Weekly photo challenge: Circle – Hobbiton, NZ

The famous circular doors of Hobbiton, New Zealand

Although I’m not really a big fan of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, we visited Hobbiton New Zealand aka The Real Middle Earth aka The Shire during our stay on the North Island as my husband really wanted to go. I enjoyed my visit (I thought it was pretty cute!) and all those little Hobbit houses have made for my perfect first Weekly photo challenge submission of 2016: Circle.

Discover the real Middle Earth at the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata in the North Island of New Zealand.
Count the circles!

How to: Host your own Elf Movie Night

My step by step guide to hosting your own festive Elf night!

It just isn’t Christmas without the movie Elf (believe it or not, I actually know some people who have never even seen this movie, it’s crazy!) so rather than just watching it in your PJs and scoffing a bag of popcorn, why not have some friends round and host your own Elf Night?

Step 1: Decorate your house
You don’t have to go all-out drawing the Mona Lisa on an etch-a-sketch like Buddy the Elf did (but if you could do that then you would totally WIN at Elf Night!) but a Christmas tree is a must and some twinkly fairy lights wouldn’t go amiss too. Paper snowflakes are also pretty cool – or you could just add a hint of Elf magic with an ‘itinerary’ of the evening.

How to: host your own Elf movie night

Step 2: Dress up
Elf hat or full on Santa costume – whatever takes your fancy! But practically everyone these days has a tacky Christmas jumper, so there’s no excuse. You can even get some Will Ferrell/Elf themed ones!

Step 3: The menu
Well obviously the food of choice has to be spaghetti! It’s up to you if you want to crumble Pop Tarts over the top of it and drizzle it with maple syrup. I personally would choose to serve a nice spaghetti bolognese for main and then ice cream for dessert with a selection of toppings for your guests to choose from (M&Ms, syrup, Pop Tarts etc). Remember that the four main food groups for elves are candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

Elf food

Step 4: The music
As your guests arrive, it’s a good idea to have the Elf soundtrack playing in the background, it gives your dinner party a pleasant ambience. Perhaps you could even have a little sing-a-long, after all, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!

Step 5: The movie
Snuggle up on the sofa and watch the movie. Just make sure that you have a copy of Elf on dvd to watch or you will look like a right cotton-headed ninny-muggins if you forgot that!

Bonus points
+100 if you decorate your whole house like Gimbels department store
+150 if you can draw the Mona Lisa on an etch-a-sketch as well
+20 if you know and invite someone named Francisco (that’s fun to say!)
+10 if it snows
+ 20 if you have a wicked snowball fight
+10 if you saw a dog today
+10 if smiling’s your favourite
+30 if you bake your own Christmas cookies

Melted snowman cookies
My melted snowman cookies!

Have yourself a Merry Christmas!

14 fabulous films to ignite the wanderlust within

movies-to-inspire-wanderlust

I’ve previously talked about books and movies inspiring people to get out there and see the world, so I thought I would share some of my favourites. So in no particular order, here goes…

1. Lost in Translation – Japan

It may come as no surprise that someone who writes a lot about the Land of the Rising Sun would choose this film. Some call it a beautiful and touching story of loneliness and friendship, others would argue that this movie is just plain dull (err… Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Tokyo – what’s not to like?!). I would encourage anyone with an interest in Japan to watch it and it may even inspire you to have your own ‘Lost in Translation’ moment like I did!

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Make like Scar-Jo on the Shibuya crossing

2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – India

Another movie I have written about before, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is similar to Lost in Translation in that it tells a story of friendship and people who are thrown out of their comfort zone – namely a bunch of retirees who didn’t expect to be spending their golden years in chaotic India. I haven’t yet been to India but it’s on my list and I’m looking forward to watching the sequel to this film.

3. The Beach – Thailand

The Beach is one that sparked a whole generation of backpackers to grab their passports and fly to Thailand to discover their own secret beach paradise. Based on the book by Alex Garland, I have to say that in my opinion, Hollywood pretty much butchered it. There are quite a few differences between the movie and the book (I much prefer the book) but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the film and all that lush scenery.

4. Eat, Pray, Love – Italy, India, Indonesia

Another film adaptation of a book, this is the story of a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert and her journey of self-discovery after a divorce. She travels to Italy to eat, India to pray and Bali to, well, I’ll let you find out. This time round I enjoyed the film much more than the book as it was a lot more condensed and not as intense on self-talk, plus all those shots of Bali made me want to go there even more than I did before.

5. Hector and the search for happiness – China, Africa, USA

This movie, rather than being about “finding yourself” is about finding what makes people happy. Hector is a psychiatrist who jets off to China to do just that. This is a bit of an odd choice to include on this list because while it inspires travel and being happy, quite a few dark things happen to Hector on his journeys which could quite easily have the opposite effect!

6. The Inbetweeners 2 – Australia

Perhaps another odd choice if you are familiar with The Inbetweeners tv show (the British one, not the travesty that is the American version). While I didn’t find the first movie as funny as I had expected, I loved the sequel! Sure, cringeworthy things happen all the way through, but I bet it has inspired even more students than ever to head off on an adventure Down Under.

7. The Hangover – Las Vegas, USA

The Hangover is probably a grown-up version of The Inbetweeners – lads getting carried away and all that! I love any movie set in Vegas but the first Hangover movie is definitely the best. It’s far fetched but you’d be disappointed if it wasn’t over the top in this city of excess.

the-hangover-las-vegas
Viva Las Vegas!

8. Sex and the City 2 – Abu Dhabi, UAE / Marrakech, Morocco

And now for the girls getaway… Sex and the City 2 – I’ve written about before in my girl’s guide to Marrakech, although the movie is based in Abu Dhabi, it was actually filmed in Marrakech. Definitely one to make you crave your own glamourous and exotic journey to the Middle East when you watch Carrie and pals living it up in that swish hotel.

9. Tomb Raider – Cambodia

As someone who played (and completed!) the first few Tomb Raider games on the PlayStation 1, Lara Croft was a bit of a teenage hero of mine – a strong female character going on adventures around the world to find hidden treasures, and then returning to that fabulous mansion with swimming pool and butler – jealous! Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) running around Angkor Wat in Cambodia – a place that looks so mysterious and beautiful (despite the tourists) that I imagine photographs don’t do it justice.

10. Just Go With It – Hawaii

Starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston – the plot of this movie seems a little strange and silly – Sandler’s character convinces his assistant (Aniston) to pretend to be his ex-wife in order to cover up a lie he told his girlfriend?! Far fetched, yes, but I say – just go with it! The lead actresses in this movie gave me serious hair and body envy but most of all I was jealous of the laid-back holiday vibes and Hawaiian sunshine – why haven’t I been to Hawaii yet?!

11. Blended – South Africa

Another Adam Sandler movie, but this time with Drew Barrymore as leading lady, where they find that one bad blind date leads them to holidaying together with their respective children at a family resort in Africa. They have lots of fun on safari, riding quad bikes and other shenanigans, that I even felt a pang of end-of-holiday blues (as you do) when it was the last night of their vacation!

12. Mamma Mia – Skopelos, Greece

Mamma Mia did for Greece what The Beach did for Thailand. With a soundtrack of ABBA songs, Mamma Mia is set against a backdrop of the blue skies and white-washed buildings of Skopelos Island. Even if ABBA isn’t your thing, you can’t deny that scenery looks stunning.

mamma-mia-church-skopelos
Agios Ioannis Chapel

13. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Iceland/Greenland

Walter is a daydreamer. He fantasizes about these exciting scenarios and amazing adventures, yet his life is pretty humdrum – until his job is threatened and he decides to embark on an adventure to track down a missing negative from a mysterious photographer. Filmed in Iceland (but set in Iceland and Greenland) this movie inspires us to live life to its fullest.

14. Up – Venezuela

Last but not least, no movie list is complete without an animated offering. One of my favourites, this film is sad and touching but also funny and uplifting – quite literally when the lead character, an old man named Carl Frederickson, ties thousands of balloons to his house to lift it up and away on a journey to Paradise Falls, South America (a fictitious place inspired by Angel Falls in Venezuela). A place he and his late wife had always dreamed of going but never quite got there. Perhaps one of the most iconic and memorable quotes from this film is ‘Adventure is out there’ and I couldn’t think of a more apt way to end this post!

What are your favourite movies to inspire wanderlust?

Lost in Translation

lost-in-translation

One of my favourite movies is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a story of lonely newly-wed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and faded movie star Bob (Bill Murray) who strike up a quirky friendship in Tokyo. Of course, for me, the biggest appeal of the movie is the backdrop of the bright lights of Japan’s capital city, and I knew that when I eventually returned to Japan I wanted to have my own ‘Lost in Translation’ moment.

That is, to visit the hotel where the film was set, not sing karaoke with Bill Murray… although that would be pretty cool! The characters in the movie stay at the Park Hyatt hotel – a 5 star luxury hotel rated number 1 in Shinjuku on TripAdvisor, and sadly WAY out of my budget.

So I couldn’t afford to stay at the hotel, but all was not lost (excuse the pun), we would just go for a drink at the bar instead. The New York Bar features quite prominently in the movie and has a spectacular view over Shinjuku. As the hotel applies a cover charge of 2,200Y (about £12) after 7 or 8pm, we headed to Shinjuku fairly early in order to have one drink and then leave before having to pay said cover charge. We must have arrived sometime between 5 and 6pm, so we had plenty of time to sip a drink and savour the view. We were also early enough to be seated at one of the small tables, closer to the window, rather than at the long bar at the back.

I already knew what drink I wanted, you can’t be a Lost in Translation fan and not try the L.I.T cocktail – named after the film. The L.I.T consists of sake, sakura liqueur, peachtree and cranberry juice – all very Japanesey and delicious! My husband (not much of a fan of the film) just ordered a beer and the waiter brought us over a little bowl of spicy nuts (which may or may not have been complimentary, I’m not sure).

We didn’t get a seat right next to the window, however we did get up to take a few pictures, sadly the camera doesn’t quite do justice to what the naked eye can see.

view-from-park-hyatt-tokyo

As we enjoyed our drinks and soaked up the atmosphere, we noticed that the bar began to fill up quite quickly, perhaps people were arriving for the jazz performance due to start at 8pm. We could have easily stayed a little longer but as it was quite expensive (my cocktail was 1,900Y / £10GBP), we decided to just stay for the one drink.

All in all I enjoyed my Lost in Translation moment and you never know, if I make it back to Tokyo for a third time, perhaps I’ll be wealthy enough to stay at the Park Hyatt.

Top tips for the L.I.T fans

  • Look presentable. This is a stylish place, so wear the smartest clothing in your suitcase. For me, that was a pair of black trousers, some black ballet pumps and a pretty top.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time because once you get inside the Park Hyatt it isn’t as straight forward as heading to the bar, there are steps and elevators and plush corridors to navigate first.
  • Aim to arrive before 8pm (or 7pm on a Sunday) to avoid paying a cover charge.
  • Don’t forget your camera!

New Years Day at Disneyland Paris

Continuing on from New Years Eve at Disneyland, of course we spent most of New Years Day there as well. Quite a memorable start to the new year – no hangovers and a day of fun and magic ahead!

minnie-mickey-donald-float

We could have taken advantage of Extra Magic Hours, and we fully intended to, but when the time came we were just so exhausted that we didn’t bother. We had a 9.45am breakfast reservation at Au Chalet de la Marionette, a cute Pinocchio themed eatery within the Disneyland Park so made that our first port of call for the day.

After filling up on croissants, pain au chocolat and other French goodies, we decided to make the most of the relative calm of the park and get a few rides under our belts. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and Space Mountain – both are must-dos in my opinion although I recommend doing the Buzz Lightyear ride first if you have a full stomach!

On the Buzz Lightyear ride you get to sit in a car and shoot lasers at targets, all in the name of defeating the evil emperor Zurg! This is a great ride, perfect for the whole family. Space Mountain is slightly more hardcore and is a supercharged, superfast rollercoaster ride in the dark.

buzz-lightyear-ride-disneyland

After that, we made a beeline across the park for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril – one of the few outdoor rollercoasters at Disneyland Paris. This is a great fun rickety rail style coaster but I must admit, going on it on such a cold day did make my face hurt!

As we were rushing to our next ride we saw a great photo opportunity with one of the characters – Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, so of course I wanted to tick ‘meet a character’ off of my list. Despite that scary appearance he was very sweet!

jack-skellington

Next stop – Pirates of the Caribbean! I did keep my eyes peeled for Johnny Depp but sadly I didn’t see him.

After all the swashbuckling and adventure, we had worked up an appetite and massive craving for pizza. We stopped at Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost not too far from the Indiana Jones/Pirates of the Caribbean rides. That four cheese pizza was delicious!

By the time we had left the pizza place, we were right on schedule for the next parades – the Frozen parade followed shortly by the Christmas parade. To be honest, the Frozen parade was a little bit disappointing, I was expecting something a little more spectacular than just Anna and Elsa briefly riding past in a horse-drawn carriage, but that’s just me, all the little kids seemed to love it.

frozen-parade-at-disneyland-paris

The Christmas Parade was a big hit with me though and probably the highlight of my New Years Day! It was the usual Disney affair but with a festive theme and a cute medley of Christmas songs. This one was definitely worth the wait.

disneyland-paris-christmas-parade

disneyland-paris-festive-parade

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christmas-minnie-mouse

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After the parade, we headed straight for the World of Disney shop situated in Disney Village. All four of us bought something there, it was difficult to resist as there were so many cool and cute things for sale. You can see what I bought in my Disney Haul post.

After our mini shopping spree, we headed over to the studios park for another last-ditch attempt at getting on Crush’s Coaster (it’s a good job the parks are so close with the amount of to-ing and fro-ing we did!). Sadly, the queue was yet again too long and there is no fast pass option for this ride, so it just wasn’t meant to be. On the bright side, I did get to go on Crush’s Coaster when I went to DLP in October so I don’t feel completely cheated, its just a shame we didn’t get to ride that wave again.

Still, we had a little time to spare before departing for the train station, so our final entertainment for the day was Animagique and Cinemagique, both of which are indoor shows, so it was really enjoyable for us to sit down in the warm after a tiring two days walking around in the cold!

Animagique is definitely the one for the younger crowd and features some of the best loved animal characters singing and dancing on stage to classics from films such as The Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid.

Cinemagique is more suitable for an older audience and is a clever tribute to cinema history. I won’t give too much away but it’s well worth watching.

And after all that magic and excitement, it was time to head home. Our minds were well and truly Disneyfied. On the train home my husband said to his sister “your car’s gonna be frozen when we get back”. She admitted that it took her a minute to understand what he was saying as all she could think about was Cars and Frozen!