildings. I didn’t regret it. The Basilica was absolutely breathtaking! I found Old Montréal to be a charming district with many fine examples of Renaissance and Art Deco buildings filled with boutiques, gorgeous restaurants, artists’ studios and a variety of jazz clubs.
After all that walking (Montréal is a great city to explore on foot), eating and drinking, it was time for something a bit more relaxing. I headed for the Bota-Bota spa-sur-l’eau (www.botabota.ca). This gorgeous spa, located in an old ferry boat, is docked at the Old Port and features fabulous views of Montréal and the St. Lawrence River. The contemporary, minimalist decor set the tone for a soothing afternoon. The excellent treatments, the water circuit and the beautiful views did the rest. I left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and ready for more that Montréal had to offer.
This involved long, lazy meals; leisurely strolls around gorgeous neighbourhoods such as the Golden Square Mile and Mont-Royal with its beautiful Victorian and Edwardian mansions; visiting markets such as the lovely Jean Talon Market; and exploring the vintage and antique shopping scene in Plateau Mont-Royal.
Staying at a HouseTrip holiday rental definitely enriched my Montréal experience. The friendly owner gave me many tips on restaurants, cafés, sights and things to do. In addition, I got to stay in Plateau Mont-Royal, a typical Montréal residential neighbourhood and easily mingle with the locals.
HouseTrip offers a great variety of accommodation options in Montréal. I stayed in an artsy apartment along Mont-Royal Avenue East (http://www.housetrip.com/en/
Featured image by caribb.