Set in a rural area of west Gloucestershire, England and also within the Forest of Dean, Hillside Brewery is in an idyllic location. From their hilltop outdoor seating area, you can see the Cotswolds in… More
Guys, after my December of travel I was exhausted. I moved flats early in the month, spent a weekend in Germany, and flew through Dublin to save money when going home to Washington, D.C. for the holidays which turned out to be totally chaotic – basically everything that could go wrong did go wrong on my outbound journey. By the time I arrived back in England in January, I was borderline ready to not leave my couch.
The breakneck pace that I traveled during 2016 – usually flying or taking the train to another country twice a month – was not/is not happening this month.
In fact, most of the travel I’m doing or have slated for January doesn’t have a lot of organization at all. I went hiking in the Cotswolds last weekend, something I decided on the day before. I went to Bath with my friend Karen on Monday and except for a list of a few of the top sights, I didn’t do any planning then either. I’m heading to Cirencester, a market town in the Cotswolds this weekend, and besides a cafe to eat at (food is important!) I don’t have a whole lot planned either. Have I become a lazy* traveler?
This is soo unlike me. In the vast majority of my 2016 travel, especially solo, I pretty much had an outline of what I wanted to do every day, and often had tickets and whatnot reserved ahead.
*Lazy meaning relaxed, not as a negative connotation.
Part of me feels so relieved by this. In 2017 I’m really trying to cut a lot of the stress as a control freak that I put on myself out, so just going somewhere without all the planning and research I normally do has felt good. On the other hand, it may just be how I feel this month, but who knows, without the pressure of ‘new years resolutions’ next month I may get back to planning all my time.
What’s your style when you travel? Are you a ‘lazy’ traveler?
One of the things I love most about living on the doorsteps of the Cotswolds, an area of designated natural beauty in England, is the ample hiking and country walk opportunities that the region provides. And, after recovering from a cold last week, the first thing I wanted to do was get up and out, so I headed to Leckhampton Hill, a popular hiking area in the Cotswolds near Cheltenham. Leckhampton Hill has the Cotswolds Way, a walking path that stretches across the area.
Even though you are quite close to the city of Cheltenham at Leckhampton Hill, you’ll feel like you are much further away. At the hill, I found the footpath for the Cotswolds Way and began my hike along it, taking in the stunning views of the Cotswolds countryside and Cheltenham in the distance.
Benches are abound on the hill for breaks or to take in the beauty of the area, like this gorgeous one I regretted not relaxing on after my six miles of hiking! Fortunately, the Cotswolds Way is an easy enough path for hikers of all ages and abilities, although I would recommend sturdy shoes as on a drizzly days parts of the hill can get muddy.
Leckhampton Hill has a disused former limestone quarrying site, and one of the remnants that remains is the Devil’s Chimney, a chimney like structure of limestone rock. The origin of the Devil’s Chimney is a bit of a mystery – legend goes that the devil would throw rocks at nearby churchgoers from the vantage point, so in order to stop it, the stones were turned back against him into the hill, where he now remains with just a chimney to let free the smokes of hell.
The more likely story however, is that 18th century quarry employees quarried around it as a joke (source).
The area of Leckhampton Hill is quite large so you can easily get in a few miles of exercise by meandering around. There’s guide posts that let you know where the paths run and where sites of significance are – besides Devil’s Chimney, there’s also a historic iron age fort. History and exercise in one – I’ll take it!
Do you fancy a hike on Leckhampton Hill?
Getting to Leckhampton Hill: To get there, I took a £12 taxi from Cheltenham (price is approximate), as getting there is uphill. I had my taxi bring me to the Hartley Lane Car Park (refer to the Google Map below) where the Cotswolds Way path begins. To return home, I walked the few miles back into Cheltenham. The car park has ample parking so if you drive it is easy to access.
I met Houssaine in a online travel blogger group, and was drawn to his story when Houssaine shared that he is a disabled tourist guide in Morocco, the country next to where my dad is from in Algeria. I’m always inspired by fellow travelers, especially those who overcome odds to travel, so I reached out to Houssaine on if I could interview him about his story and his company, and he agreed.
Question: Tell me about yourself.
My name is El Houssaine Ichen but friends call me Houssaine. I’m 34 and live in Tounfite, which is a high but remote town in the beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I have four brothers and four sisters and live a simple life with my parents in our basic family home. My hobbies include playing football, trekking and swimming. I am also a keen chess player and like music. I am a natural and self-taught linguist and speak Tamazight (the Chleuh Berber language), Arabic, English, French and basic Dutch.
Question: What is your disability? How have you managed/overcome it?
My parents were too poor to have me vaccinated and I caught polio at the age of three and since then I have been paralyzed in my legs. I use leg braces and crutches for walking but as I have grown up with this handicap I do not let it slow me down.
Question: Do you work, and what do you do?
I am a professional sightseeing guide for my company, Disabled Tourist Guide, that specializes in tours for clients with a disability. I can also accommodate able bodied guests but my true goal as a guide is to develop and spread awareness about disabled-led tourism in Morocco. I enjoy showing tourists around and teach them about our culture, while keeping their vacation fun and safe.
I was born and raised in the Tounfite area and am very knowledgeable about the mountains and landscapes of Morocco. I do not let my disability slow me down and still participate in hiking and trekking tours. I am a multilingual guide who can provide tours for people from all over the world, and I am very flexible with with itinerary.
Question: How did you get into travel?
Traveling is something that I have always loved. I enjoy exploring new places, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures. Morocco is a very beautiful place with lots to see and discover. I have been to many parts of Morocco and I am very familiar with the various areas that are popular among tourists.
Question: What is a particularly memorable experience you’ve had that greatly impacted your life?
The experience that was life changing for me was that I was fortunate enough to have a chance to learn and be educated. I attended a school that was at that time run by the British welfare fund “Save the Children” and I was sponsored by foster parents in the UK. After I was finished, I was able to go on to college. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had, which made me who I am today.
Question: How does Morocco, in general, deal with citizens with special needs? Are you discriminated against?
The situation dealing with Moroccans who have special needs is unfortunately not taken seriously yet. Our government needs to realize that this is a huge problem that many of us are dealing with. We are very capable of being able to be successful employees, or even employers, and being able to provide for our families. My expectations would be to stop the discrimination against people with special needs and for businesses to hire based on qualifications. If you are qualified and can do the work, that should be all that is required.
Thank you for your time, Houssaine!
One of my favorite traditions that my mom and I started for Christmas presents a few years ago is that I treat her to an experience rather than getting her a physical gift. This year I was keen to have her present be a mini-getaway, so we decided on a short city break to Philadelphia.
Arriving ready for lunch, our first stop was the Italian Market, a historical outdoor market with cafes, cheese shops, butcheries, grocery shops, and restaurants. The Italian Market is in the South 9th Street area, a predominantly Italian area of the city. After a bit of a wander around, we grabbed a slice of pizza in the market and ogled at the imported Italian products in the stores.
The market was bigger than I imagined, so if you need guidance on where to go, head to the Italian Market Visitors Center, where they have maps of all the stalls. The Italian Market is also dotted with murals – one of my favorite of which was the Di Bruno Bros House of Cheese mural – who doesn’t love a mural of cheese and wine!
Our next stop was at the One Liberty Observation Deck, an indoor observatory deck in the Center City area of Philadelphia. The observation deck is on the 57th floor of a skyscraper building and has 360-degree views of the city.
I would actually recommend buying tickets at the Observation Deck itself rather than online, because the online prices actually are more expensive than what we paid. When we arrived, we were told children under 12 go free, which saved us $14 from the online price.
After checking into our hotel which was directly across from the One Liberty Observation Deck, we headed to dinner at Gran Caffe L’Aquila. Here we feasted on great Italian classics like gnocchi, tiramisu, and gelato – a lot of the servers are actually Italian as well!
Day two was all about Philly food! One of my preferred activities when I travel now is to try to find a food tour – and through the City Food Tour company, which is ranked the #1 tour company in Philly on TripAdvisor, I signed us up for their Flavors of Philly tour.
The tour was organized in a way that we walked through the Center City area of the city, stopping for five different food samples, and along the way learning about the history of Philadelphia and why these foods have their roots in the city.
Our first stop was at the Philly Pretzel Factory where we had pretzel samples with a choice of mustard. The pretzel was great – but the spicy mustard choice is heavy on the horseradish and our entire tour group got a good laugh when Markie put a bit too much of it on his pretzel and made faces after eating it! We also found out when you remove the salt from the top of a pretzel, it is called a “bald” pretzel.
Our second stop, Joe’s Pizza, had my favorite food of all the stops, a tomato pie. A tomato pie is pretty much just a pizza without cheese, but the sauce was amazing. It was rich in flavor and very fresh, as we were told that the owner of the restaurant, who is from Italy, comes in early every morning to specially make the sauce for the pie.
Our next step didn’t include any food, but was instead to poke in and see Del Frisco’s steakhouse. Del Frisco’s has an amazing interior, as the restaurant is in a former restored bank. The upstairs has long columns and an intricate ceiling that were preserved during the restoration. Downstairs is a huge former bank vault that you can eat inside! Next time I’m in Philly I would definitely head back here for a meal.
Next was another food stop at Zio’s Pizza, where we had delicious cheese steak but not-so-delicious cheese fries. The cheese fries were okay, but they used cheese whiz which personally doesn’t do well with my stomach.
At our final location, Reading Terminal Market, were our last two food stops. Reading Terminal Market has been on my Philly bucket list for some time, and it didn’t disappoint. The market is huge and has numerous food stalls, many of which we found out are run by the Pennsylvania Dutch. We also found out it’s the most visited attraction in Philly, even more than the Liberty Bell!
Our first stop within the market was the Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, known for their variety of homemade, fresh baked cookies. We sampled the chocolate chip cookie, which was warm and gooey, just like I like it!
Our second stop in Reading Terminal Market was Beiler’s Bakery, which is so popular that that the line was (long) and around the corner! Thankfully being with our tour group, we were able to cut the line and get our hands on one of Beiler’s popular doughnuts.
After our food tour we were more than sufficiently full, and it was time to head back to my parents house. There’s still a few things on my Philly bucket list remaining, so it just means I’ll have to return again!
Have you been to Philadelphia? What would you want to do in the city?
December was a month full of friends, family, and festive holiday celebrations. I started off the Christmas season at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London, followed by a weekend in Stuttgart, Germany to experience the infamous Christmas markets. Mid-month, it was time to head home to be with family and friends for Christmas, my birthday, and New Years.
Stuttgart, Esslingen, and Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany
London, Cheltenham, Bibury, and Bourton-on-the-Water, England
Herndon and Reston, Virginia, USA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Bourton-on-the-Water, England – Nicknamed the “Venice of the Cotswolds”, I loved this quaint English village that has the River Windrush passing through and is dotted with several pubs, tea houses, and gift shops.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Philly is a place I’ve been before but it continues to exceed my expectations. Although we only had two short days there, I really enjoyed how lively and historic the city is. Reading Terminal Market and the view from the One Liberty Observation Deck were two of my favorites this time around.
My first German Christmas market visit – I fell in love with German Christmas markets (and glühwein in particular!) after visiting three Christmas markets in the Stuttgart area earlier this month.
Visiting my family and friends for the holidays – There’s no place like home for the holidays! For the first time since moving, I had a full two week visit at home so I really was able to spent a lot of quality time with friends and family.
Flight and luggage chaos to get home – Travel mayhem was abound in my effort to get home to Washington, D.C. for the holidays. In total my flight was delayed seven hours, and I spent three of those in the plane on the tarmac. Then, upon arrival to the U.S., I found out the airline had lost my luggage. Three days later, I was sent luggage that wasn’t mine (similar last name, but different bag tag), and then finally on day four I (surprisingly, with no notice) received my luggage. I’ve now filed a claim with my airline to reimburse me for the clothes I had to buy in the meantime.
Tis the Season: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London – Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is definitely one of the highlights of the Christmas season in London. It’s beautiful and well done, and is as close to a German Christmas as you can get without actually going to Germany.
Cotswold Villages: A Picturesque Day in Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water – Cotswolds villages are quintessentially English, and I loved spending a day exploring two of them.
Top 10 Reasons to Love Living in England – A question I get asked regularly is why I like living in England, so I decided to answer with this listicle.
A Weekend at the Christmas Markets in Stuttgart, Germany – The Christmas Markets in Stuttgart were amazing, and I loved enjoying all things German during my trip.
Noelle’s Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hostels – Banish fear of staying in a hostel with my ultimate beginners guide.
2016 Reflections of Gratitude – My travels in 2016 made me very grateful in many ways.
Noelle Across the Pond in 2017 – See what travels I have planned for the New Year!
Coming up in January 2017:
Early January will be a whirlwind of two friends coming to visit England in the span of a few weeks, so day trips to Bath and Gloucester are planned. Later in the month, Mark and I are celebrating my birthday belatedly with a long weekend in Porto, Portugal.
What was the highlight of your December? What are your plans in January?