És a Lisboa que eu amo: a weekend in Lisbon

Back in November and already anticipating the January Blues, Nick and I found ourselves drawn to the Ryanair flight sale like moths to a flame. The cheapest deal was to Copenhagen, but we plumped for Lisbon (£35 return) and crossed our fingers that the average January temperature of 13 degrees would feel tropical after the cold in the UK.

We arrived in Lisbon on a Saturday lunchtime, and managed to successfully navigate the metro system to Santa Apolónia. We were staying in an AirBnB in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon, and at £43 per night (with all fees included) we were over the moon to find a bright and airy studio flat, complete with a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for us. 

  
 We asked for a recommendation for a late lunch from our host at check-in, and we were advised to walk up the streets and ‘follow your eyes and your nose!’ We decided to take this advice and, slightly bemused, stumbled upon the restaurant Tolan – it looked a little run-down, but definitely more a family run restaurant than a tourist trap, and so we headed inside. Asked if he would like a small or large red wine, Nick went for a large (at 3.60€ why wouldn’t you?) and we were a little shocked a moment later when a litre jug of red wine landed on the table! This set the tone for what was to become more of a bar crawl weekend interspersed with some sights, rather than a cultural extravaganza! The food was delicious – the menu featured lots of pork, and the special complete with clams and mussels was delicious. 

  
  
We walked across the city, only slightly  inebriated, towards Bairro Alto, which we had been told was an area full of people spilling out from the many bars in to the streets, drinks in hand. Unfortunately for us, the area seemed very quiet: we thought maybe the early weeks of January were to blame. Nonetheless, we settled ourselves first in to a cocktail bar, and then several other bars, meeting a range of friendly people along the way, including some Spanish rugby fans! We ended our evening in a lovey restaurant back near Alfama – unfortunately, after all the drinks, I can’t remember what it was called!
  
  
Day two arrived and, determined to soak up some culture before hitting Lisbon’s plethora of bars, we caught the bus to Belém, renowned for its Pastéis de Belém and the Jerónimos Monastry. It was worth the 5 mile bus journey just for the Pastéis de Belém alone! We’d found ‘Pastéis de nata’ (or egg tart pastries to you and me) all over Lisbon, but the decision is unanimous in that the ones in Belém are the best!

We also visited the Jerónimos Monastry, and the Tower of Belém – both UNESCO world heritage sites, and both beautiful to look at. From the waterfront there are incredible views over to the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which has an uncanny similarity to the Golden Gate Bridge, and also to ‘Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei’, or the Christ the King statue, inspired by Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. We also had a good look at the ‘Padrão dos Descobrimentos’ – monument to the discoveries – where we decided against climbing up to the top as it was so windy!

  
  
  
  
We caught the bus back towards town, and jumped off at the Mercado da Ribeira, a food market put together by Time Out with a huge selection of food stands offering food from some of the top chefs in the country. What more could you want! We sampled bread, cheese and meat, risottos and chocolate cake, all washed down with beer and wine – yum.

  
  
  
We made a quick trip to ‘The sexiest WC in the world’ located in Praça do Comércio, with a rainbow of toilet paper, before we headed back up to Alfama. The plan was to make our way up to São Jorge castle, but we kept meeting dead ends in the web of medieval alleys and staircases. Apparently the area was designed this way as a defence system for the castle – it worked on us! After trying – and failing – to find the entrance to the castle we took refuge in a lovely wine bar. What was meant to be just one drink before the castle soon turned in to a couple more drinks – it started to rain, and we moved next door in to a small bar where I had the strongest carprinha of my life!

Sitting in the warm bar with our drinks whilst the rain lashed on the steep cobbled hill outside was perhaps one of my favourite memories of Lisbon. After the rain had stopped we stepped out in to a fresh evening and this time managed to successfully navigate the streets to a lovely tapas restaurant – Arcaz Velho – for dinner before falling in to bed feeling pretty exhausted!

   

   

  
Our third and final day arrived and we were anxious that we still had lots to see and do, not least the castle after yesterday’s aborted attempt. We started off with a trip on the famous number 28 tram, which we took from Graça all the way through the city to Campo de Ourique station. We walked back from there – a long walk! – calling in at the impressive Estrela Basilica, and for a lunchtime beer in the Jardim de Estrela cafe opposite. 

Once back in the centre of Lisbon we searched high and low for a restaurant where we could eat Piri Piri chicken – a surprisingly difficult task. We ended up at Bomjardin, a restaurant we had seen in various articles and food blogs, and it didn’t disappoint. We sat by the road and ordered spit roast chicken, fries and creamed spinach, complete with a pot of Piri Piri oil, which you can put as much (or as little) as you like using a brush. I’m a big Nandos fan, but this really was the real deal!
  
  
  
As our final day continued to run away from us, we soaked up the atmosphere of Lisbon’s lovely combination of back streets, busy squares and waterfronts, walking back to Alfama to collect our bags. We had just enough time to admire the stunning views across the tiled Alfama rooftops, and one last beer in a rather shabby bar before heading to the airport. Lisbon has left me with a lasting impression of tasty food, cheap drinks, wonderfully dilapidated buildings and charming streets. Lisbon wasn’t the kind of city break that we returned from feeling like we needed another holiday just to recover – but rather that we had soaked up enough sunshine (and alcohol!) to make it through the rest of a dreary month. It was so worth the visit!

 
  
  

4 Days in Budapest…Day 4

I woke up on our final day in Budapest still feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed by the previous evening! Our first stop of the day was the Hungarian Parliament, which was the backdrop for the proposal, and therefore even more of a must see before we went home! We had a coffee and a pastry in its cafe before having a tour. Unfortunately there were private events happening which meant that we weren’t able to see the whole building, but we still had a great time looking around the bits that were not interrupted – it was a really grand and ornate building!



After our tour we walked up the river to St Margarets Islandc which is exactly what it sounds like – an island in the middle of the Danube, accessed via a bridge.

We hired a little buggy that we used to drive around the island – so much fun! A lot of the island was closed due to it being winter – apparently there is a brilliant musical fountain which we didn’t see, as well as a water park/thermal baths. We still had a great time flying around the island and seeing the various buildings and statues. We even managed to find our first geocache as an engaged couple!



By now we were in to our last few hours in Budapest, and so we hopped on the Number 2 tram, which we had heard was a really scenic route. It was a beautiful journey, but on reflection we should have done this on day 1 when everything was new, rather than at the end when we had already see everything.

We headed to New York Kávéház és Étterem, on Erzsébet krt, which was very beautiful and grand. I had a chilli hot chocolate which was incredible!

All too soon there wasn’t much left to do but pick up snacks to take back to the office, catch a taxi to the airport, share our happy news on Facebook and fly back to London after the most wonderful of holidays.


 

4 days in Budapest…Day 3, and a surprise engagement!

On Day 3 in Budapest we left the ‘Pest’ side of the river Danube, which is where we had spent most of our time so far (with the exception of Gellért Hill). We crossed the river via the Chain Bridge, and went up on the funicular which we had been told was fantastic – we were actually a little disappointed and regretted not walking up – the views were nice though!


Buda is definitely known more for it’s culture and history than its variety of bars and restaurants, but nevertheless we found ‘Ruszwurm’, one of the oldest pastry shops in Budapest, opened back in 1827! We enjoyed coffee and strudel, before spending the morning wandering around Buda Castle. The building and inside was beautiful, but we found that we already knew most of the information from our visit to the House of Terror yesterday, and so we didn’t love it as much as others have told us they did.



Our next stop was ‘Sziklakórház’ – Hospital in the Rock. The Hospital is built in to the caverns underneath Buda Castle, and was initially built in preparation for the Second World War. The Hospital, which was used most during the siege of Budapest in 1944-45, is now a museum with lots of wax-work figures which recreate what the hospital would have looked like when it was in use.

Our next stop was St Matthias Church, a really stunning church by the Fishermans Bastion. You can get a ticket and climb to the top, but we just had a look around inside, had a dusky picture taken at one end of the Fisherman’s Bastion before heading to a shop to grab a couple of beers each.




We walked along the Fisherman’s Bastion, and found a little secluded spot to enjoy the views of Budapest lit up at night, and to enjoy our beers. Halfway through the first beer, Nick took my hands, stood us both up and told me how lucky he had felt to spend the last two amazing years with me. Then he got down on one knee, and asked me to marry him! I was completely overwhelmed as I wasn’t at all expecting it, and I cried/laughed my way to a yes!




We walked back down the hill towards the Chain Bridge, and I rang my mum – Nick had asked her permission a month beforehand, but as I told her she still burst in to tears. She said she was in the car with the radio on, and as I called ‘Can’t help falling in love with you’ came on. That song was one of my mum and dad’s songs when they were going out, and it is also one of the songs that reminds me so much of Dad as we used to sing it at the top of our voices at football matches – it felt very special, and almost like a blessing from him.

As if he hadn’t already surprised me enough, Nick took me to Costes restaurant on Ráday utca, which was the first restaurant in Budapest to receive a Michelin Star. We had the most beautiful meal, and I will never forget the most amazing evening!





4 days in Budapest…Day 2

After a little lie in this morning we headed for breakfast on Andrássy ut, the Hungarian answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées! After pancakes and bacon we were ready to face the world and wakes a little further up the road to ‘Terro Háza Múzeum’. The ‘House of Terror’ commemorates the victims of both the Communist and Nazi regimes in Hungary. The building was the Nazi Headquarters in 1940, and its basement was used as a prison.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were tortured in the building. As well as being a sobering reminder of the past, we found that the exhibitions inside served as the most detailed and fascinating history lesson, taking us on a journey through Hungary’s turbulent past – well worth a visit.

We left the House of Terror and walked all the way down Andrássy ut, which culminates in ‘Hósök Tere’, or Heroes’ Square in English. It’s a stunning square with art galleries at either side, and was built at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian State back in 895.


After an overpriced langos which left much to be desired after yesterday’s experience, Nick and I ventured in to the ‘Széchenyi Thermal Bahs’ which are widely referred to as the best of the thermal baths in Budapest. They were built back in 1913 and we were not disappointed. There are outdoor pools complete with water jet massagers, water rapids and chess boards surrounded by elderly Hungarian men, and around 15 indoor pools of varying sizes, temperatures and grandeur, not to mention the saunas and steam rooms! It’s well worth the extra money to get a cubicle rather than using the lockers.

We arrived early afternoon and explored the lovely warm outdoor pools first before heading inside. When we came back outside it had gone dark, and the baths were transformed. They looked absolutely stunning, with lights and the steam rising above the pools. I simply cannot recommend this place enough – and if I ever go again I’ll make sure to spend a little extra money on a massage too! On leaving we felt a beer was well overdue, and thankfully there was a small bar outside the baths that provided us with the goods, before catching the metro back in to the centre of town.



We spent the evening in a small restaurant close to the river, called ‘Százéves Etterem’. It was very old fashioned inside, with a four piece band playing music. The food seemed really traditional and tasted amazing – I had my first taste of Hungarian Goulash, followed by Paprika Chicken. The prices were a little higher than we were used to seeing, which made us wonder if we had stumbled in to a tourist trap. However the food was brilliant and there was a great atmosphere, so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone not on a strict budget!

4 days in Budapest..Day 1

Our second stop back in November was to Budapest, in Hungary. Our flights were incredibly cheap – about £30 return – and to complete the budget city break we opted for an Airbnb rather than a fancy hotel. At £27 per night – including booking fee and cleaning! – it was a complete steal, located really centrally, within a couple of minutes of the market square, St Stephen’s Basillica and Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge.

We had 4 days in Budapest after arriving late on Sunday night, and so our first stop was for coffee, and a good look at a map of the city and our guide books. Nick is a serial planner, so he was in his element! I was more interested in the fact that our coffee was in Café Gerbeaud, one of the most famous cafes in Budapest, and a beautiful building!



We decided that we would spend Day 1 getting our bearings, by walking down the river to the food market, before hiking up Gellért Hill to get a view of the whole city. We had ‘langos’ at the food market – the most delicious garlicky bread I have ever had the pleasure of eating, and for just 60p too! The shop is on the first floor of the market, and is a must visit. We washed it down with a beer in the market, with a lovely view of the Liberty Bridge, and the hill we were about to climb!


On our way up Gellért Hill we stopped off for a look at ‘Sziklatemplom’ – the cave church. This church was founded in 1926 although it looks and feels much older. The altar was initially at the cave entrance with the congregation sitting outside. It was used as a hospital in world war 2, before the entrance was completely sealed with a concrete  wall during the communist regime. It was a fascinating place to visit.

The walk up Gellért Hill wasn’t too horrendous, but we were huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top! We were rewarded with spectacular views of Budapest, as well as the knowledge that you can also get to the top via bus…!



Our evening plan was to visit St Stephen’s Basilica and go out for dinner. This plan was discarded once we realised there was a concert happening in the basilica, so we settled for a picture outside before going for a mulled wine in the Christmas Market stalls. We wandered across town to Ráday utca, which is well known as the main restaurant area in Budapest. En route we stumbled across ‘Monyó Café’ where Nick sang the praises of the real ale, before settling in ‘Púder Bárszínház’ on Ráday utca. The food was delicious,/!; the wine was extremely cheap! Our last stop of the day was ‘Szimpla Kert’, the most famous of Budapests ruin bars, on Kazincy Street. I think it’s safe to say this was one of the most bizarre places to enjoy a beer!



A weekend in Baden-Württemberg

This blog was always meant to be somewhere I used to talk about my dad, and about Motor Neurone Disease. However, I also wanted a place to store my travel experiences, and since I don’t exactly have a huge following, or a desire to be a very particular type of blog, I’m hoping nobody will mind the dual purpose!
Towards the end of November last year Nick and I went on a much-needed week long holiday. Our first stop was Germany, where we went to stay in Aalen with my lovely friend Alice, and her partner Jan.

Before we met up with Alice and Jan, Nick and I had an afternoon in the centre of Aalen. We went for a lovely lunch in Cafe Podium, which was right bang in the centre of the main shopping street. We then went on a search for our favourite pub which we remembered from a past visit. Eventually we stumbled across it – Alter Hobel, a wonderfully smokey, old fashioned pub with great beer. As it did on our last visit, time just ran away from us as we had a few pints at our window seat.


Jan is currently doing some studies in Stuttgart, which is the capital of Baden-Württemberg, and the sixth largest city in Germany. While Jan was in class, Nick, Alice and I went for a day in the city.

There’s a really pretty square in the centre, surrounded by a plethora of gorgeous (albeit slightly expensive, but you pay for the views!) cafes and bars. We had coffee and cake, before going to our favourite Stuttgart haunt, again which we discovered on a past visit.
The ‘Markthalle’ (Market Hall) in Stuttgart is a short walk from the main square. Inside are lots of grocery stalls, and nestled somewhere amongst them is El Mercado Espanol, a tiny Spanish delicatessen with a handful of tables to stand at. We got a plate of ham and had a glass or 3 of wine – perfect afternoon!

Missing Dad

It’s over 6 and a half years since my Mum and Dad told us that Dad had Motor Neurone Disease, and that he was going to die.

I remember sobbing to my Mum about an hour later, asking what would happen if Dad wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle. Mum said that Dad was all ready to send me, my brothers and sister out in to the word to get married and have babies straight away!

It wasn’t for another 4 years that I met Nick – almost exactly 6 months after Dad died.

Nick popped the question last month, and I think I’ve done pretty well to hold off my first ‘grief burst’ for just over three weeks. But tonight, as I was looking at potential wedding venues, it hit me – hard.

It’s so incredibly difficult to think that my future husband will never meet my Dad.

And it’s also really hard to plan a wedding that I spent the first 20 years of my life imagining my Dad being a major part of.

A quick Google search shows me I’m not on my own, and there are many creative ways of getting through the day. As my lovely friend said to me as I sobbed down the phone to her – “he’s always with you, and he will be especially on that day.”