Monthly Archives: September 2018

London - Seen & Done

Unlocking London: Open House

After having lost faith in humanity at Open House 2016 due to abysmal queuing set ups and swarms of rude crowds, in 2017 I only ventured to one tiny place, but this weekend I felt like giving the event another chance. Where better to go than the political heart of London?

Given the general distate for politics I was hoping everything would be empty – I was wrong, but it was the smoothest Open House experience. Once again I didn’t get picked in the 10 Downing Street ballot – has anyone ever been drafted? Or does my dodgy East European last name mean it’s a no no for me on security grounds?

Everyone has there favourites at Open House and mine was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – it’s included in pretty much every news round-up, and was the main reason for me heading to Westminster. It was well worth the trip and probably my favourite Open House I’ve been to so far! I loved everything from the ceilings to the carpet and even the wallpapers. Also … seeing Palmerston, Chief Mouser to the FCO, himself was a purfect treat. And a shout-out to the organisers as it was super quick and efficient with a one-way system taking you everywhere.

Thanks to the Open House app it was easy to see what other places were nearby. I wouldn’t have known about HM Treasury, next door to the FCO which houses a hidden courtyard. Despite being the place where they spend all the money it was pretty stripped back compared to the grandiose FCO building, though they did have super comfy sofa booths. It also included a mini exhibition on the history of the building, for history/architecture geeks to get their rocks off. But really it WAS all about the round courtyard.

Some places only offered guided tours – despite the app not mentioning it, but with so many things on offer it was easy to simply walk to the next place. Having to go to court isn’t most people’s idea of a fun day out, let alone the Supreme Court, but when it’s housed in an amazing building I’m happy to volunteer as tribute. The UK Supreme Court comes with a dream library (though the books are a bit too dry for my liking) including ladders, a tower room and Harry Potter like stairs. If that wasn’t enough, you could also don various judge robes and wigs for your own legal catwalk experience – take that London Fashion Week!

Portcullis House is the little less loved brother of the Houses of Parliament. Sitting just opposite the famous landmark, it’s where lots of important political stuff happens but in a kinda ugly 90s style building. Despite this it has its charms: the open space and lots of light and a great spot to just catch a breath and process everything. While walking around the hall of political portraits I came up with the next Date Game Show hit: you have two potential love birds matched up with show centred around them walking around the hall and giving their opinion on the portraits – yes I know it’s not exactly Love Island, but let’s get some culture into our reality TV!

Another favourite was the Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament and reachable through a cool secret tunnel underneath from Portucllis House. I would have thought being in such a powerful place might have given me a kick, but it was more the giant mural paintings filled to the brim with bearded medieval dudes that really did it for me. It is also currently hosting a free exhibition on votes for women and the representation of women in the House of Commons and House of Lords, so learn about how kick-ass women fought for their suffrage with tickets via

If you look up boujee in the picture dictionary you will see a photo of Banqueting House with its mysterious cellar like space to its grand hall. It’s so extra the powder rooms come with a sit down and re-apply your make-up corner – sadly I wasn’t invited to the next ball/feast/extravaganza…

P.S this is the current state of Big Ben. Does it look bigger with a hood on?

Have you ever been to an Open House style event? Which was your favourite attraction?

Georgia

Gamarjoba! The Day Trip from Tbilisi

And now here’s part 3 of my Georgian adventure, where I experienced some impressive highs and some lacklustre lows… After having spent a day in Kutaisi and a day exploring Tbilisi it was time to head out of the city and see what the area around Tbilisi had to offer: the Uplistsikhe – Gori – Mtskheta – Jvari day trip.

Luckily, a Georgian friend of friend happened to be in Tbilisi and was happy to play chauffeur as he hadn’t been to most of the places since he was a kid. First stop was Uplistsikhe Cave Town.

Carved in the rocks atop a hill overlooking the area this ancient site is one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia – dating back to the Iron Age! It was such a unique and surreal setting and I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the Flintstones filmset, it was where people actually cried, laughed and danced for centuries.

Look at this view! How would you ever want to leave?

Gori seemed to be a place where everyone stopped. It’s home to the Stalin Museum which (depending on your ethical views) you can visit. It turned out it was more a place housing a random collection of stuff Stalin owned without providing real background info, with everything written in Georgian or Cyrillic. You can always book a tour, but in the end it wasn’t worth the money.

I was really curious to lay my eyes upon Mtskheta as it was supposed to be a real slice of ancient history. But everything seemed to be restored and rebuilt. It was cute and quaint with a market through the high street and a famous cathedral, but it lacked a bit of the history I was expecting. To give you an idea of how big the tourism is in Georgia: we ran into the couple that we shared a taxi with to visit the monasteries two days earlier. And their trip wasn’t going much better: they were stuck in the middle of nowhere when their taxi broke and once they arrived to their destination in the middle of the night their room was given away. So we definitely had lots to catch up on.

If you’re feeling peckish on your travels, I’d recommend stocking up on churchkhela. You’ll see these everywhere, and no, they are not sausages like I initially thought. They are a snack with walnuts and grape juice, also known as Georgian Snickers, and they are actually the most delicious natural sweet I’ve shoved in my mouth.

As we travelled around chowing on our churckhela, we kept spotting the Jvari monastery on the hill calling us to come visit, but more on that later.

Before we trekked up the hill to meet Jvari, we sat down for a quick lunch and our first experience of Georgian lemonade – my advice is skip the vanilla-flavoured version and stick to the original lemon variety, or if you’re feeling daring go for the tarragon infusion!

One of my favourite Bosnian dishes is brown bean soup and I am very picky about it, so you can imagine I was sceptical about trying the Georgian version! Don’t tell my mum … but I LOVED it. The Georgian spices work well and their cornbread was delightfully crunchy. If you see lobio soup on the menu you must try it!

And then it was time for Jvari. And honestly? Jvari is a shameless tease that gets you all excited while driving around it. But once you get on top, it’s not as big or impressive as you might have guessed – Uplistsikhe is a way better experience.

To end the post in bad-luck style: after that we went back to Tbilisi train station and learned that the trains to Batumi were booked for the rest of the week. So where did that leave us? Did we flee off to Armenia? Back to Kutaisi to take the first flight back home? Go to the Kazbegi mountains? Stay tuned!

Have you been to Georgia? Or do you have any questions if you’re thinking about going?

Amsterdam

Tuesday, Three Things I Do Every Time I Go To Amsterdam

Whenever I mention I’m from the Netherlands people always assume I’m from Amsterdam. Sadly I’m not, but from what I hear from my friends it’s like living in any big city: rent is way too high, smashed avocado sandwiches too expensive and public transport is shit.

But those big city flaws don’t stop me from visiting often, and as I wandered around the city one a sunny afternoon last week I realised I do have some Amsterdam rituals I keep coming back to.

Get My Culture On
During my teens, Amsterdam was where I went throw away my hard-earned money on shopping sprees, and when I got a bit older my go-to place for concerts – but then I’d only see what was between the train station and the venue. It wasn’t until later I learned to appreciate its many museums and historical activities, so now I try to cross off one museum per visit. From a quick exhibition at FOAM to a Friday Late at the van Gogh and checking out a new kid on the block, the city’s cultural hubs will never let you down.

Eat All The Fried Goods
When I’m at my parents I usually go for Bosnian dishes and Dutch cheese, so for me Amsterdam is where I can indulge in Dutch deep fried food. My favourites are fries at Manneke Pis, cheese croquettes at EYE and the delicious goodness that are bitterballen. If you see bitterballen in the menu, do yourself a favor and order a portion, they’re breadcrumb-covered little pieces of heaven.

Go All Touristy
While I have a a bit of love/hate relationship with tourist traps, I don’t turn my back on them all! I still haven’t seen everything so I always make cross something off my Amsterdam list whenever I go. Whether that’s going for pancakes at that place that’s all over IG, spotting the bench from the Fault in our Stars or facing my fears at the A’dam Lookout swing.

Do you have rituals for the places you visit often?

Austria

Exploring Ambras Castle, Innsbruck

It’s easy to forget Austria is home to some of the most beautiful castles and palaces the world has to offer. In Innsbruck I thought it would be all about the views, food and hiking. But it turns out the city contains not only a palace at its centre, but also a hidden gem nestled on its outskirts.

Ambras Castle was built all the way back in the 1560s by Archduke Ferdinand II on the base of an even older castle dating back to the 10th century. Ferdinand built this castle for his wife and they both resided here for over 30 years, so probably one of those ‘here’s a present for myself disgused as one for you’ arrangements. I love how minimalist and modest it looks

From the outside it’s not too much in your face like the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle there’s no fancy gardens like Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. That is until you get to go inside and explore the over-the-top interiors of Spanish Hall and the collections of weapons, books, works of art the pair collected from their travels.

The guy who scanned our tickets reminded us we had an hour left before they’d close and I was very confident that would be more than enough. That was before I learned you’d spend half of your visit to take in the Spanish Hall where some amazing balls and banquets were all the rage. It walls are plastered with 27 portraits of Tirolean rulers…imagine being the 28th most important ruler? I feel for them!

What I often miss in castles is the armouries, you often see one of two here and there, but Ambras has three full chambers of armour including tournament armour, ceremony armour and the suit their very own Ser Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane wore. You’ll have to use your imagination as taking photos weren’t allowed or I was too excited taking it all in.

The lovely landscaped gardens and park of the complex are the perfect spot to spend an additional hour and maybe have a little picnic or nap on the grass – if the weather allows it of course.

What’s on your castle bucketlist?