Going To Paris? Read This First

By Elle.

 

I’ve been obsessed with Paris ever since my first visit at the age of about 12. I don’t know if everyone ‘has a place’ like this, or if I’m just a weirdo, but something pulls me back time and time again. I imagine the way I feel about Paris is how other people feel about Disneyland – I spend the whole time wide-eyed with wonder, in a magical bubble, certain it’s the best place on earth.

I’ve just returned from my 8th visit, so I felt it was about time I summed up the must-sees, gotta-eats, and definitely-don’ts of my favourite city. This won’t be an uber-cool definitive guide by any means. Soz – I’m not one for scouring Instagram for the newest restaurants, or going on mad bicycle tours. But if you like chilled city breaks, which involve quite a lot of wine and cheese, do read on…

Get an Air Bnb
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I’ve now experienced staying in several areas of the city, in both hotels and self-catering apartments. Unless you’re minted, hotels are usually cramped and a bit disappointing – fine if you’re one to spend all day and night out exploring (LOL not me ever), but Air BnBs mean you can chill in a nice environment, save money on meals and drink (the bottle of fizz pictured was 5 Euros and the best I’ve ever had) if you need to, and let you pretend you live there.

Stay in Le Marais
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I can’t believe it took me till my 7th visit to properly discover this incredible area. I completely fell in love with it – as did my gbf and my boyfriend, so I feel it has universal appeal. It’s stylish without being stuck-up, almost has a village feel, and is full of gorgeous boutiques and restaurants. It’s also within walking distance to most major attractions. Now that I think about it, I hardly saw any tourists there other than extremely cool Japanese girls.

Don’t bother with the Eiffel Tower
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I’ve never been up it, and just don’t see the appeal. I love its design and would rather have photos of it amongst the skyline, than looking out from it. I also hate heights. For the best views, go to Sacre Couer – the views are stunning from the top (as shown in pic), and you’ll see the whole city (including the Eiffel Tower). You have to climb hundreds of tiny stairs, and I thought I was definitely going to die, but the view is so worth it – and I say this as an unfit claustrophobic. If you do get really anxious in small spaces, I’d maybe give it a miss – you can’t really turn round and go back as you climb up, which adds to the ‘going to die’ feeling. It’s still worth a visit due to being situated in Montmartre – my second-favourite area.

Eat lots of duck
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The duck confit I ate in Paris was the best meal of my life. Served with crispy skin, tender meat, and on a bed of potatoes cooked in the fat; I have to eat it at least twice while there. Please try snails too – they’re delicious, I swear. If you hate them, you can dredge crusty bread through their pools of garlic butter instead. Other things you should definitely consume lots of: all and any wine, baked camembert, coffee and cigarettes. I don’t smoke but everyone looks so fucking cool doing it there, that I defy you not to.

Don’t worry about the French being rude
They can be, but once you get over it and realise it’s not personal, you won’t even notice. Having a few words of French helps – but I think this is a courtesy you should extend wherever you go, to be honest. Even though they’ll immediately revert to English upon hearing your shit accent, they’ll appreciate it. We also found that waiters who hadn’t been particularly warm were positively delightful when we returned a second time. Service charges are usually included in the bill/cost of food, so giving a few extra Euros also went down really well. I can’t help but love the French for the same reasons I do cats – they know they owe you nothing, are quite happy on their own thanks, and are nonchalantly chic at all times.

Walk everywhere
By far the best way to see the city is on foot. The metro is handy for longer journeys, but where possible I recommend donning your most stylish trainers and walking. It’s definitely a big part of why Parisians stay skinny and why I came home a few pounds lighter despite drinking liquid camembert most nights. It’s such a gorgeous city, and pretty easy to navigate if you follow the river and google-map the rest.

Skip the queue for Le Louvre
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Even if you’re not a huge art buff, you have to visit the Louvre at least once. It’s huge, and pretty overwhelming to navigate but an incredible place to tick off your bucket list. Set aside a few hours, go as early as possible, and avoid entering through the Pyramid, which is always insanely busy. I found a great tip on TripAdvisor – google-map the Carousel du Louvre shopping centre and use their entrance instead. We only had to wait about 15 minutes despite it being 1pm. I also really recommend Musée d’Orsay (see pic)  – it’s smaller and far easier to navigate but still has some incredible paintings and sculptures. The building itself is an old railway station and really beautiful.

I could rattle on for many more hours, but this post has already surpassed peak engaging-content word count, so I won’t. If you’re on your way to Paris – bon voyage! If you’ve never been – GO, GO GO!

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7 Ways To Make Memories in Venice in Winter*

*That are absolutely in no way good photo opportunities for the gram…

By Emilie

So, why visit Venice in winter? Well, if you’re feeling pragmatic, then the best reasons to visit at this time of year are because 1) it’s actually pretty budget friendly and 2) it’s much, much quieter than during the peak season. Ta ta, annoying cruise liner crowds, hello, much shorter queues for all of the key attractions.

Aside from all of that, though, and channelling the more subjective side of my brain, is that fact that Venice really suits the winter. The colour palette is gorgeous, all moody blues and greys, and it’s also often shrouded in mist, which just adds to the charm.

You might not be able to sit in St Mark’s Square and eat gelato with the sun beating down on your skin, but you can wrap up and walk the length and breadth of the city, stopping off at the occasional pub for fresh pasta and a glass of red to warm up. And we still got gelato, freezing cold or not.

Here’s our list of things to see and do in Venice…

1) Walk around. The best thing to do in Venice is just walk, because it’s so bloody gorgeous without even trying. It’s faded grandeur at its most charming, with flaking paint, tiny alleyways and endlessly beautiful canals.

2) Visit the Rialto Bridge, the most well-known bridge in Venice. Take a selfie. Better still, make friends with the other hundred or so tourists there jostling around trying to get a perfect shot minus the double chin/up the nostril/weird not-looking-at-the-camera standard selfie pose, and take photos of each other. Voila!

3) Go to the Bridge of Sighs, otherwise known as the second busiest/second most well-known bridge in Venice. Fun fact; the Bridge of Sighs of is so-called because it would be the last part of Venice prisoners would see before they were consigned to their fate in the cells. Now it gets its name because you have to wait for about twenty minutes for all the other tourists to get out the way so you can take a selfie.

4) Get flavoured tiramisu from I Tre Mercanti. As someone who inhales tiramisu whenever I’m in Italy, it would have been rude not to make a visit to the place that’s rumoured to be the “best tiramisu in Venice’”, wouldn’t it? They serve it in a variety of different flavours which change on a daily basis, so I got an Amaretto flavoured version, and my other half got a chestnut and vanilla version. Both were gorgeous, so nice in fact that I actually really wish we came back for another one…

5) Go to the oldest coffee shop in Venice, known as Caffe Florian. For heaven’s sake, don’t for a moment consider actually ordering food – certainly not an actual meal – because that would obliterate half your budget. No, it’s famous for its traditional hot chocolate, which is thick, molten chocolate in a teacup, and is practically a meal in itself. Don’t put your umbrella on the table, as I did, as this will ruin with the ambience of the experience and will be swiftly moved by the waiter.

6) Take the Murano, Burano, Torcello boat trip, where you’ll visit these three beautiful islands in one day. They’re all rather lovely – Murano is famous for its glass-blowing, and Torcello has a lovely Cathedral, as well as a very nice Italian lady selling sandwiches and ice cream outside it. But the stand out is Burano, which is famous for its gorgeous rainbow coloured fishermen’s houses that look like something out of a dream. No pressure at all to get a great shot for the gram. At. All.

7) Take a gondola trip. Actually, fake news alert – we didn’t take a gondola trip at all. I know right, but hear me out. Unless you want to part with 80 euros for a half hour experience (100 if you add in a serenade) it wasn’t that difficult to pass up. Maybe in summer it would have been more difficult, but not in freezing cold November. Instead, I’d recommend the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which features stunning modern art pieces from her own personal collection, such as the below…

So that was what we got up to. What about you? I got the tips about Caffe Florian and the flavoured tirimisu from another blog, so I’d love to hear your tips…

9 Things To Do In Krakow

By Emilie. It might not be your first choice of city break, but maybe it should be.

I’d never thought to visit Krakow. In the long line of European cultural capitals to visit (Rome, Paris, Barcelona, et al…) it never seemed to get even nearly close to the top of the list. However, a result of it being dirt cheap and having a large volume of very stylish airbnb apartments I found myself there this spring for the first time, and I have to say that it’s one of my favourite places I’ve visited. Possibly ever.

Maybe it was the gorgeous hot weather or the fact that this was Krakow Take Two, after our first attempt at the trip was cancelled by the Beast from the East snowstorm a couple of months ago. Or maybe it’s just because this place is awesome – a near-perfect collision of culture, history and hedonism. Whatever your take on it, here’s my list of the must-do’s in Poland’s cultural gem…

1) Hang out in Main Square. It’s one of the biggest medieval squares in Europe at 40,000m squared, so make sure you really drink it in, literally, by positioning yourself at one of the many tables and chairs dotted around to people watch to your heart’s content. The Aperol Spritz and Daquiris just fell onto the table of course.

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2) Get one of the golf cart tours. You might sneer at them when you first arrive (guilty as charged) but they’re actually a great way to get your bearings in the city and introduce you to the places to see – the Jewish Quarter, Ghetto and Old Town. The driver will also wait for you outside any sights you want to get a closer look at. For the more adventurous among us, there’s Segway tours. Hmmm.

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Ghetto Heroes Square

3) Walk around the Jewish Quarter. One of the best things about Krakow is that it’s wonderfully compact, so make sure you leave aside some time to just mosey around, particularly around the cobbled streets of Kazimierz. There’s plenty of cool street art, cafes and a flea market at the Jewish Square to check out and enjoy. Expect to see a mix of antiques, jewellery, and a good selection of vintage vinyl.

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Wall art in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow

4) Visit Schlinder’s Factory. Let’s be real; museums on holiday can sometimes be hard work, especially when the weather is glorious outside. There were no such qualms with this place, however. It’s not quite what was expected; it was more of an overall history of WWII than Oskar Schindler himself, but the focus on people-led storytelling kept it grounded and totally heart-wrenching. Fascinating.

5) Following on from this, it goes without saying that Auschwitz is a must-do when you’re in Krakow. Haunting and emotive, it’s something that you have to see to appreciate the full scale of the horror of what happened. Totally humbling.

6) Take a river cruise. Yes, it may be super-touristy but it made a refreshingly breezy break from the bustle – afterwards we had time to quench our thirst with the crowds on the restaurant boats that were docked on the side of the river.

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The view of Wawel Castle from the river

7) The Salt Mine is also a must-visit. I didn’t have high hopes for this, following on from the disappointingly dull underground museum at the Main Square. However, from the moment you’re trying not to trip down countless stairs underground to when you step into the great hall, which is something like a dwarven palace out of The Lord of the Rings (yes, I am a dork) you know it’s well worth the money.

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8) Lost Souls Alley. This won’t be for everyone, but if you have a predilection for horror movies and fancy a change of pace from the museums, then this could be right up your street. Hidden up a gloomy-looking alley, it’s essentially a terror-fuelled escape room. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted but it is very, very fun.

9) Eat brunch. Perfectly placed to mop up all those vodka tasting hangovers are the multitude of amazing brunch places in Krakow. As someone with a current obsession for eggs, all ways, I had ample opportunity to sample them in a mix of chilled, hipster cafes with friendly-albeit-slightly-slower-than-desired service.

I’d also recommend the traditional Polish dumplings which are filled with meat or cheese. Tasty, but incredibly filling, say hello to an instant food baby.

Have you been to Krakow? What was your favourite thing you did?

Drop us a comment below!

 

Help, I Missed A Flight…

By Emilie. The moment when your dream holiday crumbles into dust…

So today I missed a flight. Yes, feel free to judge, I am one of those people. Those idiotic, terrible travellers who do ridiculous things like arrive at the airport without their passports or printed out boarding passes, as if they don’t know the rules of travelling on a Ryanair flight. Today, I am them and they are me.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a Costa at the airport, trying not to get too annoyed at the freezing air-con and terrible music while waiting for a 8.20pm flight to Barcelona. This will arrive at midnight, and then the plane to my final destination (Croatia) won’t leave until 6.30pm the next day. So basically, I’ll be losing a whole 24 hours of my holiday. You won’t be too surprised to hear that I’m absolutely fuming.

This isn’t actually the first time I’ve done this. The first time was in Amsterdam around seven years ago. My friend and I had vaguely agreed on the 8 o’clock return flight, and booked it miles in advance. But when double checking the boarding pass in the morning I realised my flight was actually 8 o’clock… in the morning. Luckily, I was able to buy a replacement flight for not too much extra. I came out of it relatively unscathed, with a nice little lol-how-dumb-am-I? anecdote to tell.

Not this time. After our train to the airport was delayed by an ungodly 90 minutes, not even a taxi driver who drove like he was in a Mission Impossible movie (probably, not that I’ve seen any) could save us. We arrived just as the flight was taking off.

And so onto Skyscanner. Several rounds of anger, tears, panic and despair later, we booked the cheapest flights we could find. Which, for the record, were not cheap in the slightest. Although there was some relief in booking them, I was still mad. Mad at the money I was having to shell out for something that wasn’t my fault. [Edit: actually, it probably was my fault. Shoulda left earlier. I just wasn’t ready to admit it yet.] Mad at the time I was losing on a holiday that I’d worked so damn hard for. Mad at the stupid guy on the train who kept making stupid jokes like, ‘At least you can watch your plane take off.’ I mean COME ON?! Who says that?

But here’s the thing: you will laugh again. Three hours and twenty minutes after the ordeal started I laughed – when the Costa barista pointed at the Starbucks cup on the table and said, ‘Ew, Starbucks’. Not really all that funny, but the way he said it made me smile. It felt like one of those terrible movies when someone’s significant other has died and they insist they’ll never laugh again… until the do.

Because you see, I’ve actually always wanted to go to Barcelona. If I can get a whole day there and get to see Gaudi’s amazing architecture, then it might not be so bad after all. Even if I will have had to sleep on an airport floor the night before…

How Not To F**k Up A Spa Day

By Emilie. Make the most of your very expensive spa day.

OK, so I’m a bit of a spa newb. I know a lot of people will have gone to loads over a variety of hen weekends, romantic couples retreats and, well, more hen weekends, but I haven’t. I know, boo fucking hoo. So when I booked this one all I knew was that I needed a zen-inducing eight hours away the daily grind. And luckily, that’s what it was. Here’s my idiot’s guide on how not to completely f**k up the whole thing.

1) Be candid with your spa therapist. When I said I’d had a shitty week at work and wanted to feel rejuvenated she had some great advice and picked an oil for my hot stone massage that would pep up and energise, rather than relax me into oblivion.

2) Don’t be self-conscious. Spa therapists see a whole lot of bodies and they actually aren’t fussed about your cellulite or hairy legs. Personal choice though, obviously.

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3) Leave your phone in your locker, at least while having treatments. You’re never gonna achieve optimum zen whilst scrolling through work emails. Obviously I practise what I preach and the above photo was taken AFTER my treatments.

4) There is a correct order of things. If you’re getting a massage or a facial where lots of lovely lotions and potions are going to be applied to your skin, it’s best to do this last so that you don’t wash them all away in the jacuzzi afterwards. Like I did.

5) Leave yourself plenty chill time. The rooftop jacuzzi here was like the eighth wonder of the world, and it demanded time spent in it. I lolled around for about an hour like a seal basking on a rock. Stress? Deadlines? All gone in a poof of bubbles.

6) Bring snacks! Despite what you may think, lying around doing nothing is actually hungry work. I brought water and healthy snacks so that moving was limited to the bare minimum. Also magazines for poolside reading are a great shout. It’s just not gonna be the same with a sex with porn stars article to enjoy.

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7) Prepare to be the cleanest you’ve ever been. The mud wrap treatment I had went like this: salt scrub, then shower, mud wrap, then shower. Add in the pre-pool shower  and one more before leaving and I was practically on double figures.

8) Save the heavy food for afterwards. The thought of getting a firm massage with a food baby does not sound at all fun and may, erm, cue awkward moments.

I went to the One Spa at the Sheraton in Edinburgh – which I’d highly recommend!

http://www.sheratonedinburgh.co.uk/one-spa

 

 

10 Things I Learned In Milan

By Emilie. It’s a bustling, cultural city that’s also handily placed next to the beautiful Lake Como. Here are our top tips to make the most of your experience…

1) Milan is the home of The Last Supper. If you want to see it you either have to be really organised (tickets sell out months in advance) or be willing to part with a pretty hefty amount of cash to do one of those lame bus tours, which also happens to includes a ticket. As someone who did the latter, I’d recommend being organised.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 18.48.27It is rather breathtaking though, even if you’re not an art lover.

2) The first ever Prada shop is in Milan and it’s pretty cool. We didn’t go in, but we did loiter around outside and peer through the window in a Pretty Woman not-sure-if-we’re-allowed-to-go-in kind of way.

3) You’re gonna have to queue for everything. The Duomo, the Last Supper, the lift at your hotel. Get used to it, and pack a dose of patience to get your through.

4) The organised tours are not worth it. The tour to Lake Como that required getting up at an ungodly hour and costed nearly a hundred euros was all booked up, so we just took a train and went there ourselves. Much better.

18199545_10102150443671051_6720115904942277978_n5) Lake Como is as beautiful as it looks in those Nespresso adverts. We took a (very cheap) boat out onto the lake and enjoyed a peaceful half hour of not understanding a word the tour guide said. Something about George Clooney.

Also, it comes with its own hashtag these days [see below].

18221531_10102150443441511_4743021077633078635_n6) The metro is super handy. Quick, efficient and dirt cheap, it sure beats walking for miles in the heat.

7) A hotel with a pool and spa facilities is the perfect antidote to hours traipsing around the streets of Milan. Just don’t spend too much time looking at your pasta food baby.

8) Ah yes, the food. How did we get to point number eight without mentioning the food? The pasta, the wine, the tiramisu… it all lived up to the hype. We also stumbled upon a lovely waiter who specialised in free shots of Limoncello.

18199468_10102150443666061_3888945661572081247_n9) There are canals. You might even think you’re in Amsterdam for a moment.

10) Selfie sticks are actually charmingly functional. Bear with us here. After two days of double chins and weird up-the-nostril shots trying to cram four people into one photo, I caved and got a selfie stick. It was legit one of the best decisions I made.

10 Things I Learned In Venice

By Elle.

My trip to Venice was to be my first time in Italy. Expectations were high – everyone loves Italy, right? Added pressure came from the fact my boyfriend and I had chosen to go at the end of January in an attempted two fingers up at the month of misery. It worked. Here’s what I learned…

1.     It really is as beautiful as everyone says – I’ve never been anywhere as gorgeous. Your Insta has never looked better.

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2.     You haven’t eaten pizza till you’ve eaten it in Italy. Holy hell that’s some good shit. I had mine covered in gorgonzola, anchovies and capers.

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3.     There are leather handbag shops everywhere – don’t dismiss them (as I initially did) as tourist tat. They’re Aladdin’s Caves of really great quality leather handbags at ridiculous prices. I got this one for 30 euros and wish I’d bought more.

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4.     Venice is the perfect place to just wander. You don’t have to negotiate an underground system, you don’t have to rely on taxis, and it’s surprisingly pretty hard to get lost. Although there are millions of tiny streets and dead ends, it’s so compact that you never fear accidently ending up 4 hours from your hotel in a dodgy part of town. We got by with the city signposts and occasional glimpse at Google maps.

5.     Prosecco. It’s everywhere. It’s delicious. Have lots. Also worth noting: cute bottles of Aperol Spritz caught be bought in corner shops for a couple of Euros. 

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6.     Travelling via water adds a fun novelty factor to normally-boring journeys. We landed at 7pm Venice-time, and got the Alliguna boat to our hotel. I’d definitely recommend this – it’s far cheaper than a water taxi, and really easy to buy tickets at the stand in the airport. It does take about an hour and a half to reach the centre, and because we’d arrived after-dark, the view from the boat was, well, non-existent. Still, beats a minibus any day.

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7.     Great hotels don’t cost a fortune if you avoid peak season. We stayed at the American Dinesan hotel, which was excellent. Our room was spacious and comfortable and there were friendly staff and a great breakfast buffet.

8.     Venetians apparently eat early. We arrived about 8.30pm, and luckily the super-helpful receptionist explained this, and advised us to get going if we wanted to have dinner. I don’t know if that was a seasonal thing or a Venice thing, but I had no idea that would be the case.

9.     We went to this restaurant three out of our four nights. It’s a traditional trattoria that serves incredible food at cheap prices. The first night we both had a huge plate of fritto misto washed down with a carafe of the house white. On return visits we had pizza and gnocchi. I’ve barely thought of anything else since.

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10.  You don’t have to have a go in a gondola. We didn’t bother. You do have to take a bridge selfie though – or did you EVEN GO?