Festive London: Three of the Best Santa’s Grottos

santa claus grotto

“Mommy! When I went to Santa’s Grotto I saw Santa Claus!”

Those with kids will know that a visit to Santa’s grotto is a Christmas institution. However, choose carefully. There’s nothing more disappointing than a bad Santa, and one obvious beard can be enough to ruin the magic for little ones for good.

If you can get to London then you’ll be spoilt for choice for great Santa’s grottos, and can rest assured that there won’t be a single cotton wool beard in sight! Why not turn your Santa’s grotto visit into a festive mini-break for the whole family by booking a family room in a low cost, central London hotel? Now is the right time to book your ideal bolthole in the city.

Once you’ve got the accommodation sorted, all that remains is to find your perfect Santa experience. Choose from these top three Santa’s Grottos in the capital for a guaranteed magical time with the kids:

Kids can play in real snow in the ice grotto, visit the wish fairy, dodge Jack Frost and get into a snowball fight with a naughty snowman at the Ice Grotto at Selfridges, and that’s all before they even meet the big guy himself!

Visitors to Selfridges in London from the 3rd September should also spend some time in the Christmas Shop – the store’s biggest ever! A gorgeous fairy-lit shopping wonderland, you’ll even be treated to traditional Christmassy scents such as spice cake, marzipan and pine while you browse.

Hamleys is offering something more than your typical Santa’s grotto experience this year, with the ‘I Met Father Christmas at Hamleys’ attraction. During this hour long experience, which includes a meal (food provided depends on the time of day), children will get to meet Santa and his elves and enjoy some fun Christmas themed stories and activities. Each child takes away a small gift.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a mesmerising Christmas experience for adults and children alike. A Christmas market, ice sculptures, ferris wheel, circus, ice skating rink and funfair rides all await, but those who want to meet the big guy himself should head straight to Santa Land where Santa waits in his cottage. All good little boys and girls get a small gift, making this a great value free grotto in the city. You may, however, find it hard to sneak little ones past the rides without putting your hand in your pocket!

The approach of Christmas presents a fantastic opportunity to make magical memories with your children. Make the best of those precious early years with a trip to our capital where you’ll find your pick of amazing Santa’s grottos.

Book your family accommodation, pack your camera and the kid’s Christmas lists, and you’re all set!

Why Buying a Ski Holiday for Your Spouse Can be the Ultimate Surprise

couple skiing

Plan a ski holiday for a great couple trip!

Everyone loves gifts, especially when they are from a special person. Men often want to surprise their wives with unexpected gifts, but at the same time they don’t want to be too predictable.

A lot of people don’t know much about gift shopping or do not have the time to search for the perfect gift, so they just buy traditional gifts which seems rather dull and boring. Excitement should be a part of life at every point; your wife is the person with whom you are going to spend the rest of your life, so it makes sense to get her something special that she truly deserves. It doesn’t have to be too expensive or lavish, rather it should be something meaningful, something you could do together.

A ski holiday is a great idea for a vacation. She will be least expecting it, so the element of surprise will be there. Ski holiday’s are great fun and offer a chance to reconnect with your loved one.

1- Stress-free time

After working hard throughout the year, raising children and doing chores around the house, your wife is entitled to have some time for herself. A ski holiday does just that; it will provide her with a chance to get away from the busy everyday life and will be a great source of fun and entertainment.

2-Good Exercise

A lot of people might not know this, but skiing is excellent physical exercise. It gives you the chance to stretch your legs and get out in the open. Fresh air and a natural environment are conducive to better health.

There is nothing like getting a good workout while on holiday because people normally stuff themselves with food when on vacation.

3-Night Life

Skiing is more of an all in one outdoor experience. Not only can you get some family time together, but also benefit from the exciting night life on offer. Most Ski Resorts have great restaurants and bars for you and your spouse to enjoy.

Indulge in a delightful evening with your wife. Some resorts even have music and discos so that you can party late at night and relive the younger years.

4-Learn new Skills

If you presented a traditional gift to your wife like a necklace, it may lose its value overtime, but with a ski holiday you will make lasting memories.

Even if your wife can’t ski, it is not a big issue because the learning experience is so much fun that it makes you completely forget about the other problems in your life.

If you have kids then this could turn into a great family vacation as well.

5-Multiple activities

A ski holiday is an enthralling experience; not only do you get to ski, but also indulge in other recreational activities such as ice skating, sledding,  dog sledding and snowshoeing.

Your wife will have the time of her life at the ski resort and will appreciate your choice.

6-Memories

A ski vacation will leave a life-long memory and  you can look back upon it and savor the times you had. Be sure to take videos and photos of all the moments so that when your children grow up you could show it to them.

Any other gift or gesture may dissipate in thin air, but a ski vacation will always be remembered by your wife for the effort you put in.

Conclusion

Whenever you buy a gift for someone, you want it to be meaningful and memorable. A ski vacation is a great surprise for your spouse and is a non traditional way of saying thank you to someone who means so much to you.

Circle of Wits

Outwitted by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Inside the QVB Dome

Inside the Queen Victoria Building Dome, Sydney, Australia

Blue Ceiling Capitol Building Havana Cuba

Blue Ceiling Capitol Building, Havana, Cuba

mapparium

Mapparium at the Mother Church, Boston, MA, USA

CapitolDome

Interior of the Capitol’s Dome, Washington D.C., USA

Cromer Circles

Beach at Cromer, Norfolk, Great Britain

Tuckerman Hall in Worcester, MA, USA

Tuckerman Hall in Worcester, MA, USA

Full Circle Festival in Newport Landing, Nova Scotia, Canada

Full Circle Festival in Newport Landing, Nova Scotia, Canada

Have you ever experienced prejudice or adversity on your travels? How have you handled it?

The 10 Wildest Little Known Festivals in the World (Part 2)

Last time we spoke about five odd but super fun sounding festivals held around the world. Today we continue that topic with five more crazy awesome festivals. Which one would you attend?

Redneck Games

These Redneck Games look very refreshing and fun!

6. The Redneck Games

This festival was created out of the offense taken by media implications that the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta would be hosted by a bunch of “rednecks”. The redneck games include classics such as “bobbing for pig’s trotters” and “toilet seat throwing.”

Hadaka Matsuri

Are you thinking of Mulan and King of the Mountain right now? I am.

7. Hadaka Matsuri

A Japanese festival born out of a Buddhist practice in which they purified their spirits, it is now known as the “naked man festival.” Thousands of men in loincloths gather on one of the coldest nights of the year to join in the celebration.

crying baby

I can’t imagine wanting to attend this – The noise! One crying baby is one too many!

8. Crying Baby Festival

This festival is centered around two sumo wrestlers who hold up a pair of babies. The winner is the baby that cries first. The festival celebrates the Japanese saying, “crying babies grow fast.”

Sonkran Water Festival

I vote we hold a Sonkran Water Festival with all these hot temperatures!

9. Sonkran Water Festival

Thailand holds this festival every year for three days, in which everyone participates in a giant water fight. Doesn’t that just sound inviting with all the record breaking temperatures out in the midwest right now? I vote yes.

World Gurning Championships

Add some strange sound effects and we got a winner! Meeep!

10. World Gurning Championships

Taking place in Egremont, Cumbria, this festival celebrates making ugly faces. Whoever makes the ugliest face wins! So what do you say is this a face only a mother could love?

Read the first part again: The 10 Wildest Little Known Festivals in the World (Part 1)

The 10 Wildest Little Known Festivals in the World (Part 1)

There are thousands of festivals celebrated all around the world. Many are known to almost everyone, however, there are a few that are not.

baby jumping spain

Would you let this guy jump over your baby?

1. The Baby Jumping Festival

Taking place every year in the village of Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, the ceremony involves men dressed as the devil literally jumping over a mattress full of babies. The ritual, which takes place during the Corpus Christi, represents a cleansing of sin as well as luck and good health

finland wife carrying festival

Don't drown her! I think you'd lose for sure if she did.

2. The Wife Carrying World Championships

Held every year in Sonkajärvi, Finland, this competition is a relay race in which competitors carry their wives as they run. What does the winner receive? Their wife’s weight in beer. No wonder this festival seems to be increasing in popularity.

cheese rolling contest

How bad to you want that cheese?

3. England’s Cheese Rolling Festival

This yearly festival is centered around a wheel of cheese that is thrown down the hill and chased after by a number of contestants. The first contestant to roll to the bottom of the hill gets the cheese!

holi india color festival

Can you imagine explaining the cleanup to your mother?

4. India’s Color Festival

Known as Holi in India, this festival celebrates both the coming of spring as well as the religion of the Hindu people. Participants celebrate by soaking one another in a wide variety of colorful powders, waters and perfumes.

La Tomatina

Slip n' slide on a bed of tomatoes, sounds like fun!

5. La Tomatina

The town of Brunol in Valencia, Spain, celebrates this festival by welcoming 20,000 people to have what basically amounts to a giant food fight, in which tomatoes are the main ammunition.

Up next is The 10 Wildest Little Known Festivals in the World (Part 2).

The Artist Eye: The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Crowds at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Q: What is the Parthenon?

A: It is the Doric temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens.

The Acropolis in Athens

The Acropolis in Athens

Q: What is the Greek Doric style?

A: You can tell a Greek Doric column apart from other Greek column styles (Ionic, Corinthian) with relative ease. The Doric style is the simplest of the columns in terms of fancy work.

Detail of a pediment on the Parthenon

Detail of the Metopes and Triglyphs on the Parthenon

Q: Do the Parthenon Doric columns feature entasis?

A: Yes, they do. Entasis is an aesthetic applied to columns to make them fatter at the bottom than at the top. It is thought to correct the optical illusion of concavity. It also makes the columns look more grand, sturdy, and as a structural bonus, makes the column stronger.

Parthenon columns and metopes

Detail of the Architrave and Entablature at the Parthenon

Q: What are metopes?

A: Metopes are the rectangular spaces between two triglyphs. They are decorated with carvings at the Parthenon.

Keira in front of the Parthenon

Keira in front of the Parthenon

Q: Would you explain what a triglyph is?

A: They are the decorated vertically channeled tablets on either side of a metope. They look like the Roman numeral III.

Wall of columns at the Parthenon

Wall of columns at the Parthenon

Q: Where is the architrave on the Parthenon?

A: The architrave is 1 part of the entablature. It supports the frieze from column to column.

The Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheum

The Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheum

Q: Where is the entablature?

A: The entablature is the superstructure of architectural elements above the columns. It consists of the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice.

Precarious Column at Parthenon

Precarious Column at Parthenon

Q: So the pediments are on top of the columns?

A: Yes, and on top of the architrave. They are the triangle wedges, which unfortunately at the Parthenon were damaged. Many of the sculptures from the frieze are in the Athens Museum or among the Elgin Marbles collection.

Acropolis at Night, Athens, Greece

Acropolis at Night, Athens, Greece

Q: What are the friezes?

A: A frieze is an unmolded strip that may or may not be ornamented and is part of the entablature. The Parthenon frieze is the low relief, marble sculpture created to adorn the upper part of the entablature.

The Parthenon lit up at night

The Parthenon lit up at night

Q: Where is the cornice on the entablature?

A: The cornice is the decorative molding around the pediment.

Detail of fragmented pediment on the Parthenon

Detail of fragmented pediment on the Parthenon

Q: What building is the Erechtheum?

A: It is a temple dedicated to the Greek hero Erichthonius.

The Parthenon has entasis columns

The Parthenon has entasis columns

Q: What is the Propylaea?

A: The Propylaea is any monumental gateway. The original Propylaea is the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. It means “before the gates.” We use it now to mean a gate building.

Crowds on the stairs of the Propylaea, Athenian Acropolis

Crowds on the stairs of the Propylaea, Athenian Acropolis

Q: Where is the Porch of the Caryatids?

A: The “Porch of the Maidens” is on the Acropolis. You can find it at the Erechtheum. It features six draped female figures known as caryatids.

The Erechtheum and the Porch of the Caryatids

The Erechtheum and the Porch of the Caryatids

Q: What are Caryatids?

A: A Caryatid is a sculpted female figure that provides the architectural support of a column. It can hold the weight of an entablature.

The Erechtheum from the side.

The Erechtheum from the side

Photo Essay: Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

Keira, statue, column, Pompeii, Contrapposto

Contrapposto Keira Statue at Pompeii

Overview of part of Pompeii

Overview of part of Pompeii

Fresco at Pompeii

Fresco at Pompeii

Cave Canem (Beware of Dog) Mosaic in Pompeii, Italy

Cave Canem (Beware of Dog) Mosaic at the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii Forum

The Forum at Pompeii, Italy

Colorful Fresco at Pompeii

Colorful Fresco at Pompeii

A Beautiful Fresco at Pompeii

A Beautiful Fresco at Pompeii

Sloping Wall/Ceiling of Bathhouse in Pompeii

Calidarium (Men's Hot Bath) in the Bathhouse in Pompeii

Pompeii Forum

Pompeii Forum

Fresco Remains at Pompeii

Fresco Remains at Pompeii

Mercury Fountain at Pompeii

Mercury Fountain at Pompeii

Bakery at Pompeii

Bakery at Pompeii

Another Look at the Bakery at Pompeii

Grain was crushed under the pedestal.

House of the Little Fountain

House of the Little Fountain (Mosaic)

Keira at Pompeii

Keira at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in background.

Going to Pompeii was a truly extraordinary experience. I found my time here really made learning some things in art history a breeze because I was previously exposed to it. I wish I had had the chance to visit the brothels but our tour did not extend that far into the site.

Have you been? What’s your favorite site at Pompeii?

Quick Travel Tip: Rome, Italy

trajanscolumn

Trajan's Column and Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary

The popular catchphrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” applies perfectly today to this quick travel tip.

When I was in Rome in 2011 and visiting with my friends who live there (we had met on a previous cruise to Antarctica) we did a lot of sightseeing together and sitting down to eat.

They told us one of their favorite places to eat in Rome was a restaurant most tourists would think is a tourist trap, because of its location to famous monuments, but that it is in fact some of the best Sicilian food you can find anywhere in Rome. (And they considered it the best in Rome.) We all went together for dinner one night, and it was superb!

The Trattoria Melo is located near 3 famous sightseeing spots: Trajan’s Column (in Trajan’s Forum), Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary, and the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (aka the wedding cake). To get to it you take a slight detour and aim toward the stairs, it is located just before you reach them. Whew! lol :D

This family restaurant has been running since 1986. Run by Carmelo (Melo) and his wife, Eva. Both of them were full of smiles and good humor. They pride themselves on hospitality. We ordered on menu and off menu and everything was delicious. At the end of the meal we capped off with some yummy Limoncello.

Buon appetito!

Trajan's Column and Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary

Trattoria Melo is by the stairs to the right of Trajan's Column in this picture.

Directions:
Trattoria Melo
Via Magnanapoli, 6
00187 Rome, Italy


View Larger Map

YouTube Video Exploring Inside of Restaurant:

Travel to St. Petersburg: 10 Things You Gotta Do!

1. The Palace Square –

At the center of the Palace Square is the Alexander Column. This column with the angel on top, was built to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. When I was in St. Petersburg in 1997 Boris Yeltsin was visiting the city too. He came through the zone with an ambulance following behind.

Just before he did we had gotten out of our taxi so the taxi could clear the area, like the rest of the cars and people. We however walked the rest of the way to the Hermitage Museum, which was about three blocks, along the water. We weren’t stopped because we were obviously harmless tourists… I was 11. This is why the square is so empty in the photo above. Today the square is used for official festivals and gatherings.

alexander garden

Alexander Garden

2. Alexander Garden –

The Alexander Garden is located nearby the Palace Square. Its fountain is known as the musical/dancing fountain because it reacts to music playing in the area. Bring a penny whistle or harmonica or a couple of drumsticks and try it out.

The Winter Palace or State Hermitage Museum

Keira, Mom, and Tour Guide in front of the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace is also home to the State Hermitage Museum

3. The Winter Palace –

The Winter Palace is a beautiful masterpiece of the Russian Baroque architectural style with its roof is lined with bronze statues. You might recognize it by another name—The State Hermitage Museum. It is the largest art museum in the world with 150,000+ works on display in 1,000+ rooms. And that’s only 5% of the collection!!! Wow!

The Resurrection Church

The Resurrection Church

4. The Resurrection Church –

It’s also known as Church of the Savior on the Blood. You might recognize its onion dome appearance before the name as it has approximately 20 English translations. I was there in 1997 but just before the renovations were complete so I did not get to see inside, but I totally believe if you can you will love it.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

5. The Summer Garden –

Peter the Great was personally involved in the planning of this garden. Its walkways are lined with 79 marble statues each of them on mythological themes. Some of the oldest statues in Russia are located here.

Field of Mars

Field of Mars

6. Field of Mars –

Here you will find Russia’s Eternal Flame. This flame is there to serve as a solemn witness for the fallen victims of the country’s wars and revolutions.

bank bridge russia

Bank Bridge

7. Bank Bridge –

Named after the Assignation Bank next to the bridge, the Bank Bridge is not to be missed because of the gold winged griffons flanking either end. Pavel Sokolov also created the lions and sphinxes for the Lions Bridge and for the Egyptian Bridge (mentioned in the Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan of the Kane Chronicles). These bridges are also located in the city.

St Petersburg Metro Escalators

St. Petersburg Metro Escalators

8. Take the Metro –

Have you ever heard of metro sightseeing? You definitely don’t want to miss the metro stations of St. Petersburg. Located deep, deep, deep, in the center of the earth, it is in fact the deepest subway in the world. Luckily you can ride down on escalators! Each station is a work of art, but if the most beautiful stations are all on Line 1.

Keira at St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

Keira by St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

9. St. Issac’s Cathedral  –

This beautiful gold dome cathedral lies on one side of the Isaakievskaya Square. Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral, so your only opportunity to photograph the cathedral is from the square. The square is also home to the Monument to Nicholas I and framing both in your photo will make for a fantastic souvenir.

Narva Triumphal Arch

Narva Triumphal Arch

10. The Narva Triumphal Arch –

The arch was built as a war memorial and hosts an impressive triumphal chariot pulled by six horses on the top. Both the chariot and the horses are made of copper. The copper is hammered giving the sculpture a wonderful texture.

Travel to London: 10 Things Not to Miss

10. Snap your picture with a Queen’s Guard.

You can find the Guard throughout London at different sightseeing spots: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Wellington Barracks and the Tower of London. While you’re getting your tourist photo with a sentry don’t forget to explore the places where they’re guarding. That’s half the fun!

Changing of the Guard

Keira at the Changing of the Guard

9. Watch the Changing of the Guard.

Changing of the Guard is also called Guard Mounting. Did you know most of these guards have seen action overseas? They’re not just there for ceremony. You can see Guard Mounting at Buckingham Palace and St. Jame’s Palace. Those performing the Guard Mounting at these locations are called the Old Guard and will be replaced by the New Guard which are coming from Wellington Barracks. The whole process can take some time, but there will also be band music playing. So relax, take photos, film it, and just have fun!

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

8. Check out Westminster Abbey.

Traditionally Westminster Abbey is the place of coronation and burial for the English monarchs. It has also seen many royal weddings. Most recently on April 29, 2011 it saw Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and grandson of Elizabeth II, marry Miss Catherine Middleton.

Keira with the London Eye behind her in St. James Park

Keira with London's Eye behind her in St. James Park

7. Take a ride on the London Eye.

Get a sky view of London on Europe’s largest Ferris Wheel. The London Eye launched in 2000 and is London’s most popular tourist attraction. It is my opinion that for the best experience you need to get Fast Track passes or Flexi Fast Track passes. It allows you to have priority boarding and skip most of the line.

St. Jame's Park

Keira Drinking Hot Chocolate in St. Jame's Park

6. Stroll through St. Jame’s Park.

St. Jame’s Park is the oldest Royal Park and is situated at the heart of London. The Mall is a great place to stroll and it sees a lot of parades. The park is bordered by 3 palaces: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Jame’s Palace. From the Blue Bridge you can see the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. It’s also the spot where there’s deck chairs to rent for lounging on the lawn.

Keira in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

Keira in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

5. Tour St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an active church with daily services and hourly prayers. The floor plan is in the shape of a cross with a large dome in the middle, which you can climb. It has three galleries and the one that’s closest to the ground and easiest to reach is the Whispering Gallery. If you whisper along the wall it can be heard on the opposite side of the gallery. Neat!

Big Ben

Big Ben through a Double Decker Bus Window

4. Listen to the Great Bell of Big Ben chime.

Actually Big Ben is the Great Bell, but over time the whole tower, clock, and bells became known as Big Ben. The rest position of the hammer is up instead of down, making it always ready to strike which increases accuracy. Speaking of accuracy it’s always correct within 2 seconds of the time. You can climb the clock tower, but there are only three tours each day during the week with a max of 16 visitors. If you want to do this you’re going to have to book in advance. Additionally kids under age 11 aren’t allowed up.

Shaftesbury memorial fountain in Piccadilly Circus

Keira at Shaftesbury memorial fountain in Piccadilly Circus

3. Toss a coin in the Shaftesbury memorial fountain.

The Shaftesbury fountain is located in the center of Piccadilly Circus and is bordered by the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre, which are also great places to visit. The steps up to the fountain are a popular place to sit, snack, and people watch so bring a bite to eat and absorb the atmosphere.

A Little Red Phone Booth

A Little Red Phone Booth

2. Call home from an iconic Red Phone Booth.

Red phone booths are classic for England. If you see one go take a picture with it! While you’re at it place a call home to tell them about your experiences so far in London. Won’t they be jealous? At the very least pretend to dial “62442” (“magic”) so you can get into the Ministry of Magic from the Harry Potter books. If you bring a pair of circular Potter glasses your photo will be even better!

Egyptian Motif at Harrods

Egyptian Motif at Harrods

1. Shop at Harrods.

The one thing you can’t forget to do in London is to shop at Harrods. Their 7 floors of stores and shops get 15 millions shoppers annually. In addition, there are 30 dine in eateries. It will be an unforgettable experience and you just might get some shopping done for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays if you don’t buy for yourself first. ;)