After our Christmas jaunt to Chorley, Phil and I were back down to London for two nights (and one sodding day at work) before starting our journey to Salzburg, via Munich on December 29th, where already 12 of our friends were preparing for New Years celebrations. We went via Munich because it worked out half the cost, in hindsight the extra hours and hassle with trains probably outweigh the cost we saved – but that’s the best thing about hindsight, it’s always too late.
The man and I jetted off to the beautiful Czech capital of Prague this weekend. Boy was it freezing. Averaging -4 to 1*C (24-33 F) each day meant we had a grand excuse to pop into pubs and sipped mulled wine whenever we were on the move.
The whole city was beautifully kitted out for Christmas; twinkly lights, Christmas trees, Santas, huts selling hot beverages and ham. Hot roast ham! Everywhere! Everyone had raved about how cheap everything was, especially the beer. We were not disappointed; £1 beer! Although on day one we got a bit ripped off with the roast ham and somehow paid the equivalent of £12 for one plate of ham. Damn expensy ham, but so damn good with a dollop of mustard. By day three I was a bit over the food, I do admit. It’s all very stodgy: meat and dumplings. I was craving vegetables and the only thing on offer was pickled sauerkraut. Don’t get me wrong, the sauerkraut was yummy, especially alongside potato pancakes and spicy sausages, but steamed broccoli or grilled asparagus would have had me jumping for joy. It’s definitely not a city you want to visit if you’re eating a Whole 30 diet.
We walked around the city a lot, it’s small, so even though there are trams, buses and a metro we found walking just as easy. We wandered through the Old Town square, across the Charles Bridge and up the hill to Prague Castle. On our third day we went up the Town Hall Clock tower at dusk to view the beautiful square and lights below. We also did a bit of window shopping and drank beer in pubs whenever the cold got too much.
I can recommend Prague as a city break (if you’re in the UK/Europe) for a long weekend. I don’t think you’d need much longer than that to see everything, unless you’re a keen gambler because there seemed to be a Casino on every street corner! I also wouldn’t recommend going in January or February unless you love the cold – December was beautiful because of the Christmas charm, but I can see that Prague would be pretty as a summer spot too.
This weekend, as we have Kiwi buds staying, and because we’ve never been (in the four years we’ve lived here! Shocking!) we hit the Portobello Road Markets near Notting Hill. I love playing tourist in the city I live in. It makes you remember what it was like when you first arrived. Exciting and shiny and new. Not the 9-5 drab, painful commute you go through every single day, but the amazing scenes and experiences that make London such a stunner of a city.
We took in the beautifully coloured houses, the local buskers banging on their drums and strumming their tennis racquets (!) while breathing in the smells of the musky antiques and the sizzling, hot Bavarian sausages.
I, always sucked in by an antique purchase, bought a beautiful silver cake slice. I love all things old-school for the home and couldn’t resist it. I love the idea that one day, when I’m grown up with a house in New Zealand serving pavlova for friends and family, I will pull out this shiny, silver cake slice and think back to the time I was in London – specifically the day I hit the Portobello Markets.
Being on a Whole 30 diet limited my options in the market – but I spoilt myself with a fresh fruit juice from Joe & The Juice. I had a Sex Me Up – passionfruit, apple and ginger – divine. On the way back through the market we decided to try a Bavarian sausage (no bread, ketchup or mustard was eaten on this trip). The sausage at the time was heavenly. I was starving. However at 2am that night I was in pain. Stabbing, bacteria soaked sausage pains woke me up from my sleep and caused the hypochondriac in me to think I was having a miscarriage. Please note, I am not pregnant, nor are we trying. But the pain was so immense I was having hugely irrational thoughts and the symptoms seemed like those I’ve read in novels or seen in films. Thankfully it was not the miscarriage fear I expected, and it was simply a case of food poisoning. Rancid sausage food poisoning.
A top highlight was bumping into Queen Liz, or so she thought she was. Crown, purse and the wave to boot the Queen impersonator made my day. She smiled and waved and even danced with some kids as the buskers played. I don’t know if she really thought she was the Queen, or if she did it as a way of busking/entertaining the crowds, but she sure pulled in the attention.
If you haven’t been, go. All markets in London offer different things, Portobello definitely offers more of the old school market in my mind, antiques and such. Where others can be more based around trendy things and clothing, this market is a brick-a-brack gold mine.
This weekend we headed “oop North” (how northern Briton’s say “up North”) to Lancashire to visit my other half’s family. He was born and raised in the quaint market village of Chorley. It really is a different pace of life there, and every time I go I can envisage myself buying a cottage and retiring there. But of course, New Zealand still is number on the list for next home destination.
We caught an 8.30am train from London up north, so breakfast snacks were very important. While we were in the northern regions of England we enjoyed the sunshine in the spectacular open spaces and gardens, drank “skinny” coffees covered in chocolate, smacked some golf balls, visited a photography exhibition and checked out the local pubs. Local pubs up north are my favourite spot to sit and watch people. Everyone knows everyone else, and all their business. There’s no secrets in small-village England. Everywhere we went, my other half’s dad proudly introduced us to everyone, with proud high shoulders his son living in London, and then along comes me, the foreign woman none of them can understand. It’s always hilarious and they are all so good natured.
It was a lovely weekend all around, and so nice to get out of the big city to spend time relaxing in the country at a much slower pace, breathing in all that fresh air.
Over the weekend, my other half and I went to visit his Uncle and Aunt on the Isle of Harris, Scotland. The place is phenomenal. The break from London was well needed, the fresh air incredible and the hospitality likened to the Kiwi’s.
When you see the views, it’s hard to believe you’re still in the UK – although the bitter wind that picked up on the odd occasion soon reminded you that you weren’t on a tropical island in the Caribbean. But the sea sure gave the same turquoise beauty.
While we were there we enjoyed the local seafood which is so fresh it reminded me of the treats from the sea in New Zealand. Unfortunately London based seafood, no matter the price you pay, just doesn’t compare to seafood by the coast. I gorged myself on all seafood at every moment I got; scallops, monkfish, seafood linguine, fresh mussels and prawns. We ate at a bunch of beautiful spots that I would recommend; The Anchorage, The Crown Inn and Skoon Art Café to name a few.
It’s becoming more common for people to have stay-cations (holiday in their own country) and I completely agree with it. Why not see the beautiful places right on your doorstep? Not that the Isle of Harris is on anyone’s door step, the dodgy flight from Glasgow in a tiny aeroplane seating 30 people was not a highlight for me. But get out there, see the country you grew up in.
Since being in the UK I have managed to hit all the corners; Pembrokeshire in west Wales, Brighton in south England, Southend on Sea in east England, and now Stornoway in north Scotland. Really, the next spot I need to visit is Ireland, then I would have completed the four corners of the UK plus a trip to the island.
In anticipation of my long weekend in Scotland’s capital for the annual Fringe Festival I asked around for the top 10 must-do’s. I thought I’d write a list of recommended to see/do’s and then revisit the list once I returned to see if I would rate them the same.
- Edinburgh Castle. I see this remaining in my list – I do have a thing for castles.
- Sample the local tipple. I shamed myself at work when someone suggested I drink whisky in Edinburgh; “do they make it there?”. Oh they laughed, and I learned.
- Eat local = haggis, venison and stovies. Enough said.
- Visit the seaside! Portobello beach, right in the city.
- Laugh, sing and dance with the festival – we planned our trip around Fringe so we could check out all the gigs while taking in the city.
- Climb the extinct volcano in the urban park; Arthur’s Seat, the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills.
- Soak up the architectural sights in the centre of town.
- Hit the Old Town; small streets lined with wool shops, pubs and historical monuments.
- Pop by Elephant House Cafe where writers such as JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin put pen to paper and let their ideas flow.
- Finally, just wander. Stroll the cobbled streets and pass through the historic Royal Mile.
Have you been to Edinburgh, what would you suggest? We’ll see if this list matches up when I return.