So there we go. Fresh from surviving the end of the world – congratulations to each and every one of you – and we’re looking down the barrel of another Christmas, with its brussel sprouts, familial duties and enforced shopping sprees. But come on, it ain’t all that bad! Yes seeing Christmas goods in the shops in October is a tad annoying, and certainly the whole commercial song and dance that seems to get longer and more pervasive every year does detract from the more festive side of things. But, for all the accompanying cynicism and in-your-face advertising, you really can’t deny there is also a genuine extra bit of goodwill around at this time of year…

The Oxford Street Christmas lights

Even the notoriously standoffish Londoners seem to be in cheerful and loquacious spirits in the lead up to Christmas. Walking up the road the other day I passed a man sweeping up debris in front of his doorway. This perfect stranger urges me to look up at the decrepit and peeling facade of his terrace house. “I’ve got to paint all that,” he says, inviting me to laugh at the unenviable task ahead of him. “Good luck!” I reply, and he chuckles merrily at our shared moment of human camaraderie before carrying on sweeping. Next up, on Oxford Street – where commuters normally crucify tourists and casual shoppers who dare to impair their journey home – I caught a girl in an expensive green coat repeatedly trying to outmanoeuvre two such idlers, only to find herself consistently barred by their haphazard dawdling. “I guess I should learn to be more patient,” she says, sharing her moment of introspection with me, before finally racing into McDonalds. Yes this normally terrifying capital commuter was willing to let her anger subside, despite her patently urgent need for a McFlurry. And yesterday, on the Tottenham Court Road, I found myself stalking arguably the coolest man alive, Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame, around Paperchase after spying him in the cards section… could it really be him? When I finally catch his eye, this rock star of the comedy world is polite enough to give me a festive smile and nod, before his silver heeled boots whisked him away. At any other time of year no doubt I would have got the “how dare you recognise me when I’m out shopping” celebrity scowl.

So there you have it. Christmas is all right by me. And, not only am I enjoying all this extra good will immensely, but I’m really looking forward to my family opening all the presents I’ve bought them… that are really for me. Like that expensive bottle of port “for Dad”, and the numerous obscure world cinema DVDs for the rest of the Rhodes team, which naturally will be appropriated into my own collection at the earliest opportunity. Yes merry Christmas y’all… I only hope you enjoy the presents you secretly got for yourselves, as much as I will enjoy mine.

…and finally, as is customary during my little From The Editor monologues, I won’t stop just yet but I’ll also round up some of the latest articles we’ve published since last time… which include new insider city guides to exciting Bogota, in Colombia, multi-cultural Toronto, in Canada and exotic Istanbul, in Turkey. Three more awesome destinations to add to your travel wishlist – so get reading! In the last couple of months, we also welcomed several new contributors to Urban Travel Blog, like Fran Goncalves, a talented Venezuelan photographer who shot fantastic stories about Zipaquira’s Salt Cathedral and the crazy Catalan spectacle of Correfoc (fire runs) for us. And the lovely Marissa Tejada, our new correspondent in Greece, who delivered a tantalising look inside the hip district of Gazi in Athens. The good news is that both will be contributing more to UTB in the coming months.

I myself put pen to paper, and lens to life, after a fun – and very educational – press trip to Portugal. Check out my photo story on Porto’s charismatic portals, and find out why pink port cocktails could be all the rage in 2013. (And yes, this does explain my newfound love of port wine and Dad’s Christmas present! If you’re interested in finding out more head over to Catavino.net, who just recently dedicated a month of posts just to port wine!).

Last but not least Keven Erickson and Krystyna Dul shared their amazing experience of going backstage at the Chinese Opera in pictures… and let’s just say I’m hoping for a little Christmas present from them in the next day or two from Prague [Update: here it is… Prague’s Christmas market chronicled in photos!]. So stay tuned… and merry Christmas once again from London!

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