Getting Ruined in Budapest 

They don’t call Budapest a ‘late-night’ city for nothing, and Ruin Bars and Ruin Pubs are the main culprits for keeping people out late.

A firm favourite of both locals and visitors, Ruin Bars are set up in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores or lots, and many of them are open air. These quirky bars are all decorated with fairy lights, graffiti, plants, and mismatched items of furniture that have probably been scooped up from a junkyard.

You can find the Ruin Bars in the Jewish Quarter, in Pest. This is the most lively side of Budapest where there are just as many people out on the streets at night as there are in the daytime!

Get carried away in Budapest

When Ben and I visited Budapest, we were keen to drink in as many Ruin Bars as possible. On our first night in Budapest we ventured out on a Ruin Bar crawl. Here is where we went…

(The photography gets worse and worse as I became more intoxicated!)

Ruin Bar #1: Szimpla Kert


This is a good starting point for a bar crawl, as Szimpla Kert is the best known Ruin Bar. It is huge and has multiple areas and bars for drinking, including an old car in the courtyard which has been converted into a booth with a table in the middle!


Ruin Bar #2: Füge Udvar

We stumbled across this bar. The main area was dissected by three long tables running along the length of the bar. It was good for meeting people and making friends with who you were sat next to!

There were arcade games in the rooms to each side of the main drinking area, so you could challenge someone to a game of air hockey or pool if you wanted to!


Ruin Bar #3: Mazel Tov

This Ruin Bar was easily the most beautiful one we went to. It was decorated like a garden with ivy hanging down the walls and cute fairy lights dripping down from the ceiling.

They serve food here too, so we earmarked it as a place to come back to.


Ruin Bar #4: Fogas Ház

We weren’t sure whether Fogas Ház was a Ruin Bar or a youth hostel! The main bar is in a courtyard overlooked by Cupid and a mermaid who were floating in the treetops and surrounded by twinkling lights.

Off the courtyard there are large rooms with DJs playing music, and a smaller room which looked like it may have been someone’s lounge before it got Ruined!


Ruin Bar #5: Kuplung

I think we only scratched the surface with Kuplung as we stumbled into the entrance-way, five pints in!

All I remember is the lights that looked like jelly fish floating above the tables, and a band were playing in the venue at the back of the bar.

Kuplung may look like your standard ruin of a bar, but there is more than meets the eye; they also have film screenings, performances and exhibitions here.



Ruin Bar #6: Liebling

I don’t really remember Liebling – it was the last one of the night!

Did we even go here?


Ruin Bar #7: Púder Bárszínház

Púder is a few blocks further south than the other Ruin Bars, so we went here the next day for lunch (and another beer.)

It’s slightly different to the others because it is right on the road with seating and tables out the front. (The other bars were all reached by going through a tunnel-like long entrance way to a courtyard at the back.)


Ruin Bar #8: Ellátó Kert

Ellátó Kert was predominantly open-air with a bar running round the perimeter. It was really cute with its different coloured lights, and the parasols overhead it felt very cosy.


Ruin Bar #9: Kőleves

Kőleves was the final Ruin Bar we made it to!

Kőleves is completely outside, so great for a warm evening. It was a quirky, ruined version of a pub garden!


Szia Budapest! 

Szia = Hungarian for hello and goodbye

Ben and I had a wonderful time in Budapest. It’s a brilliant place to visit for a long weekend, to take advantage of the cheap wine and beer, and for relaxing and taking in the sights.

Saturday

We rented an apartment in the Jewish Quarter in Pest. Pest is the younger, hipper side of the city which is overlooked by it’s calm and hilly counterpart, Buda from across the Danube River.

Pest has been compared to Vienna, whereas Buda is said to be more like Prague.

Two cities in one!

We woke up in Budapest ready for the weekend ahead and raring to go.

We made a beeline for Milnar, a bakery/ coffee chain on our way into the centre of town for a chocolate pastry.

Can’t wait to get stuck into this!

We then went on a walking tour of Pest, where we were navigated to the Opera House, St Stephen’s Basilica, the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, and up to the Chain Bridge.

 

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St Stephen’s Basilica

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Shoes on the Danube Bank – a memorial to Budapest’s Jews

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The Parliament Building

We stopped at Hold Utca Market, which is a great spot for lunch. It is a food market selling meat and groceries, and also ready-to-eat meals. There were lots of locals here having lunch so it felt very authentic.

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Pastries!!!!!! Each one cost less than £1

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Hold Utca Market

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Drinks by the Danube

Next we walked back up to the Jewish Quarter and to The Great Synagogue. This is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Behind it is a Jewish Museum.

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Dohány Street Synagogue – The Great Synagogue

The street leading from the central swimming pool (a swimming pool randomly in the town square!?) up to St Stephen’s Basilica has loads of bars and restaurants along it, and according to our walking tour guide, it isn’t overly expensive for tourists.

There is a wine bar called DiVino, and opposite, the High Note Sky Bar. This rooftop bar was one of my favourite spots in Budapest. It overlooks St Stephen’s Basilica, and you can get a cocktail and enjoy the view.

In my opinion, it’s a much better option than paying to climb the Basilica for the same view but minus the alcohol!

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The back of my head gets the best view

We had been recommended to visit Belvarosi Lugas Restaurant for dinner and to order the deer stew. It was a super recommendation because it overlooked the back of the Basilica and the food was delicious!

We think it was one of the best meals we ate.

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Traditional Hungarian deer stew with dumplings – YUM

In the evening, I navigated myself and Ben on a Ruin Bar crawl. Ruin Bars are a major attraction in Budapest – and as we discovered – a magnet for anyone on a stag do!

The bars have been established in run down courtyards and dilapidated buildings. Most of them have mismatched furniture, graffiti on the walls, and are decorated with fairy lights to jazz them up.

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Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden)

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Szimpla Kert is the best known Ruin Bar in Budapest

Some of the Ruin Bars are hard to find if you don’t know they’re there. Most of them are set back from the road with a long entrance leading into a neglected building.

Here is where we went: Szimpla Kert, Fuge Udvar, Mazel Tov, Fogas Haz, Kuplung, Liebling.

Not a bad effort for our first night!

N.B. For more detail on the Ruin Bar crawl, another blog post will follow!

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Getting a bit carried away… 

Sunday

The morning after the night before – we woke up with very sore heads!

Luckily there are loads of places in the Jewish District serving brunch and all-day breakfasts. We went to the sun-drenched courtyard of Most Bistro for a late breakfast, and sat in the shade and ordered water and fry-ups.

There was no time for napping, so we shook off our hungovers and made our way across the Chain Bridge to Buda, to take the Funicular up the hill to the Palace.

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Across the Chain Bridge

We strolled around Buda Castle, up to Matthias Church and along the Fishermen’s Bastion.

Standing at the Fishermen’s Bastion gives you one of the best views in Budapest.

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What a great view! (Of us)

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Matthias Church

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Having a stroll

From here, we walked back down the hill and across the Chain Bridge to 360 Bar on Andrássy Avenue. The tree lined boulevard Andrássy Avenue is modelled on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and it’s one of the most exclusive streets in Budapest.

From 360 Bar, you get another lovely view of the rooftops of Budapest. Ben and I had cocktails and relaxed in the sun.

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Mojito o’clock! And before my shoulders got burnt

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360 Bar

Getting to know the rooftops of Pest

In the evening, we went to a lively square near where we were staying which was full of restaurants and cafes. It was called Liszt Ferenc Tér and was a great place for al fresco dining.

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We went to Menza, a canteen-style restaurant serving traditional Hungarian food. It was full of locals, so I knew we’d picked a winner!

So far, we’d enjoyed lots of Hungarian dark lager, but no local wine. So we decided to change this by heading to Doblo.

Doblo is a cute wine bar decorated in a shabby chic style. We were fortunate enough to be serenaded by a clarinet player, who was accompanied by two guitarists.

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Doblo

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Getting serenaded

Monday

Today we explored the northern side of Budapest, by promenading up Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square and City Park.

Heroes Square is the largest and most symbolic square in Budapest. The Millenary Monument rises from the centre of the square, and the Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Arts stand on either side of it.

The grandeur of the square is outlined in it’s history of being host to many Hungarian political events, such as the reburial of Imre Nagy in 1989.

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We could be Heroes…

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…For ever and ever

My favourite building was Heroes Square’s neighbour: Vajdahunyadvár Castle.

I’m not ashamed to say that the castle reminded me of the Disney castle in the Shrek films (didn’t you know I was cultured!?) It is designed in several Hungarian styles, each part mimicking a different landmark building from around Hungary.

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Looking for Shrek

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Can’t see Shrek anywhere…

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Found him!! Hey Shrek 😉

After a stroll around City Park, and trying a Guinness flavoured ice cream (it was grim) we walked all the way down to the Great Market Hall.

We were expecting to have lunch here, thinking that it would be a larger version of Hold Utca Market in the centre of town. However, it was mainly meat, pastries, groceries, leather goods and souvenirs. With the exception of sample nibbles offered by stalls, it wasn’t an ideal spot for a meal.

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The camera was shaking with hunger…

Luckily we found the nearby Puder Ruin Bar on a buzzing street called Ráday Utca to stop for a beer.

On the way to find yet another rooftop bar, we stumbled upon a busy intersection of bars, restaurants and cafes where people were eating outside under quirky decorations and coloured fairy lights.

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Gozsdu Udvar

Keen to try as much Hungarian food as possible, I ordered Goulash Soup, and Ben opted for a third round of Hungarian stew.

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More traditional Hungarian munch


Around the corner from here, we went to Ellàtò Kurt, which was a romantic Ruin Bar in a garden setting.

Across from this was another one called Kőleves.

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Kőleves

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Ellàtò Kurt

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Making an entrance

Tuesday

On our last day in Budapest, we grabbed pastries from a local bakery, and walked up towards the 100-year-old Széchenyi Thermal Baths in City Park. It was around 5000ft (£14.60) for entrance and a locker for the day.

The baths were beautiful. The city of Budapest sits on a maze of caves and naturally warm spring waters, so there are various baths that you can go to around the city. The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are the most famous baths, and the pool water is supposedly so clean that you can drink it – although I wouldn’t recommend doing that!!

There are 18 different pools to have a dunk in at Széchenyi, all with varying temperatures. The largest and most photographed ones are outside, and inside you can find a maze of smaller baths.

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Széchenyi

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Swimming hats only in the lane pool

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Inside the Palace

My favourite bath was one of the outside pools which had a rapids section and water jets to play in – I’m only 25 years young!!

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Suns out, abs out

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Water babies

For me, Budapest is up there as one of the coolest cities in Europe.

It is undoubtedly a late night city with its labyrinth of Ruin Bars, rooftop bars, wine bars and late night clubs. Fortunately, we were able to visit our fair share of these!

Spending four days in Budapest allowed us time for sightseeing interspersed with relaxed al fresco lunches and dark largers.

Beer is really cheap there – I lost track of the number of stag dos we saw! And I want to go back already!

Szia soon!

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Hungary for more!

Two-timing Paris

Paris: the city of love, croissants, and great wine. It’s almost a rite of passage to be packed off to Paris on the school coach trip as a spotty teenager, where you’re marched between every cultural building in the city, whether you want to be or not. So what do you do when you return as an adult, with a new energy for the city and a greater desire to experience it and add to your memories of all things French?

I visited London’s chic, baguette-loving sister city to stay with my friend Harriet in the place she calls home. Over a long weekend (her birthday weekend!), she took me to all her favourite hangouts. Here’s what we got up to, and some ideas if you’re planning a repeat visit to Paris…

 

Is that the Eiffel Tower, or is Paris pleased to see me?

1. Add a splash of culture to your Instagram

If you have clear memories of your school trip to Paris, walking two by two along the banks of the Seine, possibly wearing your school colours and not really knowing which museum or gallery you were being led to next, your second trip doesn’t need to be an education overload. Harriet and I embraced being part of the ‘selfie generation’ by taking as many pics as possible! When my iPhone lit up to announce ‘Storage almost full’, I knew I’d done a good job.

 

Rocking out at the Louvre

Take as many photos as you can; actually entering the Louvre, Sacré-Cœur, or taking a step up the Eiffel Tower is not necessary.

Party in Montmartre

Feeling triumphant

Oh hey Eiffel Tower

2. Let the day melt away at a bar or café

So if you’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower, witnessed the Mona Lisa, and jostled with the crowds outside the Notre Dame; the only thing you need now is a nice sit down, a cold glass of wine, and to watch the world go by.

Enjoying my Demi Peche and Croque Madame

A typical French breakfast

Eggs Norwegian (and a whole lettuce)

Unlike London, Paris isn’t known for it’s chain restaurants. Find a café or bar (preferably in the sun and on a crowded road), and drink the hours away people watching. Harriet and I went to Rue de Buci at least once a day for a long breakfast/ lunch/ drink.

Situated in the heart of the Latin Quarter, Rue de Buci is a haven for café and bars, and is open day and night.

Sit yourself down and relax. Rushing is not allowed!

Wine time

Rue de Buci

3. Visit the Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter (or Le Marais) is a great spot for shopping, wandering, and general mooching around. It is home to more pre-revolutionary buildings and streets left intact than any other area in Paris.

Do what we did, and get lost in the labyrinth of streets and find yourself a cute Salon de thé for lunch. The Jewish Quarter is also home to one of the best falafel bars in Paris, and countless cute boutiques.

Île de la Cité

After, take a stroll down towards the Notre Dame, and across the bridge to Île de la Cité – one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within Paris. Here, there are street buskers, more attractive cafés, and picturesque views across the Seine.

Notre Dame

Street Jazz

4. Party like a celeb

Harriet had reserved a table at Bar Manko, a Peruvian restaurant, cabaret bar, and celeb favourite. If it’s good enough for Bruno Mars and Niki Minaj to visit, then it’s good enough for us!

Star treatment

On celeb watch

We were met with a selection of pisco sours, which I had no idea were from Peru! The food here was delicious.

The Peruvian cuisine turned out to be a mixture of spicy meats and fish, ceviche, and our favourite, a big sharing bowl made up of layers of rice, omelette, bacon, beef, and onions, which when left to sizzle would caramelise across the top of the dish.

Peruvian delights

Birthday dinner!

At midnight, the doors opened to a hidden cabaret bar at the back of the restaurant, where we enjoyed cabaret performances, interspersed with DJ and dancing breaks.

The cabaret started off quite tame, and got more and more risqué, nude and experimental as the night went on! By the end, we were confronted with a fully naked transgender woman and didn’t know where to look!

Cabaret

Gals out on the town

It was a great night, and was worth paying the extra euros for a special experience. The Peruvian food and cabaret washed down with Dom Perignon was a night to remember! Happy Birthday Harriet!

6 Cafe Society

Along with its pastries and croissants, macarons are up there with some of the best things to sample while in Paris. They are said to have been invented by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée in the early 20th century – so what better place to try and buy some than in the café of his namesake.

Ladurée is located on the Champs- Élysées, and you can eat in, or choose a selection of macarons to take away with you. These were really delicious, and also worked well as a present to take home.

All the colours of the rainbow

Looks tasty!

If you’re after a cute café in Paris, then look no further than Café de Flore. Café de Flore is one of the oldest and well known coffeehouses in Paris.

Go there for a coffee, glass of champagne or a long lunch, and keep an eye out for any celebrity visitors.

Pretty!

Wine o’clock

From Café de Flore, you can walk east towards Odéon, and search for a cute passage called ‘Cour du Commerce-Saint-André’, or  ‘Diagon Alley’ as Harriet calls it! It’s cobbled stones and photo-worthy cafes are well worth a visit.

Shopping for quidditch supplies

(Tap) dancing in the street

Hello from Paris!

And goodbye for now!

Canada: the East Coast and Beyond!

Ben and I ventured to Canada in February for a welcome winter getaway, to explore Canada, and to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle who live in Nova Scotia.

We packed as much as possible into our 11 days there, by following a well-planned itinerary for exploring Montreal, trying to keep warm in Quebec City, testing our ski legs on the snowy hills of Quebec, and finally relaxing in Dartmouth. Read all about it…

Friday 24th February
On our first Canadian morning, our itinerary included strolling around the Downtown area, taking in the sights of the Old Port, and posing in front of the Notre Dame Basilica.

Not quite the Notre-Dame de Paris!

After walking almost every street in central Montreal, were lucky enough to stumble upon a cheese festival where we could sample lots of locally produced cheeses, including a fondue. That was lunch sorted!

Lounging around Montreal

Frozen berths

The dish I had heard allots about was a Canadian speciality called Poutine. Strangely, this is made up of chips, gravy and cheese curds – so more like a drunken snack! It was delicious (if very naughty) and was justified by all the walking we were doing…

In the afternoon we went to Musée d’art Contemporain and Place des Arts and saw an exhibition, and then made our course back to the hotel along the main shopping street for some retail therapy.

Along with the cheese festival, we were also in Canada at the right time to visit the Lumiere Festival, or Festival of Lights in the Place des Arts area. This was fun to see; there were giant slides, curling competitions, a zip line, and a fire eating and dancing show.

Things were heating up…

The ice slide

Curling competitions

We them stumbled upon a micro brewery called Brutopia for a dark lager, and then headed to Reubens to try one of their famous smoked meat sandwiches.

Reubens is a ‘must-do’ in Montreal to try out their delicious sandwiches. Beware! They are as filling as they look and buying one to share is quite enough food for a dinner!

I would describe Montreal as a cross between New York and Paris! On one side of the city there are bright lights and long shopping streets, yet a few streets away the architecture is picturesque in the French style.

Frozen streets

Montreal was VERY cold when we were there. Luckily, the Canadians have got this sussed, as the town has moved underground to get away from the snow!

There are underground shopping centres, and we found that there was usually a way to walk from place to place in the centre of town without coming above ground, using the subway stations and passages to their full advantage.

Underground…

Saturday 25th February 

After spending time Downtown the previous day, today we ventured north on the subway to the Uptown area of Montreal.

We first stopped at St Viateur for breakfast. St Viateur is known for its tasty, freshly baked bagels – and it didn’t disappoint!

A delicious bagel breakfast

Holey moley

Next, we went to Parc La Fontaine. The lake in the middle of the giant park freezes over and you can turn up to skate on it.

The ice rink

A winter wonderland

Unfortunately, regardless of the sub-zero degree temperatures at the time, the lake was closed for business as the ice wasn’t thick enough! So instead we enjoyed a stroll around the park and absorbed the picturesque snowy scenery.

I felt like Mariah Carey in a Christmas video!

Although that frozen lake was closed, we used our detective skills and found another natural ice rink at the Old Port.

Used to being overcharged in London, Ben and I were pleasantly surprised to discover that all we needed to do was rent ice skates, and we could use the frozen lake for as long as we wanted!

Torvill & Dean?

Bambi

Not having crowds of people around me like I’ve become used to at the Christmas ice rinks at Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, I was free to skate and improve at my own pace.

We spent just over an hour on the ice, and by the end I was able to skate with both feet!

Steadyyyyy

In the evening we went to a super cool bar that has just opened called Kampai Garden. From the road it looked like a small restaurant and bar decorated like a tropical garden, but out the back, there were pool tables, a basketball game, and four different bars.

It was a cool hangout for twenty-something montrealites, some of whom we made friends with when Ben challenged them at pool.

This was our last evening in Montreal. We had managed to pack lots in and didn’t leave much to do if we ever want a return visit! Montreal is a fun city, and with its mismatch of architecture, variety of shops and abundance of restaurants and bars it’s a great destination for foodies.

Sunday 26th February 

We woke up early to wave Montreal goodbye and catch the first train to Quebec City, where we met Yvonne and Paul.

We had a mooch around Quebec City, got the Funicular to Chateau Frontenac and had a nice long lunch.
Quebec City is much prettier than Montreal, and more like a European city with its cobblestone streets, 17th and 18th century houses and classic cafes.

Quebec City Bitch

We next drove (first in the wrong direction) to the Ice Hotel.

The Ice Hotel was amazing. Each room had been designed by a different sculptor, and some of the creations were unreal. The hours and hours that went into building the Ice Hotel seemed bittersweet knowing that it would eventually melt away!

I am the Ice Queen

I’ve watched too many James Bond films, and thought that the Ice Hotel would be a romantic and glamorous place to stay. However, after walking round the hotel and looking at the rooms and ice sculptures for over an hour, I discovered the reality: it’s bloody freezing!! I was chilled to the bone.

Not even an ice fire could warm me up

Wolves of winter

On a bed of ice

Not even the hot toddy in the Ice Bar could warm me up to a normal level of cool. The Ice Hotel was fun, but I don’t think I’ll be making a reservation to spend the night there any time soon! (Or ever!)

Looking cool

Yvonne on the rocks

Monday 27th February 

Today was our long-awaited first day of skiing. We went to Le Massif, a big ski hill in Quebec.

The scenery was beautiful. It looked like we could ski off the hill right down onto the St Lawrence River.

Looking sweet as

Ben tried some off-piste…

Photo-bombing

Tuesday 28th February 

For our next day of skiing, we want to another nearby hill called Mont-Sainte-Anne. This was another great day skiing. Paul managed to take Ben and I down a black mogul slope which we weren’t too pleased with, but I guess it was good experience!?!?

On the side of one of the slopes was a sugar shack. A man came along with a jug of hot maple syrup, and poured it out in a line on the snow. Then it was our challenge to use a lolly stick and collect the maple as it began to solidify, and wrap it round the stick, so you were left with a delicious maple lolly! These were great, and we stopped back a couple of times for more!

“Pour me a line”

Maple treats

Wednesday 1st March 

Today we set out for the 10 hour drive to Nova Scotia. The plan was to stop in Wentworth for another day’s skiing, but unfortunately the conditions had turned slushy, so this wasn’t an option!

Thursday 2nd March 

Back at Paul and Yvonne’s place in Dartmouth, we had time to chill out and relax after our busy days of sightseeing and skiing.

Paul took us on a car tour of the area, and we went to Peggy’s Cove, had a pub lunch at the Knot Pub, and walked around the quaint village of Lunenburg.

No sunbathing today!

Lunenberg

Trying not to get swept away at Peggy’s Cove

Has it run out of batteries?

We stumbled across a gin distillery here, and I am now proud to say that I have the accolade of introducing Yvonne and Paul to adding a slice of grapefruit to a gin and tonic to give it a sweeter and more refreshing taste. Maybe il look for a new career as a cocktail connoisseur…

Friday 3rd March 

I managed to go out for a few quick runs in the mornings. It was strange going out in thermals, a massive coat, a scarf and gloves, but it was good to keep some of my London Marathon training up!

Running temperatures of -19 degrees

Extreme running

After I’d warmed up, we headed out into Halifax for a walk around the town, past the port and for a coffee.

Tropical conditions

Saturday 4th March 

It was our last day in Canada! Boooo.

We had a great winter getaway, and I’ve now proved that I’m a much better skier than Ben (hehehe).
Thanks so much for having us Yvonne and Paul, we had a great time and can’t wait to come back!!

Copenhagen city-breaking

Copenhagen seems to be a popular choice of city break for my friends recently, and I’ve had two close friends who have gone there in the last month.

Luckily, Ben and I had also booked a weekend away there – which happened to coincide with our anniversary! (N’awwww)


FRIDAY

The flight to Copenhagen takes less than two hours, so we woke up early on Friday morning to travel there.

I had packed thermals and extra layers in preparation for the cold in Copenhagen, and when we arrived, it really was bitter!

Designed like Amsterdam!

We dropped our bags off at the hotel, and headed straight out towards the town centre. Our first culinary experience of Copenhagen wasn’t the most sophisticated – we ended up in some sort of fast food burger joint. It was quick and we were starving.


At 3pm we joined in with a free walking tour. We hoped this would help us with our bearings of the city and give us some ideas of other things to do.

The tour led us around the south side of the town, and down to Christiania.

Christiania is a hippy commune on an island which is known for its history of criminal gangs and hard drugs, arty cafes, the invention of a tricycle bike with a cargo box on the front of it, and its ‘green light’ street where weed is legal.

Good news for Londoners!?


Off to the commune!


The main street is called Pusher Street, and this is where all the weed action happens. There are three rules for this area: have fun, don’t run (because this causes panic that there is a police raid) and no photographs (obviously).

There are some quirky cafes in the area and some really groovy street art to see, so it’s a funky place to visit.

Welcome to funky town

We were hungry again after all this city snooping, so we zipped across to a big street food market inside a warehouse. Edgy edgy. It reminded me of a bigger and more pricey version of Dinerama in Shoreditch.

Paper Island

Next we crossed back over the river to Nyhavn. We found an Irish pub (it wasn’t a hard job – they are everywhere!) and had a couple of drinks, and then both ordered lamb shanks and a dark larger in a restaurant nearby.

‘Where are we again?’


Half a baby sheep

We went back into the centre of town to another Irish pub in one of the main squares. We had been told that today was J-Day, which is a celebration of the start of Christmas in Denmark. I later learnt that this is when Carlsberg employees drive around to bars and cafes singing a traditional Christmas brew song and handing out free beer.

But we didn’t really know this at the time so we were in for a surprise!

The calm before the strange

All was revealed at about 9pm, when a truck pulled up outside the pub and a crowd formed around it.

The doors at the back slowly opened to reveal people dressed in blue Santa outfits blowing whistles and banging instruments.

The truck full of Santas

They danced through the crowd, handing out beers and spreading Christmas cheer to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’.

Inside the bar, they formed a conga line and danced about to Christmas songs, handing out even more beer and blue flashing Christmas hats! After a few different Christmas songs, they made their way back out to the truck, climbed in, and it slowly pulled away.

Ben and I were left dumbstruck about what had just happened, watching with a beer in each hand and flashing hats that had been placed on our heads! Then the bar continued playing Christmas hits for a bit… including the Christmas anthem: Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’.

Happy Christmas!

It was bizarre, but memorable – and really fun!

SATURDAY

We woke up on Saturday with a bit of a hangover, but this was soon cured with a trip to Lagkagehuset Bakery.

The chocolate and cinnamon twist from this bakery was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It was food from the gods.

Nice buns


Check out my twists

We then covered the day’s cultural sightseeing by walking back over to Nyhavn. It was much more impressive during the daytime when we could see the colours on each of the buildings.

Copey cuties!


We then carried on walking east, and up to Copenhagen Castle and barracks towards the Little Mermaid sculpture.

The Little Mermaid sculpture was commissioned by the brewer Carl Jacobsen as a gift to Copenhagen after he fell in love with the Little Mermaid character when watching a ballet performance based on the fairy tale.

Ariel?

Making a pilgrimage to the bronze sculpture is one of the top things to do in Copenhagen – but I wouldn’t get your hopes up about it if you are visiting Denmark. It’s a nice sculpture, but you only need about 10 minutes to look at it to make the visit complete!

The Mermaid isn’t that little – she is the life size of a grown woman.

We had already done 10,000 steps by this time and it wasn’t even midday. So we decided to get extra culture points and join in with another walking tour.

This one focused on the centre of Copenhagen, its history, and what is noticeable about it today.

It ended in Torvehallerne, which another big market in Copenhagen. Where I compared Paper Island to Dinerama in Shoreditch, I thought that Torvehallerne had more in common with Borough Market.

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Trendy people

It was covered (thankfully, because it was raining) and sold not only ready to eat food, but also had shops such as a butchers, a fishmongers, and a grocery.

We sat at stools on the side of a pizza place and shared a freshly prepared pizza with a thin and crispy base. Yum!

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After this, we mooched back towards the main square and the shops, and had a look inside some of them. We went to HAY House, which is a shop showcasing a designer and manufacturer of contemporary furniture, accessories and rugs.

It was nice to have a look around, and the Danish minimalist approach to interior design and furniture gave us a few ideas to take home with us.

Glurging down some gløgg

After all this walking it was time to find a cosy bar and order some Gløgg – the Danish version of mulled wine!

Saturday actually marked mine and Ben’s second anniversary. So in the evening we took each other out for a steak and a few drinks.


The highlight of the evening was visiting Tivoli, which was arguably the best thing we did in Copenhagen!

The Tivoli amusement park and pleasure garden is where Walt Disney found inspiration for Disney World – and it’s not difficult to see why.

Tivoli


Rides


Tivoli is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world.


It’s best to visit Tivoli at night time because everything is lit up. There are lights everywhere, so it’s quite a spectacle. The rides there don’t have the same wow factor as their Thorpe Park and Alton Towers counterparts, but the beautiful setting brings them to life.



Every hour in the evenings there is a light show across the lake. This was really pretty to see, with lots of lights, water and music. This was amazing and definitely worth seeing.


There are bars and restaurants inside Tivoli, but I think the rainy weather had put a lot of people off going there, so most places were empty. Instead, we chose to go to a nearby locals bar.

Huset KBH is a hostel, music venue and board games bar that sells much cheaper drinks than anywhere else we went to. We went straight to Bastard Cafe, which is the board games bar.

Not bored in here!

There were stacks and stacks of board games to choose from and take one back to a table to play. Most of the games were unfamiliar (but all in English luckily!) We tried one out, which had far too many rules to learn whilst drinking at the same time, so we went back to the games wall and settled on Jenga.

Jenga getting tense!

It was really good fun – they need to start one up in London!

SUNDAY

Sunday was our last day in Copenhagen. Boooooooo.

We started off by getting the bus from outside the hotel to the Jaegersborggade street area. Jaegersborggade is one of the hippest and most buzzing streets in Copenhagen. It is home to art galleries, organic produce shops, vintage clothing, wine bars, coffee shops and bakeries.

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We made a beeline for Meyers Bakery, which is one of the best in Copenhagen. It is a small and cosy shop where there is just enough space to queue up to purchase a freshly baked pastries. There is also a porridge restaurant on the street called Grod, but it was too bonkers (or trendy) to lure Ben inside!


Next, we crossed the street to the Coffee Collective. In all honesty, if this hadn’t been recommended to us or marketed as having excellent coffee, it just looked like any other coffee shop. Coffee here is also quite expensive (around £6 a cup) and so after stepping inside for a nose around, we backtracked and went back to our favourite bakery: Lagkagehuset.

Assistens Cemetery

A stones throw from Jaegersborggade lies a beautiful cemetery. We learnt that the Danish enjoy multi-functioning spaces, and Assistens Cemetery is a good example of this. There are graves, but the area is also used as a park.

There were lots of dog walkers there when we visited, and in the summer people are known to chill out on the grass, sunbathe and picnic amongst the headstones!


Nestled in the middle of the park is Hans Christian Anderson’s grave, so we had a quick look while we were in the area.

Our final destination of the weekend was back to Paper Island for some street food. Ben and I both settled on pulled duck burgers in brioche buns and had a pint each. And then it was time to go!

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The trendiest OAPs in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a delightful city to spend a weekend exploring, and the cold and rain didn’t stop us from doing anything. There is a good mix of history, culture, and quirky modern things to do such as getting street food or finding a niche bar. It is an expensive city, but it didn’t leave us feeling poor, as we left having eaten great food, trying new experiences and taking wonderful memories with us. And the randomness of J-Day was a bonus!

Bon voyage

Part 3 – Ometepe 

Ometepe is an island made from two volcanos rising out of a huge lake that is almost as big as a sea. It doesn’t look very far away from the mainland on the map, but the ferry crossing from San Jorge takes a whole hour.

 

On the ferry

The pink splodge on this map shows where we stayed, and where we went!


We were staying in an Eco Lodge on the stretch of land at the top of the island that connects the two volcanos.

The Eco Lodge was pretty cool to experience, although I wouldn’t want to stay in one on every trip I go on! It was very environmentally friendly – we weren’t too sure about the non-flushable compostable toilet though… It felt like we were camping!

Our home in Ometepe

My bed (with a very important fly net)

The straw roof

Wednesday 20th July 

After only seeing Ometepe at nighttime when we arrived, we woke up and needed to get our bearings and make a plan of action. The lady who ran the hostel round the corner was super helpful, and made us muffins and smoothies while we talked through possible activities with her.

The smaller volcano

We decided to walk to Ajo de Agua, a natural pool at the base of the volcano. Along the way we saw some amazing scenery and picturesque volcanic beaches.

The walk probably took an hour, so when we got there we were definitely ready for a dip in the water to cool off!

Emily marching towards Ajo de Agua

The refreshing pool

Splashing around

When we finished in the pool there were horses waiting for us to take us back down to the beach. (We had arranged for this to happen… They didn’t just turn up!)

Emily with her horse

It was the first time I’d ridden a horse so I was very cautious with the small one that I was paired with. I got used to it quite quickly- I just didn’t like it when they cantered and I had to grip on as if it was a bucking bronco!

Could the horse sense my fear?

The horses took us back along the beach in the direction of where we were staying, and dropped us off near a lovely hotel with a restaurant on the beach.

We met some Swiss friends that we made at the Surfing Turtle Lodge there and had dinner and a few cocktails.

In comparison to everywhere we had been so far, Ometepe was very quiet. Some bars and restaurants are very secluded because of the lack of public transport and means to get around, and there are no street lights on the roads and lots of wild horses roaming around.

A house on the island

We stumbled across a dark building that slightly resembled a bar on our way home and they opened up especially for us! I don’t think they were expecting anyone to find them! The owners seemed amused when we diluted their rum with coke and didn’t just drink it neat like they do…

Thursday 21st July

Today was our action packed activities day! (And compared to he other busy days, that means a lot!)

We set our alarms for 7am, and dawdled down to a nearby cafe to have breakfast. Scrambled eggs on toast was perfect to set us up for the day ahead.

As there is no public transport in Ometepe, you need to rely on taxis, walking, or renting bicycles, quad bikes or motorbikes. The other option is to hitchhike, which is exactly what we did! We were lucky and managed to wave down a truck where we could sit in the back. It was pretty cool – my first hitch hiking experience!

The truck dropped us at the base of the San Roman waterfall, which was the starting point for our hike. Even though it was still early, it was already roasting hot!


The hike up the side of the volcano to the waterfall was really fun. I felt like I was on the set for The Jungle Book film, and we saw lots of interesting wildlife including parrots, birds, butterflies, cows and lizards.

Up to the waterfall we go!

On the right track…

The top of the trail was worth the hard work hiking up there, because we were met with a stunning waterfall! We paddled underneath it to cool off and it was beautifully refreshing.

The heroic moment that we reached the top

Dancing in the waterfall?


After eating lunch at a family-run beachside restaurant, we tracked down somewhere to go kayaking. It was late in the day by this point and the sun set at 5.30pm, so we were lucky that we could go out at all!

A typical Nicaraguan meal of plantain topped with pork and chicken, and chopped white cabbage in the middle

Homemade hummus


The place we got the kayaks from was basically someone’s house, and just like when we went horse riding, if it hadn’t been recommended to us as an option by the helpful lady at the neighbouring hostel, we wouldn’t have known where to go or that it even existed.

We had a boat ride down to the mouth of the river that flows down between the two volcanos, and then climbed out and into the kayaks.

On the water

Emily in her boat

I was struck by how peaceful it was paddling up the river. All we could hear were birds and insects, and there were no people, buildings, or road noise to be seen or heard. I really felt like I was acting out a scene in a movie – it was beautiful and an incredible experience.

A scene from The Jungle Book?


A guide came out with us, and he led the way and pointed out Cayman (small alligators) and turtles. At one point he actually scooped a turtle out of the water and put it on top of the kayak for us to see! We paddled down the river, ducking under tree branches and wildlife-spotting as we went.

Me with the guide

Having explored the river, we turned round and paddled back across the lake/ sea around the island and back to the kayak launch.

When we returned, our food was waiting for us! We had two huge freshly-caught grilled fish, homemade guacamole and humus, salad, salsa, plantain, potatoes and rice – a feast!

The last supper!

Unfortunately we couldn’t finish the fish, but we still had room for more drinks! So we grabbed a taxi to the party hostel nearby and finished our evening (and my trip!) there.

I had a great time in Nicaragua, and I will remember it as the most action-packed trip I’ve ever been on! Emily and I definitely made the most of our time by doing something different and exciting every day and staying in so many different places. Nicaragua is a great country to travel round in a short timescale because all the best places to go are so close together.

I’ve already made a bucket list of places I want to go… So bring on the next holiday!

Part 2 – the West coast and San Juan del Sur 

The next phase of our trip meant saying goodbye to León and moving on to my favourite place… the beach!

Saturday 16th July

We woke up and had a lazy start to the day sitting at the beach bar and drinking freshly squeezed juice. It was a beautiful day and we decided not to waste any time and move straight on to the nearby Surfing Turtle Lodge.

Nutella toasties + freshly squeezed juice = happy me!

The Surfing Turtle Lodge had been recommended to us so we knew we needed to check it out!

The journey there involved taking a taxi to the water crossing, waiting for a tiny boat to collect us, loading our backpacks onto it, and a 10 minute journey across the estuary. There, a cart pulled by a horse was waiting to collect our backpacks so we could walk alongside it through the nature reserve to the Lodge.

The horse in charge of our bags

The Lodge was really cool: it was made up of a main building with a bar, and then beach huts scattered away from it. It had a really nice backpacker vibe and lots of people there were travelling alone, so everyone was chatty and keen to get to know each other.


We swam in the sea and sunbathed, and at 4.30pm got ready for the event of the day; a volleyball match!

Emily and I both underestimated how competitive volleyball could get, and forgot that lots of Americans play volleyball in ‘gym class’ – so they’re very good at it!

Needless to say, neither of us won player of the match. Afterwards, we had a private volleyball lesson with two of the guys there who recognised that there was some room for improvement! And after this we played another match feeling much more confident and actually winning some points for our teams!

 

Playing volleyball meant that we made friends and were firmly part of the community. So after dinner we took part in some more organised fun: a game of ’30 seconds’ – or as we know it – ‘Articulate’!

Emily is well practised in playing articulate, and she got very competitive! The game went on for quite a while and had three different rounds, and everyone got really into it.

Next, there was a bonfire on the beach, and a ‘Tomas’ tournament (a variation of beer pong), and then an actual beer pong tournament. Emily also taught the gang how to play a flip cup game, which resulted in everyone getting quite drunk very quickly!

It was so much fun and it was definitely one of my favourite evenings of the trip!

Sunday Funday

We woke up early the next morning to make our way further down the west coast to San Juan del Sur. It wasn’t easy getting up after our mad night of games, but we had time to recover during the four hour trip to our destination.

Sunday madness


San Juan del Sur was absolutely crazy because it was SUNDAY FUNDAY! We struggled to find a hostel at first because everywhere was so busy, but luckily we managed to find a budget hotel on the edge of the very small town.

Sunday Funday is a pool crawl between three different hostels, and it seemed like every traveller around had flocked to San Juan for it! It happens every Sunday, so it was well organised with security on the doors, a lifeguard, multiple bars and a drink token system so you didn’t need to take cash up to the bar. There were lasers and a DJ and lots of very drunk people!

My opinion that the event was well organised was slightly shattered when the bus came to collect us at the end of the night. The last hostel was on a hillside and we needed to get shuttle busses down to a beach bar in downtown San Juan. Unfortunately there was big a crowd of people and we got a bit squashed!

 

Monday 18th July

We opted for a more chilled out day today to get our breath back after Sunday Funday. We explored San Juan del Sur and seized the opportunity to do some shopping and pick up souvenirs. San Juan was the last place we would see an ATM for a while so we made sure we were stocked up with cash! The local currency is the cordoba (Although everywhere accepts dollars) and everything is pretty cheap.

There are lots of street food stalls in San Juan, and we found these the best places to eat. The local cuisine mostly involves rice and beans, plantain, fajitas and burritos – all of which were delicious! The street food was cooked right in front of us and tasted really fresh and healthy.


We were feeling a bit worse for wear after the pool party, so we found a cute Air B&B and decided to chill out for the rest of the day. The views were amazing!

Travelling in style

Tuesday 19th July

Today was our last chance to catch some Nicaraguan waves and go surfing. We went to the main waterfront in San Juan del Sur and hired surf boards for a couple of hours. The waves weren’t as big or as frequent as the waves I’ve experienced on my Uni surf trips, but it was good for beginners and great for us as we only wanted a gentle surfing session!

Surfing pro?

Without taking the time to even dry off from the sea, we hopped in a taxi and headed east to San Jorge to catch the ferry to the volcanic island of Ometepe.

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HELLO Ometepe!

Stay tuned for more about Ometepe!