When in Serbia, Do as The Serbians Do

 

Which is what exactly? I have no idea.

Alan and I found ourselves heading the long way round to Kenya for the Christmas holidays. As we had travelled a bit, moved in together and started to talk about the future I thought it was high time he met the family. So we requested the time off work, I busied myself at the computer to get ahead of the University game, and we booked our flights. Unfortunately, as with the student lifestyle, we were on a budget. After much searching and seeking, we found two flights back to Kenya for the low price of a few hundred pounds each.

Although our flights were cheaper flights, the route home wasn’t the most direct. We found ourselves heading from Wales to Kenya via London, Serbia and Abu Dhabi. Usually, I would shudder at the thought of taking longer than 24 hours to get home but with Alan by my side, I started to look at the adventure rather than the journey. This would be our first major travel trip together… a make or break as it were, especially as Kenya and my family were the final destination.

Looking back now, we ended up paying roughly the same amount as a more expensive ticket if we added all meals, alcohol, souvenirs, hotel rooms and car parking to the equation. A word of warning: cheap flights don’t necessarily mean cheap. We learned this the hard way.

After a night in a London Easy Jet hotel, we boarded the flight to Belgrade and arrived in the depths of winter to a dark, cold and misty night. As we were flying early again the next morning, we didn’t venture too far into Belgrade because at this point; sleep was our number two priority, second only to me submitting my journalism essay because it was still in the editing stages when we departed and the deadline was looming. Thankfully, The Apart K hotel ended up being a little slice of Serbian paradise, and the upgrade to the penthouse suite was very much appreciated although totally unnecessary.

What Serbians do at night in the middle of winter is nothing… the streets were bare; the shops were full of produce, but empty of people and even the bars were quiet. After a brave wander through the mist for supplies and a quick last-minute glance at my journalism essay, we hid in our hotel room, had some traditional Serbian food (or not because I’m sure chicken and rice is an everyday staple), and we settled in to do… well, nothing.

I can’t sit here and sell you a holiday to Serbia because quite frankly I wouldn’t have a clue where to go or what to do but what I can tell you is that even in the dark, the Serbians are some of the nicest people. The hotel and their very minimal number of staff kept us warm and well-watered, and they produced a large amount of food for a little sum of money. My advice is never to take the cheap tickets or the long way round but if you ever find yourself in Serbia in the middle of winter, don’t be afraid to leave the comfort of your hotel room (no matter how penthouse-esque), because the people might just surprise you with their hospitality.

All in all, I’d love to go back during the day to get the real flavour of Belgrade, but all things considered, it made for an adventurous layover on a very long journey home. It was the perfect beginning to a trip that would end up changing my life forever.

Hungary? No, drunk!

I have finally found some time to go through my photos and face one of the biggest first world problems I encounter almost daily: what do I Instagram? In this process of deciding how many pictures I should Instagram and what, I have begun to realise that I spent the majority of my 7 days in Hungary either drinking or eating. There was more drinking than eating in all honesty but very little else in between. Anyway, after umming and ahhing, I’ve Instagrammed the lot, and I hope that you’ll check us out here.

I don’t usually sit and watch the world go by let alone spend entire days moving from one bar to another but this time around I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my holiday. It may have been because I have been to Hungary before and did the touristy thing the last time I was there, or it was because perhaps, this time, I had company, and good company at that but in all honesty, it was a week of revelations.

When traveling, especially to fun and vibrant cities like Budapest, the flavour of the place isn’t always where the guidebook suggests. You don’t need to look very hard and in most instances, you don’t need to move very far either. In this case, the taste of Budapest is mint and coconut, and it’s served with crushed ice and a dash (or double) of rum. From the very famous ruin bars to a mates place down the road you are never short of a great place to sit, sip and enjoy.

I first went to Hungary many years ago before the idea of writing about it even occurred to me so instead of visiting the Buda Castle or stopping to awe at the Parliament building, I sat and watched the world go by. I’m not saying that you should give the tourist spots a miss, of course not. Hungary has some of the most beautiful architecture and some of the coolest buildings. The view from the castle alone allows you to soak in the Parliament building and a monstrosity known as the Intercontinental Hotel (just ignore the ugly brown and look for the old school).

Then, of course, there is the market hall and all the side streets and alleyways full of numerous restaurants and souvenir shops. So walk around, throw the map away and get happily lost in a world of architecture porn, Goulash and novelty t-shirts.

As I was dragging Alan along this time around, I thought we’d do things a little differently. I, unfortunately, can’t take all the credit for this; it was Alan’s idea, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for showing me another side of traveling. After catching up with my brother and teaching his kids how to cart-wheel, we thought we deserved many much-needed refreshments.

We visited far too many bars for me to mention them all, but some of my favorites are:
Kiosk Budapest; they do a mean pina colada with a twist.
Bar Pharma for a Gin and Tonic done old school style.
Fellini’s on the other side of the river because there is no better way to spend a day than sipping on lemonade eating langos paddling in the Danube.
And to end things on a high note, it can only be the 360 Bar for some of the most amazing views and incredible cocktails to boot.

Budapest and I are old friends, but I know that every time I pop in, it will show me a little something new to keep me interested because that’s what old friends do.

Sleeping With Strangers In Saint Malo

AirBnB: Got to love it, got to hate it! Recently (or not so recently) I found myself actually in a love hate relationship with this new way of sleeping around the world. When it works, it’s really awesome and it’s such a great way to meet new people… when it doesn’t work it has you contemplating sleeping outside the station wearing all your clothes and sweating away on a train calling your sibling and asking her to bail you out of trouble… yet again!

So after Paris, plans somewhat changed and I found myself heading back to Saint Malo with nowhere to stay. With a trusty iPhone by my side I decided not to panic well too much anyway because I would surely find somewhere to stay on my AirBnB app. As it turns out I didn’t and even contacting and requesting to book every available space I was on the train with absolutely nowhere to stay.

When I arrived in Saint Malo I dressed myself in all my clothing, hid all my valuables on my person and prepared to camp outside the station until the next day where a new day meant that I would find somewhere to sleep! As it turns out I only half needed to panic. Thankfully one of the AirBnB folk got back to me with an available place to stay. There was only one small issue: it was his place and he was there.

Not one to abuse the help of strangers I jumped at the chance of having a roof over my head and prayed to the universe (I realise I do this a lot now) that he wasn’t a serial killer or some sort of traveller rapist. With very little money left to my name and very few hours left of patience and humour I jumped in to a taxi counted my pennies and spent the last of my phone battery messaging everyone I could think of the location of my whereabouts and the address of where I would be staying.

Things went from bad to worse… the house was under renovation and with only had one bedroom… this meant we would be sharing sleeping space. Again deciding that it was too late to back out now, I had no choice but to keep all my clothing on (if he was going to get me it was going to be after an epic fight with huge amounts of clothing) and crawl in to bed. In my mind I was drawing imaginary lines and telling myself that if his hands crept anywhere near that line I would be out and running as fast as my drag would let me. Unnecessary panic later my faith in humanity had been restored. He behaved and kept his hands to himself. Ok so he did sleep pretty much naked but his naked body stayed well away from the centre line and therefore well away from me. Phewie!

The next morning there was all the awkwardness of a walk of shame without any of the actual shame. With the help of sleep and daylight I decided that I couldn’t have picked a more innocent stranger to share sleeping space with and that actually in hindsight all my clothing was a little too extreme (I woke up a little more sweaty that I would have liked to and with no opportunity to have a shower). After a quick introduction to his parents… who I can imagine were a little happy to see him with an actual female we were in the car and on the way to town. He dropped me off somewhere out in the sticks but I found myself back to my station and very grateful to the kindness of strangers for taking me in and not killing me in my sleep.

AirBnB also came through for me once more and found me a better much nicer place to stay that was all mine (no sharing required). After finally feeling like life was all in order once more and with another adventure to add to my ever-growing list, I headed to the beach, picked up some cheese and baguette and enjoyed a leisurely walk in the rain. The weather stopping play, I decided against trekking to explore the old fort town s instead turned back around and took myself and my cheese home and parked myself in front of French SpongeBob Square Pants.

Although I have very little to report on Saint Malo itself I can assure you that I will be back. There was something so sweet about the people and the place: a sleepy French seaside village full of many characters and a little history too. The beach is pretty spectacular as well and if you have time then exploring around Dinard isn’t a bad idea. It may have been a stressful 72 hours but it was exactly what the doctor ordered after a very hectic few days in Paris.

Just a word of wisdom before I end… I’m not suggesting that everyone jump in to bed with strangers… It’s not the safest option and I got lucky. But saying this, don’t underestimate the kindness of strangers. Not everyone is out to kill and murder and kidnap, some just want to make sure that a lonely tired tourist has a good nights sleep somewhere warm and out of the rain. Thank you Carl, it was an absolute pleasure sharing sleeping space with you. You have restored my faith in humanity and I hope you enjoy New Zealand!

 

 

La Gourmandise Of Paris

The more I travel the more a pattern emerges from all the adventures I have been lucky enough to enjoy. From gorging on chocolate cake in Devon to pub lunches in Amesbury or ice cream in Beaumaris, I am never too far away from a good feed or a large amount of sweet goodness. Paris of course would have to be no exception. Famous for not only it’s iconic landmarks and impressive monuments but also it’s fresh bread and pastries, I had no choice but to enjoy a little of the gourmandise that the French have to offer.

“Tartelette Citron pour moi s’il vous plaît,” became my second favourite French line, second of course to “J’ai soif, une bouteille de vin rouge tout suit.” The citron tarts as well as the fresh homemade baguettes filled with all kinds of delicious Parma ham and salami were enough to have me falling in love with the city and also having to roll myself home unable to then walk up the numerous flights of stairs to my bed. Amazing food with the added bonus of some beautiful architecture and engineering, I was quite possibly in an Earthly version of heaven.

Don’t get me wrong; in between the food comas and the endless amounts of café lunches and bistro dinners I did indeed explore much if not all of Paris. Although I spent the best part of five days there I have to admit that perhaps five days is one or two too many. After eating more than enough pastry and bread and seeing most of the must see places there isn’t much left to do. With some careful planning and strategic routing you can eat and view the important things in a couple of days tops.

Those who I went travelling with are probably sick of me saying this but Paris is a city you have a cheeky affair with, not a long and happy marriage. It’s great for a weekend of indulgence or as the French put it “Gourmand” but you wouldn’t want to buy a car or a house or go shopping for curtains. At least I wouldn’t. I enjoyed my affair and I loved every minute of it but by the fifth day I was happy to be leaving.

Although all I have talked about up until this point is the food, there is more to Paris than just croissants and baguettes. From the Eiffel Tower to the Sacré-Cœur and Notre-Dame to the Louvre you could spend hours and hours standing in lines waiting for your turn to walk through the doors until your heart’s content. Admittedly I was not one of those people stood in line and I wasn’t eagerly trying to book tickets online either, although if you are interested I would suggest booking ahead because it not only saves time but it’s also a little cheaper too. I for one wasn’t going to cut in to my binge drinking time to ooh and aah at the view or stonework so as soon as I saw the length of the line, I took my photos and left soon after arriving. I know I don’t do these historic sites justice by running by them so by all means if you have some spare money and of course extra time then do try to get in, I have heard that it is worthwhile.

If walking around the city is daunting then consider the option of hiring a bike because the amount of ground you can cover in a day is crazy. If you are on the roads, keep an eye out for crazy drivers, I’m lucky to be alive but I can’t say I’m the most bike savvy person I know and your safety isn’t always someone else’s priority. If that is too extreme for you then there is always the Metro, which is surprisingly really easy to navigate. I used and abused all three modes of transport, which my feet and legs hated me for but walking around and seeing the sights of Paris was far more exciting that heading underground and missing all the best bits.

In between the oohing and aahing and the cycling and walking, grab some wine, a good pastry and park yourself in a place where the locals gather. I say this because the locals always know best and there is a reason why so many squash in under one roof. Anywhere along the river is a personal favourite and one I would highly recommend. There was music to be heard and everyone was dancing and drinking and generally enjoying life watching the world go by. Even sat in a café and taking your sweet time over lunch, you’ll get a taste of the Parisian life and you’ll be amazed at just how infectious it really is.

Although it’s a city, the locals tend not to live in the fast lane. They always seem to have the time to sip on a glass of vin rouge and there is certainly always time to catch up with friends. Never once did I see anyone rushing and even though I thought it was time for work, everyone seemed to be ordering more wine or another round of bread during weekday lunches.

If Paris taught me one thing, it’s that there is always time to pull up a chair and put your feet up. Whether it be under the arches of the Eiffel Tower or around the fountains of the Luxembourg Gardens, life is meant to be enjoyed so take your time and enjoy the sweet stuff because if you aren’t careful, the world will pass by you in a moment and there will be no time left to enjoy a good pastry surrounded by great friends all washed down with a nice glass of French wine.

The best thing about me having an affair with this city is that when my marriage with the road gets tiresome and I need a little indulgence, Paris will only ever be a flight away and it will happily welcome me back with open arms and a plate full of my favourite pastries. And although I will love it unconditionally for a weekend, there will always be something reminding me that Paris will never be mine and it was never meant to be but that won’t stop me coming back for more of the gourmandise.

My Kind Of Village

I never thought that visiting my Grandfather would actually end up being an enormous hoot. I expected early morning walks and endless amounts of tea and tales of way back when he was my age, I didn’t expect to find a little slice of gin heaven. It comes in the form of a pub and it’s tucked away down a not so main street in the little village of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

I know that many of you are going to be checking your maps and trying to work out where this place is or even wondering if gin is really worth the journey. I am here to assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Woodbridge doesn’t have just gin on offer. Fortunately for this little village it lies on the sea and we all know what goodness comes with salty waters. You guessed it: Boats and obviously fish.

Surprisingly large amounts of people are finding themselves quite literally stuck in the mud and living on houseboats in this small harbour. I can’t say that boat life is for me and if I were to do that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the mud but it seems that real estate doesn’t always mean bricks, mortar and a small amount of land. If there were a place where I would swap the studio apartment for a canal boat then Woodbridge would probably be the place to be. Just over and hour and a half from London you are still very much within reach of the city but with the luxury of coast-life and the countryside.

If you find yourself in these muddy waters then take a walk along the waterfront and breathe in the sea air, there are so many boats of all shapes and sizes for you to be bored by and the scenery doesn’t disappoint either. If you fancy a little history lesson too, head to the Tide Mill (you can’t miss it… it’s a big white wooden building) and watch in awe at how waves help make flour. This isn’t as boring as it sounds, there is an art to milling and back in the day when there was no technology or heavy-duty machinery everything was made by hand and people had to get inventive. This particular mill was actually the last commercially working tide mill in the UK, which has now been restored to working order. There is quite a lot of history packed in to a building and the views out of the window are pretty awesome too. Just remember everything was made by hand and everything depended on the tides.

When you have milled and mulled over boats until your heart’s content, then casually stroll through the streets of Woodbridge. From old buildings housing pubs to colourful doors and water wells there is a lot to take in. Walk in and out of the alleyways and don’t forget to stop in for a beer here and there. My personal favourite watering holes are The Table for some awesome alfresco dining when the sun is shining, The Kings Head Inn because the building is the oldest in the town and worth a snoop around, The Anchor because although when we arrived it was more a working mans pub than a place where women go to drink they still pour a good pint. FYI women are welcome… we just so happened to be the only three in there! And last but by no means least The Angel is a definite stop spot, perhaps save it for last because you are going to need to dedicate many hours to get the full effect of how awesome this place is.

If you have read my post about Australia you will of course know that Grandma’s Bar in Sydney is my favourite pub in the whole world I am going to have to put The Angel as a very close second. With 150 different types of gin on offer this is literally my kind of heaven. The only thing I regret from my weekend is not having enough time to sample them all but collectively between us we managed to get through nine.

I actually don’t remember what most of them taste, I think that had something to do with our pub crawl but there were some awesome fruity flavours like blackcurrant and blueberry but the two that really stick out are Elephant Gin distilled in Germany and Mombasa Club distilled in London.

If you are big in to conservation, especially Elephant conservation then Elephant Gin is the drink for you. Proceeds from each bottle sold go to saving the species in Africa and every bottle that is distilled is dedicated to one Elephant in particular. The bottle I was drinking from and consequently finished was helping to save an Elephant called Nana. Rather fitting considering my grandmother was known to Nana by us all. Not only does this bottle of gin taste mighty fine but when you can drink and save wildlife in one go I am all for it. This I feel is an iconic drink for an iconic species and one I will be ordering from somewhere and stocking it on my shelf. It is after all in the name of conservation… I am doing it for the Elephants!

The Mombasa Club recipe dates back to the colonial days where they used to drink gin by the gallon in the era of the British Empire on the coast of Kenya. It has a very distinct flavour and one that definitely reminds me of home and definitely one I will find myself sipping anytime anywhere. For all of you non-gin drinkers out there I urge you to do a little alcohol explorations. If ever there were a gin to convert these two would be it.

Woodbridge may be a little village for the retired or eager seamen but it certainly doesn’t disappoint the young traveller either. Not only will I go back to spend some more time sipping tea out of mugs that remind me of my childhood and listening to my grandfather recount his youthful days I will certainly go back to complete the challenge of trying all of that gin. 150 gins in 150 Days or possibly even hours… who’s to say it’s impossible?

The Cure For Everything

Barely a stones throw away from Bangor, Beaumaris is a very sweet little fishing village that packs in an amazing view. I have often been tempted to trek across the Menai Strait marsh to go for an ice cream. Yes, I could swim there if the waters were warmer, it’s that close.

Unfortunately I’m not in the tropics so the sea has quite a chill to it but thankfully this is also the UK where public transportation functions the majority of the time. A short bus drive through the country lanes and sheep farms of Anglesey, Beaumaris is a place that you simply have to visit when in North Wales.

I have even searched high and low for some fun facts for you all. It’s not the best I have found as of yet but it will do. Pay attention, this could be useful when it comes to pub quiz trivia. So get that Wales guidebook out again and find the highlighters, I can guarantee that you will not want to drive past this town in too much of a hurry.

Biwmares as the Walians call it is home to one the most technically perfect castles in the UK. With it’s classic proportions and perfect symmetry it is quite a site. It even has its very own moat that is home to a swan or two. If I was a castle enthusiast, I am sure this would be considered castle porn. As I am not too familiar with castles I can’t be sure but from a fine-architecture enthusiasts point of view it is beautiful. If Edward I had actually finished it I know that it would be even more spectacular.

According to some other website, he was running out of money and the Scots were being very effective with their resistance to the English Monarch so his grip on Wales was slowly but surely slipping out of his hands. Long story short, he had to focus his attention elsewhere so the rest was left as quite literally history. It gets a little more technical with the extravagant plans of “walls within walls” and the high-techyness (not and actual word I know) of if too but I have a feeling that I could be boring you to sleep if I continue for much more. Apparently it also pissed of the locals who were forced to move to a nearby beach. Who would have thought a cool castle would be so an irritation?

Anyway Google it if you fancy some more information. I didn’t go in to the castle itself so I can’t tell you much more, I don’t think it would be very fair. It’s a pricey place in my opinion too but I think that’s because I continue to live on a very tight student budget!

You are probably thinking this isn’t much of a fun-fact, that’s because it isn’t really the fun-fact I had in mind. A little history has to be done when it comes to these things, especially when castles are involved, not all facts should be fun really.

The real fun fact of Beaumaris is actually to do with the name of the town. Beau Maris in French means ‘beautiful husbands’ so as you imagine people get quite confused as to why this small fishing village in named after good-looking people. The truth is, it’s a corruption of Beaux Marais, which means ‘beautiful marshes’, and of course this makes more sense. Edward I (the man who didn’t finish building the castle) was French-speaking which is why it is derived from the French language. And of course the Welsh being Welsh, they have named it Biwmares, which I think is just the Welsh world for Beaumaris (I’m still don’t know how to speak Welsh).

This small quaint fishing village in indeed quite beautiful and I guess it is quite marshy too so I can see where the inspiration came from. The views alone to the Snowdonia Mountains make the town a worthwhile place to visit. No denying it, the castle has it’s own beauty and dark story to it too but there is nothing more beautiful than snow-capped mountains down by the sea.

Obviously on a cloudy day these wont be visible so you have to put your order in for some sunshine with the weather Gods but even if it is cloudy there are other things that more than make up for it. As it is a fishing village you can entertain yourself with a spot of fishing off the pier, take a walk in the countryside, explore the Georgian architecture, grab a seafood lunch (highly recommended) or just have an ice cream.

You are probably thinking ice cream during winter is downright insanity but trust me. The Red Boat ice cream parlour isn’t famous for nothing. It’s all hand-made and with so much love you can actually taste it in the flavours. I couldn’t decide on which flavour so I went for the Mascarpone, strawberry and balsamic vinegar one only because apparently its their most famous?!? Anyway it was beyond delicious and I could have sat there all day just eating myself silly on the overly yummy goodness. Just looking at the chocolate one alone gave me diabetes but I imagined that it would be so worth it. After a delicious seafood lunch at the Pier House this was the dessert to beat all desserts. And it’s not expensive either, you would think that with the fame the ice cream would cost a fortune, it’s doesn’t. I would have paid much more for my scoop, well worth every penny of the £2.50.

Take it away in a cone or a cup and find a bench down by the waterfront and just sit. There is no better place to watch the world go by and to contemplate anything. With the calm sea, different shades of blue everywhere, the snow-capped mountains, and a little sunshine topped off with the orgasmic ice cream you are bound to forget any worries even for a short while.

The cure for everything isn’t just salt water anymore; it’s strawberries, sexy castles and of course stunning scenery as well. You also never know what could happen, you may be lucky enough to find your Beau Maris around town too. I have a lot of love for this beautiful marsh and you should too.

The Countryside Version Of London

Bristol may not be the number one destination for most people but seeing as I know enough people there I thought I should pay a visit to the place people call “Little London”. Bristol is most famous for the infamous graffiti artist who has been stencilling his way around the globe and in to the hearts of any lover of street art. I can’t say I am a great following of Banksy; I don’t tour the globe hoping to catch a glimpse of his latest masterpiece and I certainly don’t sign myself up to all the many appreciation societies or the like. I do however enjoy oohing and aahing at his latest and greatest. And what better place to ooh and aah than Bristol?

Banksy isn’t the only street artist to plaster the walls and doors of this city, if you walk down Gloucester Road alone you will get dizzy crisscrossing the road to try to absorb it all. Wonder down all the little alleyways too and pay attention to the shutters of all the shops. There is art and talent to be seen absolutely everywhere. It takes a while to walk down the road so I would strongly suggest a good breakfast and even a boosting smoothie from the two Boston Tea Party shops that can be found in that area. If BTP doesn’t take your fancy there are heaps of other independent shops and cafes for everyone’s taste buds. Plug in the tunes and have the camera ready, this road alone is enough to entertain you for a whole morning! Keep an eye out for the Banksy that can be seen on one of the walls there too, it’s a goody! I hear there are a couple of others not to far away either so if he is your thing then download the map or join a walking tour and get seeing!

If you are starting to feel peckish pick up a map and head down to St. Nicolas market for a bite to eat. From Moroccan to pies and even biltong (South African delicacy) you really can’t go wrong. The smell alone is enough to get your mouth-watering. Pick a place and dine in or take out. Pretty cheap too and students wave your cards about, there are many discounts to be had! Be warned it does get busy but don’t let that put you off. When bellies are full and the feet have recovered from the walking, head further down to Queens Square and sit for a while, watch the world go by and soak up the sun (if it’s a summers day). If you don’t fancy just sitting then keep walking and head towards the Marina, here you will find yet another Banksy (my personal favourite) and maybe even a pirate ship or two. The M Shed Museum will also give you the run down on the history of Bristol if you fancy something a little more history based. Pretty exciting stuff for a city in England!

I think that’s about all you would want to do in a day, it’s quite a lot of walking and sightseeing so head back up towards the market and find the Milk Thistle speakeasy bar or any restaurant that happens to waft your way. Another brilliant feature of Bristol is the food, I would love to go back and feed myself silly on a restaurant tour. From breakfast to brunch, dinner and even just tapas there is so much on offer. Make sure you book, it’s a busy place so don’t get disappointed. I only managed a trip to The Ox on Corn Street but it was the best steak I have had and the atmosphere made it all the more so. It’s down in a basement somewhere but ask and someone will point you in the right direction. I am only going to touch on this subject as I ran out of time but find some locals and ask them where and what it is that you should be eating and drinking. There is so much happening you will be spoilt for choice!

When you have eaten and drunk yourself in to a coma jump on a canal boat tour or venture up to Clifton. There are some really cute knick-knack type shops and more cafes to savour and enjoy! The view to the suspension bridge and across the city is also something to marvel at and just the coloured houses alone are enough to keep the eyes well entertained. Don’t forget Bristol is also a massive student town so keep and eye out for the wild parties if you want to throw some shapes and if you find yourself around the area from the 6th to the 9th August live a little and join in with the annual balloon fiesta, it’s not to be missed!

I will be going back to Bristol soon and will of course update you on more of the ‘must dos’ but with so much to see, do and eat you would be silly not to stop by if you are around. Keep in mind that Bath is just down the road too so why not make the most of what the South West of England has to offer. Check out http://visitbristol.co.uk for a more up to date version of the what’s what and who’s who and get planning. Who needs the bright lights of the big city London when you can get all this and more in the smaller countryside version?

Head over to http://olivingthedreamphotography.com for a little insight in to the wonders of Bristol.

Under The Red Lights Of The Canal District

I am pretty sure you can all guess where I have just been. There is only one place that is so famous for red lights and canals and I recently found myself enjoying the city for a few hours. Ok ok so I purposely planned to layover in Amsterdam as opposed to Doha, simply because my wonderful British passport (Thank you Queenie) allows me to come and go out of European cities as though I own them. I’m pretty sure my layover won’t go down in the history books for being the most epic layover ever but I definitely enjoyed my 12 hours that I had. It’s not the hardest city to navigate and with so much to do you are spoilt for choice. Sadly my student lifestyle means that these days my budget is getting even tighter so I limited myself to a grand total of €12 but I still managed to have an absolute blast. I am starting to think I am getting quite good at this travel malarkey, I even found myself guiding some fellow British travellers down the side streets and showing them the sights that this lively city has to offer. They thought I did this for a living… Of course I passed on my blog details so I hope you are reading ☺

Anyway thanks to so many suggestions from my friends I had a sort of rough idea of what I wanted to see before I arrived. I am not going to lie, in my sleepless state as I left the airplane all I wanted to do was find a bed and snooze until my next flight, to make matters worse it suddenly dawned on me that I don’t speak Dutch (lack of sleep obviously playing tricks with my mind… Dutch people do speak English too. Duh!!) Anyway after a small and really silly panic I braved the outdoors and jumped on the train in to Amsterdam Central. And how easy it was! I went to the information office, picked up a very good and easy to follow map for €2.50 (totally worth it) then went to the machine, bought a ticket and also managed to find the right platform all without speaking a word of Dutch. Some very friendly people then announced to me when I should disembark and that’s where the fun really started.
Initially I got a bit lost; I am not going to lie. For some reason I didn’t really follow the map or my sense of direction and decided that it was all about the adventure and it didn’t matter if I got a little lost, I had a 12 whole hours to spare before my departing flight! Amsterdam is laid out quite nicely, good job people who designed the concept. If you have a little common sense as well as a sense of direction there is no way you can get lost in the jungle of canals. I only used the map as it told me what the buildings were, and where the museums were. It also proved helpful in finding some hidden treasures too.

I had earmarked the most important things I wanted to do: Red light district because it’s the done thing, the DAM square, again it’s the done thing and I simply needed to have my photo taken with the large letters that everyone is so familiar with. Anything on top of that was such a bonus.
I pretty much covered the whole of the town minus going in to a few museums, largely due to the lack of funds. I spent a grand total of €12 – €2.50 on a map, €9 return train ticket and the rest on lunch. Not bad considering how much I saw really. If I had had the time I would have paid to go and see the Anne Frank house as well as the Rijksmuseum but I wasn’t sure how well I would see them if I rushed through. In all honesty unless you are in to that I don’t think you need to pay to go in. There is no point spending the few Euros when you aren’t going to enjoy the viewing. Amsterdam has enough on offer to tickle anyone’s taste buds I really do believe it is a city that can be visited on budget and in a few hours. From walking around alone, you soak up so much Dutch culture it’s almost an overload. From the ladies in the windows to the hilarious novelty souvenirs in the gift shops there is something to look at and laugh at until your belly aches.

As you all know I am a sucker for awesome architecture (told you I had to find something new to talk about) and Amsterdam definitely excels in this department. The amount of houses and buildings that held so much character was astounding. Everywhere you looked even down the little alleyways your eyes were always busy. I always tell my readers to look up when walking around, if you don’t look up when walking around Amsterdam you miss out on so much. Peer round every corner and look through every open doorway, there is so much going on you will get dizzy with excitement.
If your feet can no longer carry you around then stop in at one of the local cafes. You can smell the ones that bake the naughty brownies so if you feel like a little more excitement then pop in to one of those otherwise you will find there is food just about every other step of the way.
One of the suggestions given to me was to sit and eat waffles and watch the world go by and what the perfect suggestion it was. People watching is another big love of mine and Amsterdam is great for that too. If you find somewhere near the Red Light District all the better. I’m not saying that gawking at semi naked ladies in the window is the most PC thing to do and I am actually not sure how I feel about seeing nipples over lunch but it is a part of Amsterdam and actually quite a shocking thing to see that you can’t help but try to understand it. Anyone who has been to Amsterdam will know that there are always 2 questions people ask you when you have left: 1. Did you go to the red light district and 2. How are the hash brownies? If you don’t indulge in this naughtiness even a little, you are definitely visiting the city all-wrong.

As mentioned before there are heaps of museums to go to, and all seem pretty fair prices. It’s not far to walk between them so no need to worry about transport. There are plenty of other things to do other than walking so for those of you feeling a little less energetic have a look for the canal boat cruises that go on. For those who want to go around a little faster than walking and don’t mind some casual exercise, Amsterdam is the city of bikes so hire one out and get pedalling! Mind out for the traffic and the trams though, even as a pedestrian I came close to getting run over more than once.
I am also only going to suggest doing Amsterdam if you have over 4 hours, possibly even 5 to spare. Getting around and seeing enough things as well as getting back through the airport is risky to do it in any less amount of time. Even if you did make it I am not sure if it would be worth it. If staying in the airport bores you to tears don’t worry, Schiphol airport is actually one of the best. Loaded with shops, bars and even a museum you can’t get bored in 4 hours! I actually spent a great deal of time in the airport myself because I had heard it was one of the best.

It was an exhausting few hours to say the least and I really could have used some sleep (I had been up for nearly 24 hours) but it was so worth it. I know I say this about every place but I definitely will go back to Amsterdam and explore a little more. I still have the museums to go to and of course those brownies to eat. I haven’t seen or done it all yet… I know there is a lot more naughtiness to experience and I can’t wait for the next instalment of cheeky adventures. Plus I just so happen to know a lot of Dutch people too so next time it doesn’t necessarily have to be just Amsterdam. I for one can’t wait, have you not seen those tulip fields and the cheese market?! Told you it was awesome. ☺

Drunk In Love With Dublin

Sometime ago I decided to ignore my bank balance and book a ticket to Ireland for the weekend. Thankfully living right on the edge of Wales (almost) this ended up not being all that expensive. National Express usually has some good deals going and the trip is so easy, otherwise you can jump on the train or drive yourself.

I decided that I would try out the bus option, and aside for being slightly annoying at Holyhead with having to get off, walk through a building showing your passport and then get back on just to drive to the ferry to get off again it is actually quite convenient. They leave straight from Bangor so I was fortunate with that too but they leave from all major stations anyway, you may have to change a couple of times but regardless of where you are in the UK you can just as easily get to Dublin. Please note that if you decide to take the train you may have to change trains at some point a long the way too. I basically spent an hour or two looking for the cheapest option and the most convenient, National Express happened to be it.

Once on the ferry I found it hard to catch some Zs as I just so happen to choose the worst weather to travel in but it hasn’t been the worst ferry crossing I have done (remembering Zanzibar…. Bleurgh.) Once in Dublin I was not so lovingly picked up from the central coach station (it was rather early in the morning) and driven home. I say home but it actually wasn’t my home, luckily for me I do know some Irish people who were more than happy for me to stay with them but for those who aren’t as lucky as me there are so many hostels and hotels for you to stay in instead. Hostel world is my favourite, http://www.hostelworld.com/hostels/Dublin so check some out. Remember that if you are a student there are some good deals out there too so flash your cards at every possible opportunity.

After I had some breakfast, I was taken on a drive through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Wow. I have to admit that I have been to some beautiful places but Wicklow definitely pleases any outdoor enthusiasts. Check out Glendalough as well, there is a sweet little café called the Glendalough Green that serves soups and cakes and tea (very important considering this was November in Ireland). Take a day to just walk around and explore. It really is breath-taking and the fresh mountain air is always good. If you fancy, there is a lake too that you can swim in. I imagine it to be bloody freezing but whatever floats your boat!
That night we hit the cinema and the pubs. A lovely evening spent in awesome company in a very cool city. Although I would never put going to the cinema on the top of my list, it was cool just being in Ireland. I have always had this sort of homesickness for that place even though I had never been there before.

The day next, feeling slightly more awake and ready to be the ultimate tourist I sat down with my friends and planned the best day of sightseeing that involved pretty much covering the whole of Dublin! My day started at the Guinness Storehouse, which was the best place to start, as it was one side of town so I figured I could finish on the other side. I would put aside a whole morning or afternoon for this, it is a huge building with much to see and do. If you go with friends perhaps take longer as the Gravity Bar up top has some wonderful views and of course the perfect pint of Guinness!
From here I just wondered and soaked up all the sights that Dublin has to offer. I definitely need to find something better to talk about but the architecture is just astonishing. Absolutely every building had some sort of character, be it a colourful door or a cool shape. Pay attention to the alleyways too, most of them were covered in awesome street art which is becoming another favourite of mine in cities these days.

Lunch was a rather long stop at the Tower Records, for those of you who don’t know Dublin, there is so much to see, do and listen too so why would lunch be any different? Here I was thinking just a quick bite to eat and I will be off again. The awesome band playing in the teeny tiny café put an end to that fairly quickly and I actually have them to blame for my lack of museum visits. Seriously ask the locals what’s what because without their valuable information you have no idea what you will be missing out on. You will not be disappointed, besides the Irish are very friendly so they are more than happy to help!
After my lengthy lunch I made my way up to the writer’s museum, I just had to do this considering I am aspiring to be a writer and studying most of the people featured in the museum. In all honesty for those with no interest in the subject of writing then I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It basically contains loads of writing about various poets and writers with not a lot else going on.
Save the time for some other museum, Dublin is full of them. From wax to a Whiskey to Natural History there are so many options and loads of family friendly ones too. My only suggestion would be to plan your time wisely, there is so much to do it would be such a shame to miss out on so much! As I live not too far away I plan on going back at every available opportunity so I have an excuse, for those of you who live further away it would be silly not to try to at least see everything!

From here I was all tired out, I had covered so much of the city I was about ready for a drink, and where better to go than the world-famous Temple Bar. If you want a touristy bar then this is it, but check out some others too as Dublin is pretty famous for their nightlife. As the rugby was on, I decided Temple Bar would be the place. It was full with so many people (Irish included) and they were serving Guinness and cider. Happy Days.
After the rugby I stuck around and ended up meeting the sponsors of the South African rugby team so as you can imagine I started off my evening having a jolly good time. Sadly it was time to leave to meet up with my friend again and join him for his version of a night out in Dublin. Aside from having to walk miles again I had an awesome night. Much cider was drunk and I met so many people who knew people I knew too. Such a small world! Anyway as you can imagine the details are foggy but I do recall having an absolute blast. When in Dublin you have to go out and meet the locals, listen out for the live music again because Ireland is harbouring some serious talent!

In my drunken haze I remember falling in love with Dublin, and reminiscing back now I don’t think it was the cider goggles at all. As cities go Dublin as everything I could ever wish for and more.
My last day, well afternoon (I had to sleep off my hangover) was spent walking around Trinity College. Such a beautiful campus, it actually made me feel like transferring. Sadly I am not clever enough to go there and I don’t think they do my degree anyway but if you get the opportunity I would definitely take a walk round. Some stunning buildings. Ask the locals as well about all the myths and what the buildings are for. There are some entertaining stories held within those walls!
To finish off it was a rather romantic stroll round Dublin castle in the twilight. The only thing that made it romantic was the lighting; the company I was in would cringe at me saying it was romantic. I’m pretty sure love stories were written within the vicinity of that castle though; Celia Ahern is after all from Dublin! I now know where she gets her inspiration.

A delicious dinner and a glass of orange juice completed my whirlwind weekend and I left feeling very sad to be saying goodbye. The real truth is that it’s not really goodbye and more of an I will see you later; I already have plans in my head to go back and spend much more time there.
Thank you Dublin for being the coolest city I have ever been too. It takes a lot for me to have favourites but you made it so easy, I am definitely still very much drunk in love with this city and can’t wait to go back to soak up more of what the Irish and Ireland have to offer. Dublin is just a small slice of a country that I know will be a highlight of my nomadic life.

To Bathe Or Not To Bathe

There is absolutely no question about this; you cannot bathe in the Roman Baths but people once used to. If you could indeed bathe like the good old days you definitely wouldn’t want to anyway, the water is a not so delicious shade of green and just think of all those naked bodies stewing in the warm waters. Eeks. All bathing aside though, these definitely warrant a visit.
I’m not going to rant on and on about the history of the baths or the surrounding buildings, you have Google for that, but I am going to tell you why you need to join the millions of viewers and get planning your trip.

Firstly if you have been paying attention and of course reading my previous blog posts you will know that I have a not so secret obsessive love for architecture. Bath does not disappoint so why would the Roman Baths be an exception? There is something to be said about the building, dating back quite a few years ago it has a lot of character plastered in to the walls and the stones would tell a good tale if they could talk. From the floor to the ceiling there are so many details to look at you will get dizzy trying to take them all in. Pay special attention to the ceiling in the ticket hall, be warned you neck will get sore but every sore muscle is so worth it.

If the architecture is of no interest to you, you need to rethink this but do not despair because the baths are more than just a beautiful building. Thanks to the audio guides that come in 8 different languages you can be as antisocial as you like! It also just happens to be quite amusing for children too so for the parents out there, be safe in the knowledge that it is definitely a family friendly affair. My personal preference was actually the children’s version of the history. I’m not a fan of just being spoken at in jargon I don’t understand so the child’s version suited me just fine. For those who would like to know each and every historical fact possible then of course there is enough signage and some boring history buff, actually I think it’s Bill Bryson chatting at you on the end of a phone. If that’s your kind of thing then you will not be disappointed, please not this is coming from someone who has no interest in learning history!

If you aren’t interested in neither the history nor the architecture then perhaps you might be in the wrong city! The whole point of Bath is the Roman Baths, if they weren’t so important then the town certainly wouldn’t be called Bath. I can assure you that even though you think you will be bored to tears you won’t. This building is like art, you have to search for what you enjoy but it really is exciting for everyone and I just know you will find something to entertain yourself with. If millions of people visit each year then just think of the people watching facilities but those numbers speak for themselves really! There are plenty of shops to traipse through and even some wishing pools dotted about the place as well. Perhaps you could toss a penny or two in the hopes that your wish for a speedy exit will come true but if 3 small children can be highly entertained for a couple of hours, I am sure you can brave it for a few minutes too. You simply can’t go to Bath without visiting the Baths; it’s almost a sacrilege.

When you have delighted in the waters until you can’t take anymore then feel free to pop in to The Pump Room for a delicious lunch. I didn’t actually sit down for a meal, because we had small children who had no desire to sit there for another hour or so but everything looked and smelled extremely delicious as we walked through. As a fun fact of the day, the water they serve if from the Baths themselves. I am hoping it’s not the green water that you see but from the springs instead. Apparently it contains 42 minerals and is believed to have healing powers, not bad for a glass of water really. They do various high teas, and offer children’s specials as well. If you would like lunch, book ahead because the restaurant always looked busy!

The opening times are quite decent but they do differ from season to season, so make sure you check these first before booking your trips. From what I can see on their ticket pricing you have a few options too. Buying early always saves a few pennies so it is never a bad idea to think ahead. Students also get the much enjoyed discounts so don’t forget to take any student ID cards that you will need. You don’t need much time to make you way around the whole building but plan to spend either a whole morning or afternoon there. I would also try to time it well with a visit to Bath Abbey (see previous post) as they are in the same area. The bus stop for the hop-on-hop-off buses also leaves from close by so you have that option as well.

Keep an eye out for any bargains when booking your hotel rooms or other activities; they do offer package deals and of course family deals too! If you go in summer, you may also be able to go on a later tour where the baths are lit up with torches. Dinner in The Pump Room followed by an evening wandering around a beautiful building really does sound like the perfect way to spend a summer’s evening, and what a city to be spending it in too!

Now that I have done all the major touristy things in Bath, I am really looking forward to heading back there to explore the more local side of such a great British city. Don’t worry; I shall do my best to always keep you posted.
In the meantime, get planning; Bath isn’t going to see itself you know!