A guide to holidays on the Isles of Scilly, featuring Tresco, Bryher, St Martins, St Agnes and St Mary’s.Read More
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
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.
Overall we had an extremely pleasant trip, with reasonable weather (some rain, not too cold) and enough to do to fill our time twice over.
I am keen to revisit Budapest in the summer, as we feel like we have barely scratched the surface of the adventures on offer!
I'm just going to start by saying that the M25 and I are no longer friends.
Having spent two hours sat in stationary traffic on it today, I think you can understand why this is the case...
This week has mostly been dominated by a trip down to Brighton for work, followed by a few extra days there for play with Des.
My main observations from this trip down south have been:
1. Everyone seems to be young, cool and tanned in Brighton
2. The people also look very, very happy
3. Seagulls are evil dastardly chip stealers
4. Brighton is EXTREMELY busy, especially on a Friday night
5. Traffic is generally hell down south
6. I apparently burn through many layers of factor 50 sunscreen
Here area few other interesting things of note from our trip:
1. We got to finally try out Polpo
This small chain of Venetian inspired eateries has been on our "to visit" list for quite a while now (sadly there are none up North as of yet).
We have the Polpo cookbook and use it once a week at least, so I had high expectations for the actual restaurant, especially as Brighton has so much choice when it comes to food and drink.
Luckily it lived up to its promise and we had a fabulous evening sampling the various small plates, with an added Apreol Spritz or two for good measure...
2. The sea is very warm* this time of year
Admittedly I only had a short paddle, however this was enough time to ascertain that the sea down south is a lot more pleasant when compared with my usual dips into the North Sea.
It was also lovely to see so many people out enjoying the beach, especially during the evenings.
* This is a relative judgement coming from someone who once happily swam off the coast at St Andrews in Winter. Individual experiences may vary...
3. Pancakes with scrambled eggs, maple syrup and bacon are now my favourite thing
I probably don't need to elaborate on this - delicious.
4. In non-Brighton news - Des and I have uploaded more music to Peach
After spending months noodling around together and playing with tracks, we recently decided to start putting some of our work out into the public domain under the name Peach (as you may have seen in my previous post).
I have no idea why we are called Peach if I'm perfectly honest, it was just the first name which popped into my head. It's really grown on me actually in the following days.
We actually recorded this cover of The National's "I need my girl" way back in 2015, hence my short hair in the picture.
Just before we headed down to Brighton, we stumbled across the raw files whilst trawling through various hard drives, so we decided to spend an evening arranging it. (Des is mostly the powerhouse when it comes to this, as he does have a PhD in composition...)
I'm extremely chuffed with the result, so do have a listen if you're interested/really bored and looking for a distraction.
Right, I'm off to try and prepare for the week ahead, which involves a lot of excel spreadsheets. (Yay, said nobody ever in this situation).
Speak to you soon.
This post has been sat in my backlog for quite a while now, as we actually went away right at the beginning of May! The bank holiday this weekend has actually given me some time to sit down and write, a cathartic release I've been missing during the past month.
This early May excursion couldn't have come at a better time, as I desperately needed to get away from my phone, laptop and commitments, even if just for a few days. My life has been unexpectedly (but mostly enjoyably) jam packed full ever since the snap election was called way back in April.
I'm a big fan on the mini-break, as you can pack a lot in without having to take large chunks of time away from work/projects. It's also a great way of fitting more trips in throughout the year, rather than having to wait months for a big two week jaunt.
Our destination for this particular short holiday was Portpatrick, a sleepy harbour village nestled on the south-westerly coast of the Scottish mainland.
Despite never visiting this area before, descriptions of the surrounding area drew me in with the promise of excellent seafood, beautiful scenery and a pleasant climate provided by the gulf stream.
We were actually extremely lucky with the weather throughout our stay, which was a perfect combination of balmy temperatures, blue skies and lots of sunshine.
I came back feeling thoroughly rested, decently exercised and well fed, which is always the sign of a good trip.
Here are some of my highlights from our time in Portpartick and the surrounding area:
Climbing the lighthouse on the Mull of Galloway
Upon braving exactly 115 steps, you will emerge at the top of this 19th century lighthouse. Your reward is a spectacular 360° view of Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Cumbria. You can also see where the great tidal forces meet in the bay, visible in the strange striping effect it has on the water's surface.
Upon completing your ascent you also get a small memento of your visit, a certificate, which I now am proudly displaying at work! (No shame here.)
We didn't quite have time for it ourselves, but alongside the lighthouse there is also a small museum which focuses on the remote and harsh conditions faced by the lighthouse masters and their families.
There is also a small visitor centre and cafe, I throughly recommend the cake, having taste tested it extensively... for the blog, of course! ;)
Scrambling across coastal paths and discovering medieval ruins
We spent hours exploring the coastal paths either side of Portpatrick, which lead both north and south.
This area is full of wildlife, both marine and terrestrial. We actually managed to catch a glimpse of porpoises off the coast, aided by the fact that our visibility was almost perfect due to the weather.
On one afternoon excursion we came across the remains of Dunskey Castle, which is precariously positioned on top of the cliffs just outside of Portpartick.
Built in the 12th century, this tower house-come-castle offered shelter to surrounding inhabitants during raids. It also presumably acted as a watchtower for the village, ensuring they could look out for hostile ships out at sea.
The castle came into disuse in the 17th Century and has slowly been crumbling away ever since. Whilst you can not physically enter due to the risks posed by the ruins, you can get very close and peer in through the various windows and cracks.
Visiting prehistoric burial chambers
As someone who studied History at university, it's fair to say this kind of stuff interests me a lot!
I particularly love going to see prehistoric sites, as there's something almost symbiotic about their relationship with the landscape they inhabit - both being different yet also inextricably part of the same terrain. They are also usually very still and calm places, often remotely located in a farmers field or meadow.
On our way back home we took a quick detour from the A75 to visit Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns, a pair of Neolithic burial monuments situated on a hill offering fine views over the coastline.
Both were built in the 4th millennium BC and were partially excavated in 1949. Each has two chambers, in which shards of neolithic pottery and even an arrowhead were found.
If you're driving on the A75 and have a spare half an hour, I highly recommend taking the detour (it really doesn't take long to see them!)
Watching over 100 Red Kites have lunch
This was honestly was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
Bellymack Hill Farm is a Kite Feeding Station located near Laurieston, a bit of a detour on our drive home, but well worth it in every sense.
Red kites have been congregating at the Farm since 2001 when they were reintroduced to Galloway. They have been fed regularly here since 2003, which has enabled visitors to get close firsthand experiences of these amazing birds.
We arrived well before the 2pm feeding time, so we took a stroll around the new nature reserve which offers amazing views over the surrounding countryside. We also got to see around 20 red kites flying overhead, soaring on the thermals created by the warm weather.
As it got closer to the event, we noticed more and more birds appearing from all directions. We took our places on the viewing platform and waited with other eager viewers...
The feeding was spectacular, with the birds swooping in a mere 20 meters away. You were close enough to make out individual tags on the bird's wings.
Their speed and agility was breathtaking, as were the displays of social behaviour (Red Kites are actually sociable, something people don't normally associate with birds of prey).
We watched over 100 birds swoop in to grab chunks of meat for an hour, which went by in a flash. I'm not a birdwatcher by nature, but there was more than enough action here to keep me enthralled.
It was also great to be supporting the project, which provides both food for the Kites and a boost for the local economy with increasing numbers of visitors boosting job numbers and other nearby businesses.
If you're looking to take a short break in the UK, you should seriously consider Portpartick. It's admittedly quite a drive for anyone south of Manchester, but well worth it.
The scenery and wildlife are spectacular, the seafood is excellent (see where we ate below) and the local people are particularly friendly and welcoming.
Where we stayed: The Waterfront Hotel, Portpartick
Where we ate: The Crown Hotel, The Waterfront Hotel, Campbell's Restaurant, The Port Pantry