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Blog, Reader's Vote: Prague, Travel

The Reader’s Vote: Prague

At the end of February I let you the readers and Instagram followers pick my next city break destination! At a whopping 84% you chose for me to visit Prague versus Riga!

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As soon as the poll closed and while the recommendations were flooding in, I booked my trip and the countdown commenced. I finished up University for my 2 week Easter holiday and started my whirlwind few days with seeing 30 Second to Mars in Glasgow and then heading straight to the airport the day after.

After getting to Prague safely and a lovely night’s sleep, I woke up with a strong cup of coffee, had a yummy breakfast and laced up my trainers to hit the streets of ‘the city of a hundred spires’. I started venturing towards the Old Town Square and wandered through the side streets are accidentally fell upon the Jubilee Synagogue. The Art Nouveau decoration is just breathtaking!

Finally out of the side streets, I walked past the beautiful Municipal Hall. Originally where the court palace used to be erected, this magnificent building is now a concert hall and civic building. I then finally made my way to the old town square. Reader, I was honestly led to the square with the smell of Trselník and gingerbread as well as the excited chatter of tourists and children singing folks songs. Little did I know that I was about to experience one of the most incredible Easter fayres I have ever seen!

The Czech take Easter very seriously and are known for their tradition of men whipping women on Easter Monday. Don’t worry! It’s not meant to cause pain! According to legend a woman should be spanked with a whip on Easter Monday to bring health, beauty and fertility for the whole year. These whips (or pomlázka) are made from willow and decorated with coloured ribbons (I even came across a small decorative pot of ribbon decorated willow branches in McDonalds when I nipped in to get a bottle of water). Another Czech tradition is the distribution of hand painted eggs. There were several stalls with painstakingly intricate hand painted eggs catering to all budgets! The trees surrounded the square were beautifully adorned with colourful ribbons and decorations which is an instagrammers delight.

As I was wandering around the square soaking in the feast on my senses, I realised I was just steps away from the world famous Astronomical Clock. Sadly it was under renovation and I didn’t get to experience it’s chimes but it definitely did not dampen my spirits.

I decided to walk over Mánes Bridge so I could take in the view looking over at the famous Charles Bridge and was a much much quieter route to the other side of the city! I slowly meandered through the side streets slowly making my way up to Prague castle. Having stopped by the beautiful Malá Strana, I continued weaving through the throngs of tourists having accidentally went the most popular route up the steps to the castle. After dodging slow hordes of tourists, I managed to take in the breathtaking view at the top! The copper coloured roof tops just laced with countless spires of gothic architecture is one of the most picturesque views I have seen and something out of a book. After soaking in the courtyards of the worlds largest ancient castle, I discovered a little slip road that took me back down the hill. Ever turn of the steep stairs (that put Edinburgh’s old town to shame), I encountered beautiful views of the city and every angle.

When I finally made it back to the bottom of the hill (after maybe popping into a quaint boutique or two), I ventured to the Lennon Wall. This colourful display was met by a busker singing John Lennon songs as tourists soaked in the messages and pictures of love and peace. To add to the unique charm of the wall, a professional engagement photo shoot by a couple was taking place at one segment.

I decided to head back over the River Vltava using the Charles Bridge. The bridge is scattered with 30 baroque statues depicting saints. A famous statue is that of Saint John of Nepomuk, the court priest of King Wenceslas IV. If you touch his statue, it will bring you luck and you will return of Prague soon.

Having exhausted myself dodging tourists and taking countless photographs, I nipped into the Prague Beer Museum (thanks to reader recommendations) to sample some world famous Czech beer. I normally detest beer but seeing as I was in Prague, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try again. The bartender recommended Rohozec Višen, a cherry beer which tasted like a sour cider with a very faint malt finish. I highly recommend this beer to the point where after I had a small sample, I ended up having my first ever pint!

Tempted to stay for another several pints, I restrained myself so I could indulgently wander through the old town square one more time before relaxing in the hotel pool and venturing out for dinner. Through another recommendation, I went to U Medvidku which coincidentally was right by my hotel. This restaurant also is home to a brewery so I decided to be adventurous and have the “beer cheese” to start. It was interesting to say the least! A rich creamy cheese with a malty tang. For main course I opted for some traditional duck with cabbage and potato, bread and bacon dumplings. It was sublime was the perfect way to end my day in Prague, all washed down with a few nice glasses of wine!

Thank you so much for recommending this incredible city and all the sights to see and places to eat and drink! It was a whirlwind 36 hours and I have definitely not been disappointed and can safely rank this as one of my favourite cities in the world! I hope to return soon to explore even more and get to see the Astronomical clock in its restored glory.

AJ x

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Musings, Why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day

Why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day

So February the 14th has been and gone. It is one of my least favourite holidays of the year. I am not opposed to celebrating love, far from it! But here are my thoughts on the day…

Firstly, gestures of this nature brought around by this day should be spontaneous and not because people want to show they love someone and not be confined to a Hallmark money grab! In 2016, the UK blew an estimated £980 million on the day and over a billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent globally each year. Every year I see queues of husbands and boyfriends wandering Tesco aisles after work hurriedly buying flowers and chocolates because they forgot about the occasion.

Restaurants are pushed to the limits with couples panic booking tables and being crammed into packed restaurants trying to make out what their beloved is saying through the noise of chatter throughout the room as the waiting staff desperately try to cater to every whim to make everyone’s Valentine’s Day magical. The whole day is just ridiculous!

Let’s face it, Christmas has been and gone and everyone is thankful for their January pay cheques to breath life back into dusty and bleak bank accounts. Do people really need to spend more money because of the status quo? Santa brought us all presents less than 8 weeks ago! If you do feel the need to receive more presents, well… you’re just greedy. (Obviously occasions like Birthdays are an exception here.) A national consumer spending survey showed that 53% of women would end their relationship if they didn’t get something on Valentine’s Day…. and they say that love is blind?!

Now to social media….We are being told that our increasing addiction to social media is fanning the flames of narcissism and anxiety and the streams of declarations of love are eye watering and pointless. Maybe declare your love when corporate bosses arn’t telling you to and do it on one of the many other opportunities you have throughout the year. How about on an anniversary or end of the year or just when your partner does something nice and out of the blue? Tags like #ilovehim and #luckygirl will get you like or two but just because your other half buys you a million perfectly Instagram filtered roses doesn’t mean you are actually happy, nor that they actually love you.

We have all been those people who experience those co-workers who receive the corny ridiculously sized bouquets of roses that is larger than the poor and exhausted Interflora delivery man at their workplace. These displays are more about satisfying the buyer’s ego than them actually loving the recipient. The recipient obviously makes a fuss and is ‘ utterly shocked’ despite her receiving the spectacle every year whilst her colleagues gawk and clearly makes everyone else in the office feel insecure as she falsely exclaims how she’s surprised at the ‘spontaneous gesture’ and then making a huge fuss on how she will get them home. Try getting flowers on a random Tuesday in September…. then it’s a proper surprise and doesn’t make you look quite frankly, a materialistic saddo with an egotistical partner.

The single ladies and gents out there… they probably spend a reasonable amount of money too. Be it a new outfit for a panic date they’ve secured on Tinder so they aren’t seen to be alone on Valentine’s Day or a girls/lads night out to prove that they’re ‘strong, confident, independent people’. All because they are made to feel like rubbish by businesses because they haven’t found their soul mate. So what if you haven’t found your lobster yet?! You shouldn’t be made to feel rubbish because of that, particularly from dewy eyed couples making over the top gestures of love.

Apparently I’m not the only one who think the celebration is utter nonsense. 47% of people in the UK in 2016 claimed to have done nothing on February 14th. This year I spent my evening with Mr Tea and Bake, watching episodes of “It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia” with a glass or two of wine and dinner. It was a standard Wednesday. I love the idea of love but it’s a 365 day job. Not just one day.

However it’s not all that bad, I will enjoy the heavily discounted chocolate that will no doubt be on sale as of today and be glad to see the back of old St Valentine for another year.

AJ x

Bratislava, Travel

Bratislava: An Afternoon exploring the Old Town of one of the world’s Newest Capital Cities

Bratislava was the final stop on my Danube adventures and was a pocket sized delight of old & new. Before becoming a world capital in only 1993 after the breakup of Czechoslovakia, it was a cultural hub of the Hungarian Empire.

I arrived back from Vienna in the early morning and managed to get some more sleep in our hotel before checkout. After a coffee, I ventured out to the main square where I was greeted by Čumil, the communist sewer worker. Urban legend suggests he is either fed up of work and/or looking up the skirts of female passers by. Thankfully I was wearing jeans on my travels to avoid him getting an unpleasant eyeful! Another interesting statue near by is of Ignac Lamar, a local character from 20th Century who was infamous for wearing a top hat and tails, greeting women in the street by asking to kiss them on the hand and offering them flowers.

Bratislava is dotted with unusual statues

I explored around the streets taking in the pastel buildings and quasi-architecture of Vienna and Budapest dotted around with views of glass skyscrapers. Highlights of the architecture mix include the Church of St. Elizabeth built in 1909 and just a few minutes away is the UFO bridge which is a poignant feature of the construction that occurred during the Communist era. Also for music lovers like me, there are plaques scattered around with iconic composers who made an impact upon Bratislava including Liszt, Mozart and Brahms.

UFO Bridge & St Elizabeth’s Church

As I wandered around the quaint main square before catching my flight, I popped into the Bratislava City Museum, the oldest museum in Slovakia. It has a little bit of everything to cater for everyone. A viewpoint at the top of the tower, painstakingly restored rooms and countless pristinely preserved artefacts showing the development of the town’s existence. There isn’t a lot to do in Bratislava but it makes a nice addition for anyone’s Danube travels.

Beautifully resorted ceilings in the Bratislava City Museum

Bratislava was a pleasant addition to my trip along the Danube for the afternoon, the whole trip was definitely a whirlwind! I found there wasn’t much to do in Bratislava so perhaps no more than 2 nights are needed if you are just coming here exclusively.

The ease and price of the public transport through my Danube adventures made it manageable and affordable to dot between countries. Each city was incredibly different and made it a memorable experience! Can you think of any other city hopping breaks I can do?

City Centre

AJ x

Vienna

Vienna: Prosecco & Getting Lost

My journey to Vienna was painless. A 55 minute comfortable bus journey took me over the border and into Austria. Getting off at Erdberg station, I took the U-Bahn to Stephanplatz in the city centre. As former centre of the Holy Roman Empire, I had high expectations of the classical architecture and I was not disappointed!

As I was meeting up with fellow blogger and Viennese resident Kirsten (check out her blog here) later in the afternoon, I wanted to take in as much of the city centre as possible to get a true feel for the city. To fuel up before my exploration, I snuck into Schachtelwirt, an Austrian fast food eatery known for putting a twist on local cuisine. I had its famous Pork Knuckle with Sauerkraut and Dumplings. It was a welcome and very filling introduction to this beautiful city.

Schachtelwirt lunch

I started my wandering at St. Stephen’s Cathedral which has housed countless occasions such as Mozart and Hayden’s weddings and Mozart and Vivaldi’s funeral. There was a mass occurring when I entered and it was an overwhelmingly peaceful experience compared to the hustle and bustle of the streets outside.

St Stephen’s Cathedral

For my first time on any vacation, I tossed my itinerary to the wayside and decided to get lost in the city. Each corner was a surprise of pastel colour and statues. I passed Café Central where Sigmund Freud, Tito, Stalin, Trotsky and Hitler frequented, climbed up some stairs to St Rupert’s Church, the oldest church in Vienna and completed in 740. I walked alongside the Hofburg Palace and Hero’s square, home to the Austrian Royalty of yesteryear where the horses and carriages were waiting to take tourists around the city.

An architectural wonder around every corner

I walked through opulent galleries with the most beautiful window displays that put London’s Old Bond Street to shame. There was not one segment of the Goldenes Quartier that was not truly beautiful.

My phone battery was draining quickly with all the photographs!

Having exhausted my eyes taking in the city, it was time to catch up with Kirsten. As soon as we arrived in a quaint local bar, the afternoon turned thick with bubbling conversation over plans for the future and reminiscing about our pre-teen shenanigans. The time escaped us as the Prosecco was flowing which resorted in a fun night of games and singing as we used to do some 10years prior!

Prosecco Pong!

AJ x

Budapest, Danube Travels

Budapest: A photo opportunity around every corner

My first Danube adventure took me to the city of Budapest. With only one full day in the Hungarian capital, I tried to get around as many sights as possible. I normally complain about the poor weather during my travel adventures but my time in Budapest was filled with blue skies and sunshine and it was reasonably warm for January too! (so much so that I had to put my scarf in my handbag and buy some sunglasses!)

The most incredible view I have ever woken up to

After a nice lie in, I left my hotel in downtown Pest and headed to the nearby Hold Utca food market to get some breakfast. Tucked away down a side street, the market was preparing for its lunchtime rush and packed with incredible smells. I left with some Kolach and Kifli wrapped up and went in search for the perfect spot to eat.

Hold Utca Market

I cut through Liberty Square and arrived at the Parliament building. I cannot explain how beautiful this building is at every angle! Sitting proudly on the banks of the Danube, this building is the largest in Hungary and the tallest building in Budapest.

Freedom Square heading towards The Parliament
Hungarian Parliament Building 

Having taken in this incredible building, I walked along the banks of the Danube towards the Széchenyi chain bridge trying to spot my destinations of choice over in Buda. I spotted another landmark as I walked along the riverbank, The Shoes on the Danube. Erected in 2005, this has become a tourist’s favourite when visiting Budapest. The 60 pairs of iron shoes honours the 3,500 people who were ordered to take off their shoes and shot on the banks of the Danube so their bodies would fall into the river and be carried away by the river’s current during the Arrow Cross Terror in World War II. Flowers and candles were scattered along these small sculptures with some shoes even having small handwritten messages of love tucked inside of them.

Shoes on the Danube

I left Pest and crossed the Széchenyi chain bridge to start my Buda adventures. I walked up the steep winding road towards Buda Castle which stands out majestically on the Buda Skyline.

I spotted an unusual looking roof in the distance so walked towards it to discover the beautiful Matthias Church. A building that has seen several coronations and royal weddings, in 1541 its religious treasures were shipped to Bratislava for a century and a half as the church became the city’s main mosque. Beside the church was the Fisherman’s Bastion. One of the best viewpoints in the city. Its seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895 and gets its name from fisherman’s guild who protected the city walls during the Middle Ages.

Incredible views from Fisherman’s Bastion

I walked down the hill and found the Európa liget, opened in 1972, it commemorates the centenary of the unification of Buda & Pest an Congress of the 29 European Capitals. Each leader planted a tree from their own country which could withstand the Hungarian climate. Also tucked away with a bronze statue of Hungarian Composer Zoltán Kodály.

Európa Liget

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I walked up to cross the Margaret bridge to head back to Pest, passing Margaret’s island on the way. On my way back to the hotel to rest my feet, I stopped off at a shopping centre and indulged in some January sale shopping and glass of wine (it’s 5o’clock somewhere right?).

Originally searching for goulash for dinner, I came across Meatology. Just across from St Stephen’s Basilica, this small restaurant is brimming with smells and the perfect stop for any meat lover! I opted for the Confit leg of Goose, Pearl Barley, Red Cabbage & Quince washed down with a glass of Hungarian Rosé. The meat just flaked off the bone and every mouthful was brimming with flavour.

Meatology

I ended up walking over 10 Miles during my busy day in the Hungarian capital and it was an unforgettable day. I wonder what my next Danube adventure has is store.

St. Stephens Basilica

AJ x

Morgan James, Music

Morgan James Òran Mór

A frequent collaborator with Scott Bradlee and the Post Modern Jukebox, Morgan James became an artist I had to see after her YouTube success both with the group and solo. Having listened to her debut album Hunter and her latest album, Reckless Abandon, it was clear I was in for a night bursting with talent.

To add further to the excitement, upon booking my tickets and posting the news on Instagram, I got a like and a reply from the artist herself! (Sorry… Bit of a fan girl moment!)

With impressive Broadway shows under her belt including The Addams Family, Godspell and Motown: The Musical, the expectations were high for her vocal range and power to raise the roof of the 500 seat capacity venue.

On her Reckless Abandon tour, the warmth of soul and R&B with a cheeky shot of country made you feel transported back to the early naughties. Her vocals are very reminiscent of LeAnn Rimes and Christina Aguilera back in their heyday.

Her set was varied, toying between her albums and a few covers. A highlight was her cover of Prince’s ‘Call my name’ which the idol himself gave approval for James to record and put on her debut album.

A standout moment in probably my entire gigging history is hearing ‘Say the words’ live. Even though the venue’s capacity was lacking, she raised the roof with her emotional performance as if she was singing to thousands, which resulted in small applauses throughout for her outstanding performance.

Additional notes about James’s performance is that she is one of the most expressive artists I have encountered to date. From her face to her body language, she truly feels the music that she’s singing and her theatre background is evident but comes across genuine and relaxed.

Not only did she thank her band twice (which featured jazz guitarist Doug Wamble, who is also James’s husband), she also graciously thanked the venue for letting her play, expressing the struggles artists sometimes face in securing venues to perform.

To top off the evening, she stood at the merchandising table to speak to fans and sign albums and tickets. She took adequate time with each of her fans and was highly engaged with everyone, to the point she asked the staff to turn down the music so she could hear her fans talk and have a more personal interaction.

I’m not a massive groupie when it comes to getting my ticket signed, having only got signed tickets for Jimmy Carr, Ben Caplan, Katzenjammer and now Morgan James but this ticket will surely go pride of place in my gig collection.

Rating: 4.5/5

AJ x

Hometown Tourist, The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

Going to see a ballet has become a winter staple for me as festivities approach. The Nutcracker is a classic and with music that is so iconic, it was a must see!

The Russian State Ballet has established itself as one of Russia’s leading ballet companies and first visit to Dundee was met with high excitement. This was to the extent where little girls were dressed up as ballerinas, the sense of an enjoyable family gathering was evident.

Their performance upheld their international reputation of of outstanding quality and unusual depth. Both the soloists and the corps de ballet have been highly praised by critics throughout the tour. The soloists demonstrated grace, strength and power as they leapt across the stage. The attention to detail with the choreography was great where the dancers were jumping and being lifted to the exact same height. Their serene faces made the whole production look effortless.

The portable and simplistic set was elegant and added just the right touch of wintry magic. The costume design was bright an colourful, with the sugar plum fairy’s tutu adorned with sequins and did not disappoint!

Yes there were some tongue-in-cheek stereotypes when it came to Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian Dancers as well as the Danish Shepherdesses but what can you expect from a 125 year old opus?

The orchestra’s support to the dancers was met by rapturous applause. Their expressive tone made sure the audience heard the famous themes with clarity and authenticity at which Tchaikovsky intended.

Having seen numerous ballets, this truly captured the magic of Christmas without feeling like you were celebrating too early!