A Long Weekend Lisbon

Portugal is such a lovely country – beautiful towns, friendly people, officially the best wine, and very convenient. From renting a car and driving to Fatima, using Lisbon’s metro system from the airport, and finding public WCs… everything was smooth sailing. (Never underestimate the importance of public toilets!!!) We found a great Airbnb in the Alfama neighborhood which is the oldest district and consistently listed as one of the top areas to explore in Lisbon. If you don’t mind lugging your suitcase up and down the cobblestone maze-like streets, we highly recommend this neighborhood as home base! Thanks, as always, to my wonderful husband for being Minister of Suitcase Schlepping.

This trip we focused on exploring outside, taking advantage of the sunshine, trying local flavors, and relaxing by the river front. Lisbon also has museums and a highly rated botanical garden for chillier or rainier visits.  Continue reading “A Long Weekend Lisbon”

A Long Weekend Lisbon

Spain Part IV: Seville

View from the Tower

Happy Thanksgiving week everyone! It’s about time I finish up the Spain posts. Lotssssss of pictures from Seville so let’s dig in. Seville is much larger than Avila or Toledo and we walked a ton over our three day stay. We saw and ate quite a bit. Here are three highlights and some recommendations: Continue reading “Spain Part IV: Seville”

Spain Part IV: Seville

Spain Roadtrip Part I: Madrid

Hola Amigos!

Ready for a really tardy party full of Spain pictures?! I’m sorry for my longer than usual absence. I can give you a whole list of excuses, but honestly, blogging hasn’t been flowing for me over the last couple months. My guilt caught up with me however, and here I am. Since my last post, we visited Oxford, hiked a stunning section of the Brecon Beacons in Southern Wales, spent more than a week in Spain with my parents, and I finally visited Chatsworth House with Connor’s cousin Elaine. I also hiked the Malvern Hills for a second time and found myself floating above the clouds. It was surreal. Instagram is the best place to keep up with these mini day/weekend adventures, especially Instagram Stories, so if you don’t follow me over there, hop to it!

Now for Madrid!

Streets

Connor and I spent a weekend in Madrid before my parents arrived. The city is very walkable and we had no trouble covering the central area in two days. We visited the Royal Palace on Saturday morning and absolutely loved it. The interior is stunning, but no photos are allowed beyond the entrance hall, so I have little to show for our time wandering the rooms. I tend to avoid historical interiors since they’re so often full of looping, recorded narratives and creepy manikins staged for “a day in the life.” Thankfully, this was not the situation at the Royal Palace. The rooms were beautiful and ornate, the number of chandeliers alone was incredible (maybe 100??), and now I feel the need to tour Buckingham Palace ASAP.

Palacio Real

Palacio Real

The Palace hosts art exhibitions from time to time and we caught the last day of a Caravaggio & Bernini exhibit. We also loved the armory (equestrian items were fabulous), room full of Stradivarius instruments, mini exhibits on Christopher Columbus/Ferdinand/Isabella.

We ate tapas, found a Spanish craft beer bar, visited a market, walked through El Retiro Park, visited the main cathedral, did a drive-by of the Prado, saw Plaza Mayor, and felt like we covered a good bit of ground. Unfortunately, because I’ve allowed this much time to pass since our trip, I don’t remember the names of the bars/restaurants/markets. Nothing was absolutely out of this world, though. Madrid was nice, but we both agree we would rather return to Barcelona and its ubiquitous olive stands. We didn’t see a single olive stand in Madrid! Only inside the markets where olives were 1 euro a piece. Crazy.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Palacio de Cristal
Palacio de Cristal in el Retiro Park. Built in 1887.
Fun Trees!!
Fun bubble trees
Catedral de la Almudena
The Cathedral. Santa María la Real de La Almudena

Sunday morning, my parents miraculously arrived at our Airbnb to pick us up. They rented a car, had Google Map directions printed out, and promptly got lost. After pulling up at various bus stops and trying to ask for directions (super fun when you don’t speak the language), they somehow ended up on the right street and Connor flagged them down. We spent the rest of the week in Avila, Toledo, and Seville (more on those in future posts), returning to Madrid on Saturday night so Connor could fly back to Birmingham in time for work on Monday. I stayed with my parents in Madrid until Tuesday morning and checked a few more things off the Madrid must-do list.

We visited the Prado Museum, one of the world’s largest art galleries with a great collection of European. As you would expect, they have a significant number of items by Spanish artists like Velazquez, El Greco, El Bosco, and Goya. The museum is free for the last couple hours in the evenings, so we waited in line and did a quick tour of some of the museum’s famous masterpieces. Our visit was more rushed than I would normally plan, but two hours in a museum is plenty when you’ve been walking for most of the day. Any time a museum offers free entry, I think it’s worth waiting in the line and saving the admission cost. It eliminates the pressure to stay and see every single thing to get your money’s worth. The Prado definitely has their system down because once they opened the doors for the free evening session, we were inside within 10 minutes.

Prado Museum
Prado Museum Entrance

We also visited the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum which is free on Mondays. It’s one of the largest private art collections in the world and contains items from time periods and countries not covered in the Prado. We spent half a day here perusing the Impressionists, Renaissance painters, and others, skipping some of the weird modern art rooms. Both museums were fantastic, but if you only have the time/desire/patience to visit one, definitely read about their collections and pick the one that interests you most.

A word of warning about free museum hours: tourists are not the only ones who take advantage of this. There were definitely fishy people wandering around in both museums paying more attention to visitors’ bags than the art. So keep an eye on your belongings and give the stink eye to anyone invading your personal space.

Madrid with parents iPhone
My Dad and I in line for churros!

I made sure we stopped at Chocolateria San Gines for their churros con chocolate. This place has been serving only churros and chocolate for over 120 years. Sign. Me. UP. We waited in line. And then I choked and ordered 2 servings of this nonsense. For those of you who don’t know, I have a ridiculously insatiable sweet tooth and had to place myself on a cold turkey sugar fast earlier this year when I realized I was poisoning myself. Yes, poison. Puking, ruined day, skin issues… Just order one of these churro things, mmk? Share it with two other people and thank me later. I am literally still recovering from bad food decisions made on this trip.

Madrid with parents iPhone
Death by chocolate at San Gines
Madrid with parents iPhone
My parents in the park

During a break in the rainy weather we also walked through some of the gardens and parks, spotted green parrot-like birds, and I actually talked to a man for about 5 minutes in Spanish. Truthfully, he asked me all the questions I knew how to answer. I’ve been listening to the Coffee Break Spanish podcast over the last year and it was like this stranger knew the script. I highly recommend that podcast if you want to learn/brush up on your Spanish skills. Far fewer people spoke English in Madrid than Barcelona, and I was really glad I spent so much time practicing. For the record, I only have one semester of Spanish under my belt, which I took senior year of college because I was bored, so even total novices would like that podcast.

Also for the record, being a foreigner and trying so hard to learn basic words and phrases to get by in all these foreign countries makes me appreciate the people and nations that are friendly and patient with their visitors. In my experience, two nations have serious work to do. One starts with A. The other starts with F.

And on that note, excuse me while I go put a bag over my head so no one asks me about the election today.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

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Spain Roadtrip Part I: Madrid

Paris & a Fab Way to See a Big City in a Weekend

Planning a short trip to a new and epic city is always a bit daunting. NYC, London, Rome… PARIS… I want to see as many of the iconic sites as possible, but also spend time away from tourists, mingling with the locals and experiencing their favorite corners of the busy streets. Finding this balance in a short trip is challenging, and my list of must-sees in Paris was much longer than I could tackle in 2 days. But we managed to see a lot for almost no money thanks to one simple decision. We rented bikes!!

iPhone Paris
Biking at the Louvre

Budget friendly, efficient, scenic… biking in Paris was so so fun!!

We used the bike sharing scheme called Vélib’ which has more than 14k bicycles available for grab and go rides. A 24-hour pass for unlimited bike rentals was about 1.70. Crazy cheap! Type in your user code at one of the machines, pick out a bike, and it’s yours for free for the next 30 minutes. Every time you check out a bike, the first 30 minutes are free, and you can do this as many times as you want. We used Vélib’ constantly and it was so simple and easy. It was also the only time we felt a breeze while in Paris. Try it and you’ll be amazed at all the ground you can cover!

iPhone Paris
Biking at the Louvre

We woke up very early on Saturday to see some of the big stuff before the other tourists were awake and swarming. Despite our lack of sleep, this was definitely a good choice. We biked along the Seine and stopped to return the bikes and wander whenever we saw something we wanted to check out. It was early enough that the sun hadn’t baked the city to a crisp and the only cars were delivery trucks and a few taxis. We visited Notre Dame, the Louvre & Jardin des Tuileries, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and the Petit Palais all before lunch. The city is gorgeous and packed with fabulous buildings, and I know we biked by other significant things that in my ignorance I can’t name. We had second breakfast at a cafe, grabbed lunch to go, and enjoyed a midday siesta at our Airbnb. The joke’s on all those other tourists gritting it out in the sweltering sun, dodging elbows and dudes selling tchotchkes.

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Unknown Beautiful Building #1. I think it’s a library.
The Louvre
the Louvre
Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars
Eiffel Tower from Champ de Mars
Arc de Triumph
Arc de Triomphe
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
DSC_0929
Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries

After a nap, another cup of coffee, and a shower, we went to Saturday evening Mass at Notre Dame. Confession: this was one of those “pinch me” moments that was so moving and overwhelming that I’m really at a loss for words. I had some kind of a “moment” and I should probably take some time to process whatever it is that went down, because I just couldn’t keep it together once we were inside the cathedral. It’s like I stepped through the door into a cloud of emotion that was completely unexpected and overwhelming in its intensity. I was not PMSing, drunk, or tired, thankyouverymuch. I just felt this profound sense of gratitude… for my life, faith, wonderful husband, the many eye opening experiences of the past year, my sister’s recent engagement, the fact that I was basically standing in the World Headquarters of Mary, Inc., and so much more. It’s like the realization of this crazy beautiful life I’m living hit me in the face. Each time I think back on that evening I can’t help but tear up all over again.

DSC_0948
In John XXIII Square before Mass
Inside Notre Dame
Interior of Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Notre Dame de Paris

So that happened. Then we had dinner on the Seine at a great place Connor found that was a secret little local hangout. It took forever to find, and was completely worth the trouble. We shared a table with another couple and enjoyed a mini jazz concert going on in the background. After dinner and some wandering we plunked down on the Seine like everyone else and feasted on wine, Camembert, apples and crackers.

Ready for our picnic
Picnic on the Seine
DSC_0965
Dusk

We ended the day with a walk back to Le Marais where we were staying (fab neighborhood, Jewish Quarter, straddles the 3rd and 4th arrondissements) and saw the glittering Eiffel Tower from a bridge. The little dude knows how to sparkle, let me tell you.

Sunday morning we walked around Place des Vosges, a beautiful little square around the corner from our apartment, also former home of Victor Hugo and a bunch of fancy Frenchmen whose names do not ring a bell.

Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges
DSC_0004
Place des Vosges

We biked over to Musée d’Orsay and guess what!? No line! Fun fact about me: I can’t stand lines. Or queues, as I’ve learned to call them. There are very few things that I consider worth queuing for. Museums and tourist things are generally no where close to being on that list.

Musee d'Orsay - Sunday morning adventure
Musée d’Orsay

I do, however, have a soft spot for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art so I’m glad my patience wasn’t tested that morning. (Before you feel sorry for Connor, he enjoys this genre, too. Also, he didn’t suggest any alternatives…) Musée d’Orsay has a really robust collection and to say we were impressed is an understatement. I’ve never seen so many Degas sculptures in one place in my life! And the Monets on display were so diverse. The more I check out the work of Impressionists in the cities we visit, the more I love them. (RE: the Louvre. I couldn’t spend half our trip in a single museum. Maybe next time.) We narrowed our museum options down to the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay. l’Orangerie is the smaller museum famous for the oval rooms designed by Monet and covered in his waterlily murals. I’d love to see that someday, too.

We visited some shops that afternoon including the legendary English bookstore Shakespeare and Co. that I think every English major has on her bucket list. The current store is a descendant of the one Sylvia Beach opened on Paris’ left bank that was a haven for writers and would-be-writers that closed during the Nazi occupation. The eccentric George Whitman opened the existing store that is now run by his daughter, Sylvia, and it continues the tradition of providing a home for Tumbleweeds in exchange for help at the store. I fully intended to purchase something here but they marked up the prices so drastically I couldn’t justify it. Instead, I bought a paintbrush from Charvin Arts. I hoped to make it to Sennelier where Picasso, Cézanne, and others shopped for supplies, but again, next time!

iPhone Paris
Shakespeare and Co

We mostly wandered little streets for the rest of the day, ate macaroons, relaxed in some gardens, saw the Louvre one last time, and had a delicious dinner.

iPhone Paris
Sunset at the Louvre

Be forewarned if you visit Paris in August; you need to be flexible because August Closures are a real thing! But don’t avoid the city because of this. More than enough is open that you could stay busy for months!

Paris & a Fab Way to See a Big City in a Weekend

2 Days in Bruges

Bruges is a magnificently preserved Medieval town in Northern Belgium, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a fabulous place to spend a long weekend. One of the first things we noticed was that Bruges is incredibly clean. No pigeons, which means no poop riddled buildings and nothing to trip over in the main squares, no garbage on the streets, no graffiti, impeccably maintained buildings, and very fresh air. We’ve become accustomed to the smokey atmosphere of Europe, the garage door-like shop fronts usually covered in graffiti, and some element of crumbling buildings since everything is just so old. Those things are part of the charm of Europe, but Bruges seems like a fairy tale in comparison.

St. Janshospitaal & Memlingmuseum
St-Janshospitaal and the Memlingmuseum

Markt
The Markt, center of Bruges

The wealth of Bruges came from their position as an important trading center and manufacturer of textiles, especially wool and eventually lace, and was a thriving market city until the 1400s. The city was constantly at odds with their overlords, especially the French, and continually fought for independence. In the 1300s, Jan Breydel (a local butcher, how fitting) and a friend led an uprising against the French remembered today as the Bruges Matins. Their group of guildsmen knocked on doors all around the city, and if the inhabitants were unable to correctly pronounce a national phrase “shield and friend” they were murdered. Basically, if you had a French accent, it was over. A statue of Jan Breydel and his buddy holds a prominent place in Bruges’ Markt square, and the Bruges football stadium is named after Jan.

Markt Statue and the Belfort
Left: Statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. Right: The Belfort, or belfry. One of the city’s most prominent buildings in the Markt

Some time later in the 1400s, the people of Bruges were fed up with the Hapsburg empire so they kidnapped the heir and imprisoned him for 4 months. Pretty bold move for such a small city. The angry Hapsburgs ordered Bruges to tear down their city walls, and today, the only part of the walls that remain are 4 gate houses. They also ordered the city to keep and take care of swans… something about “long necks” translating to the same word as the last name of a friend of the Hapsburgs who was executed by men from Bruges. This was the beginning of the end for the city, and because it fell in prominence, it was left untouched by both world wars. Tourism picked up again as people visiting Waterloo passed by the town, and today the city seems to have a love/hate relationship with tourists. Day-trippers from Brussels are insufferable and they crowd the tiny streets, so staying overnight is essential if you want to soak up the magic of the canals without selfie stick people all up in your business.

Ezelpoort Gate
Ezelpoort gate/bridge near our Airbnb

We joined the Bruges free walking tour on Saturday morning and it was excellent, as usual. At the end of the tour our guide handed out coupons for free beers at a Trappist bar, a discount on waffles, and I made sure to ask for advice on buying chocolate. We took all his suggestions and they did not disappoint.

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Church of Our Lady

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Church of Our Lady. Its tower is the 2nd tallest brick tower in the world
Begijnhof
The Begijnhof. Former home of a women’s lay religious community.
Minnewater, or the Lake of Love
Minnewater Lake, the lake of love

The tour ended in the Burg, the square adjacent to the main Markt center. We went inside the Stadhuis (City Hall) and checked out its Gothic Hall, which is gorgeous. The Burg is the administrative center of Bruges and the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica) is tucked away in one of the corners. The chocolate shop recommended by our guide was here (Chocolaterie de Burg), as well as the most amazing waffle truck in the history of the world. We had waffles covered in chocolate sauce for lunch.

Stadhuis
Stadhuis
Gotische Zaal, or Gothic Hall
Gothic Hall in the Stadhuis

Happy girl with her waffle

In the evening we tried the house beers at Cambrinus bar and then went to Le Trappiste Bruges and redeemed our drink coupons. There is such ceremony in the presentation of Belgian beers! They scrape the foam off the top with a tool that looks like a letter opener, and there’s usually a snack to compliment the drink. I tried a lambic at Le Trappiste and the bottle was served in its own little basket. We had a fun time chatting with the bartenders at Le Trappiste and taking their advice. There are a few cellar bars around Bruges and Le Trappiste was one of them. Really really cool.

Cambrinus
Cambrinus bar, my lambic in a basket, the giant book of beers at Cambrinus, and the house brews
Cellar bars
Left: Connor by the tiny door into ‘t Poatersgat. Right: Inside Le Trappiste Bruges cellar bar

On Sunday we went to mass at the Basilica which is a lot smaller than I was expecting. It was a bit unusual in that the wall frescoes were very patriotic. The repeating pattern on the walls featured swans, a symbol of the city since the 1400s, and there was a giant fresco of the man who brought a relic of the Blood of Christ back to Bruges after the Crusades.

Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges
Heilig-Bloedbasiliek

After mass we had some more waffles since they were sooo good and then took a boat tour through the canals. We learned about the stepped gables of the houses – the more steps you had, the richer you were. The number of windows on your house also indicated your level of wealth. At one time there was a window tax, and many people filled in some of the windows on their homes to reduce the tax they had to pay. Only the wealthy were able to afford to keep all their windows. 

Notice all the filled in windows and the number of steps on the roof
Neighbors would try to outdo each other in the stepped gables game
Church of Our Lady seen from the boat tour
Church of Our Lady seen from the canals

After the boat tour we checked out a brewery that recently opened along a canal, but they wouldn’t let us sit outside unless we ate lunch, and we had already eaten waffles, so that was not a good plan. It was warm and sunny so we walked east to see the old windmills in the St-Anna district. They are still used to grind grain but I don’t believe they are in their original locations. There used to be quite a few of these in Bruges, but I believe there are only 4 or so left.

St-Janshospitaal. Look at all those small panes of glass! Beautiful!
Molen, Windmills
Windmill/Molen

We walked past Jeruzalemkerk, a church that was built to imitate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and went inside a stunning old church with massive framed paintings on the walls. Our canal guide said there are 22 churches in Bruges and 21 are Catholic. I didn’t fact check that, but it’s a lot of churches for a small place.

That evening, we visited Connor’s favorite bar of the trip. De Garre is tucked into an alley off one of the main streets full of chocolate shops; one of those streets where your eyes can’t help but jump from one tempting chocolate display to the next, glazing over whatever may fall between.

De Garre. Thanks for the cheese!!

Dinner was outside at a little cafe, followed by a brief visit to ‘t Poatersgat cellar bar, which means Monk Hole. ‘t Poatersgat was cute, mostly because of its teeny door half submerged below ground, but I preferred Le Trappiste Bruges. Better service and beer presentation.

And that’s that! The trip back to England on Monday morning was uneventful, and we stopped in Dover to see the cliffs and break up the drive. I’ll post cliff pics next week! Happy Fri-yay peeps!

2 Days in Bruges

Budapest Trip Report: 3 Day City Break

Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion

Our first adventure to Eastern Europe! We landed in Budapest, Hungary on Thursday, April 14 just before midnight and spent the next 3 days exploring Buda, Pest, and Óbuda, the three cities that united to form Budapest, capital of Hungary. Budapest has quite the list of World Heritage Sites and I think we actually made it to all of them, including riding the second-oldest metro line in the world.

We’re officially hooked on the free walking tours offered in many major European cities. They’re a great way to orient yourself in a new city and learn about your destination from a local. And, it’s a fabulous opportunity to snag some recommendations for off-the-beaten-track places. First thing Friday morning we joined one of Budapest’s walking tours which hit up most of the main landmarks and gave us an overview of the historical significance of each site. We also heard a bit about the impact of Communism in Budapest. Before this trip, I hadn’t realized that Hungary was fighting for independence through 1989.

Matthias Church
Matthias Church (gorgeous roof tiles!!)
In Buda’s Castle District, looking out over the Danube and Parliament on the Pest side
Fisherman’s Bastion
Buda Castle
Flowering Trees in Buda
Flowering trees everywhere – beautiful, but they sent my allergies into attack mode
View of the Castle District
Buda Castle and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Our first impression of the city was that certain areas were grittier than many of the polished places we’ve recently visited, thanks in part to the not so distant painful past. Bullet holes in buildings were common. I’m pretty sure our Airbnb in the Jewish District was at the center of some kind of traumatic siege. But, everything was much more affordable than Western Europe. 4 nights in this place cost similar to what we’ve paid for a single night in London. Warm weather + cheap beer/food/accommodation + gritty = college student/bachelor party/hipster heaven.

Narrow pedestrian only streets packed with bars, party people, and lots of neon and twinkling lights

“Ruin bars” in the Jewish District are popular among the 20-something set but we didn’t end up visiting any… even walking by them is a bit overwhelming. The 7th district of Budapest was left empty and abandoned in the 40s after thousands of its Jewish inhabitants were deported during WWII. The area fell into serious disarray and has only recently started to revitalize, thanks in part to the hipster/bohemian ruin bars that started popping up in abandoned buildings in the 90s. They started as laid-back “take back our city” drinking dens and have since grown into a major tourist attraction. The bars are giant and maze-like, many outdoor, packed with people. Furnished with mismatched, discarded furniture and decorated with all sorts of abandoned items from inflatable clowns to old cars to someone’s paper mache rabbit collection, these places embody the resourcefulness, grit, and party heart of Budapest.

Also, the people walking into these bars look like CHILDREN due to the very low drinking age in Europe.

We were more interested in trying Hungarian wine and so one night we went to a great wine bar that I would wholeheartedly recommend called Doblo. I tried a Tokaji white wine and Connor had a Cabernet Franc, both recommended by the staff, and both very good. Hungarian food isn’t much to speak of, but we did have a fantastic dinner at a modern Hungarian restaurant called Mak. Great spot if you want a nicer dinner out.

One completely new experience was visiting a thermal bath. There are a lot of these in Budapest, each with its own history and set of rules, and we decided to try the Szechenyi Baths since someone recommended it and they allow women and men in the pools at the same time. We hopped on the historical M1 metro which was so cute, though definitely old and loud, and crossed our fingers that the baths wouldn’t be a super weird experience.

 
It ended up being fine – Connor wore gym shorts and no one approached him brandishing the rule book and waving a loin cloth in his face so we chalked it up as a success.

The inside is massive and we had no idea what we were doing. The signs were all in Hungarian and the only thing we could decipher were the signs posting the temperature of each pool (in Celsius. I hate Celsius. You can’t do the conversion in your head so it just seems mean). They each have different mineral levels, and we swam in 5 or so of the pools, and they were definitely mineral-y but I didn’t come out cured of anything so I’m not so sure about that part of the experience. We tried the sauna and it was so hot my eyeballs started shriveling as soon as we shut the door.

This particular bath venue turns into a giant party with questionable activities in the evening, fueled by the on site bars and presumably the goodies in people’s backpacks. We had our own picnic up on a balcony that was labeled VIP (could this really have been the only English sign??). The weirdest thing about the whole place was that the outdoor pools were extremely warm and I felt like I couldn’t stay in for very long. Especially with the sun out. But it was very fun and relaxing and the Art Deco building was beautiful, and I would definitely do it again. Sorry, no pics of the inside since we locked up our belongings.

The area around the baths had quite a bit to see so we visited City Park, Heroes Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, and wrapped up the afternoon by walking down the UNESCO listed street Andrássy út. The House of Terror is located on Andrássy and while we didn’t go inside, we stopped to read some of the signs posted on the street. The building was headquarters for the Nazis and then the Russians and used to imprison, torture, and interrogate victims. Today the building is a museum and a memorial to victims.

Vajdahunyad Castle
Market at Vajdahunyad Castle
Installation in Heroes’ Square
Millennium Monument in Heroes’ Square
Section of the Berlin Wall outside the House of Terror
House of Terror Museum

Our final day we went to mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica then walked to Margaret Island. There was a half-marathon that morning in the area. (How fun would it be to do a race in a foreign city? I bet it’s a great way to see a new place.) The island was an important religious center back in the Middle Ages and today it’s mainly a getaway from bustling city life. A Dominican church and convent are now in ruins and after paying a quick visit we had a picnic on the river bank.

Ruins on Margaret Island
Ruins on Margaret Island
Picnicing on Margaret Island
View of Pest from Margaret Island

Budapest has commuter boats that zigzag up and down the Danube so instead of walking all the way back to the center of Pest we hopped on one of these. They’re much cheaper than the boat tours and dinner cruises that are all over the place, and it was really fun seeing the city from the water. We actually ended up with a free ride because the guy working on the boat looked at me blankly, like I wasn’t even there, when I asked about buying tickets.

Margaret Bridge
Boating down the Danube! View of Margaret Bridge and Buda

Parliament
Parliament building. Modeled after London’s Parliament

We took the boat all the way south to a stop near Gellert Hill in Buda and then climbed the hill. At the top is the Freedom Statue, considered a symbol of the city, and old army barracks. The view was magnificent and worth the climb.

Liberty Statue on Gellért Hill
The Freedom Statue
View of Budapest from Gellert Hill

General Observances:

  • Budapest is gorgeous and the least crowded place we’ve visited. If you can avoid the party scene, it’s a fun trip. You just have to look a little harder for the gems.
  • There are markets everywhere and they seem to have the exact same booths at each market. Paprika is basically the same price everywhere.
  • Hungarian street food isn’t that bad.
  • I regret not trying Pálinka, a fruit brandy famous in the area that I’m sure I would have hated.
  • Bring earplugs if you are staying in the Jewish District. We did and it saved us.
  • Most people under 40 speak English, but if you learn hello and thank you Hungarians will be so so thrilled. A little effort goes a long way.
  • Their currency is the Florint and while Euros are accepted most places, it’s better to use the local currency.
  • Sitting on the Danube at night looking at the lights is gorgeous.
  • My new favorite beverage is a Borsodi Friss Bodza. Only 1.5% ABV and comes in a variety of flavors including elderflower, grapefruit, lemon, orange… I only tried the first two and they were amazing.
  • Free entertainment tip: sit on the Danube where the Viking River Cruises park and watch their dinner entertainment. We watched some local dancers jump and twirl in unison and it was hilarious. Especially without hearing the music.
St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica. You can see his mummified right hand inside the church, if that’s your thing
Budapest Trip Report: 3 Day City Break

5 Days in Barcelona

Two days before we left for Barcelona we discovered that our flight home was on Wednesday, not Tuesday as we had originally thought. Cue ridiculous surge of excitement! A bonus day! With 5 whole days at our disposal we decided to try to have a more relaxing trip and not cram in a million museums. I was fine with this since I could get my art fix by walking around and looking at architecture. I did hope to see the Picasso Museum, but if you don’t leave something for next time, there will never be a next time. Amiright?

I’ll be as brief as I can here, but 5 days in a FABULOUS city is a lot of material, especially at the pace we’ve set for ourselves. PS: if anyone has a Mac version of Photoshop they want to give me, I can shorten these posts up by doing some sizing/combining work on all the images. Just want to throw that out there.

We arrived late on Thursday, and had great luck catching the last train out of the airport into the city. This time I followed the signs instead of running like a fool in all the wrong directions. Barcelona’s public transport system is really great and we used it all week. Very affordable, too, if you buy the T-10 ticket from any of the machines in any of the metro stations. It’s a 10-ride that can be used by multiple people, priced under 10 euro.

Day 1: Friday was Good Friday and we had 9am tickets to Sagrada Familia, so we were up early and over to the basilica before the crowds. Definitely a good choice. By the time we left it was crawling with people and not as peaceful as when we arrived. Entry tickets are rather expensive, but after you’re inside you don’t care about that anymore. Also, the ticket sales are helping fund the construction of the basilica, and the city is very open about this being a community effort. Gaudi, the famous architect who died in 1926, ran out of money for the project so he went door to door in Barcelona begging for contributions. Usually I’m averse to church entrance fees, but paying to help build a church? I can get behind that. Especially if it’s as awesome as this one. Connor and I agreed this is one of the most stunning buildings we’ve ever seen. The detail is incredible and varied. One facade looks like a drippy sandcastle. Another is polished and bone-like. The inside is built to resemble a forest and the ceiling looks like palm fronds. All the light inside is natural, and Gaudi took great pains to ensure the interior was neither too bright nor too dark; he described each extreme as blinding. The doors and windows are magnificent, and the colors inside change as the light shifts through the stained glass. Don’t skip Sagrada Familia if you visit Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia  Sagrada Familia The Scourging at the Pillar Sagrada Familia Sagrada Familia

We went up into one of the towers (there will be 18 but only 8 are completed at the moment) which gave us a great view over the city and an up-close look at some of the basilica details. There’s a lift to take you up into the tower, but the way down is all you – lots of spiraling stairs. I tried to SnapChat this while walking and that was stupid.

 More spiral stairs

Our tickets included an audio guide and while nice to have, it was too simple for my taste. I ended up reading about the basilica quite a bit that evening and after arriving back in England. I would recommend skipping the provided audio guide, reading before you visit, and taking along a simple printed guide to orient your time there. I’m sure there are free podcast episodes somewhere too, but I didn’t look into it.

We also visited the crypt beneath the main basilica and a museum-like area that contains models, sketches, and items related to building the church. You can see into the workshops where artists and architects do their thing. I enjoyed this glimpse into artist life immensely. The crypt is accessed through a separate entrance, no tickets needed. Mass is held here until the basilica is completed.

Later, we made our way towards Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian drag into the city. We stopped at a few buildings designed by Gaudi and other Modernisme gems along the way. Modernisme architecture is really fascinating. So colorful and fun. The lines to enter these buildings were quite long, and after being inside all morning we were grateful for an excuse to skip out.

La Pedrera Casa Batlló Casa Amatller

Our goal for the evening was to catch a Good Friday procession. Holy Week in Spain, or Semana Santa, is full of festivities and I was so looking forward to this. Very different from anything back home. We had a rough idea of where processions were leaving from, but no idea what route they took and where we should go to see this happening. Then it started raining and I was miserable without a rain coat. We took shelter in the closest open building, the Cathedral, and went through the Holy Door. At this point it was around 6pm and we were exhausted from having only 5 or 6 hours of sleep the night before, so we decided to skip the parade situation. I was disappointed, but also had no idea where to go. I was envisioning some spectacle similar to Dia de los Muertos that would be tough to miss, but that was not the case.

Pictures of the Cathedral, Placa Reial, and an initial wander through Barri Gotic are up on Flickr. I am backing up my photos there and have little narrative comments on some of the pictures so I don’t forget anything. Everything is in chronological order. You’re welcome to have a browse if you like more pictures than words.

Day 2: Saturday was a long, busy, and very fun day. We started at Parc Ciutadella, built in the 1800s and the only green space in the city for many years. Fountains, little boating lakes, museums, walking paths, gardens, a zoo… lots to see. We packed a lunch and wandered for awhile.

Barcelona Fountain in Ciutadella Park

That afternoon we took a break at a restaurant outside Santa Maria del Mar, a 14th century Gothic church in the Ribera district. We checked out the church once it opened again in the late afternoon and explored the El Born area for awhile. Santa Maria del Mar is so unlike Sagrada Familia and gorgeous in a totally different way. Just massive, very Gothic, beautiful windows, but no superfluous detail.

In my Top 10 Most Beautiful Churches list Stained Glass in Santa Maria del Mar the beautiful Passeig del Born

Next we went to Mercado de la Boqueria, the huge, popular, main market off Las Ramblas, and very very crowded. We picked up some olives to snack on (soooo delicious!!) and I wanted to buy something from everyone. Spanish sausage, olives, tapas, wine, fruit, FISH, so much fish. The only thing stopping me was the crowds, honestly. Also the image of raw fish in my purse.

Then we went to the water!! Sunshine!!! We had our first successful barter experience of the trip when Connor decided he wanted sunglasses from one of the sidewalk dudes. He mimed that he needed some extra large glasses, so they would fit his head. (“Cabeza grande,” I offered. Their Spanish was worse than ours.) Not the most successful conversation. We moved on and at the next sunglasses dude, we offered half what the first guy was charging and Connor walked away with some slick new shades.

Made it to the beach! Impressive sandcastles! There's fire on the top!

Barcelona has great shopping… many small places selling handmade, really unique, quality items. I’m not exactly a shopper, but I had quite the list of places that I wouldn’t mind popping into if we happened by, including an ancient candle shop, La Manual Alpargatera (traditional espadrilles), and a beautiful shop selling Spanish masks made on site. The masks were disappointingly far outside my price range, but the espadrilles were not! You pick a number, tell them your size and color when your number is called, and off you go. While I waited I watched a lady stitching up a new pair in the roped-off workshop.

Tada! Legendary La Manual Alpargatera!

Later on, we had tapas and awesome Spanish wine at Zona d’Ombra (very very good! one of the best places for local wine in the city), then we went to a flamenco show at Los Tarantos in Placa Reial. Shows were only 30 minutes and more affordable than the fancy theatres. While it caters to tourists, it’s definitely a good option if you want espadrilles AND flamenco but don’t want to devote your whole evening to dinner and a show. Such a fun way to experience this piece of Spanish culture!

Goodies at Zona d'Ombra Flamenco!

Day 3: Sunday we checked out Montjuic, a hilly area south of the city where the Catalonian history museum, Font Magica, and Montjuic Castle are located. There are great walking and biking trails, beautiful gardens, some restaurants and cafes, and quite a bit we didn’t have time to see. The fountains were beautiful and we had another picnic in one of the gardens. The Volta Catalunya cycling race took place in Montjuic that day and we watched and cheered for the cyclists for awhile. I’ve never seen a live bike race and it was very exciting!

Despite my weak protestations, we took the funicular down the hill because we were tired. It’s just a stupid gondola and way too expensive. 10 euro or something each for a 5 minute gondola ride. Skip this for sure.

Barcelona  Racers! Montjuïc Castle

We walked from Montjuic back towards the beach for an hour’s rest, and then went to Easter mass at the cathedral. It wasn’t swimming weather by any means, but sitting on the sand and staring at the water was so refreshing and glorious. Evidently we weren’t the only people to flee gloomy Britain during the Easter holiday. We saw many British families sleeping on the beach, kiddos playing in the water even though it was freezing, and all of us had sunburns by the end of the long weekend.

Barceloneta BeachEaster Mass at the Cathedral

Day 4: Monday was wine tour day! Catalonia produces the vast majority of the world’s cava (sparkling wine, fermented in the bottle like champagne) and Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is the region just outside Barcelona that churns out more cava than anywhere else. Neither Connor nor I had ever visited a vineyard and we had a great time on this excursion. Freixenet is the major producer in the area, and they have a combined train ticket/winery tour deal that is really great value. At the train station, you buy a “Freixetren” ticket and off you go. Tours need to be reserved via email in advance but you buy the combined ticket in person at the train station on the day of. (Ignore my usage of vineyard/winery/producer/whatever. I realize they are all different and no, I don’t really care.)

As it happens, champagne and cava are made exactly the same way, and all the rules apply about only being allowed to label yourself as cava/champagne if you are using the specific grapes that grow in that specific region. After fermentation, the wine is bottled and a secondary fermentation takes place in order to carbonate the wine (like beer! who knew?!) and eventually they remove the sediment by reopening the bottles. Crazy! There’s a whole process of rotating and tipping the bottles upside down over the course of months to get all the sediment to settle in the right place, and then they freeze the neck of the bottle (the reason for the bottle’s unique shape), pop open the cork, shoot out the ice cube with the sediment trapped inside, and then re-cork the bottle. Sorry if you already knew this. I did not. Super fascinating, and the tasting at the end was delicious.

Freixenet Cava Tour Freixenet Cava Tour Freixenet Cava Tour

Freixenet has something like 15-20km of tunnels, and 3 or 4 different floors or levels all underground. It was a total maze and so gigantic. Our tour guide had to go find a few other girls who had wandered off. Very easy to get lost.

We decided to turn the day into tasting day, so we also visited Mikkeller Bar Barcelona and tried some of the famous Danish gypsy brewer’s incredible beers. This was way out of our way and totally worth it. We also visited BlackLab Brewpub back down in Barceloneta area near the water. Also a great place with outdoor seating. We went out for tapas that evening to hold us over until a later dinner, and we walked through Parc Ciutedella again and watched the sunset. DISCLAIMER: Tasting your way around breweries in Europe is a lot easier than in the States. Everyone offers pints and half pints, and many breweries offer 1/3 pints. Some offer flights of even smaller glasses. The majority of places we’ve been to simply cut the price of a pint in half or thirds, so you don’t lose out by buying the smaller glass, either. So there you have it. We were by no means drunk the whole time. I wish places back home would offer 1/3 pints. Perfect for someone like me.

Day 5: By Tuesday we had walked quite a bit and we just wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather. A market sets up not far from the Barceloneta beach so we planned to buy some food there and spend a few hours relaxing near the water. First we stopped to check out the Hospital de la Santa Creu which was pretty close to our Airbnb – a bit outside the main part of the city. Beautiful Modernisme building! We walked by Sagrada Familia again for a last look, braved the crowds on Las Ramblas, and made it to the water.

A final look at Sagrada Familia

One thing about Barceloneta beach: every minute, no exaggeration, someone walks by you trying to sell something. Under normal circumstances, this would drive me up the wall, but I think traveling is teaching me to be more patient and less irritated in certain situations. Also, I wanted one of the beach blankets. I had been eyeing them all week. The first day at the beach, I only had 3 euro in coin. You can’t barter and then hand them a 20 and ask for change. Not worth the trouble. We tried various ways to barter down to 3 euro, and after an hour we knew it wasn’t going to happen. The next day we tried again. Only this time, all the guys recognized us as the couple who only had 3 euro. They started avoiding us. A few had a sense of humor and kept coming back. After yelling “solo tengo tres euro” countless times I realized that very few of them actually knew Spanish. The ones who did weren’t that desperate to part with their wares.

We tried again the next day, and Connor held up 3 fingers to the first guy who approached us and said “tres” and the man thought we wanted 3 blankets. He was thrilled. When he realized solo tengo tres euro, he laughed in our faces. “Where are you from?” “Chicago.” “I see. I’m from Pakistan. Chicago must be very poor country.” Wah Wah.

He came back a few times but I just wasn’t going to pay 20 euro for one of those things. We eventually settled on 10, but I sort of feel bad… he has to make his money somehow. Also, I was so focused on the fun of bartering that I ended up buying a white beach blanket. What is wrong with me? What am I going to do with a white beach blanket? Connor thinks we’re going to have all these lovely picnics on the lovely new blanket that will cease to be lovely the first time it hits the slug infested grass. Ugh.

Other things we could have purchased: mojitos of a very vivid green not found in nature, tattoos, massages, beer… The people selling drinks were the worst. They were walking around with half empty bottles of booze that were all different shades of brown that they would mix into the unusual green mojitos. They do that trick where they somehow manage to force one in your hand.

Him: Five
Me: Five what? No, I don’t want this.
Him: OK special price. Four.
Me: No.
Him: OK special price for you. Two for eight.
Me: That’s the same as four. I don’t want one.
Him: OK fine. Two for seven.
Me: NO!
Him: OK fine. Special price. Only for you. Two for six.

I mean I was about to just dump out the drink or tell him I was pregnant. He was actually rather mad that I didn’t want his drink.

Another fun beach story: two super jacked bro-like dudes were sitting behind us all super handsy with each other, and really enjoying having their shirts off at the beach. I positioned Connor so he wouldn’t have his beach time ruined by PDA, but he eventually noticed. Maybe half an hour after we arrive I hear one guy say, “So… you travel a lot for work?” Answer: “Well, I recently moved into a different role and I’m traveling more than normal, but no, not really.”

How very fascinating! They didn’t even know each other!! Pleasantries continued to be exchanged for quite some time and I was just amazed. Am I missing something? I lean more towards the Stranger Danger end of the spectrum, but apparently some people are more Stranger = Opportunity for PDA on the Very Public Beach.

So anyways. Sorry for that. After a few hours fighting off the drink guys we wandered through the Gothic Quarter again and relaxed at a cafe, checked out a few more shops and just enjoyed some favorite spots before packing up that night.

Casa Almirall

Such a fun trip! The city combines modern conveniences like great public trans and longer opening hours (two of our gripes about Italy), has all the great food and bev that you hope for on vacation, great places to hike, a waterfront, really friendly locals, fabulous markets, colorful and accessible cultural events, and many many day trips to choose from. If we make it back, we’ll add a museum or two to the itinerary and maybe a trip to Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi, or a day trip up the coast to a small town. Scooter rental! We almost did this, but sort of ran out of time to make it work. While locals speak Catalan, they know Spanish and were really friendly about switching to English when our rudimentary skills ran out. They didn’t mind letting me practice though, which I appreciated. Now it’s time to cram our brains with Budapest, and a week later, Bruges. Wish us luck!

 Port of Barcelona

5 Days in Barcelona

A Very British Birthday – Weekend in London

 

maltby street market
Maltby Street Market and the Ropewalk. Photo via the Bookatable blog.

Connor always likes to suggest that his birthday be celebrated over the course of an entire week. For once his wish is coming true. Last Friday we kicked off the celebration at BrewDog Birmingham, the quickly expanding UK brewery that we also visited in London. (Craft beer: So rare that if you order something more complicated than a lager they ask you if you want to taste it first to be sure. We’re sure. Trust.) Early Saturday morning we popped down to London to roam, eat, see a show, and check out the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Next weekend we’re heading over the Irish Sea to the motherland. Quite the birthday week!

A quick Google search for “best craft beer in London” directed me to the Bermondsey Beer Mile and nearby Maltby Street Market. Six or so craft breweries have set up shop along a mile-long stretch in Bermondsey and thanks to the growing popularity of the market, the breweries open to visitors for a few hours on Saturday afternoons. We watched a bit of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace to kill some time and then headed to Maltby Street for lunch. The market and breweries are housed along a stretch of beautiful old rail line (still in use) with huge brick arches. Each arch contains a tiny bakery, restaurant, cafe, distillery… purveyors of all things delicious. Pop-up shops and food vendors line the street outside and make up the “Ropewalk” portion of the market. See above picture.

LUNCH: I had an AMAZING goat cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary grilled cheese from The Cheese Truck, owned by a couple dudes who claim to make “melted cheese heaven” out of British cheeses. Yes yes and more yes. I almost went back to try another option off the menu. Connor had equally delicious steak with homemade chips (fries) from The Beefsteaks. This vendor specializes in “sustainably sourced, charcoal grilled, naturally reared British beef served with sauces inspired by the London steak clubs of the 17th and 18th centuries.” (I guess that’s a thing?) I’m typically in the anti-steak sauce camp; beautiful steak does not need to be contaminated with condiments (don’t yuck my yum!), but this was a totally different story and I can’t call the juicy, delicate, herby stuff a condiment.

We were having such a blast sampling all the goodies (mead, chocolate, cheese…) that I didn’t take a single picture. Those of you who follow me on SnapChat caught a glimpse, but I forgot to save the images. Rookie mistake. Follow me there @erinksd.

After lunch we met some friends at brewery #1: Anspach & Hobday. The 6 of us had a blast hopping from one brewery to the next despite the cold and lack of toilet situation. Definite need for improvement here. The whole experience was very warehouse-esque and rough around the edges, since this is where all the beer is actually brewed. Super cool.

anspach&hobday
Anspach & Hobday. Photo via thecitylane.com
Inside Anspach and Hobday
Inside Anspach & Hobday

We also visited Brew By Numbers and UBREW, but didn’t make it to all 6 stops for obvious reasons.

We eventually headed north to the West End and checked into our Hell Hole Hostel from Airbnb. You guys. OMG it was so so SO bad. (Mom you would die.) I’m not going into detail because the weekend was incredibly fun and this HHH is not about to ruin it for me. Never again will I try to find someplace to stay just because it’s within walking distance of our activity. There is nothing wrong with taking the Tube. Also, I don’t recommend staying in SOHO/West End unless you splurge on a nice hotel. Total carnage party central = loud and sticky streets.

We quickly left HHH, had dinner, and went to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. If anyone wants to come visit and see Phantom of the Opera with me 10 more times I’m totally down!!! Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production opened at this theatre in 1986 and eventually spread to theatres all over the world. It was incredible to see this show in it’s original location with the original set.

Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre London
Stage before the show
Chandelier for Phantom of the Opera
The Chandelier!

We bought the cheaper restricted view seats and didn’t miss a thing. The music was so beautiful and moving… I definitely cried and people were sobbing all around us. Two girls got up and left because they couldn’t lock it up. Pretty funny in hindsight, but the music was just incredible. Not even the HHH could ruin our mood. Seriously, if we had done anything other than see an incredible, cloud-9 show before returning to that dump, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

Side note: ethically speaking, what do I do about the review for HHH? On the one hand, it was a hell hole!!!! On the other, I kind of knew it would be. The Airbnb listing clearly showed it as a budget/hostel type place. The reviews were all good, but I kind of knew they were from students and people with no standards (sorry).

After basically zero sleep we left HHH around 10am and walked around Westminster, enjoyed the gardens and massive government buildings, had a fabulous burger lunch at Byrons Hamburgers in Covent Garden, and caught a late afternoon train back to Birmingham.

National Liberal Club in Whitehall
The National Liberal Club

PS: This building was really beautiful. It’s an old gentleman’s club around the corner from 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence. Notable members included Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, G.K. Chesterton, and George Bernard Shaw. The club IS open to women.

Lessons from the weekend:

  • Eat all the market food, especially if there are long lines. You will be sick later. It is worth it.
  • HHH: some standards exist for a reason. Embrace them.
  • Buy restricted view theatre seats and use the money saved on classier lodgings.
  • Or, see a matinee and take a train back to Birmingham to sleep.
  • Do not eat Chinese food at midnight.
  • London is very expensive.
  • I want to see Phantom of the Opera 10 more times.
A Very British Birthday – Weekend in London

Two Days in London: Art and Markets

This is a rare moment for me: I’m admitting defeat. I ended my afternoon early and I’m in the hotel room bed, chilled to the bone. Oh, and my left pinky toe sliced open his brother, which is fun. Did you know that band-aids (is there a hyphen?) are called “plasters” over here? Well now you know. You’re welcome.

Anyways. We are in London until tomorrow morning; Connor is in the middle of busy-season and has a client in the city. I tagged along because, free hotel. Duh. I spent the entire day in the National Gallery yesterday, which was definitely not the plan. But every time I turned the corner there was another hotshot flaunting his* talent in new and unfamiliar (to me) ways. For example, there was a magnificent painting of two lively crabs by Van Gogh. They also have his Sunflowers piece, which is the definition of butt.  
What is even happening here? Sunflowers are decidedly not brown. Are they dying? The crabs are way better.

*Yes, ladies, we are severely underrepresented in the masterpiece art world. 

The National Gallery Has a great section of impressionists and post-impressionists, always my favorite. This part of the collection seemed smaller than its counterpart at the Art Institute of Chicago, but it was so fun seeing a new set of work by artists that I really love. I often think that I could look at this stuff all day, and since the weather was crappy,  and I was alone, that’s exactly what I did. And I bought a print by Degas, one of my favorite dudes, from the gift shop. You can see a picture on my Instagram.

Connor and I did happy hour at BrewDog, a must-try brewery if you’re in the UK. It tasted like home!! We ended Dry January early, sorry fellow abstainers. Dinner was at Bull in a China Shop, mostly because of its name and proximity to BrewDog. Food was excellent (quinoa salad and ribs). The place was weird though… We thought it was a pub, but it was actually a high-end Japanese whiskey bar. Oops.

After breakfast this morning I walked down to the Thames to enjoy the sunshine while I waited for all of the shops to open. Visiting London in January mid-week is fabulous. There are no crowds, no lines. You might even get by without a dinner reservation. If it rains there are plenty of things to do inside, and many of the main attractions are free. If the sun is out like today, it could be in the 50s in the sun! The wind will ruin you, though.

Tower Bridge

 

Tower of London

 

Tower of London

 

The Shard and HMS Belfast WWII Warship

Notice there are no people in any of these pictures! It was very peaceful.

I checked out Leadenhall Market a bit later, where a few scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. There’s supposed to be great food in this area but it was too early for lunch, so I continued on to Spitalfields Market.

Spitalfields Market

 

Leadenhall Market

I finally bought myself a black wool hat at Spitalfields. I’d been eyeing all these hat shops since we moved here and I’m very excited to jump on this British bandwagon. I’ve always had a thing for hats, and I’ve had some terrible ones in my day (pink velvety cowboy hat anyone?) The jury’s still out on this new addition. I may or may not look like Carmen Sandiego. Connor will tell me. At least it’s black, the right size, and I know the whole history of the classic style from the Chatty Kathy Salesman. He was wearing a cream suit with tails and a matching top hat. Obviously I trust his judgment.

I shopped around Spitafields – Thursday is antique day – and bough some lunch from one of the many food trucks. There’s a whole section of the market devoted to independent artists, so fun!!! Later in the afternoon I tried to covertly snap some shots of the ubiquitous, colorful street art in Shoreditch. I discovered (a bit too late for this trip) that there are guided street art tours in this neighborhood. I’d love to do this on a future London outing! The only street artist I can be counted on to recognize is Stik. Maybe some Banksy, but not always.  

werk

 

Stik!

 Up next: dinner. I’m still in a food coma from my falafel so not sure what we’ll do.
Disclaimer: I’m having issues formatting this post the way I would like since I’m on my phone, so when I push “post” in two seconds I have no idea what this is going to look like. 

Two Days in London: Art and Markets

A Hot Second in Milan

I completely forgot to mention that we also visited Milan. Direct flights back to Birmingham were much cheaper out of Milan than Rome, so we hopped a train from Florence and used Milan’s underground transit to head into the city for a couple hours. Trenitalia trains link all the major cities in Italy and it was such a great option for us. Much quicker than driving, and definitely more relaxing. We packed a lunch and a small bottle of vino and sat in the piazza near the Duomo. It was a miracle we didn’t get pooped on by a pigeon.

DSC_0580.jpg

I restrained myself and didn’t kick any of the pigeons. Don’t act all shocked – I know you city dwellers have experienced that urge.

Milan’s Christmas market was still in full swing, and we feasted on cheese samples, arancini, gigantic cannoli, and calzone type sandwiches. (Second lunch is the best meal of the day). The cannoli were about 5 times the size you would expect, and even more delicious. I almost went back for a second, but decided I’d OD’d on enough Italian desserts for one week.

We didn’t make it into any of the shopping areas (probably a good thing) or venture very far from the Duomo since we had limited time. But it was still worth the detour to check out another city!

A Hot Second in Milan