48 hrs in Budapest ….

Budapest, is hands down one of my favorite European cities, with great architecture, great food and a thriving nightlife, even on my second visit there was still loads to see. It’s a great place to explore on foot.

If your off on a weekend in Budapest, and wondering what to do, here’s a few of my favorite things to do in Budapest.

Jump on a tram…

Riding the number 2 tram is a ‘must’, from the parliament buildings, it travels along the Danube , past St Stephens Basilica to the Chain Bridge, with Buda Castle across the Danube in the distance , then down to the Liberty Bridge, where you can jump off for a stroll round the central Food Market. Free travel on the Tram is included with a Budapest Card

Budapest no2 Tram

Chain bridge Budapest

Eat strudel… 

My favorite place for strudel in Budapest,  is the Retesvar bakery up in the castle district, just steps from the Fishermans Bastion. It’s a great place for a quick cheap lunch of sweet & savoury strudels



Buy great chocolate…

Down by the Liberty Bridge tucked away on a side street is Rozsavolgyi Csokolade, a husband and wife chocolatier team, Conde Nast recently voted their chocolate in the Top Ten in the world, as if you need pursuading  http://www.rozsavolgyi.com


Take a Bath… 

Budapest is awash with thermal baths, It’s a great way to relax after a day of pounding the streets sightseeing.

There’s free entry into the Luckas Baths with the Budapest Card, which leaves plenty left over for a massage .

See some Art…

Get a culture fix at the Hungarian National Gallery ,  Hungary’s finest Art  is spread over four floors, including the ‘Hungarian Nabi’ Jozsef Rippl-Ronai. Free entry is included with the  Budapest Card.

Go for a posh cuppa…

Lotz Hall aka The Book Cafe , is located within the Alexandra Book shop on Andrassy Avenue. Possibly one of Budapests most grandest place to stop for a cuppa. If your lucky you might even catch a pianist having a tinkle on the ivories.


On my weekend, I used a 48 hr Budapest Card, check out more info at http://www.budapestcard.org

For more information on Budapest and Hungary check out http://gotohungary.com/

48 hrs in Gothenburg Sweden……  

As Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg is sometimes overshadowed by its more famous cousin Stockholm. But on my trip, I found Gothenburg has gems all of its own to uncover.

Coming into land  at Landvetter airport on a snowy morning, it felt like i was having a second Christmas.

My base for the weekend was Hotel Flora, a centrally located 4 star boutique hotel perfectly located for exploring Gothenburg.

With my Gothenburg one city pass in hand,  giving me free travel  on all public transport in Gothenburg, on top of entry to Gothenburgs main attractions , I headed out to explore .

With a good couple of feet of snow to contend with, it  definitely felt like I was getting a workout ,whilst having a wander round the city, no wonder those swedes keep so trim.

Gothenburg definitely wins the award for the most stylish public transport system, with their retro style trams, they blast through piles of snow effortlessly , and it’s easy to hop on and off .

Gothenburg is stuffed to the brim with culture , the museums are world class.  The Gothenburg museum of Art houses  all the greats from a Monet to a Deagas ballerina.


And the Natural History museum is small but perfectly formed .

The Gothenburg city museum is also worth a peek, with plenty of Viking artefacts from around the city.

Fish is big in Gothenburg , they even have their own ‘fish church’ known as  FESKEKÔRKA. There’s even a couple of excellent restaurants inside, if you get the sudden urge to eat fish.


There’s  also an indoor food hall, where you can hang out and grab a typical Swedish  lunch at Kages Horna

Or grab some chocolate,  from local producer Kanold.

The place for the perfect afternoon stroll is in Haga , the once dodgy part of town, since  rescued by the hipsters. With plenty of quirky independant shops, it’s a great place to pick up something Swedish to take home.

And when you fancy a quick fika stop , check out Cafe Husaren for a traditional gigantic cinnamon buns.

In the summer when the ice breaks ,  you can see Gothenburg from the water on a boat trip along Gothenburg’s picturesque canals.

Gothenburg was so much more than I expected , it’s a compact, easy to navigate city , with great public transport , I especially liked the trams, there’s more plenty to see and do on a weekend break.

Check out http://www.goteburg.com to plan your Swedish getaway. 

Please note my stay in Gothenburg was generously provided  by Gothenburg Tourist Board, but my opinions as usual all my own.

Etihad Airways #A380 London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi Economy Cabin Flight Review …. 

Etihad airways A380 flight review

So after months of trying to get on an A380, I finally managed to nail one down for my flight over to Abu Dhabi .

Here’s my In flight review….


A friendly welcome from the etihad crew 

Prior to my flight I’d pored over the seat map, with all the premium seats upstairs and the whole lower deck all economy, there was definitely a touch of  them and us. The  stairway to heaven was firmly  roped off during the flight,  lest one of us commoners should manage to stumble our way upstairs for a peek.


etihad a380

This way to plane heaven ….. 

I hit the jackpot when I managed to bag seat 76k , it’s a window seat in the rear section of the plane, where the seat in front has been removed on both sides so A or K is a winner. The rear section only has 9 rows so it felt far less crowded than the front cabins,  plus you got served food & drink faster so I would definately pick the back section again.

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The rear cabin 

seat 76k etihad airways a380 

Magic seat 76k , legroom for days …. 

So once I got settled in my seat , it was time to check out the in seat entertainment ….

inflight tv screen
A massive 11 inch screen with in seat power 

The inflight entertainment has piles of channels than I could hope to get thru in a 7 hour flight , there was plenty of choice from the usual latest blockbusters to a good choice of classic favourites. Plus due to the USB seat power you can keep your own devices fully charged throughout the flight. The noise cancelling headphone are pretty nifty too, complete with a nick proof adapter , I mean where is the trust these days ?. 

etihad airways in flight headphone 

Kleptomaniac proof headphones 

I also found the onboard camera fascinating, and got a bird eye view of one of the best takeoff’s, I’ve had like ever , I found the A380 unbelievably quiet and smooth on both take off and landing . 

Take off A380 style 

Food wise I was kept well fed & watered, I ordered a low calorie meal and it was delivered promptly to my seat at the start of the meal service , consisting of steamed cod and bizarrely mushy peas,  but it was tasty and hit the spot and drinks and snacks were availible on demand unlike some other cost cutting airlines who think you can sit on a flight for 10 hours with only 2 drinks services, no such problems here.

 etihad airways low calorie in flight meal
So in review, my first A380 experience was pretty amazing , it was great to watch the plane in flight on the cameras and service was prompt and efficient what more can you ask ?. As a regular visitor to the Middle East,  would definitely reccommend giving Etihad a try.

 for more info on getting on board check out http://www.etihad.com

Five Top Budapest Foodie HotSpots…. 

Budapest is one place you certainly won’t go hungry in Hungary, there’s plenty of foodie hot spots to discover both sides of Danube. Here’s my top 5 must try’s.

1. The Book Cafe ( Lotz Hall ) 

Tucked away at the back of  of the Alexandra bookshop, the book cafe, not visable from the street, you have to step inside & take the escalator to 2nd floor to find this gem. The café is decorated with beautiful chandeliers and a fresco-style ceiling, painted by German-Hungarian artist Károly Lotz. Hence the official name for the cafe is Lotz Hall. The interior makes you feel like your just about to have tea with the Queen in the renaissance style ballroom.  Serving a cup of tea to light snacks this is a foodie & interior fans must visit destination. With a piece of cake & a pot of tea a reasonable £8-10 a head and free wifi it’s a great place to take a break and gawp at your palatial surroundings. 


2. Nagy Vasarcsarnok- Central Market Hall

If your feeling peckish head straight for the first floor to the food court. Packed with vendors selling everything from an Hungarian hot dog’s  to goulash soup , if you don’t mind roughing it with the locals for some authentic Hungarian cuisine,  then this is the place for you. With cheap eats its a great place to pick up lunch on the go and they even serve beer, it’s a popular lunch spot for locals so be prepared to queue or go early.

3. Budavari Retesvar – Strudel central 

Located up in Buda’s castle district, this hole in wall strudel shop is another great cheap lunch option, in a pricy tourist hot spot. With both savoury ( spinach & cheese ) and traditional sweet fillings (cherry & apple ) it’s nothing fancy but grab one of each and your set til dinner.

   

4.  Rozsavolgyi Csoklade 

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is an artisan bean to bar chocolate company based in Budapest. Founded by Zsolt Szabad and Katalin Csiszar a husband and wife team in 2004, they source their cocoa beans directly from the growers in Venezuela. The chocolate slabs are moulded to look like a intricate tile and everything is excellently hand wrapped. There’s something for everyone to like from  77% dark chocolate with sesame seeds to white chocolate with matcha tea, which is coloured green but I’m told tastes divine just the same. Well worth stopping by and picking up some for posh gifts check out their shop at  Királyi Pál u. 6.

 
5. Go Traditional at Elso Pesto 

Elso Pesto is the one of the first strudel houses of Pest, five minutes from St Stephens Basilica , if its traditional Hungarian food you want in typical Hungarian surrounding this is for you.  With Goulash for starters , Ducks leg for main and Apple strudel for dessert it’s an Hungarian food fest all in one place. 
 


Ten Things To Do in Derry, Northern Ireland 

As Northern Ireland’s second city , Derry has certainly had a troubled past . But after being named 2013’s City of Culture and named by Lonely Planet’s as one of the top 5 cities to visit, things are certainly very much on the up for Derry.

Derry is a safe , vibrant city, rich in cultural heritage and more importantly compact with the help of the walls is easy enough to cover in an extended weekend break.

1. Walk the Wall
Built in the early 17th century, Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. The Wall celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2013 and has been listed as one of the ‘World’s 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die (UNESCO)’. The wall is over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, it also boasts twenty-four original cannons , including the mighty Roaring Meg and is popular with the locals for an afternoon stroll to take in the great views over the River Foyle.

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2. Have some Proper Irish Stew
An Irish staple, made with mutton, root vegetables, potatoes and lashings of gravy, be sure to make time to have an authentic Irish stew.

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3.Discover Derry’s Story at the Tower Museum
The impressively Tower Museum tells the story of Derry’s history, from its geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city’s troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal. Well worth an afternoon visit.

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4. Get the guided tour with Martin
What local man, Martin Mc Crossan and his team don’t know about Derry, just isn’t worth knowing . With 4 walking tours a day at 10am, 12 midday, 2pm and 4pm , there’s no need to book just turn up. Its a great way to get your bearing and an overview of the cities history. http://www.derrycitytours.com/

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5.The People’s Gallery of Murals
The world famous open air People’s Gallery consists of twelve large scale murals by 3 brothers known as the Bogside artists. The People’s Gallery, is located in the Bogside neighbourhood of Derry and depicts the events surrounding sectarian violence and civil rights protests in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Well worth a look.

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6.Walk the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is a cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle in Derry. It opened on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre. It was built to help to improve relations between the largely unionist ‘Waterside’ with the largely nationalist ‘Cityside’, by improving access between the two areas.

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7.Visit the Bogside
Whilst Derry is now moving forward into the future, and trying to leave its previous troubles in the past. Its impossible to ignore what happened here, over 40 years ago on Bloody Sunday. There’s a Bloody Sunday Memorial garden, as well as the iconic, You are entering a Free Derry wall.

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8. Visit St Columb’s Cathedral
St. Columb’s Cathedral was built in 1633 by William Parrot for the Honourable The Irish Society, The Cathedral has many fine stained glass windows, regimental flags, memorials and a large collection of historical items. And is the city’s most historic building

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9.Check out the Peace Flame
Situated at the side of the Guildhall in the center of Derry, you’ll find this small park, In May 2013 a perpetual Peace Flame Monument was unveiled by Martin Luther King III and is one of only 15 such flames across the world. Great place to stop and take a breather on one of the benches.

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10. Get out of Town
After taking in sights of Derry, its time to get out of town and on to the Causeway Coastal Route. Rated as one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide. The route runs between Belfast and Derry and follows the coast road through the nine Glens of Antrim, winding between various picturesque villages, deserted sandy beaches and unforgettable scenic locations. The route highlight is the unesco world heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast which is approximately an hours drive from Derry. If you fancy taking in sights at a leisurely pace check out Causeway Campers, they have cute converted original VW camper vans, perfect for a few days on the road. http://causewaycampers.com/

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10 ways to enjoy Christmas like a Londoner…

If your heading to London in the next 6 weeks , here’s a round up of a few things, us Londoners like to get up to over the festive period. So ditch the tourist trail, and come and experience Christmas like a local.

1. See the Christmas lights
London’s christmas lights are some of the best in the world. A good way to see all the lights close up, is from the top deck of a London bus , so nab a seat in the front row and take in the sights. The best bus routes are
52 from Grosvenor Place to Knightsbridge. 10 or 73 from Knightsbridge, up Park Lane, along Oxford Street, get off at Oxford Circus.3, 88, 159 or 453 from Oxford Circus down Regent Street.
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2. Spend an afternoon at Winter Wonderland
Kids will be spoilt for choice at Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland, which includes a giant observation wheel, Zippo’s Christmas Circus and the capital’s biggest ice rink. As well a Santa Land, with rides, games and food stalls. Where kids can meet Father Christmas then jump on board the Santa Express. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to buy tokens for the rides.

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3 Grab a Santa suit and join SantaCon
SantaCon is on the 6th December, it involves a gang of Santas running around London, singing carols, giving out gifts, and encouraging strangers to sit on their laps. Why ? Well just like the real Santa, they want to celebrate Christmas and spread some festive cheer. Anyone can take part as long as they follow the 3 rules for participating All Santas must a) be jolly b) wear a Santa suit, and c) don’t get arrested. The meeting point and route is top secret and won’t be announced until. 24 hours in advance, so keep an eye on the website http://www.santacon.co.uk/ and make that appointment at the fancy dress shop now.

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4. Check out the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, is a donated by the city of Oslo each year since 1947, In gratitude for our support during the second world war. The tree is on display in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until 6 January.

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5. Go for a skate in the open air
Nothing feels like Christmas more than skating in open air, at an iconic London location. Choose from Hampton Court Palace, Somerset House or The National History Museum. Its also compulsory to have a post skate hot chocolate.

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6. Exercise those vocal chords at a traditional carol service
From the end of November , carol services start popping up all over London. Check local listings magazines such as Time Out for that weeks services . Most are in aid of a specific charity , so are free to enter but donations are expected. All Hallows Church by the Tower , is one of London’s oldest church’s , they have various christmas services but for Carols by Candlelight head down on 18th December at 6pm

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7. See a traditional Christmas Panto taking the kids to the pantomime is as much a part of Christmas as decorating the tree and giving presents. Pantomime dames ,heroes and villains ,its a british institution For a Panto near you check out http://www.bigpantoguide.co.uk/

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8. Grab a meaty bargain for Christmas dinner at the Christmas Eve Meat Auction.
London butchers Harts of Smithfield, have held their annual Christmas Eve meat auction for the last 30 years, everything’s got to go , so get a wad of cash, a sturdy bag and be prepared for a load of yelling to secure that bargain turkey. It starts promptly10am, but for a prime spot in the auctioneers eyeline get there early.

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9.Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey
All faiths are welcome to midnight mass at Westminster Abbey , the service starts at 11.30pm. Its a free service but you do have to book via http://www.westminster-abbey.org/

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10. For the ultimate Christmas Day,
Christmas isn’t just about the presents, for the true meaning of Christmas head to St Paul’s Cathedral for their Christmas Day service. For the early birds there’s a service at 8 am, or if you fancy a lie in head on down for the 3.15 pm service. But there’s no public transport, so you’ll have to beg,borrow or steal a lift to get there.

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First timers guide to visiting Petra, Jordan.

Petra a unesco world wonder is undoubtedly Jordan’s most valuable treasure, and greatest tourist attraction. Petra is visited by tourists from all over the world, and a independent visit is easier to plan than you think, keep reading for practical tips for your first visit to Petra.

Getting to Petra 

Start by flying into Jordans capital Amman, and then depending on your arrival time you’ll need to spend the night in Amman before catching the Jett Bus  down to Petra at the crack of dawn the next morning.

 

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The Jett bus,  leaves the bus station in central Amman at 6.30am every morning ( returns daily at 5pm from Petra ) for 11 Jordanian dinar ( JD ) pp each way (approx £11/ $15 ) . The journey takes approx 3 hours arriving at approx 9.30am , with a short bathroom break halfway. The bus pulls in right by the Petra visitor centre, and seats can be booked online on the Jett website in advance , or in their office in Amman.

http://www.jett.com.jo

 

Entry into Petra

 

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Entry into the site of Petra is only permitted to visitors holding valid tickets. These are available at the Visitor Center and can be purchased on arrival. Prices differ for foreigners and locals and a range of ticket types are available depending on the length of stay and number of visits to be made into Petra.

A 3 day pass for 60 JD is the best value for money due to the sheer size of the place. if your  just visiting for the a day it’s a steep 90 JD entry especially as its impossible to see everything in a day. ** Please note you will need to show your passport as id so don’t forget to take it with you. **

For more info check out the Petra visitor Centre website http://www.visitpetra.jo

 

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Petra’s main trail

 

Petra is not the place for the faint hearted, there is a lot of walking and step climbing to reach some of the attractions , the main trail is 5 miles long from the main gate and the attractions are all accessible off the main trail.

Licensed guides are available to hire at the visitors centre from 50- 100 JD on top of the price of your ticket (for the group not pp) as I was travelling alone,  I couldn’t justify the expense, so I purchased a Petra easy guide via I tunes, which gave a short audio on each of the sights, a helpful map and it worked just fine for me.

 

 

The best time to visit Petra is as soon as the gates open at 6am. You’ll pretty much have the place to yourself, not even the Bedouin can be bothered to get up that early, to harass the unsuspecting tourist. It’s claimed that the ticket price includes a horse ride down to the Siq, what they don’t mention, is the horse owner will expect a hefty tip when its time for you to get off, so you have been warned.

 

From the visitors centre it’s a 15 minute downhill stroll to the Siq,  then approx 20 mins to walk through the Siq to the Treasury . This is the main hang out for horses & donkeys owners plying for trade, once you get past the hustle and bustle of the Treasury area there are clear signs pointing out the main trails.

Due to well documented animal abuse that goes on at Petra,  I do not recommend hiring any animals whilst in Petra.

 

 

Most sites are up steps from the main trail but there are 2 sites which require a bit of extra planning . The Place of High Sacrifice is an 45 min upward climb, challenging but doable at a steady pace.  The main and biggest climb,  is to The Monastery the big brother of the Treasury, noticeably harder than  the Place of High Sacrifice, at around 90 minutes of a continuous upwards climb from the bottom of the steps , so lots of  water and sensible walking boots with a good grip are essential.

 

As the start of the trail to the Monastary is the furthest away from the main gate (at least an hour ) , I suggest going straight to it when the gates open. Then you’ll get the place to yourself when you reach the top. There’s even a cafe  where you can grab a mint tea, and take it all in, but be warned I didn’t see a toilet, so maybe best to stick to just the one tea.

 

 

The Bedouins do offer donkey rides to the top, which I wouldn’t recommend due to the sheer drops and narrow ledges of the path and the questionable health of the donkeys.

 

 

Along the trails , you will be invited by the bedouin to stop to drink tea, which out of sheer exhaustion I stopped for a while to catch my breath. To their credit they were hospitable and the tea was delicious , I made sure to leave a dinar or two  for their troubles before continuing on.

 

Petra by Night Tour

If you are overnighting in Petra, it’s also worth doing the Petra by night tour, This is a magical way to see Petra by candlelight, the experience starts by walking the entire Siq to the Treasury, lit with over 1,500 candles. Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 20:30 from Petra Visitor Centre and delivers you back to the Visitor Centre around 22.30pm. The entrance fee for Petra by Night is 17 JD, children under 10 years are admitted free of charge.

 

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Where to stay

With regards to accommodation, I stayed at the excellent  Petra Moon Hotel, a solid 3 star hotel approx  5 minute walk from Petra’s main gates, and right next to where the bus from Amman pulls in . With free wifi , comfortable western standard rooms and a roof top pool, I highly recommend it rather than the pricier Movenpick next door. After a day at Petra, you won’t have the energy to do anything more strenuous than order room service for dinner  anyway.  http://www.petramoonhotel.com



 

For more information on Petra and Jordan check out the tourist board website http://www.visitjordan.com