TRAVEL by RICHARD JONES

As a self-confessed dreamy, idealistic traveller-type, I was recently drawn by a flashing yellow sign into a shop called Student Flights. I’m not sure if it was the sign itself that grabbed my attention; perhaps it may well have been the store’s rather emotive moto “go your own way”. Either way, I ended up in the branch, speaking with one of their happy advisors about some flights I can’t really afford to book. While Student Flights’ Debbie printed out a quote for me, I noticed all of the staff had, taped to the back of their computer monitors, an exciting list of bucket-list-type things they’d been lucky enough to have done. By far Debbie’s most impressive feat was that she’d visited all seven continents before her 25th birthday. “That must mean you’ve been to Antartica? How did you manage that?” I inquired. She told me how she’d handed over a small fortune to an adventure company operating out of Ushuaia, Argentina, and spent several days at sea suffering horrible sea-sickness, before arriving on the coldest, windiest, driest continent on earth and camping under the stars. “It was all worth it” she said.

Having started out the day with a set of entirely different goals in mind, I ended it contemplating selling one of my kidney’s to fund two separate holidays in the near future. While that could be viewed as a chilling indictment of the travel industry’s direct marketing strategies in a neo-capitalist, post-colonial-kind-of-way, I prefer to think it’s just because the world is so bloody amazing. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to do things like that? Adventure is out there. And the opportunities are endless.

Now, given that it’s Christmas (relatively) soon, I feel it’s only fair to imagine you’ll be considering the idea of leaving the country, in search of the kind of freedom the likes of Debbie have enjoyed, and the likes of you and I yearn for like people with poor self-control yearn for chocolate profiteroles two days into their ill-advised New Year’s Resolutions.  Summer is over, which means you’re three week interraill pass is likely now a mere distant memory, while January, February and March offer nothing but bleak, post-Christmas rain and the occasional Nandos. Christmas and New Year is truly the time for adventure, and I’ve got you covered. What follows are six (because that’s the number that came out when we recently played arbitrary listicle Bingo) exiting and adventurous destinations to head to over Christmas and New Year 2016.  I’ve taken the liberty of arranging them by my very-own-arbitrary-bingo-inspired adventure rating, meaning that fans of fire juggling and heli-skiing should jump straight to the bottom.

AMSTERDAM
Unfortunately for fans of fire juggling and heli-skiing, their thrill seeking nature has blinded them to some quite phenomenal options for this Christmas and New Year. Amsterdam is the first of these options. While there are some delightfully obvious reasons to pick ‘Dam for a holiday at any time of the year, The Netherlands’ largest city becomes even more alluring during the time of giving. There’s dozens of Christmas fairs and markets to attend, offering everything you might expect at a Christmas market, like ice rinks and mulled-wine, and some you might not, such as art exhibitions and live music.

amsterdam-fireworks

You’re New Years is covered in Amsterdam too. At the time of writing the 2016 itinerary for New Years in Amsterdam hasn’t been made official, but NYE 2014/15 saw 41 separate parties and events take place across the city by my count. And there’s something for everyone; Amsterdam has everything from nightclub parties, to pub crawls, to street do’s, to swanky black tie events.
Fun fact: The Netherlands has its own, special, concept of Christmas. Instead of Santa Clause, they’ve got ‘Sinterklass’ or translated literally ‘Saint Nicholas’, who does much the same job as our guy. Instead of Elves, however, Sinterklass is helped by a Batman-and-Robin-style sidekick called ‘Zwarte Pieten’, or Black Peter, who is said to have been ‘stuck in a chimney for a long time’. The exact history of Black Peter has been the subject of some controversy across Holland in the modern era- certainly worth googling if you get the chance.

BERLIN
Now, I’ve been to Berlin. And it was totally wicked. Much the same as Amsterdam, Berlin is a quite phenomenal place to visit as a tourist any time of year. The history of the place is a given, but the unique culture and characteristics that it’s developed in the last century truly blew me away. Some areas of Berlin look like you’ve stepped three decades into the future, where neon lights and international franchises meet high-speed metro systems and ruthlessly clean-cut concrete. Walk one mile in the right direction, and you’ll find yourself in a square of unimaginable historical importance. The Reichstag- refurbished in the nineties- acts as a perfect metaphor; a modern-looking steel and glass dome rises above the old building which was partially destroyed in a fire to begin Hitler’s rise to power. Berlin has also grown to become incredibly cosmopolitan and multi-cultural; it’s home to people from more than 180 countries and has a frighteningly cool nightlife and contemporary arts scene.

berlin

Back to Christmas, however. Christmas in Berlin has, as you might have guessed, a lot of very happening Christmas markets. Not just any Christmas markets, though, these are German Christmas markets, which means they’re the greatest Christmas markets in the world. Think giant outdoor snow slides, ferris wheels, enormous Christmas trees and all sorts of fancy sausages. Christmas dinner is sorted; too, Berlin has some of the nicest restaurants in Europe, while I feel I don’t need to tease too much for NYE beyond ‘fireworks in front of the Brandenburg Gate’.

ZURICH
Now we’re getting a little further afield. You’ve seen the headlines on the last two entries and thought ‘no, I won’t be that guy who orders the first thing he sees on the menu.’ As someone stupid enough to want to go to Antarctica on holiday, I respect that. Zurich, admittedly, will be ever-so-slightly more expensive to get to than ‘Dam and Berlin, but you’ll have the potential to get a lot more out of it. Zurich’s got pretty much everything the other two have; the markets, the old-timey architecture that looks very dreamy covered in a light-blanket of snow, the scent of cinnamon casually wafting through the air, but it’s also got two things the others don’t. Cheese and hills.

zurich-skiing

Fondue is apparently this huge thing in Switzerland (which is something I now realize to be a traditional Swiss thing I should really have known about) and it’s even popular during winter time when it’s awfully cold outside. There are literally hundreds of fondue-themed restaurants in the city limits, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t believe I’ve never had it for Christmas dinner before. Honestly, Google this pictures, this stuff looks amazing. Elsewhere, Zurich is near the aptly-named Swizz Alps, meaning if skiing is you’re thing you’re in pretty much one of the best places in the world for it. If, like me, you’re horribly uncoordinated and you’d prefer to watch the skiing take places in front of a fire, drinking wine and generally being blown away by the unfathomably pristine hills, there’s some availability for that too.

REYKJAVIK
Now, people, we’re venturing slightly out our comfort zones. And by a little, I mean a lot. Reykajavik, Iceland’s capital will be a more expensive and longer affair than anything we’ve seen so far. It will also be very surreal. When you’re there, daylight will shrink down to a four-hour window while emerald and magenta lights will dance across the sky in the night as you scrape a big fat line across the ‘SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS’ entry on your bucket list. You’ll also have the option to go on some very cool day trips; Iceland’s alien landscape boasts volcanoes, hot springs, glaciers and big ol’ mountains for partaking in adventure sports.

reykjavik

Also on offer is the fact that Christmas in Iceland isn’t just one day; it’s a festival that starts on December 23rd and goes on till January 6th and owing to Icelandic folklore and tradition, there’s also 13 Santas known as ‘Yule Lads’. NYE in Reykjavik is ran entirely by the people; there’s no one official event, but locals go big and bold with house parties and firework displays, making it a rather more rewarding cultural experience, I suspect.

BYRON BAY
I did say it got progressively more adventurous and therefore difficult, didn’t I? If you happen to be one of those people who read the trigger warning and skipped straight to the bottom, welcome thrill seeker! Allow me to offer you a Christmas and New Year like you’ve never seen before.  Being about a billion miles away, Australia happens to be in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning December-February is summertime. Also owing to being about a billion miles away, Australia experiences very warm summers and is home to the kind of beaches you’ve only ever thought existed on the travel magazines they put in clickbait articles on Buzzfeed.

byron-bay

Byron Bay is a town in Australia’s East Coast and is pretty much the jewel in the crown of Australia’s backpacker scene. Stunning beaches, adventure sports, nightclubs, bars, other backpackers, it’s got everything you might want. But all this isn’t even the reason you ought to book your flights yesterday, though. Every New Year’s, Byron Bay is host to Falls Festival, an arts and music festival which in 2016 will feature the likes of Bloc Party and Disclosure. That’s right; it’s a summer festival, with guaranteed incredible weather, on holiday, at Christmas. If only Falls Festival had puppies, it would literally be the greatest thing to ever have happened.

THE ANTARTIC PENINSULA
I did say Debbie from Student Flights got me inspired. No beating around the bush; this is a very expensive trip that will require a great deal of planning and some time at sea. That being said, we’re talking one-in-a-lifetime stuff here, and I have literally never, ever, at any point, met anyone who’s told me doing something like that wasn’t worth it. I suspect that’s because it is. The way to get to the Antarctic (that’s the SOUTH Pole for all you geography enthusiasts out there) is by first going to Argentina, to reach the world most Southerly city, Ushuaia. Have fun pronouncing that.
Once you’re in Ushuaia you’ll board a boat which will take you on 15 day round trip to the last bastion of human adventure. You’ll cross the infamous Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, where you’ll have the chance to kayak around icebergs, whale watch, hang around with Penguins and even camp out on the continent. It’ll be cold, sure, but never fear, thankfully waterproof boots are included as part of the package. I fear after a Christmas like that, turkey and Yorkshire puddings just wouldn’t do it for me anymore.

antacrtic