DC Fit Masthead

Around the World in 30 Days

Emma Macdonald

Not content to spend school holidays on the Gold Coast, Emma Macdonald packs up a husband and two kids and begins an adventure travelling to bucket list countries in head-spinning succession.



There is so much logic to breaking up that gruelling flight to Europe with a few days in China. Especially when you have young kids in tow. Certainly, adjusting to new time zones is made more gentle for the stay.

Shanghai is a surprisingly well-ordered city considering it’s the most populous in the world. It has a monumental skyline and a touch of European charm within its French Concession.

“You must not leave before you have dumplings, anywhere, anytime, any place.”


Checking in at Le Royal Méridien we are in a hectically busy commercial intersection, but only a few minutes’ stroll from The Bund—a beautiful waterfront promenade where you and possibly 50,000 Chinese tourists can indulge in some selfies.

LE ROYAL MÉRIDIEN SHANGHAI | 789 Nanjing Road East, Shanghai | leroyalmeridienshanghai.com


There is no shortage of incredible food in this city (we sneak in a child-free dinner at Barbarossa People’s Park, 231 Nanjing Xi Lu) and you must not leave before you have dumplings, anywhere, anytime, any place.


231 Nanjing Xi Lu | Facebook @barbarossashanghai


A word of warning, China’s most sophisticated city is now expensive. If you are keen for a cheap Asian stopover this is not it.

Nanjing Road is an impressive shopping strip with glossy designer malls punctuating every second block. But you will be competing with the new uber-rich Chinese. The French Concession is a beautiful (and cheaper) stroll, and if you want something cheesy, take the train through a neon-light encrusted tunnel under The Bund to get to Pudong.

Frankly we find it hard to convince our kids to leave the magnificent hotel pool under a glass roof on the 66th floor.

Luckily the credit cards survive the three days before we head to Finland.



Oh how I love this city. Even the Finnair flight has me smitten (thanks to Marimekko blankets and champagne served in Iittala’s Ultima Thule glasswear).

While we arrive in “summer” there is a stiff ocean breeze that sends us rummaging through our luggage for our Canberra winter jackets. After all, you are flying just about as far north on the globe as you can—next stop Arctic Circle.

The cobbled streets of Helsinki are pristine, and reflect the incredible midnight sun (yes, that’s right, in summer it doesn’t get dark until about 2am and the sun rises again at 4am).


We choose to stay in a prison. That may sound less than hospitable but the Hotel Katajanokka has been beautifully reconditioned since it started taking inmates in 1837.

HOTEL KATAJANOKKA | Merikasarminkatu 1, 00160 Helsinki | hotelkatajanokka.fi/en


The season of white nights signals a time for Helsinki-ites to either get out of the city or eat out, so it can be difficult getting a table in some places. For health and environmentally conscious travellers Helsinki is a dream—organic, locally-grown and sustainable food is sold with passion and food and packaging waste is suitably frowned upon (you won’t see Finns wandering around toting takeaway coffees).

For something really ridiculous, we try a Viking restaurant Ravintola Harald. The two meat-eaters among us (that would be father and son, not to name names) shock the other half of the family by ordering both beaver and reindeer in one meal. And they eat it.

RAVINTOLA HARALD | Citykäytävä, Aleksanterinkatu 21, 00100 Helsinki | ravintolaharald.fi


The prison—sorry, hotel—is a short stroll from the waterfront of the South Harbour. There is much to do at this end of the city, from catching the views in the massive London Eye-style Ferris wheel to sipping a coffee or cocktail by the freezing open-air pools (dear God, these Finns are made of stern stuff), and a large handicraft market heavy in reindeer products is open each day, drawing constant crowds.

Of course, now would be a brilliant time to visit some of the numerous excellent galleries displaying some of that unspeakably cool Finnish design aesthetic. But our stay falls over a Monday and alas, every gallery and the Design District is shut. We determine to come back for further adventures. Just not in winter.

Next stop, Spain.



What a joy to thaw out after a Nordic “summer”. Spain is worth a visit any time of year, but San Sebastian is a jewel in the Spanish crown for fans of sparkling blue harbours and a pervasive culture of hanging out in bars stuffing one’s face with food and washing it down with sangria.


We settle into a furnished apartment, Welcome Gros Hotel, and I rejoice in the joys of finding a washing machine in the kitchen.

WELCOME GROS HOTEL APARTMENTOS | Iparragirre Kalea, 3, 20001 San Sebastián | welcomegros.com


San Sebastian is famous for its Pinxtos—platters of what we would consider to be hors d’oeuvres with Spanish influences—think Iberico ham, olives, anchovies, eggs and octopus. The process can be a little confusing for the uninitiated and it is very informal. You walk into the bar of your choice (the best ones are located in the old town) and ask for a plate. You place your delicacies on the plate, they count how many. Somehow it seems they manage to keep tabs on what everyone eats and it all works out in the end.

You could eat pinxtos three times a day and never consume the same thing twice. Special mention goes to La Vina for hands-down the most insane Basque burnt cheesecake the world has ever seen. A certain Australian family may or may not have visited twice in one day. But we probably aren’t the first to do so.

We also made a few repeat visits to Gerald’s Bar, originally starting in Melbourne and now being run by a very competent team in one of the most competitive markets in the world. It is everything a bar should be—intimate, understated and delivering the most perfectly curated cheese platter and generous Aperol spritz of all time. The important things.

LA VINA | 31 de Agosto Kalea, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | lavinarestaurante.com

GERALD’S BAR | Iprragirre Kalea, 13, 20001 Donostia, Gipuzkoa | geraldsbar.e


It’s more than 100 years old and it seems to defy the laws of physics but a trip to Mont Iqueldo on the wooden furnicular is not only fun, but will give you some spinetingling views of the possibly the prettiest harbour in the world. There is a fun park at the top (Dreamworld fresh in our mind, we decline) and instead allow a sunshine-filled play on the large open park to the right of the sweeping beachfront, before you hit the old town.

Sadly, our short stay is over too soon, but we are thrilled to be leaving for France.

SAN SEBASTIAN FUNICULAR | Plaza del Funicular, 4 20008 | monteigueldo.es



While travelling with children can have its challenges, the advantage is that if you are organised, you can pool your resources with your other parent-friends plagued by wanderlust and book a castle in the Dordogne without squandering your offspring’s inheritance.

We have a group of nine great friends, all with young kids around the same age, and we have travelled overseas on a number of occasions. You can’t make this sort of commitment without knowing each other well.


This trip takes the cake in terms of our accommodation, Maison des Sarrasins, which is right out of a movie (it is, actually—the French film Chocolat was partly filmed in the village of Beynac).

Kids take bedrooms down one end of the villa, and apart from making sure an adult is always rostered on pool duty (the pool is carved into the rock cliff face and looks out over the Dordogne), it is a time where both parties can do their own thing, and what childhood memories are made of.

MAISON DES SARRASINS | Le Bourg, 24220 Beynac-et-Cazenac | sarrasins.fr


Frankly, we never stop. From buying the most incredible local produce at the local Sarlat Market and cooking in our massive kitchen to climbing the cobbled path up the hill and partaking of steak frites at Le Donjon.

We also fit in a quick trip to a local Michelin-starred bistro Le Grand Bleu which, while very 1990s in décor, serves three beautiful seafood-based courses and a peach soufflé.

SARLAT-LA-CANEDA | sarlat-tourisme.com/en/sarlat-market

LE DONJON | 24220, Beynac-et-Cazenac

LE GRAND BLEU | 43 Avenue de la Gare, 24200, Sarlat-laCanéda | legrandbleu.eu


There is no shortage of it with 10 kids on site. But the highlights include kayaking down the Dordogne, learning how to make a perfect goats cheese tart and chocolate soufflé at a cooking school Le Chevrefeuille, and exploring the exceptional gardens and castles of the region. Adult play was ending most days with champagne by the pool and cheese. So much cheese.

It is truly a wrench to leave after eight days, but Mother Russia is calling.

LE CHEVREFEUILLE | Pechboutier, St Cyprien, 24220 | lechevrefeuille.com

St Petersburg 


After a tedious travel day involving a drive to Paris, plane to Helsinki and train to St Petersburg, we arrive safe and sound.


We are booked into 3MostABoutique Hotel not so much for the quaint beauty of the hotel but for the beauty of what lies outside of it

Our street runs off a small canal making St Petersburg look and feel eerily similar to Venice. We turn a corner and there is the most magnificent gelato-coloured Cathedral—the Church on the Saviour of Spilled Blood—rising before us. A lone busker strums a haunting melody on his guitar and I might just burst into tears at the beauty of it all.

I could write an entire feature on St Petersburg—how historic, majestic, enormous and overwhelming it is. But it is also surprisingly cosmopolitan, fashion-conscious, luxurious and food-centric.

3MOSTA BOUTIQUE HOTEL | 3 Moyka Embankment (Naberezhnaya r.Moyki), St Petersburg | 3mosta.com


Our first restaurant is the nearby fine-diner Italian, Goose Goose. The next day we journey to Korushka in the Peter and Paul Fortress where we experience a Georgian staple, khachapuri. More bready than pizza, more cheesy than bread, it is instantaneously addictive.

GOOSE GOOSE | 27, Sankt-Peterburg, Leningrad Oblast | italy-group.ru

KORUSHKA | Zayachiy Island, 3 Petropavlovskaya Krepost | en.ginza.ru


You cannot visit St Petersburg without experiencing the Hermitage Museum or Peterhof (via a quick boat-ride) and the wealth of incredible art on display requires a day or two to digest.

One of the best days is spent with friends, former Sydney journalists who loved Russia so much they moved here. You only scratch the surface of a culture so foreign when you visit as a tourist, but picking the brains of locals allows you real and lasting insights.

It’s time for the final leg of our journey, and in my mind we save the best til last.

HERMITAGE MUSEUM | Palace Square, 2, Sankt-Peterburg | hermitagemuseum.org

PETERHOF | Razvodnaya ulitsa, 2, St Petersburg | saint-petersburg.com/peterhof

New York City


I will never get sick of New York. It is its own universe.


We check into the achingly hip The Beekman which is the kind of place that commissions its own scent to be infused through its air-conditioned confines (Velvet by 12.29—you’re welcome).

THE BEEKMAN | 123 Nassau St, New York, NY 10038 | thebeekman.com


It is my birthday and the final week of our mammoth trip, so we throw caution and credit ratings to the wind, indulging in our bucket-list items.

One is to eat at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. We have a booking at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and indulge in a 10-course degustation that sets our culinary expectations at new heights.

We let the kids eat doughnuts for breakfast every day, and have pizza for lunch. We walk across Brooklyn Bridge and somehow get to be first in line for a table at Grimaldi’s world-famous (aren’t they all?) pizza restaurant. The queue snakes down the street and around the corner. It is, indeed, most excellent pizza. We order champagne at brunch at Boucherie in the West Village and eat superb Big Gay Ice Cream across the street.

And we sample, in the interests of research, a number of whiskey cocktails at The Dead Rabbit—reportedly the best bar in the world.

THOMAS KELLER’S PER SE | The Shops at Columbus Circle | thomaskeller.com/perseny

GRIMALDI’S | Front Street, Brooklyn | grimaldis-pizza.com/home

BOUCHERIE | 99 7th Avenue South, New York | boucherie.nyc

BIG GAY ICE CREAM | 61 Grove Street, New York | biggayicecream.com

THE DEAD RABBIT | 30 Water Street New York | deadrabbitnyc.com


We walk through the rain without a care in the world. We spend hours in the brilliantly interactive Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. We hire a tandem bike and cycle through Central Park. We hit the Bloomingdales, Century21 and then walk through the September 11 Memorial. We find public art to climb on and brave the crowds at Times Square. We are as energised as the city and cram in a succession of adventures (and 25k steps) a day.

Suddenly, we find ourselves back on a plane—this time headed for home. Is it over so soon? Our heads are spinning, our hearts and stomachs are full.

COOPER HEWITT SMITHSONIAN DESIGN Museum | 2 East 91st Street | cooperhewitt.org


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author