Half a world away – Sydney at stage 1

Since moving to Australia two months ago I have been asked what I find different to the UK countless times. A fellow Brit summed it up pretty well when they said the reason they had stayed for over 8 years was the warmth. To be honest, it depends on how you sum up differences – in my mind the resemblance to London, and many cities, lies in numerous different neighbourhoods, language and overall culture. You’re so far from home yet so close in the way Sydney feels – many things have new names but are actually the same as things we know and love – a jaffle isn’t, as I’d hoped, a glorious mix of jaffa cake and waffle….it’s a cheese toasty. Case in point.

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What I have found is Jetstar are more unreliable than Easyjet and Ryanair, I know, it’s possible. Vivid festival is more impressive than any light installation I’ve seen back home. The coffee culture in London is way better than the Aussies give it credit for although the almond milk commonality on the menu here highlights I can be a bit wanky, but brings me a lot of joy. The beaches are all they have cracked up to be, and I’m sure I haven’t seen the best yet.

I have been reminded once again to not let preconceptions guide me, Bondi is pretentious but it also promotes health and exercise in a way rarely seen in England. The mentality that exercise everyday is normal refreshing – not one that I always want when ben and jerry call my name but aspirational all the same. Anyway, enough of the babble, first thoughts on top spots to hit/ things of joy below. More to come…

  • The Bondi to Coogee walk is all it’s cracked up to be. If you arrive into Bondi at lunchtime getting a poke bowl to fuel you at Fishbowl and then an ice cream/ gelato at Messina if you’re being Aussie (hall st in Bondi, the specials are where it’s at) you’ll be set up well for the walk. Coogee pavilion at the end serves up excellent cocktails and snacks with a revamped interior of dreams, read a light up whale and a Shoreditch vibe.

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  • Icebergs at bondi is also as pretty as all the Instagram snaps suggest – booking yoga here is the perfect stress free morning stretch. You also get entry into Icebergs pool after so be sure to take your trucks/ cossie. The café is also great.

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  • The CBD – O bar in the centre of town is numerous floors up and slowly rotates ensuring you get a good view of all the good stuff – couple the classy edge with underground pizza at Frankies down the road to make in and rounded evening. Pizza by the slice or whole and a side of shabby chic with a hidden cocktail bar.
  • Urban list and Time Out are your friends for seasonal goings on/ heads up. They’ll give you too many ideas rather than too little….follow on facebook before you head out and you’ll probably want to unfollow asap once leaving to ensure withdrawal symptoms are limited.
  • The fast ferry over to manly has a bar on it, the other ferry does not. The fact that this wasn’t my first point is merely as such as I don’t want to paint the Brits as obsessed with alcohol. But I do think it’s a v. important consideration.
  • Blue mountains – I personally don’t think the guided tours are worth it, head to Katoomba on the train and you can easily grab a public bus (269) to the three sisters and beyond from there.

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Love letters to Lisboa

imageTo set the tone, Lisbon is one of my favourite cities. It’s an utter delight; a food and drink market of dreams, a UNESCO heritage site that lets you be a princess for a day, intricately tiled houses, alcohol dispensed through the wall…all in the warmth and by the sea. I apologise in advance of the below comes across as a brag rather than a blog.

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We stayed in a great little air b n b at the entrance to the castle, perfectly situated in the heart of Alfama. Alfama, as countless guides will tell you is a hub for non touristy, touristy goods and has some great little cafes and vantage points over the city. Other great areas include Baixa (good shopping), Rossio (where the main square is) and Chiado (more good shopping).

Belem is also great, not only for the highly rated, and rightly so, palais de Belem custard tarts but also because strolling along the riverfront with a glass of Ginjinha is pretty close to the dream. Sellers of this cherry liquor are a plenty by the tore de Belem, the heat of the day makes it a much better accompaniment to the tarts than coffee, in my expert opinion.

Since I went to Lisbon with a couple of girl pals a more than average amount of time was spent seeking out great bars – we really nailed it. Park Bar is a must, if you live in London think Franks bar goes on holiday, a really nice holiday. The views were insane and the drinks matched, aperol spritz a plenty and gin in massive goblets with a side of a non tradition sangria, there wasn’t anything not to like. While Park Bar was our daytime haunt of choice, Pensao Amor captured 90% of what I like in a evening. Formerly a brothel this bar offers something different, yet great – decked out like an old, glamour heavy dining room in one room, a DJ playing a cracking mix in the next room and a slightly more brothel fitting themed room as you head further in. The cocktails are unrivalled, I’d rather say no more, just go get an espresso martini and love life.

Whether post dancing food is needed or you are looking to break up your day, the Time Out market is quite the treat. The many stalls surround the indoor market and the whole place has a buzz about it, in the back right hand corner they have a stall reserved for an up and coming food stall (the rest are assured restaurant standard), when we were there it had a croquette stall. Squid ink to Parma ham stuffed versions, they were great little morsels. At weekends the markets open to 2pm and they have a band on until one, worry not, dancing can continue.

 

The final must do to note is Sintra; a magical UNESCO site under an hour away from the city. Granted, we spent too much time eating lunch and guzzling prosecco in the cute streets above the park but we still made it round to Pena castle. Worth it in itself, although if you do have more time there’s a bus that stops off at the various sites.

Enjoy, you can’t but really!

 

German market jaunts.

Coming from near Manchester and its rustic Christmas markets and ending up in London with the (dare I say it) garish Winter wonderland makes you hanker for authenticity. Where better to go for a great Christmas market than Germany itself?

Tqo years ago I headed to Dortmund, this year to Cologne. Both very different but ideal getaways to indulge in the predictable gluhwein, bratwurst and beer overload.

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Cologne (Koln) is often rated highly for the markets, and now I see why. In the shadow of the cathedral there are six markets, each with a different themes; nautical, Angels, Rudolph and Gnomes made up four as well as a cathedral market and one around the old town. Easily depictable statues and most importantly gluhwein mugs and beer glasses (0.2 litre glasses, restraint clearly encouraged – never adhered to) showcase the theme of each, as do the stall holders goods.

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Market stall currywursts and pork knuckle were both particular food highlights, albeit predictable. My knuckle recommendation is Peters beer haus, the knuckle is the size of the haus itself – and a crackling fanatics dream. The beer haus itself is almost like a more boozy Hogwarts, easy to get lost in the many wood clad floors and beer halls with the waiters dressed up and gliding around with large ‘wheels’ of beers, alcoholic, not butter beer. It’s pretty great. The other food highlight was Plomari, booked as it was rated number 1 on trip advisor you’d think it was a well known haunt in the centre of town – not the case but well worth the wait. I’ve been on an octopus hunt since eating an incredible dish in NYC a few years ago, I found a rival in Plomari’s. This Greek restaurant was tiny, but both the atmosphere, chef and owner made us come out with massive smiles. So good!

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Dortmund is smaller and easily doable in a weekend. It offers the biggest Christmas tree in the world, my over sized inner child got very excited by this – spoiler alert, it’s actually 1,700 trees formed to make one tree. Still, massive tree. Given that Dortmund mainly attracts visitors for the football it all seems rather novel for the locals who are incredibly friendly, especially when you find them in a beer house. Whilst lots of people seem to rate Wenkers pub we got rather stuck in Zum Allen Markt. Nestled in the centre it’s got great old school Christmas decorations, great gluhwein and beer tankards and in my case, locals very ready to try their latest tricks on you – increasingly difficult with every sup of beer!

In summary, great times in Germany. especially when food and a warm tipple are on your wish list (on mine, always.)

Dubai – it’s ladies night and you’ll feel alright.

20161127_161227UK November climes offer up the obvious reason to head to Dubai, the 30°c average. Whilst you won’t find hoards of culture vultures you can’t help but feel like you can revert back to your fresher days, all be it with a bit more class (hopefully!) and a great backdrop of lights and the odd rooftop pool: Dubai definately matches up to NYC in its reputation for never sleeping.

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Ladies Nights sweeten the deal (although it doesn’t feel that was the day after) – originally only on Tuesdays they are now on every night. Lethally, certain bars give you upto 5 drinks vouchers or endless prosecco. It’s a hard life. the best places we went for ladies night included the Jumeriah Beach Hotel (Tuesdays – free flowing bubbly and conveniently next to the Burj al Arab) and Maya at Le Royal Meridien Resort (three cocktails on a ropftop with a slightly too cool DJ). If you actually want to pretend you’re a fresher again Rockbottom also hold a ladies night with a luminous blue version of an ice tea, at Liverpool uni we had fat frogs….here blue bullfrogs. (Expect a very blue tongue and potentially hangover induced mood the next day).

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A daytime version, and particular highlight, was Zero Gravity Beach Club – aptly described as an ‘instagram sensation’  by one of my pals. On Tuesday you get to go in free (usually approx. £35) with large round beds and an infinity pool by the beach it optimises why dubai is a ‘go to’ destination. Unicorn inflatables just sweeten the deal, and make the number of posers skyrocket (a great sport – watching unicorn posers).

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Dubai is also great if you like to embrace your inner big kid, as I do, daily. the Aquaventure water park at Atlantis The Palm is well worth a trip with its vertical drops made so much more fun when 8 of you are in a dingy; 6 times later it’s still great. Quad biking is also amazing, and a speed demons dream; best when you know someone there though that can drive you out to the desert though.

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If you are looking for a bit of culture though the Abu Dhabi grand mosque is just a few hours drive from Dubai and is incredible. One of the most awesome places I’ve been, curated by architects across the world it looks beautiful and tells a great story about the UAEs past and future.

If you head to Dubai, enjoy! Especially if you’re a lady!

💙💙💙