A guide to holidays on the Isles of Scilly, featuring Tresco, Bryher, St Martins, St Agnes and St Mary’s.Read More
And like that, it’s all over…
We’ve made it to December folks. Congratulations!
Time has absolutely whipped past over the last 12 months and I’m sat here now wondering where it all went and what did I do with it?
2018 has been interesting year. I’ve undergone a fair bit of upheaval in my personal life and also faced a few professional challenges. It’s been a learning experience though and I’ve certainly come out the other side equipped with an improved skillset and the knowledge that I can adapt to change in all areas of life!
My highlights from 2018:
A new roommate
In January we were joined by a very grumpy and demanding old lady called Winnie, who loves nothing more than curling up on the sofa. We are very alike actually…
Lots of food…
As usual, most of my yearly highlights revolve around food and drink consumed in venues familiar and foreign. The beginning of the year was mostly spent sampling York’s thriving food scene, with repeat visits made to consume the excellent street food at Spark York and Brew York.
The really heavy stuff came in Paris though, where I gladly gained some serious weight in the name of sampling every bakery the 11th Arrondissement has to offer. This is not a joke, I had at least 2 pastries a day for two weeks and regret nothing.
The following month this excess was walked off in Slovenia and Venice, despite the fact we also indulged in hearty Alpine dishes and gorgeous Venetian street food.
Summer in Paris
As I mention above, in July I spent two full weeks in Paris due to Des’s work. Before you get too jealous, I will mention that we stayed in a 1 star hotel with no air-conditioning during the hottest summer on record. This certainly made things… memorable….
Alongside profusely sweating and eating croissants, I spent the first week of our trip working remotely at my usual day job. This actually worked really well, especially as Paris has so many pay by the hour co-working spaces. I quickly settled into a good rhythm of working at one venue in the morning, then stopping for lunch and walking to the next spot for the afternoon.
I spent my second week in the city of lights as a tourist, exploring all the sights one would expect! My real highlight of the trip involved taking the train out to Versailles, somewhere I have wanted to visit for years. I had a fantastic day walking around the chateau and then out past the main lakes, stopping occasionally under a tree to escape the heat for a while.
Attending Turing Festival in Edinburgh
Having been to Turing Festival in 2017, I had high expectations for this two day tech conference in Edinburgh. The event comprises of 20 hours of content from over 40 expert speakers who cover topics focused on the areas of Product, Culture, Growth, Engineering, Marketing and Strategy. Basically all the ingredients you need to run a successful technology company!
To be honest, whilst there wasn’t a bad talk during the whole 2 days, I personally found the Growth and Culture tracks to be the most engaging and really rated the following sessions (you can subscribe on the Turing Festival website to see the full videos):
Rebecca Moore (Director of Growth, Skyscanner) - Self-Disrupt for Growth
Des Traynor (Chief Strategy Officer, Intercom) - What We’ve Learned From Scaling to 0-25k+ Paying Customers
Kirsty Lynagh (Chief People Officer, Nucleus) - Architect and Anthropologist: the two roles needed in your team to win in the workplace in the future
Rand Fishkin (founder, SparkToro/Moz) - Why Nine Out of Ten Marketing Launches Suck (and how to be the one that doesn't)
Late-Summer trip to Slovenia and Venice
After returning from Paris in a state of sunburn and exhaustion, I managed to enjoy a few weeks at home before heading off on my next adventure with Des and a couple of friends.
Loaded with supplies and lots of hot-weather clothing, we embarked upon a triple-destination trip through Slovenia and Italy, ultimately ending in Venice.
It was an amazing 9 days, filled with swimming, mountaineering, lots of food and many historical sites!
Finding my Fitness Community
I have been going to the gym regularly for just over 6 years now, with most of that time spent doing solo workouts.
2018 was the year where I discovered training with other people and it has dramatically improved both my motivation and results. (I currently work out at Compello Fitness, a box gym based in York.)
For the past year I have been doing a weekly mix of HIIT style classes and semi-private personal training - 1 personal trainer per 4 people, which is a lot of fun!
Alongside meeting a bunch of awesome people and making new friends, I’ve also found that the variety of workouts has finally managed to pushed me off the fitness plateau I reached in 2017.
This year I’ve lost several % points off my body fat, taken off inches across my body and also increased my strength and cardiovascular endurance dramatically. Most importantly, I’ve learnt to ignore the scale (I weigh more than I have done in 7 years, a fact which no longer terrifies me!)
Speaking at Dot York
After attending DotYork in 2017, it was an honour to be chosen to speak at it in 2018!
In case you aren’t from up North, Dot York is a digital conference based in, you guessed it, my fair city of York. The event is focused on bringing engaging ideas and content to a mostly tech/design/digital audience. The themes for 2018 were wide ranging and ambitious: Survival, Money, Freedom and Identity
My talk was scheduled for the Survival session and focused on my work in the ethical business space. I wanted to use my allotted time to explore the big question of how do we make decisions at work that have a positive impact?
Contained within this question there are a number of sub-questions that I also felt merited discussion:
Who, or what, gets to decide what is good and bad in this context? (i.e. is this prescribed by top-down by an authority beyond individuals, who makes the rules?)
Can we actually make a difference, is it worth even trying? (e.g. is it too late to save the planet and late-stage industrial societies from ecological, social or political collapse).
The whole day was an awesome experience and despite my (probably very obvious) nerves I felt I did a decent job of providing an engaging and thought provoking talk to the audience. You can be the judge of that yourself though, as videos will be online shortly.
Watching my sister on the big screen!
My incredibly talented sister, Catrin, is the lead singer in London based indie band Another Sky.
2018 has been a seriously good year - they have been played on Radio 1, appeared on Late Night With Jools Holland (jealous? Moi? YES! ha) and also played on the main stage at Citadel Festival in London.
Not wanting to give up the chance of guest-list tickets and a day out in one of my favourite cities, I decided to head down South and watch the band in action alongside a couple of other favourite artists of mine (Dermot Kennedy, Tame Impala and CHVRCHES to name a few).
There’s something pretty surreal about seeing your former nemesis and playmate 20ft high on a big screen in front of a massive crowd. She rocked it!
I honestly feel like I have just been let loose on the world as a fully formed adult - school and sixth form is a recent memory in my mind, despite being over 10 years ago now.
I used to be scared of getting old and the responsibility that age brings, but with every year that has gone by since my early twenties I feel like life is getting better and freer. I am currently in the best shape I have ever been and feel genuinely satisfied with my lot in life (not that there isn’t room for ambition or growth!).
Bring on 2019.
We left Slovenia, heading to Venice by bus, a trip which lasted around 4 hours and included a pit stop at Udine.
We arrived at the floating city in the early evening, just as it became bathed in soft golden sunlight. Instead of getting a water taxi, we decided to walk to our accommodation, winding our way through the streets and over bridges to make our way from the main port across the island to our Airbnb.
We spent our first evening in Venice sampling cicchetti - small snacks which are commonly served in bars (bàcari) across Venice.
Whilst jumping from bar to bar, we quickly discovered that Aperol/Campari spritzes were generally about 2-3 euros, compared with beer, which was around 5 euros. That made choosing a drink much easier… We also discovered that the optimum spritz is a half and half mixture of Aperol and Campari - just bitter enough, not too sweet.
As we drank and ate our way across the city, the weather slowly descended into an almighty thunderstorm, forcing us back to our apartment to grab some much needed R&R.
Luckily we awoke the next day to a calm, sunny morning.
For our first full day in the city, we decided to go all in on the sightseeing.
We started off by visiting the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the former residence of the Doges of Venice, the elected leaders of the former Venetian Republic. Next to St Mark’s Basilica, the palace dates back from the 12th century and has gone through multiple renovations during the following centuries.
Today visitors can see the the main courtyard, Doge’s apartments, Institutional chambers (used to facilitate governance of the republic), alongside the new and old prisons.
I was particularly interested in seeing the iconic Bridge of Sighs, infamous for the fact the view from the bridge was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment.
After spending a good three hours at the Doges Palace and the Museo Correr (which had an amazing exhibition about the printing press), we retired for an afternoon nap, priming ourselves for a late afternoon walking tour of the city.
Our tour focused on Venice through the centuries and took us across the north of the island. It was a fascinating way of spending two hours, to be honest I only wished it had been longer as there was so much to learn about.
Just as our tour was ending, the thunder returned again, prompting us to run back to our apartment and cook some of the delicious venetian produce we had picked up earlier on the the day.
The next day we split up as a group, as the boys wanted to check out the The Peggy Guggenheim Collection and I wanted to do some more walking and general exploring.
I ended up wandering about for most of the morning, stopping whenever I found a particularly interesting view or building.
Whilst wandering along, a particularly fine marble edifice caught my eye, this was the church of San Zaccaria, built in the 15th century.
Alongside a beautiful interior and remnants of a Byzantine church which previously stood on the site, the church also boasts an eerie part-submerged crypt, a relic from an earlier church and the resting place of several early Doges.
Over the centuries the lagoon has slowly risen up through the stonework and now the water levels wax or wane according to the tides.
For our last full day in Venice we decided to grab vaporetto (water bus) and head over to Murano, a series of islands 1.5km north of the main city.
Murano is famous for its glass and citizens of the island held a monopoly on high-quality glassmaking for centuries.
We spend a very pleasant afternoon strolling across the island, taking in several glass making demonstrations and indulging in a cheeky purchase or two.
Originally we had also planned to go to Burano, another island in the lagoon that is known for its lace work and brightly coloured homes.
However our tour guide had advised that it was better to try and do a couple of things properly if time was short, as opposed to hopping around and skimming the surface.
After we got back from Murano, we made another home cooked meal.
All the advice I had received before going to Venice focused on the fact that eating out on the island was mostly expensive and underwhelming. I think if you know where to go, you can get some amazing food out, especially if you focus on cicchetti.
We actually really enjoyed cooking for ourselves and going to the early morning markets to pick up fresh fish and vegetables - I would definitely recommend this if you aren’t afraid of experimenting in the kitchen.
The next day it was time to go home, we caught another vaporetto across the lagoon to the airport to wait for our flight.
Our adventure was over, until next time.
Read Part 1, Slovenia and the mountains, here
Back in August I spent 9 days in Slovenia and Venice - here are some of my favourite moments from our trip!
We started off our journey by flying from Manchester to Ljubljana, the capitol city of Slovenia.
We stayed here for one rather wet evening before heading to the mountains, enjoying a quick tour of the self-declared 'Autonomous Culture Zone,' Metelkova Mesto. The commune occupies the former 'Fourth of July' military barracks of Austro-Hungarian origin.
The next morning we set off bright and early to head northwards to the Julian Alps, which stretch from Italy to Slovenia.
Our destination was a small hut on the mountain of Talež (Jelovica) spruce-tree-covered plateau overlooking Lake Bled and the North.
We arrived late morning and enjoyed a lunch at Koča na Taležu, a small local restaurant and B&B which sat nestled on the side of the mountain, with fantastic views across the valley.
We settled in quickly at our mountain hut, which was just 10 minutes further along the road from our lunch stop. The accommodation was rustic, with only limited solar power and a wood burning stove for heat and hot water. With no wifi or phone signal either, we felt wonderfully remote in our small clearing, surrounded by the mountain woods.
The wildlife here was abundant, with numerous species of insect and butterfly practically bursting forth from our small clearing in the woods. We also saw several deer at twilight, grazing peacefully in the pasture.
After waking up from our first night sleeping communally in the roof of the hut, we set out in our hire car to the shores of Lake Bled, one of the most picturesque places I think I have ever been.
We spent the day swimming and walking all the way round the lake, before heading home exhausted and happy.
Back at the hut, we made a fire outside in the designated fire pit (there are heavily enforced rules in Slovenia regarding lighting fires only in official spots). Upon this we slow roasted a joint of beef, covered in spices and devoured greedily as the sun set.
For our third day in the mountains, we took the car and drove to our west, over to Lake Bohinj, Bled’s less well known and far more relaxed cousin.
Dropping off the car at the foot of the mountains down by the lake (569m), we took the Vogel Cable car up to the Vogel Ski Centre (1533m). As it was summer, there was no snow to be had, but the views were dramatic to someone who lives in the flat Vale of York.
We spent several hours walking around the ski centre, taking further cable cars to reach as high as we could go without any specialist walking gear.
The views across the alps were breathtaking.
After heading back down to Lake Bohinj, we cooled off with a dip in the lake, which if anything was even cleaner than Bled. If you swam to the middle of it, you could look back up the mountain and follow the Cable Car back up to the Ski Centre.
I stayed in the middle and floated on my back for what felt like hours. It was absolutely tranquil, even with the excited screams of children who were adventuring across the lake in blow up dinghies.
After another activity filled day we retired again to eat at the mountain restaurant, taking in the sunset over Lake Bled.
Alas the next day our jaunt in the mountains was over. We packed up and drove the hour back to Ljubljana to spend another night there before our bus to Venice.
At this point the whole group felt rather fatigued, so we decided to spend the evening relaxing and cooking in our Air BnB, which had a wonderful balcony overlooking Romain Remains (which were sadly shut to visitors due to a technical fault with the ticket machine).
After a fine meal gathered from several supermarkets and market stalls, we sat down to eat and refuel for our trip across to Italy.
Part 2 coming soon!
This is my sixth post in my attempt to write something on this blog everyday in October. Find my previous post from the 5th here.
It's been over a month since our pre-Christmas trip to the Hungarian capital for my 27th Birthday and I'm still slightly disappointed to not be waking up everyday in a beautiful European capital city. (York is gorgeous, but alas not quite the scale of London, Paris or Berlin).
Overall we spent four days exploring the best of Budapest in mid-December for my birthday, making the most of a city full of festive cheer and fantastic street food.
After spotting a decent deal on Expedia, we decided on the extremely central Hotel Prestige Budapest which is on the Pest side of the city, minutes away from St Stephen's Basilica.
This location worked perfectly, as we were able to quickly get up and out into the heart of the city each morning. This also enabled us to explore by foot, only using non-pedestrian transport to get to and from the airport and hotel.
The hotel itself was excellent - modern and sparklingly clean. It was a pleasant surprise to be upgraded to a superior room on our arrival and we even found a couple of birthday treats waiting for us in the room, which was spacious and well appointed (though sadly didn't have a bath).
The only small complaint I have about the room itself was that there were no external windows, as we faced out into a covered courtyard. This gave a slightly claustrophobic flavour to what were otherwise extremely luxurious surroundings.
In terms of amenities, the hotel is attached to a Michelin starred restaurant, Costes, which boasts a well stocked bar. Unfortunately we didn't manage to sample the famous baths of Budapest during our stay, but we did make use of the hotel's sauna and jacuzzi - much needed after a day of funding the city streets.
Food and Drink
At the time of booking I didn't realise that breakfast was not included in our room rate. Upon arrival we learnt that this would be an extra £25 per person, per day. (I'm all for treating yourself, but come on). This ensured that we became firmly aquatinted with the numerous bakeries and coffee shops that dotted the surrounding streets.
I was particularly impressed by with the traditional Kürtőskalács (chimney cake), a tower of coiled dough baked over an open fire then doused in sugar. Another morning favourite included ordering a couple of Kifli (crescent breads, kind of like croissants but made with yeasted dough) and a strong black coffee.
We were delighted to learn that the Christmas Markets were right on our doorstep and made a good go of sampling something new each evening from the variety of kiosks.
Having heard many good things about Lángos (fried dough), we decided to give in to gluttony/the Christmas spirit and go all out with spinach and cheese, though the sour cream and cheese version also looked very decadent. If I'm honest, it was slightly too greasy for me to finish, but I thoroughly enjoyed trying.
Alongside Lángos, a popular dish consisted of a deep fried potato pancake (kind of like a latcake), which was also served smothered in various toppings.
Alongside sampling the best of the markets, we also found ourselves nipping in and out of cafes and street food kiosks during the day for regular top ups. One particularly cold afternoon we stumbled upon IGEN, a small take-away pizzeria in the Jewish quarter.
The culinary highlight of the trip had to be lunch at Pierrot, which can be found down a quiet street on Castle Hill, about 10 minutes walk from Buda Castle. We both went slightly overboard, starting with a glass of sparkling Hungarian wine followed by a confit duck leg in puff pastry for me and sea bass for Des.
Hungary is famous for its wines, especially those from Tokaji, a historically renowned wine growing region bordering on Slovakia. I particularly enjoyed anything made from the Furmint grape variety, which can apparently be either very sweet or very dry.
The popular chain Di Vino became our favourite drinking establishment during the trip, as they sell over 120 different Hungarian wines with a distinct focus on young winemakers. The chain also had a number of Christmas themed stalls on the market which supplied mulled red or white wine.
Seeing the sights
As mentioned above, we were luckily staying very close to two of the major Christmas markets, one being right outside St Stephen's basilica. This area really came alive at night, as the crowds flooded in to take in a projected light show on the facade of the cathedral.
The basilica itself was started in the 19th century and now houses the supposedly "incorruptible" hand of Saint Stephen I of Hungary, the first King of Hungary. The building is well worth a look around, as it has an exqisite Cupola alongside a beautiful collection of stained glass.
Despite the gloomy weather, we decided to haul ourselves to the top of dome to take in the slightly misty views of the city. I can imagine that this is absolutely stunning on a clear day, as you get a 360 degree panorama.
Another religious site worth seeing is the Dohány Street Synagogue which is both a place of stunning beauty and extreme sadness.
During WWII the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto in the city. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter of1944-1945 are buried in the now peaceful courtyard of the synagogue.
The synagogue also hosts the Jewish Museum which provides a fascinating insight into the lives and history of Hungarian Jews.
Back in Buda we made a pilgrimage (for Des) to the Institute for Musicology which focuses heavily on two of Hungary's most famous composers - Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.
Both composers gathered and transcribed thousands of traditional folk songs and melodies from Eastern Europe and other cultures around the world. This work led to the preservation of musical folk cultures which might otherwise have been trampled upon by 20th century modernisation.
Within the museum there is also a large collection of folk instruments and classical instruments used across Hungary in the 19th and 20th centuries.
After a heavy spell of walking, we decided to take a more sedate path on our second to last day by taking a boat trip down the Danube. This proved to be extremely relaxing and a good way to see the city sights without bringing on sore feet.
Our particular boat tour vendor (on pier 7) allowed time to stop off at Margaret Island which is particularly deserted in the winter. We spent a good hour ambling around in the fresh air before jumping on the next boat back to the city centre. I imagine the island is a wonderful place to escape the heat in the summer, as it has a number of leisure facilities.
As a birthday present, Des booked two tickets to see La bohème as performed by the Hungarian State Opera Company. This was the real highlight of the trip for me, as I have always wanted to see Puccini performed live.
The staging was fantastic and full of detail whilst the performances were very strong from all the principal cast. I also thought the chorus were very good, providing a lively and immersive backdrop to the drama.
The final highlight of our trip was a visit to Buda Castle, which now houses the Hungarian National Art Collection.
The palace as it stands today was reconstructed after sustaining heavy damage during WWII. The site has been home to some form of fortification since at least the 13th century, with the present structure dating from the 19th. The building alone is worth the walk up Castle Hill - as it is a spectacular example of neoclassical design.
The art collection is extremely varied, though my cynical side would suggest that you could miss out the 18th/19th centuries, which are part of the same European hegemony you can see in major art collections worldwide. (Sorry art critics, but how many pictures of noble men and women do you really need to see.)
The real gems are found in the Roman, Medieval and 20th century collections, with the latter offering a strong political discourse which gives you a lasting sense of the fragmented Hungarian identities of the period.