5 must-do experiences in Istanbul

I’m not going to lie – I was a little bit nervous about my latest trip – a visit to Istanbul. It was only about six weeks after the recent military coup after all. There were very few tourists around during my visit, but there was no trouble at all while I was there.

Turkey is the ultimate East-meets-West experience. The architecture is a mishmash of European and Arab-influenced styles, the majority of the people are Muslim but very few of the women were burkas or even abayas, alcohol is freely available and the city has a vibrant nightlife.

The Turkish people I met (with the exception of one taxi driver who ripped us off) were friendly and had a great sense of humour. They laughed along with our jokes and made plenty of their own.

Cruise along the Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait divides Istanbul between East and West. Uniquely, the Eastern side of the city is considered Asia while the West side of the city is European. By the port, dozens of tourist agents will try to entice you to take their private cruises. Make sure to take one of the larger ferries which hold large groups and are significantly cheaper for a broadly similar experience.

The cruise offers incomparable views of Istanbul’s skyline, as well as glimpses of the city’s history. You can choose between two hour and six hour cruises; while the views on either side of the river are truly beautiful, we took the two hour cruise and I would say that was exactly the right amount of time to relax and take in the autumn sun without getting bored.

At 13 Turkish Lira (€3.68) per person, this was undoubtedly the best money I spent during my trip.

Stroll down Istiklal Cadessi

Istiklal Cadessi, which means Independence Avenue, is a lively pedestrian street close to Taksim Square.  Although the area has been the scene of a lot of controversy, during my visit the area was packed with shoppers and people going about their daily lives with little sign of any controversy.

The street is home to high street shops, local brands, a beautiful church, an ambassador’s residence, coffee shops and restaurants. It’s one of the areas that really highlights Istanbul’s East-meets-West culture; the architecture along the street is mostly European, but Arab influence is also apparent.

Indulge in a luxurious Turkish bath

Lying on a white marble slab being bathed and massaged by a stranger was a bizarre but beautiful experience. It’s an unusual situation to find yourself in as an adult, being washed by another adult (outside the context of a relationship), but it was an oddly comforting feeling.

I decided so splash out on this and booked an appointment at the Cow Shed in Soho House Istanbul. This was a truly five-star experience – Soho House is an elegant, classically-styled private members club, fitted out with rich mahogany furnishings. The spa was decadent and serene, with friendly staff and beautiful interiors.

Wearing just a pair of bikini bottoms, I was told to lie down on a the marble slab, which dipped slightly in the middle. Warm water was poured all over me, bubbles were lathered all over my body and I was scrubbed using a traditional kese or mitt to exfoliate my skin. Then, the lady washed my hair.

I spent 300 Turkish Lira (€85) on my massage, and while you can have similar experiences at less opulent prices, I don’t regret it for a second. After  my bath was finished, I was offered a cup of lemon ginger tea and given time to relax in the spas luxurious environs before moving on to get my nails done.

Play dress up at the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s largest market. It’s a labyrinth of alleys with more than 20 entrances, so if you see something you really want buy it, because the chances that you’ll find your way back to that stall again are slim. I recommend learning to say “no” in a way that’s both friendly and firm before you visit. You can find almost anything imaginable at the bazaar – Pick up a Turkish tea set, a rug, or a vast array of clothes, toys, souvenirs, Turkish Delight, teas or other food and herbs.

I imagine it’s normally a lot busier than it was during our September visit, but after the military coup that took place in Turkey during the summer, there were very few tourists around.

If you’re feeling a little silly, there’s a stall where you can dress up as a Sultan or Sultana and have your photo taken. We came across this almost immediately on arrival, and we burst into fits of laughter as we tried on the outfits and had a series of photos taken with musical instruments, weapons and other props. This was so much fun and makes for a great cheesy tourist shot – I recommend it.

For 80 Turkish Lira (€22.66), we got three printed photos and a CD with all of the photos saved on it.

Explore the majestic Blue Mosque

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the Blue Mosque, which are beautiful inside and out. Ladies dressed in Western clothing will need to borrow an abaya to wear if you’re going inside. There are booths where these are available free of charge. The mosque has beautiful stained glass and low hanging chandeliers. To get the best view of the outside of the mosque, visit the rooftop seafood restaurant at Seven Hills Hotel for panoramic views of the Blue Mosque, Hajja Sophia and the Bosphorus.

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5 things to do in Leicester… (If you really must go there)

This post outlines some of the highlights of my recent visit to Leicester. Like any major city, there are some fun things to see and do. Honestly, though, if I could give you just one tip for a trip to Leicester, it would be this: Don’t bother, choose somewhere else.

That may seem harsh, but it’s fair. As British cities go, Leicester isn’t the friendliest, the atmosphere is somewhat intimidating and it’s not a particularly pretty place. It strikes me as an old industrial town without a whole lot else going on; a city full of chippers and pound shops.

After two or three bad experiences over the course of the weekend, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, and no desire to ever come back. There were several incidents with taxi drivers who were rude, drove badly, didn’t speak English, didn’t know where they were going and/or brought us to the wrong place, as well as a rowdy and intimidating crowd at our hotel that spoiled an evening. They’re small things on their own, but they left me with a bad impression of they city.

Of course, we made the best of it, and still had loads of laughs over the weekend. I promised you some highlights, and I shan’t let you down. If you do happen to find yourself in Leicester for a weekend, here are some of the best things to see and do:

1. Visit the National Space Centre

Mars-River-Leicester-national-space-centreI never would have guessed Leicester would be to the fore of British space exploration – but it is! The University of Leicester has been at the centre of Britain’s space programme since the field of research began, and in 2001, the National Space Centre was opened to educate the public on what happens beyond our little planet. It’s very engaging and interactive, and would be ideal for children.

The planetarium is awe-inspiring, with the entire history of our universe broken down dramatically, but in a way that it is very easy to understand. There’s a scale model of the International Space Station, a Mars Rover (the robot used to explore Mars) you can try to control, a simulated journey as an astronaut and much more. Entry is £14 for adults, which seems very reasonable.

 

 

2. Have a flutter at Leicester Race Course

Katie-harrington-blogThe whole reason for our trip to Leicester was to go to the races, and I have to say this aspect of the weekend was lots of fun (and not just because I walked away up £80). The sun shone and we got properly dressed up for the occasion. We chose a £27 package, which included seating in the premium stand, three drinks and a £5 food voucher. This was excellent value, but despite the sun, it was a bit chilly, and we slightly regretted not choosing the £50 package which would have given us seating indoors, and included a three-course meal and table service for placing bets. Check out the photos on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

3. Chill at St. Martin’s Tea and Coffee Merchants

Leicester-st-martins-tea-coffee-shopSt Martin’s is one of the nicer areas we came across in Leicester, and this quirky café was an off-the-beaten-path haven on a sleepy Sunday morning. This place is everything an independent café should be – the tea was fantastic and the staff were friendly, book shelves in the corner are stocked with reading material and board games, and the walls are decorated by framed paintings from a local artist. The hardwood floor is beautiful, and the mismatched furniture and comfy old couches give the place a bit of a hipster vibe. I could easily imagine myself whiling away afternoons playing scrabble here. Skip Costa and the other chains in favour of this spot!

 

 

 

4. See some sport

Dan-Carter-all-black-rugby-racing-metroIf there’s one thing Leicester seems to do well – it’s sport. In addition to the races, this weekend saw Leicester City FC thrash Swansea with a 4-0 win, while the Leicester rugby team lost their match to Racing Metro 92. Given Leicester City FC’s unprecedented strong season, it’s a good time to see a game. Excitingly, we met the Racing Metro team at East Midlands Airport, where I managed to snap a photo with former All Black rugby legend and world-renowned number 10 Dan Carter.
If getting some sport in is a priority for you on a weekend away, book for a weekend when a home game for either team is on.

 

 

 

5. Cap it off with a cocktail

Pornstar-martini-mocktails-There are plenty of decent bars to be found in central Leicester. Revolution offers dozens of different flavours of shots, as well as their famous Pornstar Martini (pictured). Marz is home to a classy cocktail bar on the ground floor, and a low-ceilinged underground dance floor downstairs. The Terrace is extremely popular; it was almost impossible to move downstairs but a bit more relaxed upstairs. It would have been nice to find a decent traditional English pub – after a chilly day at the races some of our group were lusting after open fires and hot whiskies, but we didn’t find any this time around (though I’m sure they exist in Leicester!)

So there you have it. There are worthwhile things to see and do in the city, but I won’t be back in a hurry. A solitary weekend isn’t usually enough to get the full picture – am I being unfair to Leicester? Or is just not a tourist spot?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

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25 reasons I’m in love with Galway

Shortly after I moved home to Ireland in December 2015, I dashed off this post about things I love about Galway. I just rediscovered a more in-depth post I wrote on my old blog on the same topic, so I thought I would share it. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your favourite things about the Town of the Tribes.

Monday at the Galway Races: The Galway Races are the highlight of the city’s social calendar and Monday is the highlight of the races for Galwegians. Before the Dubs arrive down flashing the cash and the poseurs start circling the Champagne Tent (or the Fianna Fail tent in days gone by), Galwegians get together to exchange tips, have a tipple and catch up on another year gone by. It has all the craic of the rest of the week but without the pretentiousness of the latter days and half hour bar queues.

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Pic via Barnacles Budget Accommodation on Flickr.

Eyre Square: Eyre Square is the first impression people arriving to the city by train or bus get, and that’s no harm whatsoever. It’s a beautiful green area smack bang in the middle of the city that means different things to different people; On a sunny day you’ll find a totally laid-back atmosphere with kids kicking a football or throwing frisbee, groups of students eating ice cream and rolling “cigarettes”, while envious office workers grab twenty minutes outside over lunch.

Salthill: It’s a little bit noisy and a little bit tacky in places, but on the odd occasion when we do get a bit of sun, Salthill is the first place that springs to mind. Whether you want a leisurely stroll along the Prom, a whirl on the Waltzer, a game of giant chess, a wander through one of the numerous casinos or for the very brave a dip in the ocean; the smell of the sea air and the atmosphere of family fun in Salthill is a huge draw for Galwegians and tourists alike.

The Saw Doctors: Together more than 25 years now, the Saw Doctor’s have eighteen top 30 singles including three number 1s. On one level, the Saw Doctor’s are just a really good country-rock band with a cult following. On another level, a close look at Saw Doctor’s lyrics over the last two and half decades gives a reasonably comprehensive modern history of Galway and Ireland: coming of age, doubting religion, recession, emigration, disappointment, hope and friendship. A lot of their most popular songs are lively – maybe even a little raucous – but my favourites are the ballads they wrote about love.

Shop Street: Shop Street is the epicentre of Galway city life. The pedestrian street bursts with the energy of shoppers, tourists, students, buskers, workers and families. A mixture of high street shops, somewhat kitch tourist spots, street entertainment and leading on to the popular pubs of Quay Street – it is a veritable melting pot of life and culture.img_1614.jpeg

The Guard: If you haven’t seen Galway based film the Guard already, stop what you’re doing right now and buy, rent or download it. Now watch it and come back to me. From the writers of In Bruges, it stars Brendan Gleeson in another dark comedy following a small-town cop as he attempts to deal with cocaine smugglers, prostitution, a dying mother, a gay colleague moved down from Dublin, a couple of murders and a ‘Yank’ over from the FBI just for good measure.

Supermacs: What separates Supermacs from every other take-away? I don’t know. But they have the best chicken burgers in the world and the best taco chips. Inexplicably, Supermacs also tastes better in its home county of Galway than any other place in Ireland. [Edit: My Mac keeps auto-correcting Supermacs to Supremacy – both are basically correct)

Ladies Day at the Races: Okay so as I said above Monday and Tuesday are the locals favourite days at the Races, but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a bit drawn in by the glitz and glamour of Ladies Day. It’s all about the dress, the accessories, the hat, the champagne for this Lovely Girls Competition. Horses- what horses? Today is all about the style!

Galway Girl(s): Galway Girl is an incredibly popular song, and Galway girls are a very popular species. Known for having a sense of humour and ability to laugh at ourselves, the way we speak our minds, our good looks and of course, our modesty, Galway girls are a welcome addition to any night out.

Christmas Market: While summer in Eyre Square is all about ice cream and frisbee, winter in the Square brings with it the Christmas Market, ideal for picking up stocking-fillers and trinkets. Pick up local products like seaweed skin care products of delicious fudge. And of course after a good mosey around, there’s no better way to finish off the day than with a stop off at the beer tent– to keep the cold out.
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The Roisin Dubh: The Roisin is the epicentre of all things alternative in the Galway music scene. As well as live gigs, there are regular comedy nights, headphone discos, open mic nights and more in the infamous pub.

The Omniplex: This one might just be personal to me, but back in the day before the EYE opened and everything was in 3D, the Omniplex was where my secondary school friends and I took our first unsupervised trips into town. While the early days were innocent, in later years these trips involved quick trip to Lidl across the road with notoriously bad fake IDs. In we went to an over-18s film armed with a bottle of cheap paint-stripperish vodka to go with our large cokes.

The Arts Festival: The Arts Festival is a world famous explosion of colour, theatre, puppetry and sound. Over two weeks the festival features the Macnas parade and shows for all ages and tastes. Tens of thousands of people attend hundreds of performances over 14 days. The city comes to life with crafts, street theatre (even more than usual), drama and dance, confirming Galway’s place as the true capital of culture.

Fairytale of New York: The best Christmas song of all time was written about Galway Bay. When it gets to mid-November and you’re pissed off because shops have been playing Christmas songs since Halloween, this is the one that’ll bring a smile to your face and get you singing along.

Street Performances: One man bands, human statues, balloon artists, unicyclists, break dancers – you never know quite what you’re going to find walking down Shop Street and through the Latin Quarter but wherever you see a semi-circle of onlookers go and join them for a few minutes of free entertainment.katie-harrington-irish-blogger-galway-buskers

The Corrib: The Corrib is a beautiful river flowing right through the heart of Galway. There’s something very soothing about watching the fishermen nearly thigh high in water over the Salmon Weir Bridge stand still for what seems like hours on edge to get the catch.

Michael D Higgins: He’s an intellectual, a cultural theorist, a political scientist, a poet, a champion of social justice and human rights and now he’s our President. His origins are Clare and Limerick but Michael D has long been Galwegian by choice. We couldn’t be prouder to claim him for our own. My favourite MDH quote has to be on the Dail floor; in response to “We can’t all be intellectuals like you, Deputy” was when he said “No, but you can aspire to be”. The man has got style.

The sing-songs: There’s no sing-song like a Galway sing-song. Whether it’s your Aunty’s 60th, a lock in at the local or sitting above the rock face at the back of Laurel Park, it always ends the same way. You’ve got two good singers that know the words and hold everything together while the rest drink and dance and join in for the chorus. Sure you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Film Fleadh: Directly before the Arts Festival comes about, Galway hosts Ireland’s leading film festival over six days. It brings together film buffs, directors, actors and critics from all over Ireland and the world in a unique, intimate setting. The central goal of the Fleadh has remained unchanged over the 24 years of its existence – to bring film makers and audiences closer together. For any lover of film and the Arts hitting Galway for the end of the Film Fleadh and the start of the Arts festival is pretty much heaven.

Claddagh: There are few Irish girls who don’t have a Claddagh ring, usually given to them by a loved one. Originating in the village of Claddagh just outside Galway the heart symbolises love, the hands symbolise friendship and the crown represents loyalty. As time has gone on, the Claddagh ring has also become a symbol for pride in Ireland and pride in Galway.image

Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop: Located on Middle Street, Galway, one could spend hours if not days mining for treasures in Charlie Byrne’s new and second-hand bookshop. From crime novels to college texts and everything in betweeen, Charlie’s is the ideal place for a mooch if you’ve got an hour to kill. It’s all but impossible to leave without buying something. The place is a book-lover’s dream.

The Rest of the West:  Much as Galway has to offer in itself, the city is also a gateway to the rest of the West. Croagh Patrick, Donegal, Connemara, Achill Island, Rossespoint, Sligo town and the Burren are just a few of the most beautiful places in Ireland, each with their own charms, and they’re easily accessible from Galway.

The Bog: Now you may not think of the bog as the ideal day out, but for those of us that grew up in rural Galway it’s a place full of memories. Sure, we bitched and moaned at the time, but looking back now it’s all sunshine, sandwiches, sitting on top of a trailer and laughing. And where else can you get a tan and and get toned up in the space of a week 100% free! Important note to family members: Please don’t take this obscure outburst of nostalgia about the bog as an offer to actually go there this summer!

Galway Bay FM: Back in the day before we all had iTunes plugged into every aspect of our lives (I’m talking 2003, people) a fundamental aspect of teen sleepovers was the tunage – and the requests played – on Galway Bay FM “It’s the late night love hour, with Corrine Gavin” Every week without fail she played Sinead O Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares to You’, usually with a cringe-inducing dedication like ‘That one goes out to ClaireBear from Jay who says he’s so sorry he didn’t text her back after school, he ran out of credit but he still loves her forever’… Ah, it was a simpler time!

The people: Ultimately, if you have to sum up what’s special about Galway, it comes down to the people. The city is home to Galwegians, students, artsy types, tourists, alcoholics, poets, musicians and many more. There is an atmosphere in the city that is difficult to describe – that’s what happens when you fill a tiny, historic city with people from all walks of life. If you don’t believe me… just come and see for yourself.

Have you been to Galway? What did you love most about it? If you are Galwegian, what are your favourite things about the place?

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*Throwback! This post was first published on my old blog Oracular Spectacular in 2012. I’ve made some edits to it before reposting here.

 

48 hours in Bristol, England

I’m a huge advocate of trying out new places as often as possible, but there’s also something very comforting about returning to a city you know and love. I lived in Bristol for around ten months in 2011, and some of my closest friends still live there, so I try and make it back there whenever I can – last weekend being my most recent visit.

When I lived in this lovely city, I worked in a demanding job that involved 10-11 hour days, and I spent every moment I wasn’t working propping up a bar with my colleagues or playing drinking games with my housemates (oh, the folly of youth!) The result? I didn’t take advantage of my time in the city at ALL. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to rectify this on subsequent visits.

If you have 48 hours to spend in beautiful Bristol, here are some of the city’s highlights.

The Bridge: See one of world-famous engineer Brunel’s masterpieces and admire incredible views of the Avon Gorge and Bristol City at the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s a steep walk up Clifton’s many hills to get to the bridge (seriously, I could feel it in my calves the next day), but it’s well worth it. The bridge is an iconic Bristol landmark, a great place to get photos and it’s also quite romantic, with a secluded bench off to one side that we immediately decided would be the perfect place for a proposal.Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

The Nightlife: As a city with a large student population, Bristol has a diverse nightlife. There are a variety of lively bars along the harbourside, as well as more intimate, upmarket spots on Whiteladies Road. For shots of every flavour imaginable (including chilli!) head to Vodka Revolution. If you’re young enough to think a massive nightclub with very loud music and lots of sweaty bodies sounds like fun, check out Pryzm.

For live music, check out the Stag and Hound to hear local bands, or Mr. Wolf’s for an alternative/Indie vibe. My personal favourite spot is Seamus O’Donnells, a tiny little Irish pub run by a charming gay couple on St. Nicholas’ Street (What can I say? I’m a cliché).

Image via heikoworld.com

Image via heikoworld.com

The Food: My resident Bristolian friends tell me that the culinary scene has massively improved recently, and if my weekend was anything to go by, they’re absolutely right. Saturday was spent having afternoon tea at Brown’s in Clifton, including dainty sandwiches, warm scones and a variety of tasty treats. The salted caramel profiterole was the highlight for me, but it was all delicious! Sunday lunch was spent at Steak of the Art on the harbourside (not suitable for vegetarians!) The graffiti and decor are colourful and urban, and the food is consistently tasty and well priced. For standard pub grub at affordable prices, check out Molloy’s on Baldwin Street or the Bay Horse. imageThe Shopping: Cabot Circus in central Bristol is a fab open air shopping centre, with a good mixture of big brands at House of Fraser, high street shops and cute cafes. The centre leads on to Broadmead, a pedestrian shopping area and it’s close to both Debenhams and Primark. If you’ve got deep pockets, there are all sorts of boutiques in Clifton. The biggest shopping centre is probably Cribb’s Causeway, but it’s a bus ride out of the city and it’s probably not worth it on a short trip.Cabot Circus, Bristol

The Sights: There are beautiful buildings all over Bristol – from catching a train at Temple Meads to watching skateboarders in front of the cathedral at College Green, you can hardly throw a stone in Bristol without hitting an architectural masterpiece. Stroll along the harbourside, or even explore the city from the water -there are several cool boat tours on offer. The world’s best bangers and mash is sold at St. Nick’s Market alongside all sorts of knickknacks.Temple Meads, Bristol

10 top things to see and do in Bristol

1. Bristol Zoo is worth a visit – I once saw a gorilla there raise its new-born to present it to us, just like Mufasa does with Simba in the Lion King

2. Have a drink on the terrace at the Avon Gorge Hotel, which has stunning views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s a glamorous spot, and less effort than walking all the way up as described above!

3. Check out what’s on at the Hippodrome, Bristol’s theatre. Mamma Mia was on last weekend, so we gave that a miss as we had already seen it (Yes, we’re cool!)

4. Keep an eye out for graffiti by Banksy dotted around the city

5. Place your bets – Bristol’s Rainbow Casino has become a hugely popular spot for poker, roulette and blackjack

6. Book a karaoke room at Kobe Karaoke and blast out the tunes with your friends (Warning: I have memories of doing just that at a work-do that still make my stomach turn with embarassment!)

7. If you’re visiting in summer, try to time it to coincide with the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Booking a hot air balloon ride is massively expensive (around £180 per person), but it’s still cool to walk around the festival while the sky is dotted with colourful balloons

8. If you’ve got extra time, take a half-day trip to Bath or Cheltenham, both very pretty towns that are very accessible from Bristol

9. See an exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Last weekend, we visited a free exhibition on death, which was both morbid and fascinating

10. Jump onboard the S.S. Great Britain, one of Bristol’s most popular tourist attractions.

Have you visited Bristol? Did you love it as much as I do? If you’re visiting soon, what have you got planned?

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48 hours in… Berlin

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A fairytale wedding, magical Christmas Markets and moments of history captured made up my last-minute trip to Berlin last week.

Friends of mine were married at Schloss Kartzow, an old German castle that served as a getaway for the country’s aristocracy in times gone by. Located just outside Berlin in the pretty little town of Potsdam, there were rooms with high ceilings and windows, eight-foot tall fire places, and elegant but traditional furniture gave the place a real feel of stepping into the past. The grounds were ideal for wedding photos, and a winter morning’s walk found plenty of nature and wildlife to be seen. Schloss Kartzow was a beautiful venue for an intimate wedding.*Back in Berlin, it was just a few days until Christmas and the Markets were in full swing. Each has its own atmosphere, so it depends what you’re looking for – for me the traditional stalls with festive snacks, carousels and decorations at Alexanderplatz were perfect.

img_1411.jpegThe bright lights, chaos and noise at the nearby Alexa Christmas Market, with its precarious-looking fairground rides, could be a lot of fun, but for me it was a little too much. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to explore the Charlottenburg Market, but from walking past it looked worth a visit.  Having recently moved home from the Gulf, I loved Kurfürstendamm, an upmarket street with lots of nice cafés and bars, designer stores and some high street shopping. The area had a nice buzz about it, and was more tourist-friendly than the rest of the city (more on that in a moment). I got some of my last Christmas presents here as Kiehl’s had amazing stocking fillers for €10 and €20, value I’ve never seen elsewhere! 

Of course, you can’t visit Berlin without soaking up some of the layers of history the city embodies. Tight for time, with just a few hours until I had to go to the airport, I took the Basic Bitch approach and jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus. Highly surprising for me was the way the Holocaust and World War 2 were glossed over on the tour, which chose to focus significantly more on Prussian history and the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany. It was only by chance that I discovered that the Lustgarten (Pleasure Park) holds an important place in Berlin’s history, including being the site of both speeches from Adolf Hitler and protests against him.

 
A whistle-stop tour of the rest of the sights included Charlottenburg Palace, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Bundestag and various other monuments to German history and culture. Although it wasn’t a very in-depth insight into the city, I’m glad I did it because the chances are I won’t be back in Germany any time soon.

Between this trip and my recent trip to Frankfurt, I don’t feel like Germany puts a lot into making tourists feel welcome. Signage on public transport isn’t available in English, and with a few notable exceptions, German people seem to regard tourists as more of an inconvenience than anything else.

After two quick trips in the last few months, I’m certain that there are other European countries that have as much culture and history, but more personality than Germany.

Have you been to Germany? What did you think?

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18 things I love about Galway

Three weeks in, I’m loving being at home in Galway. Here are some of my favourite things and happiest memories of the town of the Tribes. If you’re Galwegian, add to the list. If you’re not, here are some of the reasons you need to put Galway on your bucket list.

18 things I love about Galway

1. Walking around the Christmas Markets, riding the carousel, tasting Aran fudge, banter in the beer tent, looking out for the Santa Express.


2. A stroll down the cobbles of Shop Street on a sunny day, passing the statue of Oscar Wilde, nowhere to go really, just wandering.

3. Leafing through a novel in a hidden corner of Charlie Byrne’s book shop; never leaving without buying something.

4. Getting dressed up for the Races, but going on a Tuesday ’cause you’re local and you couldn’t bother dealing with the crowd of Dubs on Ladies Day.


5. Watching the mixture of students, performers, hippies and Galwegians interact at the Spanish Arch during the Arts Festival. Having your whole perspective on something changed over the course of an hour long play.

6. Drinks at the Quays or Masimo’s, because let’s face it, we’re too old for clubbing.

7. Rediscovering our youth on gambling machines in Salthill, going down the big water slide and taking silly photos in booths.

8. Walking from the Square out to the Omniplex to see a film; meeting some boys there and doing a bit of kissin’. #throwback

9. Putting on the maroon and white for a match at Pearse Stadium, fully confident that Galway can win – and occasionally you’re proven right.


10. Watching students throw a frisbee in Eyre Square, while someone off to the side squirrels a joint together.

11. The inevitable trip to Supermacs after a night out, and sure if you didn’t get the shift on the night out, it’s always possible you’ll lock eyes with someone over a taco chip.

12. Knowing that the Fields of Athenry was written about somewhere up North, but not caring because it’s our song now anyway; always adding in the not-quite-PC bits.

13. People talking to you out of genuine friendliness, not trying to sell you something, just making conversation.

14. Giving a decent busker a euro because he brightened up your day. Giving a terrible busker a euro because God love him, he’s giving it socks!


15. A drive out toward Connemara, held up only by sheep in front of you on the road.

16. Always going into Brown Thomas for a look even though you know you’re not going to buy anything; heading into Penneys to buy a pair of socks and coming out with a whole new wardrobe.

17. Breakfast at the GBC, because that’s where you went with Granny when you were little and you never got out of the habit.

18. Loving being able to say “Galway”, when you’re asked where you’re from anywhere else in the world because nobody has a bad word to say about the place.

What are your favourite things about Galway?

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Looking for great accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices? Check out Air BnB. Join with this link to get a US$35 discount on your first stay.

A flying visit to Frankfurt

Now that I’m living back in Ireland, one of the things I’m really excited about is getting to travel more in Europe. I’ll admit that Frankfurt is not the first destination to spring to mind when I think “European getaway”, but a friend was there on business and that was a good enough excuse for me to book a ticket.

Since I’ve been spoilt over the last few years on luxurious Middle Eastern airlines, my first shock was to find that Ryanair had not dropped me to Frankfurt at all, but Frankfurt Hanh, a mere 104km away. I should have seen it coming, and it was a shame because adding almost two hours to the journey on either side really did cut in to my two-night stay. It did give me the opportunity to see some of Germany’s gorgeous countryside though, to look on the bright side.

I stayed at the Bristol Hotel on Niddastraube, a quirky, modern place located close to central Frankfurt, just a couple of minutes walk from Frankfurt’s main train and subway station.

The first evening was a relaxed affair after a long day, dinner and a drink at a quiet, homely bar. On my only full day in the city, the weather was surprisingly good, and I actually ended up whipping out my sunglasses to cope with the strong winter sun. The temperature was around 7-8 degrees and the sky was a clear blue – it seemed a shame to spend the day inside, so we spent most of the day walking around the city soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.

I spent the morning strolling around the city center in the Hauptwache area, popping into the upmarket Galeria store for a few sneaky purchases before stopping off for a well-deserved hot chocolate. I met up with my friend in the afternoon and we walked for miles along the bank of the Main River (pronounced Mein), past the state museum and back to Hauptwache.


The place takes on a more festive atmosphere in the evening when the Christmas lights turn on, hundreds gather for ghluwein and delicious German treats and the Christmas Market is in full swing. There are a huge variety of edible delights on offer, along with all kinds of cute souvenirs and gifts, as well as entertainment for kids in the form of train rides and a carousel. It’s definitely worth wrapping up warm and heading there for an hour or so to soak up the Christmas Spirit.

We followed that with dinner at Meyer’s, a fancy restaurant nearby serving a wide variety of fish, pasta and steak dishes, as well as veal and goose for the more adventurous. I went for the Argentinian steak, and although it was cooked medium rather than medium well as requested, the meat was very high quality and the bearnaise sauce hit the spot! A very elegant place with great staff – highly recommended.

Fun fact: My friend thought the kinder museum was where we could go to find out how they get the toys into kinder eggs. Kinder is the German word for children. It’s a children’s museum. We didn’t go.

Although the Bristol Hotel had a small, fun bar with a hipster vibe, a decent buffet breakfast, good facilities and friendly staff, the bedroom was a teensy single room, so €85/night felt like a lot. It seemed like a budget hotel for the price of a mid-ranged one. I caught a glimpse of the double rooms and they looked like a decent size and definitely better value – so this place may just be better suited to couples than solo travellers.

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Adventuring at Bristol Zoo

Today was such a great day.

Housemates and I have decided that we should probably do slightly more productive things with our weekends than consume massive quantities of alcohol and then recovering  from doing so.

So, this weekend we went to the zoo. It was loads of fun; we walked for hours, cooed at the cute animals, shuddered at the reptile house and found an aerial playground [but were too late to play. Major sadface.]

Best picture of the days is of Papa Gorilla

 

But we also had a lot of fun sticking our heads in cutouts –

Good, clean fun!

Occupy Bristol quotes

Yesterday I visited the Occupy Bristol campsite to interview some protesters for work. Some of them had insightful, interesting things to say about the movement which will duly be recorded in tomorrow’s article for The Fresh Outlook. These are some of the other things that were said.

Asked if the Occupy movement has an educational aspect “People do get learnt a lot of stuff down here”

Asked about the low ratio of women to men “We’re not queer!”

Intermittently “Are you recording this? Are you wearing a wire? I think she’s wearing a wire lads” [I open my jacket to show that I am not, in fact, wearing a wire] “Yeah but she keeps asking questions in this way like it’s an interview or something”

Shortly after “You’ve got nice boobs. She has though, she’s got nice boobs”

Asked if it’s true that only two tents are occupied at night “That’s bullshit man”

Asked for surnames to print in the article “Could you not use my surname. I just don’t like people being able to “google” me.”

Asked about the camps dry policy [several protesters are holding beers] “Yeah… that’s a tough one to implement all the time” And drugs? “Drugs is zero tolerance. Absolute zero tolerance. Well, weed kind of makes everyone fight less and just chill out, so we kind of turn a blind eye to that”

When talking about twitter “I’d tweet you, alright”

On leaving “Give us a hug… yeah, I knew she had nice boobs”

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