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A Weekender’s Guide to London

A Weekender’s Guide to London

Just over a month ago, Andrew and I scooted over to London for a long weekend to celebrate his 29th birthday. He had been feeling a little wary about marking the occasion since he was starting to mourn his twenties like he was already an elderly man but I left him little choice!

We had both been to London a few times before but not as a couple so it was lovely to explore new parts of the city together. There is such an amazing energy in London, an atmosphere that picks you up and runs with you. Through streets heaving with the stories of millions. A few people were surprised at us deciding to visit after the horror the city has experienced in recent months but it’s resilience and the spirit of the people there is palpable. Fear just isn’t an option.

Our afternoons were spent lazily strolling from one park to another (with plenty of coffee and cocktails thrown in to save our wee hooves) and evenings were for catching up with old pals. Getting around London is so easy and now you can just swipe your debit card in the Underground cutting out all the hassle of getting train tickets and Oyster cards. We flew in to Gatwick Airport and just hopped on the Southern Rail to London Victoria for a standard rail price. Quick tip: don’t get the Gatwick Express because it’s £15 more expensive and is only 5 minutes faster.

We discovered lots of new places on this trip so I thought I would share a few that really stood out for us. London is huge but we packed in a lot without feeling like we were rushing around. We also got really lucky with the weather so we tried to stay outside as much as possible, avoiding most of the museums I would normally visit on a cloudy day. Of course there is so much to do but this was a great itinerary for a sunny weekend. Feel free to pick and choose a few things from it and I hope you have just as good a time as we did!

Where We Stayed

London accommodation can be super expensive so to save a little cash we stayed with Andrew’s friend our first night. As much of a life saver it can be to have a friend in the big smoke, it’s not hugely romantic so we checked in to the Grange Hotel at St Paul’s on the Saturday (a surprise birthday present for Andrew!). It was such a treat to stay somewhere a little swanky and they even had some wine and cupcakes left out as a birthday gift – so thoughtful!

 

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The room was super cosy to come back to and the bed was almost too good to leave in the mornings. The breakfast made it all worthwhile – there was so much variety you could take hours over breakfast if you wanted! We loved being able to come back to such luxury after a day exploring on our feet and we headed straight for the spa in our dressing gowns to soak our weary bones. I would definitely recommend this place if you can book it. Weekends tend to be cheaper because there’s less business-folk around so make sure to look out for deals then!

Where We Ventured

Friday

We landed in the morning so after leaving our bags off we went searching for some late breakfast. We tried to get in to The Breakfast Club in Soho but the line was ridiculous so we dandered off to Carnaby Market instead for a huge diner-style brekkie.

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After eating and strolling through the decorated alleyways, we walked towards the Natural History Museum. I’ve been to the museum before but Andrew hadn’t so I knew it couldn’t be missed. It’s easy to spend a whole day in there (especially if you have kids) but because the weather was so good we didn’t want to stay inside for too long.

 

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When we had managed to see both the life-size T-Rex and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition we reemerged in to the sun and made our way to Hyde Park. Visiting parks is my favourite thing to do in a new city because even tourists can blend in as locals. Bodies were lazily strewn across the grass basking in the afternoon heat and we found the perfect spot to have a nap.

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Feeling energised after our siesta, we headed towards Notting Hill via Kensington Palace. The street behind Will and Kate’s gaff has some of the most amazing mansions I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but peak through the fences or over the walls to catch a glimpse of how the other half live (pretty well apparently). It was a fair walk from the Palace to Notting Hill but watching the buildings change from ordinary brick to candy-floss heaven made me glad that we were on foot.

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We kept going towards Portobello Road to check out the market and refuel i.e. welcome in happy hour. I also made sure to check out St. Luke’s Mews which is just parallel to the markets and an absolute Insta delight. You will recognise the buildings I’m sure since every London Instagrammer worth their salt has snapped the houses before and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of super delicious houses!

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Saturday

On Saturday we were in a mad rush to meet my cousin and her new fiancé for brunch in Hoxton which wasn’t easy since we were coming from Clapham Junction and the heat was already melting us. We managed to just be a half hour late (sorry Camille!) and then wandered around the Hoxton Markets towards Brick Lane.

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I loved Brick Lane despite the fact it’s revered as a hipster haven. There is such a great energy around and the vintage shops were incredible if a little overwhelming (I’m not used to such high-end vintage delights!). There is music filling every alleyway as well as the smell of food from all of the carts dotting every corner. After exploring the area and sinking back a much needed Pimm’s we headed towards Spitalfields Markets. I honestly could spend a weekend just exploring London’s markets and come home a happy woman!

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We had one last pitstop before heading back to the hotel which was Dunstan-in-the-East, one of my favourite spots of the trip. It’s a bombed out church found amongst skyscrapers that has been reinvented as an urban garden, providing a sanctuary for those looking to escape the hustle outside it’s walls. If I lived in London I could be found here often I think.

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Sunday

We were feeling a little dusty after our night out on Saturday (home at 4am!) so were a little slower to start. We managed to peel ourselves away from our cloud of a bed and headed towards the Sherlock Holmes’ Museum around lunchtime. Now, I freely admit that the museum is an absolute tourist trap and the admission at £15 is a little steep but there is such attention to detail here I couldn’t help but feel impressed.

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After exploring Sherlock’s house we escaped to Regent’s Park to rest our hangovers and find shade from the heat. We walked over the bridge and past the pedalos towards St. John’s Lodge Gardens, a secret haven within the park that is without the crowds of a sunny day. We made daisy chains and waited until we felt ready for a little more walking.

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Feeling a little bit more alive we hopped on a quick journey on the tube towards Little Venice, a canal network that is found in a quiet leafy suburb that feels a million miles away from the city. There are canal boats here that are of different sizes and colours but all equally beautiful. It’s evident that many of them are used principally as homes with mini gardens on the roofs and flowers everywhere. I would imagine it would be stunning in the autumn when the leaves that hang over the boats turn bright orange before disappearing in to the river.

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Monday

Our last day was another scorcher which made it that bit harder to leave. We managed to score free tickets to St Paul’s cathedral from the hotel (win!) and hopped across the road for a quick tour. It was a lot bigger that I had thought and so beautiful, especially the ceilings which sparkled in the sunlight and made my neck ache from all the craning. Andrew was even brave enough to go to the very top of the dome while I waited outside like the wimp I am!

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We headed towards Covent Garden via the Thames to enjoy a little bit more of the cityscape before our flight. We strolled through the shops and listened to the classical music reverberating across the walls from a quartet in the basement and took a break from the heat in one of the cafés.

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Our last stop was Neal’s Yard, another Instagrammer’s delight despite it being so tiny. It’s gorgeous and I wished I could’ve stayed there the rest of the afternoon but alas we had a flight to catch. Next time, maybe.

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Where We Ate

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Boqueria, Brixton

My mouth filled up with water as I was writing this just remembering the suckling pig alone. It’s a tapas place with the best service we had throughout the trip and it made for a lovely birthday dinner for Andrew. I would definitely come back here the next time I’m in London.

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Monty’s Deli, Hoxton

This is a fairly new joint and very popular so be sure to book a table! We ate brunch here with my cousin (I had the scrambled eggs with lox – so good!) in one of the booths that made me feel like I was in New York even though I’ve never been to New York.

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Honest Burger, Liverpool Street

When we go on holiday we need to fit at least one burger meal in to keep old Andy happy and man was he happy after this burger. It was perfect, not a thing wrong with it but afterwards we were in the mood for something sweet and it turns out they don’t serve desserts!! WTF? Wouldn’t hold it against them though. Oh, and their cocktails are the bomb-diggity.

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Bill’s Cafe, Baker Street

We had brunch here on Sunday and I was so happy because it was the perfect Sunday brunch spot. The atmosphere was so welcoming and relaxing I could’ve stayed all afternoon. The menu was perfect and I wanted to go for everything on there (that could have been the hangover though) but settled on avocados with poached eggs on toast. Never a bad decision!

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Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

Our friends took us here on our last night and although Andrew wasn’t a huge fan, I adored the dumplings. I fell in love with dumplings when travelling in Australia (Chinatown in Adelaide specifically) and Leong’s reignited that long lost love. Next time I would just order a few different dumplings with rice since they were by far the best thing I ate there.

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Wahaca, St. Paul’s

I will never say no to a quesadilla especially the chicken club quesadilla at Wahaca! Holy Moses it is delicious and super filling too which makes it a fairly cheap lunch. We ate in the St. Paul’s branch which is in the One New Change building. If you go there for lunch you should definitely pop up to the rooftop terrace where you can get uninterrupted views of the city with St. Paul’s cathedral towering overhead. Just don’t go on a Friday evening because we heard there are queues from the ground floor which is a little much.

Where We Drank

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The Distillery, Portobello Road

The Distillery was a gin bar we stopped in to on our walk up Portobello Road which was beautiful on a sunny day. The interior is stunning however the drinks were on the more expensive side. Not a huge shock when you’re in London but my drink was tiny and for £8 I thought it was fairly steep. A nice spot for one drink though!

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Hope & Anchor, Brixton

We hopped across to this spot after our delicious meal in Boqueria. It has a great outdoors area out the back with beach huts perfect for a group of people on a summer’s afternoon. The beer garden closed at around 10pm though (we weren’t too sure why) and the bar turned in to a club then which was too much for us oldies so bear this in mind if you go during the evening.

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Boiler House Food Hall, Brick Lane

We didn’t eat here but had a drink out the back in the beer garden which was buzzing with people. I had a Pimm’s to get in the spirit of things and felt really wild drinking at 12pm. Beer gardens are the best on holiday especially when the sun is out so would definitely recommend this spot on a good day.

Translate, Shoreditch

No photo for this place since we were out with a group of friends and fairly well oiled but I had to include it for the music alone. It has the best cheesy 90’s music so if you’re not in to that sort of thing steer clear at the weekends! We loved it though and sang our wee lungs out in between sips of our cocktails.

 

And that is the round-up for London! I hope you can make use of some of the knowledge we picked up on our quick break and if you have any insider trips of you’re own, please feel free to share in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Pink Wellingtons
A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

We flew in to Havana at night with lightning illuminating the clouds around us, letting us know we had officially entered the tropics. Usually I’m not a fan of arriving in a new place at night because it’s a time you might see it’s dirtier dodgier side but driving through Havana at night was a great introduction to the city. There was such an energy about it and these beautiful buildings were lit up on the corners of palm tree-lined cobbled streets – amazing!

 

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We were staying at Casa Pedro-Maria in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) which was absolutely stunning. It was one of the most expensive places we stayed but we had decided we wanted to land somewhere comfortable that wouldn’t overwhelm us – it was $80 per room per night. There was a spiral staircase in the courtyard where we had our breakfasts that brought you to the rooftop of the Casa. Here you could sip on your breakfast smoothie with a view of the Revolution Museum and the surrounding terracotta roofs- not a bad start to the day!

 

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On our first day we took a bus tour through the city although we didn’t get much use out of the guide – the speakers weren’t working so we couldn’t hear a thing from upstairs. It was only $2 for the tour though and it was a great way to find our bearings and get our first taste of the Caribbean sun. Think we drank about 2L of water on the bus tour alone because it was so hot!

 

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We went straight to the San José markets after to purchase the obligatory Cuban military cap for Andrew to protect his head. This is a good place to pick up some souvenirs for home but I found it to be the most commercial part of Cuba. I preferred picking up little things across the whole trip like cigars from the tobacco fields (although I didn’t buy enough!).

 

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We were coaxed in to the La Familia restaurant on our first night which was a very lovely paladar on a terrace. It was a bit on the pricey side for Cuba – I think the whole meal cost about $20 but the live music was fantastic and the portions were massive. With full bellies we strolled to O’Reilly 304 – how typical of the Irish to be drawn to a bar with an Irish name. This bar was very very cool, it felt like we were in a major metropolitan city and they served the most delicious cocktails. It was a great place to meet people too and get tips on where to find great places to carry on the night.
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The following day it was raining which was a nice relief from the scorching sun and allowed for us to escape inside to the Revolution Museum. The building used to be the Presidential Palace and you can view the original office and the escape route Batista took when he fled the rebels in 1957. The scars from the bullets can be seen dotted around the Museum as a physical reminder of the the building’s past.

 

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The dilapidated museum was impressive although we should’ve taken an English tour because some of the notices weren’t translated. It’s definitely a worthwhile visit and to have the opportunity to be in the rooms where Cuba was reformed by Castro and Guevara was pretty special.

 

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After the museum we took a walking tour of Habana Vieja courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide we borrowed from the Casa and explored the many many plazas. The buildings are so beautiful and look completely battered by the salty sea air and years of neglect. Everyone seems to live on the streets, sitting on their doorsteps and balconies shouting out to one another and buying food from the mobile vendors. The buzz is incredible and welcoming although sometimes too welcoming. Another little tip: you will be harangued by jineteros trying to sell tickets to a “big festival” – it’s a massive con and you will hear it every day you’re in Havana.

 

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On our way back to the Casa we stumbled upon the Havana Club museum. Andrew’s staple booze at home is Havana Club rum with coke and lime so he was beyond excited about visiting this place. While we waited for the tour to start, we sat in the bar and had a few Cuba Libres and mojitos. There was a full salsa band playing and I felt I was very much in Cuba. I got pulled up by the band and learned how to salsa in dungarees, extremely embarrassing but very entertaining for Andrew. It was a fantastic tour although after all the cocktails my memory gets a bit hazy!

 

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That night we ate pizza in a little place close to our Casa (unfortunately I forget the name!). The tables were out on the cobbles and we ate the most delicious bruschetta. After the food and avoiding a few overly friendly cats at the table, we headed for La Floridita – the supposed birthplace of the Daiquiri. Hemingway is boasted as being a frequent customer to the bar and it seems insistent on clinging on to that era. The air is thick with cigar smoke when you enter and the band are crammed in to a tiny corner by the door. The whole bar looks like a set from a movie and it could be viewed as slightly cheesy but we loved it.

 

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After our last night in Havana we were destined for Viñales. We arrived back for one more night before our flight home and stayed with Casa Isel e Ilena. Isel was such a lovely woman and the private room had it’s own bathroom and balcony. It was a great chance to experience the loud streets of Habana Vieja one last time and we had the biggest breakfast with her at 4am before our flight home. We would definitely recommend staying with her however our limited Spanish meant we couldn’t understand most of what she said BUT she told the greatest stories with actions that made us laugh so much. She was the best host to give us a farewell from Cuba and it made it that bit harder to leave.

 

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See my other posts for stories from Viñales, Trinidad, Remedios and Varadero!