COMMUTING TO PARIS: A relaxing city break

I’ve been to Paris many times, and it’s always WONDERFUL. There’s no way to get it wrong in the French capital, as the city is so beautiful and there’s so much to do.

paris01

We hopped on the Eurostar after work on a Friday and got to Paris still in time for dinner. We ate at Cafe Pinson, a veggie cafe that served amazing food. They also had a very nice quinoa beer. Dinner for two cost 50€.

Centre Pompidou and Notre Dame

paris18

It was a rainy day, so we decided to stay inside and visit the Pompidou Centre. The permanent collection is great, and they also had a Jeff Koons exhibition on. As you climb through the many escalators, you get beautiful views over Paris (even through the rain).

paris16

We had lunch at a Lebanese cafe nearby and then crossed the river to get to the Notre Dame. There was a long queue, but we got in fairly quickly. But with so many tourists inside, it’s often better simply to stay outside taking in all the little details of the impressive façade.

paris12

In the evening we had dinner at 42 Degres, a raw food restaurant. It was Valentine’s Day, so they had a special menu full of pretty dishes. The food was good and the service really friendly. A 5-course meal for two including drinks and tip for 118€ – good for a special treat.

La Villette

paris07

We started the Sunday at Parc de le Villette, a very nice park which has many arts and entertainment venues. It’s only a few stops from Gare du Nord, but it’s already much less touristic than most attractions in the city centre.

paris08

There were lots of people exercising about. We walked around the park, stopping to take photos of the many unusual buildings, such as the spheric Geode (which happens to be a cinema) and the new modernistic Philharmonic.

paris03

Bastille

paris06

We had a quick lunch at MOB, a vegan burger place. Food was nice but a bit expensive (almost 20€ for burgers and chips for 2) and quite pretentious.

We then stopped for a beer around Bastille. This is a good area to go for a drink as there are lots of bars around, and it gets quite busy in the evenings.

paris02

We headed back to the hotel for a little break, then went for a beer at Belushi’s. I don’t normally choose to go to Belushi’s as it’s a chain of bars associated with St Christopher’s Inn hostels (just look at their website and you’ll immediately hate it), but actually this one was actually pretty good.

We ended our evening with a nice meal at Saravanaa Bhavan, a veggie Indian restaurant that served delicious dosas. Dinner for two cost 34€ including tip.

Then it was time to get back to the hotel. Early in the morning we got on the Eurostar and commuted back to work. What a nice little break!

paris29

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: The Eurostar is the best option from London, as it’s often cheaper than flying, it’s less hassle to go through security and you arrive right at the city centre!
  • Stay: We stayed at Le Rocroy, which was very convenient as it’s 5 minutes from Gare du Nord. Paris has lots of options for accommodation but prices are generally high, so do your research and book in advance.
  • Do: Paris is really easy to visit as there’s just so much to see and do. Grab a copy of the Pariscope at any news stand to find a comprehensive listing of events around the city.
  • Museums and churches: Museums in Paris cost around 15€ to get in. Check before you go as many are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. Churches are generally free to visit but you pay to enter specific areas (such a treasury or a tower).

paris28

Advertisements

TRAVELLING ON FILM: 3 movies set in Rome

I’m really looking forward to going to Rome next month. I’ve been there before, but that was many years ago, so it will be great to visit it again!

Rome is very picturesque, with amazing architectural features everywhere you look. So of course may great films have been set there… here are three of my favourites:

1. Bicycle Thieves

bicycle thief

Bicycle Thieves is a beautiful film by Vittorio De Sica, but boy is it sad. It’s set in the post-war, and it shows the many struggles of the main character.

The grandeur of Rome in the backdrop adds another layer to this tale of misery. An amazing film, but not an easy one to watch.

2. The Talented Mr Ripley

ripley

The Talented Mr Ripley is set in a few different locations around Italy, including Rome. This thriller is full of suspense and plot twists, all happening in amazing places where the main characters live the high life, such as the luxurious St Regis Hotel.

The perfect film to watch with a glass of wine on a lazy weekend afternoon.

3. To Rome with Love

rome

Woody Allen is a favourite of this blog, but he really makes the location a central part of his films.

To Rome with Love is a classic Woody Allen film, hilarious and neurotic. The cast is absolutely amazing, with Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Helen Page, Roberto Benigni and many others.

Rome is such a perfect city for this entertaining film!

TRAVELLING WITH A PURPOSE: Planning an artistic scape

paris

Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere for a reason. I’m massively into art, so I’m always happy to travel to see a great exhibition. Here are my tips on travelling to see art:

Where to go:

london 09

If you’re not sure where to go, a good starting point is focusing on the big European capitals. This way you’re almost guaranteed to find a great museum or exhibition to visit. And of course you will also get to enjoy everything else the city has to offer!

London, Paris and Rome are all perfect for a cultural break!

Major museums:

paris1

Another easy choice is to visit famous museums. Of course the Louvre has a crowd of tourists around the Monalisa, but just across the hall you can see four other Leonardos side-by-side (by the way, this is the only place in the world you get to see this) and there will be much less people around there. Last year I went to Amsterdam to visit the newly-renovated Rijksmuseum and it was absolutely amazing!

Major museums are perfect to see masterpieces by famous artists: wandering around room after room of great art can be a lesson in art history in itself!

Great Exhibitions:

london 08

Another great thing to do is finding specific exhibitions to visit. The Venice Biennale is completely mind-blowing, or you can check out what’s happening in the world at Time Out and take your pick.

But make sure to book in advance: popular exhibitions may sell out. Virtually all museums and galleries have easy options for booking online, and often you don’t have to wait in a queue if you already have your ticket!

london

Go get inspired!

THERE’S A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE: How I choose where to go

A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to visit every European country. The plan was to go somewhere every month until we’ve seen it all.

Two years later and we’ve had some amazing times: we saw the northern lights in Iceland, discovered Ljubljana is really nice, had a fabulous time in Prague, and much more!

chile1

So far I’ve been to 24 European countries (there are around 50 depending on how you count it, but we use this list here). But we also spend a lot of time going back to places we love, or travelling further afield, outside of Europe.

I read a lot about travelling, and inevitably I add more and more places to my wishlist. I also change my mind about where I want to go: somehow I’m really keen on going to Japan at the moment, but the country didn’t really interest me before!

chile3

But mostly I’m always happy to hop on a plane (or a train!) and go somewhere for the weekend. I’m in no rush to tick every country off my list – I’m in it for the journey!

FLYING ON THE CHEAP: Making the most of budget airlines

My friend suggested the topic for this post, and it got me thinking of when I first discovered budget airlines. This was when I first moved to Europe: I was shocked (shocked!) at how cheap flights could be. Back then I’d check out Ryanair for flights to no matter where, simply because they were so cheap.

london 05

Those were the days when you could get free flights and simply pay the tax charges. Those days are mostly gone, but there are still plenty of good deals around. Here’s how I do my research for flights:

1. Search sites

I always start by looking at different search sites to get an idea on prices. Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo are my favourites. Each site has a slightly different set of options, so it’s good to browse around.

2. Know your airports

The thing with budget airlines is that they don’t always arrive at the best airports. Ryanair can leave you over an hour away from your destination and airport transfers can be expensive, so do your research and make sure to land somewhere convenient. Otherwise all your savings on the cost of the flight may end up being spent before you even get to leave the airport!

In London I tend to prioritise Gatwick where possible, as it’s the closest to my place and it’s cheap to get there by train.

chile2

3. When to book?

This is the trickiest. I’m actually never sure on when to book my flights, but sooner tends to be better.

In theory you can get good deals if you book 3-5 weeks in advance as sometimes airlines do sales to make sure flights are full. However, if you’re travelling to European capitals for the weekend (which is often what I do), flights will always be full, so just book it as early as possible, up to about 4 months in advance (more than that and sometimes not all options are available).

4. When to go?

Travelling mid-week, during the day or off-season will get you a better deal. If this is an option for you, you’re in luck! But because I have a full-time job with a limited holiday allowance, this is simply not an option. But again if you book in advance this shouldn’t be a problem.

london 04

5. Watch out for extra charges

As a rule, I always travel light. But budget airlines often have strict luggage policies and once you add £30 per piece of luggage each way you might as well travel BA. They are also generally less flexible, meaning that if you want to change your booking you’re better off making a completely new reservation.

6. Choosing airlines

There are lots of cheap airlines around, but it’s not always just about price. Here are some thoughts on specific companies I’ve travelled with, but really there are many more around and most of them are good enough:

  • Ryanair: I haven’t travelled with Ryanair in years, and honestly I don’t miss it. They are really at the bottom end in terms of service, but their prices can be tempting.
  • Easyjet: I fly a lot with Easyjet, as they seem to have the most options, and they are normally the cheapest airline other than Ryanair. Service is good, but flights at the end of the day are frequently a bit late as each plane does so many flights every day.
  • Norwegian: Norwegian doesn’t go to as many places as Easyjet (at least not from London), but when available they are great. Very good service and very good deals: £90 return to Stockholm, and return flights to New York starting from £250 (although it’s quite hard to get these).
  • Wizz Air: This is a Hungarian airline, and it’s a great option if you’re travelling to Eastern Europe. They have some amazing deals and go to unusual destinations like Ljubljana.
  • Icelandair: Icelandair doesn’t fly to many places, but it’s a great airline. If you’re going to Iceland, their holiday packages are the best. And they also have free stopovers (I said free!) in Reykjavik if you’re flying to America or Canada.

Happy booking!

A WEEKEND IN LISBON: Green wine and yellow trams

lisbon09

I was thrilled to be on the road again, especially since Lisbon is such a great place for a weekend getaway. We hopped on a plane on a Friday after work, and we got to the Portuguese capital just in time to hit the bars.

CASTELO:

lisbon08

Praca do Comercio is the main square in the centre. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we climbed up the big arch at Rua Augusta to see it all from above.

From there we went to Castelo, a nice neighbourhood where you get great views of the city centre and the Tagus. The area is full of little winding roads and there’s also the castle (which gives the area its name) which is very nice.

lisbon02

We walked all the way up there but you can take the traditional tram n. 28, although it can get very crowded on weekends. But even if you’re walking, follow the tram tracks and you will get to the main sights.

A bit further is Feira da Ladra, a flea market which is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with stalls selling all sorts of things.

This area is also full of churches and vantage view points, so you can easily spend a whole day there.

lisbon05

For lunch we stopped at Princesa do Castelo, a veggie restaurant which was simple but very nice. Lunch for two including tip cost 23€.

BELEM:

lisbon16

Belem is a great area where you will find some of the main historical highlights of Portugal.

We started at the Monument to the Discoveries, which celebrates the age of Portuguese exploration. This is one of my favourite things in Lisbon – the massive map of the world within a compass is very impressive, especially when you’re at the top of the monument.

lisbon20

We then visited Jeronimos Monastery, which is a beautiful building full of history. The tombs of historic figures such as Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camoes can be seen in the church there.

Nearby is Belem Tower, the place where Portuguese ships would leave from to explore the world.

This whole area is really nice, especially when it’s sunny.

And you wouldn’t want to miss the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, the place where Portuguese custard tarts are originally from – it is a must see, and although the queues can be quite long, service is quick and these treats are truly delicious!

BY NIGHT:

There are loads of great bars and restaurants in Lisbon.

Around Castelo, we stopped for a drink at Cruzes Credo. The place is nice but the menu is not particularly veggie-friendly.

lisbon04

Around Baixa, the pedestrianised area in the city centre, we stopped for a nightcap at one of the many bars. Most places around there look a bit similar and are quite touristy, but it’s still cheaper than London and many places are open till one or two in the morning. Rossio is another area full of traditional cafes.

Another nice place we visited was Bio, a nice veggie restaurant around Rossio. Dinner for two including a drink for less than 20€!

lisbon06

But really the main area for partying in Lisbon is Bairro Alto. It gets completely packed at night, with bar after bar selling cheap beers and cocktails. Many of these places also offer live music.

We stumbled upon a bar called Spot, which was very nice (they were playing Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes when we arrived, so I loved it straight away), and we stayed there for the rest of the night.

lisbon12

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Tap and Easyjet offer the best connections from London. The flight takes around 2h30. Book in advance as tickets are not as cheap as they used to be.
  • Transportation: The Metro system in Lisbon is very reliable and easy to navigate. The best thing to do is buying a reusable card from a self-service machine and charge it with some cash. You can use it in all public transportation, and it’s really cheap (the ride from the airport costs only 1.50€). Plus if you’re in the city centre you end up seeing a lot on foot.
  • Stay: We stayed at Artbeat Rooms (this was my second time there), which is ideally located in the city centre. Gosia, the owner, is great and very helpful. But Lisbon has many good options, with award-winning hostels at a good price.
  • Money: Lisbon is significantly cheaper than London, which is always good news. A beer costs around 2€ and a meal at a restaurant costs around 10€ per person.
  • Food: Traditional Portuguese food is not really veggie-friendly, but you can get great cheese and wine (who needs anything else?). We did our research through Happy Cow in advance, and that was very helpful.
  • What to see: We only went for the weekend, but you’d need a few more days to see it all. The Calouste Gulbenkian museum is supposed to be great. Further afield, Caiscais is a nice place for a day trip in the summer – this famous beach resort is only a short train ride away from Lisbon. Nearby Sintra is also very nice: this Unesco Heritage Site is home to two unusual palaces and perfect for a day out.

lisbon11

This was our first break of the year. We had a great time in Lisbon – such an awesome city!