How travelling brought me back to where I first started

So this is a slightly reflectional piece. I need to up my blog game and I’m thinking that 3am night feeds might inspire some ‘interesting’ musings in the up and coming months. They might be complete jargon and full of emotional outbursts, but could be entertaining to read nevertheless.

So, 10-years-ago this week, I embarked on a 4 month trip with my best friend. We both took sabbaticals from our jobs, packed our suitcases and boarded a flight from Heathrow to Bangkok. Neither of us knew what to expect, we had never done anything like this before. However, many of our friends had (and for longer periods of time) so we were excited albeit apprehensive for the adventures that awaited us.

We tore our way through Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and a brief stop off at LAX airport 😂. To say it changed my life forever is a slight understatement. This was pre-free-and-available-WiFi days and we didn’t have any devices with us that could connect to the internet (including phones). So we relied on topup cards in hostels or Internet cafes, to upload our photos and communicate with our families. My sister went a mere 5 years later and was able to FaceTime from shacks in Laos on her iPod touch!

In New Zealand, we bought passes for the Kiwi Experience (which ironically has a completely different nick-name). On our first trip, we met three blokes – two on a gap-year and one post-uni, who had made friends. We joined their group and embarked on 10 days of the most fun we had had on our trip. To say that New Zealand is a magical country, is an understatement and an insult to the beauty and pure magnificence of the natural world. I’ll never forget sitting on a jetty, absolutely freezing, in the middle of nowhere, watching the sun set behind snow-topped mountains, turning them pink. I remember thinking I was in some kind of dream world and nothing would ever top this.

Those 10 days changed my life forever, as I fell in love with the post-uni backpacker. When we got back to England, we stayed in contact and he took a place on a PGCE course in London. We moved in together and 9 years, 1 rented flat, 2 house moves, 5 years of marriage and 1.5 babies later, here we are!

Together, we have been so lucky to travel some more. Both being teachers has blessed us with the school holidays (or time in lieu 😏) and we’ve used that to explore many European cities, as well as safari in Kenya, hiking (Andy, not me – I was preggers) in Scotland, 3 week road trip down the West Coast of Cali and chasing the northern lights in Iceland, to name but a few of our adventures. This prompted me to start this blog, as well as self-preservation and therapy from the strains and heartbreak of recurrent miscarriage and fertility treatments.

We’ve since moved back to the town where I grew up and have taken on the challenge of renovating a Victorian 3-bedroom terraced house. The travel will return, it’s cemented firmly in our blood and history now. It’s also something we want George and impending arrival to experience and fall in love with.

So yes, travel does broaden the mind. It allows you to become more understanding, tolerant and accepting – something this country could desperately do with right now. Who knows what post-Brexit Britain will look like and whether it will encourage or discourage the desire of people to expand their horizons and be part of the bigger picture. All I know is that it changed the course of my life forever and even though I’ve ended up exactly where I started, I’ve learnt to live and love…

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Eating Our Way Through Prague

Prague is easily one of the prettiest cities in Europe – with its beautiful cobbled streets and fairytale-like gothic architecture. However, its quickly becoming one of the hippest food capitals in the continent. Many people know that Prague is already famous for its cheap beer, attracting many a stag or hen do. Czech cuisine is meat-based, and there were plenty of places offering ‘traditional’ dishes. However, don’t fret travelling vegetarians – there are a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as a large number of Asian eateries. We found that many restaurants were promoting ‘raw food’ dishes on their menus too, to cater for all. I didn’t think we’d find somewhere to rival Budapest for its great restaurants at ridiculously cheap prices, but we were wrong!

Before visiting, I always do my research – especially as a fussy vegetarian. I want to know the best places to sample the local cuisine. Here we’re our favourite places to eat. Please comment with your thoughts and additions.

Cafe Louvre

Arguably, the best thing about Prague for me was that magical feeling of being transported back in time. You feel part of a forgotten era. Cafe Louvre was the perfect example of this. A Parisian style cafe and billiard hall, dating back to 1902, quintessentially epitomises Prague cafe culture. In its hay-day, it attracted visitors such as Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. However in 1948, it was closed when the communists came to power and wasn’t fully revived until 1992.

Cafe Louvre is open daily, offering a wide variety of dishes and beverages. I had the decedent Cafe Louvre hot chocolate and delicious apple strudel, while my husband had the club sandwich and a latte. Both were amazing and I would have happily eaten it all over again. The bill came in at just under CZK300 (£10).


Cafe Louvre, Národní 22, Prague 1
Lokál

If you’re looking for good, cheap beer and exceptionally fresh Czech cuisine, look no further than Lokál. We visited the Dlouhááá branch several times during our stay, as it was literally metres from our air bnb appartment. Lokál opitomises old Czech culture from the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its simple interior. It’s extremely popular, and although extremely big, fills up fast. It’s also a great spot for people watching. Both the drinks and food menus are extensive – even offering a range of non-alcoholic ciders – and the service is excellent. A really cool spot in the centre of Prague’s old town.

We feasted on the highly recommend Lokál speciality of fried cheese, with homemade tarter sauce and the Goulash of beef cheeks, with bread dumplings. The latter I’m assured was incredible. All washed down with a large Pilsner Urquell and homemade lemon soda, came to just over CZK300 (£10). An unbelievable price for homemade top-notch Czech cuisine, sourced from local suppliers. A must.


Lokál, Dlouhá 33, Prague 1.
Sisters Bistro

Just under our apartment, was the incredible, yet tiny Sisters Bistro, founded by a famous Czech food journalist. We gourged on their amazing chlebíčky (open-sandwiches) daily, and were always convince to buy more than we had intended initially. The light, healthy sandwiches were in high-demand and just too pretty to pass. We enjoyed the vegetarian beetroot and goats cheese, as well as the egg and ham.

Sisters Bistro, Dlouhá 39, Prague 1
Naše Maso

Alongside Sisters Bistro, lies Naše Maso “Our meat”. Both are located in the new Gastro Pasáž, a hip mini-shopping complex for foodies. Currently, only a few units are occupied, but they’re extremely popular and trendy places to visit. Naše Maso is an exceptional butchers and fast food eaterie, that serves beer on tap. The takeout burgers, steaks and particularly the meat loaf is very popular, with queues forming outside the shop throughout the day. As a veggie, I can’t vouch for the food, but I did find myself fascinated by the art of the butchery on display throughout several of the units. Quite an odd observation from a vegetarian, but the window displays were unintentionally captivating works of art. My husband, on the other hand, dived straight into the meatloaf at the first opportunity. It’s basic simple food, taken to a different level, without the hefty price tag. His words, not mine. Would highly recommend a visit – if not for the food – for a glance through the windows.


Naše Maso, Dlouhá 39, 11000 Prague

Grand Cafe Orient

Housed in the beautiful homage to the cubist movement, The House of the Black Madonna, is another of Prague’s ‘step back in time’ masterpieces. The Grand Cafe Orient originally closed in the 1920’s when cubism fell out of fashion and was renovated in 2005, retaining its original brass lanterns and buffet-bar. A truly magical experience for anyone looking for a light-bite or coffee. We visited the Grand Cafe Orient twice as it was so close to where we were staying. If you can, try to grab a booth by the window, as it provides a great vantage point both inside and out, helping you to reflect on what life was really like in 1911. I ordered the cheese panini and lemonade, followed by another delicious apple strudel. One thing I felt let the cafe down was the sour faced waiters, who were probably the only ones we encountered during our stay.

Eating our way through Budapest

 

When sat at home on cold, winter weekends, I take to pinterest like a madwoman and start researching our next trip. For some reason, when it came to Budapest, I was rather taken by the photos and reviews of food and restaurants. Usually, we’re the ‘grab-a-slice-of-pizza-on-the-go’ type people, but something about the eclectic and highly-regarded food on offer, caught my eye. Being an extremely fussy pescatarian (which is just a fancy word for a vegetarian that eats fish), this was a big deal. So, as well as all the amazing things that this incredible city has to offer, here’s what and where we ate…

Day one:

Those that follow on Instagram (if you don’t, please do) will have seen my gushing review of Zona, a ‘contemporary cuisine inspired by travels’, which is featured in the Budapest wallpaper guide. We were not disappointed. We arrived around 6pm and although pretty much every table had a ‘reserved’ sign on it, we were the only people in the restaurant for the duration of our stay. We went straight to mains, however the food was so amazingly inviting, we tucked in straight away without photographing. I had the gnocchi, while A devoured the rack of lamb – claiming that it was ‘one of the best meals he had ever had’. Not sure whether I should have taken offence to that? We followed main courses with (the most incredible) sticky toffee puddings. Washed down with two glasses of wine each, we were left with change from £50 and me desperately looking in an online thesaurus for more
synonyms for ‘amazing’.
Day two:
We began the day with a flat white and a banana bread to go from the very cool Espresso Embassy before heading off to Parliament. A lovely, relaxed and authentic cafe, where the owners are quite clearly passionate about good coffee.
For lunch, we went to Jack’s Burger – somewhere with great tripadvisor reviews and a Pinterest fav. Smashing, authentic American burgers, served in a cute little paper tray with proper American fries. Bloody loved it. I (of course) went for the fried cheese ‘vega burger’, which was pretty damn amazing – almost halloumi like, with an incredibly little sauce and fried onions. I was in one of those food induced weird states of mind, where every mouthful is greeted with an intense nod of the head and an ‘mmmmmmm’ sound, as if it’s completely different from the last. A had the cheese burger and responded to my nods, as appropriate. As well as burgers, Jack’s sells pizza by the slice and fried chicken and fish. Nice.
We followed Jack’s with a trip to Gelarto Rosa because it was pretty much next door, and I’d been dreaming of this moment since we first booked our flights. Gelarto Rosa, is a beautifully quaint and…unique little ice cream parlour, that sells ice creams (as well as waffles etc) in the shape of roses. There isn’t a huge selection of flavours on offer, but that doesn’t matter, as you can choose up to four different flavours to make your flower. We had chocolate, mango and Oreo, although in hindsight, I should have gone for salted camamel instead of the mango. For three flavours, we paid just under £2. I love this country.
Due to the horrendous weather, we decided to continue our tour of ‘Foodapest’ and visit the renowned New York Cafe – which proclaims to be ‘the most beautiful cafe in the world’. Now, we only called in for a drink – I had a hot chocolate, A had a mint tea…and don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful setting. Stunning building and decor, with a resident pianist tinkling away, but we have enjoyed coffee in nicer settings. This makes me sound like a right snob, but when you have taken afternoon tea at The Ritz or The Dorchester, it is hard to find anything else that compares. It is definitely a tourist hot spot and one for a good Instagram photo, but I would argue that it is over priced and not as life changing as it makes out.
Now, moving on to something that WAS life changing. The outstanding Comme Chez Soi. After reading the gushing tripadvisor reviews, I wondered if this little gem was too good to be true. How wrong was I? This restaurant is an absolute must for anyone visiting Budapest, but I must reiterate what so many reviewers had emphasised – you must book. This beautiful Italian restaurant has only eight tables and the waitors must have turned away at least thirty people while we were there. Some had walked miles to get there and were quite rightly gutted. Now the best thing about this restaurant – the service. We were treated like kings. So many complimentary dishes and drinks between courses, each explained in depth. Even when A had to go to the cash point, a waitress accompanied him to make sure he didn’t get lost, and I was given a magazine to read while I waited.
Each course was delicious and full of Italian spirit. We had bruchetta and rocket salad to start, lasagne and salmon taglietelle for mains and shared a chocolate cake for dessert. With two glasses of wine each, we paid approximately £43. An absolute steal. We were even given a box of chocolates to take home.
Day three:
Day three was dry, so was all about the 9-mile trek from sight to sight. Therefore, I survived on a cheese scone, a peach ice tea and a snickers until 5pm. This is when I finally got to enjoy ‘Hot Dog Cold Beer’. I say enjoy, more like experience. No veggie hot-dog. Now, I know even the thought that I should expect a vegetarian option at a hot-dog restaurant will anger many, but this is the 21st century we are living in. Anyway, A enjoyed a ‘New York’ dog, while I went for the chips on stick. Literally, a whole potato, spiraled into crisp thin slices, skewered and fried. Actually, not too bad. Unfortunately though, the draft beer wasn’t on, so we had to go for a fairly warm tin of Heineken instead. It was cool to stand outside however, and enjoy our hot-dog (crisps on stick) and warm beer, while watching the sky darken over the Basilica.
Dinner at Padthai Wokbar was really cool. Leading away from the Basilica are some really lovely little restaurants and this really took our fancy. You choose your noodles, up to four toppings and a sauce and your food is ready in around 5/10 minutes. It’s all cooked fresh, and the place had a real cool buzz. Lots of people, lots of locals and a really good vibe. The Padthai was delicious too, washed down with a chang beer, and lots of reminiscing about eating street food in Bangkok.
A cheeky little return to Gelarto Rosa, to make amends for the mango slip up. This time: salted caramel panacotta, chocolate and Oreo. Winner.
Finally, a well-deserved glass of wine from DiVino Borbar, a contemporary little wine bar that houses a huge collection of wine. We tasted the wine before we chose, and reading reviews online, the bartenders will happily let you try as many as you want before you find the one for you. It was busy and lively inside, so we opted to enjoy ours outside, with the beautiful backdrop of the Basilica. We did discuss how sitting on high bar stools, on the edge of a platform could prove costly for those that choose to indulge in several glasses.
Day four:
After checking out, we headed to the quaint ‘A la Maison Breakfast and Brunch’, a family run restaurant, with an extensive breakfast menu. Quite frankly, there was almost too much on their cute looking menus, which were not organised particularly well. I thought I had decided, to turn the page and find another list of mouth-watering dishes. After much deliberation, I decided on the eggs Florentine, with a twist. It was served with a Camembert sauce and cashew nuts – an interesting combination. A nice little restaurant, didn’t blow me away and wasn’t particularly cheap in relation to general food costs in Budapest, but it hit the spot.
Budapest really is an incredible city and the food (as I am sure you can tell) was a highlight. I would love to know whether you have eaten at any of these places and what your views are? What did I miss?