Friday, 31 October 2014

Vienna in 48 hours.

After the beauty of old-world Budapest, I was expecting Vienna to be grand and ostentatious, and it didn't disappoint. I was devastated not to see much of the city itself, as the rain and extreme wind meant I had my head down facing into my umbrella most of the time so I couldn't look up at the buildings. However, the hotel we were staying in more than made up for the weather, as I think it really was the definition of Vienna. I'll be posting about our hotel tomorrow, as we quite literally stayed in a palace - just look at that lobby!

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after a tour of our hotel we headed out to the baroque Belvedere Palace so Bella could see the Klimt masterpiece 'The Kiss'. We just got tickets to the Upper Belvedere part of the palace as we didn't have time to do the lower half as well, and to be completely honest, I was happy about this because I'm very very fussy when it comes to contemporary and modern art. The inside of the palace was disappointing, it's been stripped out and the walls are a clinical white. The inside doesn't feel like an 18th century palace, but a modern museum; sterile and uninteresting, just like the art that hangs on the walls. 

After the museum we raced back to the hotel through the pouring rain, and got showered and dressed for the opera. We decided it was an excellent occasion to dress up all fancy, especially as we were going to be in the opera house for a while - we were seeing Tannhauser by Wagner, which is a notoriously long opera. 

I rarely take expensive clothes with me when travelling as I'm always terrified of losing my lugggage, so I wore a Primark skirt, plain black top, bag by Iris Boutique, and my Yull Cornbury Shoes. Bella wore a Dorothy Perkins dress and her Yull Beaulieu shoes. We took some photos in the beautiful Hotel Imperial where we were staying for the duration of our Vienna trip...

The opera was so, so long, but so, so worth it just to hear that incredible overture live. The hairs on my neck stood on end as the music soared up towards us. My heart was overwhelmed with emotion while tears prickled my eyes, and all at once I felt incredibly content and I felt a massive grin creep across my face. After the first act it was slow-going (I'm not ashamed to say I fell asleep in the third act), with the odd moment of heart-soaring intensity when the main piece of music came in. The opera house was absolutely beautiful, and I had the most amazing cherry strudel in the interval which was so cheap!

The next day we got up bright and early to see the Spanish Riding School rehearsal. The concierge at our hotel kindly got us some tickets the day before, so we didn't have to queue. You weren't allowed to take photographs or videos, but I managed to get some sneaky ones! 

All of the male riders were insanely attractive, I spent most of my time drooling over them all and choosing which one was going to be my future husband. It was a tough choice, but I managed to narrow it down to two of them. As well as the super good looking men, the horses really were amazing, our minds were completely blown watching them perform such intricate steps, jumps, and routines, and that was just for the rehearsal! I loved our visit, and think it's well worth the 14 euros.

After the Spanish Riding School we headed to the Kunsthistorisches museum. Now this was my kind of museum! Absolutely filled to the brim with Reubens, Michelangelo, Holbein, and Rembrandt, I was in art heaven. I adore renaissance, baroque, romanticism, and impressionist art. Give me a museum with any of those in and I'm happy. So I was very happy in Kunsthistorisches. We saw Fortuna by Michaelangelo, Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael, and the painting every British child grew up with through primary school - Jane Seymour by Holbein.

We then went to find lunch when our tummies started grumbling, and found that it was very difficult to find somewhere that didn't look touristy. We eventually found Burg.Ring, which was a pretty cool cafe that seemed quite 'hipster'. Naturally we had Schnitzel, however we went for pork rather than the traditional veal. It was tasty, but there's only so much breaded meat you can eat before it gets a little boring (aka, a few bites).

After lunch it was on to the Albertina for the Monet exhibition. I was slightly disappointed with this, there were actually only 3-4 Monet pieces in the exhibition. Boo. Thankfully though there were plenty of Warhol's and Lichtenstein's to keep me occupied. Apart from those pieces though the museum was full of weird contemporary works of art that did not interest me in the slightest. I find art is such a personal thing, and I'm just so fussy when it comes to modern and contemporary art. 

After the Albertina we then battled the wind and rain to try and see a bit more of the city. We walked over to the University, Rathaus (town hall), and a large church next to the University. 

The one thing I really did love about Vienna was that I could speak the language, albeit badly. In Budapest we literally had no clue about the language, it's so different that we struggled with just saying hello and thank you, so I was thankful to have a couple of days in Vienna where I knew the basics, and it's strange how it all comes back to you so naturally. By the time we left I found myself being able to direct a taxi driver to our hotel to take us to the train station as he couldn't speak a word of English. Sadly I didn't get to use my two favourite words though - Langweilig (boring), and Warum (why). 

Anyway, we wandered back to the hotel and stopped off at Cafe Sacher to try the famous Sacher Torte. Everyone had told us we had to go here, however we were quite disappointed. The cake was dry and not that great - it was just a plain chocolate cake, I don't know what all the fuss is about to be honest! However, the hot chocolate was pretty good, creamy and rich, it felt as though I were drinking melted chocolate - YUM!

After our disappointing cake, we finally headed back to the hotel to get changed and showered for dinner at OPUS (review on this soon). The following morning we woke up early, had our champagne breakfast at the hotel, and then wandered through the centre of Vienna to see St Stephen's Cathedral. I didn't find it very impressive. In fact we looked at it, went inside, walked back out, and both went 'Huh'. Compared to St Stephen's in Budapest, it was sehr sehr langweilig! Here's some photos of the horses outside instead...

However, we did stumble upon a much more impressive gem a little while later...

A Greek orthodox church on a backstreet towards the river. It was stunning. We went inside and it was empty, unlike the cathedral it wasn't packed with tourists, and yet it was magical. The walls and ceiling were covered in opulent artwork. Gold lettering and detailing shimmered all around us, while two lonely candles flickered in the quiet darkness. 

Vienna is a beautiful city, it was just such a shame about the weather as it really did spoil it. I'd love to go back in the summer to really experience the city and visit Schonbrunn palace. Thankfully our hotel more than made up for the weather though, it was wonderful staying in a place so steeped in history, it was the epitome of Vienna, and I loved every minute of our stay there. I can't wait to share our experience at Hotel Imperial with you tomorrow, I'm so so so excited for you to read about it and see the photographs!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Harvey Nichols Christmas Hampers.

I returned from Hungary on Saturday to find a very large box waiting for me. Harvey Nichols very kindly sent me one of their famous Christmas hampers to get me in the mood for the festive season! I do love a hamper, and this one certainly is a goodun. 

The Season's Eatings hamper is a wicker basket presented beautifully with a festive red bow. It's full of all of the goodies you need to take you through the entire Christmas holiday. It contains shortbread biscuits, tea, coffee, mixed nuts, brandy butter, red wine, cranberry sauce, and even a champagne Christmas pudding!

Dylan found the un-boxing of the hamper fascinating, and kept getting his nose in the way of the photos as he sniffed and smelt each product I was picking up out of the hamper! I figured the only way to keep him happy would be to let him have the bow and take a photo to make him feel included ;) 

I think the Marc De Champagne Christmas Pudding is what I'm most excited about trying - and how cute is the packaging! I'll definitely let you know how it tastes after Christmas.

You can purchase the Season's Eatings Hamper for £65, which is a bargain considering the amount you get in it! It's the perfect choice for a little bit of everything festive. Thank you Harvey Nichols!

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Eating and Drinking in Budapest.

If you love fresh vegetables and fruit on a daily basis, do not go to Hungary. However if you love all other types of food, book a flight right now. We found it so difficult to find restaurants in Budapest that had vegetables, most places serve carbs on carbs with meat alongside. We did however, find one place that served excellent fish and somewhat questionable veggies (but it was better than nothing), so I thought I'd put together a guide on the best places to eat and drink (and go out dancing!) in Budapest.

The great thing about Budapest is how cheap everything is. We ate out at two really nice restaurants for less than £20 each for three courses and wine with each course, and at a Ruin Bar we paid just £3 for huge cocktails, and around £1.50 for spirits.

There are of course the tourist traps to avoid, so keep on reading and note down the restaurants for your trip to this ancient and breathtakingly beautiful city!

Aszú Étterem

We stumbled upon Aszu quite by chance. In fact, we stumbled upon both of the wonderful restaurants we ate at by chance. We knew that we didn't want to eat at a restaurant advertising a 'tourist menu' - aka, a tourist trap, and we knew we wanted Hungarian food. After searching for quite a while, we ended up going back towards our hotel and found Aszú Étterem near St Stephen's Basilica. We looked at the menu, and as soon as I saw 'cold soup', I knew we'd hit the jackpot. 

No. I don't like cold soup, but it's quite a well known Hungarian dish, so I knew they served traditional food. The restaurant had outside seating which was perfect as it was a warm balmy evening, and it looked fresh, modern, and really quite classy. It was also busy, which is always a good sign.

Please excuse the photos, the lighting was so orange and no matter what I did to my camera the white balance just did not want to work properly! The photos came out quite orange so I've had to edit them quite a bit :/

Bella started with a salad, but I wasn't overly hungry so decided to save myself for dessert. Even the salads in Hungary are coated in salad dressing, but she said it was still lovely...

While deciding on our mains our waiter helped us choose a Hungarian wine to go with what we were having. It was the perfect choice, and we loved it so much we bought some at the airport to bring back to the UK with us! I had the Pork tenderloin with pickled cherries (another Hungarian favourite - cherries!), while Bella opted for the Neck beef. The wine was Oremus Mandolas, from the famous Tokaji wine region in Hungary.

Now, these photos do not do this food justice. It was really incredible, so delicious, the meat was so tender and flavorful! And at just 4900 Forint (about £12), it was more than half the price of what you'd pay for this standard of meal in London. 

For dessert Arabella had the Aszú Somlói, and I had the Plum Dumplings, which were potato dumplings with plum, cinnamon cream, and salted nut ice cream. To be honest mine would have been delicious without the dumplings - having potato for dessert was just plain weird, but the rest of it was lovely. Bella's dessert was much better, I can't for the life of me remember what it was now, but it was some sort of cheesecake in a glass tumbler. If you go to Aszu, get it!

The Bigfish Seafood Restaurant

The Bigfish seafood restaurant is where I finally got some healthy food inside me. The restaurant is light and airy and had a huge display counter full of fresh seafood. You choose your seafood, and can but it by the gram or kilo. After much deliberation, I settled on a Swordfish steak with vegetables and chips (I know I know, carbs right). I also got a homemade lemonade to drink, and ordered a Black Forest Gateaux for dessert. This whole meal cost me less than £15. 

The swordfish was really yummy and fresh. The veggies weren't the best, but were still surprisingly good - they weren't over-cooked or soggy which is the main thing. Bella had the mussels, and she loved them! For dessert my Black forest gateaux was sensational; the flavours and textures were wonderful, and Bella's lemon meringue tart was apparently really refreshing and zesty. Yumsk! 

Szimpla Kert Bar

Romkocsma's, also known as Ruin Bars, are super popular in Budapest. If you want a good night out with cheap drinks, ruin bars are the place to go. They're cool and funky and like no other bar you'll have ever been to before. Szimpla Kert is in the Jewish quarter of Pest, and is the oldest ruin bar in Budapest. Ruin Bars are bars in abandoned and dilapidated old buildings, and I certainly felt as though the walls would crumble around me when gingerly stepping up the stairs to the second floor! 

Szimpla Kert is huge, and made up of lots of different rooms with different themes. There's a wine bar, a cocktail bar, a spirits bar, as well as various other bars within the building. You can sit in an old soviet jeep in the outside courtyard sipping on a Mai Tai, or sit on some garden furniture in a room full of old computers on the walls while guzzling a Cuba Libre. We did a mixture - after all, we needed to test out every room and type of drink! 

There was also a DJ playing some good tunes, and after a few too many cocktails I had a great time singing and dancing along. Sadly we didn't try the Shisha, I was far too British and was worried about how clean the pipes would be :/ we also didn't try the carrots they were selling. Yes. You read that right. They were selling carrots....

Cafe Gerbeaud

Going from one extreme to another. Cafe Gerbaud is one of the most famous coffee houses in Budapest. It's glamorous, classy, and they do the best hot chocolate I've ever had after Angelina's in Paris

I had a cheesecake and hot chocolate, the cheesecake was the perfect size; not too big and not too small, and it was lovely and creamy and the perfect combination of fruit and dairy! It also had a really lovely thin base rather than a thick one that makes the entire mouthful taste of biscuit.

As it was such a lovely day we sat outside, however the inside is the draw for most people, it's so beautiful. Naturally Cafe Gerbeaud is a complete tourist trap, but it's one of those that I think is definitely worth visiting and getting a coffee (or hot chocolate!) and cake it. You can also buy boxes of perfect little macarons, which are so much cheaper than Laduree!

So there we have it, my top places to eat/drink/coffee at in Budapest! My next post is going to be non-travel related so I don't bore you all, and then I'll start my Vienna ones before one last Budapest one (and the most epic breakfast ever)! Hope you're enjoying all of these and finding them useful :)

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