Pretty tiles and Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

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Each summer, there seems to be a new “it” place to visit, when everyone you follow on social media seems to be heading to the same destination. This year, Lisbon is apparently the place to be and since my boyfriend is Portuguese, I suggested a road trip to Portugal, starting in the capital city that I’d heard so many things about.

I always say that the best way to explore any city is through walking. Instead of taking the metro or bus from one tourist spot to another, the best experiences I have is what I stumble across in between. Lisbon is known for its pretty tiled and colourful houses, alongside its rustic tramway system and so strolling through Bairro Alto is sure to have you snapping every five minutes. A word of warning though, the hilly streets of Lisbon are not for the faint hearted; be sure to wear a good pair of trainers to get you through the day without painful blisters!

If you’re looking for beautiful viewpoints, you’ll be really spoilt for choice; from visiting the Miradouro de Santa Catarina to hiking up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the Tage river, the Ponte 25 de Abril and in the distance, the Cristo Rei statue on the opposite side of the river bank, which was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Even strolling along the river bank towards Comércio Square you’ll be treated to gorgeous views, a handful of trendy apéro spots and cute market stalls.

If you prefer to admire the skyline with a sunset backdrop, head to Park bar. This stylish bar is a car park rooftop, so getting there may be confusing to those not in-the-know. Take the lift up to the last level of the car park and go to the next level on foot; follow the music and you’ll be in the right place. Be sure to arrive early to secure a spot as particularly on weekends, this place is extremely popular.

Speaking of nightlife, we tried so many delicious meals at restaurants in Lisbon. It is a very cosmopolitan city, so there is so much on offer. However, I managed to narrow it down and pinpoint my favourite spots in the capital, that I’d recommend to try.

Top 5 restaurants in Lisbon

  • Time Out Market: A selection of delicious food is available in this classy food court – there’s something for anyone and everyone!
  • Palácio Chiado: Previously a palace, this spot presents some gorgeous architecture as well as absolutely delicious food, particularly their Bacalhau à Bras.
  • Oficina do Duque: A cute place hidden amongst Lisbon’s back streets, with a mix of amazing dishes – I loved their recommended lamb, couscous and mint sorbet main.
  • O Chiado: A typical Portuguese restaurant with grilled meat and fish for a very inexpensive price!
  • Bairro do Avillez: Several different-themed menus await you in this space run by José Avillez, a well-known Portuguese chef, who we even spotted inside.

Besides exploring the streets and culinary delights of Lisbon, there are some fantastic day trips on offer, just a short train ride away. You absolutely must visit Belém; a mere 10 minute train ride from the Cais do Sodré train station, if only to taste their world famous custard-filled tarts in Pastéis de Belém. If you fancy heading further afield, Sintra is absolutely gorgeous. We decided to take a car up the hill to the Palace of Sintra, and hike back down which turned out to be a very smart choice, as even when you arrive into the park, you still have to hike up to the palace itself. The colourful walls and preserved interior decoration is incredible; you’ll feel like you’re visiting a fairytale castle.

With so much to see, do (and eat!) it’s easy to see why Lisbon has quickly becoming the “it” spot amongst the social media crowd. It feels different from other bustling, capital cities; perhaps its the sunshine, the quaint, pretty buildings or the friendliness of the locals. Whatever the magic formula, my first venture to Portugal (and into my amateur attempts to say obrigado with a half-decent accent) was an unforgettable trip, that will surely have me returning here soon.

Another year older, another year wiser

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What a wonderful weekend of surprises! I was well and truly spoilt rotten by my friends, family and boyfriend this weekend as I officially entered my “late” twenties, with my 26th birthday.

As I’ve grown older, expectations for my birthday celebrations are not as high as they once were. This year marked 10 years since my high school prom, so, beginning to feel old, my expectations for birthday celebrations have dropped to a well-written birthday card message and some flowers from my closest friends and family. This year, not only did I get this treatment, but so much more as well.

Being at work on the Friday, the day was no different from any other, except the fact that I’d brought a batch of cookies for my colleagues to celebrate. Of course, everyone wished me a happy birthday throughout the day, and I was very content with this. However, just before I was due to leave, my colleagues surprised me with flowers, some macarons and a gel-manicure set (they know me so well!) and a card signed by everybody. This took me completely off guard; having only worked here for just over 2 months I was not expecting this at all, so it was lovely to receive these gifts and such kind words.

The surprises were due to continue, as my boyfriend had planned to take me out to Guilo Guilo, a fantastic Japanese-French fusion restaurant in the 18th arrondissement. Seated around the kitchen, we had front-row seats to see the renowned chef prepare the set-menu dishes. We were treated to a gorgeous 8 course menu, with well-composed, tasty and sometimes unheard of, exotic ingredients.

After such a delicious treat, I was not expecting the scene when I walked through our apartment door. I was greeted with the surprise of our dining room table topped with flowers, champagne, chocolate cake, a jewellery box containing white gold and topaz earrings as well as a beautiful card and book about hidden Paris spots. My boyfriend had already bought me a handbag for my birthday that I’d helped pick out, so he had really spoilt me (too much in fact!) but it was so lovely seeing the time and effort he’d taken to plan out each part of this evening, truly making me feel like a princess.

On Saturday night, as is my birthday tradition in Paris, my girlfriends and I took a trip to Pasdeloup in the 11th arrondissement, seated as always at the table by the window. The chef has recently changed, so we were sceptical if it would still be up to the same standards, but each plate we tried was equally as delicious as before – in particular their octopus dish served with fettuccini and courgettes was amazing. After another round of being spoilt with gifts from the girls, we finished the evening by meeting the boyfriends at a new cocktail place nearby – Bar Bisou. The concept is something I hadn’t seen before. There are no menus to choose your poison of choice; instead you tell the barmaid how you like your cocktails – for me something rum-based, fresh and fruity – and they will whip up a drink to suit your tastes.

However delightful this weekend was, being truly treated like a princess, it is strange to think back, as I do with each passing birthday, to this time last year. I had been through, and was still going through, a particularly rough year back then – after a year of digestive health issues, losing 10kg in a couple of months and numerous hospital exams and tests, the doctors were still perplexed, and I was feeling pretty down at the prospect of turning 25.

A mere few months later, I started a treatment and my life literally turned around – I felt confident and happy again, taking pleasure in small tasks and enjoying feeling easy enough to go out and see my friends. I met my boyfriend soon after, we moved in together and earlier this year, I found a new job after having been made redundant; my life today could not be more different than a year ago.

So now, when people ask me, as they have done in previous weeks “How do you feel about turning 26? Are you dreading it?” I’ve quite honestly answered that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I am so much happier and grateful for even the smallest things in life, that I used to take for granted. Although it was lovely to have all of these surprises from my family, friends and boyfriend, it is an even better feeling to be surrounded by the people who got me through these tough times and who I know will continue to be there for me, whatever the future may hold.

Perfecting my inner domestic goddess

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After having my wisdom teeth taken out a couple of weeks ago, and thus being subjected to a diet or nothing but smoothies and cold mashed potatoes, it is only apt that my next Instagram posts were centred around home cooking. Following a week of pain and feeling physically weak, I decided to whip up my (now famous) brunch spread and a couple of batches of cookies, to satisfy my cravings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than going out for brunch in Paris, sitting on a terrace with my friends – the choice is so vast and no two brunch spots have the same offering. However, here lies in the issue. Having experienced so many delicious brunch offerings, I have concocted in my head the “ideal” brunch, borrowing brunch parts from the various places I have visited over the years. Yet, it doesn’t seem to exist in reality! I’ve been very close to finding this ideal, but then one ingredient or one detail doesn’t match up, such as fried eggs instead of my preferred poached eggs, and my ideal brunch again seems like a lost cause.

For this reason, I decided to cook up my very first homemade brunch spread a couple of weeks ago, pre-wisdom tooth surgery. After a few tweaks I seem to have achieved almost perfection (at least in my better half’s eyes).

I bought a couple of silicone egg poachers on Amazon and I strongly recommend this for anyone (like myself) who dreams of poached eggs, without the struggle of the traditional method. I cook for between 3 and a half to 4 minutes for the perfect runny yolk. I buy my bacon and baked beans from Marks & Spencers, as the versions sold in your everyday supermarket is probably the one thing the French can’t get right; seriously, try them at your own peril. I finish off my brunch with some oven chips and a ripe avocado spread over a toasted baguette slice. While my brunch selection may seem a bizarre combination to the naked eye, it is delicious! My homemade brunch brings together the best ingredients from a variety of breakfasts – the traditional English, continental French and a touch of the Instagram staple breakfasts.

Although I much prefer savoury food, I also have a sweet tooth, especially for cookies, as my boyfriend knows all too well. So, this Sunday we decided to have a go at our own, inventing our own recipe, taking inspiration from various other cookie recipes we’d found online. We didn’t have a pair of scales so went on sight and estimating alone, but despite this it was a pretty solid attempt! Here is what we did:

  • Begin by mixing together 100g of golden castor sugar with 100g of brown sugar and 100g of salted butter
  • Melt 100g of milk chocolate, pouring half of this into the mix, along with 1 egg, 200g plain flour and a tablespoon of vanilla extract. If the mix looks a bit dry, add a bit of water into the mix to have a gooey consistency
  • Break up a mix of dark chocolate and milk chocolate (150g total) into small chunks and add to the mix, along with a pinch of salt
  • Scoop balls of the cookie dough onto a baking tray and cook at 200C in a fan oven for between 8 minutes for a soft batch, or 12 minutes for a crunchy finish
  • Once the cookies are cool enough to lift, drizzle the remainder of the melted chocolate on top – my chocolate had hardened up a bit at this point, so it wasn’t exactly perfect but I’ll know for the next time

And finally, enjoy! I accidentally made one soft and one crunchy batch, but it was actually a good thing. My boyfriend preferred the harder cookies (he ate 3 on the trot) while I love a soft-centred cookie. So it was win, win!

What are your homemade cooking or baking comforts? I’m always looking for new recipes to try out!

Tapas, Siesta, Repeat: Weekend in Madrid

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I’ve been rushed off my feet since starting my new job a few weeks ago, so I’ve been absent on keeping up with my blog posts…again. However, I’ve had an excuse to write again following our latest trip away – this time Madrid was our destination of choice. The month of May in France is peppered with bank holidays and luckily for us, this year they have mostly fallen on Mondays, making it the perfect excuse to get away.

First thing’s first, while French food can never be replaced in my heart, the food we had in Madrid was incredible. My hardest decision on a daily basis is choosing what to eat, so tapas is ideal – why choose when you can have a small taste of everything? Following my boyfriend’s colleague’s advice (who lives in Madrid) we tried many great places, my favourite of which was Juana la Loca, in La Latina district. They specialise in truffle dishes; their black truffle seabass was the most amazing tapas I had during my trip and their famous tortilla de patatas was also divine. Tying for a close second was Mercado de la Reina in the Gran Vía area, which offers an amazing value-for-money set menu (with the best-seasoned steak I’d ever tasted) and the slightly-more expensive, Laredo in El Retiro district with glammed-up and delicious tapas combinations.

Between meals we spent the remainder of our time working up an appetite by seeing the sights. Madrid is a very “walkable” city; due to the concentration of the city centre, everything is within walking distance. We stayed at the NH Nacional Hotel which turned out to be a stroke of good luck, being only a short walk away from the centre, whilst overlooking the greenery of El Retiro park. We spent our first afternoon lazily exploring the park, lying in the sun, sitting by the lake and even watching a school of dancers practice their routines on the bandstand.

The tranquillity of this spot couldn’t be further away than the Plaza Mayor and surrounding areas, which bustles with activity and tourists. After a quick peek at the Mercado de San Miguel, we headed to the Parque del Oeste to check out the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod. As we were meandering back down the hill, we had a great view over the city. Yet it wasn’t until that evening that we saw the most splendid view of Madrid. We headed to Círculos de Bellas Artes for rooftop apéro drinks; the queue may look daunting, but don’t let this dishearten you, as it moves very quickly. Plus, at just 4€ entry, it is a lot cheaper than some hotel terraces nearby. The result is a gorgeous panoramic view over the Gran Vía which, as the sun is beginning to descend, makes it a really magical spot.

If breath-taking views are your thing, I recommend taking a day trip to Toledo, a mere 30 minute train ride away. My boyfriend managed to capture the perfect shot of the scenery as we strolled over the bridge. This day was the hottest yet and the town being very hilly, I was glad I had ditched the jeans in favour of a lighter outfit. Toledo is very picturesque having kept a lot of its traditional, medieval structures. We had a spot of lunch at the Mercado de San Agustín, which was a lot less crazy than the food market in Madrid. Although not as “traditional”, it is a good alternative if you’re looking to break away from the crowds, like us.

On our final day, we had just enough time to stop by the Museo El Prado to glimpse some masterpieces as well as grab some last-minute tapas. Having an extra day made all the difference, as there is so much to see and do in Madrid and we could take things at a much calmer and relaxed pace than our previous trips. We managed to tick everything on our wishlist (including an evening flamenco show) and this paired with the laidback Spanish take on life, made this feel less like a weekend getaway and more like an actual holiday break.

Swan Lake: The Dancer’s Dream

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I have always loved dancing, but as I mentioned in my bio, it’s usually when I think nobody is watching. But this wasn’t always the case. For 10 years I attended ballet, tap and modern jazz dance lessons up to three times a week. I was a regular on the stage, whether it be performing in the annual pantomime, dance school shows or competing at dance festivals. Although I gave up the dance classes once I started high school, today I still dream about having the confidence to go up on stage and perform again.

This weekend I was transported back to my childhood as me and my boyfriend decided to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. He loves classical music and so this paired with my love of dancing, this seemed like the perfect fit. We booked our tickets very last-minute and so were limited in our choice of seating. The only tickets remaining that seated us together were front and centre, only ten seats up from the stage, costing 75 euros each. We initially hesitated over the cost of course, but after reasoning this was not your everyday experience, we snapped the seats up. And we were so glad that we did.

Anastasia had been my favourite animated film as a kid (no joke, I dragged my mum to the cinema three times in the space of two weeks to watch it!) Remembering the beautiful sparkling blue dress she wore to see the Russian Ballet perform at Paris, I rapidly start mentally going through my wardrobe wondering what I was going to wear. After a little googling, I found that ballet-going attire is a little more relaxed these days, and so went for a smart casual look instead. On arrival, some people were dressed in jeans and trainers, whilst some had donned evening gowns and heels, so I felt perfectly dressed and not out of place.

It always surprises me that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was originally considered a disaster after it’s premiere in 1877, as the show was an out-of-this-world experience. So much of the music is instantly-recognisable and it was so beautifully played. I was particularly impressed by the scene when Odile performs 32 fouettés in a row – a ballet move whipping your leg around the back of your supporting leg to twirl you back to the centre position – as well as the female dancers seemingly being permanently en pointe. I only tried pointe shoes briefly before retiring from my dancing days, but it is no joke. It was easy to see why the dancers were breathing heavily on the wings, while recuperating before their next piece. I’m always admirative of dancers and the physical fitness they must hold, all the while retaining their elegance and grace.

I truly recommend Swan Lake to anyone that has the chance, ballet newbies and experts alike. We were glad to have spent a bit more money for the fantastic seats – to be able to see the orchestra and the dancers up close, examining their every move was amazing. And while I might not have had my Anastasia moment on the steps of the Opéra, this will surely be an experience I’ll never forget.

Re-visiting my roots in the homeland

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I love surprises. Whether it be picking out a special present or planning out a spontaneous trip, you can always expect me to be game. Last weekend I did just that, as we made an unexpected visit back to the UK to surprise my brother for his 18th birthday. We were heading for the end of the M62, the home of the iconic Humber Bridge, towards my hometown; Hull.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Hull, you should know that it has always been the butt of jokes in the UK. Having been once named the worst place to live in the UK, Hull natives such as myself would often find themselves poking fun at the city they called home once they left the Yorkshire region. In the same way that you complain about your siblings, but you come to their defence the second somebody else criticises them, only born-and-bred Hull-dwellers were permitted to get away with such self-deprecation. From the very moment you call Hull your home, a somewhat love-hate relationship with the city is formed.

You should know at this point that Hull was once a thriving port city, peaking in prosperity just before World War I thanks to its importance in trade and fishing businesses. Being situated on the coast, looking out onto the North Sea, Hull was ideally placed to support these growing industries. However, after catastrophic air-raid damage in World War II (Hull being the heaviest bombed city outside of London due to its docklands and factories) and, later in the 20th Century, the deterioration of the fishing trade, resulted in widespread job losses, poverty and general economic decline. Growing up, there was a feeling that Hull, was a forgotten city, its inhabitants abandoned, left to their own devices. As the Hull poet Philip Larkin once said “I like it because its so far from everywhere else. On the way to nowhere, as somebody put it. Its in the middle of the lonely country, and beyond the lonely country there is only the sea.”

Many would agree that the city’s sporting victories began to put Hull back on the national map in the mid-2000s, with Hull’s ascent to the Premier Football League in 2008, as well as the success of the city’s two Rugby League rivals in the Super League. This tied in with several renovation projects, transforming the face of the city centre, brought a breath of fresh air and renewed hope into the once run-down city.

While I had seen these renovations with my own eyes, nothing had prepared me for the surprise of Hull being named as European City of Culture 2017. As we stopped off for some lunch in town on the weekend, we passed through a newly-paved and pedestrianised Queen Victoria Square to the Weeping Window exhibition – a collection of the ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate those who lost their lives in World War I. Inspired, I looked into other City of Culture events on offer. If I get a chance to catch a flight back in the upcoming year, I’ve bookmarked a variety of events, depending on the mood:

  • If music is your thing: Radio 1’s Big Weekend is being hosted in Hull this year with the likes of Katy Perry, Little Mix and King’s of Leon set to storm the stage. The North Atlantic Flux caught my eye too as during my uni days, I was a fan of Icelandic group Sigur Rós, so this would surely not disappoint.
  • If art is your thing: Again I couldn’t decide between these two events. The first, Washed Up Car-go is set to provide hard-hitting truths about pollution and consumerism, by filling cars in an ordinary car park with beach debris. The second is the Hullywood Icons exhibition – recreating famous Hollywood scenes with people and scenery from the Hull area.
  • If eating and drinking is your thing: The Yum! Festival of Food and Drink will feature over 50 stalls celebrating Yorkshire, British and World-inspired dishes, entertainment and live music in August. What’s not to love?
  • If anything else is your thing: The possibilities are endless. From carnival to ballet performances and opera, there is so much to see. Their website is updated on a regular basis as they add more events to their line-up.

Given Hull’s history, people scoffed when the honour of City of Culture was bestowed to Hull, just a mere decade on from being named the worst place to live in the UK. However, even since my last visit home for Christmas, the city has undergone a radical facelift, with numerous renovations, installations put into place and – dare I say it – a real variety of cultural activities on offer. But these renovations and events go further than just simple aesthetics; there is a sense of rejuvenation, bringing hope and restoring pride to its inhabitants, wearing their badges (or their sports shirts) with their heads held high, shouting at the top of their lungs “We. Are. Hull.”

Living in France: An Expat’s Guidebook

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I’ve been a bit absent from my blog recently. This is in partly due to preparing to move in with my boyfriend at the end of the month. We’ve finally fixed the place up with a splash of paint, some done-up vintage furniture and a hell-of-a-lot of cleaning. I was originally waiting to find my next job before moving in. However, being unemployed has actually been a blessing in disguise due to the sheer amount of paperwork, contacting and re-contacting companies and organisations that comes hand in hand with changing apartments.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this move is a walk in the park compared to when I first moved to Paris over three years ago. I was reminiscing with a couple of my expat friends, Lauren W and Lauren B, and inspired by my recent moving dramas, decided there are a few things you should be prepared for before taking the leap into the land of baguettes, cheese and wine connaisseurs.

  • You’ll learn the true meaning of bureaucracy: Be prepared for a stack of paperwork. Since the French administrative system hasn’t yet made it into the digital era, most contact should be sent by post. And on this note, don’t expect this to suffice. My motto is it’s not a done deed in France until you have received written confirmation – signed, stamped, dated, handed over in person after presenting your passport… the list is endless. Let me tell you that the day you receive your carte vitale, allowing you to access French healthcare, will be even greater than the birth of your first-born.
  • You’ll become an expert at planning in advance: The French are sticklers for the rules and the art of dining is no exception. Whether this be strict lunch service times between 12 and 2 or supermarket opening hours, be prepared to plan your meals in advance. The latter is not so much of an issue in Paris these days, except larger supermarkets, you should be able to find a local small shop open to grab those things you forgot in the week. This was however a massive culture shock when, on my first week in Angers during my Erasmus year, we had to head into town for a McDonald’s to not die from starvation, after finding every supermarket was closed on a Sunday.
  • You’ll grow accustomed to chasing down waiting staff for a drink: Speaking of restaurants, you’ll soon learn that if you want to order a drink, you better be ready to hunt down that waiter who you know has seen you and is resolutely ignoring your attempts to get his attention. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, with spots that offer great customer service. If you find one, keep it a closely guarded secret, as it is unfortunately a rarity on the Parisian dining out scene.
  • Your sense of style and appropriate attire will dramatically change: For me this was a positive change, as I inwardly cringe at some of the outfits I used to wear back in the UK. Going out in France is a much more casual affair than a night out clubbing in Newcastle. Less is more as far as style goes in France, so you shouldn’t have too much skin on show, unless you want to be cat-called in the street. My go-to is a good pair of skinny jeans, heeled boots and my beige trench coat – a stark contrast to my 18-year-old self who wouldn’t be caught dead with a coat, tights and anything other than 6-inch heels on a night out.
  • You’ll turn into a self-diagnosing hypochondriac: With a pharmacy on every street corner and doctors prescribing antibiotics and medication at the drop of a hat, it’d be hard not to. The French healthcare system is amazing once you have obtained the elusive carte vitale (see above) and the doctors are very rigorous. However, I’ve learnt to take medical advice for non-threatening ailments with a pinch of salt; for a simple cold I know I can still do without a trip to the doctor for a prescription for a million different tablets.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this way of life is just something that you will adapt to, given time. Born and bred Frenchies will not think twice about sending a million letters, forms and documents just to achieve a simple task, as they are used to this way of life. If you take that chance and emigrate here, you too will adapt and normalise these parts of everyday life.

It will become so engrained in you, that when you return home or holiday in another country, you will experience, as Lauren B described it, a reverse culture shock – you’ll find yourself irritated by the waiter who pops up every five minutes with a fake smile plastered over their face, or find it preposterous that you should have to wait months to get an appointment with anybody other than your regular GP. In spite of the inconveniences or surprises that you may experience upon arrival in France, these will seem like minor bumps in the road with time, as you get used to the French way of life. Believe me when I say, it is all worth it to be living in such a wonderful, beautiful place and quite frankly, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.

A busy break to Budapest – Part 2

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Only we could end up at a Michelin Star restaurant without knowing it. My boyfriend and I arrived in Budapest on Friday evening and, being accustomed to the Parisian dining out scene, we thought we could show up to restaurants without reservations and wait for a table, as is our usual weekend struggle. Turns out not all cities work this way. Being a Brit, I should have remembered my roots; actually when I arrived in Paris I was astounded and frustrated by the amount of restaurants that did not accept reservations. Somewhere along the 4 years of living in this city, I realised, I had accepted this as par for the course when eating out.

My usual routine of travelling abroad involves scouting the local restaurant scene, researching online and chatting to my friends who had previously visited to recommend some spots. True to form, we arrived with a shortlist of five or so restaurants renowned for goulash, strudel and other typically Hungarian dishes. After being turned down for a table in several places, we even asked if we could book ahead for the next night – fully booked. I began to despair, starting to believe that KFC was going to be our only option for the weekend.

And so when we arrived at Borkonyha Winekitchen, either the waiter could see our visible desperation or we simply had a stroke of luck. They had a table free – at 10pm. Two hours and a few drinks later, we returned for our booking.

After being seated the friendly waiter asked if we would be interested in their tasting menu accompanied by wine. Perhaps the drinks from earlier had gone to my head or I was hungrier than I realised, but I thought we were onto an absolute bargain with the 20,000 Ft. price tag! Turns out my conversion maths was not up-to-speed; my boyfriend told me the euro equivalent with a smile as the waiter walked away. Despite the higher-than-anticipated bill at the end for me it was worth every cent.

We started with leg of rabbit, served with asparagus tips and cauliflower puree. I’m not usually a fan of cauliflower, but the seasoning made this dish so delicious. This was swiftly followed by a tasty cabbage and bacon ragout topped with confit de canard. It was so delicious, we mopped up every last drop with some bread from our three-bread variety basket, including a very moreish black bread.

We washed down the rest of our Hungarian white wine – seriously, don’t knock it till you try it – with our fish dish; a grilled crumble-topped sea bream served with green beans and my first taste of caviar. Another first was soon to follow with our next plate; tenderloin of deer accompanied by a crumble, rosemary beetroot and jus. We finished off the remainder of our red wine with a sweet treat; a variety of chocolate truffles, paired with orange sorbet and a slice of bloody orange cake.

At this point I was texting my friend Lauren who had recommended the spot to me, when she mentioned that it was in fact a Michelin Étoile restaurant. While I was surprised that we had managed to even secure a spot at this place on a busy Friday evening, I was not shocked by her revelation; the food had been amazing and was quite possibly the fanciest and most indulgent meal I will ever eat. So if you’re in Budapest, I would highly recommend this restaurant – just don’t take the chances I did and be sure to book in advance!

 

A busy break to Budapest: part 1

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“You can’t do Budapest in a weekend,” many of my friends and family told me as I mentioned our planned mini-break “Five days is probably minimum to get everything done.” If I could afford to take a week out, of course we would have planned a longer break together! Yet, being restricted by my boyfriend’s available holiday days and me wanting to be available for any upcoming job interviews, we knew we had to plan carefully if we wanted to make the most out of our busy whistle-stop tour of Budapest.

After a spot of Saturday lunch at the First Strudel House of Pest, we started out on a walking tour I had drafted the day before, making sure we would check off all the main sights on our list within just a few hours of daylight. On our way down to the river, we stumbled across a war memorial in Szabadság Square that is proving to be very controversial amongst the citizens of Hungary. The monument depicts the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial Eagle, which -so its critics say- is an attempt to absolve the Hungarian state and its citizens from their active participation in sending 450,000 Jewish people to their deaths under Nazi occupation.

In front of this memorial lies a scattering of flowers, personal objects and photographs amongst some barbed wire. This is the protest from the citizens of Hungary who claim that, by depicting Hungary as an innocent angel being corrupted by evil, the state is attempting to re-write history, choosing to forget the extent to which they willingly complied and collaborated with the Nazi regime. Post-war remembrance and guilt, has always been a fascinating subject to me and was even the subject of one of my university essays on the history of France, and so, this site of protest is a must for any secret history nerds like myself.

After admiring the architecture of the magnificent red-roofed Parliament Building we continued along our riverside stroll, stopping at the Shoes on the Danube Bank – a very different memorial than we had seen earlier in the day. The memorial commemorates the many people, mostly Jews, who were killed on these banks during World War II; after being ordered to remove their shoes on the bank of the river, these people were shot and left to fall to their deaths. The sculpture is a very real reminder of the people who died here through representing the shoes that were left behind on the bank, as the river washed their bodies away.

The next stop of our walking tour was to cross the river on the iconic, albeit very windy Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The Danube may be the longest river in Europe, but while battling the wind on the bridge, it felt like we were crossing the widest river not only in Europe, but in the world. Needless to say, we were relieved to step into the still, sunny surroundings of the Buda side of the river. By this point, my boyfriend had started to complain about his feet hurting, so I agreed to a slight compromise – we would take the funicular up to the top of Buda Castle, taking a slower-paced stroll back down. He agreed begrudgingly. Yet, once we arrived at the summit and took in the magnificent panoramic view of the city, there were smiles all round. Of course, this may have partly been because he knew the torture of my guided walking tour was soon to end – with a trip to one of the city’s famous thermal baths.

We had several popular baths to choose from, but finally opted for the Rudas Thermal Baths, as recommended by our Airbnb host. Upon arrival, there were several options to choose from, but we didn’t hesitate to opt for their “wellness” session including access to several thermal baths as well as the panoramic view from their rooftop pool. It is a very surreal feeling when you step outside to temperatures of 5°C in nothing but your bikini or your swimming trunks (thank God this was not one of the naturist baths). And yet, once your shoulders are safely dipped below the surface of the water, there is no more natural and blissful feeling in the world, soothing your muscles post-14km-hike, all the while with a smug grin on our faces; we had proved to our family and friends that you can do Budapest in a weekend, with just a little determination, some meticulous planning and a very patient companion.

A weekend of wine without the hangover

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When you think of Paris, images of fresh baguettes, cheese and red wine come to mind. And you’re not wrong. There is, however, a more cosmopolitan side to Paris. Every weekend brings the opportunity to discover a new restaurant, a new cuisine, a new concept. This weekend, by complete chance, we dined at not one, but two relatively unknown restaurants offering the promise of beautiful-tasting natural wine, without the added side effect of a hangover the next morning.

Our first stop on the wine tour was Brutos, a French-Brazilian fusion restaurant in the 11th. Brutos has only been open for a month, so we were pleasantly surprised to get a reservation for four on a Friday evening without any problems. We started by sharing some parmesan fritters with some delicious natural white wine to work up an appetite. This was swiftly followed by some tasty beignets de morue and cervelle de veau (sometimes it’s best not to translate before eating).

They serve rare cuts of meat that you won’t find in a traditional brasserie and sothey don’t ask how you would like your meat cooked. Every dish is cooked to perfection, in the best way according to each cut of meat, to bring you the most flavour. My boyfriend and I both went for a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with houmous and farofa – a Brazilian fried flour side dish. This was accompanied by a red wine so pale and light, you may be forgiven for thinking we were drinking rosé instead. We finished with a bottle of orange wine (yes, it really does exist!) along with cooked apples served with crumble and dulce de leche.

After spending the next day DIY-ing in my boyfriend’s new apartment, we headed to Merguez & Pastrami around the corner from his place in the 9th. We had spotted the place a few weeks ago, thanks to it’s New-York-esque decor and so we were grateful to grab a spot at the bar on a busy Saturday evening. We started with the restaurant’s namesake of merguez sausages, alongside some veal meatballs served with a spicy dipping sauce and a selection of sesame-seed bagels and challah brioche – a pleasant change from your traditional Parisian bread basket. We both chose a schnitzel-topped tagliatelle dish in a garlic and parsley sauce for our main, washed down with a glass of naturel red wine from the Loire valley.

Natural wine is becoming more and more à la mode in Parisian restaurants and so, despite a higher-than-usual price tag, your head will thank you for it come Sunday. Besides the natural wine selection both of these spots offered, it was something of a rarity to the Parisian eating-out scene that made me want to return to these spots again; the friendly, welcoming and attentive staff. The dining-out experience in Paris can often be spoilt by rude waiting staff that you have to chase just to take your drinks order, something that shocked me when I arrived in this city. Let’s hope that this new “concept” of friendly service is here to stay so we finally feel that we get what we paid for.