Cheap pre-Christmas getaways to escape those festive stresses – book quick!

This post will start expiring the second you start reading it.

[Now that I’ve caught your attention… what I hate the most about flight booking is how quickly things change. By the time I’ve spotted cheap flights, bullied (!) the yank into agreeing the trip, him having signed the time off work, the flight prices have changed. Now it may only be a day or two after the initial desire to book, already the flights have increased in price. // Once, just ONCE(!), did this happen and the flight prices had gone DOWN when I went to book several days later. I was livin’ the dream that day. // ANYWAY. I’m disgressing.]

Am I the only one who hates Christmas? The enforced joy and the ridiculous busyness of shops just everywhere?! I hate that the usual 5 minute route of purchasing a loaf of bread becomes a full blown obstacle course. Children running wild in shops with hands full of chocolate Santas and grandmas barging people down with their trolleys as they stock up on Christmas puddings. I’m being melodramatic and stereotypical, but it’s definitely not my favourite time of year in England.

Now, take me to Germany or France and my view completely changes! Other European countries just seem to do it right, don’t they? (and I don’t just mean Christmas, I mean everything).

I’ve found a few cheap getaways to help you escape the pre-25th December rush. Book quickly because I guarantee in two weeks they’ll be double the price!

Germany
London Stansted to Berlin Schönefeld
13th – 14th Dec 2017 (fly out 7.50am, fly back 9.25pm) with Ryanair
Currently = 
£57

German cities are absolutely perfect for the Christmas markets – they truly do streetfood so well (schnitzels and bratwursts galore!!) and I can’t get enough of the beer. Perfect for a one night getaway to help you forget your Christmas stresses.

France
London Southend to Paris Charles de Gaulle
22nd – 24th Dec 2017 (fly out 2.45pm, fly back 4.55pm) with Easyjet
Currently 
= £101

This is usually more than I’d pay for flights for a cheap getaway, but Paris is simply glorious this time of year. A perfect opportunity to snuggle up in scarves and woolly hats, drinking warm wine and eating yummy cheeses, walking the beautiful Parisian streets amidst twinkly lights.

Netherlands

London Luton to Amsterdam 
14th – 16th Dec 2017 (fly out 3.10pm, fly back 3.30pm) with Easyjet
Currently 
= £53

Spend some time de-stressing in the delightful cafes ‘The Dam’ has to offer, indulging in yummy streetfood and seeing the canals in the snow (if you’re lucky!) – what a perfect place to hide away for two nights.

Czech Republic
London Stansted to Prague 
6th – 8th Dec 2017 (fly out 8.55am, fly back 7.20am) with Ryanair
Currently 
= £53

Spend a crisp two nights in this delicious city – think roast pork knuckle, schnitzels, chunky potato soups and as much goulash as you can cram in. The Christmas markets in Prague are wonderful – visit Old Town Square to sample some of the amazing streetfood on offer and indulge in as much Czech beer as you can!

Switzerland 
London Stansted to Geneva
Daytrip alert! 24th Dec 2017 (fly out 7.15am, fly back 9.35pm) with Easyjet
Currently 
= £49

Day trip to Geneva on the day before Christmas? Are you willing to take the risk? What’s the worst that can happen. Your return flight gets cancelled, you simply just spend a beautiful day in Switzerland. Rent a car on Christmas Eve before everything closes down for the day and drive into the Alps on the 25th!

pexels-photo-167692

Austria
London Stansted to Salzburg
15th – 17th Dec 2017 (fly out 6.20am, fly back 10.30am) with Ryanair
Currently 
= £41

Fancy skiing? Drive into the nearby mountains, hire some skis and whizz downhill as fast as you can! Want to harness the festivities? Visit the Christmas markets and chow down on caramelised almonds and strudel. Austrians also love their spas, so look up local spas, or better yet find an AirBnB with a hot tub/sauna included – ideally on a deck overlooking some mountains.

Hungary
London Stansted to Budapest 
6th – 8th Dec 2017 (fly out 11.45am, fly back 9.25pm) with Ryanair
Currently 
= £47

One of my favourite places to go, and yet I visited in summer! Hungary has some of the best foods – chunky soups and meaty stews – I love goulash! With food similar to Prague, there is plenty of pig knuckle and dumplings to devour. This food was delicious in summer and at Christmas it will be a welcome respite from the cold weather. Imagine sinking into warm thermal baths. There are many winter activities – the markets, ice skating, boat trips with delicious foods. Also look out for the famous Nutcracker Ballet in the Hungarian State Opera – perfect to get you in that festive spirit!

buda

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So what are you waiting for? Get booking your exciting Christmas adventure that you can brag to your family about on Boxing Day!

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@citybreaksandcakes

P.S.

I just want to share one more delightful getaway for you – but this time it’s after the Christmas period. I found some great bargains with the airline Norwegian (not one I’ve personally used before but definitely will look to in the future). You can fly from London Gatwick to Bergen on 7th January 2018 (that’s a scary date to write!) returning Tuesday 9th January for £80. Bergen is a beauty – go and see it for yourself!

 

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Perfect organiser for city breaks and airport faffers

You know when you buy something because you think it’s cool or pretty or whatever, and it ends up being one of the most functional, efficient purchases you’ve ever made?

I did this in Amsterdam. A wonderful novelty stationary shop and I came out 20 Euro lighter but happy at my new passport cover. I’ve gone through my fair share of covers in my years of passport ownership, and they usually all end up in the bin as I just get frustrated at constantly having to remove my passport every time I have to stick it into the scanner at passport control.

My new travel wallet was red and shiny and full of pockets. Only when I headed back to the airport in the Netherlands to go home did I realise just how useful it was having a functional bit of kit that wasn’t a hindrance, but actually made travelling life a easier.

red

I no longer had to section out part of my bag, finding somewhere flat and crumb-free for my boarding pass. Nor did I worry about losing my passport down a toilet every time I stuffed it in my back pocket and forgot about it.

Now at airports, I walk in with my ruck over my shoulder, my travel wallet in hand. I can pull out my boarding pass and passport as I need to, and it even holds my phone, my currency, my EHIC (European healthy insurance card), taxi card just in case I ever need one from the airport, and important receipts, say if I need to claim back expenses. And when I’m at the airport, I also slip my bank card in here too, just so I don’t need to be faffing around trying to find my purse when buying magazines and sweeties in ‘Smiths.

This travel organiser is slick and shiny, and fairly water resistant. It doesn’t claim to be, but I’ve stood in the pouring rain in Milan with this baby and it kept my papers dry.

I can’t remember the name of the shop I purchased my ALIFEDESIGN wallet from, but even better I found their website: ALIFEDESIGN. Their website also has a bunch of other handy stuff including a jacket gripper for when it’s warm and you can’t be buggared to carry your jacket, and also… A LUGGAGE KNIT!! Yes it’s expensive but isn’t it adorable?! Not only will you be able to spot your suitcase from across the airport, but it also protects your case from scratches and dents. You’re welcome.

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@citybreaksandcakes 

Venice: The true Instagrammable city

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll have realised I don’t really do short blogs. When my fingers hit that keyboard, they end up telling anecdotes and babbling about little stories about all the food and everything else.

am trying to rectify my babbling problem…. promise!

To help balance it out, I’m going to share my first photo album – which are views of the gorgeous Venice. It truly is a remarkable city, and we were so lucky to experience it in sunshine. 

We were only in Venice for less than a day (we took a cheeky daytrip from England to Venice – it’s not as hard or as stressful as you think!) so it wouldn’t be right of me to write a blog post about this beautiful city when I barely had any appreciation of it. There are plenty of travel blogs around on Venice, here are two of my favourites:

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T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi rooftop view looking south west. The famous Rialto Bridge is just slightly further south of here.

 

Terracotta houses looking empty and deserted.

 

 

The north side of the Rialto bridge – with hundreds of tourists leaning over taking photos of the boats

 

 

We were lucky to have a chance to go on a Gondola, and managed to get a fab price as the day trade had died down, and the night trade hadn’t yet come out.

 

 

Pretty orange and red houses.

 

 

Empty streets of Venice.

 

 

I can’t even imagine living in a place where streets are water.

 

 

 

Sun shines over locals going about their daily business.

 

 

Be warned: tour groups are absolutely everywhere and do make it hard to move around!

 

 

Basilica di San Marco – one of the biggest attractions in the heaving St. Mark’s Square.

 

 

From Ponte dell’Academia, looking out at Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the end of the Grand Canal.

 

 

Beautiful views of the lagoon, looking south from Campanile di San Marco in St. Mark’s Square.

 

 

Campanile di San Marco.

 

 

Views from the Gondola.

 

 

Had about 17 Gelato cones whilst here…

 

 

 

Sun shining down upon the Grand Canal.

 

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@citybreaksandcakes

9 amazing AirBnbs for your next European break

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become far more open-minded – especially when it comes to travel.

As an 18 year old, I’d convinced myself I needed to stay in proper hotels that had thousands of positive reviews, eat at restaurants in super touristy areas  and I wouldn’t even dream of leaving the city centre or the main strip. As such, I could rarely afford to go anywhere because each trip would cost me a damn fortune.

As I’ve realised the appeal of not being a tourist or indeed acting like a tourist, I’m far more likely to go off the beaten track – and that includes accommodation. AirBnb has truly shaped how I plan my trips. Of course, the concept of staying in other people’s homes for vacations isn’t a new thing – AirBnb wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last. Sure there is Couchsurfing and HomeStay and VRBO and many more, but it seems AirBnb in recent years has really been able to crack all kinds of markets – young and old, backpackers to pleasure-and-leisure-seekers, solo adventurers to business travellers. They’ve really nailed their marketing campaigns to embrace all generations and types of travellers.

Why stay in an AirBnb? Well, for starters it can make your trip a helluva lot cheaper by renting someone’s apartment or spare room, compared to a hotel. Staying ‘locally’ can be more enlightening when learning about a new city and help you embrace local culture. Even better – when you just rent a room and stay with your host, many will offer local cuisine homecooked meals for cheap prices – perfect!

I made it my mission to find some super interesting places to stay within Europe, away from the traditional ‘Entire place’ and ‘Private room’ searches. Trying to be open-minded, I’ve managed to source some truly creative places, some that even don’t have electricity and really let you get back to nature. So, without further ado, here are some super-duper AirBnb properties across Europe just waiting for your suitcases:

Germany 

No. 1

greenhouse

Looking at Heidelberg first. Now just how charming is this gorgeous greenhouse room! In summer you will wake with a warm glow coming through the roof, whilst snuggled in blankets, and fall asleep at night under the stars while lighting candles.

This accommodation really entices you to live within nature, harnessing plants and greenery alongside rustic unvarnished wooden furniture. Chickens roam freely outside providing free range eggs and add to the rural farmy-country vibe. Let loose and go and chill at the Charming livable greenhouse studio. Probably not a place you’d want to consider in winter, but mid summer would be a country-living fanatic’s dream.

No. 2

loft

I also just had to mention the greenhouse’s sister accommodation, the Modern Creative Spacious Loft, also in Heidelberg. This place is in a smashing location, just 15 minutes from the best food and bars in Old Town. You’ll have to get over the fact this place is frequently used as an event venue during the day. It is unlikely to be good for a family or bringing your grandma – but it will absolutely inspire you as an open-minded, creative couple, solo or group of friends. You might even find some inspirational workshops to sign up to whilst you’re there.

At the minute, the loft is operating on a super cheap price (£70 a night for an entire property is incredible!). The owners, who are doing this place up themselves, state it is very much a “work-in-progress” but -hey- what a damn amazing thing to be a part of? Even if it’s just to stay for one night, go and soak in the culture.

No. 3 

berlin

Before I move on from Germany, I needed to share another loft, but this one in Berlin. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I’d say this property is every Instagrammer’s wet dream. The building is a 100 year old factory and is absolutely full of character. The apartment claims to be used plenty for photoshoots and events – and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s redonkulously close to the main train station and the airport so a great base for exploring the alluring city of Berlin.

berlin2

The apartment offers raw industrial decor, custom-made vintage furniture, and there are plenty of wooden unvarnished surfaces for a severe amount of coffee and avocado-smash flatlays. This place does pack a punch for its £310-a-night offer. Now, that’s quite a lot. But you have to look at the bigger picture. Just how much do you want that Instagram glory and bragging rights?

France

No. 4 

paris

Paris is absolutely full of secret gems in a variety of ancient buildings, but I think this restored industrial studio lodge has got to be one of my favourites. It’s tiny but cute as hell, with exposed brick walls and a ‘mezzanine’ where the bed is. The building also harbours a deep and harrowing history: during the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of France, members of the local resistance took shelter in this very building to hide.

With a Metro stop being at your front door and an excellent host providing insider tips of navigating Paris, you really couldn’t ask for a better base to explore this magical city. It’s compact, but from £54 a night you couldn’t ask for more!

Ireland

No. 5

galway

Is there anything better than having a whole castle to yourself?

Well, unfortunately you can’t have the whole castle, but you can have the master suite with personal access to your own turret in this 1400s-built medieval castle in the outskirts of Galway, Ireland. This isn’t my typical city break recommendation as you DO need a car to get to it, but it was too much of a babe to leave out.

castle

This property is being refurbished by one man – an impressive feat when you consider how old the castle is. The owner, Peter, who works on many castles throughout Ireland, offers a true, authentic Irish experience in what must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And at around £120 a night, you have an amazing opportunity to use this gorgeous castle as a base to explore this beautiful country.

Sweden

No. 6

stockholm2

My heart burst with joy when I came across this beautiful Writer’s Cabin by the lake in Lidingö, Sweden – I couldn’t move fast enough to grab my wallet but was heartbroken it wasn’t available during the dates of my annual leave! I will absolutely be back!

For storytellers, this is a dream. The perfect office space to help you curate all of your ideas into wonderful pieces of content. Not a writer? F*ck it, just pretend. Holing up in this cabin, you’ll feel like you’re in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with a warming log burner behind you, rustic writing bureau underneath you and having nothing but nature and scenery surrounding you.

stockholm

You will be a little bit off the beaten track, but it is only a short drive from Stockholm central. The cabin is only 15 minutes on the ferryboat (ferryboat!!) to the underground, and then you’ll be right back within civilisation again. In winter you can go iceskating on the Fjord. In summer, hiking through the forests.

You won’t be able to have a proper shower (there’s only a “hand shower”) unfortunately – but perhaps you’d expect a lack of luxuries for £75 a night (in what is a VERY expensive country). What you will get is an impeccable place for inspiration, a chance to really leave civilisation behind, and also perhaps you can pretend for a few days you’re a super cool detective or investigative journalist with a super important mission ahead. No? Just me that likes to pretend cool sh*t like that?!

Netherlands 

No. 7 

windmill2

Ok, so you can’t have a castle all to yourself, but you can have a romantic 1874-built windmill near Amsterdam all to yourself!

Every room is wooden and rustic, including the gorgeous draped bed in the main bedroom. The lounge/kitchen/diner is wonderfully well lit and airy and supplies views of gorgeous scenery whilst you eat breakfast. There is a beautiful river flowing nearby and, in summer, supposedly is perfect for swimming in!

windmill

It is a little bit out of the centre of Amsterdam, so again you will need a car to get you out here, but surely there’s no better way to enjoy the gorgeous Netherlands countryside – the hosts even offer cheap bike hire so you can go exploring on pedal. But if you do need town, the centre of Amsterdam is only 15 minutes away.

Now this is definitely more than what I’d normally pay for an AirBnb – from around £250 a night. But then this isn’t a normal property. You would stay here to be part of the culture, part of the woodwork. A fly on the wall in a beautiful country. It’s worth splashing out every now and then for a truly remarkable experience after all.

UK

I couldn’t leave out my home country now, could I?

No. 8 

dunmww

How about this haunted bedroom? It claims to be ‘Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home’ and is based just outside of London Stansted airport. As much as I am ashamed to use copy and paste in one of my blogs, I simply just have to share this sentence because I cannot imagine a more perfect and haunting way of relaying this information:

…this room recreates in nightmarish detail the bed chamber of a seven-year-old Edwardian child complete with books, toys and ephemera.

Sends shivers down your spine, doesn’t it? Now this is one room I definitely WON’T be staying in (despite my open-mindedness) as I am terrified of ghosts!

Despite being advertised as a bedroom, the host promises you will have the entire property to yourselves – just to add to the creepiness! Previous guests explain this is more of an ‘experience’ than a regular hotel stay – you have been warned! For £110 you probably cannot find a better place to indulge in spooky fantasies or do a bit of ghoul-hunting, whilst sleeping in style and luxury.

No. 9 

scot

Sccarrrttlannnnd. Four poster beds. Castle views from your sofa. The cobbled well-walked streets of Edinburgh on your doorstep. SIGN ME UP!

For only £144 a night, which is pretty good for the heart of Old Town, the Laird’s Lodge is mere footsteps to the Royal Mile and a short (uphill) walk to the castle which offers astonishing views across the rest of the city. There are many wonderful pubs close by, as well as many of the popular sightseeing or touristy destinations (National Gallery, the university, Scott Monument) and you are still within walking distance of Carlton Hill, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Arthur’s Seat.

I’ve now been to Edinburgh six or seven times over the past 5 years – personally it’s my favourite city in the whole world and I would live there if I could. I will never tire of the beautiful Scottish accent, nor will I ever get bored of going up Arthur’s Seat. If you haven’t been, I recommend you consider it as your next trip – you won’t regret it.

That’s it!

Anyway – there we have it! 9 alternatives to your traditional hotel room or apartment rental stay in 6 beautiful European countries. I really recommend with every booking to be on the look-out for unusual places to stay because it really can propel your trip from ‘it was alright’ to ‘it was gaddddamnnnn magical!’.

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@citybreaksandcakes

 

How to successfully pull off day trips abroad

There are predominantly two types of of holiday makers: the two weeker cruise/trip-to-beach-resort for food, cocktails and chill but tend to only do this once a year, or the cram-in-as-many-countries-as-humanly-possible-checklist type people. I’m definitely the latter. It leaves me exhausted and I’ve had multiple friends tell me I’m silly for going on holiday and then not actually relaxing whatsoever. I can see their point, but it’s just the way I am.

2017, for me, is the year of the day trip. Usually my getaways consist of two nights somewhere, over a weekend, and I’m back at work on Monday before anyone even knows I’m gone. All of this changed in January when I read a friend’s blog who took a day trip to Norway.

It inspired me. My brain started whirring. Could I successfully pull off day trips to a completely different country? It would require a lot of planning to make the most of my time and it’d be completely hectic, but I could immediately see the benefit of pulling off such a stunt.

I’m not rich by any means. Anyone who looks at my Instagram account probably thinks I don’t work and spend my life on holiday. Well, I do work. Last year I was a freelancer struggling for cash, and now I have a secure job that’s a 9-5. The stability helps with funding my trips, but now I find myself with less flexibility to take them. Hence my desire to take in as much of a new city as possible, in the shortest amount of time.

Hotels are expensive. Even AirBnB is becoming more expensive than it was 5 years ago when I first used it. Food is expensive. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole weekend amounts to more than my disposable income in any given month. A day trip, whereby I’d eat my homemade breakfast on the flight out and skip dinner to eat late when I got home, seemed incredibly appealing, and my day would consist of cheaper local street-food bites rather than sit down dinners.

What would I be missing out on?

  • Actually getting a chance to chill – whether in a coffee shop, over a meal or in a pretty park
  • Experiencing more than a one or two different kinds of foods
  • Having to prioritise my to-do list and miss out on some key sightseeing opportunities due to lack of time
  • The moral part of it – staying in a new city for several days means you’re contributing more to their local economy
  • Sleep

What would I gain?

  • It would be much cheaper than staying overnight
  • I’d be able to ‘check out’ a city for a short period of time to help me decide if I wanted to go back for longer in the future
  • If I went back in the future, I’d have instantly a better idea of what to do and how to navigate the public transport and what’s the best way to transfer from the airport
  • I would be able to visit more cities, more often
  • A day away from my job or housework where I completely lose reality and really just focus on exactly where I am – the work phone gets left at home and everything! A real escape, sometimes midweek, even if just for a day
  • New knowledge of a new city!
  • ….and a new blogging opportunity

Trial 1 

My first day trip of the year was Copenhagen (you can read more about this beautiful city here). It was cultural and all-round amazing. Do I regret only going for a day? Absolutely. I truly do. It was a hauntingly beautiful place and yet so vibrant. Plus the food was to die for. But all is not lost – I now know I 100% want to return, and this time take the Yank with me, as I think he’d appreciate the cuisine (especially the pastries!), the beer and the wonderful history. I now know roughly where would be a good place to stay (I do absolutely have my eye on the Radisson Blu and its wonderful views…). I know what food places to definitely go to, and also the ones I missed and therefore still need to try. I know I definitely want to take a boat trip. And now I know roughly how much money to take with me too.

What’s more, I know now I want to go in winter. Spring was amazing don’t get me wrong – it was nice to walk around in a tshirt. But the Danish do hygge really, really well. This art of cosiness, belonging and comfort would be so appealing in the winter months. I can’t wait to be sat inside one of their teeny pubs in front of a warming fire, candlelight in front of me, reading a book, sitting over a stew or soup. I want to wrap up in hoodies and scarves and wander their Christmas markets with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.

So, the day trip was a hit.

Trial 2 

My second day trip of the year was to Venice. In summer. On the opposite end of the spectrum to Copenhagen, which was peaceful and welcoming and untouristy, Venice was incredibly touristy. Packed, throngs of people moving quickly through the streets, pulling clunky luggage over hardened cobbles and shouting.

I’ve read many articles lately about tourists ruining Venice (check out this one). It’s such a shame, as it’s such a beauty hotspot. The streets are charming. Narrow winding oranges and reds interspersed with greenery and flowers. Such a shame they’re adorned with packed floating heads mosaying their way through, stopping here and there to take selfies. In the dead of winter, this place would probably be far more enjoyable.

Did I have fun? Yes. We hired a gondola, which was really exciting as we hadn’t planned for it (we said we’d skip dinner to be able to afford it in the end). As it was much later on in the day, but before the night crowd got out, the canals were far quieter. Down some ‘streets’, we heard no noise whatsoever apart from the gentle boomffphh of the gondolier’s oar meeting the water bed. We could sit back and chill, staring up at the tiny balconies of the people who lived here. Or perhaps they were BnBs and were empty.

Whilst there we ate some great food and had some amazing gelato. It was a great place to see, and I’m glad I ticked it off my bucket list. However, as I did my planning before we went and wrote down a list of things to do and see, I crossed things out and sacked them off, thinking we wouldn’t have time. Actually, we ended up having plenty of time. We even returned to our coach to the airport far too early. To me, a day was plenty in Venice. Would I go back? Sure, but again it wouldn’t be for very long, and it definitely wouldn’t be summer. I think I’d prefer winter when the streets would be bare and the waters in the canals wouldn’t smell in the beating sun.

Is it doable? 

Looking at cost and logistics, for Copenhagen my flight out was 7.45am arriving at 9.45am. I was out of security by 10, and it was a 20 minute journey to the city centre via train. I was eating my first Danish pastry by half 10. My return flight was 8.15pm. With no luggage to check I was able to rock up to the airport an hour beforehand with time to spare. I landed back home just after 10pm and was home by midnight, exhausted but happy (particularly since I snuck home some more pastries). I had a solid 8 hours in central Copenhagen, and 45 minutes of that was spent in the outskirts exploring. In that time I successfully ticked off a lot of major tourist hotspots and eaten a lot of food. I did this trip solo, so no faffing, just straightforward. And I had a great time. My flight cost less than £35 in total.

Venice was slightly more complicated. A longer flight, we managed to get a 6.20am journey out, landing 8.20am local time. Unfortunately when we flew, Marco Polo wasn’t open, so our only option was Treviso. This was a 45 minute bus journey from the city, after a 40 minute wait for said bus in the first place (and it was still a 25 walk from the bus station to get to anything major – we could have taken a water taxi but felt like walking to find food). Our flight back was 9.15pm, landing just before midnight. We weren’t in bed until gone 2am and I felt like death the next day at work (only The Yank had been smart enough to book the following day off too!). We had approximately 7 hours of wandering around the central Venice which was still plenty. It would have been nice to have explored more islands, such as the Lido and Burano, the colourful island, and if we return these are on our list. The flight was around £45 per person.

Cost savings? For just me in Copenhagen, I probably saved £250 from not eating out three proper meals a day and staying for two nights. Plus the potential drinking/cocktails and any other entertainment I would’ve had to find. For Venice, I’d imagine we’d have easily spent £600 between us, as the food was extravagant, and there was reason to keep purchasing 4 Euro gelatos every two hours. Accommodation wasn’t cheap and neither was the transport. I was totally happy having saved all of this money but still managing to get out to two different new countries and cities.

Where next?

Planning day trips abroad isn’t easy. First of all you have to take into account flight time. There’s no point travelling 3 hours each way (e.g. London to Croatia or Greece) just for a day – especially when you take into account the transfer time from the airport to the city centre. Venice was the maximum on the do-able rating I’d say, at 2.5 hours. Ideally, you need to find places that don’t take more than 2hrs to fly to. From London, ideal destinations are Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Dublin.

The next important step is actually looking at the flight times airlines have. For busy destinations such as Berlin and Dublin from London there are multiple flights a day. Some destinations however only have one flight out, and can be totally awkward like 5pm in the evening.

One of my favourite airlines, to many people’s disgust, is actually Ryanair. I am a huge advocate. For starters, they LOVE their early flights. And I love early flights. When booking a trip, there is nothing more depressing than having to choose a 7pm departure, arriving at your destination late into the evening when it’s dark and you can’t see a thing and you’ve lost a whole day of your trip. I love setting off early and arriving with the full day ahead of me – and this is especially good for day trips. Lots of Ryanair flights out of London leave around 6am which is perfect, although (depending on where you live) can mean a 3am start…

[Update: With the recent news of Ryanair flight cancellations, has my opinion of them changed? Well, no, not really. What they’ve done is really poor with even poorer communications to customers. I know I would’ve been terribly upset if I was flying my way out for a trip, or worse flying out to visit the Yank if I hadn’t seen him for over a month, and had a flight cancelled on me with 24 hours notice. However, you do have to take into account they are probably the cheapest airline locally, and with that you really can’t expect good customer service nor decent communication. I know I take a risk every time I fly with them – sucks, but it has also provided me with so many opportunities). 

Of course, as airlines update routes and change things around, flight times change. I could easily do my research right now, staying awake until 1am to find all of the day-trippable destinations for you to go to – but chances are within a month it’ll be out of date. And most people reading this probably won’t even fly out of my closest departure point, Stansted. I’m pretty sure Berlin, Dublin Cologne and Stockholm still have day-trippable routes – go check it out. Book it early enough in advance too and you’ll probably spend around £35 for your outgoing and return flight collectively.

Now, since I’m super nice, I’m going to provide (as at 19 September 2017) several day trippable destinations going out of London (but beware, these will expire quickly!):

Easyjet London Stansted to Amsterdam – now it looks like only on Mondays and Fridays you can get a super late flight back. So ~ outgoing depart 0700 (land 0910), return depart 2155 (land 2200). I was looking at 23 October for these times. This is for ~£110. Whilst this is absolutely the higher end of what I’d pay for flights, it is really hard to find much cheaper to Amsterdam – for some reason I’ve never been able to find flights for less than £100 return.

Ryanair London Stansted to Dublin – 0630 depart (land 0755), returning 2155 (land 2315). Looking at 10 November. Currently £40.

Easyjet London Stansted to Edinburgh – 0900 flight (land 1015), returning 1935 (land 2055). That’s for 28 September, and ~£70. It looks like after September ends, there will no longer be 0900 flights out to Edinburgh, so get in quickly.

Easyjet London Luton to Geneva – departing 0700 (land 0945), returning 2130 (land 2210) – for £40. I looked at 18 October.

Ryanair London Stansted to Prague – departing 0840 (land 1135), return 2035 (land 2145). £50 and that’s for 4 November.

Sorry for those of you not living near London. However please check flights from your local airport monthly as new flight times are frequently introduced!

Now you’ve done the hard part and found your flights, from here this should be the easy part. As long as you don’t leave it to the last minute, like me. Whilst you’ll want to cram in as much as possible, a city break day trip should not be a chore. You just have to be realistic. Here’s how I plan:

  1. For research, I utilise TripAdvisor, various Instagram hashtag searches relevant to location, and relevant blog posts – such as ‘how to spend a day in Berlin’ (for example). I asked friends, family and colleagues that have spent time in my planned destination
  2. I write a list of everything I want to do. All museums, sightseeing things, castles, all restaurants to eat at, cake shops to try, good coffee shops – EVERYTHING
  3. Split my list into two for sightseeing and foodie stops  – after all, sightseeing items can be eliminated, but you need food!
  4. If possible, I print out a map and put stars on the map where everything is
  5. Cross referencing locations, I group together places within a few miles’ radius – it’s best to focus on these things as it isn’t as much exertion to get from A to B to C if they’re close by – as opposed to constantly trekking half an hour to the next stop and barely getting to see anything
  6. Prioritise groups of things to do – the top items I will head to first and squeeze in no matter what, and the bottom items will be there ‘just in case’ I still have time – you never know, sometimes things you think will take an hour will take 15 minutes
  7. I finish by writing up a complete guide, usually on my phone so I can easily bring it up and copy and paste addresses for Google Maps. I screenshot things I need to know such as transport times. I download offline routes on Google Maps, just in case the country I’m in isn’t a Three Feel At Home country.

 

Voila! Your list for your day trip. Just to note – if you plan on going to take lots of photos, for either your portfolio or just your Instagram, make sure you add on at least 20 minutes to each of your things to do so you have plenty of time for snapping!

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@citybreaksandcakes

P.S.

Just to mention now that I think about it, 2017 isn’t actually my first year of abroad day trip experience. Up until the age of 18, I never had my own passport. I went abroad to Tenerife twice when I was far younger, travelling on my mum’s passport, and nowhere else. At 18, I decided it was time for my first holiday without my folks, and I applied for my passport. Well, it arrived one Friday morning, and I immediately booked a ferry to Calais (no car!) for Saturday morning. It was a 2am start to get a cheap ferry, and I had to park the car at Dover and get on the ferry on foot as it was ££hundreds more expensive to take the car. Obviously in Calais I realised there’s very little to do, but I did manage to find a beach. I ate a lazy lunch nearby and wandered around some streets. I had taken my new camera and snapped some arty photos of an abandoned railway line (hm I wonder where those photos are!). The ferry back was ridiculously early in the day, maybe 4pm, but it was my first ever experience using my own passport, and my first abroad trip that I can actually remember – and it was a day trip. At the time, I felt totally like the world was my oyster.

My hyggelig experience of one of the happiest cities on Earth

“Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special.” – from hyggehouse.com

Prior to visiting Denmark for the first time, I revelled in The Little Book of Hygge by Weik Wiking. This man claims to have the best job in the world, and I think I agree. He works at the Happiness Research Institute, literally researching what makes people happy. The book begins with wonderful anecdotes of cosy warmth and friendship, and continues with psychology, science and chocolate recipes. It gripped me, and I felt obliged to mark pages to revisit to bring some more happiness and minimalism into my complicated life.

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A visit to Copenhagen ensued, being the capital city of the country that invented the concept. I was desperate to feel ‘hygge‘ but didn’t know where to start, and it was annoyingly hard to find online in my researching in late spring – after all, hygge seems to have been borne from the cold and darkness that Danish people suffer during the winter months.

During my time in Copenhagen I, of course, had some touristy tasks to complete alongside my mission. I walked to the top of Rundetårn, the Round Tower observatory in downtown Copenhagen.  I walked down the famous Nyhavn street full of 17th Century houses, home once to Hans Christian Andersen and also to many of Denmark’s artists. It was crowded and touristy, but it was wonderful to see the boats going down the canal and flowing into the Øresund – the strait of water between Denmark and Sweden. I visited Christiansborg Palace and visited the Hard Rock Cafe (I’ve now visisted almost 50% of HRCs in Europe!).

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But what I really wanted to do was learn about this happiness theory.

So, hygge. Warmth and cosiness. Indulgence and wellbeing. Candlelight and blankets. Well, I visited Denmark in May. It was pretty warm (despite the cloudiness) so I wasn’t really in the mood to try and seek out cosy things. My jacket was ditched and ice creams were on my mind. However, I had some ideas thanks to my researching and Instagramming (thanks to everyone who had suggestions!). So here is my guide to hygge in Copenhagen.

Snacking and bakeries 

Denmark is well known for its pastries. I had done my research well and found a few shops that sold tasty wienerbrød (no idea how to pronounce that by the way) and my very first stop in Copenhagen was Sankt Peders Bageri in the old Latin town. It was a super tiny place with an awkwardly low level couch placed right near the door, so if the shop is heaving, people are practically falling over you. I tried not to be phased – after all, several people online stated it was THE place for pastries. The display, though small, was gorgeous. Shiny freshly baked sweet pastries covered the counter and the window display, and the back walls were bricked with amazing-smelling loaves of twisted bread. I abandoned all desire for my “wiener-bread” and opted for a Onsdagssneglen – partly down to the weird name, and partly down to the fact they only sell this particular pastry on Wednesdays, which seemed too coincidental considering that was the day I was there (the name literally means ‘snail Wednesday’). No, it isn’t made of snail, it just looks like a giant shell, and giant is definitely the right word. The size of my hand span (but I wasn’t willing to hold it entirely in my palm as it was sticky AF). It is made with cinnamon – however not too much. I actually hate cinnamon, but this was yummy. It was sweeter and more sugary than your usual tart cinnamon taste. I polished it off in super speed as I hadn’t eaten all morning, wiping my fingers on my jeans, desperately wishing I’d brought some hand gel with me. The stickiness quickly covered my phone and camera – I didn’t care. It had been worth it.

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I later found out Sct. Peders was founded in 1652. This bakery was cute – small, friendly, delightful, and cosy. It was warm outside, over 16oC, and yet I had found cosiness. I shared my sofa with three other people – two Americans, and one who’s accent I couldn’t confidently place. Swedish, perhaps. They were deep in chat, and as an introvert I’m not the kind of person to interrupt a small group to make friends. But I listened to their conversation half-heartedly whilst eating my Onsdagssneglen and drinking my coffee, peoplewatching the tourists who were coming in and placing orders for food. The three, relaxed and deep in chat, were discussing their studies and a music festival, blissfully passing time and enjoying the cosiness of company. I had plans though and couldn’t join their time-passing joy, so I wiped my hands one last time on a napkin and left.


Gardens and sunshine 

In further search of cosiness and friendship, I made my way across Copenhagen to the Botanical Gardens. It had some good reviews online that it was a pretty place to visit. Forgive me for thinking ‘oh my Instagram feed could do with some green’ – I was on a mission. Unfortunately, I got lost. I somehow got turned around and couldn’t for the life of me grasp enough signal for Google Maps to pull me out of my pickle, and instead I stumbled upon the King’s Garden ‘Kongens Have‘. It was a beautiful park, perfectly manicured tree-lined paths with a pretty pavilion right in the middle. In the distance Rosenborg Castle loomed over some more pretty grounds, looking dark in the misty heat as the sun beat down behind it. I wasn’t sure if you could go inside – I’m sure you could. It wasn’t my plan though – the weather was warm and I wanted to be outside. The pavilion was pretty. Two young men walked hand in hand in the middle, through the arches and trellises, determined to accidentally photobomb any portrait photo or selfie I tried to take. A small group of friends sat at one of the entrances, playing gentle music and laughing. The whole park was swarmed with groups of friends, but they were so spread out that it appeared vaguely empty. Even the wannabe 5-a-side footballers managed to keep their game so quiet and serene that it seemed lazy.

There wasn’t hustle and bustle, nor people angry marching, desperately needing to get somewhere, despite the fact this seemed like a big thoroughfare for one side to the other. It was hardly cosy or warming, but had a charming and peaceful vibe to the point I was shocked there wasn’t a group of older ladies doing yoga quietly in the corner.

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Bookshops 

For hygge dining atmosphere, I took a peek inside Paludan Bogcafe. It is an absolute booklovers paradise, as hardbacks line most of the walls. Of course this makes it awkward if you genuinely want to select a book and you end up leaning over someone’s meal to grab your favourite novel, but all the same the quiet and calm atmosphere, full of families catching up and students studying, made for a happy and warm feeling in your belly. I didn’t have a chance to eat here, though I saw raving reviews online, but it’s worth a visit even just for a coffee – or even just to peek your head around the door and check out the ceiling-high stacks of books.


Canals 

Whilst in Copenhagen, I didn’t take a boat tour. I just didn’t have time. But I admit I was envious of those who managed to take a small, two-person canal tour around the Christianshavn network of canals. As I was on my way out of the city, aiming towards the station so I could get to the airport, I wandered through the Christianshavn neighbourhood. Whilst not the prettiest part of the city and not as traditional, there was a real hygge feel as I watched people drift down the canals in boats and perch on coffeeshop doorsteps drinking some kind of iced caffeinated brew.


Food galore 

Continuing my search for hygge in sunshine, I crossed the Inderhavnsbroen bridge across Copenhagen’s inner harbour and went off mooching for the food market. Copenhagen people are big on their food. Or visitors to Copenhagen are big on their food. Either or, most touristy stuff is dominated by food.

Even the Round Tower I mentioned earlier had one of Copenhagen’s infamous hotdog trucks at its base, Den Økologiske Pølsemand (døp). Digressing slightly (I HAVE to talk about these hotdogs), I have to recommend that if you’re in this amazing city, go to the døp stand and order a roasted hot dog. Now the first thing to mention is that they only use organic ingredients, meaning you can feel like less of a fatty and also feel better about the environment. The ‘dog’ itself is super tasty, proper meat from proper farming, super rich and chunky and it tastes like Christmas. My favourite part of this meal (and it was sizeable) was the fresh and fried onions. The fresh onions are great for keeping the hotdog moist and sticky, and the crispy, bitty fried onions add an amazing crunch and rich texture to the otherwise soft and delectable meat and dough situation that’s in your hands.

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Back to the Copenhagen Street Food market. Another supposed must-do, and it’s a nice walk across a busy bridge (though watch out for the bikes!) to get there, the market is a mainly indoor food hall of “sustainable street food”, full of trucks, vans and stalls selling anything from ostrich burgers to Brazilian grill, Moroccan flatbread to sushi, burritos to South Korean BBQ street food, French cuisine to falafel. I had to look back over their website to remind myself what was there (such a blur!) and my mouth was watering just thinking about all the food options in one place. All of these food vans are inside one relatively-dark warehouse, and, except for people placing their orders to vendors, everyone else is outside. Benches and benches and benches go on forever, including pseudo ‘VIP’ areas made out of shipping freights (though from what I could see anyone can enter them). Me? I chose to dangle my legs over the promenade. Did I mention it’s right on the water? I sat with my pancakes and strawberry Daiquiri, sipping gleefully and watching passing boats and ships. It was so busy. Some people had even brought their own deck chairs to sit along the front as the benches were all so rammed. It was noisy and fun, far from serene or peaceful. But there was a huge feeling of community, togetherness and definitely indulgence. If I’m not mistaken, I could find hygge here.

To add one more market – for chocolates and and cheese and gin and olive oil and flowers, Torvehallerne market a few minutes from Nørreport station is a perfect place for gifts, or personal indulgence. Personally, I had no room left in my luggage, and also would not have been able to buy any jars or bottles as I had no checked bags. But it was a lovely marketplace with independent sellers, though fairly expensive.

Coffee

Being such a coffee lover, it’s amazing I’ve not mentioned it more. Despite being warm, nothing gets in the way of me and my cappuccinos. I had several places on my list to try – my favourite however, due to the taste and view, was Original Coffee. There are several of these dotted around Copenhagen. The one I went to was in a shop, Illum, which was actually the first one where it all started.

Original Coffee locally roast their coffee beans and all of their food is again organic (can you see a pattern? Organic is the norm here). In the cafe I went into, it was several flights of escalators up to the very top floor. I was eager for a view. Unfortunately the view doesn’t extend particularly far as you have equal-height buildings to the left and right, but what you do have is a beautiful peoplewatching station as these individuals went about their daily business down on the street below, whether it was on their way to a meeting somewhere or buying lunch, or shopping with girlfriends. The coffee shop itself is big on minimalism. Walls are stark white, furniture is a gorgeous distressed wood but very simple. The only colours are black and brown.

Once I accepted my frothy coffee from the barista, I headed out onto the balcony – which I was pleased to see curved around two sides of the Illum rooftop so you had a fabulous view of the streets below on different sides. There’s a great view over Storkespringvandet – the Stork Fountain – below, and also of Christiansborg Palace over the river further down Højbro street.

hygge.

So there you have it. My search for hygge in one of the happiest places on Earth. It would probably be easier to find in winter, with firelit bars and pubs welcoming weary tourists into their food and drink and family. However I managed just as well in the warmth to find cosiness and belonging and community. It seems Copenhagens really have the pleasure and indulgence thing pegged. From pastries to delicious smørrebrød, beer to cheesecake (there are whole shops dedicated to cheesecake – imagine!). Even though I’m sure the city was run with tourists whilst I was there, there just wasn’t the typical touristy feel as with every other European city I’ve visited. Something about Copenhagen gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach, and I’m already planning my Christmas journey back.

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A little Brit in cattle drive America

As we travelled down I-70 in a rented Dodge Challenger, I had to wonder how many non-Americans have driven the entirety of this road, right from one side of Kansas through the other. East to West. (and yes I’m aware it goes on a long ways further than Kansas!). Towns passed us by – Salina, Russell, Homer, Oakley. Each were smaller than the previous and I felt as though I was heading into the Wild, Wild West.

Every town on our 9 hour drive, I saw something I needed to stop for and take a photo. At Wray it was a cliff edge, a sheer drop hanging over the town. After a small climb up, I marvelled as I looked down upon perfect three story mansions (I’m English ok? Every US house looks like a mansion). After driving past a tiny town called Detroit, we came upon Abilene, where The Yank insisted on stopping off at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. I saw the house where Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, grew up as a child. In St. Francis, there was a sign for a historical landmark on the side of the road. We sped past it not realising it was there, but I suggested we turn back. Here I learnt about a massacre of the Cheyenne and other Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado. There were survivors, who fled to the Cherry Creek Valley – this exact location which we stood upon. Almost 3,000 Indians gathered here in 1864.

Taken from www.kansastravel.org: “Cherry Creek Encampment near St. Francis is where the Plains War between the Indians and Whites began; a war that lasted twelve years and culminated at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876.”

We didn’t stay long. A guestbook inside an old metal mailbox was waiting to be signed – I scribbled our names awkwardly, not wanting to balance the book on the box in case it toppled, and jumped back in the car. An amazing sense of wellbeing and gratitude overcame me as I realised how few names there were in the guestbook – though someone probably looked after the area and frequently would change the books over I’d imagine – but also how few there were from outside of America. Everyone signed their name alongside their home state. I proudly wrote “England” with a smiley face. This is how far I had travelled to visit this little site. In this little town.

We took another road trip later on in the week. This time travelling South on Highway 71, through Woodrow and an amazing little town called Last Chance (dammit, why the hell was there no sign?! I needed a sign selfie with Last Chance!). Through Limon, then West towards Calhan where we stopped off at the incredible Paint Mines Interpretive Park. A blog post will appear on this later, don’t you worry. Continuing West for a bit longer, we slowed as we approached the town of Calhan that looked like a street out of A Million Ways to Die in the West. I almost expected a woman to step out from one of the houses wearing a saloon dress. And we weren’t even in the West. Tucked away from the main road, between Cheyenne Street and Boulder Street, I spotted a gun shop. Visiting gun shops in America is on my bucket list of American activities. I later discovered it, Liberty Shooting Sports, on Facebook but was disappointed to see the page not in use. As we approached I chuckled at the outside decor: a sign hanging on the fence outside labelled Men’s Room with what looked like a drain at the bottom amongst the grass, and a sign hanging on the shop door itself

GUNS ARE
WELCOME
ON PREMISES
PLEASE KEEP ALL WEAPONS
HOLSTERED UNLESS
NEED ARISES,
IN SUCH CASE,
JUDICIOUS MARKSMANSHIP
IS APPRECIATED

I was thrilled at such a find – an incredibly rural gun shop, likely owned by what my idea of a Redneck or Hillbilly is. What we did find inside was a very nice man with a VERY overexcitable Labrador. I instantly had to get on the floor and roll him around, he was clearly very happy to have visitors (the dog, though I bet the owner was too). The shop was quite bare of guns, though full of niknaks and random collectables, and I marvelled at the few rifles and shotguns hung on the walls, and the display of knives. I bade farewell to the beautiful black lab and we carried on.

As we nearly reached our destination, I wondered how many tourists there were in America who would never experience the real earthy, rural, enriching America I was seeing. I cannot even provide a comparison, because I’ve never seen anything OTHER than rural America. Ok, I once had a trip into Denver to see the Rockies play, alongside a trip to the very packed city centre Cheesecake Factory. (FYI – I didn’t have a clue what was going on during that game).

The rest of my experience of America has been seeing small town Colorado. I’ve eaten in more than two tiny diners run by Mexicans. I’ve stayed the night in a roadside motel that had barely any hot water (and successfully didn’t find myself in the middle of a horror film). I’ve been fishing (and caught nothing) in a lake that you’d have never guessed was there as it was so far out of the way. I’ve legally fired pistols, shotguns and even an AK-47 on vast, empty prairie. I’ve stalked a huge buffalo, solo in a large farmer’s field, wondering if the farmer was going to come out and shoot me. I’ve seen up close and personal a rattlesnake, and then later on almost saw a different rattlesnake get in a fight with a rabbit. I’ve sat in a truckstop diner and marvelled at a small boy, who was literally the spitting image of the Milkybar Kid, round glasses and cowboy hat and neckerchief and all, come in to fetch a load of pack lunches for the farm he works at when school is out for summer.

Is this what American life is like? It’s so vastly different to my own. We don’t have prairie. We don’t have vast fields that you can see for hundreds of miles around – too many trees get in the way. We don’t eat dumplings and sausage gravy as a breakfast option. Do you know how difficult it is to find a cappuccino in small town America? Waiting staff either can’t understand me when I say it or laugh at me for thinking they’d have anything fancier than drip coffee.

My worst American experience so far? Being taken to a cattle drive. A cow auction. At first I was excited to go. I saw all of these cows outside in pens, some rolling in mud, and thought we’d get to wander around them, watching farmers make their bids to purchase the cows and take them off to their cattle trucks. Big nope. Cows are individually pushed into a tiny ring and swatted with metal flags to force them to run in circles, over and over, so farmers sitting around the mini arena can see the ‘meat’. The cows pant and snort and fume, looking terrified and stumbling in an agitated way. The auctioneer speaks so fast you cannot understand a word he says, and suddenly within seconds it is over. The cow is forced through a metal gate which slams shut with a loud CRASH, as the cow scurries away petrified, they bring in another cow. And this goes on and on. I’ve a pretty strong stomach but this haunted me. You know what my fridge is full of now? Organic meat. Meat that I trust has come from cows managed properly and fairly and nicely. Happy cows. (y’know, until they get slaughtered… but one step at a time). I had to put on a brave face to impress my father-in-law, who sat in his seat chuckling at how quickly the auctioneer spoke, pleased he could now fully understand after so many years attending these drives. I was afraid to show weakness, and I passed the test. Despite wanting to rush down, jump into the shit-filled pit and hug that white cow that stopped and looked at me for what felt like an eternity (despite being whipped, it just kept looking straight at me), staring and burning into my soul with the kind of desperate look that my Labrador has when it’s Fireworks Night and he’s scared. This is small town America. This is Middle America. This is the America that voted in Trump, that wants it’s working industry back. That wants to keep the coal burning rather than using wind turbines and solar. That spends its days driving and driving and driving so many miles because you live so far away from anything. A hard working backbone of the country that doesn’t know much of life outside of the prairie, because why the hell would anyone want to go anywhere else – here we be growing our own crops, farming our own meat and poultry, shooting and fishing and hunting, and being raw and real. Why would you want to leave?

This is a world I don’t know and will never understand. But I sure as hell will be back. Just maybe no cattle drives this time. 

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@citybreaksandcakes

 

Tiny little dirt tracks leading off to nowhere

 

 

Our ride

 

 

Gunshop paradise

 

 

“Guns are welcome”

 

 

Childhood home of Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

 

 

Eisenhower’s home

 

 

Eisenhower statue

 

 

Cherry Creek Encampment – Cheyenne and Indians survivor camp

 

 

Out of both times I’ve visited America, I’m now 2 out of 2 for getting photos of the Nebraska sign, despite never spending more than an hour in Nebraska

 

 

Beautiful sunflower Chevy

 

 

Dodge truck ready to go to work

 

 

Near the end of the road trip, having left Manitou Springs and heading up Pikes Peak

 

 

Gorgeous Mustang in Brush, CO

 

 

Views from the top of Wray

 

 

Cramming Oslo into one weekend!

I did a solo trip to Oslo a couple of years ago and wanted to share my travel diary with you from my weekend. Obviously a few things will have changed since my time there in this innovative city, but I hope this will give you a good insight at how you can make the most of a weekend trip.

Oslo was my first ever solo trip. Nerves really started getting the better of me as I landed at Oslo Rygge airport (now closed) and realised I have to navigate my way to central Oslo alone. However, it was relatively easy to purchase a return coach ticket for less than €10 and the journey took about an hour.

The scenery was beautiful on the drive. Just so much greenery, trees and woodland everywhere! I’d already decided the trip would be disappointing if I didn’t spot a moose.

I had an AirBnB room booked and since it was now after 2pm, I headed straight there. Had a chat with the host who offered me some good tips for exploring Oslo, and then headed out.

First job – find stuff. I walked to Karl Johans Gate, the most touristy street, and ducked into a few Norwegian-looking shops (didn’t buy anything – though almost bought a bikini that, using my poor conversion skills, I thought was £6, but actually was £60 – whoops). It’s a very long street, but I was a bit disappointed with the stock and the atmosphere. It had an empty feeling, as if somewhere bigger and better had opened up and so the crowds had flocked elsewhere. I decided shopping and street culture and street food wasn’t Oslo’s bag. So I pushed on.

Whilst wandering around I saw the impressive buildings of the National Theater, the huge university building and the Royal Palace from afar. As I headed lower down the street, I found where the crowds were – there was a beautiful park, and fountains full of people wading through with their jeans rolled up to their knees, chasing their children while mum takes photos.

At an information centre just off the main strip, I bought myself an Oslo Pass. For £30 I would get travel included for train, Metro, tram and boat, and free entry to all of the museums I wanted to go to. Seemed like a bargain and would save me having to worry about purchasing metro and tram tickets (I always seem to get things like that wrong…).

The weather was beautiful, hot and sunny. All websites reckoned this would be the only day of sunshine – the rest held rain and storms. So, wanting to make the most of the beaut weather, I headed straight to the Radhusplassen pier to catch a boat trip. Once I had purchased my ticket, I had half an hour to kill before the next cruise. Scanning my map, I realised the Nobel Peace Centre was two minutes away (free entry, thanks Oslo Pass).

Not expecting much, I headed inside, but ended up being super impressed with what I learnt. There was an exhibit focused on modern topics, such as social media and how it affects people psychologically, and how it affected freedom of speech. Another exhibit upstairs showed the awful effects of chemical warfare during different wars. The photos shown were incredibly moving. I was actually a bit gutted at having to walk through so quickly, but I managed to stop and check the exhibits that were important to me.

Next, the boat trip. Two hours of going around the local fjords and viewing beautiful, remote islands on a cruise couriered by a hilarious young Norwegian woman. It was bliss in the sunshine. We swept by some tiny islands, deserted except for the occasional group of swimwear-clad people diving into the cool water from the cliffs.

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One larger island passed by us, full of spectacularly beautiful mansions (though the courier described them as ‘summer houses’). I learnt that the owner of one of these houses, annoyed at having to walk down his short flight of stairs to get to his personal boat jetty, illegally carved into the cliff face and installed an elevator going right up into his house. He had to pay the government fines for it, but he could clearly afford to do so! Absolutely living the dream.

Disembarking the boat after 2 hours, the sky was darkening and nearby I could hear cheering and shouting. It was World Cup season and an outdoor bar had opened up nearby with big screens. I brought a beer and stopped to watch – not even that interested in the Argentina and Belgium game, but more to soak in the vibrant atmosphere – until my stomach started rumbling and I knew I had to find some food.

I was told to steer clear of Karl Johans Gate – far too expensive. But I didn’t know where else to go just yet. I wanted somewhere quiet where I could chill out and read my book. Off onto a side street (I admit I did stumble down it following tattoo studio signage), I discovered a cute little American diner-themed burger joint. It’s the sort of place my mum would have run away from, as it was empty except for two people sitting outside smoking, not eating. Her theory is that if a place is empty, it’s for a reason. I shrugged and went in anyway, enjoying my secret win of rebelling.

I was glad I trusted my instincts. The diner was edgy and I loved the American decor. There was a jut into the back wall near the ceiling where there was a room set up like a 1950s rock and roll den. I couldn’t see a menu, just three different food options in chalk above the open kitchen. All in Norwegian, the hippie-looking barman/chef explained them to me. I wrinkled my nose at the vegetarian option – he must have understand my meaning, because he brought my burger out to me red and bloody. It was delicious. I would never have thought to put coleslaw in a burger before, but was it amazing. £15 burger. Worth every penny. Particularly as the only food I’d eaten all day was a hot dog. (although I’m not complaining, the ‘dog’ was spiralled in bacon).

Exhausted on only four hours sleep from the night previous, I happily gave up for the night about 8pm and walked back to the apartment, stopping to collect some breakfast for the next morning of pastries, berries and apple juice.

A storm developed overnight, I woke frequently to hear the battering rain against my room’s tiny window and flashes of lightning broke through the thin curtains. Finally it died down and I slept…

Until 10:30! Buggar! Considering I only managed one museum and a boat trip yesterday, I had a lot planned for the day and I’d already lost half of my morning. As I headed outside I expected rain but was thrilled to see sunshine again and decided I should do the most outdoorsy plans I had.

To start with, the Sunday market. I stabbed in Bla Grunerlokka into Google Maps…and it led me to the infamous Sunday Market of Oslo. Except it was about eight stalls, and half of them were only selling food. No trinkets or souvenirs for me. It was disappointing but on the way there I did come across The Pop Museum. Despite my research, I had no idea it was in this area. So I popped it…and was pleased to find everything was in Norwegian, as it meant I could just look at the photos.

The walls were lined with retro guitars and humongous brass instruments. Cool music pumped out in each exhibit and I had a blast in the dress up room. I managed to find a Marty McFly jacket and snapped a selfie in the mirror.

Akershus Fortress and Castle was on my list next. It’s at quite a height and showed me some beautiful views of the water and islands, as well as the mountains behind Oslo. The castle was, well, a castle. It was old and impressive, and I would definitely recommend doing it as is an important part of Norway’s heritage.

My weather app suggested rain in a couple of hours, so I ditched my idea of visiting the Armed Forces Museum and headed straight to Bygdoy Island, or ‘Museum Island’. It involved another boat trip and I planned on checking out the beaches whilst there alongside the museums. The boat trip was quick to the island.

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The Norwegian Folk Museum was surprisingly interesting, and I learnt a bit about Samis and Reindeer Nomads. I saw some traditional folk dancing and petted some horses and other farmyard animals. It felt nice to go to an open-air museum as opposed to a stuffy indoor one.

Next, the Viking Museum. ! It had three huuuuge viking ships, and I was amazed at the brilliant condition they were still in after being dug up from the sea!

The Kon Tiki Museum was next, just a ten minute walk away. Again it was small, and I was shocked to learn that Kon Tiki actually built boats out of, well basically wicker, and sailed huge oceans on them. I stared miraculously at one of the rebuilds wondering ‘well that won’t go anywhere’, thinking of my old bathroom wicker bin. But I suppose it did otherwise they wouldn’t have made a museum out of it.

Whilst browsing the gift shop, a bus pulled up outside. Without thinking, I made a run for it and jumped on, only asking it’s destination once it had started moving. Phew, it was going to Huk Beach.

When I jumped off, a young girl was selling strawberries at the stop. I bought some, only realising after that they cost me £4.70. I’m terrible at this currency converter thing. It makes it worse that, to convert Krona to Sterling, you only need divide by 10.

I found a beach (hmmpff, actually the first beach I found was a nudist beach, it’s a sore point, I’d rather not revisit that memory..) and sat and ate strawberries, kicked at the sand and enjoyed the sunshine. The sun started dropping and I made a move.

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A visit to the Polar Fram Museum (again, another big boat that sailed around the Arctic), and back on the cruise for Oslo Central.

It was 17:30 and light was fading. I jumped on the boat and headed back to base.

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A quick Google showed me that my main interest of the trip, to get up in the mountains, specifically via the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, opened until 20:00. I jumped on the Metro for the first time and took the half hour uphill journey towards the mountains.

Being at the top of the ski slope, I think I was actually pretty much at the top of the city. The scenery was beautiful and you could see for miles everywhere. I enjoyed a Latte at the top, taking loads of photos, wondering if next time I visit I should stay in one of the local hotels up here in the mountains. I was thrilled to be able to see, from the top, the city of Oslo and some of the fjords in the distance. And the ski slope is incredibly impressive in itself – I’m not afraid of heights but even I got goosebumps looking down the slope – the sheer steepness is enough to give many shivers and I gained incredible respect for the skiiers who take this on. Supposedly they’ve now opened the slope up as part of an obstacle course, laying the slope with a net and tasking competitors to climb up as quickly as possible.

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Food was on my mind, and I had read about a small restaurant along the beautiful Aker Brygge quayside that had some traditional Norwegian food. I wasn’t disappointed when I found it and quickly ordered the fillet of whale, with mushroom stew and lingonbery sauce. It £35 for that, a Coke and a tip, but absolutely worth it for the experience. It tasted very similar to steak, so wasn’t outrageously different, but I was glad I tried it. The other option was reindeer, but that was even more expensive! I think it previously had moose on the menu too. The restaurant was Rorbua and I absolutely recommend visiting here if you can. Best to come in summer and sit on their deck to people watch and take in the glorious views of the yachts and fjord.

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It was about 10pm, and I wanted a drink with a nice, night-time view.

Silly me. It stays light until gone midnight here. My ideal night was to head up to a super high-up bar and have a cocktail whilst taking in the lights of Oslo. I found a 21st floor bar in the Radisson Blu hotel, but it was still light! Still, I enjoyed a bourbon and ginger ale cocktail overlooking the tall buildings, the ‘Corporate Oslo’. Shortly after, I found a rock bar, had a cider, then realised it was midnight, I was slightly drunk and I had a long day ahead of me.

I headed to the apartment and slept.

My final morning here, I got up quickly and headed out, again pleased it was sunny but aware storms were forecasted for later.

Renald recommended the Vigeland Sculpture Park I had dismissed, thinking it might be boring. But, with nice weather, I thought it’d be worth a shout. I’m so glad I visited as it was beautiful! Loads of weird naked statues, and some amazing grounds. I people-watched for a bit and saw some Asian ladies doing tai-chi, and a jazz busker.

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Popping in for lunch and a coffee in the shop, it suddenly started absolutely hammering down with rain outside. I made a judgement call and made a run for the station – and actually thieved a tray from the cafe to use as cover. I had no umbrella! To this day I still feel like a criminal.

I headed back out to do some more sightseeing but the rain was so heavy, so I took shelter in the Hard Rock Cafe (yessss think this is the 12th European one I’ve visited? Only 27 to go..) for a coffee and read my book until it died down. I had time for one last stop – the Opera House. It’s incredible – it has a massive glass wall with a huge slanted white marble roof you can walk all over. Many photos of the building and selfies in the glass later, and it was time to go.

I packed, handed the keys back to Renald and said my goodbyes.

The journey back to the airport was uneventful, except for a terrifically annoying toddler that wouldn’t stop singing. A few hours later and I touched ground in Stansted.

It was an amazing trip – I crammed in so much in the space of just over 48 hours. Would I go again? Maybe. I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do in Oslo. If I went back to Norway, I’d stay in the mountains surrounding Oslo or I’d go to Bergen in the winter, for the spectacular views of the snowy mountains. My boss also suggested Lofoten which is meant to be incredible. Hopefully this would increase my chances of seeing the Northern Lights too.

Okay, I didn’t spot a moose on my trip. But then I didn’t go enough into the mountains to see one. It was still amazing, and definitely not disappointing.

I highly recommend Oslo as a travel destination. If not mid-winter, then mid-summer. If you can, stay in a summer house on the islands and you’ll have the whole fjord as your swimming pool!

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5 ridiculously good places to get coffee in Western Europe

Sharing with you my love for travel with the added bonus of where to find a topnotch coffee experience.

Elephant House, Edinburgh

Starting with my most recent trip, I’m delighted to add this charming coffee shop to my top 5. I discovered this place, as I’m sure most tourists have done, after reading list after list saying ‘visit the Elephant House, the birthplace of Harry Potter’.

Well as it turns out, this wasn’t the birthplace of Harry Potter. Portugal was technically actually the place J.K. Rowling started writing about Harry’s antics, however the Elephant House was still a frequent haunt of Rowling’s when she lived in Scotland.

Located on the George IV Bridge in Old Town, this cafe presents some decent coffee, herbal teas as well as a fantastic selection of food. It has a decent breakfast (their smoked salmon on scrambled eggs is to die for) and a good option of sandwiches and pies for lunch (the pies! Oh the pies! Topped with mash and gravy, so luscious). Sharing with you a photo of my pie:

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The decor inside isn’t really my kind of decor – it’s pretty dated with rustic orange wallpaper and very old tables and chairs. But it had an Indian vibe with elephants absolutely everywhere. It would have been nice if it had been a bit more Indian themed to be honest, with drapes and some comfy suede sofas. But then again they don’t serve Indian food so perhaps that would have been confusing. *furrows brow* One shocking element to this coffee shop – the toilets are actively ENCOURAGED to be strewn with graffiti! Seriously – go to the toilets and see how many Harry Potter quotes you can count written by cafe visitors.

Elephant promise their coffee is roasted locally in small batches ensuring unrivalled freshness. It definitely did taste good. Price wise, the coffee is I’d say an average price – about £2.55 for a small cappuccino, £3 for a large, and you’re looking at between £5 and £8 for sandwiches/pies. Totally worth it, especially if you manage to grab a seat at the back, with a gorgeous window view of the Castle up the hill.

Top tip: If you’re in a hurry, ask for some of their salted caramel brownies to take away. Seriously the best brownies I’ve ever tasted and a delight to munch on later when you’re peckish after climbing Arthur’s Seat or gone up and down the Royal Mile.

The Happy Pig, Amsterdam

Ok, so perhaps the reason this cafe lands on this list isn’t entirely down to the coffee. They have pancakes. I mean, seriously good, crepe-like, smothered-in-Nutella-and-filled-with-strawberries-and-whipped-cream pancakes. Their savoury options seemed incredibly popular too and I wish I’d have had longer to come back another day and try more. From our 20 minutes sitting in there, favourite options amongst visitors seemed to be the ham & onion and bacon & cheese.

The coffee was brilliant. It was handed to me in a tiny paper cup (I wouldn’t have minded a cup double the size, mind) and was delicious. Perfect in strength (not too strong, not too weak) with very frothy milk (but not the kind of froth that melts away after 10 seconds).

The pancakes aren’t cheap – you’re looking at spending €25 on two lots of pancakes and two drinks. For something that was essentially our breakfast, that’s a pretty hefty amount and we probably could have had a small fry up for half the price. However, for the tastiness of the crepes and coffee and the delightful atmosphere, I’d say it’s definitely worth it.

Top tip: Get here early in the day. It’s an incredibly petite shop with four cramped tables, and it always seems busy. If this sounds like your kind of hell then just stop by for a takeaway and walk further down the canal to a bench. But if you can, sit inside and soak up the busy atmosphere. The owner is super friendly and made us chuckle while we ate.

Vivaldi, Ypres

For anyone who hasn’t visited Ypres, I’d say now hike it up your to-do list. Now. Do it now. Ypres is a quaint little town in the West Flanders province of Belgium and filled with haunting World War I history. It is this town that the Germans invaded en route to France during the war, prompting a British, French and allied forces counter-attack. Three ensuing battles caused half a million casualties, and Ypres was demolished.

The town was rebuilt after the war, and one of the most important additions is the Menin Gate Memorial, an impressive arch housing the names of over 50,000 heroes who fell during the battles and have no known grave. What is incredibly spiritual about this arch is that every single evening at 8pm the local fire brigade play the Last Post and crowds gather around the gate to remember.

Prior to attending the Last Post service one chilly February evening, we stopped for coffee down Grote Markt and came across Vivaldi. It was almost empty, and felt far more like a restaurant than a coffee shop, but regardless they welcomed our group in, despite our casual dress. Brilliant service and I was thrilled to see it was a dog friendly place – never fails to put a smile on my face. We cosied on the comfy seats with coffees and hot chocolates, warming up before our final trip of the day. The coffee was good, not the best I’ve had, but the experience was brilliant. Ypres didn’t feel like a lively town, and there was almost a melancholy that descends upon it, especially as it gets darker. Understandably so, especially since so many visit this place as a ‘pilgrimage’ to remember the forgotten.

Micro Roastery, Canterbury

Totally off the beaten track, I only discovered this tiny little coffee shop because we ended up parking so far out of the city (although on hindsight it’s probably less than a 3 minute walk from all of the major shops – but it seemed totally off the beaten track!). As usual, a pretty little shopfront caught my eye. And when I say little, that’s probably an understatement. The entrance to the cafe probably would’ve struggled to fit more than four people in, but there is seating out the back.

The design of this cafe is epic. Hessian and woven coffee bags line the walls and an incredibly fancy and intimidating looking coffee machine sits right up front. A glass case of beautiful looking cake (display cake I like to call it – cake no one has yet had a slice of) juts out, daring someone to take the first piece.

A large cappuccino is £2,70. Not bad at all when compared to larger chains. The coffee is melt-in-the-mouth wonderful perfectly holding up a decent amount of creamy milk.

We didn’t sit in, instead opting to takeaway and keep wandering the streets of Canterbury, but I couldn’t resist walking past on the way back and grabbing another one. That’s when you know coffee is good.

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Cuillier, Abbesses, Paris 

We stumbled across this coffee shop en route to the Sacré-Coeur basilica. Having jumped off Abbesses Metro stop and panicking slightly about which direction to take (honestly, was the whole world getting off that tube stop at the same time?!), we abruptly crossed the straight to get away from the crowds and figured we’d wander around before whipping out Google Maps. This coffee shop almost shouted out to me – the decor was incredibly modern yet minimalistic and just shouted out ‘Instagram-photo’. And that’s an impressive feat to stand out because this area is littered with cafes.

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The queue was almost out the door when we entered, but fortunately went quickly. The cashier bar is simple and bland, with a prudent selection of brownies and cookies. What amazed me was the options of all the different types of coffee. I spied beans from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala, to serve even the most seasoned coffee connoisseur.

Though there’s a relatively quiet and calm ambience inside, there are always streams of tourists walking by on their way up to Sacré-Coeur. This cafe is absolutely perfect for people-watching, what with it’s huge glass windows. Even if it’s just while waiting in the line to be served.

 

There you have it! Five brilliant places that sell yummy coffee and cake, perfect for recharging so you can carry on with your day! Do you have any places you can recommend I try? :o) 

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