In the ‘Dam

Another weekend, another trip away. This time I was off to Amsterdam with Edin and Katharine. After a bit of a rocky start consisting of a cancelled flight, a night in an the Gatwick Hilton and a new 6am flight, we finally made it to Amsterdam and made a beeline for Anne Franks House museum. 

I was somewhat disappointed with this experience. So many rave about this, and although it was surreal being there and seeing where they lived, the place was absolutely jam packed with tourists and this completely ruined the experience for me. 

After depositing of our bags at our vey funky hotel room, we headed out to see the Rijksmuseum, and of course the I Amsterdam sign. This museum was quite incredible, mostly due to the Dutch Grand master paintings by Vemeer and Rembrandt in its collection. These were very stunning to see in real life, especially as these artists were the first to really explore light and depth and accurately illustrate this. 

After the Rijksmuseum and a drink and a snack, we wandered our way along the canals to the meeting point for our red light district tour. This tour was very interesting and informative, and was great way to see this world famous area and learn about it in an objective way. It is definitely strange to walk down a street and see windows with women pouting and smiling and bouncing in their underwear, trying to attract clientele. 

The next day after a bit of a sleep in, Katharine and I hired bikes and rode to meet my friend Julie who is currently living in Amsterdam. After breakfast in the park, Julie took us on a fab bike tour of Amsterdam including Vondelpark and the Jordaan neighbourhood, before heading to De Hallen for lunch. 

After De Hallen it was time for the Van Gough Museum, followed by a ‘rice table’ where Julie and a number of her friends also joined us for dinner, drinks and laughs. 

Our last day was only a half day really, so after another sleep in it was time for another museum, this time the Stedelijk. I found this museum somewhat underwhelming if I’m honest. Next up we went off on a canal boat tour to see the city from the canals and learn a bit more about the history, architecture and neighborhoods. This was our last activity before having to make our way to the airport after a lovely but full on weekend. 

Milano

Oh Italy, how have I managed to live in London for a year and not make it to Italy. Well, let me say, Milan did not disappoint. 

After a late night flight and creeping into my hotel room in an attempt to not wakemy travel  companion, I was reunited with my fab friend Antonia who was on a wee Eurotrip. 

Saturday morning it was all talking a million miles and an hour as we caught up and made our way to breakfast and then the Duomo. The Duomo and its rooftops were absolutely stunning, and provided a fantastic perspective on not only the famous Cathedral but also the city. Next up we wandered through the teeming Galeria, before setting off in search of lunch. We hit the jackpot with a fabulous Mozarella bar and so began our food heaven experience. Truffle pasta, buffalo mozzarella, delicious salad and Aperil spritz. All my food dreams coming true, much to the dismay of my PT. 

After lunch we explored the Castello Sforzesco and wandered the park, before making our way to the Church housing ‘The Last Supper’ to try our luck. Unfortunately there was nothing available so we opted for gelato and some errands before quiet time before dinner. 

Dinner again was food heaven, complete with more Aperol and of course some Italian red wine. With an early flight the next day, this bought my first Italian foray to a close. Bring on the Amalfi Coast! 


Granada

We arrived in Granada to a lovely sunny day, eager to explore another new place. After leaving our stuff at the hotel we were off for a wander through the streets on a brief walking tour, to learn some history and key areas. After our wander it was time for a beeline for tasting of wine, cheese and Spanish ham. We also enjoyed a tradition tapas experience, where you order a drink and the tapas come with it for free! You don’t get to choose the food, it is just what the tapas bar is offering on a given day. 

After wandering the shops while Mum and Dad had a rest, and a quick dip in the hotel pool, we were off wine tasting. Little did we know, the wine tasting came tapas style, so for each new wine we tasted, we also got a taste morsel to sample. After wine tasting which was delicious and also fabulous fun, I went for a spot of shopping in the Spanish summer sales, and scored myself a lovely new bag! Winning!

The next day was our big day for exploring the Albayzin and The Alhambra Palace. We wandered the streets of the Albayzin, learning about the history of the area and current day situation, whilst glimpsing stunning views of the Alhambra palace. After lunch it was off to the Alhambra, where we toured all of the fort, royal palaces and the summer house. The palace although quite grand from the outside, is actually quite plain. The inside however was absolutely stunning in its decorations, carvings and mosaics. 

Spending a full day out and about, walking and exploring, meant we were all truly ready for a break and snooze before heading out for a last dinner in Spain together. Our last day in Spain the next day consisted of more rugby, before ambling around the city until our late evening flight back to London. 

Grazalema and Ronda

After the bustle of stunning Sevilla, we were off into the hills of Spain to visit some of the white villages. 

Enroute to Grazalema where we would be staying first, we made a stop in Zahara de la Sierra. This was a very cute and quaint town up on top of hill, over looking a stunning turquoise lake and with a signal castle on top. Obviously we had to climb up to the lookout point in over 30 degrees in the blazing sun, and the views were absolutely worth it. After lunch it was on the road again to Grazalema. 

Grazalema is another of the white villages, nestled in a National Park and surrounded by hills and beautiful walking trails. It was also a place where our hotel had a pool, so guess what we did that afternoon before a tradition Paella dinner?

Our whole day spent in Grazalema was started with a tramp up one of the walking tracks for a view over the national park. Luckily it was a much milder 24 degrees and the path much more friendly, making for a lovely walk through some quite stunning scenery. After our walk I explored some the villages shops on pursuit of a new bag, before we went off cheese and sweet wine tasting. After the cheese and wine and a lunch I was more than ready for an afternoon nap before dinner. 

The next day we set off bright and early for the village of Ronda, famous for its bridge and the sheer cliffs which surround it. When we arrived it was still relatively quiet, but not for long. It was soon absolutely swarming with tourists. After a wander thirsty the shopping area, we set about exploring the village including the famous bridge, Mooriah palace, Roman baths and old roman walls. We also wandered the winding streets, did a spot of shopping and enjoyed a delicious lunch in the shade. That evening before dinner we made the hike down the cliffs for a different perspective of the town and bridge. 

After a lovely time in Ronda, we were off to Granada!


Sevilla

Back at the end of June, I was lucky enough to spend a week traveling in Spain with my parents. First stop, Sevilla!

When I arrived it was an insanely warm 43 degrees, even at 9pm. Luckily it was a relatively dry heat, so it was actually quite nice. This sort of temperature was to be a theme for the remainder of our time in Sevilla.

After a drinks and Tapas for dinner, it was early to bed before a day of exploring the city. But before we could do that, obviously we had to watch the first All Blacks vs Lions test at an Irish pub. We were the only kiwis and surrounded by POMs so luckily the All Blacks won. After the rugby we wandered down to the banks of the river Guadalquivir and along, before heading to the (in)famous Bull Ring. We did a quick tour of the Bull Ring and its museum which was very interesting, and the colours inside were absolutely stunning. Can’t say I agree with what goes on there but fabulous to see such an amazing space.

After the bull ring and a tapas lunch in the cool of some air conditioning, we made our way to the Sevilla Cathedral. This is a stunning structure, including aspects of the old mosque but with the inside remodeled to the catholic style. The old orange orchard from Moorish times is even still outside with flourishing orange trees.

At this point Mum and Dad bailed out for a bit of a rest while I explored the shopping district and wrote some postcards home.

Our second day in Sevilla was a full one, with plans to explore the Plaza de Espana and other monuments from the World Trafe Fair, as well as the Real Alcazar. The Plaza de Espana and monuments with their surrounding park were very beautiful, and it was lovely to spend the morning walking through the grounds.

After a quick snack, it was off to the Real Alcazar, where we explored all the beautiful rooms of the Moorish Royal palace as well as the stunning gardens. At this point, it was stinking hot and we were all pretty hangry so we made our way to a lovely local tapas reatuarnt for summer wine and lunch before an afternoon snooze.

After a lovely dinner at a restaurant once visited by Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, and a good nights sleep, we were off into the hills of Spain!



 

Collioure Dreaming

Another weekend, another European Jaunt. This trip I was off to Collioure to meet up with Mum and Dad, as well as my Uncle Peter and Aunty Brenda. 

After being picked up from the airport in Perpignan, we were off on a little road trip. First stop was Thuir for a quick stop into the local market and a wander. Next up we made our way to Castlenou to explore one of Frances prettiest villages, and climb up to the castle perched on the hill. After Castlenou we made our way to Canet in an attempt to find the memorial to the 2008 plane crash. We failed at that, but did wander along the beach in the 35 degree heat. 

Finally we made it to Collioure, a beautiful little town on the Mediterranean, complete with market, picturesque colorful houses populating winding streets and a few lovely little pebbly beaches. After a swim and some bathing we went out for dinner by the beach, looking out over the old walls, fort and beach. It was lovely and warm and just such a dreamy setting. 

Sunday we had breakfast at the villa and a walk around town and the markets, before an early lunch and then I was off back to the airport. It was lovely to get away for the weekend and get some sun and warm, and even better seeing my family.

Thuir streets 

The view to Castlenou

Delicious lunch and an incredible table

Castlenou

Castle views

The prettiest little village

Beach time in Collioure!

Swimming in the med. 

The Villa

Dinner spots 

Collioure Streets

Dreamy Collioure

The Harbour

The Castle

My personal photographer/dad of instagram!

Such a beautiful place 

Collioure 

Mum and Dad come to visit!

With the start of June came my parents visit to the UK and Europe. I have to apologise for my lack of blog updates since Bulgaria. I have been too busy flitting about with my parents, sharing my London life with them and enjoying little jaunts to Europe. 

Mum and Dads arrival timing was interesting, being the Sunday morning after the London Bridge terror attack. Pretty good timing from my perspective as what better time to get a hug from your parents than when your city is under attack and you’re feeling a bit vulnerable. We were lucky that my pilot brother Patrick managed to bid in his roster to fly them from LA to London, meaning we were all together for the first time in a year! We enjoyed a Sunday pub dinner after they arrived, and a Monday morning breakfast up at Duck and Waffle to enjoy the views. After that I jetted off to work and left my parents in the capable hands of my brother. 

Tuesday evening I raced from work back to London and to the theatre, and we were off to see Kinky Boots for Mum’s Birthday. The remainder of the week was populated by working from home during the day and dinners with Mum and Dad, before we headed up to Edinburgh on Friday morning. 

I splashed out a bit for our train tickets, which made our journey a lot more comfortable and we quite quickly arrived in Edinburgh. The scenery on the way was quite stunning, especially Durham cathedral and the east coast of England and Scotland. 

Our time exploring the gorgeous Edinburgh was really quite fab. We walked up and down the royal mile, explored the castle, checked out the shops, went whiskey tasting and explored new town as well as old town. We made it to Holyrood House and explored Leith, as well as the Royal Yacht Britannia and St Mary’s Close. 

After Edinburgh it was time to part ways. I was off back to work and Mum and Dad were off to the South of France. 

Cornwall

For the early summer May bank holiday weekend, Jess, Elisa and I decided to head to Cornwall for a very English weekend by the seaside. After a very early start and long drive, we made it to the seaside town of Padstow for lunch. After Fish and Chips and pint, we were off to explore the seaside town. After a short wander, we made a healing for the beach to dip our toes in the sea. This was my first encounter with the sea in over a year and we were three very happy sea babies on that beach. After an ice cream by the cute little harbour and picking up supplies we made out way to our glamping campsite. Our yurt was pretty cool, and outside was the perfect spot for a dinner of wine and cheese. 

After a delicious breakfast thanks to chef Elisa, we made our way to Polzeath beach, one of the better beaches in the area. It was already full of brits making the most of the sun, which unfortunately didn’t look like it would last long. Our next stop was Tintagel, to check out the castle and unknown to us, also Merlin cave! This was another very cute village, punched up on the ridge, and the walk down to the beach and cave was ok, but back up was another story. 

After our last night in the yurt, our departing mission before driving back to London was to have ourselves a clotted cream. This is a local dish of tea, scones, jam and clotted cream. Obviously very unhealthy, but also very delicious. We also grabbed real Cornish pasties on our way out, and these were absolutely delicious. 

Photo credit to the fab Elisa for the GoPro photos. Check out https://quarterlifewhatblog.wordpress.com/

Bulgaria

Bank holidays while living in London mean only thing… travel time! For the May Day bank holiday I went to explore Bulgaria with Jess and Elisa.

After a very late night flight, we exited the airport to find around 50 people who were all on our flight waiting for taxis… and there were none. After a minute or so a few taxis rolled up, which were quickly snapped up by a few people. Then after another few minutes, more started coming, and then even more. At that point we realised they must all just be parked elsewhere… and it didn’t matter much to us as we managed to swipe one and get on our way. As luck would have it, our driver didn’t speak English. After some faffing about we managed to communicate where we wanted to go and got there safely, with Coolio’s Gansta’s Paradise as out soundtrack. 

After arrival and a sleep in, we attempted to pay for our accommodation before heading out to explore the city. This again proved difficult due to a lack of English and some confusion of the amount we owed. Once we got that sorted (which required a phone call to the manger) we got the metro into town and found ourselves a breakfast spot. It just so happens we managed to find what was probably Sofia’s most popular hipster café, complete with funky music and flat whites.

After breakfast we wandered the city, exploring the sites and trying to figure out what the different buildings were. At one point during our wanderings, we were sitting enjoying a coffee and saw what looked like football fans causing some trouble and letting off fire crackers. As we continued exploring the city we kept hearing the fire crackers but figured it was all pretty harmless. As we made our way to checkout the Sofia markets and get some food before an evening walking tour, we came across a massive group of what we thought were football fans earlier, apparently beginning some kind of demonstration. They were all kitted out in blue and white, with flags of the same colour and a large banner. They were being escorted by police and letting off blue flares and firecrackers. One they started marching, they also started chanting and doing Nazi salutes. At this point we realised all of them were skinheads, and figured they must be some sort of extreme Nationalists (a bit of a thing currently in Eastern Europe) . Being sensible young women, we decided we were better off far away from where they were so continued on our way. 5 minutes later we walked past the cities Mosque, to find it surrounded by police fully kitted out in Riot gear….After finding ourselves a very delicious but late lunch/early dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant, we made out way to join a walking tour. Enroute to the walking tour, and all day in fact, I couldn’t help but notice all the Roma and Gypsies. Bulgaria is the first European country where there have been a lot of them so I found it really fascinating.

Our walking tour was very enjoyable and informative, and helped us understand more about the long history of Bulgaria and Sofia. It was also a great opportunity to ask our guide about the demonstration we have seen earlier. Turns out they were football fans, as there was a local derby match that evening. However, also turns out Bulgarian football supporters are all Neo-Nazi, skinhead nationalists. Our guide gave us a very serious and sombre warning to stay well away from them, avoid all interactions, and even suggested being back at our accommodation before the game finished at 11pm to avoid all travel.

After our tour, we went and had a few drinks at what appeared to be British stag do central, before wisely being home by 11pm.

Our second day we spent the day exploring more of the country. After an early start, we drove up into the mountains south of Sofia to visit the Rila Monastery which was credited with preserving the language, arts and culture of Bulgaria during the 500 years of Ottoman rule. Exploring the Monastery up in the clouds and the rain was almost mystical, and the frescoes on the Orthodox church were truly stunning.

After a quick pit stop for lunch and a nap in the car we made it to Plovdiv. Plovdiv as a settlement is over 6000 years old, and interestingly, over the last 50 years or so, Roman ruins have been discovered and dug up right in the middle of the city. We wandered the city with our guide, and explored the old town, before making our way back to Sofia. After dinner, drinks, hookah and a Taxi scam attempt, we made it safely back to our apartment to have a nice sleep in before our flight back to London.

Photo credits to my travel pals, Jess and Elisa. You can check out Elisa’s blog here https://quarterlifewhatblog.wordpress.com/

The Mineral Baths

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Sneans on Tour 

Tulips and Churches

The former royal residence

Park life

The National Theatre

Nationalist Neo-Nazi Football fans

The Markets

Bulgarian Food

Sveta Nedelya Church

Royal guards, previously the most eligible bachelors in Bulgaria

St George Rotunda Church and ruins

Bulgarian Orthodox Church within the Rila Monastery

The Monastery

The oldest part of the Monastery

Freacoes

Frescoes

Go Pro shots in the rain

Plovdiv

The Longest pedestrian street in Europe 

Old Town streets

Old Town houses

Gossip boxes from Ottoman times… where the women would watch and gossip since they couldn’t leave their homes. 

New Town from old town

Conquered old town

Plovdiv street art


roman Amphitheater discovered after earthquake 50-ish years ago

Krakow 

Over the Easter Weekend I popped off to Krakow, Poland with 2 friends to explore the city and take in the nearby WW2 sites.

After arriving late Thursday and settling into our AirBnB, we were up early on Friday for a trip to the Salt Mines. These mines were huge and impressive, and exploring them required descending hundreds of steps, down as low as 300m below ground. The mines are full of sculptures and carvings all created by the miners in their own time. After the salt mines we made our way back into Krakow and to the Jewish Quarter for world famous pizza sticks for lunch which were delicious. Next up was Schindler’s factory museum. Good thing we booked as the line was massive! This museum was so much more than just the history of the factory made famous by the film. It also provided an incredible, in depth experience covering the majority of Krakow’s modern history. It has to be the one of, if not the best museum I have visited. Incredibly well laid out, and informative. Post museum it was time for beers in the spring sun in the main square of the Jewish Quarter, followed by a traditional polish dinner.Saturday saw us up at the crack of dawn and on a bus to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. We all learn about the history of WW2 and the horrors of the Holocaust, however seeing with your own eyes is completely different. I firmly believe this is an experience everyone should try to have at least once in their lifetime.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

After returning to Krakow and having a quick nap, it was back to beers in the sun, this time in Old Town Square where we were treated to come Polish Eurotrash break dancing against our will. This was followed by Vodka tasting and a healthy (non-Polish) dinner.

Easter Sunday we joined a free walking tour of Old Town Krakow. We had a great guide and the tour was very informative. We learnt all about Krakow’s history from the glory days to the downfall. Our tour wound it’s way through Old Town, finishing up at Wawel Castle. After the walking tour, we had planned to attend an Eataway. This is a platform which enables everyday people to host meals in their homes. The couple who hosted this Eataway were Americans living in Poland, who were lovely and hospitable and the food was delicious. However, it was a very interesting group of people who attended the lunch. The blind couple from Sweden, the American Director, the loud Australian guy, the Polish girls who’s family were all in Ireland, and many other interesting characters. The hosts also had pet rats in cages…. So overall a very different and interesting experience, however unsure it’s something I want to repeat. After escaping the Eataway we explored more of the Jewish Quarter, had a drink and then headed back to our AirBnB for an early night.

Monday I had time for a quick breakfast, and then I was off to the airport and back home to London. 

Old Town Square by Night

Descending the many stairs to the Salt Mines

Church within the Salt Mines

Jewish Quarter street art 

Pizza Stick

Beers in the sun

Main Square, Jewish Quarter

The most delicious perogis 

Auschwitz 

Birkenau 

Old Town Square

Old Town market building in the square 

Vodka tasting! 

Krakow city gate 

The rotunda 

Old Town 

One of the worlds oldest universities

Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Castle

Castle Selfies

The Citadel

The Citadel

Secret Churches

The Vistula River


Krakow sunsets