Donostia

San Sebastian and Bilbao

March 2016

2 Days away

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina

The gist of it:

I turned 30 in February. Don’t worry before turning 30 I freaked out and booked trips to Bali and Ibiza, so it is not all bad. But I turned 30. And for my birthday J took me to San Sebastian (Donostia) for the weekend.

I have wanted to visit San Sebastian for years. I clearly spoke about it a lot as well (sorry J) because he knew just where to take me. Suffice to say, he nailed the weekend. Also, it is a great place to visit and relax because there is not much to do there besides enjoy the food, wine and seaside. That said I still managed to convince J to go to the aquarium, which is great.

The main event in San Sebastian is the pintxos. The first night I convinced J to book us a tour guide to take us bar hopping. It definitely was not necessary but I enjoyed getting to know our guide and chatting about her life as a 20-something girl in Basque country. We have done a lot of traveling, J and I, but we rarely get a chance to hang out with a local that way. Our guide was very well informed, but she did tell us that txakoli (the local white wine) had so little alcohol that “you cannot get drunk” drinking it. 4 four bars in, I definitely figured out that was not true.

I feel like I should recommend bars and pintxos, but there were so many great places and so many delicious things. A few that really standout – Zeruko, recommended dish the bonfire. Borda Berri, veal cheek with red wine sauce and the grilled octopus. Martinez, stuffed pepper. Gandarias, the sirloin. We also had a lovely sit down lunch at Narru.

On Sunday we went to the airport via the Guggenheim Bilbao. I did not know what to expect, but I really enjoyed the museum. It is a manageable size and I am a huge fan of Richard Serra. We ended up having lunch in the museum because of bags and convenience. The restaurant was again great. I wonder when do the Basques eat badly?

What I read:

Original by Adam Grant (highly recommend)

What I re-read/watched:

Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara because San Sebastian.

Top recommendations:

Just go.

Next time:

I would definitely book one, or more than one, of the Michelin starred restaurants outside of town. They are expensive and we were only there for two days, but next time. The one we considered booking was Arzak.

Pictures:

I will fully admit that I failed photographing this weekend for the blog. I find shooting food indoors difficult and, honestly, I just wanted to enjoy every pintxos, instead of photographing every pintxos. So, I am sorry about that.

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The view from our hotel room

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J in the rain. Did I mention it rained all weekend?

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Plaza de la Constitucion

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Playa de la Concha

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Atlantic swells

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My feet in the aquarium

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Photographing strangers in the aquarium

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Lunch at Narru (instagram filtered)

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Our massive bed

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pintxos on pintxos on pintxos

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Looking back at the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina

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So long San Sebastian

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Museo Guggenheim Bilbao

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Koons’ Tulips

 

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Andalucia – Seville

Seville, Spain

September 2015

9 days away

Me and J

By Ryan Air

Stayed all over the place

The gist of it:

J and I spent forever deciding where to go last autumn but we finally settled on the South of Spain, Andalucia. We rented a car and cruised from Seville to Cordoba to Granada to Ronda and back to Seville. It was a great trip and really inexpensive.

We were in Seville for three days, which felt like the right amount of time. The first night we arrived we went to Alameda de Hercules to find a bar that served Mahou and tinto de verano. There were loads of tables outside and people coming and going. We then headed back towards our hotel for dinner at Bar Las Teresas. Bar Las Teresas had a great atmosphere and fun interior. We thought the food was ok but great value for money. Our favorite tapas spot was Bodega Santa Cruz, which was constantly packed. I also really liked our lunch at Mama Bistro, not a tapas place, which had a unique menu. J was less enthusiastic.

My favorite part of Seville was the Alcazar gardens. There is something magical about walled gardens. The Alcazar also reminded me very much of Dorne… Or I should say Dorne (the made-up land in Game of Thrones) takes inspiration from the Alcazar. The pictures below should give you a feel for it. A lot of green and orange. I couldn’t get enough!

We walked a lot and saw a lot of corners of the city. The Plaza de Espana was impressive. Triana was buzzing. We almost went to a bullfight! But J was not so keen. Maybe next time.

Top Seville Recs:

Bodega Santa Cruz for the tapas and the atmosphere! The Alcazar gardens because I never wanted to leave.

What I Read:

I finished the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – I cannot recommend highly enough. I also read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Next Time:

The beach! And maybe a bull fight.

Photos from Seville:

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Our first night in Seville

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Puente de Triana

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Outside the Cathedral

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Me and the gardens of the Alcazar

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J’s feet

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Alcazar Gardens (or Dorne?)

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More gardens

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I don’t remember the name of this square!

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Plaza de Espana

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Museo Arqueologico

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Bodega Santa Cruz

 

 

Berlin

Berlin

May 2015

4 Days away

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at the Westin Grand – This hotel was fine, but I definitely would not stay there again. Central location but nothing going on near by and a very corporate interior.

The gist of it:

We went to Berlin months ago, but I made the mistake of not finishing this post for ages and not taking notes at the time. So it’s going to be a short one.

I feel like we spent our four days in Berlin walking. The city is huge and not very crowded, in a nice way. J and I also like to walk, so walk we did! Berlin feels very different to any other European city I have visited. The 20th century was not kind to Berlin and as a result a lot of it is very modern. I enjoyed that. Berlin even at times reminded me of America.

Berlin’s history also feels very contemporary. The marks of the World Wars and Cold War are there to be seen. I would highly recommend the Holocaust memorial (pictures below). Unfortunately we did not make it see a lot of the Cold War monuments/museums I wanted to visit because they are somewhat outside of the city. One piece of advice we got was to be careful planning our days. Many of the monuments/museums can leave you very sad and too much sadness can weigh on a tourist.

We also had a great time exploring Berlin’s neighborhoods, shops and restaurants. We had great meals at Katz Orange and Monsieur Vuong. I would recommend both. East Berlin has a lot of great Vietnamese restaurants, unsurprisingly. I also did a lot of shopping and bought Birkenstocks (so cheap in Germany!), a dress from APC (French I know but I love it), and some jewelry from TomShot (great for inexpensive unique jewelry).

Unbeknownst to us we booked to go to Berlin on a weekend where galleries all across the city were open. We had a great time exploring and pretending to shop for art. If you are going and you like modern art, definitely book tickets for Sammlung Boros.

What I read and watched:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (highly recommend)

The Lives of Others – I re-watched this movie before going to Berlin and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Next Time:

I would definitely stay in Alexanderplatz or Friedrichshain. I also really wanted to go to Das Lokal but did not book a table far enough in advance. The Reichstag tour was highly recommended (by everyone) but we did not give ourselves enough time to book tickets. We also did not really explore Berlin’s infamous nightlife…. So lots of reasons to come back.

Pictures

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Brandenburg Gate

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Reichstag

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The Holocaust Memorial

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The Berlin Wall

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Currywurst at Curry 66

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Postdamer Platz

Easter in Paris

Paris

April 2015

Three Days Away

Me, J, my sister and my cousin

By Eurostar

Stayed at my cousin’s apartment

What I read:

How the Universe Got its Spots by Janna Levin – I really enjoyed this book, though it’s not the easiest to get through and I was a math major. If you are looking for something thought provoking, mathematical and a little philosophical I highly recommend it.

The gist of it:

We booked our tickets at the last minute because Easter in the UK is a four day weekend (!) and we had nothing planned. My sister, J and I have all been to Paris many times, and my cousin grew up there, so we didn’t feel any pressure to join the tourist hordes outside the Musee D’Orsay. Instead we went for many long walks, ate a lot of cheese (serious amounts of cheese) and even more baguette. Paris was, as always, beautiful.

Pictures:

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Signs of spring

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24 Hours in Boston

Boston

September 2014

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at The Langham

What I read:

Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton

The gist of it:

J and I flew to the states for a week for some New England time with my family and my cousin’s wedding (!). We decided to spend 24 hours in Boston on the way up to New Hampshire, so J could see the sites and so I could see a few old friends.

I haven’t spent much time in Boston as an adult. It’s a beautiful city, filled with Irish bars as J noted. When we arrived we went to Bostonia for drinks and appetizers. The food was only ok, considering how expensive it was, but the live music was really fun.

The next day we wondered through Boston common down to Newbury street then back to the waterfront and we went to Legal Seafood for lunch. It’s the same as I remember! We then stopped by Cambridge to see Harvard and the bride and groom to be for a coffee before driving to NH.

Pictures:

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The local hawk

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The Puritans did not mess around when it came to gravestones

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24 Hours in Roma

On the way home, we had 24 hours in Rome. My parents stayed for another day and W two more, but E, J and I had to get back to London.

We walked through Rome. All over Rome. W is pretty sure he saw almost every corner of Rome on foot. But I only made it to the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona.  We also ate very well and I would recommend all of the restaurants and bars we sampled.

For dinner on Saturday night we went to Roscioli and then for drinks we went to a wine bar called Il Vinaietto and a beer bar called Open Baladin. Il Vinaiettio was very relaxed and inexpensive but Open Baladin took itself quite seriously.

The next day we walked through the Forum and down to the Pyramid of Cestius and went to Eatily. I had already been to the Eatily in New York, but Rome’s has a very different energy. It’s kind of like an upscale, Italian food, mega mall – in a good way. We had lunch there and then bought loads of goodies.  Then said goodbye to each other and to Italy…

Pictures:

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Trevi Fountain

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The Pantheon

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A weird picture of Fiumi Fountain

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Open Baladin – those are all bottles of beer

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Even gladiators need a rest.
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Ciao Roma (instagram filtered…)

Prague

Prague, Czech Republic

May 2014

Four days away

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at Art Deco Imperial Hotel (art deco is an understatement)

What I read:

A Girl is Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (not an easy read, but kind of worth it)

The gist of it:

It’s not all cheap beer and stag parties in Prague. But there is a lot of that too. J and I booked this trip in January, again through the BA sale, for the May bank holiday weekend. Although it rained a little the first two days, the end of the weekend was glorious.

We stayed in the Old Town and spent our first afternoon wondering. Prague is beautiful. The cobblestones streets are lined with buildings that look like candy boxes with everything from designer shops, to gothic monuments, to many, many beer bars.  We had a great time checking out some of Prague’s contemporary art galleries on our first afternoon and I had to restrain myself from buying something I couldn’t afford at praguekabinet. We also stumbled upon an installation of books in a library just off the Old Town Square, which was very cool (pictures below).

On our first  day we had a great Italian lunch at Aldente (highly recommend).  On the whole, we had a lot of great food in Prague, although none of it was traditional Czech fair. The bread dumplings just never did it for me and we tried! We really tried.  J and I also had a good meal at School and I loved Bake Shop. On Saturday night we went big with the six course tasting menu at La Degustation, which was unsurprisingly excellent.

There are many sights to see in Prague. We wondered around the castle, but only made it inside St Vitus Cathedral. The Sternberg palace has a wonderful little collection of old Masters and for some reason it was not nearly as busy as the tourist attractions around it. The Jewish Museum was very busy, but we managed to squeeze in with the crowds.

On Sunday, we went for a long walk up around the castle and past the Petrin Lookout tower than back down to the river and home. This was probably my favorite day. There are two big parks on the Northwest side of the vltava, which are beautiful. It was almost warm enough to just lay in the grass, but not quite. Although a little off the beaten track, Pivovarksy Klub, where we went Sunday evening, has an excellent beer selection. Of the tankovna pubs we went to, my favorite was U Pinkasu, around the corner from Wenceslas square, but if you go, definitely sit in the smoking section. Despite the smell, it has a much better atmosphere.

On our last morning, we wondered over to Zizkov’s Tower to see David Cerny’s space age babies. When it was almost time to go, I of course dragged J back to Hard Decore to buy some earrings.  The store is a mix of jewelry and clothes, all Czech designed and made – definitely worth checking out.

Tourists traps:

After walking by the ham roasting over coals in Old Town Square once, J and I were convinced that this was street food worth savoring. Unfortunately, the food is charged by weight and so the headline prices are completely misleading. We paid more to stand up eating that ham than for any other lunch we ate. The ham ended up just tasting expensive.

Top recommendations:

American Black Ale (ABA) at the Pivovarsky Klub. This is probably one of those really annoying recommendations that is impossible to find. BUT, if you go to the to Pivovarksy Klub and they have ABA on draft, order it!

Next time:

Try to get tickets to the ballet or the opera.

Photos:

Kind of a mix of pictures, but I admit there are a lot from the book installation and Zizkov’s tower. I took all of them except for the picture in Le Degustation and the picture of me below the tower.

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Bubbles in the Old Town Square

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Book tower installations in a library just off the Old Town Square

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The most expensive street food of all time in the Old Town Square

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We never made it to the museum, but I love this poster.

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St Vitus Cathedral

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Me and Hans Holbein’s Hohenburg Altar at the Sternberg Palace

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The Streets of Prague

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The view from J’s seat in La Degustation

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A view of the Vltava and some of Prague’s bridges

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The Zizkov Tower and around

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Prague train station

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That hair.

 

Istanbul

Istanbul
March 2014
Four days away
Me and J
By British Airways
Stayed at Pera Palace Hotel

What I read:
The Istanbul Lonely Planet Guide Book (this is not a lie or a shameless plug for Lonely Planet, but Istanbul and its history are fascinating. This, along with the fact that my knowledge was so lacking, meant I actually did read the guide book cover to cover)
The Economist magazine

The gist of it:
J and I booked this weekend in January via the BA sale and got a great deal on flights and accommodation for this weekend. We knew the weather in March would not be hot, but we did not anticipate quite how much rain we would see in Istanbul. It rained for the entire the trip. But, that did not (really) get in the way and I loved Turkey so much, I am trying to convince J we should got back this summer.

Our hotel was beautiful and historic, which we had no idea about until we arrived and were treated to a ride in Istanbul’s first elevator. The Pera Palace hotel was built to house travelers visiting Istanbul on the Orient Express. It is beautiful and the service was excellent and the sauna was much needed to dry off after our days in the rain.

We arrived in Istanbul on Saturday around mid-day and spent the afternoon exploring Beyoglu. Over the course of the weekend we saw many of the city’s landmarks including Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. We also saw dervishes whirl in a traditional ceremony at the Galata Mevlevii Museum (see photos below). Everything we saw was incredible, in particular Hagia Sofia, which is definitely not to be missed despite the flocks of tourists. 
 
Eating was also a central feature to our trip and did not disappoint. Not one of our meals was less than great and I was nowhere near being sick of meze and grilled meats by the time we left. My top food recommendations are Sehzade Cag Kebabi  and Meze by Lemon Tree, but we also had great meals at Sofyali 9 and the House Cafe (which we later found out is a chain). We also had some very tasty pides (kind of like Turkish pizzas) at Hocapasa Pidecisi, which is on the same street as Cag Kebabi. Despite Hocapasa Pidecisi humble exterior the food was excellent and we were told by our kind waiter, who also took the photo of me and J below, that it had been run by the same family for three generations.
 
There was loads to buy in the bazaars, but J and I were restrained. For any girls who are fans of Anthropology’s jewelry, the Grand Bazaar has a wealth of jems to pine after at very reasonable prices. I bought one pair of earrings and we also picked up a few hand-painted bowls and loads of spices and teas. We may have gotten a little carried away at the spice bazaar, seeing as are now not quite sure what we bought in our unmarked bags!
Top food recommendations:
Neither of these places can be called hidden gems, as they were recommended by friends, guide books and a variety of reputable publications, but that does not mean they are not worth visiting.

Sehzade Cag Kebabi (delicious kebabs close to the Spice Bazaar)
Meze by Lemon Tree (up-market Meze in Beyoglu)

Next time:

Too much to list here.

Pictures:

The weather and the byzantine architecture worked against my cause on the photo front, but here are a few of the best ones from the places we visited.

The patisserie in the Pera Palace Hotel. This photo does not do all of the pink justice.
The view from the Galata Tower
Hagia Sofia
That awkward moment when the person serving your table catches you taking a picture of your tea and coffee (above) and then insists on taking a photo of you drinking said tea and coffee.
The Spice Market
Whirling Dervishes at Galata Mevlevii Museum
Topkapi Palace
Sehzade Cag Kebap (so delicious)
The Grand Bazaar

28 in Paris

Paris

February 2014

Three days away

Me and J

By Eurostar

Stayed at La Villa Saint Germain

What I read:

Dear Life by Alice Munro, PORTER magazine (highly recommend both)

The gist of it:

I didn’t know that I was going to Paris until the day before we left. The trip was a surprise for my 28th birthday from my boyfriend (!!!). I have been to Paris a few times before, so did not feel any pressure to see all of the sights.

Paris is a city that proceeds itself in my opinion. But Paris does not disappoint. We spent our three days wondering and sitting in cafes. We also went to the Musée Rodin and the Centre Pompidou, both of which I had never visited. I have spent an afternoon sitting outside the Centre Pompidou in the sunshine, which I also highly recommend, but the gallery itself was wonderful. Living in London, I am spoiled by having the Tate Modern so close, but the Centre Pompidou has a very different energy. We also had a wonderful lazy lunch of big French salads at La Fonde just around the corner.

My favorite meal of our trip was at Bar du Central, not least because it was my birthday lunch. I should mention I am also easily pleased with a standard French menu including big salads and a few steak options. For dinner I would also recommend Peres et Filles and Los Cocettes, which has a more adventurous menu.  Los Cocottes does not take reservation, however, so get there with plenty of time.

Although I do love shopping in Paris, I saved J the stress of my taking hours trying on a million dresses only to decide I want the first one. I did, however, buy some lovely napkins from Simrane, a store I would highly recommend, and finally tracked down Dior Glow lip stick/gloss (?) that I now love.

Next Time:

I want to try Le Pantruche restaurant.

Photos:

Just a few of my favorites from a mix of the places we wondered. I took most of them, except for the last few of me in the Palais Royal, which J took on my birthday.

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Jardin du luxembourg

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Musée Rodin

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Pont Alexandre III

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Notre Dame (obligatory)

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Marché Bastille

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Palais Royal