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

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: 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

 

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

 

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.