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England, Liverpool, Liverpool Cathedral, The Grapes, The White Star

Liverpool : The Warmest Welcome & Most Gracious Goodbye


The Nadler Hotel

Liverpool isn’t just about The Beatles and the famous football club. The city was voted the Capital of Culture in 2008, and there’s a reason for it. Home to the famous Mersey River, one of the largest Anglican cathedrals in the world, a Roman Catholic Church, Chinatown, a number of award-winning restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, boutiques and barber shops, there’s something for everyone.

Liverpool’s Lime Street Station

After arriving by train at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station yesterday afternoon, I made my way to check in at The Nadler, a “contemporary budge” hotel, which is located in an 1860s warehouse. The friendly Damian checks me in and provides me with a map of the area, so I set out to explore the city for the remaining daylight hours.


Near Albert Dock


Learning to speak Liverpudlian

I head down to the famous Albert Dock, which is Liverpool’s waterfront. If you’re an architecture buff, you can marvel at the three iconic buildings here – The Royal Liver Building, Cunard and Pier Head. Off to the side is the much more modern Liverpool Museum, which offers an interesting illustrated history of the city, at no charge. There’s also a gift shop and cafe on the ground level.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the lesson on speaking like a Liverpudlian… see attached photo.

The afternoon brought a cold and low hanging mist, which made the river Mersey look magical, but wasn’t really conducive to walking, so I headed to the Beatles Story musuem for a little refresher before this morning’s tour. I arrive with just under two hours until closing time, and purchase the £15.00 ticket.

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Looking across the river Mersey

I spend the rest of the afternoon listening to an audio tour and watching videos and exhibits that truly bring the Beatles’ story to life.

I realize it’s dinner time, and I’m starving. I really fancy something flavorful, so I head to A Passage to India on Bold Street. I have a lovely chat with the Bangladeshi man who runs the restaurant while I wait for my curry

This morning, I have just enough time to pop down the road for a coffee before meeting up with Stevie T of Mop Top Tours. I head to Root Coffee, just a few doors down from my hotel and find a nice selection of teas, coffee, and tempting cakes and pastries. I reluctantly take just a coffee to go and head back to meet Stevie for our Beatles adventure, which you can read about in full detail here .


Liverpool Cathedral

When Stevie drops me at Pier Head after my tour, I have only a few hours to see a bit more of Liverpool. I’m wishing I had taken Damian’s advice and booked in for another night at The Nadler and got a cheap ticket to the Liverpool v Exeter City football match this evening, but with a non-refundable train ticket, I decide to stick to the original plan. (Future regret!)

Liverpool Cathedral’s peal of bells

I head to the impressive Liverpool Cathedral, which, due to its size, can be seen from almost all areas of the city. The cathedral is one of the largest in the world and was designed by architect Giles Gilbert Scott. Scott was selected as the lead architect after winning an open design competition in 1901. He was only 22 at the time. He would later go on to design the infamous red telephone box in 1924.  On the west-facing side of the church stands one of the iconic red telephone boxes, commemorating Scott.


The views from Liverpool Cathedral’s Tower

As sunset is only a few minutes away, I purchase a ticket to go up the tower. Two lifts take me most of the way, and I then have a total of 108 steps to climb to the top. On the way up, I can see into the interior of the bell tower and have a birds eye view of the highest and heaviest set of church bells in the world.

Looking out to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral

Once on top of the tower, I am 500 feet above Liverpool, and I’m afforded panoramic views of the city, the river Mersey and Birkenhead.

The temperature is dropping, and there are a couple of other stops I want to make, so I head back to Seel Street, pick up my bag from the hotel and make my way back to Matthew Street. I can’t come to Liverpool and not have a drink where the Beatles used to.


Inside The White Star

Bagpipes for Burns Night

I head to The White Star, a place where Stevie had said the boys used to hang out, and I open the door to a lively bar scene. A few tables surround a horseshoe shaped bar, and in the back room are more tables for diners and drinkers. I make my way to the bar and order a drink and get chatting to a local Liverpudlian named John. John’s a lovely character, who wants to hear all about my trip and tells me his stories of working the docks for years. (The Bon Jovi song, “Johnny used to work on the docks” creeps into my head)


Sampling Haggis

In the back room, a group of people are celebrating Burns night, a Scottish holiday that celebrates the poet, Robert Burns. They’re a few nights early but are well prepared with Scottish whiskey and bagpipes. The bartender comes over to me and says, “Have you ever tried haggis, love?” I think my expression is a mix of fear and slight interest, and before I know it, I have a plate in front of me. The bartender explains, “you’ve got haggis, turnip and carrot. Don’t eat it if you don’t like it.” I hesitantly take a bite and I’m pleasantly surprised by what tastes like stuffing.

I ask John if he wants some, but he says he’s full… I don’t think he’s a fan of the stuff!

Having a drink at The Grapes

He says to me, “Come on love, it wouldn’t be right for you to leave Liverpool without me buying you a drink.” I tell him I have a train to catch in just over an hour and that I also want to check out The Grapes, so he says he will accompany me there. We head out and make our way around the corner to The Grapes. A little less lively than the White Star, this pub was known as the place where The Beatles has their pre-show drinks, seeing as The Cavern Club didn’t sell booze. To the back of the bar is a small room with Beatles memorabilia and a photograph of the four boys sitting in a booth. They’ve even left the old wallpaper up in this room. John snaps a picture of me sitting where the boys used to and then  treats me to a farewell drink at the bar.


My new Liverpudlian friend, John

He tells me of his past trips to America, and that if he ever won the lottery that he’d buy a house in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. I can’t believe this local man has been to Pawley’s Island!! In September, he and his family will be in Boston so we exchange info. I have to hoof it to the station now to catch my train back to London, so I thank John for his hospitality and make my way.

I get back to Lime Street Station and one thing is certain. I’m reluctant to leave. Since I arrived just 28 hours ago, I’ve received one of the most gracious and genuine welcomes I’ve ever experienced, especially in a city. I realize that along with its sights, its history, its music and its football, what truly makes Liverpool great is its people. They have a lot of heart for their city, they’re proud of where they’re from, and just strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere, and they will be more than happy to share that with you.

Liverpool, I will see you again one day soon for that football match!

Beatles, England, Liverpool

Liverpool: A Day In The Life – A Beatles Tour with Stevie T of Mop Top Tours

The Fabulous Stevie T

The Fabulous Stevie T

You would think that with all my trips back to England over the years I would have ventured up to Liverpool at some point in time, but until this trip it hadn’t happened. It’s not that it’s far… Liverpool is a comfortable 3-hour train ride direct from London, but with most of my trips to England focused around visiting family and friends, the opportunity had never presented itself. Funnily enough, this time last year, I found myself planning a trip for friends who would be attending Wimbledon and The British Open and they were interested in a stopover in Liverpool.

When I began researching their trip, I realized that Liverpool, named the European Capital of Culture in 2008, had a lot more to offer than I thought. But the reason I really wanted to visit was to walk in the footsteps of the Fab Four. A generation late (I know), I grew up on the Beatles. My first concert was Paul McCartney’s show at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome as part of his New World Tour in 1993, and growing up, I had listened to my mother’s stories of her trips to Heathrow airport to send off and welcome home the band. I wanted to see where their story had begun.

I reached out to the Beatles Tours online and organized a 2-hour private tour with Stevie T of Mop Top Tours. This would include a trip to all four of the Beatles’ childhood homes and at the end of the tour, a walk down Matthew Street, or The Cavern Quarter, to see the spots where the Beatles first staked their claim to fame.

Paul McCartney's childhood home

Paul McCartney’s childhood home

Stevie picked me up at The Nadler hotel, an 1860s warehouse converted into a hotel in the city center. We set out into a cold, but fortunately bright morning. Since I was the only one on the tour, I sat up front with Stevie and got to learn a little bit about him and how he ended up founding Mop Top Tours. Originally from Blackburn, Stevie was born in 1964, just a little too late to truly experience the Beatles. His older brothers often tell him he wasn’t in the right spot in the birthing order within their family, but that didn’t stop his love for the band, and their music, developing.

As we made our way out of Liverpool city center, Stevie tells me that after sharing all his Beatles facts with family and friends, they eventually encouraged him to start sharing it with those who were really interested. Point taken… so Stevie set up Mop Top Tours. He explained to me that the 2-hour tour is a perfect opportunity to see where all the boys grew up and really learn the story of how the Beatles came together.

As he cues the first song, we turn the corner to Forthlin Road, and make our way to number 20, the house where Paul grew up. The home is now owned by the National Trust and visits inside can be arranged, but today we have just a curbside view. Stevie points out Paul’s bedroom above the front door and gives me a brief history on Paul’s childhood. I learn that when Paul’s mother died of cancer when he was 14, it was his brother, Mike, and his father, Jim, in the house. They were a musically inclined family. Mike went on to have a career in music, and Jim was a piano player. Paul was originally given a trumpet to play, but he couldn’t sing with it in his mouth, so he traded it in for a guitar.

Mendips, John Lennon's childhood home.

Mendips, John Lennon’s childhood home.

Around the corner from Paul’s house is Menlove Avenue, where we find Mendips, the childhood home of John Lennon. John actually grew up in the house with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. Stevie recounts the time when he met Yoko Ono just outside the house. Ono purchased the home when it went up for sale in 2002 and then donated it to The National Trust. Just around the corner from Mendips is Dairy Cottage, where John lived with his mother for a little while, prior to moving into Mendips when his mother and father’s marriage ended.

Now we’re in the town of Woolton, which is perfectly picturesque. Narrow streets and rows of Georgian and Victorian homes that were mostly spared during the war, give you the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time. On Church Road is St. Peter’s Church.

The cemetery at St. Peter's

The cemetery at St. Peter’s

The importance of this church in the Beatles story is that this is where John Lennon was playing skiffle with The Quarry Men on a summer day in 1957. In the audience that day was Paul McCartney, who had been invited along by Ivan Vaughan, a mutual friend of the two. Later that night, across the road at the Parish Hall, John and Paul are introduced and Paul has a chance to play chords for The Quarrymen. It isn’t long before he is invited to join the band.

The Parish Hall of St. Peter's where John & Paul first met

The Parish Hall of St. Peter’s where John & Paul first met

Back to St.Peter’s briefly. At the back of the church grounds is where the summer festival was played. Now, the space is taken up by grave sites. One of those graves is that of John’s uncle, George, and just around the corner from him is the grave of Bob Paisley, the man considered to be the greatest football manager of all time.

The real Eleanor Rigby's grave

The real Eleanor Rigby’s grave

Stevie T and I begin to make our way back to the entrance to the church grounds, and as I’m snapping a picture of the tombstones that blend into the rooftops in the distance, he says to me, “I bet you can’t guess who else is buried here?” I think for a minute, and a smile creeps across my face. He leads me around an even older row of graves and points to the third row back. As I scan the stones, I see the name Eleanor Rigby.

Now, Stevie tells me there are two stories about Eleanor Rigby and he says I can choose which one I want to believe. Apparently, John and Paul spent a lot of time on the church grounds, having a sneaky smoke and drink as John couldn’t be caught doing so in a pub. Was Eleanor Rigby written after the name on the gravestone at St. Peters, after the real Eleanor Rigby? Or was she a fictitious character made up by Paul marrying the name Eleanor (from actress Eleanor Bron, of the movie Help), with Rigby’s vintners of Bristol? Paul claims to not remember, but maybe it was in his subconcious? Stevie T says, “You like the romantic version, don’t you?” I nod in agreement and we make our way up the road and around the corner to our next stop.

Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields

By this point in the tour, Stevie’s cueing songs between stops and we’re singing Strawberry Fields Forever as we pull over to a red gate on the left side of the road. What used to stand behind these gates was a castle-like home that functioned as an all girl’s orphanage. It’s no longer here, but it was literally in John’s back garden. Now, all we see is a replica of the gates. The original ones have been taken down and put in safe storage after many attempts by fans to steal the entire set of gates or a piece of history. After a quick photo opp, we head on to Wavertree.

Outside the childhood home of Ringo Starr

Outside the childhood home of Ringo Starr

We are on our way to George Harrison’s childhood home, and as we make our way around the roundabout at the top of Wavertree High Street, I learn how he got his in with the band. Apparently, George was a bit younger than Paul and even younger than John (about 3 years). John thought this was problematic, but Paul knew George’s musical talents and urged John to have a listen and consider him for a place in the band. John decided to give him an audition and apparently, this took place on top of a double decker bus as it made its way up the high street.

Within moments of turning off of the high street, we are at number 12 Arnold Grove, a simple home that didn’t have a functioning bathroom when George was growing up. As the youngest of four children, he was last in a tin bath and used an outhouse for a toilet. What strikes me as funny today is that there is still a milk bottle sitting on the doorstep. Not something you see in many places at all these days, but there’s a dairy around the corner. It sort of feels like stepping back in time.

Penny Lane Barber Shop

Penny Lane Barber Shop

We make our way over to Penny Lane from here, and what I thought was a road actually comprises an area, and all aspects of the song are covered. First, there’s the barbers’ shop, then we see the roundabout, and a bank still exists on one side. Paul’s church, St. Barnabas, sits on the other side of the roundabout.

The Penny Lane Community Centre

The Penny Lane Community Centre

We drive down Penny Lane and park next to Dovedale Towers, which was the former St. Barnabas Church Hall, where the Beatles once performed. Next to the pub is the Penny Lane Community Center, a place run by Julie Gornell. Julie is in, and we get the chance to visit with her a bit. She is a kindred spirit when it comes to travel, having spent some of her years living abroad in New Zealand. When she returned, she got involved with the formation of the Community Center and has been running it for 19 years.

Not just any lane

Not just any lane

We are offered a warm welcome and then make our way down the road for a quick coffee break. The crossing guard stops us and asks where I’m from, and we continue on to Rough Hand Made, for a café Americano, and a sample of the delicious cakes made here.

The set of Peaky Blinders

The set of Peaky Blinders

Next on the agenda is Ringo’s house, so we hop back in the van and in a matter of minutes we are entering the area of Toxeth. Stevie gives me a bit of information on the area. He tells me that despite its condition of dilapidation, I will find it magical. When we turn into the area, I see what he means. To the right of the main road are new, modern, occupied homes and to the left, everything is empty and condemned and has been taken over by the Council. Now, they’re unsure as to what to do with the houses, so they sit, uninhabited, these colorful row homes that were once home to the likes of Ringo Starr. One block up, a street of these homes has been painted black and used for the set of the new BBC hit, Peaky Blinders, a show about the famous post WWI gang in Birmingham.

9 Madryn Street, Ringo Starr's childhood home

9 Madryn Street, Ringo Starr’s childhood home

The row homes on Madryn Street

The row homes on Madryn Street

As I’m taking a photograph, a lady riding her bike up the street stops and says, “Peaky Blinders?” We get to chatting, and it turns out she was the Art Director on the set of the show. Originally from Seattle, she has lived in Liverpool for nine years. She has just come back from Malaysia where she’s been working on a show, and was just taking a stroll through her old haunts. Stevie looks at me and says, “See, I said I wanted you to meet a few of the locals!”

The Empress Pub in Toxeth

The Empress Pub in Toxeth

After visiting Ringo’s home, we turn the corner and head up to The Empress, considered to be Ringo’s pub. This might look familiar to some because it was actually photographed for the cover of Ringo’s first solo album, Sentimental Journey. Around the corner from the pub is Admiral Grove, which is where Ringo moved to with his mother at the age of five.

Now that we’ve seen all of the Beatles’ childhood homes, we make our way back to Liverpool city center, passing Liverpool College of Art, which John attended and The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, which was one of John’s favorite pubs.

We park up and make our way to Matthew Street and the Cavern Quarter. Now, I had done a quick walk down here last night, but I wanted Stevie’s knowledge on the area, so he takes me to one end of the street and gives me the history of all the spots, starting with The White Star. This pub was known as one of the bands watering holes before shows, and was named after the famous shipping line. Apparently, the band sat in the back room from time to time.

The White Star

The White Star

Next is The Grapes, which is where the boys were believed to go for a drink before their shows, seeing as The Cavern Club didn’t serve any booze. Again, the back room, (apparently within eyeshot of the ladies’ room) is where they sat.

The Fab 4 on Matthew Street

The Fab 4 on Matthew Street

Unfortunately, the original Cavern Club was torn down in 1973, too soon to realize what a mistake it would be. A plaque shows where the original entrance to the club stood, and just doors down are two newer spots operating as replicas of the original Cavern Club – The new Cavern Club and the Cavern Pub – both of which play live music for free on a nightly basis.

In a little shopping precinct near where the original Cavern Club was, is a statue of the band with another man, Mr. McKenzie. He was the compere at Northwich Memorial Hall, and became close to the band. In fact, he was known to treat all of the boys like they were his own sons, hence he got the name Father MacKenzie. This is who the Beatles speak of in the song Eleanor Rigby. So, don’t’ confuse it with the grave site of the lesser known Mr. McKenzie at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton.

Commemorating the Cavern Club

Commemorating the Cavern Club

Matthew Street is also home to the Wall of Fame, a wall of engraved bricks that highlight the names of all the talented musicians and bands, past and present, who have ever played at the Cavern Club, starting with the Beatles. Above the door of a Beatles memorabilia shop is what is considered to be be one of the better, but aging, statues of the Fab Four, and just next to this is the famous tribute statue, “The Four Lads Who Shook The World.” JPGR. Hopefully, you can figure out what the initials stand for!

At the end of the road is The Hard Day’s Night Hotel, one of the newer and nicest hotels in Liverpool. Rooms go for around $110 per night, which is expensive for L’pool standards, but you can at least admire the architecture and pop in for a drink and a look in the gift shop.

Me and Stevie T of Mop Top Tours

Me and Stevie T of Mop Top Tours

We have now reached the other end of Matthew Street, and my tour has come to an end. In hindsight, I’m wishing I had booked in on the all day Beatles Extravaganza Stevie T says, “This is where we conclude.” I can’t believe how quickly the time (and extra time) has gone. I’ve had so much fun just hanging out with Stevie, that I’m more sad that our time has come to an end.

The Fab 4's newest statue

The Fab 4’s newest statue

Stevie drops me at Pier Head, and we say our goodbyes and snap a picture together to remember the day. As I’m getting ready to walk over to the Mersey ferry building, Stevie points out one last thing. It’s the newest Beatles statue in Liverpool… the four boys walking towards the river Mersey. He says to me, “They’re not together now, but they will be again, one day soon.”


For more info on Mop Top Tours and Stevie T, visit: or check out his page on Facebook: Mop Top Tours

Other useful links:

Beatles Tours (in case Stevie T is booked):

Penny Lane Community Centre:

The Nadler Hotel:

The Beatles Story:

The White Star:

The Grapes:

The Cavern Quarter:

The National Tust:

Downton Abbey, England, The Cotswolds

A Day Discovering Downton (*Spoiler Alert*)

January 14th is my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as my grandmother’s 90th birthday fell just two days ago, we are all still in England for this occasion. Since she is a relatively new Downton Abbey fan, we decided to take her to see Highclere Castle and some of the surrounding English countryside today… and I am the one organizing this.

After a brief online search for Downton tours from London, I gathered that we weren’t really in the right season for this visit, and then I learned that Highclere Castle is actually closed until the Spring. No worries, I thought… we will still be able to get a good look at the place, right? Well, after a little further research last night, I learned that you can’t even see a shred of the castle, not even a peek at the parking  lot.

A little bit of panic set in, seeing as I was responsible for making this day happen and making it a good one… OK, onto plan b. What’s neat is that the reason you can’t visit, or even see Highclere Castle in the off season, is because it’s actually inhabited by its owners, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. Seeing as they’ve been kicked out for the filming of Downton and now have become a destination for every Downton fan, I can see why they want their privacy… for some of the year at least.

So we can’t see Highclere, but I remember reading about the surrounding villages that were also used as sets during filming. Back to google. A few minutes later, I come across a website called Downton Abbey film locations  … “Locations withing the Oxfordshire Cotswolds have featured prominently in the popular TV drama Downton Abbey…” cha ching.

I make a quick call to my brother, informing him we won’t actually be able to see the castle, but that we’re going to do a little self-guided Downton Tour.

Cut to this morning. Directions to and from each little village are printed and our two-car convoy heads out on the M-40 to our first stop… The little village of Bampton. (Fortunately, one car has a sat nav,  or gps, because at one point the directions read, “Enter roundabout and take THE exit,” Which exit???)


But we make it to Bampton will relatively no hiccups, and park at the end of the main road. We walk to the center of town and while everyone uses the public bathroom, I make my way across the road to a bakery to ask for directions. A lovely Turkish man, who has been living here for 27 years says, “Let me guess, Downton Abbey?” He points us in the direction of the church.


St. Mary’s Church, Bampton

Now, Bampton is probably the most important location we will see today, and therefore the most recognizable. The town is actually used as the fictional village of Yorkshire on Downton Abbey.

Inside St. Mary’s Church, Bampton

Our first stop is Bampton’s St. Mary’s Church. Renamed as St. Michael and All Angels in Downton Abbey, this is the church where all weddings, christenings and funerals take place. It’s also the spot where Lady Edith was jilted at the altar. Next to the church grounds is Church View, which is turned into a hospital on the show.


Scenes from series 6

We walk through the church gate and up a paved path to the heavy, oak doors. After a nudge, we realize the church is open, and we pop in for a peek. At the back of the church is a small table, with some photographs from filming, as well as some memorabilia (photographs, mugs, postcards), and on a table by the entryway is some history on the church. I am baffled to learn that some parts of the church’s foundation date back to the Norman Conquest, 1066.

We exit the church grounds at the rear and walk by Churchgate House, which is Isobel Crawley’s Downton home. Then, we walk back through the little village of Bampton, passing some of the pubs and post offices that were also used on set. Now it’s time to move on to our second stop of the day, Swinbrook.

The Cotswold’s countryside

Swinbrook is idyllic. It’s one of those places where once you arrive, you don’t want to leave. It is quintessential English countryside. Rolling green fields dotted with hay bales, the odd cottage, picket fences and meandering streams.

Swinbrook’s Swan Inn

We park up at The Swan Inn, a pub that played an important role in  series two of Downton, as it’s where Lady Sybil and Branson stayed while planning their elopement.

We’ve made it just in time for lunch and take a table in the back room. Along with seeing some more of Downton history, we’re also treated to a delicious lunch. To call The Swan Inn a pub, is a bit of a stretch. We order homemade soups, fish and chips, a fish pie, cheese plates and quinoa cakes, all topped off with a local Cotswold Ale.

Birthday lunch at The Swan Inn

Birthday lunch at The Swan Inn

After lunch, we walk along the side of the pub and realize that it’s actually an old mill. Water rushes underneath one part of the pub, under a bridge and into a river on the other side of the road.

Back in the car, we make our way to Cogges. It’s bitterly cold by this point in time, so we make this our last stop. Cogges is where Downton’s Yew Tree Farm is located, so it has played an important role in many of the series, but most importantly, it’s where Lady Edith’s illegitimate daughter, Marigold, is raised by the farmer, Mr. Drew.

We walk past the gated farm and over to St. Mary’s, an old parish church that also dates back to the 11th Century. We tour the grounds and then make our way back to the entrance. What’s lovely about Cogges is that it’s strictly pedestrian. Despite the day drawing to an end and the temperatures plummeting, families are out walking and riding their bikes to and from the main road.

Downton's Yew Tree Farm, Cogges

Downton’s Yew Tree Farm, Cogges

We end our self guided tour here, skipping Shilton, and missing The Red Lion public house, which is where Mr. Bates went to work in series two. I imagine there will be an opportunity to see Shilton on a return trip to this area at some point in the future… the return trip that will include the actual visit to Highclere. But for having to resort to plan b, the day turned out to be a good dose of both Downton and the idyllic English countryside.



Here are some useful links to help you plan your own “Downton Day:”

A brief guide to Downton Abbey filming locations:

Highclere Castle:

The Swan Inn:

Belize, Canada, Cuba, England, Japan, Portugal, Tasmania, Travel Wishlist

My 2014 Travel WishList

Ah, the joy of a New Year. Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote my 2013 Travel WishList and I would have never believed you if you’d told me I would walk across Northern Spain and sip wine in Slovenia. There are 350 days left this year… I’m excited to see where I end up and I’m embracing the unknown!

Below is my 2014 Travel Wishlist. Unless I win the next Mega Millions drawing, I probably won’t make it to all of these locales, but I will hit a few – that I’m sure of. And a few surprises will crop up too. Following my reasons for wanting to visit each country is a link to a selection of highlights from AFAR Travel Magazine’s online community… Follow the link to browse what fellow travelers consider to be the must-sees in each of these places:

Japan – I am so completely intrigued by Japan, and despite spending a lot of time in neighboring countries, I have yet to make it here. A few friends have traveled to Japan and told me of the peacefulness of this country… Ok, Tokyo might be a bit like sensory overload, but after a few days in the fish markets, karaoke halls and kimono shops, imagine strolling through the Bamboo Forest of Kyoto, then learning the rituals of a tea ceremony at the ancient chashitsu, or tea rooms, or testing your luck at spotting a real Geisha in Gion.

Tokyo’s Fish Market, Photo: Rod C

If you’re a nature enthusiast like me, you may consider a trek up Mount Fuji, so long as you’re legs aren’t still wobbling from the high speed train journey there. Or, if nature, with less of an adrenaline rush is more your speed, then the shrines and temples west of Tokyo make for a more peaceful day trip.

Mount Fuji, Photo:

It seems like I would need an endless number of days in Japan, as this itinerary only covers the central main island of Honshu. On the Southern most part of this island, you can visit the Hiroshima Peace Park before heading to the island of Kyushu, for hot springs and the history of Nagasaki. Or alternatively, head north to Hokkaido for National Parks and winter ski resorts. Japan has something to entice any type of traveler, and is number one on my 2014 travel wishlist.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Japan:

England/Great Britain – Born, and raised for the first five years of my life, in England, I can say I know the country quite well… parts of it that is. Hence the reason I want to spend some more time here. I feel the need to better acquaint myself with the place I hail from.

Abbey Road
Yorkshire, Photo: Andrew Montgomery

I’ve never been to Liverpool, and I want to walk across Abbey Road and tour The Beatles’ old haunts. I’d then take a train from Liverpool up to the Lake District and spend some time on the walking routes here, maybe even climbing a mountain or two. I’d like to see the Yorkshire Moors Emily Bronte told me about during my Senior English Class and sip tea in an old Victorian B&B .

Pembrokeshire, Photo: Spila Riccardo

I’d then head South to my favorite part of the country… the English Seaside. I’d stop in Devon and Cornwall, places I visited during my childhood Summers, and then head further south to Penzance before taking a boat ride 28 miles out to sea, arriving at the Scilly Isles – the Southernmost point of England. And for good measure, I’d head to Wales and walk the rugged Pembrokeshire coastline and Anglesey’s pebble beaches ending up in a local joint to savor fish and chips.

My AFAR Wanderlist for England/GB:

Lisbon, Photo: Lonely Planet

Portugal – Sample the day’s best catch in the ancient fishing village of Ericeira, sunbathe on a crescent beach surrounded by limestone cliffs in the Algarve, try to decipher between tawny and ruby at 16th-century port houses in Porto, and rumor has it, sample the best sangria in the world… Portugal has been creeping up on my list for the past couple of years, and when I learned there was a Camino that started in Lisbon and meandered north through the quaint villages of this country, it got a secure spot on this years list of places I want to go.

Algarve Photo:

Since Portugal’s entire Western and Southwestern borders meet the ocean, it seems like the perfect Summertime destination for the vitamin D junkie that I am. But if the promise of sand and sun doesn’t have you throwing your bikini in your backpack right away, fear not… Portugal has plenty to offer.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, seems to be packed full of restaurants, wine bars, cafes, museums and shops. A ride on the free tram, (#28) will get you acquainted with the layout of the city and save your legs from some steep climbs.

Tawny port, Photo: Jon Sullivan

North of Lisbon is Sintra, a city that will appeal to the history buff inside of you. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage sight in 1995, this place has Moorish castles and royal palaces to spend a couple days exploring.

And Porto, or Oporto, well, the name says it all…

My AFAR Wanderlist for Portugal:

Photo: Fodor’s

Cuba – Cuba seems like a little secret to me. Growing up in the US, I quickly learned that it’s a country many consider off limits, unless you make the extra effort to fly via Mexico or Canada. However, having a British passport makes me feel I shouldn’t waste any time getting here. When I think of Cuba, a few stereotypical things come to mind… Cuban cigars, Che Guevara, old cars, rice and beans, old men sitting outside an even older bar playing chess, rum, Fidel Castro, the Embargo. So why do I want to go here?

Cuban Mojitos, Photo: JaketheSnake

I have a fascination with culture, specifically with rich cultures that have yet to be totally diffused or diluted by Western influence. Pair this with a rich, if tumultuous, history, and the intrigue is here. This place is practically in my backyard, and I can’t wait to explore the city of Havana, the beaches of the Southern coastline, and acquaint myself with the people of this island country.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Cuba:

Peggy’s Point, Nova Scotia

Canada – From what I have seen and researched, and from what my beloved Canadians who I have met on the road have told me, I have come to the conclusion that I will LOVE the coastlines of Canada. Every person I have ever met from British Columbia has basically convinced me to move there within minutes into a conversation. A mountainous coastline, world-class skiing, hiking, and yoga are all on offer here.

Then, I spend a few minutes researching the rugged coastline provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and they tease me to head east first. This opposite coastline looks idyllic and seems to have a serene beauty about it. I would love to spend time exploring both seaboards but there’s a lot not to be missed in between as well.

Prince Edward Island, Photo:

The Rocky Mountaineer offers a 15-day coast to coast train ride that also allows you to explore Kamloops, the Canadian Rockies, Toronto and Montreal. Train travel stirs up a sense of nostalgia in me, and it would be a nice departure from my normal backpack and hostel routine. But the $5,000 price tag means I may be saving for a while before this dream is fulfilled.

My AFAR Wanderlist for Canada:

Glover’s Atoll, Photo:

Belize- A good friend recently graduated from PA School. She talked of doing a trip before making a commitment to a 9-5. We talked of locations and criteria: somewhere warm, somewhere we could get to quickly, easily and on the cheap, and somewhere that wouldn’t break the budget. She said Belize, and I began to do the research. I scoured AFAR’s highlights, was immediately sold on the locale, and began planning a week -long trip.


I’m not going to lie, it’s the middle of January, and despite being in Atlanta, the lows are dropping below 20. My bones are cold, I need some sunshine and Vitamin D. Belize won’t break the bank… I imagine it to be a good mix of fun and sun, with just enough culture to make it less hedonistic than perhaps it could be. It’s nice to know the ruins are there, but show me to the beach-side hammock and hand me a pina colada please…

My AFAR Wanderlist for Belize:

Wineglass Bay, Photo:

Tasmania – All it took were a few pictures on a friend’s Facebook page to seal the deal here. I want to go to Tasmania and I want to go NOW! This place looks other-worldly. Not only are you surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen (online), it seems like you can do it all here – hiking, fishing, kayaking, river cruising, biking, dining, wining, surfing…

Cradle Mountain Hike

This Australian island 11 hours from Melbourne packs it all in. You can even get a glimpse of the Tasmanian Devil (yes, it does exist) and a wallaby. You can cover the entire country by car in about two days, but with stops, 10 days seems to be a fair amount of time to really see Tassie. 

My AFAR Wanderlist for Tasmania:

All this talk of travel gives me itchy feet. I find myself between Kayak and Skyscanner, scoping out one-way tickets….Maybe I’ll kill two birds with one stone and just find a job overseas…Not a bad idea!