DISCLOSURE! None of these photos are from this year, so as not to spoil the surprise.
Ah Christmas. Just around the corner again. Well not really. It's the middle of November. But all the lights are on - I expect because the dark evenings and soggy weather are so miserable, we've got to have something to cheer us up. Anyway, want a free, festive and fitness-inspired activity? And want to take in all the best of London's lights in one go? Try my self-guided walking tour of central London to see the best of the bunch.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Start: Bond Street or Marble Arch Tube Stations
End: Covent Garden
Duration: Allow a minimum of an hour, more for a relaxed pace and even more for vital refreshment stops
Landmarks: Oxford Circus, Hamleys Toy Store, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town, Seven Dials, Covent Garden
Refreshments: There are oodles of cafes, bars and pubs along the way. The Chandos pub and Coffee Island are recommended
Toilets: Public toilets are available in Trafalgar Square
Take the tube to Bond Street (Central and Jubilee) or Marble Arch (Central Line) and exit onto Oxford Street to see this year's offering. From either station you'll be near Selfridges. Take a look at the window displays before heading East towards Oxford Circus.
This busy junction is a great place to see the overhead lights of Oxford Street and Regents Street in all directions. On your way you may even find the guy selling roasted chestnuts.
Turn right down Regents Street and peak in the window at Hamleys toy shop. Then retrace your steps and turn down Great Marlborough Street to pass by Liberty of London. This distinctive black and white building always has good displays.
At the end of the Liberty building turn right into Carnaby Street. There's always a slightly offbeat theme to the Carnaby Street display! At the junction with Break Street turn right until you rejoin...
Regents Street (again)
Turn left back onto the buzzing shopping street and follow the road all the way to Piccadilly Circus. The usual bright lights here are joined by even more festive glows. Turn right down Haymarket, passing Her Majesty's Theatre and then left onto Pall Mall to emerge in the company of Lord Nelson.
The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square always used to be the biggest and best in the whole of London. Last year's was a little underwhelming - perhaps it was the minimalist look they were going for. Anyhow, no Christmasy visit is complete without giving it a look. If you need a refreshment break, try the Chandos pub on the corner of St Martin's Place. They'll have mulled wine or cider.
Leave Trafalgar Square heading north, passing the church of St Martin-in-the-field's on your right, and the National Portrait Gallery on your left. Turn left into Irving Street and emerge in Leicester Square. Pass diagonally through the bustling walkways with the Odeon Cinema on your right. Sneak down Leicester Street, turn left onto Lisle Street, right onto Wardour Street and then immediately right into China Town.
The gates of China Town tower above you. Grab a lotus bun as you walk the length of this street before ultimately turning left onto Gerrard Place. Turning right onto Shaftesbury Avenue will quickly bring you to Cambridge Circus. This is a confusing junction. Head straight across, sticking to Staftesbury Avenue and then you want the second right, which is Earlham Street.
Earlham Street leads you to one of my favourite spots. Seven Dials is the meeting point of seven roads and is usually a surprisingly quiet spot given the noise around you. Is you need a caffeine break, head down Monmouth Street (first right) for Coffee Island. If you don't need a break, take Mercer Street (not the next road on the right but the next one). At the junction with Long Acre turn left, then the second right will take you past Covent Garden Station on James Street and you'll join the throngs in...
Take time to wander around here. You'll see the Royal Opera House, St Paul's Church (known as the actor's church), and the best tree in the West End. Visit the stalls and shops of the Jubilee Market and enjoy the street performers with some more mulled wine. You've now seen the best of London's Christmas lights!
If you're not tired of walking the streets and you still need some festive cheer then head to the South Bank Christmas market or Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Let me know how what you think of this year's lights. Comment below and share your pictures with me at www.facebook.com/hannahthetraveller or tag me on instagram @hannah_the_traveller
When I was small I walked this path, my Dad’s strong, rough hand in mine, a sandcastle bucket clutched in my tiny fingers.
When I was young I walked this path, raincoat and wellies, grey stormy waves soaking us at high tide.
When I grew up I walked this path, a dog lead in each hand and a bright pink kite under one arm.
Recently I walked this path, a tiny hand in mine this time, with sandy spades and buckets.
Yesterday I walked this path, on my own. Wind in my hair, pebbles in my pocket, salt on my face.
Time marches onwards. Lives grow, flourish and fade. The sea is always there, always different, at the end of the way.
My grandma’s lived in the same house for as long as I can remember, and going to the beach is one of my favourite things. It’s incredible how I don’t really feel any different to that small girl with the bucket, but also incredible that so much has changed. The beach, the path, the sea are always there. I think there’s a profound lesson in there somewhere.
I actually really dislike Halloween. I never liked dressing up as a child, I hate face paint and makeup. And I get nervous knocking on people's doors even if they're expecting me. Not to mention the mockery it makes of All Souls and the remembrance of the dead. Oh well, an excuse to talk about being scared.
Another thing I hate is scary movies - I'm prone to vivid dreams and horror films only encourage nightmares. However, I am a big fan of doing things that scare me in other ways. I was reminiscing with my friend Rebekah recently about when we did a bungee jump for my 28th birthday. I still get an anxious feeling in my chest when I think about standing with my toes over the edge of the high platform, with my ankles tied together by an elastic band. I can still relive every moment: the few seconds of free-fall, the rope stretching, the ground rushing closer, the doubt in my mind, and a scream escaping my lips. Then the bounce. I knew I was safe as I soared upwards, only to plummet once again. The adrenaline, the sense of achievement at over coming my fears, and ticking something off the bucket list - that's what I loved about it.
There's definitely a difference between the bungee jump kind of fear - where your rational mind knows that there are numerous safety measures and the person that went before you was fine, but your instinct tells you it's crazy - and the fear of going on your first solo trip, starting a new job or going somewhere you've never been before. I remember the feeling of dread as I watched the ground disappear through the plane window on my very first long haul flight alone. 11 hours of solitude to contemplate exactly why I was going to a strange and vaguely dangerous country alone. It was a similar feeling to starting a new job. The doubts creep in. Am I good enough to do it? Will I make any friends? Will I get lost? Look silly? Am I wearing the right clothes? Even going to a new yoga class makes me scared! I worry I won't know the regular routine of collecting blocks, cleaning mats or even which way to set up my mat.
So why do it? If these experiences induce so much fear then why bother? Well, firstly it is impossible to entirely avoid an experience that scares you. And as we know, practice makes perfect - so the more times you do something that scares you, the better you'll get at dealing with it. That's not to say that the experience is any less scary - only that you know you managed before, so you'll have more confidence that you'll manage again. Secondly, once you get over the scary part, the thing you're doing is hopefully worth it! After my traumatic 11 hour flight (I tried to drink myself to sleep with gin and white wine but just ended up tearing up at all the films I watched), I looked after super cute baby monkeys, met wonderful people and saw giraffes on safari. The second yoga class is always less scary than the first because you know where things are and you can enjoy the experience of practising with a new teacher with fresh perspectives and ideas. As for starting a new job - every day you get to prove how good you are and every day you'll get a little less lost (teaching in a big secondary school where all the floors look the same takes a little longer, I assure you).
Thinking rationally, you can view being scared as a kind of cost/benefit analysis. What will I gain for going through the fear? Is it worth it? For many people, the buzz of a bungee jump is not worth the money, hassle and shear terror of actually jumping. And for some people, seeing wild animals on safari isn't worth flying alone to South Africa. That's ok, you don't have to be an extreme adventurer all the time. Whether it's going on a Tinder date (oh the fear! What if we don't recognise each other? What if she's a complete maniac? What if she looks at me and runs away?!), asking for help at the gym, getting lost in a new city and asking for directions - give it a go. How else are you going to find your perfect partner/know what those machines are for/find your way to your hostel?
But what about joining a new club? You'll be nervous the first time, you might get lost, not know where to put things and need to ask for help. But being part of a new community is well worth that initial step. If you're the kind of person that finds new situations difficult then you can work at getting better. I used to get self conscious dining alone. What if people think I'm a loser and haven't got any friends? The truth is, most people won't even look at you, let alone think you're a loser. Bring a book and a notebook and busy yourself with people watching or reading. I know I go on about this, but JOIN A CLUB! Cycling from London to Windsor sounds quite daunting doesn't it? Join a cycling club and most of the planning is done for you and there'll be people around if something doesn't go entirely smoothly. (Search Pedalling Girl Gang on Facebook if you identify as female and want to actually cycle to Windsor).
Don't let fear stand in the way of trying something new and awesome! Whatever level of scared you're at, challenge yourself to do something you really want anyway. London-based folk are welcome to join me on adventures so we can be scared together. Keep an eye on my facebook page for events, or contact me using the form above. Let me know what scares you - comment below.
I’m writing this from the comfort of a practically empty National Express Coach with big seats, power sockets and plenty of space. But not all bus journeys are as luxurious as this. Here are my top tips for surviving and enjoying a long bus ride.
1. Pack layers
Thai buses are notorious for having freezing air con. Pack a hoodie and a scarf somewhere you can get at it during the journey.
2. Bring your own snacks
Don’t rely on overpriced bus station shops and cafes who want to sell you soggy sandwiches and sugary drinks. I’ve brought an apple, carrot and nakd bar for my journey, as well as a coffee in my keep cup.
3. Bring entertainment
And bring a variety. I’ve got two books, some Spanish learning podcasts and of course the entire internet! But I always assume there’ll be no WiFi just in case.
4. Pack it where you can get it
I’ve just realised my phone charger is in my other bag. I always travel light so my charger is in the overhead storage rather than under the bus but this is a reminder to pack anything you might need in just one bag that you’ll keep with you.
5. Enjoy the view
My journey today is one I make frequently. If I were in a new country I’d spend a lot of the journey looking out of the window and getting to know a new place. It may not always be beautiful scenery but you’ll get a feel for your fresh surroundings.
Simple enough right?! Now enjoy your journey in comfort and leisure! Let me know what your top tips are, comment below. (Look how comfy and empty my bus is!)
The huge dark shape began to emerge from the gloom as we descended. As we swam closer the immense outline of the sunken ship grew sharper and the scale of the wreck became clearer. The 100 metre long HTMS Chang was formerly a US warship known as the USS Lincoln County and was built during World War II. After serving it’s time with the US Navy, it was gifted to the Thai navy and served for 50 years. Diving is a huge industry in Thailand and artificial reefs have been created to increase diving opportunities as well as to help protect the natural reefs. This colossal warship was sunk off the coast of Koh Chang in 2012 to become an artificial reef. It is now teeming with incredibly diverse marine life in all shapes and sizes. As instructor Paul from Scubadawgs and I neared the deck of the battleship I could see almost every inch was covered. Schools of fish gathered along the edge nibbling on the algae, some giving us nervous glances as we drifted by.
At almost 30m depth the light changes and sound is muffled. We explored inside the first deck. The darkness was penetrated ahead of us by the sun shining through the openings above and we disturbed sleepy batfish on our way. Winding our way through the narrow spaces near the tower in a mild current was a test of my skills, especially when distracted by a grumpy-looking eel peering down and schools of large yellowfin barracudas. Along with light and sound, time seems to change underwater. All too soon it was time for our slow ascent around the tower, the ghostly flag flapped eerily in the current as a reminder of the busy life the ship must’ve had above the surface.
My first wreck dive and I think I’m hooked. Combine the spooky wreck with tropical marine life, warm waters and an excellent dive centre and you have no excuses not to visit Koh Chang. The island is just 5 hours drive from Bangkok and has beautiful beaches, forest and waterfalls as well as accommodation for every budget. Scubadawgs will pick you up and bring you to the dive shop at Bang Bao where you’ll kit up (excellent quality rental equipment) and board one of their dive boats. I can’t thank Paul and the team enough for my day. (And it was great to talk about our alternate musical lives!). After wreck diving and snacking we dived two more local reefs with mostly great visibility and astounding amounts of marine life. Honestly, it was so busy down there! Schools of fish would cross each other in front of us leaving just a wall of shiny scales ahead. Thailand is famed for some of the cheapest diving in the world which makes it a great place to get certified too. Try diving with Scubadawgs and they’ll let you upgrade to Open Water training using the dives you’ve already completed. Not into diving? Then you can snorkel all the same dive sites - the visibility makes it well worth it.
Enjoy your trip to Koh Chang and tell Scubadawgs I sent you! Celebrate your diving achievements by partying at Lonely Beach and don’t forget to get a new tattoo while you’re there... ;)
Hannah the traveller
is a travel and lifestyle blog with focus on running, vegan eating and of course global travel.