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Lydia

    My Top Travel Destinations of 2014

    For me, 2014 has been a year of change. I have graduated from University, moved back home, found a job at a magazine, started this blog and, I’ve even been lucky enough to visit some incredible destinations and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way!!

    It has been hard to choose my favourite countries/cities of the year however, I have managed to whittle them down.

    So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top four travel destinations of 2014. Plus, the destination I have voted as my number one country/city of the year:

    Kerala, India - My Culture Craving

    Kerala, India

    I started the year of 2014 indulging in a luxurious Indian banquet, drinking a lot of wine (it would have been rude not to take advantage of the free bar) and dancing the night away thinking I looked like the main star in a Bollywood movie- all in a 5* hotel in Agra… it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

    However, my great discovery of India this time around (this was my second chance to travel around this unbelievable country) was Kerala in the South of India.

    On my last trip I travelled Rajasthan extensively however, the sandy beaches, endearing house boats and tranquil backwaters of Kerala remained a mystery. Therefore, I assigned the last week of my most recent trip to relaxing, becoming a beach bum and soaking up the calming side of this hectic country in Cochin.

    Kerala is exotic, picturesque and a lot more peaceful than Rajasthan however, it also has a lot of things to see and do! Check out my post on things to get up to off the beaten track in Cochin, Kerala here.

    A week was no where near long enough in this easygoing state (I think a month would even be pushing it) therefore, I will definitely be going back during gap year #2!!

    Canterbury, UK - My Culture Craving

    Canterbury, England

    Despite having to wave goodbye to my life as a student in Kent this July, Canterbury will always be my home away from home.

    If you are a student in Kent or just happen to be in the area, make sure you take time to check out Canterbury’s cute, cobbled side streets, charming cafes and outstanding Cathedral.

    I still rush back here at every chance I get. Find a few posts I have written about good ol’ Canters here, here, here, here and here (you can take the student out of Uni, but you can’t take the student out of the girl… does that even make sense??..)

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Ibiza - My Culture Craving

    Ibiza, Spain

    After years of testing the water on the notorious party islands of Malia and Ayia Napa, my girlfriends and I decided that this year, we were ready… we were ready to experience the party capital of the world, IBIZAAAA!!

    Beautiful beaches, huge performances, 24/7 partying and quality time with the gals… it was everything I had always imagined it to be.

    Although we were on a standard 18-30s holiday, it surprised me at how classy and beautiful the different areas of the island were. I would love to go back and experience the luxurious side of this eccentric island… maybe when my budget isn’t so tight!

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Market - My Culture Craving

    Montreux, Switzerland

    As you may already know from my last couple of posts, I discovered the picturesque municipality of Montreux, Switzerland a couple of weekends ago.

    With its magnificent mountains, unique, wooden houses and mounds of cheese and fondue, Montreux was the perfect place to get a real taste of Switzerland.

    I had a great day unearthing a side to Switzerland I had never seen before and can’t wait to adventure further into the Swiss countryside at a later date!

    And number 1 is… drum roll please…

    Hvar, Croatia - History - My Culture Craving

    Hvar, Croatia

    I went to Hvar in Croatia for an end of University blow out with my Uni gals… and boy did it deliver!!

    Known for its crystal clear waters, pebbled beaches, marble-esque buildings, backpacker nightlife and luxurious yachts, we knew that Hvar was going to offer us both culture and crazy, drunken fun, all on one island.

    When we first arrived I was taken aback by the immaculate beauty of the island as well as the steep prices. However, we soon found that excessive pre-drinking (not that I’m condoning binge drinking in any way…) and befriending their more… wealthy visitors, played in our budgets favour!

    This island is stunning by day, soooo so much fun by night and has still not been ruined by us binge-drinking Brits. So get there while you can… it is my favourite destination of 2014.

    What have been your favourite destinations of 2014? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Discovering Montreux

    As you may already know from my social media feeds and my last post, this weekend, I popped over to Geneva to celebrate my best friend’s birthday with her.

    However, I have decided to dedicate this post to another gem I found in Switzerland (sorry Fi)… Montreux.

    Sunken into a valley at the foot of the Alps and renowned for its famous jazz festival, iconic Freddie Mercury statue and festive Christmas market, this idyllic town is a must visit whilst in Switzerland!

    Surrounded by the Lake Geneva, Montreux boasts some incredible scenery.

    With its traditional Swiss houses, richly decorated in woodwork and nestled in the mountains, picturesque snow-capped Alps, disguised by fluffy clouds and the BEST Christmas market I have ever been to (sorry Champs-Elysees but this Christmas market had Santa Claus in a sleigh…with reindeer… IN THE AIR), Montreux is exactly how I had always imagined Switzerland to look like.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Santa - My Culture Craving

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Lake - My Culture Craving

    Around the Christmas period, the streets of Montreux come alive with the soft sound of Christmas songs, the smell of melted cheese and spiced mulled wine and the sparkle of Christmas lights and decorations.

    Decked in line upon line of cute, wooden chalets selling everything from scrumptious mulled wine (in the cutest cups), yummy raclette, fondue and burgers (these being the most important of chalets) to unique Christmas trinkets, indulgent chocolate, twinkly fairy lights and roasted chestnuts (roasted by hunky men covered in soot in hard hats…), there is a hut to suit any passing traveller… there is even a bubbles bar (to my disappointment, it wasn’t of the fairy liquid variety however, I very much enjoyed the champs).

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Christmas Market - My Culture Craving

    Aside from the shops, there was also a brass band singing and dancing up and down the market dressed as elves, cosy fire pits placed in several of the wooden chalets (a slight fire risk, but atmospheric nevertheless), restaurants, fairground rides, bars, various, shimmering Christmas lights and, there was even a glitzy, gold carpet, winding throughout the market.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Elfs - My Culture Craving

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Fire Pit - My Culture Craving

    After a long hard day of drinking mulled wine and rum tea, whilst bopping around the numerous festive huts, we ended the evening in the most perfect way I could ever imagine… WITH A CHEESE FONDUE (if you haven’t already figured it out, I am a huge cheese lover).

    Served up in an adorable wooden chalet, adorned in Christmas decorations, sleighs and fur, it was Switzerland all over… we stuffed our faces until our fondue forks were scraping the bottom of the pan and our top buttons were undone.

    It was heaven.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Fondue - My Culture Craving

    HELPFUL INFO:

    – Depending on what method of transport you use to get there, Montreux is approximately an hour away from Geneva. The train takes just over an hour, costs around £20 each way and leaves on a regular basis from Geneva train station.

    – Although Switzerland is renowned for its extortionate price tags, Montreux wasn’t horrendously priced. A glass of mulled wine cost approximately £3.50 and depending on where you went, a fondue to share was around £10-15pp.

    – The Christmas Market is open from 24th November – 24th December, Monday – Thursday: 11am-8pm, Friday: 11am-10pm, Saturday: 10am-10pm and Sunday: 10am-8pm.

    Bonjour Geneva!!

    The surprise is out!!!

    After a week of being sworn to secrecy by my best friend’s boyfriend (who I have to thank for booking me an impromptu flight so I could be here to celebrate my friend’s birthday with her *you are the best boyfriend EVER*) I have just touched down in the beautiful Swiss city of Geneva!!!

    I am here for a grand total of 24 hours, and intend to make the most of every single minute of it (sleep is unlikely).

    Christmas markets, fondue, mulled wine, more wine, cocktails, sightseeing and of course, some exciting blogging opportunities!

    Stay tuned!

    I hope you all have a fab weekend… I know I will :)!

    The Great Army of China

    For me, China was a roller coaster of highs and lows.

    Being scammed, leaving my rucksack containing my passport on a bus and getting to Beijing airport only to discover that my flight to Delhi had been cancelled, were understandably, definite lows (don’t worry, I’m not still stranded in Beijing airport – my passport was retrieved and I did eventually make it to India). However, getting the rare opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China (check out The Student Travels great post on the Great Wall here) and the chance to see the Terracotta Army in all its glory, were highs, which definitely outweighed the lows… bad experiences such as these ones, only add to the experience anyway, don’t they…?

    The Terracotta Army is a unique masterpiece, situated 12 hours South of Beijing, in the ancient city of Xian.

    When you put the concept of the Terracotta Army in perspective, it is just unbelievable… (apologies for the brief history lesson, which is about to follow).

    In the late third century BCE, the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ordered approximately 700,000 workers to carve an Army to protect him in the afterlife. Consisting of around 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, he had each sculpture individually carved using local people as inspiration thus, ensuring that every soldier was different and lifelike… It is rumored that deadly booby-traps were planted in the tomb to protect the Army and any treasure that was buried in it.

    The tomb was discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a water well and have been being excavated and admired ever since.

    The Terracotta Army, China - Pit - My Culture Craving

    When visiting the tomb, there are three pits containing Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army, each of which are in different stages of excavation and restoration. Pit one is the most breathtaking. Containing line upon line of lifelike warriors, carved at different heights and with varying hair styles, expressions, uniforms, gestures and facial hair, it is the largest and most impressive pit of the three.

    Although pit two and three are definitely still worth a visit, they are no way near as restored, organised or vast as pit one. Therefore, I would recommend starting at pit three and working your way back, otherwise your visit might become a bit of an anti-climax.

    The Terracotta Army, China - My Culture Craving

    The Terracotta Army, China - Sightseeing - My Culture Craving

    TOP TIPS AND INFO:

    – Read up about the history of the Army. If you don’t understand the context of what you are looking at, they are going to look like a load of weird terracotta men standing in a row in a room. If you don’t have time to learn about the history beforehand, pay for a guide, it will make your experience a lot more worthwhile and memorable!

    – Get a bus to the museum. It takes around an hour to get there and is cheap as chips (around 70p-£1 each way). The bus you need is bus 5 (306), which you will find sat opposite Xian train station.

    – Entry cost is around 150RMB (approx £15). If you want to be a dare-devil like I was, try showing your driving license and say it is a student card to get student discount… it worked for us however, if you end up looking like I fool (which also happened to me later on in my trip), I take no responsibility. Alas, if it works, you heard it here, on The Globe-Trotting Graduate first!!

    – The museum is open all year round, 8.30am – 5.30pm.

    Enjoy!!!

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India

    Varanasi is chaotic, archaic, picturesque and above all, magical.

    Situated on the bank of the River Ganges, Varanasi is considered the holiest city in India. With its endearing history, unique, ancient buildings and mesmerising, spiritual Ghats, Varanasi is a city like no other.

    Due to an unfortunate train delay, my time in Varanasi was sparse. Therefore, I had to utilise the 24 hours I had in this unbelievable city…

    If you are short on time when visiting Varanasi, be sure to squeeze in these four things:

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Clothes - My Culture Craving

    Walk alongside the River Ganges

    Start your day by having an amble around the Ganges and admiring its multipurpose Ghats.  

    Varanasi’s Ghats are timeless.

    As you wander alongside these holy waters, there is something special in the atmosphere, which is hard to describe.

    Everywhere you look, there is something heartwarming to admire. Joyous children flying their vibrant coloured kites, nonchalant cows smugly roaming along the riverside, locals bathing and playing in the Ganges, men crafting traditional wooden boats by the water, kids excitedly playing cricket amidst the crowd, families washing and drying their clothes on the sidewalk, masses of rowing boats floating atop the gentle water, and, most noticeably, the bodies, which are wrapped and embellished in vivid, iridescent materials, being carried through the city, towards their bed of rest.

    Varanasi is a melody for the senses. Love it or hate it, this is the real India.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Blue Lassi shop

    Whether you venture here for a light snack after wandering around the Ghats or for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this Lassi shop is a must visit whilst in Varanasi!

    Blue Lassi has been making the yummiest lassis in town for three generations!

    Nestled down one of Varanasi’s many rustic side streets, this lassi shop is a backpacker haven. Decorated in previous traveller’s notes, anecdotes and sketches, as well as photographs of the shops predecessors, Blue Lassi is a heartwarming and memorable experience, before you’ve even indulged in a spoonful of one of their delicious, creamy lassis.

    With a choice of over 80 flavours (I know!!) ranging from your standard sweet, sour and salty to your more exotic ingredients of pomegranate, banana and chocolate, you are bound to have a hard time deciding which one to go for!

    When they arrive, the lassis are garnished with all of the necessary fruity toppings and served in an adorable, traditional clay bowl.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Burning Ghats - My Culture Craving

    Experience the burning Ghats 

    Spend some time watching and learning about the rituals, which take place at the burning Ghats.

    The burning Ghats in Varanasi are something which, if you are travelling in India, you will without a doubt have heard about. Whether you have been told horror stories of burning flesh and floating limbs or tales of fascination and enlightenment, it is a tradition, which is so far-fetched from our own, you must experience for yourself!

    Hindus believe that if you are cremated and scattered in the Ganges you will go to ‘Nirvana’ – it is the ultimate end to life for them.

    Everyday, up to 400 cremations take place at the burning Ghats in Varanasi.

    When I arrived at one of the ceremonies, the first thing that struck me, was the vast amount of bodies lined up, awaiting their turn to enter paradise… I knew that the Ghats were in high demand, but wow, that was alotttttt of dead bodies! The second thing which shocked me, was that all of the bodies were completely covered (I think the tales of burning flesh and floating limbs had taken their toll). The bodies were wrapped in beautiful, bright fabrics and draped in traditional embellishments.

    The cremations are touching and insightful not explicit and scary. Embrace the opportunity to experience such a spiritual ceremony and learn a lot in the process!

    The main burning Ghat is called Manikarnika however, there are also a few smaller ones scattered alongside the Ganges.

    24 Hours in Varanasi, India - Ghats at Sunset - My Culture Craving

    Go on a boat trip on the River Ganges at sunrise/sunset

    Fit in a boat trip on the River Ganges at the beginning or end of your day. 

    Begin or end your day bobbing along the Ganges whilst watching the sunrise/set across the hazy horizon of Varanasi. If you choose to venture out at sunset, be sure to float along to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the spiritual Aarti ceremony, which illuminates the Ganges every night at sunset (have a read of my post about the Aarti festival in Rishikesh here).

    Varanasi is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. What’s your verdict? 

    A Day at The British Museum, London

    On Sunday my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a fun day out in London. Being a little strapped for cash, we needed something to do, which wouldn’t stretch our budget… so, we thought, what can we do in London for free? Museums!!

    After much debate about which museum to go to, we gathered our archaeological tools (aka. our coats and coffees) and headed to the grand British Museum.

    Encasing some of the most fascinating historical antiques from human history, The British Museum is an educational, awe-inspiring and compelling place to visit.

    Housed in an architecturally stunning building, which is adorned in magnificent Greek pillars, this museum holds over 8 million artifacts! Ranging from Egyptian mummies, Chinese ceramics and Greek sculptures to Viking relics, Japanese fashion and Asian Buddhas, here, there is plenty to keep you busy and entertained.

    However, with the ample amount of antiquities to see, it is difficult to fit everything in. Therefore, I would advise doing some research into the different sections of the museum before arriving. This way, you can ensure you don’t miss out any of the areas you are most interested in seeing.

    We managed to wander around the Egypt and Asia rooms in around an hour and a half…

    Admiring the mammoth amount of Buddhas (I was in heaven) and educating myself on the enthralling history of mummification, I came away brimming with historical facts and information… and I hadn’t even skimmed the surface of what the museum has to offer!

    The British Museum, is an enlightening experience. It gives you the chance to learn a huge amount about the heritage and lives of our ancestors as well as take a peek into the history and culture of some of the countries that are visited so frequently today, which, when travelling, I think is just as essential as your passport.

    So, if you’re in London, head to The British Museum and get cultured! It is open from 10am – 5.30pm daily and entry is FREE!

    Nearest tube station – Tottenham Court Road.

    Have you been to The British Museum? If so, which was your favourite section? Let me know :).