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Winter Escape to Zell am Zee: 5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

Winter Escape to Zell am Zee: 5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

My first morning in Zell am See went a little like this: the sunlight filtering in through the curtains woke me up early and the cool alpine air coming from the open window made me burrow myself in to the duvet for just a minute more. Braving the cold, I opened the door to the balcony with a cup of tea clasped in my hands to keep me warm. The mountains towered above me and I wondered at how quiet it was. When I listened a little harder I started to make out the sounds of the mountain; snow falling off the trees, the sounds of skis on the virgin snow as early risers were taking on the first slope of the day and the mountain streams making their way to the lake below.

I watched the mist from the lake slowly snake it’s way up the valley towards us. I looked up to the sky to see if more snow was to come but all I could see were blue skies with the snow glistening in the sunshine and I thought to myself: now this is a winter escape!

Andrew and I had been planning on going on a ski trip to Austria since our first one in France with another couple two years ago. We both love the mountains but after failing to gather friends to go away on a group trip (the older we get the more difficult it is to get people to commit to dates which is wholly depressing but completely understandable of course), we wondered if we could go on our own and still have the same kind of fun. Ski trips are usually associated with a big group of people, lots of après-ski shenanigans and racing down the slopes so I was a bit apprehensive about going away as a couple; would we have as much fun on our own??

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. We had a blast as we have done on every holiday we’ve taken together but this one felt really special. Everything felt so much more relaxed because we were able to move at our own pace. We could take as many slopes as we liked (or as little), we weren’t having to constantly wait for others to join us at the gondolas or spend hours deliberating about what side of the mountain to hit next. We were super-competitive and downloaded apps to record speeds and distances of the day which we argued at length about over beers in the afternoon. It completely changed my attitude to a ski holiday and I will never hesitate to book another for just the two of us again, it might just be the best way to ski!

If you have ever contemplated taking a winter break with your partner to the mountains, then I urge you, to DO IT. After all, where else would you go with the person who makes you feel on top of the world?

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5 Tips for Planning a Couple’s Ski Trip

1 Make it FUN

Andrew and I are fairly competitive and on the first day of our trip we downloaded the Snoww app which tracks all your data from your day on the mountain e.g. top speeds, distances, runs, altitudes. After every run we would check our speeds on the gondola taking us back up the mountain, teasing the slowest of the pair and wondering how much distance we would cover that day. It forced us to be a bit braver which made it so much more fun but it also allowed us to keep track of each other when we got lost or wanted to check where the other was too. Would definitely recommend downloading it, especially the more competitive couples!

2 Pick a romantic destination

We had toyed around with a few destinations but once I saw pictures of Zell am See I knew we had to go. The town sits on the edge of Lake Zell with the Austrian Alps circling above. At night, the town is a dream to walk around with narrow streets lit up with lights and music in the air, perfect for strolling hand in hand after a day on the slopes. During the day there’s a beautiful walk to take down by the lake to take in the mountains around you that will make you feel truly tiny! If you decide to visit Zell am See, I’d recommend a walk by the river before the sun goes down followed by a dinner at Deins & Meins. Once your belly is full, walk through the snow to The Gin House to finish the night with some cocktails and a good game of Stump.

3 Give each other space

While cruising down the slopes together was really good craic, there were times when one of us had more energy than the other (usually Andrew having more energy!) and so it was nice to be able to go off on our own and do own thing for a bit. One of my favourite parts of the day was heading back to the Daxer Hotel, having a bit of cake with my tea on the balcony and then heading down to the sauna for an hour on my own – bliss!

4 Plan a Day Trip

While I enjoyed every single moment on those mountains, I was ready to come back down to earth and explore a bit of the area around us. Luckily our flight home from Salzburg (very handily about an hour and a half from Zell am See) was in the evening so it meant we had most of the day to explore the city before the holiday ended. We got the train from Zell am See which was an incredible way to see the countryside; I sat with my nose to the window while Andrew slept! The snow was falling thick and fast when we arrived so we hopped in a taxi to the Old Town to have brunch at Café Tomaselli where Mozart apparently drank his coffee! It was beautiful and I inhaled as many pastries as possible before we wrapped up again and headed towards the Hohensalzburg Fortress. We took the funicular up to the fortress where we had views over the city which was a complete winter wonderland. The snow continued to fall as we walked through the streets of the Old Town and back to the train station to pick up our bags and head home. It was a really romantic way to end the trip and relax a little before heading back to the grind of normal life at home.

5 Be Patient & Considerate

Of course this tip is relevant for couples no matter where they’re going but specifically to choosing a ski destination, you should be considerate of your partner’s abilities and whether they board or ski before making a decision. We chose Zell am See because it offered a diverse range of options for both boarders and skiers (Andrew boards and I ski) which meant that we both felt challenged and never bored. We’re both intermediates which made it easier too but sometimes one partner might be a bit more advanced than the other so you should take this in to consideration too.

We were really happy with Zell am See and felt like there were enough black/expert runs to satisfy us on the days when our confidence was up and we wanted to push ourselves. It was an advantage that we were on the same experience level because we knew what slopes we were capable of and when one of us needed a bit more encouraging the other would be the cheerleader which saved many an argument!

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Surviving February: 6 Actions to Take When You’re Ready to Make a Change

Hello friends. It’s been two weeks too long since I’ve visited this wee corner of my life and while it wasn’t something I had intended on doing, it just felt right to ease myself in to 2018 rather than going in guns blazing. I feel like January is the month for ideas but February is the month to start actioning them. January is a time to give our dreams the wiggle room to grow, to ruminate on those thoughts that have been niggling in the back of our minds, slowly pushing to the forefront so we can give them our full attention. It’s a time for reflection, reflecting on where we are and where we want to be. Mostly, it’s a time to spend dark evenings curled up by the fire with empty pages spread out before us to capture all the wild and messy daydreams that tumble from our sleepy brains. Those blank spaces can provide us with more energy during the winter months than any fire can.

Most of our fantasies may be fantastical in the darkness of winter, most may never see the light of Spring but there might be just one that could slip through the cracks. One good idea is enough to eclipse all others and while it might take a little longer to see the idea become more than just that, there is nothing quite like the feeling of that lightbulb moment. So while I might have been a little absent on the blog, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the words I write here and the content that I share. I’ve been mulling and mulling about where I would like to see this space go, how I can push myself further creatively and go beyond writing as a hobby. The winter nights are for nothing but for imagining a fresh start in the Spring, am I right?

Now that we’re in February we would be forgiven for thinking that Spring is on our doorstep but sometimes the shortest month can feel like the longest. What’s good is that we still have time to plan ahead and start making sense of the scattering of possibilities that have been swimming in our head all winter. There is still a whole month of stillness left before Spring arrives and our bodies bend towards the sun and in to distraction. So I’m telling you to utilise these last dark hours and use the opportunity to focus on what you truly want for the rest of your year because you’re capable of anything and now is the moment to push yourself further.

Is there an idea that you have been secretly coveting? Do you get butterflies when you think about it but quickly convince yourself that it’s not possible before getting too carried away? Let February be the month of shutting the fearful voices out and embracing the butterflies. Let it be the month for ACTION. The best ideas are those that make you feel sick to your stomach and if it’s all you can think about then the scariest possibility would be to deny yourself the chance to step in to the light of a new opportunity.

Of course this is all easier said than done and it you would be perfectly understood for crawling under the covers until the bluebells start showing their wee heads but you would only be doing your dreams a disservice. Choose to surround yourself with positive reinforcements that will only encourage you further. In case you’re in need of a little inspiration, I’ve listed some of the actions I take when I need help in making a step towards a change. Right now I have a notebook of scribbles that might turn in to something and that in itself is pretty exciting. Let’s go February.

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6 Actions To Take When You’re Read to Make a Change

Listen

Podcasts are all the rage right now of course and one that I keep going back to for guidance when I need it most is Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker. It’s a podcast mainly aimed at creatives but there is a huge range of topics that are incredibly useful depending on where you feel you need the most direction. Another great one is Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat, Pray, Love fame) which is a friggin’ joy to listen to in a bath on a winter’s night. I find myself just roaring out in unison with Elizabeth and her guests and feel ready to take on the world after an episode. Right after I dry my hair and moisturise of course.

Watch

‘In to the Wild’ is a movie I re-watch during the moments when I’m in need of a good kick up the ass. It never fails to bring a bit more perspective to any tough choice I’m currently having to make. Also the soundtrack is off the charts (Eddie Vedder you absolute LEGEND).

Read

There are enough motivational books out there to shake an insecure stick at but you don’t always have to stroll to the self-help aisle in order to feel inspired. One of my favourite books that I can rely on for some self-reflection is Walden by Henry Thoreau which I first read while I was in Africa for the first time. It was the reason why I fell in love with the natural world (second was David Attenborough) but mostly it engrained in me a sense that we have more power over our choices in life than we give ourselves credit for, one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’ve already read Walden then anything written by Brené Brown is sheer inspirational gold dust. The woman is a motivational wizard. 

Do

While February can still invoke the temptation to hibernate and stay under the covers, the ever-so-slightly brighter mornings and evenings are the perfect encouragement to brave the fresh air and start wakening yourself up again. At some point this month try and take yourself on one of your favourite walks alone, preferably somewhere that’s close to any water source be it a river, lake, sea or puddle (NB: puddles may not encourage that much inspiration). Leave the headphones behind so you’re not creating a barrier between yourself and the world around you. Walk at your own pace, listen out for new sounds that you would normally ignore and look for signs of Spring. While focusing on your surroundings you’ll be surprised at the amount of new ideas that will pop in to your head and those moments of clarity will embolden you further when making decisions that might have seemed scarier while sitting at home.

Write/Draw

Some people are good with their words and others need the visuals in order to map out their plans. I’m a bit of both so when it comes to the blog, I have a notebook full of potential blog posts, ideal locations for photos, people who I would love to interview. These notes could be a list broken down in to categories (just call me Monica Gellar) and others are mapped as a brain storm with offshoots when my head is buzzing with too many thoughts that I need to see the bigger picture. These notes can sometimes be a load of nonsense but it is such a good feeling to see my ideas streaming from my pen and trying to put them all together.

Attend

If you’re planning on making a leap or big decision then you need all the encouragement you can get from peers who have made the jump before you. Networking is a Generation Z term that has been beaten to death but making connections with people who are in your field or are related to the choice you’re about to making is more rewarding than any other action I’ve listed above. Finding your tribe (that’s right, I said it) can be tricky but there are resources out there to help you find it. I’ve found Instagram to be a huge source of inspiration and I have created friendships (both online and offline) that have helped made this blog what it is. It’s how I found out about the Assembly Gatherings, a seasonal event run by Mel Wiggins that acts as a haven for creative women seeking inspiration. It’s where I found my tribe (said it again) and it’s an environment in which I can connect with like-minded women, bounce ideas off them and bask in encouraging words. By immersing ourselves in knowledge through gatherings, workshops or classes we are dipping our toes further in to our own potential. Want to start a blog? Connect with other bloggers. Want to start your own business? Search for similar local small businesses and find out how they did it. Allow yourself to be guided by those who you believe are on the path you want to be on and get climbing.

The First Recipe I Ever Learned

The First Recipe I Ever Learned

It was on a street in Edinburgh in 2007 that I realised I was finally an adult, a proper grown up. My Mum had just managed to release me from a tearful embrace that in hindsight represented a monumental shift in our relationship. She had dropped me off at my university halls that morning and helped me carry boxes that contained everything I had cherished from home, unpacking and making my bed while I excitedly introduced myself to all my new roommates. Suddenly I wasn’t her baby anymore and I could see my whole childhood flash before her as she began to mourn the chapter of her life as my Mum. I can still remember how tightly she held me and now that I’m older, I realise how difficult it must have been for her to let go and trust that she did a good enough job raising me. I stood on the kerb and waved goodbye for as long as I had to until I skipped off, oblivious to how massive that moment was for both of us.

We were lucky growing up with the mother we have. She was always there to cook us dinner each evening, to help us with our homework and to tuck us in at night. Our meals were never anything hugely fancy, just the typical Irish dinners with about four different recipes in rotation (I haven’t been able to eat a fish finger in about 15 years).

Before leaving for university I had written down a recipe in my notebook in the hope that I wouldn’t completely starve. It was for minced meat, gravy, potatoes and carrots, a dinner most Irish kids would have been reared on and it was just about the only think I cooked in my first semester in between the mass of take away food and snacks (I had a tin underneath my bed filled with treats and after a night out I would wake up with one hand still in the tin!).

Sadly, there’s only so much mince a girl can eat and thankfully that Christmas my sister Amy bought me my very first cookbook. The book was ‘Home Cooking’ by Rachel Allen and it instantly became my bible because it was filled with recipes that reminded me of home. Anytime I felt a little homesick, all I had to do was open those flour-stained pages and cook something that resembled my Mum’s dinner. The recipes were not always executed well (I couldn’t tell you how many pans I ruined) but there was one that I managed to get comfortable with and remains my go-to comfort dish to do this day. It’s a recipe for a chicken casserole with cheesy herb dumplings and it is so yummy and so cosy that it’s impossible to ever have leftovers. It’s the ultimate winter crowd-pleaser because it just takes everyone back to their childhood, to those meals their Mums and Dads used to make for them while their legs were still swinging underneath the kitchen table.

This was the first recipe I was able to own and I remember cooking it for my Mum and sisters when I came back home for the holidays. It was (still is) a running joke in the family that I was a bit of a scatter brain and it was a miracle to them that I was suddenly able to cook and fend for myself. Eventually I learned other recipes too and even started using exotic ingredients that we definitely didn’t eat when growing up (asparagus, who dis?). I could see the relief my Mum had when she knew that I might actually be OK, that I wouldn’t develop scurvy on a Pot Noodle diet and that I would be nourishing myself with at least a few vegetables.

Now that I’m approaching 30 my Mum might even say that I’m a better cook than her (it’s a close one). I might be a little more adventurous or experimental but to me, no one can make mince and spuds like my own Mum.


Rachel Allen’s Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Herb Dumplings

I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly over the years but by and large it remains the same.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 350 g unsliced rindless streaky bacon, cut into 12cm
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 2cm slices on the diagonal
  • 700 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme

For the cheesy herb dumplings

  • 350 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300 ml buttermilk or soured milk
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped dried mixed herbs, such as parsley thyme, rosemary or chives
  • 25 g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Cut the chicken breasts in half and season them well with salt and pepper.

2. Pour the olive oil into a large casserole dish on a high heat, add the bacon and fry quickly for 12 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the chicken in batches and sear on each side until golden, and remove. Add the onion and carrots and fry for 2 or 3 minutes or until golden.

3. Return the bacon and chicken to the dish, pour on the stock, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring slowly to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

4. For the dumplings, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl add the herbs, mix, then make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk or soured milk (leaving about 50ml in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding a little more buttermilk if necessary. Don’t knead the mixture or it will become too heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky.

5. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and bring together. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 2cm thick. With a scone cutter or cup stamp out 10 to 12 dumplings, or divide the dough into 10 to 12 small balls.

6. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and turn the heat up to 230C/gas 8. Arrange the dumplings on top, leaving a slight gap between them to allow for spreading. Scatter with the cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C/Gas 6 and cook for a further 20 minutes until the dumplings are crisp and golden and the chicken is cooked through.

 

What Not To Worry About #46

What Not To Worry About #46

Hello fellow Monday heads. I hope this week is starting out exactly how you wanted it to, with a brain full of plans and a body that wants to play ball. These January mornings have been rough on the old motivation for this gal. Last night I went to bed with the best of intentions for my Monday but instead I woke up and subconsciously talked myself in to pressing snooze half a dozen times before I leaped out of bed in a mad panic. It’s Blue Monday alright.

January is a weird time of year for the mind, isn’t it? There’s all this pressure to reflect and better ourselves but the wildness of the outside can permeate within us, wreaking havoc while we’re in the midst of pursuing calm. The best thing we can do during this month of chaos is to practice a little self-kindness. Forget the constant need for improvement and just welcome the little moments of progress you manage to accomplish despite all that’s stacked against you.

For me, the pressure has been finding the moments to take photographs that I can share along with the words I write. It’s easy to hide away while the rain lashes outside and it’s too cold to even think about trailing about about looking for a pretty landscape. The weekend past was so dull and miserable I couldn’t summon the energy, I just wanted to stay inside catching up with friends and family over copious amounts of tea. Which is exactly what I did! No guilt trips. None.

The wind is still howling outside as I type this (slowly since I had meant to have this posted hours ago) so the wild weather doesn’t look to be dissipating anytime soon. I still have good intentions for tomorrow; a quick 10 minute meditation before breakfast, actually completing my to-do list (or even just half of it), reading my book. And if the morning rolls in and I’ve realised I didn’t start the way I had intended to then I will just try again. There is always another chance to try again, right?

And here are a few more things I’m not worrying about this week…

Compliment receiving etiquette – because the balance between being gracious and arrogant is an oh-s0-fine-line for me that I just want to roll up in to an awkward ball. Setting up a Compliment Club like Joy the Baker sounds like the way forward and might also make life a little bit cheerier.

Driving in the lashing rain at night time – driving from Dungannon to Belfast in the pouring rain on Sunday was a white-knuckled ride for sure. I used to suffer from panic attacks when driving on the motorway once upon a time but I’m a fairly confident driver now except in the rain when I find my hand going to the top of my head as a comfort like it did circa 2006.

Not starting yet another diet – I am CRAP at diets so have just tried to slowly introduce more fruit as a snack rather than resorting to half a packet of hob nobs. This article made me a feel a little better though.

Not using public transport – I work about a 10 minute drive away from my office and because Northern Irish public transport isn’t too reliable, I shamefully drive the distance most days. Public transport is such a novelty to me though and reading these stories made me smile.

Annoying habits – the joys of being in a long term relationship means that you get to know all the wee quirks your partner has, weird as they may be. Andrew for example likes to put his (freezing cold) feet up against me in bed to warm them up which will result in a row on a nightly basis. My weird one is that I will never fully finish a meal – no matter what it is I will always leave a few bites left. Reading the comments of this piece had me laughing out loud at my desk because I identified with so many!!

Have a great week pals! 

 

A Wheaten Bread Recipe

A Wheaten Bread Recipe

Growing up in Ireland has meant that I have a natural affinity for bread products. Just take a look at the classic Ulster Fry and you will see a plate riddled with carbs; toasted soda farl, potato bread, pancakes and a few rounds of toast. For me though the crowning glory of Irish bread has to be the humble wheaten. As a child I would always go straight for the wheaten loaf in my granny’s house where there would always be a stock kept high on the counter wrapped in a kitchen towel. I would slather it in butter followed by raspberry jam and wash it down with a mug of tea (you cannot have a toasted wheaten without tea and that’s a scientific fact).

For the unfortunate amongst you who don’t know what wheaten bread is (oh my, what you have been missing out on), it’s a bread (duh) made from wholemeal wheat. What makes it different to other breads (and therefore easier to make) is that it doesn’t contain yeast; bicarbonate of soda is used instead as the leavening agent. Buttermilk is also used instead of regular milk which reacts with the bicarbonate of soda which gives it it’s distinctive consistency (and yumminess).

To this day, wheaten bread remains one of my favourite snacks, especially at this time of year when the nights are begging for a nostalgic treat. It was the food I missed the most when I lived in Australia; so much so that I actually packed a couple of loaves in my suitcase to take back with me when I was home visiting. It was and still is the food that tastes like home to me.

Another reason why I love it is because it’s so freakin’ easy to make. No yeast means there’s no temperature controls to be monitored or waiting around for the rise. You can throw this recipe together in the space of an hour and serve it to guests who will think you are a culinary goddess (as well as creating a smell that will make your house smell divine).

I’ve included the standard recipe that I tend to use though of course there are a few local twists you can make to it according to where you’re from. It’s a recipe that’s as old as the hills and every family likes to garnish it their own way. Toast it and slather with butter and jam or eat it with some slices of mature cheddar or add some salmon and dill and serve as a festive amuse-bouche if you don’t mind or serve it as a side to some hearty chowder or soup on a winter’s evening.

It can be sliced gracefully or it can be ripped apart while you stand in the kitchen holding a jar of jam. What it will always be though is a recipe that will make you feel like you’re at home, even when you aren’t.


Irish Wheaten Bread

Ingredients

  • 300g wholewheat flour
  • 100 grams plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 300mls buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.
  2. Place the flours, salt and bicarb in a bowl, stirring to combine.
  3. Using your fingertips, rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  5. Gradually stir in the buttermilk until you get a soft, but not sticky, dough. You won’t need to use all of it. Don’t worry too much if it is sticky -just dust with some extra flour!
  6. Turn out onto a floured surface, and briefly knead the dough (with your knuckles). Pop the dough into a lightly floured 20 cm cake tin or bread loaf tin, and shape into a round.
  7. Using a sharp knife, mark the dough into four farls or slice if using bread tin. Brush the surface with a little extra buttermilk, then sprinkle over the oats (or some additional flour).
  8. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. A cake tester should come out pretty much clean when it is ready.
  9. Leave to cool on a wire rack for as long as you can bear. Enjoy!

 

If you liked this post you might also like this or this.

What Not To Worry About #43

What Not To Worry About #43

Happy Thanksgiving Day to my transatlantic pals!! I hope the turkey is tastin’ good and the gravy turned out a tad thicker than aul Trump’s hair. I am playing American myself this evening and hosting some friends for my own Friendsgiving dinner with an Irish twist (no marshmallow on sweet potato thank you very much – absolute sacrilege) but most of all I am excited to try making bread rolls for the first time (and wine!), please pray that they turn out well!

It seems that the festive season is among us now whether we like it or not. The city Christmas lights have been switched on, the markets have been opened and the TV adverts are making us weep in to our dinners. And do you know what? I think I’m OK with it. Maybe because I’ve been abnormally organised and have ticked off half of my gift list (who even is this person typing this?!) and now I’m just patiently waiting until the 1st December when I can move my couch from the door that leads to the cupboard under the stairs where all my decorations are stashed.

I’m feeling just a little bit excited about untangling the never-ending stream of tree lights (and cursing them when I see there’s even more broken than the year before). Covering myself in bits of tinsel while blasting the Christmas music through the house which Andrew will undoubtedly turn down and then I will turn back up again. Unearthing decorations I completely forgot about and then go out and buy even more because there’s never enough. Making my own wreath at the dinner table and covering the house in pine needles. Rediscovering my love of red wine (but not the hangovers). Making hot whiskeys for my guests. Baking gingerbread that permeates through the house like a warm hug. Holidays are comin’ folks!

However you may feel about this time of year, there is no denying that there is just a little bit of magic in the air. The crisp wind bites around our ears and noses as the stars twinkle above us well before we go to bed. The little moments become more meaningful; a cup of tea that warms us up perfectly, a catch up with a mate you haven’t seen in ages, wriggling in to clean flannel PJ’s after a hot bath. Comforting in the smallest of joys is my favourite thing about winter.

Here are a few things I am letting go of this week…

People who put their decorations up in November – usually I give off about this because I am always afraid of being burnt out my Christmas before it even arrives but there is a wee sneaky glee when I’ve been driving past houses shrouded in festive spirit. The people who celebrate Christmas a little early tend to be the one’s that go hell for leather too – wonderfully tacky reindeers and Santa’s and elves. I always wonder, how much is their freakin’ electric bill?! I am old.

A cough that just won’t quit – I have had the most annoying cough the last few weeks and I have had to sleep propped up like a pensioner otherwise I bark all night which is no fun for anybody. The doctor diagnosed me with tracheitis and said I just have to “ride it out” which is exactly what you want to be prescribed, isn’t it? I’ve been trying ginger tea but if anyone has any other wee old wive’s cures then hit them this way please!

Being a wife – now I know I am not a wife but there might be a chance that I will some day and that terrifies the crap out of me. Will I suddenly have to don an apron and be responsible for keeping a tidy home? Being a Mrs. also sounds really weird too and reminds me too much of being a middle-aged teacher. A feminist manifesto from the 1970’s resurfaced in this article and I loved how relevant it still is for modern wives – they have to be everything to everyone and that sounds bloody exhausting doesn’t it?

Saying no – I talked about the workshop I took part in recently that talked about different personality traits and I discovered, to no surprise, that I am a people pleaser. If you’re like me then this time of year can be a struggle because you want to be stuck in with everything but this can be exhausting. This year, while I relish in being around friends and family, I’ll also be sure to take a little time to myself too.

Struggling with words – sometimes writing this wee blog can cause me to feel insecure about my words, if they mean something or if they connect with anyone. Reading pieces like this make me fall back in love with writing again.

 

Enjoy the rest of your week friends!

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Have you ever taken the Myers-Brigg’s type indicator test? It’s basically a personality test that reveals differing psychological preferences in how we perceive the world and make decisions and can be scarily accurate! It’s also become hugely popular as a management tool within the workplace as it creates awareness of differing personal and professional traits and encourages a greater level of understanding amongst teams. I was offered the chance to attend a workshop last week where we discovered what “type” we were and how our type should be treated by others. It also taught us how to identify other personality types and how best to manage them which in an close work environment can be testing even for the best of us!

It was an intense day full of psycho-analysis but by the end of the workshop I discovered I was type “ESFP” which can be broken down as:

E = Extraversion (how I focus my attention and get my energy)

S = Sensing (How I perceive or take in information)

F = Feeling (How I prefer to make decisions)

P = Perception (How I orientate myself to the external world)

This will all sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo if you haven’t taken the test before but I found it unbelievable how accurate the “type” I was given fitted me and made me realise that I’m not a scatter brain because I don’t care, it’s my type! I also found that ESFP’s are true helpers and eternal people pleasers which wasn’t a huge surprise (my name is Greek for “helper of mankind” for frig sake) and that they love to lift others’ spirits with their contagious good humour and their irrepressible joy of living (you’re welcome!). The not so great side of an ESFP is that we can be a little too sensitive to criticism and avoid conflict at all costs which can be tough trait to have at home and at work for both us and everyone around us. 

Aside from finding out that I am a needy wuss, another thing I found super interesting was how my own definition of an extrovert and introvert was all wrong. I had long assumed that extroverts are the super confident socialites who have no problem with talking in a crowd and that introverts were the typical shy mousey-types that cower when spoken to. All wrong! Being an extrovert or an introvert is actually the way in which we gain our energy and isn’t at all about confidence. 

Extroverts gain energy from being around other people and might find their energy levels are zapped when they spend too much time alone. I identified hugely with this because while I do look forward to a quiet evening at home now and again, I notice that I become a bit down when I do this too much. This is especially wearying during the winter when we all tend to retreat inside and social gatherings can become less frequent (Christmas craziness aside).

Introverts on the other hand gain energy from being alone and tend to feel drained after spending a long time in a large crowd. Introverts are stimulated much more easily than extroverts so being amongst a big group of people might feel a little overwhelming. This doesn’t mean they’re shy or that they avoid social situations, it just means that being alone with their thoughts can be as restorative to them as sleeping and are a necessity for them to recharge their batteries.

Of course there are the ambiverts amongst us who feel that they fall in the middle. In fact, most of us actually are ambiverts because if we fell at at the extreme end of extraversion or introversion we might be a little wacky! Either way we will still be a little more on one side than the other and so should address this side of our personality when we are feeling low and in need of a recharge. We should prioritise those moments we know will lift us out of the funk we are in, especially at this time of year when the dark evenings can drag us down a little. Here are a few tips, whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, on how to recharge those batteries this winter.


5 Ways To Gain Energy This Winter

Extroverts

  1. Become a hostess/host once a week and invite a different group of friends over for dinner. I love having people in my house for food and I’ve decided to try and host friends once a week for a big meal and lots of conversation which I know will lift me up, especially in the middle of the week when I’m feeling meh.
  2. Join a club whether it’s a book club, wine club or friggin’ Stranger Things club. I joined my office book club as a way to get me reading more but it’s also something I look forward to because it helps me break up my week with interesting conversation. Do a little digging and get yourself out there (I’m going to Mel Wiggin’s Assembly Gatherings this winter because being around creative people is a sure fire way to inspire the bejaysus out of me).
  3. Stop eating lunch at your desk! I can do this out of bad habit but when I make a conscious effort to eat step away from the computer and eat with friends I have so much more energy in the afternoon.
  4. Get your partner and friends involved in decorating the house and wrapping presents this festive season. Blast the Christmas music, get the mulled wine on and the fire lit to fill your house full of festive cheer.
  5. Volunteer for a worthy cause whether it be at your local homeless centre or charity shop. Whatever it is, ensure you are engaging with people that you know you can help and who might help you too.

Introverts

  1. Prioritise social events with people who make you feel comfortable. You know those mates you’ve known since you were a cub and can still make you laugh until your sides hurt? Make plenty of time for them this winter and decline invites to events that fill your tummy with dread.
  2. Go for a solo walk on your lunch break. Fill your lungs with fresh air and clear your mind of all the crap you’ve just had to listen to all morning. You will feel so much better.
  3. Introduce a social media ban after a certain time in the evening and stick to it. Your mind can’t focus when you have too much stimulation so try and hide your phone in the next room when you’re trying to dive in to that good book you’re reading.
  4. Block book at least one evening a week to do nothing over the festive period. This time of year can become a bit manic so be kind to yourself and give yourself the time you need to unwind.
  5. Make Christmas shopping fun by treating yourself to a little afternoon on your own. Get your list written down so you don’t go a bit mad in the shops, treat yourself to a hot chocolate (or something stronger) on your breaks and finish the day with a wee pamper (I’ve been dying to try the Jo Malone counter in House of Fraser for ages!)

 

I hope you find these tips helpful this winter but in the meantime, take the quiz and let me know what personality type you get – I’m fascinated to know who everyone is now!

If you read this then you might also like this.

What Not To Worry About #42

What Not To Worry About #42

Happy Friday friends! Things have been a little quiet in this wee corner of the internet the last week or so and I have really missed nestling down and sharing my thoughts with you lovely lot. I’ve been finding it really hard to focus recently and the things that bring me so much joy (like this blog) have fallen to the wayside which has left me feeling even more disconnected. I have learned over the years to not rush myself when I am feeling like this since it’s important to let myself feel the hurt no matter how difficult it may be.

I spoke about losing my sister before and with her anniversary falling on the 5th November, this is a time of year that I struggle with her absence the most. It tends to bring back a lot of memories of the time we lost her which was horrific for everyone who loved her but it also stirs up memories of our childhood together too which is as heartwarming as it is painful. Grief, although omnipresent, can be harder to bear on certain days and despite the fact that it’s been 7 years since she passed away, I am still blindsided by my yearning to have her near me again.

Unfortunately losing someones we love is one of life’s greatest and most cruel lessons. Some of us may be lucky enough to be spared this lesson until we are in our thirties or forties but losing someone at a young age is a life-changing experience. We are thrusted in to reality unprepared for what lies ahead with few emotional tools to help us succeed in managing our grief. However we are given something that most people stumble through life unknowingly searching for. Something that allows us to appreciate everything we have. Gratitude.

Now I know the word ‘gratitude’ can be thrown about a little too flippantly and is normally associated with meditative jargon but to be truly grateful every day is nothing to be sneered at. Losing someone we love teaches us that everything in this life is temporary, that every moment and every word spoken has more weight carried within it than most people can even imagine and that even when things feel rough, we are still grateful to be alive to experience even a drop of sadness. I am grateful every day to have had Amy in my life and that gratitude allows me to appreciate all those memories. After all, I’m the only person on this earth that got to be her big sister, how lucky does that make me???

And with that gratitude in mind, here are a few things I am not worrying about this week. What are you letting go of???

Missing out on dating – Ah the single life. I do miss it now and again; the thrill of being attracted to someone and not being sure where it’s going, that little buzz in your tummy when you’re messaging and don’t want to ever stop. Reading this article brought all the fuzzies back but it also shared some really great advice for anyone who is single and in need of some encouragement.

Having weird turn-ons – OK so when Andrew and I met, these were the weird things that attracted me to him:

  1. He would be just as enthusiastic about Bake Off as I was
  2. He smoked rolled cigarettes (he has since quite bless him and I wasn’t a smoker but there was something so damn sexy about watching him roll, I was a hypnotised mess).
  3. He got excited about seeing his niece and nephew
  4. He would read aloud ‘Today I Learned’ stories from his favourite website before we went to sleep (this was from Reddit of course, he is a nerd after all)
  5. He wore a plain white t-shirt with jeans (I may have some sort of James Dean complex)
  6. He would keep everything from our dates and trips away knowing that I loved to make scrapbooks
  7. He loved board games
  8. He understood things I could never wrap my head around and would patiently explain them to me (coding, stocks, actually saving money)

The reason I’m sharing is because I read this article the other day and learned that having a bizarre turn on isn’t actually all that bizarre. In fact most of us have one or two – you have one too, don’t you?

Running out of conversation – I love having friends over for dinner this time of year, when people prefer staying indoors cosied around a table and eating good food. Sometimes the conversation can run a bit stale which is why I loved reading this, full of tips to ensure a good hostess never has to experience that awkward silence.

Gift mind blanks – The festive season is approaching and I’m trying to be organised this year with my gifts so I avoid the last minute dash to the week before Christmas and over-spend in panic. I’m trying to curate my gift list and man is it hard to buy for some people (especially Dads/boyfriends) – is there anything you use to help inspire you for gift ideas? Please help a girl out here.

Not being able to write – I’ve been feeling low about not being able to write because my mind was full of so many other things. I need to go easy on myself during times like this because it never lasts too long. I am so happy to be back here again.

 

Have a lovely weekend folks!!

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

I have known some amazing people in my life; people who have broadened my mind and taught me life lessons that no classroom ever could. There was once the young heroine who travelled between parallel worlds, using a knife to cut through the curtain that separated them. And the girl who shared the power of language with adults at a time when the world was falling apart.  Oh! And the boy with autism who solved a mystery about a murdered dog!

And while admittedly none of these people were actually real, they existed so vividly in my mind that they became familiar, like someone I had known forever. It never ceases to amaze me how I can fall in love with/detest/fear/pity characters that are purely fictional and yet, while I am reading the pages their world is contained in, I am so engrossed that they become a part of my own little world.

Yes, this is the magic of a good book. It pulls at your heart, making you feel a longing that you didn’t know existed. A good book will leave you in mourning for weeks.

Naturally, there are a lot of blog posts around this time of year full of book recommendation as we prepare for the season of hibernation. Books provide an escape, an adventure that we are denied during the darker months when things are slower and a little safer. There are thousands of stories that we can read that will scoop us up from our couch and transport us somewhere entirely new and exciting but for logistical reasons I am choosing eight for the autumn and winter that should just about see me (and hopefully you) through to spring.

My taste in books doesn’t discriminate; you’ll find a mix of genres here so I am confident that you will find one that you can add to your list. And, as always, I am open to lots of suggestions so please share with me the books you are choosing for your dormant hours.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One – Philip Pullman

If you haven’t read Philip Pullman’s epic ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy then you have been missing something truly magical from your life! Although the series was marketed to young adults, the themes of the book speak to all ages with elements of fantasy, philosophy and theology all thrown in. It’s been 17 years since the release of the last book in the series, a book which made me cry at the age of 20 and I, along with the an army of fans, have been waiting a long time to meet Lyra again. The new trilogy is an “equel” as it is both a prequel and a sequel all wrapped in to one with the first book released today. I’ll be waiting by the door like a giddy child until it arrives in my hands!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

This is a non-fiction book, not my usual cup of tea but the story was so tragically fascinating that I couldn’t put it down. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, that came from Lacks’ cervical cancer cells in 1951. It sounds heavy because it is, not just because it involves some medical jargon that you might need to read slowly but also because it addresses the painful history of racial politics within medicine. Despite this, I still think it’s an important read because the author doesn’t just throw out scientific facts but bravely tells the story of a woman who, unbeknownst to her family, changed the course of medicine and scientific research. A powerful read but one that might take a while to get through.

All The Light We Cannot See – Antony Doerr

I have just started this and have already fallen in love. It tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who along with her father has taken refuge in a coastal city while the Nazis invade Paris. Her story collides with Werner, a German orphan who is fighting for Hitler Youth and who are about to face attack from the American bombers. I had read about this book after it won the Pulitzer prize back in 2015 and suggested it for my book club in work so I have high hopes that there will be positive reviews all round at the next meeting!

The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris

I’m going to sound extremely American here but…. My psychologist recommended me this book! I started seeing her about a year 6-8 months ago because it’s something the Cystic Fibrosis team encourage us to do since it can obviously be a bit stressful living with this nasty illness. The thing is, I hardly ever discuss CF and we mainly chat about the day-to-day stresses that all of us experience because these are the most consistent worries we have. This book encourages the reader to move away from the belief that we must be happy all the time in order for us to live a fulfilled life. In fact, the more we strive for happiness the more we will suffer in the long term. The author provides mindfulness skills on how to escape the “happiness trap” that will reduce stress and worry. I’ve just started it but can’t wait to learn a new way of thinking that could possibly change the way I live – no pressure of course!

Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has gained recent notoriety after her book ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was turned in to a TV show this year and shamefully, I hadn’t read any of her books before hearing about her. This will soon be remedied though as Andrew bought me this book as a birthday present and I can’t wait to get stuck in to it! The author has described the story as “adventure romance” which sounds like a mixed bag but I’m totally down with it. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize back in 2003 and has great reviews to support which sells it even more.

All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Cormac is well known for his bleak themes that dominate most of his work (The Road was not an easy read!) but this book is a little more romantic and hopefully a little easier to digest. I’ve started reading it and while the dialogue is a little different, I quite like the approach since it feels like I’m getting inside the character’s head. The book tells the tale of John Grady Cole, a 16 year old ranger who grew up on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas who runs away after learning that the ranch is to be sold. A wild western book that will surely feel a lot different to my life in Belfast!

Rising Strong – Brené Brown

I’d heard about Brené Brown at a recent blogger’s retreat when the speaker, Mel Wiggins, quoted her in one of her talks. The quote was,

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow and shame.”

Wowza. Hearing that quote stirred something within me and I knew immediately I had to hear more words from this woman so of course I went straight on to Amazon and ordered a copy of Rising Strong. In this book Brené discusses how the process of rising after a fall, regardless of its magnitude, teaches us the most about who we are. It sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to get deep in to it in the depths of winter.

The Christmas Chronicles – Nigel Slater

Odd to throw a recipe book in to the mix but this isn’t just your ordinary cookbook. Nigel is the most delicious writer and this book his is ode to winter; the season for crisp mornings, candlelight and promise of snow. It was released today and I have pre-ordered it in time for the holidays when I maybe need inspiration more than any other time of the year. I can’t wait to snuggle up with it by the fire and no doubt drool all over it.

 

Happy reading!!

 

If you like this article, then give this one a whirl if you’re struggling with finding time to read or this one if you are in need of finding a new bookshop.

The Full Shilling Guide to Lisbon

The Full Shilling Guide to Lisbon

The end of winter can be a hard time of year. The dark evenings feel ceaseless and even a crack of sunshine is enough to warrant a celebration. Which is why Andrew and I decided to break up the mundanity and book a last minute escape to Lisbon.

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Lisbon is a place I’ve been wanting to see for a while now as it seemed a little less touristy than other European capitals but with just as many stories to offer. When we saw Ryanair were doing super cheap flights from Dublin it felt like too good an opportunity to miss!

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I’ll break our trip down to our favourite spots since we packed in fair bit in to the 4 days we spent there. My biggest piece of advice though is to drop the map/phone and get a little lost in the windy streets. The city is massive and there are plenty of chances to go a little overtrack and stumble upon some great little gems. Just bring comfy shoes because the city is built on seven hills which will test your thighs for sure!

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WHERE TO EAT

Of course the most important part of a break is the food because it’s the one time you can stop off on as many refreshment breaks as you please without the guilt. We had plenty of pretty great foodie experiences and more cake than I’ve ever eaten in my life which is the sign of a successful holiday right?

Taberna da Rua das Flores

Hands down the best restaurant I’ve eaten in in a long time. From the moment we entered the place it felt special and truly authentic – the wine served were all from Lisbon, the menu was on a blackboard written in Portuguese (kindly translated in perfect English) and the chandlier was a collection of wineglasses glittering in the candlelight.

The food was tapas-style so we got three dishes to share; pink marlin, sliced beef and pork deep-friend in prawn cracker mixture. We cleaned our plates and washed the deliciousness down with the tastiest wine I had the whole trip. I forgot to take a picture of the wine bottle label but I think sometimes the best wine is supposed to be remembered like that.

If you want to eat here make sure to go early or on a quiet weekday. We tried to get in on a Saturday but there was a queue of people outside who had been waiting over an hour. We went back on the Monday at 6.30pm and were served right away and I will be forever grateful.

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Honoraro Burgers

For those wanting something hearty and quick then this place will do the job. We stopped off here for lunch after visiting the Belém Tower and wolved our burgers down in a matter of minutes! Cheap, cheerful and hard to beat.

Pasteis de Belém

After your burger make sure to save some room for the infamous pastries served next door. Pasteis de Belém are the bakers with the original Pasteis de Nata recipe which is why they have a constant queue outside their door. The pastries are little custard tarts that are so delicious you’ll want to grab a dozen when you’re there. We went to this place twice and my mouth still fills up with water when I remember them!

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Palácio Chiado

This restaurant blew us away because we stumbled upon it when we were starving and desperate for a big feed. The ground floor is the eating area which has 4 different kitchens that you can choose your food from but upstairs is where we are jaws dropped to the ground. The building was once mansion and the original stained class windows and hand-painted ceilings are still intact. Their house cocktail is also the best one I’ve ever had!

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Landeau

When you’re strolling around the LX Factory, ogling all the amazing Portuguese craft and design, you can seriously work up an appetite. Which was why I was so relieved to find this place to rest my bones and discover a chocolate cake so light I was practically floating afterward.

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WHERE TO DRINK

Bairro Alto is an area of Lisbon that is coming down with bars and clubs but there are still lots of choice no matter where you’re staying in the city. Since we’re oldies, we only managed the one big night out but we made a fair effort to sample as many Portuguese beverages as possible. The only thing I wouldn’t rate is the ginjinha – the local cherry gin. It’s basically Buckfast (a tonic wine favoured among some Irish folk) masquerading as an elegant liqueur!

Pensão Amor

This place was once a brothel located in the old red light district and it still has that dark and moody atmosphere that would have attracted those frisky sailors all those years ago. It’s a popular joint and was hiving when we were there on a Saturday. Brilliant fun and well worth a visit.

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Park Bar

This bar is a little of the beat and track because you have to get through a carpark to find it. It’s on the roof of the carpark which means the roof terrace has incredible views of the city. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down with a cocktail in hand.

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Pivalhão Chinês

This weird and wonderful place is a great place to stop for one or two drinks. It’s crammed full of random paraphernalia from toy cars to war memorabilia and there’s some pool tables down the back that you can enjoy a few beers over.

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WHAT TO SEE

There is plenty to do and see in Lisbon as the city is so crammed with history that any street could lead you to a different story. We chose to do a free walking tour – a little touristy I know but a great way to learn some quick facts and get your bearings over the place. Some buildings were more incredible than others but I’m sure there’s plenty we didn’t get round to seeing!

Alfama

Be sure to get lost in the streets of Alfama if you can because it’ll feel like taking a trip back in time. This is the oldest part of the city, the only part to have survived the big earthquake of 1755 and so the buildings here are dripping with history. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Alfama and took a different street to the city centre every day. I woke up the sound of bells ringing and all the oldies chattering to each other from balconies (not so great if you’re a fan of sleep ins!).

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Belém

Not only does this area of Lisbon have their infamous pastries to offer but it also rich in history. The Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site found on a sandy beach by the Tagus River. Just a short walk away is the Jerónimos Monastery, another 15th century building to drool over and stand in awe of. Make sure to get some pastries after!

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Trams/Funiculars

Being a city of hills meant that the Lisbon folk had to be find ways to rest their wearisome legs. The trams themselves would be a relic in other cities (some date back to the 1930’s) but here the locals use it as a commute to get around the city. Tram 28 is the most popular for tourists but unfortunately it’s pretty hot for pickpockets as well so keep your wits about you. Tram 11 is quieter but just as lovely and can take you to Belém for the afternoon.

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Squares Galore

Every corner you turn in this city feels like the gateway to another square. They’re all beautiful and the perfect place to people watch with a drink in hand. My favourite was Praça do Comércio which overlooks the river and on to the 25 Abril bridge (which is basically a knock off of the Golden Gate bridge). Another great place for a sunset and to spy the school kids in their Harry Potteresque capes (the school is incredibly old and had capes as a uniform as a way to encourage equality amongst the children regardless of their background).

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Sintra

This village is only 30 minutes on the train and well worth a visit if you’re a history geek like me. This was where the Royals would spend their summer and the main palace, which looks like something from a Disney film, has been wonderfully preserved.

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WHERE TO SHOP

There is no shortage of places to drain your budget in this city and I had to restrain myself a number of times – good thing I only had carry-on luggage! From markets to vintage shops, there is

Markets

We are staying just around the famous Feira da Ladra or “thieves market” in Alfama which is on every Saturday and Tuesday. Everything under the sun seems to be sold here and there is definitely some diamonds to be found among the rough. Another trendier market is the Mercado da Ribeira which has been curated by Time Out. This is a great place to stroll around and grab a bite to eat while having a nosy at all the stalls.

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LX Factory

The LX Factory is a creative island that is found in a once abandoned industrial area of Lisbon. Now the hub is jammed full of galleries, design shops and restaurants that can keep you occupied for a whole afternoon. My sole reason for going was to visit a bookshop I had been lusting over since seeing it on Instagram. Ler Devagar doesn’t have a lot of English books but the wall to wall shelves covered in books will make your booklover heart swoon. One tip for the factory: don’t go on a Monday since this is the quietest day and a few places may be closed.

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Vintage

If you’re a hoarder of vintage clothes then a visit to A Outra Face da Lua is an essential pitstop. The shop has an amazing collection and the design alone will have you coming back again. There is also a wee café inside that serves some tasty snacks including chocolate cake with flakes of salt on top (I may have eaten chocolate cake every day in Lisbon – no lie). My favourite shop had to be A Vida Portuguesa – a shop that filled me with so much joy I wanted to cry a little bit. The walls are crammed with products of Portuguese design and showcases the most beautiful handcrafted goods. Perfect place for some souvenir shopping!

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I could ramble on forever about everything wonderful Lisbon has to offer but the best advice I can give is to get there to see for yourself. I can imagine it’s wonderful in every season but it was the perfect place to escape to for a little winter sun and some much-needed wandering.

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Have you ever been to Lisbon?? What was your favourite part of the city?? Share your tips in the comments!!