Monthly Archives: September 2015

Money Talk: The Failed Amsterdam Experiment

29th September 2015

amsterdam tipsIn the spirit of out-takes, I want to talk about a failed post I had hoped to publish a few months ago. Before I headed to Amsterdam last time this idea came to mind, a post on what to do/get for one to two Euros, so not a post on how do Amsterdam on the cheap or for free, but how to enjoy that last 1 or 2 coins you have left to the fullest. You know how you always have some change at the end of your trip? Some save it for a next trip or take it back to their Euroland and others give it to a street artists or someone in need, but does that really feel good? I embraced the experiment and went out to test in the field – because that’s what I do…but sadly I came back disappointed. continue reading

Hotel Belvedere: a derelict hotel, a familiar set and a deserted beach

24th September 2015

abandoned hotel belvedere dubrovnik (10)When in Dubrovnik I rested my head in a cute Air BnB – nothing was wrong with it but for one special day I just had to go luxury at a 5 star seaside hotel to the east of the city, home to some of the most expensive places to stay. After some deliberation, I picked Hotel Belvedere, known for its breathtaking views of Old Town and Lokrum Island, their private beach where you get more rays than a 100 sunbeds, and where no one would raise an eyebrow at bringing my own lunch and drinks … literally no one … because it’s been abandoned since 1991.

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After running around an abandoned amusement park and a former US listening post in Berlin I checked in at the abandoned hotel in Dubrovnik. The complex is huge (we are talking about more than 200 rooms/apartments, a cafe, a restaurant, a swimming pool and a recreational area) and you can easily spend an afternoon walking around, hoping you won’t run into anyone in the next room, and wondering what’s behind that one closed door – is it an axe murdering hobo, a rival blogger or that waiter you never tipped? If you survive, between all the shattered glass, rubble and dust you’ll come across notepads with the hotels logo, old decorations and remarkably intact furniture – I guess it’s like IKEA with cheaper prices right?
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On its lower levels is an amphitheatre-style open air patio, a great place to sit and just stare at the surrounds. But if you feel chills down your back at the whisper of “Winter is Coming”, get all fired up over dragons and can’t get enough of John Snow’s beard, then you’ll have more to enjoy….This is where THE ‘eye-opening’ battle scene between Oberyn and The Mountain was filmed for Game of Thrones. Now, that’s something to tell everyone you meet in the next month of so, friends, colleagues, even people in the bus queue.
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And all the way down is the beach, well a rocky outcrop, which seems to be a bit of a secret, even among locals. It was a lot less crowded than the beaches around Old Town (ssshhh don’t tell them I told you). I laid there for a few hours and the only people who came to the beach were a couple and their Maltese dog. Medo (which means bear) was not a fan of one half of the couple and got very scared every time the guy took a dive in the sea. Oh and there were a few tourists boats which sailed past with passengers who looked puzzled as why there were so few people on the beach.
 Some boring, but essential info: It’s a 40 – 50 minute walk from Old Town, all you have to do is follow the main road and go past the fancy hotels. Make sure you don’t wear sandals or flip flops as there is a lot of shattered glass and be careful climbing through fences.
Do you like exploring abandoned places?

Unlocking London: Keys To The City

20th September 2015

open house london 2015 (1)Despite being a fantastic city to explore, quite a few of London’s major buildings are on lock-down most of the year – unless you work there, are a VIP, or super stealthy ninja. However, each September, hundreds of buildings fling open their doors to people like you and me during the Open House weekend, allowing everyone to have a wander around everything from 10 Downing Street, to the Gherkin and Bank of England.

There are two types of people who do the Open House weekend – the clever ones who plan things weeks ahead, pre-book and move faster than Usain Bolt and then there are unorganised types like me who pick a few random buildings the night before and hope there won’t be any queues. This is what I found on my travels.

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First stop was the William Booth College in south-east London. This training building for The Salvation Army was designed by the same guy who did the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station – so it’s all about the Gothic. I didn’t get converted but I had a bit of a epiphany as I climbed the tower – I remembered that I am somewhat scared of high stairs that seem a bit wobbly, so it was a bit daunting, but I made it to the top! Here I was rewarded with a view of central London from afar as well as places like Croydon, Bromley, Crystal Palace – yep all of South London’s star attractions.

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Next was the more central Senate House, a magnificent art deco structure in Bloomsbury. Despite being the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 – the place where propaganda and brain-washing are the norm – no amount of mind control could get me to love the place. There was a lot of information on offer, but the dead empty spaces failed to inspire me.

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And last, but definitely not least was the nearby McCann office. I’ve walked past the building too many times dreaming of a Mad Men advertising life and figured Open House was the closest I could get it to it. Originally designed for a luxury car company hiring out chauffeur-driven limousines to the rich and famous – the 1930s art deco building can best be described as a real life Fisher Price Garage (90s kids will know), complete with a circular ramp where cars were driven up to the showrooms on the upper floors. Now the ramp leads modern day Dons to their various offices and meetings, as well as the rooftop which I can only imagine is the best place to for a creative pitch session. And not forgetting, there was a massive life-size bear too.

Missed this year’s Open House? Keep an eye on their website for 2016 dates and info. Fingers crossed I win the ballot for the BT Tower.

What London building would you want to see from the inside?

Beyond Amsterdam: 6 Must Visit Cities in the Netherlands

16th September 2015

You might be surprised to know that there are actually other cities in the Netherlands aside from Amsterdam. Who’d have guessed?! So when you’ve had enough of the canals, the red light district and special ‘cafes’, try going a bit further afield. And since the country is so tiny you can easily take a day trip to many of the cities via the technological wonder of the train. Today I am sharing why you should visit a few of my favourite cities and some recommendations on what do and see.

Where Should I Go? Groningen

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 2 hours 10 mins by train

Tell me more – I went to college in Groningen, so it’s kind of my city and I always try to encourage people to go to the far North and see why I love the place so much. It’s a lively university town so there is always something going on for us youngsters (I’m still young right??!). Groningen is a bit like Amsterdam, quite hip, easy to walk around and young, but without the zombie hoards of tourists.

And? Climb the Martini Tower for stunning view of the city, have a robot serve you drink at Mr Mofongo and get a hipsterlicious bite at de Uurwerker.

Where should I go? Rotterdam

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 1 hour 10 mins by train

Tell me more – Rotterdam used to look much like Amsterdam, but it was completely levelled by the Germans near the start of World War II (May, 1940 to be exact) – so now it’s the place to go to see and snap wide avenues filled with eye-popping modern architecture – I’m talking to you ‘De Rotterdam’.

And? The reason everyone heads to Rotterdam these days is the Market Hall – where food market heaven on earth is situated in a surreal horseshoe/arch mash-up. Also get your culture hat on a check out some art at Bojimans van Beuningen Museum and don’t forget to see the infamous Cubic houses which look like a game of Tetris which went terribly wrong.

Where Should I Go? – Haarlem

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 20 minutes by train

Tell Me More – I have a special place in my heart for Haarlem so I might be biased, but it has one of the most beautiful city centres in the Netherlands and visiting the city feels a lot like stepping back in time without the horrible diseases, smells and bad fashion.

And? Check out a gig at Patronaat, head to the Dollhuys Museum or have fries at Friethoes – they are my favourite fries in the Netherlands and I have a tried a lot (and got hips to prove it).

Where Should I Go? The Hague

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 20 minutes by train

Tell me more – The Hague is the political capital of the Netherlands, but don’t let that put you off. If the weather is nice, skip the Hague and take a tram to the city’s seaside resort area of Scheveningen. There you can enjoy the beach, the miniature city of Madurodam and the see the impressive palatial style Kurhaus Hotel.

And? – If the weather is bad go to the Hague proper and see the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting (it’s not Scar Jo sadly) at the Mauritshuis Museum, go to the M.C. Escher exhibition at de Paleis and if you are interested in law and politics, put on your thinking cap and go to one of the international tribunals.

Where Should I Go? Utrecht

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 30 mins by train

Tell me more – Just like Groningen, Utrecht is a student city and there is always something going on and new places opening every week. One of my best friends lived here and I spend a lot Friday’s and Saturday’s dancing at Tivoli and trying to get rid of my hangover at the Village.

And? – have a burger at my favourite drool-worthy Dutch burger joint: Meneer Smaakers, go to a 90s or Zeroes Heroes party at Tivoli or have a fine brew at the Village.

Where Should I Go? Maastricht

How far from Amsterdam is this place? 2 hours 30 mins by train

Tell me more – It is located in the far South and is actually so non Dutch that it makes you wonder how it ended up in the Dutch borders. Maastricht has a Burgundian vibe, a beautiful old city centre with historical buildings, old walls and little alleys that whisper ‘explore me’.

And? Visit the Dominica Bookshop which is located in an old church and looks like something out of Harry Potter, stay at design Hotel Townhouse and go to Coffee Lovers for what I like to call heart-attack-in-a-cup.

Have you been to any of these cities? What did you think, and do you have any more NL city suggestions?

Cable Car Blah Blah Blah

14th September 2015

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Before I tell you about all of the awesome things I’ve seen and done in Dubrovnik (on my sixth time there!) I want to talk a little something about my least favourite thing I have done: the cable cart up to mount Srd.

Don’t get me wrong, the view is gorgeous, but it was such a mishmash of nothing that it just didn’t sway me (to be fair at least the car didn’t sway too much).

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The tickets are around €14/£10 for a quick return trip skyward. The three minute travel time to the top is the main selling point, but we all know that for complete satisfaction three minutes isn’t usually enough time to work with, right? Plus, being crammed in with 25 people doesn’t help the mood either, unless you’re into that kinda group thing.

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When you reach the summit, everyone runs up to first viewing point to snap away, before realising the panorama is ruined by the cable car lines, though you can try and crawl down the rock face to work some magic angles or just throw a Go-Pro down the hillside to pick up later.

As you wander around you realise there is nothing really up there. There is an amphitheatre where you can sit down to watch your life go by. When I say amphitheatre I am not talking about something like Gladiator, but it was soulless and a bit corporate – more a place where a company books it out for a tacky Christmas party. There was a dune buggy safari adventure if you wanted to get your Mad Max on – but I didn’t see a hunky Tom Hardy leading the tours so it didn’t win me over.

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I didn’t get to have a bite at the restaurant up there, but a passing party of lads (I hope they were drunk) were shouting: ”Lets go to this place because the waitress has one nice ass.” So I’ll leave that there.

And what’s with the gift shop selling monkey sock puppets? Was this hill where the first monkey sock puppet was invented? I haven’t had time to confirm, but I think they must rely on delirious sun stroke victims buying them mistakenly. But at least they had a stand with local adverts for other restaurants, just so you think about somewhere to escape to.

The fort up there wasn’t too bad actually, but you can see a lot of fortresses in and around the city, and this one didn’t stand out too much. The Museum of Croatian War of Independence is interesting if you want to know more about the 1991-92 war. But considering the theme it’s not an uplifting experience.

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I just wish I’d had more time and dragged myself and my fat ass and walked up to the hill so at least it would have been more rewarding and the spare money could have got me sugar drunk on a bucket of pistachio ice-cream. Speaking of sweet – the best bit was seeing the joy in a little Korean girl’s eye as she jumped the queue to gaze down on the city as we descended.

What do you think of cable cars?