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    Hot Spots for the Perfect Winter Sun [Guest Post]

    Now that the festive period has come to an end and Santa has rewarded us with a post-Christmas present of sub-zero temperatures and rain (well, in England he most definitely has), it is that time of year again, when travellers around the globe begin to fantasize about what their next year of travel plans may bring.

    How else are we expected to survive the struggle of the working world?

    Unfortunately, this year is going to be a quiet one for me. But all for good reason… I will be embarking on the big Gap Year take two in December (check out my ‘What’s Next?’ page for more details), so need to save every single penny I can scrape together until then.

    However, for all of you fortunate travellers who are on the look out for a dose of culture, fun and sunshine, I’ve teamed up with Felicity from Holiday Lettings to suggest some incredible and diverse places you can go, to warm up during this winter chill.

    So, whilst you guys are enjoying the sunshine, think of poor me, at my desk, daydreaming of sipping on margaritas and sunning myself on a beach… in Mexico… whilst being fanned by hunky men… and stuffing my face with fajitas… oh how the mind wonders…

    Christine McIntosh (license) via flickr.com

    Gran Canaria, Spain

    A continent in miniature, Gran Canaria offers verdant rolling hills, stark desert terrain and a dramatic coastline. Neon seaside resorts mingle effortlessly with quaint white-washed houses and cobbled alleyways in inland hamlets. The only thing more dazzling than the island’s sunshine is its variety.

    You can jump on a camel at La Baranda Safari Park and ride through verdant groves of citrus trees, avocados and palms. Saunter through the historic streets of Las Palmas and visit the house Christopher Columbus reputedly lodged in on his 1492 Atlantic voyage. Immerse yourself in scuba diving or treat yourself to a luxurious seawater treatment at the Thalassotherapy Centre.

    Anupam_ts (license) via flickr.com

    Key West, USA

    Colourful Caribbean-style streets, divine sunsets and delectable key lime pie: this is a gorgeous tropical island. It mixes up mansions with ornate woodwork and pretty cigar-makers’ cottages, many covered in rambling moonflowers that only blossom by night.

    Tread softly among the luxuriant palms and delicate orchids at local artist Nancy Forrester’s nearby Secret Garden and hear the chatter of her rescued macaws and parrots. Tour Ernest Hemingway’s beautiful Spanish colonial villa, see the typewriter he composed masterpieces on and meet the descendants of his six-toed cat. Or pay a visit to spooky Robert the Doll at Fort East Martello Museum, the ‘haunted’ 19th-century toy who inspired Chucky from the Child’s Play films.

    Hot Spots for the Perfect Winter Sun - Cancun - My Culture Craving

    Ko Samui, Thailand

    This is the island idyll that makes Instagram images look shabby. There are crystal beaches brightened by azure waters and shaded by gently swaying coconut groves. The island blooms with lush tropical gardens, serves up steaming snacks from street food stalls and hides elaborate Buddhist temples up unexpected narrow alleyways. It’s just a pleasure to explore.

    Why not take a boat round the Ang Thong National Marine Park and absorb the scenery that inspired The Beach? Or head to the Nam Tok Na Muang fall, watch the water tumble over heather-coloured rocks and dive into the pool at the bottom. Venture to Wat Phra Yai, a 15m-tall Buddha statue set on a little rugged outcrop and powerfully silhouetted against the tropical sea and sky.

    Mispahn (license) via flickr.com

    Dubai, UAE

    Dubai is all about excess – it’s home to the richest horse race, the biggest man-made islands, the largest shopping festival and the biggest mall. Yes, it’s a stunning spot for sun, sand and shopping. But it’s also fascinating to take in this futuristic cityscape in the making, bordered by glittering ocean waves and infinite desert dunes. This is a city without limits.

    Reach for the sky from the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Shop till you drop at over 1,200 stores in Dubai Mall and find out more about the area’s history and traditions at the Dubai Museum. Then get lost in the maze of charming streets in the traditional Bastakiya district or drift down the vibrant alley dubbed Hindi Lane.

    Irving Huertas (license) via Wikimedia Commons

    Cancun, Mexico

    Soak up the sun alongside the iguanas and admire the exotic flowers as they add a dash of orange-red colour to the city’s vibrant plazas. Cool down with a refreshing margarita at a chilled beach-side bar as another sultry night falls; you can see the moon illuminate the white sand and reflect in the calm surface of the water.

    Make the most of this special environment. You can roam the archaeological site of San Miguelito and admire Mayan structures, from imposing palaces to the 8m-tall Gran Piramide (Grand Pyramid) dating from 1250. Go for a dip at Playa Langosta beach where the sand is coral-coloured and the waters are perfect for snorkelling. Or explore the nearby Crococun Zoo, a former crocodile farm turned conservation centre, and pet the spider monkeys.

    *Please note that this is not a sponsored post and the article was personally chosen and endorsed by myself*.

    Have you got any winter getaways planned? Comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know!!

    The Taj Mahal in All its Glory – Agra, India

    On New Year’s Day last year, my Mother and I were lucky enough to spend the day wandering around the magnificent Taj Mahal.

    Located around a 4 hour drive/train journey from Delhi, this white marble mausoleum stands proudly in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

    Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahanin in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, between 1632 and 1653, the Taj Mahal is a masterpiece of complete and utter beauty, love and splendor.

    Whether you decide to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise, sunset or during the day, due to pollution laws, you must buy your tickets (750/- approximately £8 per person – BARGAIN) at a ticket office on the outskirts of the Taj. From there, you can walk or, hop onto an electric bus, which will take you to one of the many entrances, where your journey into Mughal history, breathtaking architecture and selfie taking with locals (I’m talking, with every single Indian man, woman and family…), will begin.

    Included in the price of your ticket, you are given a bottle of water, some shoe covers and the option of having a tour guide.

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Shoes - My Culture Craving

    Although the idea of having a tour guide may be off putting, if you haven’t researched the history, the intricate detail or the different sections of the Taj Mahal, and are willing to pay a small tip, then it is definitely worth the small hassle… and on the plus side, your guide can also take your obligatory ‘we went to the Taj Mahal’ group photos for you…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Pose - My Culture Craving

    My Mother and I opted to go without a tour guide, simply because I had used one on my first visit and, because of this, convinced my Mum that I could impart the same Taj wisdom as the guides.

    In reality, I was slightly hungover and reciting my Lonely Planet…

    However, despite myyyyyyy not so great guidance, we soon found ourselves approaching the large terracotta coloured gate, which stood between us and the Taj Mahal.

    Excited, apprehensive and intrigued… we made our way through.

    It felt like a surreal mirage. The crisp green gardens, the sensational symmetry, the iridescent water fountains, which give you an increased sense of illusion – and the white marble Taj Mahal. Standing tall on its opalescent podium. In all its glory…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - From Afar - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Agra - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - India - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Detailing - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal is seeped in such love and grandeur, it is no wonder (see what I’ve done there…) it’s one of the Great Wonders of Our World.

    Facts and advice about the Taj Mahal:

    – When going through the arch, which leads to the Taj Mahal, dip your head until you are half way through the archway and look up… you won’t believe your eyes!

    – The Taj Mahal is elevated off of the ground so that it only has the sky as a backdrop.

    – If you place a torch against the semi-precious stones inside the Taj Mahal, they glow.

    – If you are a tourist, when you are queuing to view the tomb inside the Taj, it is likely that the guards will push you in front of the locals to go in.

    – It is closed on Fridays.

    Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? If you have, what was your highlight? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Five Great Things to do Whilst in Edinburgh, Scotland

    Edinburgh is architecturally unique, steeped in history and buzzing with people out and about drinking, eating and sightseeing.

    But, where to start? Here are five great things to see and do whilst in the Scottish capital:

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Edinburgh Dungeons - My Culture Craving

    Edinburgh Dungeons

    Edinburgh Dungeons was an unplanned activity, which ended up being one of the main highlights of our trip!

    After a few glasses of vino, we headed towards the dark dungeons, eagerly awaiting what we had in store. Once we’d paid the rather steep £16.50 entry fee, we were led into the first ‘scene’ of our frightening dungeon experience – the Judge and Courtroom.

    We then huddled together and retreated into the darkness, through a series of thrilling, fun and educational scenes – including a spooky boat trip, a creepy tour of a torture chamber, a humorous mirror maze and an exciting drop ride, which provided us with some invaluable photos at the end.

    Although admission to the dungeons may seem rather expensive if you are travelling on a budget, it is definitely worth the dent in your pocket!

    With over an hour of laughter, screaming, history and special effects, Edinburgh Dungeons is a great day out and a fun way to learn about the city’s gory past.

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Whisky - My Culture Craving

    Whisky Tasting

    I’m not a fan of good ol’ whisky. However, as I was travelling with a couple of people who love this potent drink, I bit the bullet and gave a bit of whisky tasting a go… I’m sorry to say, that it didn’t change my opinion on this classic Scottish drink…

    Throughout Edinburgh, there are a number of options of how/where you can do whisky tasting.

    If you are keen to learn about the in-depth history of whisky and how it is made, then the Scotch Whisky Experience is probably your best option. Situated next to the castle, it guides you through a replica distillery, whilst educating you on the processes involved in making whisky… and, of course, you are provided with samples along the way.

    Ticket prices range from £14 – £60 (depending on what tour you book on to). Check out their website to find out more about the different tours they have on offer.

    As we were on a budget, we decided to create our own whisky tasting experience in a traditional, beamed pub in Edinburgh’s old town. We all chose a couple of different whiskys each, took a sip or two (depending on how horrible they were) and passed them on.

    With a vast choice of over 50 different whiskys in most of the pubs in Edinburgh, you won’t go short on finding a new tipple to try.

    After tasting the whisky, which was described as ‘sea salty’ and smelt and tasted a little like TCP, we admitted defeat and ordered a bottle of wine… but at least we gave it a good go…

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Castle - My Culture Craving

    Edinburgh Castle

    Situated on top of a rock overlooking Edinburgh, you can almost envision the battles and sieges, which once took place at this iconic castle. Seeped in generations of regal history and with the best views in the city, this is a must see whilst in Edinburgh.

    However, with the entry fee priced at an eye-watering £16 per person, I’d advise putting aside a whole day to wander around and discover the stories behind this fascinating building.

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Tartan - My Culture Craving

    Tartan Weaving Mill

    As an avid tartan lover, this is something, which I wish I could have done whilst in Edinburgh. However unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to fit it in.

    Situated next to Edinburgh castle and spread over five floors, the Tartan Weaving Mill shows visitors the vast processes involved in…dum dum dummmm, the production of tartan. From the shearing of sheep to the making of kilts, you are bound to learn everything there is to know about this intricate process.

    And unless you get lured in by the numerous shops, entry is free, making it a great and educational afternoon out without any need to worry about your budget!

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Edinburgh -My Culture Craving

    Take a Wander

    I always find that I get the most out of a new city when I go out, walk in any direction and see where I end up. On this occasion, I headed in the direction of Edinburgh’s old town. Atop a steep hill, I stumbled across the city’s charming cobbled streets, charismatic, dark stone buildings, tartan strewn shops, cute traditional cafes and restaurants, outstanding castle and snug pubs.

    Get walking, admire Edinburgh’s allure and ensure to look up – the building’s historic charm is something not to be missed.

    If you have ever been to Edinburgh, what would you add to this list? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!!

    Too Many Pies, Too Many Many Pies…

    During my recent trip to Edinburgh my friends and I stumbled upon the perfect hangover cure… A TRADITIONAL PIE SHOP.

    Looking a little rough around the edges from the outside, The Pie Maker could be mistaken for a dodgy diner. However, like a lot of traditional eateries, once we took the plunge inside, it was a gem.

    It was everything you could ever want from a pie shop.

    Traditional, wholesome, cheap (£1.50 pies!) and delicious. I went up to the counter at least three times to try as many of their heavenly pastries as possible.

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Shop - My Culture Craving

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Food - My Culture Craving

    From freshly baked steak and ale and chicken and mushroom pies to Scottish haggis, turnip and mash pies, mac n’ cheese pies and tatty dogs – a yummy marriage of hot dog and fried potato – here, you can be as adventurous or traditional as you please (check out their menu here).

    After admiring their wide choice of succulent pies, slices and sausage rolls as well as their mouth-watering sweet pastries, we chose our pies and perched on the stools, which lined the room. I went for the haggis, turnip and mash pie (£1.60), which was scrumptious and, a great way to sample some of Scotland’s traditional delicacies!

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - My Culture Craving

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Haggis Pie - My Culture Craving

    I then delved into the ever so unhealthy yet, ever so irresistible mac n’ cheese pie…

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Mac n' Cheese Pie - My Culture Craving

    After sampling everyone else’s pies and tatty dogs, we decided that it was time to stop eating, waddle our way to the nearest pub and wash all of the food down with a warming glass of red.

    If you are heading to Edinburgh anytime soon, make sure you check out The Pie Maker! It is cheap, cheerful and yumtastic!

    Keep an eye out on the blog for more posts on my trip to Edinburgh.

    I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and have a Happy, Sloshy New Year!  

    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.