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!
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world. ‘Ciao, we’re Italy and we have so many world heritage sites we can’t even remember some of them’.
There’s an active volcano included on the list, several entire cities (not even mentioning the Holy See), towers, villas, villages, coastlines. And all that would be just fine if the Italians weren’t responsible for several other country’s Heritage Sites as well – you Romans, you know who you are!
Two options: you either get all resentful and knock the entire gorgeous country off your ‘must see’ list: or you take it on the chin, be thankful for their comprehensible Latin based languages and sanitation systems and go visit.
I’m taking the latter option I think. So here are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will know and some you might be a bit surprised by.
Italy rules, and the rest of us just need to suck it up obviously!
Is an active volcano. I don’t know about you but the combination of being in Sicily and being the tallest mountain in Italy and an active volcano is oddly compelling. When I say active I don’t mean this is the adventure holiday of a lifetime and you might very well find yourself running from rivers of molten lava – it rumbles a bit, mostly. But all that activity gives the soil round and about tremendous fertility so foodies are bound to want a piece of this action because the local produce is splendid and the cooking style is amazing – plus you get to look at an ‘active’ volcano and come away a few kilos heavier but relatively unscathed.
THE MEDICI VILLAS, TUSCANY
To be honest, between the 15th and 17th century, the Medici were as gadabout as the Romans when it came to proprietorial: ‘oh, is that art and grandeur and splendour and beauty, we’ll have it’. What is slightly silencing is their attention to land and cultivation. So for every magnificent artwork and dishonest dealing they ploughed a furrow (or had someone do it for them). As a result The Medici Villas in Tuscany are grand and extravagant but they’re also a fascinating insight into a less ephemeral legacy that this strangely appealing dynasty sought to create.
THE HOLY SEE, ROME
credit: Benson Kua
If you aren’t impressed by St. Peter’s and the mighty art collection and libraries you could only dream about, you’ve got to love the Swiss Guards. They have to be Swiss, Catholic, unmarried and trained in tactics – who actually came up with those rules? This is where the Pope lives and (not to be confused with The Vatican City) has been the centre of Christianity for centuries. Whatever your faith or otherwise it’s unbelievable to see so much pomp and wealth in such a small space. Also it has Rome just outside if you like pizza.
‘See Naples and die’, bit extreme? But its historic centre is one of the largest in the world and its links to the Borgias (by marriage and intrigue) seafaring importance and fiercely independent nature make this cusp of Italy and Sicily city fascinating.
Close to Naples, and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the world, Pompeii is indescribably moving. When Vesuvius erupted in 79AD it literally petrified an entire city, I don’t know anyone who has been to Pompeii who hasn’t come away changed. You can look at the streets and houses and see it as an archaeological site, or you can witness the tiny elements of humanity that were so swiftly devastated. However, you view Pompeii it will live with you forever.
THE AMALFI COAST
credit: Dr. Jaus
The beautiful Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is one of those places people imagine they can keep to themselves. Just to say, ‘Duc d’Amalfi’. Historically it’s wildly interesting (in a way that Italy seems to have corralled, how come the rest of the world is so dull, maybe it’s to do with poisoning – answers please). But back to the Amalfi Coast, it also has an amazing climate and if you visit in Spring or Autumn you miss the crowds and you can have the beaches and crags and cliffs (almost) to yourself.
BOTANICAL GARDENS, PADUA
Historically and scientifically the Botanical Gardens in Padua are the most significant in the world. There’s even a wall to stop plants being stolen – back in the 16th century, plant theft isn’t such a thing nowadays. These gardens are the origin of almost all our contemporary medicine and a rare insight into what it must have been like to pioneer in this field in Medieval Europe.
HADRIAN’S VILLA, TIVOLI
One of the most perfect and imperfect UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, Hadrian’s Villa is even now a ‘work in progress’. A retreat for the Emperor Hadrian, a place of conspiracy and politicising and – as you’ll discover – much more. On-going excavations are still uncovering underground tunnels and passages. The fact that there was a postal service from Rome (about 20km away) to Tivoli and a court, obviously mattered a little when it came to doing Roman Empire business back in the day.
PIAZZA DEI MIRACOLI, TUSCANY
So you thought you should visit Tuscany because you knew a bit about the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’, well see you and raise you. It’s just one of the edifices that make up the ‘Field of Miracles’ and astonish millions of visitors every year. Oddly it’s the Medieval Cathedral that dominates this hugely sacred site and the famous ‘leaning’ tower is a mere adjunct. But if you want to send silly snapchats, this is the place to do it.
Okay, I had a few words and millennium of history to deal with. I did my best and really what can I say? Italy has 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you honestly just have to go and see some for yourself.
A new year is just around the corner so obviously it’s time for me to ask; have you started stretching yet? Have you bought that brand new pair of running shoes you promised yourself? I hope you’ve also invested in some elbow pads and a helmet.
Am I talking about preparations for a new year’s fitness challenge? Nope. I’m wondering how ready you are for the January Sales.
With words like “scrum”, “horde” and “mob” often being used to describe the crowds that descend on some of the world’s biggest and best sales, the winter sales are not for the faint-hearted, but done right they are a great way to enjoy a new city. I did a little research and here are ten of the best January Sales around the world I recommend. On your marks, get set, go!
Visitors fly in to London from all over the world for the UK capital’s January Sales, which strictly speaking start on 26th December. The day after Christmas is also called Boxing Day locally, though I assure you this does not relate to the tactics you need to employ to beat your way through the crowds in Harrods in Knightsbridge or Selfridges on Oxford Street. My best advice for avoiding the crowds is to head to high streets in the suburbs and be sure to check how late the shops stay open.
New York City, USA
The January Sales begin a little later in The Big Apple with famous department stores like Bloomingdales and Macy’s chopping prices from early January onwards. However, for the best bargains follow those in the know upstate to Woodbury Commons a huge outlet mall that sells designer and luxury brands at eye-poppingly low prices.
Despite having enough museums and art galleries to keep any visitor happy for a year or two, Paris is as much a shopping destination as a sight-seeing city-break. With historic department stores like Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps and smaller shopping enclaves like Les Halles, Passage de Grand Cerf and Viaduc des Arts, come 8th January 2014, Paris will have reduced shopping for everyone.
credit: *Crazy Diamond*
Never outside the top five shopping cities in the world, Dubai may not celebrate Christmas, but it’s happy to indulge in the seasonal sales. Considering the city’s airport has more shops than the average shopping centre, the one month-long Dubai Shopping Festival – which starts on January 2nd – is only for the fittest and most experienced shopping pro.
In addition to the usual reductions across all goods, Rome is a haven for accessories shopping with more than its fair share of boutiques selling beautiful shoes and designer handbags – a good or bad thing depending on your budget and luggage restrictions! The other upside of shopping in Rome is that the main shopping district is littered with many of the city’s most famous sights including the Spanish Steps and Campo de’ Fiori. January Sales begin on 5th January 2014.
If you’re a little slow to get pennies saved in time for the January Sales, Hong Kong may be the shopping Mecca you should head thanks to the biggest reductions coinciding with Chinese New Year at the end of the month. With a 10% increase in retail sales for the last few years and up to 50% off prices in Hong Kong’s huge malls, expect a shopping experience on a grand scale.
Singapore’s biggest sales actually take place in the summer, thanks to a city wide event called the “Great Singapore Sale”, but that doesn’t mean January doesn’t see some worthy reductions in the city’s many designer and department stores along Orchard Road, which also have special sales to celebrate Chinese New Year. For more independent boutiques head to Haji Lane, and Bugis Lane is your best bet for a bargain.
The UK’s second most visited city, Edinburgh is another great shopping destination disguised as a historical hub of culture. The main shopping area is around Princes Street and you should definitely pop your head in Jenners just to admire the 19th century interior of the grand hall. Sales start at the end of December and reductions will continue throughout January.
credit: Bert Kaufmann
Not known for its shopping as such, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities to go shopping in thanks to the sunlight bouncing off the marble mosaic floors and white stone buildings found along the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, the city’s main shopping district. Alternatively, head to the upmarket Príncipe Real, where you can find more independent stores and a picturesque park and gardens to grab a coffee in. January Sales begin in late December and will carry on into February.
Last but not least is Tokyo, not just home to the world’s best electronics shopping in Akihabara, but also a pioneer of winter sales thanks to Japan’s new year’s tradition of “Fukubukuro” a unique concept of giving out “goody” or “happy” bags which are filled with a mystery collection of the shop’s produce, bought at considerable discount. As popular as the sales themselves, many shops will see people queuing up for hours on New Year’s Day to carry away a Fukubukuro from their favourite store.
Are you feeling strong enough to face the January Sales of 2014? If so, where will you be heading? I’d love to hear your tips for surviving the retail madness and still walking away with some bargains.
Featured image by World of Good
If you have a penchant for rocking around the Christmas tree in a beautiful city lit up with festive glow and Christmas lights, this is the post for you. We’ve gathered ten of the best urban Christmas trees already shining brightly as this festive season begins. Which one would you like to go to first?
Rockerfeller Center, New York City, USA
Let’s kick off with a king of Christmas trees. Already up before Thanksgiving turkeys were on the table, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is almost as much of an institution as Christmas itself. With an ice skating rink at its foot and accompanying decorations as far as the eye can see, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller is a must see if you find yourself in New York at this time of year.
Trafalgar Square, London, UK
Creeping up behind NYC with its Christmas tree traditions, is London, a city full of beautiful trees. However, the Norwegian spruce that is donated to London by Norway in a tradition that began in 1947 is considered the city’s centrepiece. It will be revealed on 5th December and you can head there to enjoy carols being sung under the tree every evening from 9th – 22nd December 2013.
Galleries Lafayette, Paris, France
Arguably Paris‘s most famous Christmas tree is housed in the centre of the glamorous Galleries Lafayette department store. It has already been on show since early November and this year’s tree was a collaboration with watch brand Swatch, with time being the main theme. Suspended from the store’s famous art deco dome, the animated tree is decorated with pink flowers and a fairy tale village scene at its base. Stay for long enough to see the characters and tree come alive on the hour, every hour.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Stood in front of the symbolic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s Christmas tree is uncomplicatedly decorated but still beautifully drenched in light. While the city is flooded with Christmas trees standing along the many miles of the city’s Christmas markets, the Christmas tree at Brandenburg Gate is where most people gather for quiet reflection during the holiday season, oh and for the not so quiet fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
One of Europe’s most popular spots for gothic winter wonderland scenes, the Christmas tree that stands in Prague‘s Old Town Square comes from the Krkonose Mountains in the north of the country and can be admired every night while you eat and drink treats from the Christmas market also held here.
Terreiro do Paço, Lisbon, Portugal
There’s not a pine needle in sight with Lisbon’s giant Christmas tree, a structure made out of metal and lights. Fireworks were set off as the tree was lit for the first time last weekend, but with giant red baubles and the sparkle of hundreds of fairy lights bouncing off the marble mosaic floor, Lisbon’s main town square will be lit up for the remainder of the festive season.
Floating Christmas Tree, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro got into the Guinness Book of Records with their giant floating Christmas tree, and every year in Brazil Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Currently found floating on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the huge tree is lit up with over 3 million light bulbs and this year will also be moved to different locations in the city so as many people as possible can gawk at it.
Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Thousands of Catholics descend on the Vatican City in Rome for Christmas and the tree that stands in the centre of St Peter’s Square is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Traditionally the Vatican’s Christmas tree is donated by a region or city in Europe and this year, it’s – delightfully drolly – the turn of Bavaria, homeland of ex-Pope Benedict XVI. Decorations will feature both a Bavarian and a Neapolitan theme, as Naples has donated the Vatican’s nativity scene this year.
Martin Place, Sydney, Australia
Image from kidsizeliving
Despite soaring temperatures and bright blue skies, Australia doesn’t hold back with the Christmas decorations and Christmas has already arrived in the Central Business District in Sydney. This year’s tree in Martin Place is already shining brightly surrounded by Christmas lights and decorations. Just don’t expect anyone to be standing underneath it on Christmas Day, they’re all at the beach, including Santa.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Made with more than 650 tons of sand and standing at over 36 feet, in Florida, West Palm Beach’s sand Christmas tree is one of the area’s most popular attractions and while it may not see any snow it isn’t without lights or sparkle. A lighting ceremony will take place on the beach this evening, the 5th of December 2013. Click here to learn more.
Prince Bishop’s Shopping Centre, Durham, UK
credit: The Crystal Gazer
Every year Christmas prompts people to discuss how commercial and consumer-focused the festive season has become. Durham – an historic north English city – has erected a tree designed to highlight this issue as part of its recent Lumiere Festival. This 9 metre tall tree is made of discarded plastic shopping bags donated by members of the public and is the work of Spanish art collective Lutzinterruptus.
Which other cities have great Christmas trees or decorations? Feel free to share your recommendations and maybe your photos in the comments.
We’ve made a food guide to some of Europe’s most delicious cities.