Europe

Mingling with locals... and other things to do in Oslo, Norway

Of course we've all been to countries with friendly and helpful locals, but the Norwegian people we encountered on our short weekend away were some of the loveliest, funniest, warmest (lols, ironic) people I've ever come across. 

From my PT's 7:30am pint (yep, she's a great influence) all the way to stepping off the train at Liverpool Street on Sunday, the laughter was constant, which in turn attracted laughter from those around us, wherever we went. We clearly gave Palladium-level comedic performances...

Our host 
Our AirBnb was in the perfect location, about 7 minutes walk from Majorstuen train station, which was two stops from the town centre. The home itself was quaint and cosy, with a cottage vibe and exactly what you'd want a winter break home-stay to be. The host lived in the house above, and was so accommodating and really down to earth. She chatted with us about her plans for the night, gave us recommendations for our own evening, and offered her daughter's services to drive us into town.

When her daughter came to collect us, we again sat in their home and chatted for ages. She enlightened us on the student traditions in Norway and her aspirations for her next year at university. As she drove us into town, she pointed out landmarks and enlightened us with relevant stories from her own life. 

She dropped us off near the Oslo Opera House, which we proceeded to scuttle up in the dark. There was literally no one else around, so we marveled at Oslo by night without any annoying tourists about - a category we definitely don't fall under, obvs - until our bellies reminded us that crisps and rum had not been a satisfactory dinner.

Wetherspoons (kind of)
After walking about for ages, assessing menus and dipping into (suspiciously quiet) venues, we ended up in what can only be described as a Norwegian Wetherspoons. You can take the ladies out of London, eh. To their merit, there was a live band and their cocktails were pretty superior to our Blue Lagoon pitchers, tbh.

Seeing as Oslo is a port city, myself and another member of our group decided to sample the mussels. BEST. DECISION. EVER. These mussels were the best I'd ever tasted. Like, ever. The flavour in the sauce, the small cubes of chorizo, the size of the mussels themselves... perfection. If I ever return to Oslo, this is where I am heading first. 

Once the food had been cleared away, our singing and love of accessories caught the attention of two Norwegian girls who proceeded to ask if they could join us. What proceeded was a lot of laughter, singing, jubilation and the seed was planted. Karaoke? Okay! 

The girls were a great comedy duo, with one quipping "Okay, let me translate," after everything her friend said, even if it was in English, but alas their sense of direction and knowledge of open bars on a Friday night didn't match up. We went separate ways after a great evening.

Down by the docks

Down by the docks

Sightseeing 
We were up and out fairly early the next day, much to my pleasure as a sightseeing fiend and someone who likes to make the most out of what each country has to offer.

Our sightseeing guide was a uni friend of one of our group who has lived in Norway for the last decade, or so.   

First of all, she took us on the most picturesque tube ride I've ever been on. Central line this was not. What started underground in a snow-less city ended up in a winter wonderland of snow, mountains and incredible views. We walked up to the most Scandi looking cafe-restaurant, Fognerseteren restaurant og kafe, and enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies and cake while we soaked up the Bavarian vibe. With moose antlers in place of chandeliers, it was all very 'big summer blow out' from Frozen.    

After we filled our boots with treats and snow, we headed back down into Oslo's town centre and walked along the dock. The sun set pretty early, so we enjoyed a beautiful pink sky over the waters at about 3:30pm. Much to my sadness, the Christmas vibe wasn't in full force yet as it was only early November, though we did admire a small bauble Christmas tree. I learnt that Norway donate the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree to us Londoners each year. 

On our way back to our AirBnb, we stopped by Vigeland Park where we proceeded to act out the poses of each and every weird and wonderful statue. It was bloody hilarious; you'd never have guessed the average age of the group was 31 years old. My favourite was the observation from one of the group: "but why are they naked? It's so cold here."

Our attempt at bar hopping, take two
The city is covered with clocks nearly everywhere you turn, so we had no excuses to be late to our reservation at a local Norwegian restaurant recommended by our AirBnb host. Again, great food and drink ensued, and the waitress was so helpful with recommendations that we left her a tip; something we learnt wasn't a regular occurrence in Norway. We headed out into the town centre (where there was a lot more of a buzz compared to the previous night) to see where the night would take us. 

Unfortunately, we enjoyed the restaurant a little too much and missed the last entry into the Ice Bar, so instead we headed to a little Norwegian beer house just down the road from it. We learned that the bar only served produce from Norway and, while there was gin, tonic and beer aplenty, soft drinks, like Coke, and spirits, like vodka, weren't on the menu. Personally, I absolutely loved the premise behind the bar and I'm glad we visited. 

We moved on to another bar and were again surprised, but delighted, by the friendliness of the locals. Two guys joined us for the most part of the evening and, like the girls from the night before, tried to take us to some other bars that had since been closed. We ended up back in the same place making even more friends, including some students who proceeded to teach us some sort of drinking ritual! Now, I know drunk bathroom friends is a thing in the UK, but this lot took it to a whole new level. We chatted like old friends and I do think it's a shame that we're not all like this back at home. I mean, I'm happy to try, but I'm not sure I'm ready for the looks I'll get just yet... 

After a great night, we headed home for a particularly short sleep before catching the train back to the airport. Cue sullen faces and the "don't even dare speak to me" eyes on the tube... 

Maintaining peak Britishness... and other things to do in Hvar, Croatia

Croatia is a little piece of paradise you wouldn't expect to find in Europe. The country is home to beautiful beaches, palm trees, a thoroughly chilled atmosphere... and mosquitoes. Well, you can't have it all, can you?

As group of two Brits and an honorary Brit (though her Aussieness came out many a time where bugs were concerned: barefoot spider squishing, knifing a wasp to death, squashing a mosquito with one hand, while calmly holding a glass of wine with the other), we unintentionally hit most British stereotypes while on holiday. Hey, you can take the girl out of London...

Talk about the weather
Come on, the most British thing EVER. Excessively, too. Initially, we were worried as it was forecasted to be stormy on all but our first day. However, this was completely unfounded, and even as we looked at the weather app stating rain, we looked up at the sky to see something very different, thank God. The September temperature was perfect; hot enough to feel completely comfortable in a bikini, but cool enough not to sweat like a waterfall. It averaged at about 27 degrees each day, and at about 18 to 23 each evening.

Waiting for our ferry in Split

Waiting for our ferry in Split

Get a round in
Despite the early start (very early, like could-still-be-on-a-night-out early) the train to the airport and flight were fairly smooth. Of course, the British way is having a tendency for drinking that an alcoholic would be proud of, so my housemate and I cracked on with 7:30am gin and tonics, while playing a round of cards. In front of us were a group of lads lads lads, who were caning it a hell of a lot heavier. Pretty much the most British way to start a holiday.

Apart from our first night, we went out in the evening to explore Hvar's nightlife. The most prolific club on the island is Carpe Diem which, although a good premise - you get a boat to a little island - it was a bit pretentious and expensive AF. Instead, head to the bars and clubs next to the marina like AlohaNautica and Kiva. The drinks are well priced, the vibe is great, you can watch the boats and chat with everyone - people are very social. Maybe a bit too social, as my flatmate found out when we had to rush past the bar, so a certain bartender wouldn't see her the next morning...

Kiva, which we went to on our last night, was our favourite. The music and drinks were good and we had a great chat with an Aussie couple who were 3 months into a 2 year trip in their camper van. We were incredibly jealous. It wasn't the British rowdy atmosphere you'd expect for all the heavy drinking going on either, which was refreshing. There are only 6 policemen in Hvar for a reason!

Take advantage of any freebies
Our AirBnb, which reminded us of an old Italian winery (and they actually made their own wine and olive oil there, too), was situated walking distance from everything and had a great view of the sea and islands of Hvar. We had no need for a car; each day, we would walk down through the beautiful old town and down to the coast. The beaches in Hvar are rocky, but the water is breathtakingly clear. It's like being on a European version of a Caribbean island. We sunbathed on rocks, on stone walls, on concrete, wherever basically, because we didn't want to pay that 100kn for a sunbed. And, you know what? We got just as tanned and enjoyed the beautiful sea view anyway!

The fortress is a free viewpoint that looks over the town and other islands below and is thoroughly recommended. For someone who isn't an active fan of hiking, I always end up climbing up some sort of viewpoint in cities I visit, but this one really wasn't a hard climb and could be done by most people.

View from the outside the fortress

View from the outside the fortress

Another freebie we loved was the use of a pool in the neighbouring hotel. It was fashioned with ornate stone, surrounded by palm trees, and you walk into it in the same way you'd walk into the sea (i.e. you don't climb into the pool using steps or a ladder; the water starts at about two inches and gets progressively deeper).

We even managed to score another freebie in the form of bread and shots from a restaurant we visited a couple of times. Carbs and alcohol, what more could you want?! 

Being the heath and safety police
So, us Brits do take health and safety a little too far sometimes, but even our flat's "it'll be fiiiiiine" attitude was tested as we stepped into a tiny boat on rough waters to Zdrilca. Who was driving the boat, you ask? A seasoned sailor and Croatian native who has been on these waters everyday of his life? Nope, my flatmate. But we had life jackets just incase, right? WRONG AGAIN. To be fair to my flatmate, he actually did so well, driving, anchoring, and whatever else he had to do to keep us afloat while I had a mid-sea panic that we were about to capsize and drown.

The mild panic attack was worth it though, as we docked on the first beautiful island. We headed straight for the beach bar and ordered mussels, bread and roasted vegetables, as we listened to jazz and observed the incredible view, not quite believing where we were. We soon moved to sun loungers, played fetch with dogs in the sea, and had a dreamy afternoon. The other two went to explore other coves on the boat, but I was not stepping back on that thing until absolutely necessary. Instead, I found out what happened in the "24 hours that shatter Walford" thanks to BBC iPlayer and my 4G.

We were in what literally felt like paradise. We even had jazz versions of Christmas songs playing at one point; surreal, but why not fuse together the two really great things?

Last but not least...

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Queueing! This was much better than queuing at the bus stop, though.

Following such an incredible break, coming back to London wasn't a fun task. Not only was it 12 hours door-to-door and involved about five different modes of transport, but of course, it ended in the most British way possible: a rail replacement bus and drizzly rain. Classic. 

How to 'express sight-see'... and other things to do in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a city that ticks ALL my travelling boxes: tasty food, sea, beautiful buildings and mountains. You'd think this would be somewhere I would spend a week or two, but alas, financial obligations and annual leave allowance made it not so.

Thankfully, Barcelona is one of those cities you can hit up in a long weekend and still not miss out, if you're smart about your planning. Think of it like the capsule wardrobe of city breaks: so many combinations, but you can pretty much wear it all out in record time. Just make sure you hit these three pillars:

Food
Spanish food is one of my favourite cuisines and my trip to Barca did not disappoint. Over the course of three nights, we ate muchos tapas, drank muchos sangria and seafood was pretty much a staple at each meal. Weirdly though, the best patatas bravas came from an American diner in the town centre, rather than one of the many tapas bars. My personal fave was Spanish omelette with some sort of chorizo dish on the side, but the squid was ex-squid-site (heh heh) and I ordered calamari with most meals. 

On one of our afternoons, we trekked up Tibidabo and ate at a restaurant that overlooked the whole city. The view was AMAZING; you could see Montjuic, the sea, Sagrada Familia, and even the planes coming in and out of the airport... Although the Jardins del Turo del Putxet had great views of the city, too, this restaurant visit just pipped it!

Back firmly on street level, we went exploring one night and ended up in a mojito bar called Mamaine. Each mojoto came with unlimited salted popcorn (win for me, obvs, but I know what they were trying to do) and cute, relevant snacks to your cocktail. An example was a cookie mojito, which came with an actual cookie!

Inside Sagrada Familia

Inside Sagrada Familia

Beach
There's not much to say here, really, but as a seaside lover (hey, I'm a Londoner, and the Thames is no picturesque lake), it's definitely worth taking a trip to the beach. It was a first for me heading to the beach in a jumper, let alone in February, but thankfully, it wasn't cold at all. In fact, it was so mild, I had an ice cream. I even went sans tights at one point; not something you could ever do within the first six weeks of the year in England.

Sights and culture
Now for the main pillar.. and the longest, sorry! I promise the below is more than doable in two, or three, days!

Gaudi pretty much runs this town, amiright? His presence is felt throughout the city, despite having died a tram-related death almost 100 years ago. Most buildings feature his original designs, or are inspired by his work and, of course, the head honcho is the vast Sagrada Familia, which he not only designed, but is his final resting place, too. Despite still not being finished (Gaudi once quipped "my client [God] has all the time in the world"), the intricate architecture on the outside is astonishing and, inside, it is hands down the most beautiful church I have set foot in. 

Aside from the Sagrada Familia and those in Park Güell - which was quite close to our hotel, and lovely to walk around, even without entering the famous rooftop section - there are many beautiful buildings to admire when walking around the town. Some transpire to be simple shops, while others are just as magnificent wonders on the inside. Funnily enough, the city is also littered with weird and wonderful sculptures, which we noticed while on a bus tour (as you know, I love a sight seeing bus #busw*nker a la The Inbetweeners). It's worth checking out the smaller churches in the city too, as they are just as beautiful as city's crowning glory.

For good food and drink, walk down the famous La Rambla boulevard. It's popular with many tourists and locals, so keep an eye on your bag, don't buy the knock offs from the street vendors and maybe pop into the La Bogueria market hailed as one of the best food markets in DA WORLD. The smells are great, but unless you're in a B&B and can cook said delights, you'll leave sad and hungry. That's probably why there are so many food places so close by... they know what you want.

Another notable sight is the city's Arc de Triomf (personally, I prefer it to France's - the deep red and bulbous tips give it a kind of exotic, Mediterranean vibe). It's a little out of the way compared to the others. but just hop on Barcelona's tube service and you'll be there in no time. Explore Ciutadella Park and it's grand fountain, or stop for a sangria at a nearby bar to really make the trip worthwhile.

Gaudi-designed buildings

Gaudi-designed buildings

On the final night, we attended a Flamenco show. I have dabbled in learning the dance at various stages of my life, but my little toe-heel tap had nothing on these dancers. The fact that some of the guy's sweat *may* have entered the audience arena after a particularly vigorous spin speaks volumes as to how they were really going for it. The guitar playing was great, and it was an all-round, authentic, feel good evening.

The pros and cons of a spontaneous trip... and other things to do in Milan, Italy

Having started a new job, holiday allowance is in a much shorter supply than in my last place. Some might see that as a sign from the holiday Gods (or my bank account) to slow down on the holiday bookings... yeah, not today matey.

CLEARLY this means it is time to become one of those people that just dash off to the continent for the weekend instead, right?

A quick chat with my housemates, a Skyscanner search and an AirBnb message later, and our little trio were off to Milan. Wham bam thank-you ma'am. 

Now, I'm big on planning. I like a list, I like an itinerary; organizing is my thing. A spontaneous holiday isn't my usual kind of vibe, but, sometimes, you've gotta go with the flow.

The Duamo

The Duamo

Booking
Pros - Erm, GOING ON A FRIGGING HOLIDAY. And not one you've got to wait for two months to come around either. In less than three weeks, we would be on a plane, in a sunny foreign country with great food and a great culture. Some parts in Italy can seem a bit 'disheveled' - it is part of the charm though, and I love it - but Milan appears refined, pruned and modern throughout.

Another difference was the driving. It shocked me, as it was almost normal! If you've ever been to Rome, Naples, Amalfi, or any road in Italy for that matter, you'll know the madness that is an Italian driver. Crossing the road is usually like a dance with death, but not in Milano.  

The AirBnb was amazing too. It was very centrally located and our host was brilliant. My favourite room in a house is always a bathroom, and this one was top notch.

Cons - Booking a holiday in the same month you intend to travel does require some planning. One must remember that from one paycheck, you will need to pay for the following, at least:
- flights
- accommodation
- travel insurance
- transfers
- travel money
Yeah, I didn't take this into consideration. Whoops.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Being a Tourist
Pros - Obviously, everyone knows about the Duomo. It is absolutely beautiful, and looks breathtaking in white against a backdrop of blue sunny sky. The architecture is so intricate. Not pre-buying tickets and going inside actually worked out better as we had some time to chill out. Sitting in a cafe across the road from the Duomo allows an incredible view of the magnificent church, the piazza and surrounding palm trees and it gives a real holiday vibe one doesn't often get from a city break. 

Weirdly, we also visited a graveyard. The City of the Dead, which isn't in the centre of Milan, was eerie but incredibly cool. The graves are crafted statues that tell a story and go on for miles (okay, that's an exaggeration, but it is huge) and the church in the middle is very picturesque. It kind of feels a European version of the big temple in Brighton.

Not planning an itinerary had other pros too, as it allowed us to get lost and immersed in the city, We wouldn't have planned to see the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, filled with expensive designer shops, as it was definitely out of our price range. However, had we not wandered through after leaving the Duomo, we would have missed the incredibility ornate architecture of the building and amazingly artistic window displays. Being welcomed into a locked shop that sells products each worth thousands and thousands euros made me ambitious for that kind of lifestyle.

TOP TIP: Citymapper is a spontaneous traveler's best friend. We were able to get from place to place easily and quickly thanks to the routes on the app (and thanks to my flatmates actually have internet, unlike my phone!)
 
Cons - There were some downfalls to the lack of planning of this trip. When traveling, I don't like to miss out on seeing any notable sights of that country and, unfortunately, I had to do so with the original Leonardo Di Vinci's Last Supper painting. We went to the church and museum, but all slots were full for TWO WEEKS. We learned it is best to book online. Instead, we ate gelato at a little cafe that had a Last Supper print under the tele. Cute.

The spontaneity of the trip also resulted in some extra walking (and missing out on drinking!) in the evenings. As we hadn't fully planned bars to visit, we ended up bar hopping a lot on the Saturday night...without the bars. Google even led us to a club that had been turned into flats. Grr.

City of the Dead

City of the Dead

Food
There are actually no cons. what. so. ever. We drank at warm cafe bars by the canal, by the Duomo, in the sun, and ate the tastiest pizza and pasta. The herbs in Italy make the simplest dishes incredible. 

After eating a particularly tasty serving of pasta, we spotted an ice cream store that had a 15 minute long queue. What do you do when you see one of those? Join it, of course! The ice-cream combos were completely worth it and we indulged as we shuffle-jogged to the train station and hot footed it to the airport. 

Travel Buddies
For someone like me who likes to plan plan plan, being completely spontaneous can be a tad stressful. I am prone to still trying to have a little plan, I cannae help myself. Thankfully, I had great travel buddies - my housemates - so it was probably the least stressful trip I've been on in a while. Despite the stupid plane delays and mad dash through Gatwick Airport at 1:15 in the morning when we got home. We had great laughs, starting with the Girl on the Train (a very chatty, friendly and kind of crazy lady who we sat next to on the way to the airport) and it lasted throughout. And, obvs, we had an unspoken bathroom schedule that could rival Big Bang's Sheldon. 

What to do when it rains on holiday... and other things to do in Verona, Italy

Chances are your first dalliance with Verona was in a Year 7 English class as your poor teacher (probs literally, #teachersalary) tried desperately to take control of the classroom.

Fast forward a decade or so and, Sod's law, the one day that I'm gracing fair Verona, the weather is anything but "fair". I don't remember Shakespeare mentioning grey skies and rain drops in that Romeo and Juliet prologue...   

However, if you are in a city for a day, rain or shine, you've gotta make the most of it.

Hop on, hop off
My favourite way to see a new city is by sightseeing bus. Tickets are great value for money and, if the weather isn't top notch, you can see the sights while staying dry. The Verona tour gives an in depth explanation of the Old Town and New Town, and even takes you up into the hills, so you can gaze over a breathtaking view of the city below. Beautiful! 
 
Stuff yo' face
There's nothing more warm and satisfying than a full stomach. Just as you pass into the Old Town, a few 100 meters from the wall, there is a large piazza with many places to fill your boots. Gnocchi, pizza, pasta, all infused with the most delicious herbs... YUM. Each eatery has those clear plastic roofs, so you can eat outside for a proper holiday feel. 

Mooch around the New Town shops
I'm not a huge advocate of shopping on holiday (unless it's one of those shopping destinations that make those 'top things to see' lists!) as it's something you can already do at home. However, killing a few rainy hours in Italian stores ensure you stay dry, and you may even bag a one-off item that no one else at home has.

Juliet's balcony

Juliet's balcony

Day trips
Obvs, this won't work if you're actually already ON a day trip to Verona.

If you're in the city for a few days, grab a train to another destination for the day. Verona is just a train ride away from only other Italian cities and other countries too. No pre-bought tickets needed, just buy one on the day! Head to Venice, just an hour away, or grab your passport and head to Innsbruck, Austria, via a 3 and a 1/2 half hour ride. Ohmagawdddd, both are AMAZING to see. From water, to mountains, you'll see natural beauty at its finest. 

Take a leaf out of Big Willy's book
Nothing ever ran smoothly in Shakespeare's plays, did they? Embrace the weather and mad frizz that is BOUND to come with it. The arena is great to walk around by day, but for an incredible experience, try and catch an opera there by night. "I'm not a silver-spooned toff who watches operas!", I hear you cry, but trust me, it will be showstopping (hopefully not literally, due to rain).

Visit Juliet's balcony, which is in a courtyard, just off a picturesque main street. You can play at being the star-crossed lover, looking down at her Romeo below, and it's also said to be good luck to rub the boob of the statue in the courtyard. Judging by how shiny that area of the statue is, 'Meh Julie' has been getting a lot of action. There is a similar version in Prague with a male statue. Three guesses what you're meant to rub there...

The Juliet statue

The Juliet statue

Overall, I would say Verona feels very similar to the UK city of Bath.  Except, you know, with Italians and really tasty food. I would recommend a visit, but ideally as part of a larger trip; not as a stand alone destination. Soz, Bill...

How to survive a group holiday... and other things to do in Dublin, Ireland

As lovely as holidays are, they can be a right ballache to plan at the best of times. Now, factor in nine fun-loving, yet opinionated, 20- and 30-somethings and you've got yourself a potential recipe for disaster... or for a shit load of fun!

Myself and eight other friends headed just across the way to the land of Guinness, leprechauns and men with hot accents: Dublin for St Paddy's Day! What a better way to show respect to the patron saint of Ireland than in the capital city itself?

Here's how to make the best memories with your friendship group and survive a big group holiday without wanting to kill your buddies (because that would really put a downer on the holiday):

Book an AirBnb
I love staying in hotels when travelling, but you really can't beat an AirBnb for a group holiday. For a start, the cost of an AirBnb is likely to come in cheaper than a hotel room when divided between each person, but is way more luxurious than a hostel dorm.

You'll have the whole place to your group, so needn't worry about waking up in time for the served breakfast (or about what constitutes as a 'continental breakfast'), nor being too loud late into the night. Even better, if you wake before everyone else, there is a communal living room you can head to, rather than lying quietly in bed, trying - and failing - to use your phone on the dimmest light setting.

Accept that problems will occur
A holiday is not a military operation; the holiday plans won't run smoothly, no matter how intricately you've planned. We had a fairly successful approach that involved one of the most organised of our friendship group doing the majority of planning (thank you!!) while asking us to vote on specific things and also delegating tasks some tasks, such as trains to and from the airport, and tourist activities.

As smooth as this operation was, a few things easily threw the plans, for example, me being unable to fly on the same day as everyone else. I'm pretty sure this annoyed my friend a little, but it was unavoidable and she was absolutely fine about it once we were all there. Accept some elements will be beyond your control, especially as you are dealing with a group of independent adults and find the solution between you. 

Do what you want to do...
... within reason! Now, I'm not saying be a selfish cow, but do recognise that you're in a different place and need to make the most of it. Also, remember IT IS OKAY TO DO THINGS SEPARATELY. Out of our group of nine, just three of us went on the sightseeing bus tour of Dublin. You will still create amazing memories this way; I will never forget sitting on the cold March pavement outside Croke Park, eating a takeaway fry up like chavs, while joking around with my friends. Word of warning, the Croke Park stop on the Citysightseeing Bus Tour is just within the grounds. We took blaaady ages to find it. 

After a cool whistle-stop tour of the city, your ticket will also get you a free Guinness in an authentic Irish pub. The pub had a great vibe and we then headed to another underground bar with live music. SO GOOD! I even got to see the pretty Ha'penny Bridge I had read about.

...But also come together once a day!
Our whole group ensured we spent some time together each day. We were usually brought together by alcohol and we had some great nights out over the long weekend. St Patrick's Day was spent in the infamous Temple Bar area and there was such a good atmosphere. Everyone was friendly, the drinks were good and the music made you feel as if you were part of the Irish community. 

In keeping with the alcohol theme, we all headed to the Guinness Factory on the 18th March (the day after St Paddy's Day). Hmmm, perhaps we should have foreseen the huge amounts of tourists who'd had the same idea as us... However, the factory put on some great entertainment while we were in the queue: there were circus acts, tap dancers and even a face painter. I'm sure we were in the queue for over an hour, but it FLEW by.

The staff were just as friendly and accommodating in the factory itself. The tickets included a free pint of Guinness, which I didn't love, so the barman happily offered me a Guinness Prosecco mix, free of charge. The bar area also had a dance show on, where they taught punters a specific dance and they performed to the room. Honestly, this place is far more than a museum and highly recommended.

The Guinness Factory

The Guinness Factory

Step back and enjoy each other's company
Work and life usually get in the way of spending extended quality time spent with your friends. A group holiday is the perfect place to enjoy each other's company, free from time restraints. As mentioned earlier, AirBnb's are perfect for bonding, laughter and great memories (lol, super cheesy). We played Cards Against Humanity, Twister, and other games, for hours on end and it was flipping fantastic.

Of course, there will always be little things that will gripe you when on holiday with a large group, but the great memories farrrr outweigh these little grumbles.  

How to avoid cheese in Italy... and other things to do in Rome, Italy

No, I don't like it in sauce; no, I don't like it on pizza; no, I don't like it in cakes. Yes, I'm aware there are different types of cheese; yes, I have tried some recently. We good?

People seem unable to believe that I detest the taste of cheese. They proceed to reel off a list of every. single. possible. way. to cook cheese, just to triple check.

What I do love, however, is the city of Rome, which just so happens to be situated in a country famous for majorly cheesing up their dishes.

Here is a little guide to eating cheese-free in this incredible city if you, like me, are a cheese-o-phobe, or if you're just cutting down on the smelly blocks from hell. 

Pizza 
I'm not sure I can trust people who don't know how to season food properly. A dash of salt and pepper will never cut it; if I wanted bland, I'd grab a jar of baby food. But boyyyy, do the Italian's know how to season their food. The Marinara, a simple tomato and garlic pizza, engulfs the taste buds in just one bite. The herbs are mouthwateringly delicious. Watch out for the places that pop anchovies on top though, it's super weird. 

We frequented a small pizzeria near where we stayed, close to the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. Santa Maria Maggiore has a sightseeing bus stop outside and we used it to get around the city. GENIUS, I TELL YOU. After buying a 48-hour pass, we could get to all the sights and back to our hotel, too. We didn't once step foot on public transport until our last day, in order to get to the airport.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Mussels (and other seafood) 
Italy may be famous for its pizza and pasta, but their seafood tastes pretty damn good too. I'd recommend fresh mussels, but I know that's not everyone's bag.

After we filled our gills (lol), we soldiered through our marathon sightseeing day with high energy. We started at the Colosseum (more below), and then jumped back on the sightseeing bus, headed for the Trevi Fountain. I'd wanted to see the fountain for absolute ages and, thankfully, I got to see it and make my wish before the restoration started. 

From the Trevi Fountain, you can walk to the Spanish Steps, via the Pantheon. All breathtaking architecture that you MUST see when you visit Rome. I still had pizza left over so snacked, post-dinner, while sat on the Spanish Steps.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Get your caffeine hit
Okay, so the weirdest thing about Rome is how casual they are about their amazing history. I mean, the Colosseum is literally in the middle of a roundabout. People casually just on their way to work, driving (and crashing - they be cray, these Roman drivers) around the world-famous Colosseum. Probably cursing about how hard it is to pull off, back onto the main road, like us normal folk.

After you've headed in, looked around and been transported back to the battle times past, grab a coffee at a nearby cafe. Choose one a few hundred meters away from the Colosseum itself, so you can look out onto the bit of history you've just got to touch. The coffee will slide down your throat and hit you like no other cuppa before. Your history class never made you feel so alive!

Gelato
The gelato in Rome is to die for. I'm talking MELT IN YOUR MOUTH, like butter in a hot pan. Like Michael Buble's voice. Like warm pee in the snow. Like your landlord trying to get out of fixing your boiler. Like... basically, smooth AF. 

Grab a cone in the famous square, Piazza Navona, and lap up your surroundings. Selfie in front of the fountain and try not to think about that scene in Angels and Demons where the priest is nearly drowned in said fountain. There's no Tom Hanks here and the gelato isn't literally to die for - I just mean it's frigging fantastic. 

Last, but not least, pasta!
Head down to Vatican City early on a Sunday, or Wednesday, to watch the Pope's address. Even for those less religious, there's something tranquil about hearing the Pope speak in the holy city. In addition, it's free and it's outdoors, so you can top up your tan while getting blessed.  

After the crowds disband, head on into the museums. I promise you, you will never see such incredible art elsewhere. The views ain't that bad, either... My mum says she gets super tired at the end of a day like this, because her brain can't comprehend the beauty she's seen. This is 100% one of those kinds of places. The museums are set upon beautiful grounds and the art throughout the 2 hour walk are beyond belief. Even the ceilings are intricately designed with gold and paint! I will say though, the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel is a little smaller than anticipated (a feeling I'm sure a few of you can relate to...lolololol); the rest of the museum has pieces just as great, if not better. This didn't stop us kneeling down, ever so slyly, and taking a photo though - whoops!

We ate pasta in the Vatican Museum's canteen. Yes, even without the waiter-grated cheese on top, it tasted bloody marvelous. Rich and filling, you know that spag bol sauce definitely did not come out of a jar, so say yes to the bread bowl and mop up the last of that tasty sauce.

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Rome is the first Italian city I visited and will always hold a special place in my heart. The vias are charming and it is a city full of culture. You'll fall in love, faster than the speeding cars on their streets.

Why it's okay to be single in the city of love... and other things to do in Paris, France

Ooh la la, Paris. The city of romance, couples and all things lurrrrrve… which is all good and well, unless you’re single and your significant other is a cat/work/bottle of gin.

Well, fellow singletons, don’t be put off by these connotations of the French capital; after just one visit, you’ll start your life-long love affair with the city itself.

I’ve been single both times I’ve been to Paris. My first trip was in 2009, looking oh-so glamourous, and then again, backpacking with my best friend, looking oh-so not. I stepped off the train into Gare du Nord station each time with the kind of butterflies you usually get from seeing a really fit man across the platform (which I probably did, to be fair). I’ve definitely found my future home in the city of love. Think London, but more.

If you’re after a trip less Amelie and more Monster in Paris (SPOILER ALERT: still has a lovey-dovey ending, but you know what I'm getting at), read on…

Eiffel Tower (duh)
Obviously, swooning over the Eiffel Tower is THE thing to do in Paris. You don’t need a proposing fella to warrant visiting the city’s biggest attraction; it's crawling with families, lone-travellers and other non-coupley combos. During the day, the views are beautiful. The green gardens roll below and the Seine looks vast. For height-phobes (like myself), the second floor is just high enough to appreciate the city below, but not high enough for a little bit of wee to come out when you step off the lift.

Every evening at dusk, the Eiffel Tower becomes an incredible light show, set to music blaring out industrial-sized speakers. Too romantic, you ponder? HA! The annoying touts trying to sell you cheap wine, or get you to fill in their survey (don’t do it, they try and make YOU pay for taking part), kill any romantic vibes.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Pastries

Tesco’s four packs have nothing on proper, fresh croissants. Wrap your lips around a warm croissant from any residential bakery and you’ll be transported to a sepia-coloured, accordion-playing, striped-top world in an instance.

Champs-Elysees
Speaking of lips, Parisians are synonymous with their red lipstick. Coat your smackers with some rouge, mingle with the locals and head on down to Champs-Elysees. You will shop til you DROP. Making it rain with Euros. Yes, it would be nice to have a BF and spend his mullah, but it’s the 21st century, ladies. Sistas doing it for themselves.

The shopping haven isn’t far from the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre either, so you can crawl around after you’ve dropped from shopping and get some insta-worthy snaps. Your feet won’t love you, but your followers will. Top tip: listen to your mum and pack a comfortable pair of flats.

Outside the Louvre

Outside the Louvre

The sass queen
And by that, I mean da Vinci’s renowned piece of art, Mona Lisa. Her smile is pretty much the smug emoji, amiright? Take inspo from her, and other world-class paintings in the Lourve, and own your singledom in the city of love.

The area outside of the Lourve is just as incredible as the artwork inside the building. Filled with glass pyramids and fountains, it is absolutely beaut and a must-see.

Parting words of wisdom
Don’t stay in a hostel while you stay in Paris. I’m not one of those people who turn their noses up at hostels; they can be the perfect, low cost alternative to hotels. You can get clean, private rooms. However, let’s just say Parisians are the epitome of sophistication and chic, but this DOES NOT extend to their hostels. Eughhh.   

Hostels aside, Paris is the perfect city for couples, singletons or families. You can get from London to Paris, via the Eurostar, in the same time it takes to travel from one end of the Piccadilly line to the other. For a cheaper alternative, you can fly. Now, that is love.

Avoiding frostbite... and other things to do in Prague, Czech Republic

January is pretty quiet in Prague; even the tourist areas attract little queues and there is a stillness about the place. There are so many things to see and do, but how do you comfortably go about in -8 degrees with your friend who is convinced her face has been wind burnt? 

Taxi drivers = unsuspecting tour guides
Make friends/buddies/pals with your taxi driver. Our driver (nicknamed "Chiwi", much to his delight, as he was half Czech, half Kiwi), gave us some good intel on a club (indoors!) that had naked men with tattoos on one floor and fire breathing on another. It was just a shame he was our driver on the way home. Damn it.

LAYERS
Sounds obvious, but WRAP THE HELL UP. I definitely do not have a head for hats, but I'm talking the bobbliest hat, the longest scarf and the thickest gloves. Oh, and thermal underwear. If you're feeling more Mr Bean's Holiday and less Audrey and her headscarf, style it out with some lippy. Future you, stood at the top of the Astronomical Clock (also known as Old Town Hall Tower), or Petrin Tower, will be soooo thankful.

    Jewish Quarter

    Jewish Quarter

    Remember: ice is slippery AF
    Speaking of the Petrin Tower, do not, I repeat DO NOT, hike up Petrin Hill in the snow unless you are a trained hiker, or wish to die an ice-related death. TBH, it would be a pretty place to die, near the top of the hill, looking upon all the red roof tops below, but ya know...

    We decided to cure my friend's minor allergic reaction to grapefruit by walking up the hill in cool air, instead of grabbing the little train near most Legil (one bridge down from Charles Bridge). So much for "fresh air"; 15 minutes later, we were all holding our breaths. Every movement on the increasingly icy accent could mean slipping right back down, flat on our arses. "Okay, ladies now let's get in formation" took on a whole new meaning: formation was link arms and stand with your feet pointing out like a penguin to hinder sliding on the ice. A further 45 minutes later and we made it. Google Maps, you liar, it was not only five more minute to the top.

    Climbing up Petrin Hill

    Climbing up Petrin Hill

    Food
    Prague in winter is like one big Christmas market when it comes to food. Our favourite haunt across the weekend was a stall opposite the Astronomical Clock selling mulled wine for 29 czk/90p and Trdelník (a warm Czech doughnut type pastry) for 59 czk/£1.80. So warming and exactly the sustenance you need to break up a cold day's sightseeing.  

    Snack breaks aside, Prague's cuisine is proper comfort food. Goulash - a beef stew served in a bread bowl - dumplings, roasted duck and schnitzel appear on most menus. You can eat indoors like a sane person, or brave the outdoors like you would on a warmer holiday, armed with provided heaters and blankets . While the alcohol is far cheaper in Prague, the food is around a similar price to that in the UK.  

    Architecture
    There are so many beautiful buildings in the city. Don't just Instagram the outside; venture inside the buildings, if you can. As well as being marginally warmer, the architecture can be just as intricate, and the history just as rich. Venture into:

    • The Old New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, the oldest preserved synagogue in Europe.
    • The Castle District, which has many indoor sections to explore, including St Vitus' Cathedral and Golden Lane.
    Golden Lane

    Golden Lane

    I would 100% recommend Prague as a city break and I would definitely make a return trip or two (or three)! Cheap alcohol, beautiful sights and a great vibe during winter AND summer; what's not to love?