It’s been years since Taco Bell first introduced yours truly to (Tex) Mex cuisine and crunchy, mouthwatering tacos. Since then I’ve been on a journey to savour all sorts of Mexican-style flavours, textures and herbs wherever I can find them. And while most US chains have long since made their way to Europe, it’s taken years and years for me to cross paths again with the Bell. Until finally last week, when they found their way to London’s Hammersmith (and now Holborn too). Their crunchy tacos still have that special something and I’ll definitely be returning to stuff my face with more, but they can’t compare to some of the favourites I’ve collected through the years.
Favourite all-rounder – Wahaca as there is always one nearby when that craving hits you, and their sweet potato/feta taquito is everything!
Favourite Margarita – the Pink Chihuahua at El Camion has more cocktails than you can imagine, but the pomegranate margarita stole my heart.
Favourite burrito – Pink Cactus! Whatever the crunchy thing is they add to their burritos just does it for me. And don’t forget their addictive sauces with the power to transform any boring dish into mexi-heaven.
Favourite misses – the Mexican couple at Maltby Street market brought a tear to my eye with their little tomales stand, but when I returned there was no trace of them. Bless you my taco angels wherever you are…
Favourite non Mexican Mexican – Korrito (Korean Burrito) at KERB in Southbank. Because why not mix those two worlds together?
Favourite grab and go – It’s always a choice between Chipotle, Benito’s Hat, Tortilla and Chilangro, but I have to say Chilangro is the one for me. But be warned Chilangro, Taco Bell is fast on your heels!
Favourite IG place – La Bodega Negra has brilliant neon signs to snap, and if you love your fish this is the dish, but altogether a little too fancy for me.
Favourite local – Jalisco in Brixton went through more name changes than Prince but they haven’t lost their magic touch or secret recipe. If you don’t want to wait for the queue on the weekend check out the stand and let the sombrero-wearing chef make your tastebuds smile. The title of ‘Best Quesadillas’ and ‘Best Frijoles’ also goes to them.
Under the guise of seeing more of what the UK has to offer I ended up on an eye-wateringly early 7 AM train to Leeds with a mini itinerary and about 9 hours to explore the city. To me, Leeds was just the place in the north that the Keiser Chiefs, Mel B, and Malcolm McDowell came from, so I was curious to see what it was all about. Here’s what I got up to.
Arcades & Alleyways
Fun fact, if you get into the city at 9 AM on a Saturday, nothing much is open. Which makes it the perfect time to grab a cup of coffee/tea from one of your favourite chains and explore the hidden arcades and alleys before they get swamped with shoppers. How amazing are these ceilings?
Blue Rinse Vintage
I should have read up on Leeds’ vintage stores before I set off as they were everywhere and I do love a good vintage find. I only went into Blue Rinse to see what the fuss was all about and have to say that their corduroy offering did not disappoint.
Leeds Kirkgate Market
This market is full to bursting with fresh fruit and veg, delicious street food and all things arts and crafts. It’s also the founding location of Marks & Spencer which opened a stall there in 1884! I just loved walking around the gorgeous building and seeing the city come to life with everyone setting up.
The Corn Exchange is something I saw on TV and always imagined it as a huge mall type of thing, but it’s actually a much smaller space that houses independent shops on the upper section and food places on the ground floor. Don’t leave without marvelling at its magnificent ceiling.
Royal Armouries Museum
Here I was complaining about the lack of armours in castles … well looks like they are all on display in Leeds at the Royal Armouries Museum. Along with historic weaponry from various eras and parts of the world. The museum also features outdoor jousting tournaments, ghost hunts and if you want to blow off some steam – a crossbow range.
Leeds Art Gallery + The Henry Moore Institute
The Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute house fine collections of contemporary art pieces and sculptures that will keep you busy for at least 1 hour. I’m a huge fan of both, but if you’re not into it go here for the Instagrammable coffee shop and photo wall.
Parkinson Building Library
The University of Leeds’ (not to be confused with the nearby rival Beckett University!) main building is a nice piece of art deco architecture and the library/reading room looks like something out of Harry Potter. Especially since my uni only had five desks that were never free. For more Potter, head further into the campus to see university’s Great Hall, which screams Hogwarts.
Woodhouse Moor & Hyde Park Corner Cinema
I mentioned here before that I wanted to go to Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds ever since seeing a picture of its external ticket booth. There was sadly no time to go and see The Wife – so I’m saving that for another time. Keep an eye out for activities in the nearby Woodhouse Moor – I was lucky enough to catch a quidditch practice session in action, with the hoops and everything.
No trip to Leeds is complete without a visit to Kirkstall Abbey. About 20 minutes outside the city centre, you’ll find yourselves a world away at the complex that used to be the home to an old Cistercian monastery. These days it’s an adventure playground for kids, dogs and photographers, plus it hosts a food market on some weekends. Despite the crowds, it’s easy to find a little corner to hide away and get whisked back a few hundred years.
Abbey House Museum
Across the street from the Abbey you’ll find the Abbey House Museum, which I wanted to skip as it I thought it would just give background info on the abbey. But it’s actually set up as a Victorian high street, with shops, a bar and chemist. The upstairs floor does feature the history of Kirkstall Abbey, as well as a section on childhood. I was so happy I did end up going as it’s actually one of my favourite types of museums: dusty, clustered and too many things on display.
Leeds is a great place for a short trip, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in just one day – I only just managed it due to a custom-made itinerary from a local and good walking weather. Instead, make a weekend trip out of it and perhaps combine with nearby Manchester?
Guys! Autumn has kicked in London town: bring on the grim weather, eternal darkness and the hunt for the perfect winter scarf. But first let’s look at what happened during my summer season.
Netherlands: Amsterdam, Zeeland & Dullsville
I spent a weekend in at a holiday park in the sea capital province of Zeeland. And since it was great weather where else do you spend it than on the beach? I also visited the city of Middelburg to sample its gorgeous cathedral, grand Town Hall and cute houses, plus I got the best ice-cream to make up for missing the last canal boat ride of the day.
There was also the morning in Amsterdam where I visited the Banksy Exhibtion at Moco Museum, scoured vintage shops in the 9 Streets area to find new dresses and got lost in food heaven with a cheese sandwich in a forgotten corner of the Amsterdam Museum courtyard.
Leeds In A Day
I have the feeling I saw everything there was to see in the 9 hours I was there: from the Corn Exchange and the various shopping arcades in the city centre, to Kirkstall Abbey and the Docks area a bit further afield.
In London I …
wasn’t too impressed by the James Cook exhibition nor with the one about ice-cream, paid a revisit to Granger & Co and proved that their scrambled eggs are as dreamy as I remembered, enjoyed a flavour invasion at Caravan and Temper, revisited Tate Britain and Horniman Museums & Gardens, finally saw deer up close at Richmond Park, ran through a golf course on Wimbledon Common, went out for Open House again and enjoyed a salon recital at 1901 Arts Club.
It’s a bit random, but I wanted to go to Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds ever since seeing a picture of it when I was learning about UK cinemas. Look at the building! Look at the external ticket booth! Look at those prices!!
The train ride back from Leeds wasn’t great: we’re talking groups of drunk people in every carriages being loud and rude, using e-cigarettes, trying to chat up any women walking who clearly weren’t interested and making sure they blocked anyone who wanted to get past them.
Banksy exhibition at Moco Museum in Amsterdam was not worth the money or time, I thought there was permanent collection of contemporary art in addition to the temporary show, but it turns out it’s just Banksy and an exhibition by Icy & Slot. And instead of raising questions and creating conversations the curator decided to go for the my-first-exhibition approach and tried explained the meaning behind every piece, yes we’re talking “the flowers replacing the weapons represent peace…”.
Open House actually isn’t as horrible as I thought so I really should go out and give things a second chance.
What’s the main lesson you’ve learned in the past 3 months?
Sure I do the occasional complaining about everything from the dull weather, to the weird separate hot & cold taps and the painful costs of public transport. But there are tons of things I do love about this country. Kicking off with …
August Bank Holiday
Most countries’ public holidays are all bunched up in the first half year and for someone who doesn’t have a summer holiday anymore it’s very exciting to have a surprise three-day weekend in the last week of August. It’s like finding money that was already yours in a jacket you haven’t worn for a while. And it doesn’t even matter that it’s likely to be miserable and rainy.
Free Entry To Museums
Free entry to most museums is really one of the best things about the UK. Especially with all the budget cuts and prices going up every year, getting cultured and learning new things will still cost you absolutely nothing. So I’m going to enjoy those until someone realises they can cash out.
People Saying Sorry, Even When It’s Not Their Fault
If someone bumps into you, they’ll apologise without even thinking about it. Sure, half of the time it comes out as a bark and the other half as a snark, but getting that five letter word out really matters. The day that British people stop apologising, it would be the end of civilisation as we know it!
I’m not going to complain about this hot summer we are having. I mean, hello: eating ice cream any time of the day has totally become normalised! It’s only during my commute that I’m having problems with finding peace with the heat so I’ve been keeping my brain chilled by revisiting some of the cooler destinations I’ve visited.
A winter season in Austria
One of my favourite winters I spent in Austria working front desk at a holiday chalet park located in the middle of 6 different slopes. It was amazing to lock the reception doors during lunchtime, grab your snowboard and hit the playground. Even on the coldest day, it was still sunny and you could slide down the slopes with a windbreaker and a hoodie. I don’t even remember it being too cold or too grey, it might have been the alcohol that kept me warm and made me forget about the lesser days.
A semester abroad in Finland
I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Melbourne when it was 42°C and a month later I was in Finland where it was -12°C. I spent my exchange semester walking around like a Michelin man and it was so different from the winter cold I knew from Austria. I LOVED living in a place where they had a proper winter and snow didn’t suck after one day. So many soup options on the menu, hot chocolate was mandatory and enjoying sauna sessions meant everyone was too busy to complain about the cold. What not to like?
A house-sit in Berlin
I love how winter, snow and even the cold can put a magical carpet over a destination. Like arriving in snowless Berlin mid-December and seeing the first snow fall and how it changes Christmas, New Year’s and the days in between. Potsdam was like a winter wonderland episode of a cheesy fairy tale, mulled wine at the abandoned amusement park Christmas Market just tasted better and even getting squashed in the crowds of tourists couldn’t bother me. Can I book again for holiday season?
What’s your favourite cold destination to go shiver?
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