health and fitness, health and wellbeing, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

11 Sure-Fire Ways to Stay Fit and Healthy Whilst Travelling

It can be really tough to stay active during your holidays. The urge to fly and flop for two weeks can be pretty strong as we so often just need the rest. However, keeping active and making healthy choices can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of your break. Here are eleven top tips for helping you create and sustain those healthy habits whilst travelling.

1. Walk – Walk everywhere

Ever drive past a tiny alleyway or interesting looking building on your travels but you can’t check it out as you’ve already driven past? Problem solved, skip the taxi, bus or car and travel by foot. You will discover so much more about a place on foot. You can indulge your curiosity at every corner. Some of the best travel finds, be it food, local crafts or fabulous people are often found off the main thoroughfare.

Walking around your destination will not only give you a great sense of the place but will help you hit that all-important 10,000 step target. I love my Fitbit activity tracker and am always interested to see how many steps I’ve achieved at the end of a day wandering around a new city. On just one day in Dubrovnik, I managed to clock up 20, 682 steps. I would recommend a fitness tracker to anyone looking to keep tabs on their activity levels.

2. Take the stairs

Climbing flights of stairs can be a great way to get your heart rate up. So, if your room is located on the 9th floor of your hotel hit those stairs. You can always get yourself out of bed early and make a workout out of your hotel’s stairs. Try sprinting up and walking back down for recovery and repeat. This will send your heart rate shooting up and earn you your breakfast.

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

3. Don’t drink your calories

Need a drink? Grab some water. Fizzy drinks, fruit juice, speciality coffee and energy drinks are packed full of unnecessary sugar. All that excess sugar has to go somewhere. If your body can’t store it as glycogen it is quickly converted to fat for longer-term storage. If you feel thirsty it’s water your body is crying out for.

Holidays can absolutely be a time to chill out and enjoy yourself, however, give a thought to the calories you drink through alcohol consumption. According to the NHS, one pint of 5% beer is 239 calories or one mars bar. Would you really sit and eat five mars bars back to back? A standard glass of wine is about 133 calories or three Jaffa cake biscuits. Yes, I have eaten a whole packet of Jaffa cakes in one sitting, but I definitely didn’t feel good about it afterwards!

Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

I am a big fan of everything in moderation. So, if you can fancy a few drinks in the evening why not increase your activity during the day to help offset any additional intake?

4. Take some simple fitness equipment

Skipping ropes, resistance bands and gliding discs are lightweight and easy to throw in your hand luggage as they don’t take up much space. This means you can get a workout in from the comfort of your hotel room. I would recommend the Pro Box wire speed rope, light durable and super grippy for clammy hands. https://www.pro-box.co.uk/wire-speed-rope-p-781.html.

5. Hotel room HIIT

I think we have all found a new love for online workouts during the pandemic. I have always been a fan of Joe Wicks’ recipe books but now I love starting my day with a quick twenty-minute HIIT. Everyone has twenty minutes, and you don’t need equipment or huge amounts of space. If you don’t believe me, check out The Body Coach 7 days of sweat 2019…7 days of workouts in small hotel rooms.

 HIIT workouts are perfect if your hotel doesn’t have a gym or you are on a tight schedule. Twenty minutes of high-intensity interval training will leave you sweaty, out of breath and set up for your day. Give your all for short bursts of activity then catch your breath and go again. This type of training helps sustain an elevated heart rate and is a time-efficient way to burn calories.

Photo by Li Sun on Pexels.com

For free HIIT workouts check out The Body Coach, Kayla Itsines, Pamela Reif or Chloe Ting on YouTube. All provide lots of free content and give you plenty of choices. If you haven’t got internet access have a go at these three twenty-minute hotel room HIIT’s.

You can download an interval timer from the app store, there are lots of brilliant free options.

HIIT 1. (Work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds) LEGS, BUMS & TUMS

  1. Squats
  2. Glute bridge
  3. Reverse lunges
  4. Single leg bicycle crunches
  5. Sumo squats
  6. Plank
  7. Donkey kicks
  8. Curtsey lunge
  9. Side plank (15 seconds on each side)
  10. Slow mountain climbers

REPEAT

HIIT 2. (Work for 35 seconds, rest for 25 seconds) CARDIO & ABS

  1. Running on the spot
  2. Crunches knees raised to 90 degrees
  3. Climb the rope
  4. Elbow plank
  5. Imaginary jump rope
  6. Flutter kicks
  7. Star jumps
  8. Reverse crunches
  9. Mountain climbers
  10. Heel taps

REPEAT

HIIT 3. (Work for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds) WHOLE BODY WORKOUT

  1. Mountain climbers
  2. Press-ups
  3. Squats
  4. Bicycle crunches
  5. Running on the spot
  6. Shoulder taps from a high plank position
  7. Jump lunges
  8. Tricep dips
  9. Alternating single leg crunches
  10. Chest to floor burpees

REPEAT

6. Take a walking tour

Without a doubt, this is one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a new city. Very often you can find a free walking tour or book onto a tour during your stay. This is a fab way to get in the steps without even thinking.

You can always combine a walking tour with a food tour…just in case you need some additional motivation. I would recommend any of the eating Europe food tours. We took the tour through Prague and it was a gorgeous day of walking and eating. We certainly earned our treats that day.   https://www.eatingeurope.com/

7. Get active with the locals

Some of the best travel experiences can come from immersing yourself in the local culture. If you’re in South Asia, why not try getting involved with some yoga, take a Flamenco class in Spain or join with some local cricket in India. Between white water rafting in Canada, kayaking on the Rideau Canal, cave swimming on the Croatian coast and learning Bharatnatyam dance in India, I have never regretted getting stuck into activities with local people.  

Active experiences can really help you connect with a culture and will enrich your travels as well as burning a few extra calories.

8. Have a good breakfast

This sounds simple but eat a good breakfast. I know the breakfast buffet can be all kinds of tempting with waffles, pancakes and pastries. But, a high protein breakfast will set you up for the day and keep those mid-morning hunger pangs at bay. I would always opt for an omelette, yoghurt and fruit or even egg and beans on toast. Choose something which will keep you tied over until lunch and not leave you flagging at eleven AM. Lots of hotel deals come with breakfast included, make sure you take full advantage.

Kedgeree for the win!

9. Stay hydrated

Keeping your hydration levels topped up is key. Good hydrations helps your body regulate temperature, aiding digestion, removing waste from the body and can help curb unnecessary snacking throughout the day.

Hydration is hugely important if you are travelling in hot countries and are particularly active during the day. Physical activity and a warm environment can cause dehydration so make sure you’ve got a reusable bottle handy and fill up at any available opportunity.

Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels.com

10. Plan your snacks

The breakfast buffet can be a brilliant time to stock up on some snacks for the day. Very often you’ll be able to snag a couple of pieces of fruit to keep you going. I would recommend packing some trail mix or nuts. These are excellent sources of energy and will keep you feeling full much longer than a quick fix sugar hit.

11. Hit the water

Getting onto the water can bring a whole new perspective to your travels. Whether you swim, kayak, canoe or paddleboard, getting active in the water is a great way to build in physical activity and make some fabulous travel memories.

I would love to know any top tips you have for staying active whilst travelling.

Stay safe & Happy travels

Jess

mini break, top tips, Travel inspiration, Uncategorized, weekend break

9 Top Packing Tips for Your UK Staycation

Thanks to Coronavirus many of us are setting aside plans of a trip abroad this year and choosing to explore our own fair country. With campsites, air b n b’s and hotels seeing a boost in bookings here are nine top tips for getting our packing just right.

  • Choose the right luggage

Soft sides holdalls are the way forward. Easier to pack, easier to manoeuvre in the car, better hand luggage, what’s not to love. You can always squeeze a little more in around the edges. You can wear your trainers or walking boots for the journey to save on shoe space. I love a bright holdall, and my North Face bag has never failed me.

https://www.thenorthface.co.uk/shop/en-gb/tnf-gb/bags-and-tents-travel-duffels

My trusty backpack…
  • Pack your layers

British weather is unpredictable. Biblical downpours followed by blistering sunshine, who knows what you’re going to get. Cotton layers and wicking fabrics are brilliant if you are walking or hiking. I would also recommend a pack a mac. Small, lightweight and easily fits in your backpack. It is the perfect solution for those sudden downpours.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

https://www.trespass.com/qikpac-x-unisex-packaway-jacket#color_code=Cassis

  • Appropriate Shoes

Whether you are hitting up the coast, lakes or opting for a UK city break; you’ll want to get your footwear right. 48 hours pounding the pavement, fell climbing or beach walking in uncomfortable or inappropriate shoes is going to taint your otherwise lovely break. We’ve all felt the constant nag of a burgeoning blister with the dread that you’re still an hour walk from home. Nothing says I’ve had a lovely holiday than the blister limp and ten days of flipflop wearing. So, get your footwear right.

Photo by JACK REDGATE on Pexels.com
  • Ditch the heavy toiletries

Leave the big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser at home. You don’t need the extra weight, and you can save on space. Dispense your products into smaller bottles before your trip. They will easily fit in your luggage and if they are under 100ml you can easily check them through airport security in your hand luggage. For an eco-friendly option check out these gorgeous travel bottles.

https://www.wearthlondon.com/travel-toiletry-bottles

  • The perfect capsule wardrobe

To minimise the amount of clothing needed for your trip try to pick a couple of key items which can be dressed up or down with just a few key accessories. I would always go for neutrals, black jeans or navy chinos can be great for daytime wandering or evening drinks. If you are heading off for four to five days, I recommend the 54321 method. Five sets of socks/ underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one interchangeable accessory.

  • Reusable water bottle

Whether you are planning an epic hike or just a stroll around the town I would always take a water bottle. Not only will you save on an unnecessary trip into a shop, but it’s a small step towards doing your bit to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. I adore my Chilly’s bottle, and they have so many quirky patterns and colours you’ll be sure to find something you’re proud to take out and about.

https://www.chillysbottles.com/uk

  • Quick-dry, sand resistant towel

This was one of the greatest purchases I have ever made. A microfibre towel is perfect for throwing in your backpack. It’s quick-drying, and sand resistant, after a quick shake and rub down you’re good to head off home. Just ten minutes hung up or laid out in the sun to dry and this handy travel staple is ready to go again.   

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/microfibre-towel-m-blue-id_8501072.html

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com
  • Leave the plugs at home

Even if you’ve booked into a luxury hotel, it is still a good idea to ditch the multiple plugs. Instead, I would opt for one plug with USB outlets. This will allow you to charge at least 2 devices at once. Just make sure you pack the right cables.

  • An OS Map

If your staycation plan involves exploring the local area or countryside, I would make sure you’ve got a copy of an OS map. Whilst maps on your phone are fine there is no guarantee you’ll have signal in remote places and online maps tend to sap your battery. With depleted battery life, you’ll find yourself in a tricky situation if you do need to call for help. Having an accurate map will help you plan out your routes. It is also invaluable if you find you’ve lost the trail or can’t see the footpath signs. There has been a huge rise in calls to emergency rescue services in many of the UK’s national parks and countryside areas recently. Make sure you are well prepared if you are keen to explore and make sure you hike within your capabilities and comfort zone.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Stay safe and happy travels

Jess

Germany, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

Munich: A quick guide to 3 days in the Bavarian capital

When we first set out to book a long weekend German jolly, Berlin was a firm front runner. Yet, after some swift price comparison and a little research, Munich came out on top. Tickets booked, and excursions planned we had a May bank holiday break to get excited about.

Getting to Munich

There are a variety of ways to get to Munich, if you’re flying from the UK, flights regularly operate with direct flights from most UK airports. There are options to change in Frankfurt, so breaking up your trip with a few days taking in the sights of another German gem is definitely an option. The average flight time direct to Munich is one hour and ten minutes.

If you feel like taking a more laid-back approach to arrival in Munich, there is a direct train from Berlin. The journey is around four hours and allows you to take in the beautiful German countryside. If your starting point is another European city, the rail links to Munich are excellent as it sits on a European mainline serviced by high-speed trains.

Where to Stay

Munich isn’t a small town so choose your hotel wisely if you want easy access around the city. That being said, the transports links in the city are excellent. As has proved easy, cost-effective and efficient we booked our hotel as part of the British Airways Hotel and flight deal. This is great service allowing you to specify star rating, dates and price for your accommodation. We opted for the 4* Hilton Munich City. The hotel is a twenty-minute walk to Marienplatz at the heart of the old town and a fifteen-minute walk to the Ostbahnhof. The location was perfect for city exploring and quick links to the airport.

Our room was a standard double but very comfortable, it was clean and bright and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful during our stay.

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Where to eat

Bavarian cuisine is meat and potato heavy, luckily, I’m a big fan of both and when you throw gravy into the mix any dish becomes a winner.

Haxenbauer im Scholastikahaus

If its meat perfection you’re after then you need to eat here. I promise the smell from the street alone will be enough to get you through the door. Upon entry, you are greeted by 24 hours marinated and grilled pork knuckle turning on a spit by the window. The meat melts on your plate and combined with creamy mash, sauerkraut, crispy onions and thick gravy, this meal is everything you could wish for. Washed down with yet more beer Haxenbauer became an instant hit, so much so we returned for a second night.

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Viktualienmarkt Food Market

This well-known grab and go food market is the ideal spot for lunch or a late afternoon pick me up. Smells, sounds, and the incessant chatter of locals and tourists make this vibrant market worth a wander before settling down to eat. Whether it is artisan coffee, crispy pretzels, cold cuts or yet more beer the Viktualienmarkt has something for everyone.

Café Luitpold

Old school charm. If you are seeking, an elegant afternoon caffeinated kick back then I recommend Café Luitpold. This historic coffee house opened in 1888 and soon became a Munich institution. With writers, creatives and artists like Kandinsky historic regulars it’s hard not to feel a little bit glamorous whilst sipping your beverage in fabulously luxurious grandeur.

What to do

Drink Beer

So, I’m going to class beer as a culinary experience and a food group here. I mean you can’t visit Munich without sampling their world-famous wheaty, hoppy, amber magic. It is no surprise that Munich plays host to the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest. Our trip didn’t coincide with Oktoberfest, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t grab a stein and see what all the fuss is about.

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The Hofbräuhaus is the mecca for beer lovers in Munich. However, we didn’t time our visit particularly well. Every tourist, stag party and beer lover seemed to have descended on the beer hall at the same as we did.  Unperturbed we took in the beautiful craftsmanship of the beer hall, had a quick nose at the beer garden and marvelled at the perfect choreography if the waitresses. Back on the street, we chanced our luck in a smaller establishment. To be honest it doesn’t matter where you sample the glorious beer, because it’s all good. We found a much smaller, quieter place than the Hofbräuhaus but had as much fun. We ordered our stein’s, sat back, drank and discussed our plans for the next day…perfection.

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Munich Residenz

Firstly ladies, be prepared to check your bag into storage or bring a smaller handbag with you if you want to visit the Residenz. This caught me slightly unawares and whilst I have no issue with checking my bag into secure storage to avoid knocking any priceless antiques; I wasn’t prepared for this level of security. Cue ten minutes of me faffing, talking to myself and desperately going through my bag to remove anything I thought necessary whilst walking around. This included my phone, purse, lip balm and an array of other pointless objects, but I could fit them in my pocket so naturally, they had to come to. So, you have been forewarned!

The Residenz served as the seat of government for the Bavarian kings, dukes and electors from 1508 to 1918. It is stunning. An opulent display of wealth, architecture, style and art are displayed in every room of the Residenz. It is a feast for your eyes and will take a good three hours to absorb it all.

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My favourite section of the Residenz was the grotto courtyard. A slightly bizarre, quirky, shell clad indoor folly. I loved it.

There are five different types of ticket you can buy for the Residenz depending on the areas you wish to see. We opted for a combination ticket costing €17 which allowed us access to the Residenz, Treasury and Cuvillies Theatre. The Residenz is open year-round from 9 am to 6 pm during the spring and summer months and from 10 am to 5 pm during the autumn and winter.

The Glockenspiel on Marienplatz

Marienplatz is the heart of Munich and has been at the centre of Munich life for over 850 years. The history, distinctive architecture and style of the square have enough going on to keep you occupied for hours.

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One of the prime attractions on Marienplatz is the Rathaus Glockenspiel. The glockenspiel chimes twice each day, at 11 am and 12 pm with an extra performance at 5 pm during the summer months.

The glockenspiel represents two different stories. On the top layer, a royal wedding and jousting tournament and on the bottom a folk dance performed by the red-coated city’s Coopers.

To this clockwork spectacle, I would recommend grabbing your spot early. As 11 am draws near the square is crammed full of expectant tourists, cameras poised. The whole event lasts fifteen minutes and is well worth the crowds to hear the forty-three bells combined with the magnificent figures.

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For a bird’s eye view of the glockenspiel head to the upper floors of the Hugendubel book shop just across the street.

The Englischer Garten

On our final day, we had just a few hours to kill before heading back to the airport, so we decided to take a stroll through the Englischer Garten. The Englischer Garten was beautiful and full of spring flowers, wide-open spaces to catch some spring sunshine, tucked away follies and meandering paths dappled in shade. One of the highlights of the garden is the river which runs right through it. If you visit during the summer months, you can expect to see avid surfers, surfing the river. Yes, that’s right the river creates waves good enough for surfing! If you are visiting during the summer months, I recommend bringing a towel and swimsuit as sections of the river looked perfect for a quick cooling dip.

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Summer time surfing! Images: Alistair McRobert & Luis Fernando Alves 

 

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Finally, after an ice-cream and a very leisurely stroll, the Englischer Garten provided the perfect spot for one last beverage. The Englischer Garten hosts Munich’s second-largest but oldest beer garden right next to the Chinese Tower.

As one of Europe’s largest city parks, it is definitely worth an hour or two to lose yourself in its natural glory.

Pinakothek Der Moderne

I’m not sure where my love and appreciation of modern art have come from, but a visit to a city’s museum of modern art seems to be a fairly permanent feature on my weekend travels.

The museum houses four different collections under one roof. A single ticket allows visitors to access artwork, architecture, design and work on paper. The artwork on display is from 1900 onwards and picks up where the Neue Pinakothek ends. I particularly enjoyed the surrealist and cubist work of Dali and Picasso.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday with adult entry costing €10. If you have an hour to two and enjoy modern art then I would suggest a visit to the Pinakothek Der Moderne is well worth it.

Dachau Concentration Camp

Visiting a concentration camp isn’t an easy or fun day trip, however, nor is it just a tick in the tourist box. I have long held the view that we have a moral responsibility to educate ourselves, respect and remember the millions of people who suffered under the Nazi regime during World War Two. With that in mind, a visit to Dachau was an absolute priority for our trip to Munich.

Dachau is located just outside the city and easily accessed by train in twenty-five minutes. The S2 train from the Hauptbahnhof will take you to Dachau station. The memorial is open year-round 8 am – 5 pm excluding the 24th of December and entry is free. If you do wish, there are audio guides, guided tours and brochures which can be organised through the information centre or online prior to your visit.

We decided to visit early on a Sunday morning, taking the view that it might be a little quieter. As we arrived it was as though we stepped into a vacuum. The whole place felt thick and heavy with silence. As you cross the road from the visitor centre, you follow train tracks through the gates, the gates which bare the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei.’ From that point onwards I don’t think I spoke to my husband for the next two hours as we made our way around the site and exhibitions. It wasn’t until we sat down to dinner that evening, took stock and debriefed each other on our feelings from the day.

The sheer scale of the site was shocking, row upon row of hollowed out, gravelled rectangles, the outlines an echo of barracks long since torn down. Gas chambers, empty buildings harbouring absolute horror in every inch of its structure. It was difficult to reconcile what I knew to be true with these empty shells, with sunlight streaming through empty windows and bird song carried on the breeze.

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Whilst our visit was emotionally draining and a uniquely personal experience for us both in different ways. I can say with conviction that it was worth it and something every traveller to Munich must do.

Final Thoughts

Our trip to Munich was fabulous and almost unexpectedly so. I loved learning about the history of the city, both recent and long since passed. Like so many of our weekend adventures, I left feeling that there was more to do and see. I am sure a return visit to Munich will be on cards at some point. If I can tear myself away from roasted pork knuckle then I would be keen to explore what the Munich foodie scene has to offer. There is also the small matter of a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle to consider as well!

Happy travels

Jess

 

Germany, History, mini break, top tips, Uncategorized, weekend break

48 hours in Berlin: A weekend guide to the German capital

When my husband and I decided to embark on our honeymoon trip extravaganza (One trip every month for a year) Berlin was right at the top of our list. Each time we would sit down to plan our next destination, we would weigh up our options and strangely Berlin never quite made the cut. But come Boxing Day 2019 we found a brilliant flight and hotel deal with British Airways and booked up a weekend trip for the end of January.

Ok, so January isn’t the most desirable time to visit any city. But 48 hours of relentless rain and bitter temperatures didn’t dampen our sense of adventure and we set out to take in as much of the city as possible.

Berlin is nothing like I expected. In my mind, I would stroll down wide imposing streets, flanked on either side by a lustrous mix of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Such as I had experienced in Prague, Stockholm or even Munich. My expectation could not have been further from the truth. I guess I thought more of the city would have survived the bombing raids of World War Two or would have been repaired and reinstated post-war. Berlin is a city which wears its history on its sleeve. The startling lack of historic buildings is a testament to the hardships faced by the city during the relentless bombing campaigns of the Second World War. Present-day Berlin is a concrete jungle. It’s not a European beauty. Yet, despite a limited stock of pre-war buildings and monuments the layers and depth of history secreted into every remaining and reimagined crevice of the city more than make up for any architectural shortcomings.

Getting to Berlin

Flights to Berlin Tegel airport operate regularly out of all major UK airports. The flight time is around 1 hour and 45 minutes. More than doable of a Friday night for a weekend break. Our flight left London Heathrow at 7 pm, and we were on the ground and on our way to the hotel by 10 pm. Berlin is 1 hour ahead of the UK. The time difference is worth bearing in mind if you are booking transfers or informing your hotel of your arrival time.

We opted for a taxi straight from the airport which was efficient and reasonably priced at around €35. The taxi ride took a little over half an hour as there were some pretty major road works going on in the centre of Berlin. If you’re after a cheaper alternative airport transfer, then public transport options are in plentiful supply. The TXL bus, S41 finally changing to the U8 will get you from the airport to Alexanderplatz in around thirty minutes.

Where to stay

Hotel location is always a priority when travelling for just the weekend. We wanted to be close enough to walk to the main attractions, hence, we opted for the Hotel Indigo at Alexanderplatz.

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The hotel was clean, quirky and perfectly located for a weekend gallivanting around the city in the rain. Read my full Hotel Indigo review here https://takemefarandaway.com/2020/02/20/hotel-review-4-hotel-indigo-alexanderplatz-berlin/

Where to eat

Café Einstein Unter Den Linden

This was an absolute gem. On our final day, we dashed in to escape the rain and found IMG_0836ourselves stepping back in time. Dark wood panelling, marble-topped tables and a charming feel of an old Viennese coffee house. There was also an eye-watering display of cakes and pastries. After securing a table, we ordered a proper lunch 2 bowls of gloriously rich, thick goulash complete with crispy yet gooey dumplings to soak up all those fabulous juices. I couldn’t resist a slice of passionfruit cheesecake to finish off – it felt rude not to indulge.

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The café serves up breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner and is a real hot spot for German politicians and journalists. With only a short five-minute walk to the Brandenburg Gate or a ten-minute walk to the Reichstag, it’s no wonder Café Einstein has famed popularity with tourists and locals alike.

 

 

Treffpunkt Berlin

If you’re after traditional German food, done well with no frills and good beer then, Treffpunk should be on your list. From the outside, it looks like a distinctly average pub, but don’t let first appearances put you off. Inside there’s a small bar area and around twelve tables for diners. It was pretty busy when we arrived without a booking at 7.30 pm, but we were lucky and snagged a table right by the bar.

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After sampling the delights of pork knuckle in Munich we both opted for this again. The dish came with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. But, unlike the knuckled served in Munich which was crispy and covered in onion, this was pure unadulterated boiled pork knuckle. The dish isn’t winning any Michelin stars but it sure was tasty. Nothing partners meat and potato better than beer and you’d be pretty safe ordering any beer from the extensive menu. I went for the Schöfferhofer Grapefruit beer which was delicious, very easy to have one too many of these!

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Currywurst

Ok, so this isn’t a specific location but currywurst should absolutely be on our Berlin food buck list. Currywurst is a fried pork sausage smothered in thick spiced ketchup, topped with curry powder and a side helping of chips. This is German fast food at it’s best. To get our currywurst fix we went for a mooch in the behemoth shopping mall. What started out as a roam around the shops to get out of the rain became a hunt for food. Once the food court was located there was no shortage of delicious offerings. But it had to be currywurst. I decided to embrace the opportunity to practise my very rusty German and ordered up two currywurst, chips and drink. What arrived five minutes later was exactly as planned, turns out I remember more of my GCSE German than I thought. Tray laden, we muscled our way onto a long table with ten strangers all digging into a plethora of worldwide cuisines. This multitude of sights and scents didn’t detract from the spicy pork goodness on my paper plate.

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What to do

Holocaust Memorial

Located close to the Brandenburg Gate at the heart of Berlin is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I had seen countless images of the memorial before my trip to Berlin but nothing prepares you for how you feel standing in front of the crude concrete slabs. Each of the 2711 slabs differs in height and as you venture through the narrow passages between you are soon engulfed by their presence. It really is quite overwhelming.

I’m unsure how I felt about the memorial if I’m honest. Whilst the scale of the 19,000 square metres stretching out before you are striking and poignant if you consider the representation of the six million Jews who lost their lives. But does this unmarked, fragmented monument really communicate the message it intended? I cannot help but think that if the names of the Jewish people who suffered were displayed as they are at Yad Vashem in Israel then, maybe a clearer narrative might unfold here. I guess we can only hope that the Instagram, selfie generation might just get a grip, pocket the phone and reflect on the real meaning of this place.

Berlin TV Tower

D2751D06-4478-4E38-838C-147163F86494Opening in 1969, complete with a revolving restaurant and panoramic viewing gallery the Berlin TV Tower was the height of sophistication and a beacon of hope for post-war Berlin. If you’d like to visit the TV Tower, you need to book in advance. This can easily be done online and with less than 12 hours’ notice, I managed to bag tickets for 10.30 on Saturday morning. Tickets cost €17.50 and can be purchased online or at the tower itself.

As you approach the tower, the scale and magnitude of it are impressive. I’m not afraid of heights but that viewing gallery looked an awfully long way up.

Be prepared that the only way up is by lift. I don’t know why this was a shock to me as 200m of stairs really would have been a killer. But I hate lifts, I’m horribly claustrophobic and the thought of ascending 200m in the air inside a concrete tube was daunting. Also, the stewards were clearly aiming to get as many people into the lift as possible. Nerves aside the views from the top are spectacular. 360-degree panoramic sights of the city spread out for miles are quite something.

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Our ticket included access to the bar where we enjoyed mid-morning coffee feeling like we were on top of the world.

Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is a must when visiting Berlin. Between 1933 and 1945, the central institutions of Nazi persecution, the Secret State Police Office, the leadership of the SS and, the Reich Security Main Office are located in the grounds of the “Topography of Terror.” The museum is completely free although you can make a donation. The museum houses two permanent exhibitions one indoor and one outdoor there are also a variety of changeable exhibitions.

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We arrived mid-morning on Saturday, the place was heaving with tourists but absolutely silent, it was like walking into a vacuum. My husband and I quickly found ourselves on our own path through the exhibition. The exhibition tracks the institutions of security and police during the Third Reich and the crimes they committed. The exhibition was overwhelming, deeply moving and explicitly detailed. I was appalled by the photographic evidence of the crimes inflicted on innocent citizens. But you cannot shy away from history. It was understandable why the museum was silent. Everyone was completely engrossed in their own personal battle and reflection on the information before them.Snapseed - Copy (19)

It was an odd thing to vacate the building, still in silence, it was like my husband and I didn’t quite know what to say to each other. Outside you can take in the remains of the original building and a section of the Berlin wall. The outdoor exhibition takes you through fifteen stations documenting the history of the original site.

German Spy Museum

Late on Saturday afternoon, I got to unleash my inner 007 with a trip to the German Spy Museum. In short, I loved it. IMG_0774The museum gives a unique glimpse into the veiled world of espionage; following the evolution of the spy right the way from biblical times to the spies we know and love from the world of film. The museum is interactive, well laid out and brimming with quirky information. There was even a laser maze, which was an absolute highlight of the visit, I felt like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment however with none of the distinctive style. Sadly, I think my laser maze skills need some work…

Tickets cost €12 and I would allow yourself a good couple of hours to explore. The museum is conveniently located close to the Berlin Mall just of Leipziger Platz. Get your tickets online to save time:

https://www.deutsches-spionagemuseum.de/en/tickets/online-tickets/

DDR Museum

I love an interactive museum, and the DDR museum certainly delivers an immersive 75AFC6DE-679D-4C2E-9F7A-36C2FBDC0BF9slice of what life was like in East Germany. The museum covers all aspects of life for the average East German from what they drove to how they used their leisure time. A really informative and valuable insight into the past. I would recommend visiting later in the afternoon as it was very busy when arrived early afternoon on a Sunday. Buy your tickets here:

https://www.ddr-museum.de/en/your-visit/online-tickets

East Side Gallery

1.3km of history turned art gallery. Following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, 118 artists from across the world began creating political, social and culturally inspired artwork on the wall. The open-air gallery officially opened in 1990 and has been given protected memorial status. The wall continues undergoing renovation and clean up projects to protect and restore the work. The restoration is critical as the majority of the work has been graffitied, or chipped away by trophy hunters keen for their own litter piece of history.

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The East Side Gallery is easily accessed by bus and is the third stop on the blue route with the Big Bus tour. Alternatively, you can take the 300 bus or the U Bahn to Warschauer street which is a short walk from the gallery.

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I would recommend getting to the East Side Gallery as early as you can. If you want to snap the artwork without having to wait or turn or carefully crop out other tourists, then an early start is well worth it. We arrived at 10.00 am on a Sunday morning and by 10.30 am the crowds had already gathered around the Socialist fraternal kiss image. An absolute must for your weekend in Berlin, I would leave yourself at least an hour to two hours to explore the gallery in full.

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Brandenburg Gate

No trip to Berlin is complete without a visit to the infamous Brandenburg Gate. It is one of those monuments synonymous with the city itself. The Brandenburg Gate which once divided the city quickly became a monument for unity when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Visiting the Brandenburg gate is recommended at any time however I found that visiting at night when the daytime crowds had dispersed was extremely impressive.

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Reichstag

Another key monument to visit during your trip to Berlin is the Reichstag.

If you want to tour the Reichstag and its beautiful glass dome then you’ll need to book in advance. To register for your visit please follow the link: https://visite.bundestag.de/BAPWeb/pages/createBookingRequest/viewBasicInformation.jsf?lang=en

Sadly, I didn’t get my butt in gear early enough to secure a spot for the weekend of our visit. It is possible to try and book onto the same day tour at the service centre next to the Berlin Pavilion. However, if you choose to risk it on the day then you may end up queueing for some time at the service centre, sacrificing valuable time exploring the city.

Bus Tour

As I’ve already mentioned our trip was plagued by rain and lots of it. Complete with a moany husband due to a hole in his shoe it was time to board a bus tour! Luckily our hotel was situated right outside the first stop for both the red and blue routes on the Big Bus Tour. We bought a weekend ticket for €30.50 which proved to be a good investment. Initially setting out on the red route our bus came complete with a live guide providing us with a historical and social commentary from the front. The live guide made a real difference to our orientation of the city. Also, his anecdotes and vast knowledge of the city aided us to uncover a little more of the ‘real’ Berlin.

Over the weekend we followed both bus routes in their entirety and developed a good sense of the city. A welcome respite from the rain and education at the same time, what’s not to love about a bus tour?

Final thoughts

In spite of the biblical downpours which accompanied nearly every moment of our trip to Berlin, I had a brilliant weekend. Berlin was nothing like I expected but as I boarded the plane home I was left wanting more. There is so much of this historic city yet to discover and so many factions of its history that I am keen to learn about. This 48-hour trip was a tantalising glimpse at a city which is so much more than the infamous wall, it’s wartime destruction or the seat of power for the Nazi party. Modern Berlin is characterised by art, food, culture, and an outward-facing acceptance of it’s past. I’ve got my eye on a food tour and an art tour, complete with DIY graffiti for my return visit.

Happy travels

Jess

Hotel Review, reading, Uncategorized, weekend break

Book & hotel pairings: Top 5 reads and where to stay for a UK weekend away

With the world in lockdown, I thought I would write something a little different. I am hoping this post will inspire you to take seek out some UK weekend adventures when all this passes, and we are free to venture past our own front door. I also hope to steer you in the direction of some fabulous books, because in the words of Mason Cooley “Reading gives us someplace to go, when we have to stay where we are.”

We’ve all heard of wine pairings to accompany your food, so why not the perfect book to bury your nose in during your travels.

One of the most thrilling parts of travel in my mind is the opportunity to get lost in a good book. Life is so busy and despite my worthiest efforts to read every night, sometimes, I just need my bed. However, with all this working from home malarkey, I have to say I am finding more time to read which is a lovely thing. But, in the confines of normality I approach every travel experience as an opportunity to raid the Kindle store, delve into my paperback stocks and consult my personal librarian; otherwise known as my mum.

I am a firm believer that some books better suit certain types of travel or experience. If you are staring down the barrel of a long-haul flight then I’m game for settling down with a good series. Alternatively, a cosy weekend holed up in a country pub definitely calls for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my favourite titles with you. Books which I feel are perfect for a weekend tucked away at an English country pub; I’ll also throw in a few choice recommendations for fabulously snug country pubs.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson & The Devonshire Arms

After being a devout kindle reader for many years it was this book that brought me back to the joy of reading a real-life paperback. Something about the feel of a real book in your hand is, I think, rather lovely.

IMG_1142A Death at Fountains Abbey is the third instalment from Antonia Hodgson. However, not having read the previous two it didn’t matter or have any disastrous effect on the plot or my understanding. My only caveat to that would be I might have liked a deeper understanding of the protagonist’s backstory. However, understanding and storyline hinge on this knowledge.

The story is set in 1728; John Aislabie is the victim of a malicious campaign to terrorise him and his family. Amidst the murderous threats, Thomas Hawkins and his ward Sam Fleet join the fray. Thomas is led into a lethal game of revenge in a fast-paced page-turner which definitely had me hooked and holding my breath from chapter sixteen.

But where to stay if this delightful thriller is in your bag? I would recommend The Devonshire Arms in Wharfdale. With luxury rooms, spa facilities, exquisitely cooked food and locally sourced produce, this country hotel on the Bolton Abbey Estate has a lot to offer.

The location of the hotel means that it is perfectly placed to offer a range of country pursuits. Activities include a 10-day luxury walking break following The Dales Way to tracing the path of the Tour De Yorkshire. Alternatively, if you want to take things a little easier you can relax on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.

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The Devonshire Arms is only a thirty-minute drive from Fountains Abbey where the story is set. I took a wander around the abbey and the gorgeous water gardens at Studley Royal this Christmas. My little jaunt gave me a whole new perspective on the story. It was particularly thrilling to envisage the characters holding whispered conversations in the dark shadowed corners of the ruins. I found myself seeking out narrow paths in the woods trying to find a secluded glade where private conversations might be overheard. In fact, I was absolutely lost in my surroundings and imagination.

The Muse by Jessie Burton & The Methuen Arms

Jessie Burton produces beautiful books. We all know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. But when it comes Jessie Burton novels the façade is as beautifully intricate and well crafted as the writing. A visual delight for your bookshelves.

The Muse is the second offering from Jessie Burton. The story centres on the hidden tale the museand history of a painting by the Spanish artist Isaac Robles. Isaacs’ work and mysterious death have left the art world mystified for decades. The narrative is split between 1967 where a young typist, Odelle Bastien, who has struggled to find her place and purpose since moving to London from Trinidad has been recruited by the mysterious and enigmatic Marjorie Quick.

The parallel narrative is set in 1936 in a substantial manor house in rural Spain where the truth of the painting is concealed. Olive Schloss, the daughter of famed art dealer harbours secrets, ambition and consummate artist talent. Olive befriends the family housekeeper, Teresa and her revolutionary brother Isaac. As tensions build and the country on the brink of civil war the relationship and secrets between Olive, Teresa and Isaac come to a heart-wrenching climax.

This story entranced me and truly felt as though I was a fly on the wall of this grand Spanish house. My hotel choice for this novel isn’t quite a palatial Spanish manor but a beautiful Georgian coaching inn, The Methuen Arms, Corsham. Don’t be fooled by the cosy country exterior as inside you are in for a luxurious treat. The hotel has 16 luxurious and recently renovated rooms. There is even accommodation for mans best furry friend. One of the main attractions in my view of the Methuen Arms is the food. Home grown and locally sourced produce which is creatively cooked and well presented, it’s hard to go wrong. My top recommendation is the breakfast omelette, with all the added extras. Brunch perfection.

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Image from Trip Advisor

The hotel is situated in Corsham in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside but only a stone’s throw from the Roman city of Bath. With undulating hills and sun-bathed sandstone, it’s not a million miles from rural Spain.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver & The Blakeney Hotel

Yes, it’s another manor house thriller, except Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is much more subtle than a classic thriller. The story is as much about the protagonist, Maud as it is about the wild and eerie fens where the house ‘Wake’s End’ is located.

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After Maud’s mother dies in childbirth, she is left to the care of her father, Edmund, a strict and tyrannical disciplinarian.

The story tracks the isolation of Maud and the unravelling of her father. Maud gains an wakenhyrstinsight into his rapidly deteriorating mind through stolen moments with his diary. Edmund is stalked by scratching noises. Unseen eyes in the darkness and a religious and significant depiction of hell that draws the iridescent stench of the fen into every orifice of his being. Michelle Paver beautifully blurs the boundaries between reality and the ghostly. This story leaves you hung somewhere adrift with little pieces of the narrative returning to you every so often. I found myself turning those little pieces over and over. The sign of a good story in my view is one that doesn’t leave you after you finish the final page

I took my hotel inspiration here from The Blakeney Hotel. The hotel sits on the edge of the salt marshes and estuary of the North Norfolk coast. The hotel is comfortably and stylishly decorated, very Farrow and Ball chic. Situated right on the coastal path, the views are wild and expansive. On a squally day, you can well imagine you are looking out of the study windows at Wake’s End. The hotel has 60 rooms catering to couples, families and solo travellers. Many of the rooms have picturesque views over the estuary and salt marshes. One very welcome addition to the hotel’s facilities is a spa and swimming pool. I can thoroughly recommend positioning yourself on the sun terrace post-swim, book in hand and a cold beverage nearby. The afternoon tea is also a real treat.

 

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Image from the Honeymoon Project

 

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver & The Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk

I first read this little ghostly delight on a late train from Edinburgh to London. The carriage was empty, rain lashed the windows, individual torrents tracing their own path as we sped through the black. Honestly, it was  ghost story perfection. It’s a story I’ve come back to many times. Each reading grips me within the first, few pages, my consciousness held captive till the last page.

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My very well loved copy…

The Arctic, an expansive tundra full of secrets and possibility. When twenty-eight-year-old Jack gets the chance to embark on an Arctic expedition, he has nothing to lose. A motley crew of five men and eight huskies head north from Norway. As they cross the vast expanse of sea, they reach the bay where they will devote the next twelve months. The land of the midnight sun is enchanting and dangerous. Light fades and darkness reclaims the land. Restlessness, unease and a sense of foreboding grow whilst the escape route of the sea freezes over, something is out in the dark and the crew are not alone. Even revisiting the first pages of this gorgeous thriller gives me goosebumps. Michelle Paver successfully manages to hook you instantaneously all the while reeling you in page by page as the tension builds.

Failing a long winter train journey or a trip to Norway, I would recommend the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk to hunker down in and bury yourself in Dark Matter. I have chosen the Rose and Crown as a bedfellow for Dark Matter as I remember so clearly driving up to the hotel in the dark and the rain through twisty, turning, lanes. Trees creeping over stone walls and vast expanses of nothing. It’s quite the dramatic drive in the dark. Something about the feel of the place links quite nicely to the book.

Set on the edge of the North Pennines the Rose and Crown is a coaching inn not far from Barnard Castle. The Inn is a family-owned and runs a business with a real focus on being eco- friendly, sustainable and sourcing locally for supplies. The Rose and Crown’s remote location makes it an excellent spot for hiking, biking, sailing, fishing. Classic car hire is even an option for pootling down those country lanes and taking in the view.

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Image from Country Hotel Breaks

Choosing to stay at the Rose and Crown presents you with a range of room options. You can opt for rooms in the Main Inn, The Courtyard or the Monk’s Cottage. All the rooms are well styled with a contemporary take on rustic country charm. With Molton Brown toiletries and good linen, you are guaranteed a relaxing stay and a good nights’ sleep. I also reckon the incredible food, and modern takes on the classics will have you staggering into a food coma.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield & The Old Bell, Malmesbury

My mum is a literary hero and my go-to girl when it comes to reading material. Every Christmas she carefully picks out something she thinks I’ll love. Christmas 2007 was no exception when I tore the wrapping from The Thirteenth Tale.

The story is a rich tapestry of mystery set again a backdrop of Vida Winter’s literary 13thimaginings. Now at the end of her life, Vida wants to expose the truth of her extraordinary life. After hiring a biographer with her own shadowed past the story takes on a gothic peculiarity where the reader is introduced to the Angelfield family, their governess and the devastating fire that altered everything.

The threads of the story flow seamlessly, characters lives intersect and the dialogue cuts from the past to the present. It is a masterclass in evocative storytelling. Now with the setting of a once spectacular house, I would recommend the Old Bell, Malmesbury for a spring week away.

The Old Bell is England’s oldest hotel. Set in the quaint Wiltshire market town of Malmesbury you cannot miss its historic wisteria clad façade on the main thoroughfare. The hotel is a luxurious escape with modern, stylish rooms, well-appointed bar area and exceptional Sunday roasts. The roaring log fire in the sitting room is the ideal place to cosy up with The Thirteenth Tale. Also if you fancy a weekend break with your four-legged friend then the Old Bell is dog friendly.

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The Old Bell – England’s Oldest Hotel

With a 12th Century Abbey next door to the hotel and the world-famous Abbey House Gardens, this place is laced with history and mystery. A faultless match for ‘The Thirteenth Tale.’ Looking around the hotel there are snippets of times long since passed. The hooded stone fireplace in the brasserie dates to 1220 definitely makes me think of the centuries of stories that have been told around its hearth.

Stay safe, keep well.

Happy reading & happy travels

Jess

Hotel Review, Uncategorized, weekend break

Hotel Review: 4* Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz, Berlin

“I’m only there for less than 48 hours, the hotel doesn’t really matter right?” Wrong!

Weekend mini-breaks are a firm favourite of mine when it comes to travelling. I love the feeling of skipping out of work at 3.15 in the afternoon with a weekend of adventure stretching out before me. However, with less than 48 hours to experience a whole city do not underestimate the importance of selecting a good hotel for your trip.

We chose the Hotel Indigo for our recent weekend jaunt to Berlin, and it proved to be a great base for our weekend.

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Getting to the Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is about a half-hour taxi ride from Tegel Airport. We landed late on Friday night, so a taxi was the easiest option. The taxi rank was located right outside the terminal building with an abundant supply of cars. The fare cost €35, which we were happy to pay for door to door service. However; if you’re after a cheaper alternative then the public transport options are plentiful. The TXL bus, S41 finally changing to the U8 will get you from the airport to Alexanderplatz in around thirty minutes.

First Impressions

Quirky. Clean. Perfectly appointed. I always enjoy staying in a hotel that has given some thought to design. Bright colours, interesting bespoke furniture in the communal areas and the most gorgeous use of old paperbacks behind the reception desk.

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Check-in was quick and efficient; such is the beauty of the British Airways flight and hotel deal. As first impressions go, I was definitely feeling slightly smug with my choice.

Which Room?

IMG_0791There is a choice of four room types at the Hotel indigo; standard, deluxe, executive or suite. Although comfort is IMG_0793enormously important for a hotel room, we always spend so little time in the room on a weekend break I would always opt for a standard room. In this instance, the standard room was just right. A king-size bed, clean en-suite with Aveda toiletries and a killer view of the TV tower. We genuinely couldn’t have wanted much more. I particularly liked the Trevi fountain vibe emblazoned onto the glass wall of the bathroom. Yes, that’s right the back wall of the shower was glass. As I said, this place is a little quirky. However, fear not, there was a carefully placed trident/Roman God thigh covering the sightline from the bed to the toilet. So, no need to avert your eyes whilst your nearest and dearest go about their morning ablutions.

Hotel Facilities

For a weekend break, the need for extensive hotel facilities is to my mind somewhat limited. If you’re looking for a gym, spa or pool then the Hotel Indigo isn’t the right choice for you. But, if you’re all about a good breakfast, somewhere safe to leave your bag after check out, good Wi-Fi and reasonably priced taxi services to the airport the Hotel Indigo most certainly ticks these boxes.

IMG_0795As part of our flight and hotel deal with BA breakfast was included. I genuinely think a hearty breakfast as part of your stay is always worth it. If you’re anything like me, I’m up early plate loaded, tea in hand and itinerary at the ready. Breakfast at the Hotel Indigo consisted of the usual hot selection of bacon, eggs, sausage and pancakes to continental breads, pastries, cold meats and cheese. With less than two days to explore, I always want to cram as much in as possible. Therefore, not having to find somewhere for breakfast or stop mid-morning for a pick me up helps us cram just a little more into the weekend. Opting for an included breakfast is also a great way to keep the additional costs down.

Location

It can be tempting to opt for a cheaper hotel much further from the city centre. HoweveAttachment-1r, this is often a false economy as you could potentially spend that additional cash on public transport in and out of the city each day. For me, weekend breaks are all about getting the base location right. The Hotel Indigo Alexanderplatz is about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate and only a five-minute walk from the infamous Berlin TV Tower.

If you don’t fancy the walk, the Hotel Indigo is two minutes’ walk from the bus stops for many of the main tour buses. Owing to the biblical downpour, we bought a weekend ticket for the Big Bus Tour which has two routes red and blue. Alexanderplatz is the first stop on both routes making the Hotel Indigo a great choice and starting point for discovering the city.

Final thoughts

Our weekend in Berlin was brilliant in spite of the perpetual heavy rain. By choosing a hotel with a central and well-connected location, it made it possible to squeeze a huge amount into such a short time. If you are planning a weekend in Berlin, I can thoroughly recommend the Hotel Indigo, Alexanderplatz.

Happy travels

Jess

 

Uncategorized, weekend break

Top 15 Unmissable things to do in Scandinavia

Glaciers, fjords, the Aurora Borealis and spectacular natural topography beautifully mixed with a unique sense of identity and culture. It’s pretty clear why Scandinavia ranks highly on people’s travel bucket list. It’s a new year and a new decade, what more reason do you need to get an adventure booked up? I know I am guilty of endlessly perusing the flight and holiday sales…just in case! So, in case you need a little inspiration here is 15 unmissable things to see and do in Scandinavia.

  1. Watch the Northern Lights in Norway:

Without a doubt, the Northern Lights is the main attraction in Scandinavia. The best place to catch a glimpse of these dancing absinthe coloured lights is in northern Norway, in the Arctic Circle.

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But this elusive contemporary dance in the night sky is tricky and highly dependant on weather conditions. For your best chance at spying the lights, I would book a trip between October and February.

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For a luxury lodge experience in the Arctic Circle check out Lyngen Lodge. This gorgeous place has so much more to offer than being a blissfully secluded place to watch the sky dance from the warmth of a hot tub.

Web: https://www.lyngenlodge.com/en/

2. Take a tour of the Oslo Opera House:

Bursting through the waters of the Oslo Fjord rises the sharp angular iceberg of the Oslo

architectural photography of white buildingOpera House. Famous for it’s innovative and creative design the Opera house attracts scores of tourists and locals keen to experience the architecture, world-class opera and dance for themselves. The smoothly undulating oak interior perfectly partners the vast open light-filled entrance. This inspirational space truly feels like a catalyst for creativity. Guided tours encompass the main auditorium, backstage areas, workshops and design studios. Tours are given in a variety of languages. Don’t forget to book in advance to secure your place on a tour; places are limited to 25 people per group.

Price – 120Kr

Guided tour – 50mins

Web: https://operaen.no/en/booking/guidedtours/

3. Experience the joys of Paper Island:

Whenever I travel, I am always on the lookout for fabulous food. I found myself on a freezing cold squally night in Copenhagen stumbling upon the culinary delights which lurk on Paper Island. Paper Island, affectionately named after its history as a paper storage facility for the Danish press is located in the middle of the harbour right next to the Opera House and Royal Playhouse.

Paper Island is a mecca for Danish street food. Your senses can get lost wandering through rows and rows of vendors each emitting scent to make your mouth water. Pulled pork, seafood, Burgers, Burritos, Vegan bowls and more, there is something to suit every appetite here.

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I can thoroughly recommend snagging a spot by the huge open fire, grabbing a beer and a surf and turf burger with cheese sauce for a total foodie win.

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4. Stroll through Tivoli Gardens at Christmas:

If you’re like me, I often struggle to feel ‘Christmassy’ when the festive season comes around each year. After a trip to Copenhagen in the first weekend of December, I came home totally ready to hang my wreath up and get on it with my present shopping. My new found festive feeling was in part, thanks to Tivoli Gardens and their gorgeous festive light display.

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Tivoli Gardens has the charm of an old-fashioned amusement park with the beauty of historic buildings and sprawling gardens. There is something for everyone; a trip during the festive period is a must. Just make sure you grab a warm cup of GlØgg to keep your hands warm as you take in the atmosphere.

Web: https://www.tivoligardens.com/

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5. Visit the Vasa:

Adults, children, old, young, this one doesn’t matter as the Vasamuseet is a Stockholm attraction for all. The Vasa was a behemoth 17th Century warship, who, thanks to some very sketchy calculations and poor measurements managed to sink to the bottom of the Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage. The Vasamuseet is absolutely fascinating and seeing the ship in all its miscalculated glory is mind-blowing. The scale of the preservation is spectacular, coupled with the detailed exhibits you’ll want to make sure you’ve got at least two or three hours for this Swedish gem.

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6. Discover proper Swedish meatballs:

No offence Ikea, but the best Swedish meatballs are best eaten squished up alongside other savvy diners who know the secret eatery that is Bakfickan. Bakfickan is a cosy countertop restaurant serving traditional Swedish cuisine. The restaurant is located just opposite the Opera House. To bag one of the 28 seats, you need to pick your time carefully. Tables can’t be booked online so do consider your plans ahead of time. We went at around 8.00 pm on an evening when there was nothing showing at the Opera House. At this time, we snagged the final two seats at the main bar and those behind us were unfortunately turned away. A meal at Bakfickan was a true highlight of our trip to Stockholm.

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7. Go Husky Sledding through in the Arctic Circle:

FullSizeRenderSitting in a traditional sledge, wrapped in reindeer pelt with only the sound of the dogs heavy breathing and the sledge gliding through the soft powder I found a true sense of wilderness. Despite my husband busily ‘driving’ the dogs and our convoy of four sledges I genuinely felt totally isolated. The landscape was stunning, the sky heavily laden with snow narrow tree-lined paths crisscrossing through the forest only to emerge onto a vast tundra framed by trees and mountains. I was amazed by the speed and coordination of the dogs, combined with an outdoor camp lunch of locally caught salmon and hot sweet GlØgg it was the perfect wilderness activity.

8. Find some Hygge:

Hygge is a Scandinavian word for the mood of cosiness, the art of being comfortable and focussing on feelings of wellness and contentment. I am never more contented than when I’m warm, comfortable and have a hot beverage in hand. Warm cosy independent coffee shops and tucked away tea houses are in no short supply in the Scandinavian cities I’ve visited. So, if you find yourself with an hour or two to spare, grab a good book and hunker down with a hot beverage. My favourite coffee shops are El Fant in Helsinki and Sara’s Art & Coffee in Stockholm.

9. Wallow in the Blue Lagoon:

Chances are that if you’ve booked a trip to Iceland a visit to the Blue Lagoon is on the list of things to do on your trip. Rightly so, however, get in line and plan your visit carefully! All visits must be booked in advance and a trip to the Blue Lagoon can be pricey. The standard package which includes entrance, towel, mud mask and drink of your choice costs ISK 6990 around £43, other more luxurious packages are available must booking is advised with all additional treatments or spa experiences. The Blue Lagoon is open year-round however timings are dependant on the season. With a little prior planning and forethought, an afternoon wallowing the warm milky waters of this man-made lagoon is not to be missed. A note for the ladies…bring plenty of moisture-rich conditioner; the water contains high levels of silica which play havoc with your locks.

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10. Listen to the roar of Gullfoss Waterfall:

Gullfoss is part of Iceland’s golden triangle and is easily visited with any local tour company. Gullfoss is roughly translated as ‘Golden Falls’ and consists of two vast cascades. A trail leads your round the falls, allowing you to experience this magnificent natural spectacle from a variety of different perspectives. The trail can be completed in around an hour. Gullfoss is an easy day trip from Reykjavik and a must-see during a trip to Iceland.

11. Take to the water:

Whatever part of Scandinavia takes your fancy you’ll never be far from water. Where ever I am I always try to experience some part of the city from the water. I often find it gives you a completely new perspective on the city. I would particularly recommend a boat tour around Copenhagen departing from Nyhavn. The boat tour takes you through the canals and city waterways it was even felt like a much more intimate way to view the statue of the Little Mermaid. I would also recommend a Fjord cruise around Oslo, sadly when I booked onto a fjord cruise in March I hadn’t accounted for the -13 degree conditions but, the boat sold hot GlØgg and I just about managed two twenty-minute stints on deck before diving inside to warm up. Boat tours are easily booked from the waterfront.

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12. Relax in traditional Finnish Sauna:

There are few things more traditionally Scandinavian than a hot sweaty sauna. On 26BE607F-C585-4AFD-A488-E6306712E596.JPGvarious trips to the Scandinavian capitals, I have stumbled on small wooden huts on the water perfectly placed for a pre/post-work relaxation. If you’ve ever had a sauna at the gym or spa I can guarantee a proper Finnish sauna is very different. No scented candles, mood music or fancy lighting what you do get is dim lighting, the scent of fresh Birch and natural tar to a perfectly peaceful accompaniment of nothing. Blissful silence. And as if dreamy relaxation wasn’t good enough, I would definitely recommend giving yourself a gentle brushing with the birch twigs, it’s fabulous for your skin.

13. Check out Oslo’s Ski Museum:

Piercing the Oslo skyline is Holmenkollen ski jump and museum. The ski jump is one of my favourite winter events to watch, there is something particularly alluring about those moments suspended in the air… although I’m not sure I’d ever have the courage to give it a go! Dreams of flying aside the museum and tower are open 365 days a year with the latter offering panoramic views over the city. The museum is dedicated to 4,000 years of skiing history and Norwegian polar exploration. A definite must for any winter sports enthusiast or simply enjoy the views from the top. Adult admission is 140Kr and opening hours are between 10 am – 4 pm in the winter months and 5 pm during the summer.

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14. Marvel at Munch’s’ Masterpieces:

We’ve all heard of ‘The Scream’ but Edvard Munch has so much more to offer. If you’re looking for a thoroughly immersive monographic experience then put the Munch Museet at the top of your list for your trip to Oslo. We had visited the collection in Oslo before it closed for relocation to its new home in Bjørvika which is due to open in Spring 2020. A visit to the new Gallery which is spread over a vast thirteen floors is top of my list for a return visit to Oslo.

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15. Explore Suomenlinna Sea Fortress:

Built in the 18th Century by the Swedish this Finnish fortress is easily accessible via ferry from Helsinki’s market square (Kauppatori). There is usually a ferry every fifteen minutes so it is pretty easy to plan your trip. This garrison island offers walking trails, museums, military bunkers and even a World War Two submarine. There is plenty on offer to keep you busy for a few hours, this is definitely one Finnish attraction worth carving out time for.

Web: https://www.suomenlinna.fi/en/

Happy travels

Jess

 

History, Uncategorized, weekend break

Budapest: A chilled weekend guide for exploring culture and history in the Hungarian Capital

Budapest has been on my list of weekend destinations for some time. It is undoubtedly beautiful, steeped in history, culture and if you ignore the stag parties (Which it’s pretty easy to do!) I think it is a somewhat underestimated European city.

Towering fairy tale spires, romantic gothic churches and the pockmarked buildings bearing their war wounds; Budapest’s architecture, culture and history are enough to rival Paris or Prague. With easy navigation through the cities two halves, Buda & Pest and very reasonable prices all make Budapest a fabulous option for a weekend visit.

Our weekend in Budapest was a much-needed break from our hectic jobs, and I was looking to redress the work-life balance for 48 hours. With this in mind, I wanted a luxurious weekend with a slightly more chilled itinerary and Budapest more than delivered.

Getting to Budapest

As we are bound by our working schedules, we took a late flight, 8.45 pm out of London Heathrow and we were on the ground, transferred to the hotel and checked-in by 1 am. Although it was a late arrival, it meant that we got all day Saturday rather than losing our Saturday morning to travel. Flights to Budapest operate regularly from London Heathrow with carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and Swiss International airlines. We took a taxi from the right outside the terminal which proved no issue as there were plenty to be had. The service was efficient, clean and reasonably priced around 6500HUF (£17-£20). For flights arriving after 10 pm, I would recommend a taxi as there are limited public transport options at this time.

Where to stay

Hilton

We booked our trip as part of the British Airways Hotel and flight deal, which is great IMG_9287.JPGservice allowing you to specify star rating, dates and price for your accommodation. We opted for the five-star Hilton Budapest located in the Buda Castle District. This was absolutely the best choice. Our room was a King guest room was a gorgeous view of Matthias Churchyard. The room was spotlessly clean and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful during our stay. Late check-in, storage for bags and sorting out room keys niggles; there was no problem they weren’t willing and happy to help with.

One of the biggest perks of the Hilton was breakfast. When I have the time, I’m a big breakfast fan. The Hilton offers the usual smorgasbord of continental and hot breakfasts including some phenomenal omelette offerings from the resident egg chef. However, food aside, it’s the view from your breakfast table that can ignite your appetite for adventure. I would advise arriving fairly early between 7.30 – 8.30am to breakfast to secure one of the window tables.

What to do

Bus Tour

This was a new one for my husband and I. Normally we would opt for solely exploring the city on foot. However, after a few hours of exploration in the blistering heat, the kind of heat where you can smell the asphalt, we came across the Big Bus tour. A Deluxe Ticket came with hop on and off for three days, River Cruise, Buda Castle Shuttle return, Night Tour and Guided Walking Tour. With so many options we felt it would be beneficial in helping us see more of the city in a short space of time. The ticket cost €36 and was worth every penny.

The bus stops are easily located across the city and the historical commentary you can plug into was particularly interesting. Driving past seemingly unremarkable buildings to discover they have a detailed and fascinating history. Such things we would never have known by simply wandering past on foot.

River Cruise

Take to the water. As part of our Big Bus ticket, a river cruise was included. We opted for the sunset cruise on Saturday evening. Watching the sunset above the city from the water brought a whole new perspective on our trip. The commentary was detailed and informative and helped to make sense of the history on both sides of the river. Snacks and drinks were also available throughout the cruise.

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Buda Castle – Budapest History Museum

I absolutely recommend a walk around the castle district and Buda Castle itself. Despite various reconstructions healing the wounds of war the whole area and particularly the medieval part is still completely charming. Although Budapest is littered with museums and galleries, we opted for the Budapest History Museum. We wanted to experience a broader history of the city, and the Budapest History Museum was perfect. The exhibitions depict the 2000 years of Budapest’s turbulent history. From the Austro Hungarian empire to the horrors of World War Two.

The Budapest History Museum is open from Tuesday – Sunday between 10 am – 6 pm with an adult ticket costing 2400HUF.

Margaret Island

Imperiously sitting in the middle of the Danube is Margaret Island. Margaret Island is 500m wide and 2.5km long but, despite its small size, this gloriously green public park is packed with things to do. The island is located between Árpád Bridge and Margit Bridge and is easily accessed on foot.

For such a meagre strip of land, Margret Island boasts a varied past. From Royal hunting Snapseed - Copy (13).jpggrounds, the victim of a great flood in 1838 to the site of a Dominican Nunnery where King Bela famously sent his daughter Margaret after the Mongols departure from Hungary. Since that time the island has been known as Margaret Island.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so meandering around the park, taking in the musical fountain and availing ourselves of the various ice-cream sellers.

Buda Tower

Snapseed - Copy (7).jpgOnce part of the 13th Century Church of St Mary Magdalene, this stunning tower is all that remains after the church was heavily bombed during World War Two. A trip to the top is absolutely worth the panoramic views of the city. Be warned it is high, but the areas are enclosed and the steps although steep do have handrails.

A ticket costs 1500HUF but there are significant discounts for students or those who hold a Castle Shuttle Bus ticket. The Buda Tower is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. Please be aware that opening times are different if you are visiting during January or February.

 

Fisherman’s Bastion

The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the best-known landmarks in Budapest. It is located inIMG_9290.JPG the Buda Castle district; you simply can’t miss it. Stepping out of the Hilton Hotel, you are confronted with a fairy tale fortress with turrets, spires and mock Bastion features. My initial thoughts were it looked significantly different from the other historical buildings I had seen so far, beautiful, yes, but somehow artificial. The Fisherman’s Bastion was built in the 19th Century to serve as a lookout over the city. The purpose of the Bastion has never been used as an actual fortification for Buda.

As a lookout over the city, the Fisherman’s Bastian more than delivers. Panoramic views sweeping across the skyline in both directions. You’ll be spoilt for choice of which vista to snap.

Parliament

Budapest’s parliament building is hard to miss. It stands as a striking, landmark on the banks of the Danube. Any guesses as to which other famous European parliament influenced its’ design…

I had heard you could tour the parliament so as we circled the imposing spires to find the entrance, we were disappointed to find parliament was unexpectedly closed to the public due to an event. Disappointment aside a tour of the parliament is yet another reason for a return visit.

If you want to avoid our planning blunder then do book your tour tickets ahead of your trip via the Hungarian Parliament website: http://hungarianparliament.com/tours/

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Thermal Baths

So, this one is on every Budapest list of things to do I read. Public baths in Budapest have been around for centuries. Sitting on a matrix of 125 thermal springs, marinating in warm water has been part of everyday life since Roman times. Sadly, an afternoon ‘taking the waters’ wasn’t an option. With time being short and the weather being unbelievably hot we didn’t make it to one of the thermal baths. However, I had read up on which one to visit. My top three choices for thermal baths would have been

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  1. Gellert Baths: These smaller baths were top of my list. I didn’t want to go somewhere that would be completely swamped with tourists. I had also read the Gellert Baths have some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau décor seen anywhere in the city.
  2. Danubius Health Spa Margitsziget on Margaret Island: This was my second possible option. Although this modern spa lacks the old-world charm of some of its more famous counterparts, it does offer an extensive range of spa treatments. Feeling in need this weekend for a bit of pampering I put the Danubius Health Spa Margitsziget up there on my list.
  3. Szechanyi Baths: Finally, although I would have preferred a smaller bathing environment to escape the tourist crowds the Szechenyi Baths boast fifteen different pools and is undoubtedly one of the largest public baths Budapest has to offer. If a large scale, wedding cake experience is what you’re after then the Szechenyi Baths should be on your list.

Hospital in the rock

Everyone I had spoken to before going to Budapest had recommended the Hospital in the Rock. This was one attraction, firmly etched on my list of places to go. The Hospital in the Rock is part of a six-mile system of caves and tunnels used during World War Two. During World War Two it was a working hospital caring for the bombing victims and soldiers alike. The hospital was called back into service in 1956 during the revolution. The hospital was expanded to meet the potential growing threat of chemical and nuclear attacks during the Cold War.

Locating the museum initially felt like a bit of a mystery, and I sure do love a mystery. There were well-labelled maps in the castle complex, shiny billboards informatively suggesting we were but a short walk from the museum, but it did not appear. We must have walked around the uppermost part of the castle complex a number of times to no avail. I blame the 34-degree heat! Anyway, as if by magic on our second day and umpteenth loop we came across a lift shaft and staircase with a small sign indicating we were finally on the right track. At the bottom of the stairs turn right and nestled into the rock as you would assume was the museum, unimposing and humbly fronted it might easily have gone unnoticed if you weren’t on the hunt.

The museum was fascinating, horrifying and completely immersive. Photography is not permitted inside but I was honestly far too engrossed in my surroundings to think about taking pictures. Some images that stay with you without the need to scroll through your camera roll.

Nuclear war preparation films, operating rooms and wards the information and displays were informative and engaging. If you are visiting Budapest then the Hospital in the Rock should be at the top of your itinerary. My only caveat is that the tunnels are cold so take a jumper!

Where to eat & drink

New York Café

Whilst trying to ignore the sweat that was definitely turning my white t-shirt a fetching shade of translucent and listening carefully to the audio commentary on the bus my attention was piqued by the mention of The New York Café. The New York Café was a favourite haunt of writers, creatives, artists and newspaper editors. So, with literary history just around the corner, we decided we would make a beeline to the New York Cafe for dinner.

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I’m unsure what I was expecting but it wasn’t the elaborately decorated, multiple chandeliers imposing themselves on the room and intricate frescos lined walls that greeted us. Visually, it was stunning.

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The New York Café serves a variety of traditional Hungarian cuisine, more modern classics and of course a plethora of simply splendid cakes.

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Mazel Tov

Book. Book. Book. I’ll say it again…book. If you want to enjoy the gastronomical delights Snapseed - Copy (12).jpgof this Jewish Quarter garden party then you’ll need a reservation. We first tried for dinner on Saturday night to no avail but were lucky enough to grab a spot on Sunday lunchtime. Mazel Tov is a Middle Eastern restaurant set in the Jewish Quarter of the city. It has the ruin bar ambience combined with a conservatory. Cascading plants tumbling from the gallery perfectly set against the industrial interior design.

The cocktails and a Shawarma grill plate made for a perfect Sunday lunch.

Ruin Bars

Budapest now boasts a plentiful supply of these quirky secluded bars. Ruin bars litter the Old Jewish Quarter which was left to deteriorate after World War Two. The bars have popped up in the abandoned shells of buildings, shops and factories. Décor in the bars range from car boot sale chic to your nans living room circa 1970, whatever you choose you’re in for a visual and unusual treat.

Sadly, our Saturday night plans were cut short as I succumbed to the slightly less pleasant symptoms of heat exhaustion but a ruin bar beverage is up on my list for a return trip to the Hungarian capital.

Final Thoughts

Our weekend in Budapest was rammed full, blisteringly hot and proved to be a wonderful weekend escape. As with all our weekend adventures I left feeling keen to return and unearth more cultural gems of this glorious city. I would love to return in the winter months. I reckon a marinade in the world-famous baths with snow falling around you would be fairly close winter weekend perfection.