Interview: Christine Upton on Be My Guest experiences

If you think food tastes better when it’s shared with people who have a story to tell, you might like to hear about our Be My Guest experiences.

With Be My Guest, you’re invited into the homes or sometimes independently-run businesses of locals all over the world. You’ll try everything from home-made food to home-grown wines, and enjoy a deeper understanding of their lives and local culture through good conversation.

In this week’s post we catch up with Christine Upton, who sources our Be My Guest experiences in Europe, to hear what goes on behind the scenes.

You'll dine with local people in their homes on  our Be My Guest experiences

You’ll dine with local people in their homes on our Be My Guest experiences

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Discover China’s New Year traditions

Chinese New Year is celebrated across the globe. In London, you’ll find the largest festivities outside of China – with everything from street parties to a parade that weaves its way through the centre of the city. Big-scale celebrations take place in San Francisco, too, which is home to the largest Chinatown in the world.

But in China, there are a set of New Year traditions that families have followed for centuries, whether it’s the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Sheep.

Dragon in the Chinese New Year parades - photo by vegaseddie used under Creative Commons licence

Dragon in the Chinese New Year parades – photo by vegaseddie used under Creative Commons licence

The big clean

There are many traditions that take place in the lead-up to Chinese New Year – and one of them is cleaning. Similar to the concept of a ‘spring clean’, Chinese people clean their houses from top to bottom, signifying the removal of old and the welcoming in the new. Some people even give their windows and doors a fresh lick of paint!

New Year markets

Chinese people love to decorate their homes, and the New Year markets are perfect for picking up everything from lanterns and fireworks to food and flowers. These temporary bazaars spring up all over the country in towns and cities and are a great place to enjoy the build-up to the celebrations.

You'll see lanterns all over China during Chinese New Year - image by mac_ivan used under Creative Commons licence

You’ll see lanterns all over China during Chinese New Year – image by mac_ivan used under Creative Commons licence

New Year’s Eve dinner

Families gather on New Year’s Eve for what they regard as the most important event during the festivities: the New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s also known as the reunion dinner, as family members return to their home towns and cities from all over the world. Congregations often take place at a family member’s house and it’s a common tradition to serve dishes featuring fish and dumplings.

Red envelopes

It’s customary for adults to give their family members a red packet containing money. The monetary gifts are given out at family gatherings, usually to children and younger members of the family. It’s also not unusual for married couples to give money to younger adults who are single, as the gift-giving tradition symbolises good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.


Legend has it that the colours and loud sounds of fireworks are meant to drive away evil spirits, too. So right after midnight on New Year’s Eve, all different kinds of fireworks are let off and light up the night skies.

Chinese New Year fireworks - photo by dlee13 used under Creative Commons licence

Chinese New Year fireworks – photo by dlee13 used under Creative Commons licence

If you’re interested in discovering some of China’s customs and traditions for yourself, check out our China tours on

The Best Places to Pop the Question

February is the month of romance and what better time to pop the question. Now we all want the answer to be yes, right? So when you ask him or her to marry you, you’d better make it a memorable occasion.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

When you think of Paris, you think of romance, so it is no surprise that the Eiffel Tower appears on this list. Who could say no to living happily ever after standing on top of the most iconic sight in the most romantic city in the world?

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Grand Canyon

No doubt this one would impress outdoorsy brides and grooms to be. Proposing at this iconic National Park in the USA will offer a colourful backdrop to the occasion resulting in a guaranteed yes, especially if you’re doing it standing on the edge of a very deep and gaping gorge.

A Venetian Gondola Ride

What could be more romantic than a Venetian gondola ride in the moonlight? Huddled together under a blanket, you and your beloved glide past beautiful Venetian Palazzos, while being serenaded by the gondolier. Throw in a bottle of champagne and you’ve got the perfect setting for a marriage proposal. Now all you need is a yes.


Gondolas in Venice, Italy


Empire State Building in New York

How about proposing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which featured in many a rom-com? It’s where Tom Hanks fell in love with Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle and the place where Cary Grant waited in vain for his beloved Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. If it’s good enough for Hollywood, it’s good enough for a marriage proposal.

The shard in London

One of the latest additions to London’s skyline is the Shard. The viewing platform on its 72nd floor offers 360 views of the entire city which makes it a very romantic spot to pop the question. And if the answer is yes, you can go down a couple of floors to Aqua bar to celebrate the occasion with a bottle of bubbles.

A Walk Along the South Bank

The River Thames has been a life line for London throughout history; it was used for transport, it was an economic resource and a source for fresh water as well as food. These days it plays a more recreational part in Londoners’ lives and the Thames Path that runs along the river from source to mouth, is great for strolls, be it short or long. I love walking along the Thames Path, but my favourite part of it sits between Westminster Bridge and the Tower Bridge in the heart of London as it gives you amazing views of most of London’s iconic sights.

I usually start my stroll from the London Eye which has become one of London’s most iconic sights, since it was built in 2000. The views are pretty stunning from up there, but so is the length of the queue on most days. Continue north and pass the many street artists who have taken up shop here. Just before you go under the rail bridge, you’ll see a glass clad pavilion that looks like a moored ship. This is the Jubiloo, a public toilet that was opened for the Queen’s jubilee, and must be the most patriotic public facilities in the country. Pay the 50p and go see for yourself.

London Eye

London Eye and Houses of Parliament

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5 places where you can discover the depth of France

From the glittering Eiffel Tower in Paris to the glistening coastlines of the French Riviera, you won’t be surprised to hear that France lures more travellers to its land than any other country in the world.

If you want to discover the variety this diverse country has to offer, we’ve picked out five of France’s must-see cities and regions in this article. Plus there’s a chance for you to win two places on our Wonderful France trip as part of our latest competition – find out more below.


The city of love and lights is one of the most visited capitals in the world. Whether you’re on the hunt for exquisite food, endless shopping, remarkable architecture, unbeatable museums or art that changed the world, you’ll find it here in Paris. The thing is, everyone wants a piece (and who can blame them?) But if you join one of our tours in Paris, you’ll enjoy more time experiencing the city and less time standing in queues, with VIP access to the major sights.

Panorama of Paris

Panorama of Paris

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What goes on on Australia Day?

Australia Day marks the anniversary of the country’s first European settlement. In 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet placed a flag on Sydney Cove (Port Jackson), and was the beginning of what would eventually become the nation of Australia.

Contemporary Australia Day is a public holiday and still follows a wholly patriotic theme. It’s a time to spend quality moments with family and friends, and to celebrate all that’s great about being a fully paid-up Australian. Here are just some of the things that take place Down Under on this day of fun in the sun:

Family, friends, fun and food

Summer’s in full swing during Australia Day, so friends and family put on outdoor parties or head down to the local beach. BBQs and beer are often on the agenda, as are meat pies, strawberry pavlova and lamingtons. Lamingtons are an Australian treat, consisting of squares of sponge cake coated in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with coconut flakes.

Lamingtons - an Australian speciality

Lamingtons – a tasty Australian treat

Awards and welcoming ceremonies

Each year, the country celebrates the achievements and contributions of its people through the Australian of the Year awards. Categories range from Young Australian of the Year to Australia’s Local Hero, and it’s down to the public to nominate. The winners are announced on Australia Day at Parliament House. Australia Day is also a time to celebrate citizenship, welcoming those who’ve officially joined the nation.

Sydney Harbour celebrations

The buzz around Sydney Harbour on Australia Day is unbeatable. Family and friends pack a picnic and congregate along the harbour’s edge to enjoy the day’s festivities. Fun activities are put on for the kids, and flash mobs, dancers and concerts featuring big musical acts take place throughout the day. And of course, in true Sydney style, the celebrations culminate with a spectacular fireworks display.

Sydney Harbour - photo by Adam Campbell under creative commons licence

Sydney Harbour – photo by Adam Campbell used under creative commons licence

Hottest 100 songs of the year countdown

Australian radio station Triple J holds the world’s biggest annual music poll, named the Hottest 100. More than a million Australians place a vote for their favourite song of the last 12 months, and the countdown is the soundtrack of the day for many. This year Chet Faker’s Talk Is Cheap made the top of the chart.

Australia Day cricket

Australia Day cricket is something of a tradition. Sports-lovers tune into the one-dayer to watch the nation’s test cricket team compete against another of the world’s leading teams. The event has traditionally taken place in Adelaide, but 2015 saw the match being hosted at the redeveloped Sydney Cricket Ground.

If you’re keen to get a feel for the Aussie way of life, join us on one of our tours of Australia. On our 8-day Contrasts of Australia tour, you’ll get to see all the must-see sights and enjoy lunch with Bondi Beach locals. Or on our 9-day Discover Australia tour, you’ll have the chance to try your hand at traditional dot paining with Aboriginal artists.

Customs of the Balkans

When travelling through the Balkan countries, you’ll find that this part of Europe is particularly rich in folklore and traditions. If you’re thinking of going on a holiday to the Balkans, here is a preview of what to expect.


In Croatia greetings are usually exchanged in the shape of kisses. Everybody kisses everyone; Women kiss men and women, and men kiss women as well as men. If that’s all a bit too familiar for comfort, don’t worry, if you meet a Croatian for the first time, a handshake will suffice.


In Bulgaria the 14th of February isn’t a day of love. It’s a day to honour all those who produce wine and of course to drink a lot of it. The 14th of February marks the death of the patron saint of the winemakers, also known as St Trifon, but it is also a celebration that marks the beginning of spring.

Glasses of wine


When sitting down for a meal in Serbia, don’t just tuck in and start. Serbians wish each other ‘prijatno’ before they start digging in. Prijatno means something like ‘enjoy your meal’ and not saying it before you start eating, is considered rather rude.

Group having a meal


When taking a bus or train in Hungary, it’s not unusual to strike up a conversation with fellow passengers. Nothing strange about this, you might think. However, instead of the public transport chit-chat you might be used to at home, in Hungary it’s quite acceptable to share your entire life history with perfect strangers. Sharing is definitely caring in Hungary.


Traditionally, having a coffee in Bosnia is a social event and not something you drink on the go out of a paper cup. Bosnian coffee is strong, thick and served from a metal pot into a handle-less tumbler. It usually comes with a small jar filled with sugar cubes. Do as the locals do and dip a corner of the sugar cube into the coffee and nibble on it before taking a sip of coffee. It softens the bitterness of the drink that way.

Bosnian Coffee

Photo by Film Fledgling under Creative Commons Licence

Learn more about custom and habits of the Balkan on one of our trips. Have a look at