Imagine you’re 32, the year is 1749, and you don’t have any kids – so what do you blow your money on? A plot of land overlooking the Thames to create an avant-garde Gothic Revival-inspired mansion to host your friends, store your book collection and impress other people of course! That’s what Horace Walpole (writer, antiquarian and son of Britain’s first Prime Minister) did. And we’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
And what a treat it is! Every corner, from the entrance hall to the china room and the chapel is filled with intricate details. We’re talking a breakfast room with a tented Turkish boudoir velvet ceiling, a gallery with golden papier mâché Rococo ceilings and a library with pinnacled pillar bookcases. Nothing about this place is basic.
Upon Walepole’s death, the house was passed to his cousin’s unmarried daughter and then to the Waldegraves and the contents auctioned. Lady Waldegrave did the place up and added a wing – you can spot her in a grand painting showing off her social circle.
With the help of his letters, paintings and a detailed document called ‘A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole’ the place was restored, and they were able to replicate a lot of the furniture and paintings, plus even the bookcases are filled with the same books that were collected by Walpole.
It would have taken your coach two hours, but nowadays it’s a mere 30 minute train ride to StrawberryHill Station and from there a 10 minute walk.
While I’ve been sharing a lot of the things I’ve seen & done in London this year, I also took quite a few varied trips to the mainland. Here are the places I hit up and some of the lessons I learned on the way.
My first trip was to Basque Country via Paris by train – you know…in name of being more green and sustainable. It was supposed to be an 8 hours train trip, with two hours spare to change stations in Paris, stretch my legs and have a croissant in the park. What could go wrong?
London to Gare Du Nord went ok, I even thought I was smart by buying a metro tickets in advance ace on the Eurostar. For some reason I had to swap the tickets for real ones, so I had to queue and go through the hassle anyway and lost about 15 minutes to start with.
I found my croissant and the green space I mistook for a park via Google maps turned out to be a cemetery, but a pretty one so it was worth the walk. On my way to the station I even spotted some impressive street art in what was else a very forgotten part of Paris.
Then at the station there was a lot of confusion and it took me forever to find someone who spoke English and explain what was going on. Turned out the trains to Bordeaux and further south were messed up due to an electrical failure and everyone had to go to another station on the other side of Paris to get a train from there. I managed to get on the over packed train (and when I mean packed I mean people squashed into every single bit of the train, even the stairs!) and had to stand for 3 hours until everyone got off at Bordeaux. I arrived 3 hours later than planned at my hotel in Hendaye and had the warmest welcome at Hotel Santiago before I dove in my bed.
Lesson learned – don’t plan Paris, Paris will plan you.
The next morning I got the train to San Sebastian, bought a bus ticket to Bilbao and fuelled up on some coffee at Sakona. Then went in for a walk around town and wanted to walk up Mount Urgull. Sadly the entrance was closed, so I couldn’t go up and enjoy the views I’d quite a bit about.
When I booked a luxury bus I thought it meant I had a confirmed seat, because what else could I get for €10 extra? Well … a huge leather stand-alone seat, a video screen with a selection of Friends episodes, and a stewardess handing out wet towels before handing out snacks.
Lesson learned – don’t be afraid to splurge on a luxury bus.
When I arrived the weather looked nice, so I decided to walked from the bus station to my hotel, but five minutes in it started pouring and I must have looked really sad because the lovely folks at Hotel Vincci gave me a riverside upgrade so that was exciting. The downside at staying at hotels is that you can’t really make friends in the common room and then head for food. So I had to brave the Pinxton (Basque’s take on tapas) bar alone, though on the plus side … I didn’t have to share any of the bites.
The next day I spend almost all morning and half of the afternoon in the Guggenheim and enjoyed the pieces. Aside from Puppy and the building itself, my favourite thing was getting lost in the The Matter of Time artworks. In London I feel like I only go in and pay attention to half of the exhibits, because I can come back whenever and look at it again. But when I have to pay … I make sure to get the most out of it and that includes an audio tour and taking the time to properly look at all paintings and artworks. I also went to the Saturday market to stock up on Basque cheese, hazelnuts and ground almond Basque cake to take home.
My train trip back started fine, but then it got delayed which again was stressful cause I wasn’t sure if I would make the connection. I eventually did and I think I cried from relief for half of the journey. I realise it all sounds very dramatic, but I would definitely opt for a longer train journey again for future trips.
Lesson learned – Basque cake and cheese make good presents for back home.
Then it was off to a team trip to Barcelona for my second visit to the city of Gaudi, Camp Nau and Las Ramblas. I wrote a post about some of the delicious food I had there. Besides eating there was also a stroll from Gracia to the Beach, a night of dancing and a very slow walk through and to the top of Parc Guell. I definitely want to go back a third time as I haven’t been inside the La Sagrada Família or seen the other breathtakingly gorgeous Gaudi buildings from the inside.
Lesson learned – It’s good to give some places a second chance.
I also got to revisit Vienna again. Sadly, it was just for 30 hours, but I still managed to fill it with working from a vintage shop/cafe, eating Bosnian food, a walk in Augarten and catching up with my cousin. Oh and giving a presentation for 30 people…inside Schönbrunn Palace.
Lesson learned – the best Bosnian food outside Bosnia/my mother’s kitchen is definitely in Vienna.
What has been your favourite 2019 destination so far?
In the previous edition of ‘The Posts That Never Were‘ I covered blog posts ideas that never reached by keyboard. Today I’m covering some of the drafts I came across during my last attempt to clean out the behind the scenes mess. Maybe some self shaming and naming will inspire me to actually finish and publish them or delete them forever!
Budget For Georgia – I loooove reading budget breakdown posts and money diaries and wanted to do one for my Georgia trip, because I wanted to see how cheap it really was and I have a great formula for it. I kept it for day one and two and then just didn’t add anything. Sadly most costs were spent in cash so unless I can time travel I don’t think I’ll be able to remember everything.
An Afternoon in Bratislava – I had planned this whole day as I only had 9 hours. In the end it was just seven hours and included a city tour, food, a stroll and drink which I definitely can get a post out of. The Polaroids I shot there are the highlights though, so maybe they can save the day, or post.
Mexico Memories – How my friends and I left our hotel at 10 PM for a stroll and got back at 6 AM after a night full of dancing, interrogation by the very kind police on the beach and 3 AM search for beer. Most of them are just ‘you had to be there moments’, so I’m trying to make something more shareable out of it.
Barcelona Packing List – In addition to money/budget posts I love packing lists, specifically reading and writing them. But my trip to Barcelona was just 2.5 days … is it even worth it to highlight the skirt, 2 shirts, 1 t-shirt and jeans that I took with me? Don’t think so.
Living In London Musings – is an ongoing project and while it made sense to start off with, it has now a list with very random notes that I have been typed in a hurry and don’t always make sense any more. What does “stairs at Brixton station” even mean, Tea??
Museum Musings – The project I did last winter and spring to keep me from staying inside all weekend every weekend was to revisit museums and rank them. I managed to visit quite a few and the photos and random notes for Tate Modern, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Childhood Museum ready. It just needs to tidied up.
Ways To Can Reduce Waste When Travelling – this is another ongoing project because I obviously want to try them out before writing about it. It would be easy for me to say that one should get a reusable bag for hand luggage toiletries, but twice already I had to transfer my toiletries from my transparent reusable bag (that fits the measurements) to one of the plastic ones at the airport because staff wasn’t sure. Those bags are being reused until they literally break apart.
Do you have any posts that never saw the light of day?
Honestly? When I went to Brighton for the first time a few years ago I thought it was a bit of a faded seaside town. During my last few visits it was a completely different experience, I came across one lively spot after another which really excited me.
Brighton is sometimes called London-by-the-Sea (or even Shoreditch-on-Sea) so obviously there’s a beach and water to play in, but beware it’s a stone/pebble beach, so no sand for you! Even if the weather isn’t bikini proof you can still walk along the beach, dip your toes into the sea and take photos of the derelict pier. If you’re feeling a little peckish why not try a barbecue on the beach, after 6 pm you’re apparently allowed to, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch and roast a seagull – they are everywhere but sadly I doubt they taste very nice.
My favourite thing to do was walking through the Lanes and exploring the cute (vintage) shops and small markets in the tiny alleys. Also make sure to pop by the Photo Booth in Snoopers Paradise which comes with a dress-up box – I was a cowboy, safari ranger and crocodile all in the space of 3 minutes (I’m not crazy I swear!). These areas are full of street art too, so get snapping, staring or being inspired.
On my last visit I spotted Eden Perfumes on the Lanes and got very excited to see the shop. Eden Perfumes create vegan, cruelty-free versions of your favourite perfumes and I got their their versions of Black Opium and Flowerbomb last Christmas. Though they don’t claim these are identical I honestly can’t smell the difference, they only fade a bit quicker than the original. But at £15 for a 30 ml bottle that is still super afforable.
There are so many coffee places in the Lanes and it’s a definitely gamble if the place you walk into is going to be any good. Thankfully Bond Street Coffee do damn good mocha and latte as well as tasty treats, like their banana bread that I’m still dreaming about.
While one of its piers has been long since abandoned, the major Brighton Palace Pier is still going strong, with its cheesy arcade, fairground rides and fast food stalls. Ignore the trashiness and it’s perfect for an evening walk topped off with a portion of fish and chips, the walk was quite a while, the pier seemed to go on forever!
If arcades and rides aren’t your thing, then why not try a round or two of Mini/Crazy Golf? You’ll find three places to putt away on the promenade, two of them are themed – as we like it these days – but the one closest to the pier, which is simply called Crazy Golf, is a stripped down and no fuss old fashioned one where it’s all about simple joy of hitting the ball. And for £3, who can really complain?
When you’ve worked up an appetite crazy-golfing like a pro, head to Lucky Beach for a lunch. They have selection of top-notch sandwiches and delicious burgers and use locally-sourced and sustainable produce where possible and have lots of vegan and vegetarian options. But really, the hardest part for me was choosing between passion fruit, watermelon, rhubard and elderflower fizz.
Unsure on your evening food options? Well, 64 Degrees is the place to be. It has one of the best concepts ever: they serve 16 small and dishes (four meat, four fish and four vegetables) on the menu, the idea is that you share your food and that way try as much of the menu as you can. This is perfect for someone who can’t choose (yours truly). And because they feel the kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, you sit at the bar overlooking them prepare, just order dish after dish and watch them do some culinary magic. The portions are not huge and the menu is kept light so you get to have dessert without feeling too guilty. And in case you’re wondering, their name is after the temperature they cook their eggs at.
If you decide to lay your head to rest in the city then make sure it’s on a pillow at Arts Residence Brighton, a quirky hotel-meets-art boutique. I really loved the background story too: the hotel had been in the family for years and when times were harder they changed course and enlisted the help of local artists.The artists each took one of the 23 rooms and gave them their own theme. This really adds some extra character – and there is also the killer view.
Have you visited Brighton recently, and if so, have any good spots I should check out on my next visit?
Last month I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Barcelona, most of which was spent enjoying food…lots of food. Here are some dishes I had which I still can’t stop thinking about!
Bunyols de Vent
Bunyols de Vent is Catalan’s answer to the doughnut…and it was one answer I couldn’t get enough of! All the more special was the fact I’m not a fan of deep-fried desserts – be that doughnuts, Dutch olliebollen or Spanish churros – but these deep-fried delicacies filled with custard and fennel seeds did the impossible and converted me…well just a bit.
Calçotada and sangria at Vinitus
The evening we walked into Vinitus I had my doubts about the place as in the middle of a busy street and looked too hip for tapas. But everything was so delicious, from the veggie croquetas and various potato dishes to the fried mini peppers and everything else I could cram into my mouth. But most of all two things stood out for me: the roasted spring onion/leeks that gave my taste buds pure joy and their Sangria with its secret ingredient that I’m still trying to track down for my own tipples back home.
Cheese and baguettes from La Boqueta Market
This market was fill to the brim with things I wanted to chow down on and take home in the bucketloads, but my pick had to be the three cheese mix and baguette that made my sunny picnic complete.
Croquettes at Sagrades Tannines
As croquettes are traditionally made with pork they’re usually off limits to me, so I was super happy to see chicken and cheese versions at Sagradas Tannines that I finally could order. The place also did a raclette type of potato dish that had my mouth watering.
Patatas Bravas at Enkel
Now Enkel isn’t a traditional place and offers everything your hipster brunch place back home has, so feeling obligated to order something local I opted for their patatas bravas with green chili sauce and garlic mayo … and boy I was happy I did! They were without a doubt the best ones I had in Barcelona and possibly even the world!
What holiday meals and treats do you still dream about?
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