A Quick Trip to Hadrian’s Wall

A Quick Visit to Hadrian's Wall // Amy Elizabeth

I studied Classics as an undergraduate, and it’s still one of my true loves. Give me some Greek myths or a bit of Roman history and I’m happy. My focus has always been on the literature and history, rather than architecture and archaeology, but I do love me a good ruin. So when we happened to be just minutes away from Hadrian’s Wall when staying in Newcastle this weekend, I couldn’t resist the chance to check it out. 

Roman Britain has never captured my imagination the way that Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece have; it always seemed a bit bleak and cold (which I think it probably was) and rather than poison rooms, incest and intrigue, the history we learnt about our more direct ancient ancestors was mostly just warring with the Scots and painting ourselves blue. So far, so very British, right? That said, there are some impressive ruins and landmarks in the UK; the Roman Palace at Fishbourne was one of my favourite ever school trips.

I wouldn’t say that Hadrian’s Wall joins the ranks of the most exciting day trips you can take; what was once probably a pretty impressive wall is now more of a pile of old stones (or at least, it was in the section that we saw). That said, there is always a bit of a thrill knowing that people have been standing where you stood for almost 2000 years. It’s no mean feat to build something that lasts that long, so it does deserve a bit of reverence. It’s supposed to be an amazing walk to follow the whole thing, although at 174 miles it was a bit much to contemplate on a slight post-wedding hangover

After the obligatory posed photo, we wandered back to Heddon-on-the-Wall for a drink and eventually back to our cottage for a slap up roast dinner cooked by yours truly – so all in all, it was a rather cosy and wholesome day. And that’s one more thing ticked off the bucket list! Are there any places that you’d really like to see in the UK? I’m still yet to visit the Roman Baths in, well, Bath, and I’d love to do the Harry Potter train journey

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My USA East Coast Trip Bucket List

new york

It’s just two weeks until we head out to the States for our honeymoon, and we couldn’t be more excited! We’ve got all our travel and accommodation booked, but we’ve left our days free. I’m not usually very good at spontaneity, but I think this will be good for me! There are a few things I don’t want to miss, though… 

Walk the High Line 

I’ve heard so much about the High Line, and I’m excited to see it for myself! The High Line is a public park built on top of a historic rail line on Manhattan’s West Side, and is full of beautiful design, architecture and gardens. It’s a pretty cool concept, and seems like a fun way to while away an afternoon before heading to Chelsea Market for some food. 

Top of the Rock 

Last time I went to New York, we did the whole Empire State Building thing, which was pretty impressive (understatement of the year…). This time around, I want to take a trip to the Top of the Rock instead, because, of course, when you’re on top of the Empire State Building, you can’t see it! Plus, my love for 30 Rock makes me want to run around the Rockefeller Centre quoting Liz Lemon, which I won’t do lest Paul divorce me on our honeymoon, but I think admiring the view is the next best thing. Either way, I want to go to there. 

Go to a Rooftop Bar 

Is there anything more glamorous than a rooftop bar in New York? Or indeed, in any of the cities we’re planning to visit. This is our honeymoon, after all, and although we’re not particularly fancy people, we can definitely go for a swish cocktail or two whilst looking out over such a gorgeous city. This is an absolute must-do! 

statue of liberty

Catch a Game 

We’re lucky enough to be visiting some friends whilst we’re in Philadelphia, and they’re taking us to a baseball game – New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies. So, this one is a bit of a cheat for this list, since it’s already booked, but I am still psyched about it. Baseball games are such a big part of American pop culture, and I’m excited to see one for myself – even if I won’t know what on earth is going on – and to get myself a pile of stadium-style nachos. Go Phillies! 

See a Show 

I wanted to book a Broadway show in advance, but the cost seems ridiculously prohibitive. I’ve heard from so many people that it’s worth popping into the theatre on the day to see if you can grab a deal, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. I love a musical at the best of time, but on Broadway? Fuhgetaboutit! And, if worst comes to worst, we’ll just head to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for the next best thing… 

Try Some Food Trucks 

The best part of holidays is always the food, right? And I’m pretty sure that we’re going to get to gorge ourselves on some of the best food of our lives over the fortnight. I want real New York pizza. I want dirty burgers. I want lobster (no change there). And I want to check out the street food scene across the pond. I’ve already got a few in mind to try and track down, but when it comes to street food, I really can be spontaneous! 

Learn Something 

Last, but no means least! We’re going to some pretty historic places in the USA – Boston and Washington DC in particular – so it would be a waste not to pick up a little American History. I’m not super-touristy in that sense, I’m not fussed about museums but I think the Freedom Trail in Boston will be high on our list, and you can’t visit DC without at least seeing The White House!

I’d love to know your recommendations for Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Hit me! 

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Our Copenhagen Trip

copenhagen grafitti

After the wedding, we took a little trip to Copenhagen for a few days. I’d heard so much about the city, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. It was a hipster’s paradise with bikes, beards and craft beer everywhere – like Leeds on a much bigger, better scale! 

copenhagen park

We stayed in a gorgeous airbnb apartment on the edge of Vesterbrø, and spent our days hopping from cafe to restaurant to bar and back again. It was exactly what we wanted and needed. I won’t bore you with a detailed itinerary of our trip, but if you are planning on heading to the city and are feeling a bit lost, these are the best things we did whilst there: 

Torvehallerne 1

Torvehallerne – half-filled with market stalls of fresh produce, half-filled with stalls and vans with street food ready to munch on right there, it’s a great place to while away a few hours and try something a bit different! 

copenhagen street food

Copenhagen Street Food – the coolest place I’ve probably ever been. Right on the water, this warehouse is crammed full of different street food vans and bars serving up beer and cocktails. We sat in the sunshine outside in deck chairs, munched on massive burgers and drank G&Ts. Oh, and we got to play with a pug that belonged to the people sat next to us. Amazing.  

copenhagen street food sign

Sticks’n’Sushi – our fanciest treat of the week. This restaurant is at the top of the Tivoli Hotel, with fantastic views, and serves up absolutely fantastic sushi. Definitely worth splurging on, if only so you can sit on their swings and watch the sun set after your meal. 

little mermaid

The Little Mermaid – she looks a little bit sad, but as one of the main tourist attractions, you have to at least pay her a visit! 

Kødbyen – okay, maybe this is the coolest place I’ve ever been! Copenhagen’s meat-packing district transforms at night to a total hipster paradise, with uber-cool restaurants, bars and clubs full of the young, beautiful and bearded. We stopped at War Pigs where they serve up craft beers from taps in the wall, and piles of barbecue food on trays, but Mother is also supposed to be amazing. Definitely not one to miss if you’re in the city over the weekend. 

Mikkeller – more craft beer, if that’s a surprise! This cute little bar is tucked away below street level and serves up a selection of their own brews. It’s a bit rough around the edges, with wooden tables and little decoration, but if you’re a beer aficionado then you’ll love it! 

hot dog

Foderbrættet – right on the main street in Vesterbrø, this bar serves up delicious hot dogs and glasses of champagne, and not a lot else. It’s an unusual combination – the fanciest drink with one of the least-fancy foodstuffs – but it works. This was our first stop once we’d settled into our apartment, and that first glass of champagne was very welcome! 

tivoli gardens

Tivoli Gardens – you can’t come to Copenhagen and not go to Tivoli Gardens. A delightful little theme park in the centre of the city, full of magical nooks and crannies housing unusual plants, wildlife (we saw peacocks!) as well as cotton candy stalls and restaurants for bigger meals. It’s wonderful to walk around, and I’m sure even better if you like rides! Definitely worth a visit at least once. 

tivoli gardens 2

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Edinburgh

edinburgh 9

What can I say about Edinburgh? I am totally head over heels with Edinburgh. It might be my favourite city ever, although it’s too soon to tell. Full of beautiful buildings, ancient pubs hidden down secret alleyways and cobbled streets. You can’t help but stumble across years of history, on places where secret trysts were made, deals done and promises broken. It feels like a place where dramatic things happen.

It’s no wonder that JK Rowling was so inspired here and you can see the influence that Edinburgh has on Harry Potter. At times, it felt like we were strolling down Diagon Alley, or popping into The Three Broomsticks. We found ourselves tucked into the back of The Elephant House cafe where Harry Potter was penned. As a lifelong fan, it was vaguely thrilling although the ordinariness of the cafe was perhaps a disappointment. Or it was, until I went to the bathroom… Pushing open the door to the ladies toilet you are confronted with a cacophony of graffiti, proclaiming their dedication to the story, to the characters and to the author. I felt myself tear up imagining how that must feel, to have your art touch so many people so profoundly. Whilst it may not be ‘high’ art (although, who decides…), there is something so magical about that.

It was just a weekend, but what a weekend! We stayed in the most beautiful apartment. The owner clearly has impeccable taste, the art on the walls was perfectly curated, the bookshelves were filled to the brim with classic and modern literature, the chandelier hung over a long table with mis-matched chairs perfect for debating politics and art over too many glasses of red wine and a dish of something garlick-y. Oh, and the bed was in a box. We sat by the fireplace, jazz music on the CD player and looked out over the Royal Mile. To think we paid almost the same for a Premier Inn last time we came is comically tragic.

edinburgh 1

On the first night we joined Emma and Matt for dinner at Ondine, a swanky seafood restaurant found just a stone’s throw from the Royal Mile. Far from the ancient pubs steeped in history, this was a swanky place with proper napkins and an extensive (and expensive) wine list. It’s not often that you get to dine in Edinburgh, though, so lobster was the order of the day and we finished the meal with whisky to celebrate Burn’s Night. Not your usual haggis, neeps and tatties celebration, but it felt fitting. Since we were dressed up to the nines, cocktails at the next-door Hotel Missoni was the only logical step – it was achingly stylish, the drinks were potent but I think I preferred drinking champagne in the apartment afterwards…

edinburgh 4 edinburgh 3 edinburgh 2

edinburgh 6 edinburgh 5

The next day was a day for exploration, for wandering aimlessly through Old Edinburgh in search of curiosities and curios. The weather was incredibly kind – although freezing cold it was bright and clear for most of the day so our wandering was pleasant rather than arduous. I think my favourite find was a bookshop filled to the rafters with second-hand books, crammed into corridors that you could spend hours browsing. It felt like something from a Dickens novel, with that overwhelming ‘old book’ smell and no rhyme or reason to the shelves other than a vague commitment to the alphabet.

edinburgh 7 edinburgh 10

edinburgh 11

I want to give you recommendations of the places we stumbled across, but it doesn’t feel right when I don’t know the city well enough. However, if you do want to follow in our footsteps, lunch at Mussel & Steak Bar was hearty and wholesome, Caffe Lucano allowed me to combine my love for hot chocolates and limoncello (not in the same cup, but in the same visit…) whilst affording excellent people-watching opportunities, and Holyrood 9a served us epic burgers in stylish settings that wouldn’t be out of place in hipster Leeds.

edinburgh 12 edinburgh 13

edinburgh 15

It’s hard to look back on holidays with any sense of detachment. After waiting so long for this weekend, I left feeling a bit deflated. Not only was I back to work with a bang (and on my birthday of all days) but having been ill on the last day I couldn’t squeeze every last drop out of Edinburgh as I had wanted. Looking back now, though, it feels like it was perfect. Perhaps it was a mix of the two – but there’s no denying that Edinburgh is always going to be close to my heart and top of my holiday wish list.

Oh and we got engaged, so there’s that…

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How to Do Iceland On A Budget

iceland waterfall

Oh Iceland, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. I have been rabbiting on about Iceland to anyone who will listen for this whole week, and my Icelandic word vomit shows no sign of abating soon. I want everyone to go to Iceland and experience an amazing holiday, just like I did, so I thought I would address one of they key concerns when it comes to this beautiful country: cost.

Iceland is renowned as an expensive country; since it has to import pretty much everything, things can get a little pricey. But, whilst the average price of a pint in a Reykjavik bar will rival those fancy London prices, it doesn’t have to be extortionate to go on holiday there. For the sake of an example, this is what I spent on my four-night trip to Iceland:

  • Return Flight (Manchester – Keflavik) = £93.32
  • Accommodation = £95.50
  • Bag = £14.00
  • Airport Parking = £8.12
  • Car Hire = £41.05
  • Walkie Talkies (essential) = £4.54
  • Petrol = £16.76
  • Alcohol at Duty-Free = £18.00
  • Groceries = £30.00
  • Meal Out in Vegamot = £35.00
  • Coffee in Cafe Stofan = £4.00
  • Drink & Sushi in Koffin = £8.00
  • Drink and Mozzarella Sticks in Lebowski Bar = £8.00
  • Hot Dog at Bajaerinns = £2.50
  • Blue Lagoon = £50.18

Some of those are kind of guestimates based on the exchange rate, but overall I spent around the £400 mark for four nights, which is about what I’d expect to spend anywhere. And don’t get me wrong, this was no back-packing, hostelling trip. Our accommodation was pure luxury (just take a look), we spend most nights drinking wine in the hot tub and at no point did I feel like I was missing out due to money concerns. So, how can you do the same?

group in iceland

1. Go in a Group

I love group holidays. I know they’re not for everyone, but I can honestly say that if it had just been Paul and I on this trip, it wouldn’t have been half as good. It would have also been twice (or thrice) as expensive.

Splitting the cost is a big factor when it comes to a group holiday. Having an eight-way split made the accommodation, car hire, petrol, groceries and airport parking all seem like a steal. Collectively, we spent a lot but when it was broken down into such small parts, it made the whole thing incredibly affordable.

We hired our cars from Greenmotion, and I’d definitely recommend using them if you’re looking to do the same. They were cheap, but there was no scrimping on holiday. The lovely man who greeted us at the airport was actually a Leeds United fan, which is a bit of a strange coincidence, especially since none of us Leeds residents are! But other than that fun fact, the cars were affordable, sturdy and low carbon. Absolute winner. We travelled over 1000km in the four days that we were there, so having a good car is a definite must.

our view

2. Cook for Yourself

We hired our house from airbnb, and not only was it the most beautiful home I have ever stayed in, as well as having an open fire and a hot-tub on site, it also meant that we could cook for ourselves and cut down on the costs of eating out. We did go for one lovely meal on our last night, as well as for a few snacks out and about, but really I didn’t spend much more on food than I would when I’m home here in Leeds.

If you do take this option, especially if you’re staying somewhere more rural, make sure you pay attention to supermarket opening times because you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food! Bonus is the main supermarket, as far as I can tell, with a few branches in Reykjavik as well as some scattered around in the sticks. They also have a website where you can check locations and opening times.

open fire

3. Buy Alcohol at Duty-Free

Keflavik airport is one of the only ones in the world which has duty-free on your way in to the country, as well as on the way out. And actually, the one on the way in is much bigger and fancier. This is because alcohol is so expensive in the country, and can only be purchased at special government-controlled shops (and bars and restaurants, obvs) rather than in supermarkets. What?!

So stock up in duty-free and save yourself the expense and the hassle. We actually ended up buying way too much and had to leave a bunch of lager at the house for the next people to enjoy. So even if you buy your full allowance, you’ll probably be fine! I just popped my half-finished bottle of gin in my suitcase – there’s no situation where gin doesn’t win.

4. Go Off-Season

Iceland doesn’t really have an off-season but there’s no denying that it’s a bit more appealing in summer – the weather is better and you’re less likely to be trapped in a snow drift. We went at the end of September/early October, which made the flights cheaper. It was pretty nippy, and the week after we went the country was covered in snow, but you don’t exactly go to Iceland to sunbathe, do you? Plus, you’re more likely to see the Northern Lights between September and January. Do a bit of research on when flights are cheapest and you could end up bagging yourself a bargain.

5. Do Your Research

Buy yourself a guidebook and be savvy about where you eat out and what attractions you go to. If you’re on a budget, doing you research on whether particular attractions are value for money or not can help you decide your itinerary in advance and mean you’re not disappointed.

We used our guidebook and a book of restaurants picked up from the tourist shop in Reykjavik to decide where to eat on our last night. A little bit of Googling for menus and some cross-referencing later, we’d picked a restaurant which was delicious but didn’t break the bank. Well worth the little bit of extra effort.

geysirs

6. Take Advantage of the Free Attractions

Everything in Iceland feels like a tourist attraction. It’s so different from anywhere I’ve ever been or seen, so just driving along the road has you cooing and stopping to take pictures. However, many of the ‘real’ tourist attractions are free to visit so you can have your fill without spending a penny (so to speak). We didn’t pay a thing to visit The Golden Circle attractions (Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir), all of which were amazing and which took up a full day of sight-seeing. Wandering the streets of Reykjavik is also free, and the best bargain of the holiday was the hot dog at Baejerinns – it was cheap as chips and you’ll be craving it for weeks afterwards.

blue lagoon

6. Splurge Where It Counts

You might only go to Iceland once in your life, so don’t forget to have a little fun! The Blue Lagoon is pricey and is a known tourist-trap but it is so worth the money. A little tip though – you probably don’t need to pay the extra for the dressing gown! If I was to go back, I’d also love to splash out and have a meal at Fish Market. The menu looked dreamy and when we walked past the restaurant it was super stylish; sadly, the group’s budget concerns came first!

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Iceland Photo Diary

iceland 2

Oh, Iceland. You were everything I wished for and more, so much more. I want to write poems about your majestic beauty and live inside your Scandinavian houses for ever more. Truly, Iceland is the place that the Romantics talked about when they wrote of nature’s phenomenal power. It defies description, at least at my hand. Landscapes which look like alien planets, with steam shooting up from the ground every which way you look. Impressive waterfalls which make you question the meaning of life. And amongst all that, a stylish, cultured city which will capture your heart and leave you wanting so much more.

iceland 3

It’s safe to say that after just five days in Iceland, I was totally smitten. We packed a lot in to our little trip, hitting all of the sights of the Golden Circle as well as a few extras pointed out by our gracious host. We spent a luxurious afternoon in the Blue Lagoon – which is worth every penny, even if most guidebooks claim that it’s a tourist trap – and meandered the streets of Reykjavik, which just might be my favourite city. I want to write reams and reams about Iceland, tell you everything that we did and saw but the photos rather speak for themselves. I’ve got a post planned on Friday which will give you some tips and tricks for doing Iceland on a budget – for it is a notoriously overpriced country to visit – and reveal my favourite things from the trip, but for now I’ll just let you soak all of this wonder in:

gulfoss

Hanging out at Gulfoss

geysir 2

crater

drowning pool

The pool where they used to drown women for incest/witchcraft/etc.

thingvellir

Just chilling between two continental plates (!) at Thingvellir

guerilla knitting in reykjavik

Guerilla knitting in Reykjavik. Just one of the many reasons I love this city.

hot dogs in reykjavik

Enjoying some Icelandic hot dogs from Bill Clinton’s favourite van…

blue lagoon

The Blue Lagoon – it really is as good as the pictures!

all the gang

All the gang at the Lebowski Bar – no homophobes, racists, sexists or assholes allowed in according to the sign outside! Yep, another reason to love Reykjavik. That, and the fact that a newspaper that I picked up had the headline ‘The Gender Pay Gap Widens :(‘. These people get me.

northern lights

Oh, these? Just some Northern Lights.

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Barcelona Tips and Tricks

Sleeping

We stayed at the Silken Diagonal Hotel, and as you can see it was absolutely beautiful. Totally luxurious, with large windows surveying Barcelona, a gorgeous roof terrace and bar with a little pool, and glass walls to the en suite showers. And, of course, the ever essential air conditioning which worked flawlessly. The service was excellent, and the hotel was really perfectly placed for exploring Barcelona. A two minute walk (if that) to the Metro, and only four stops from Las Ramblas. Next door was the Torre Agbar building, which is like the Gherkin during the day but at night is all lit up red and blue, and just down the road from the Glories shopping centre – perfect for browsing Zara and picking up a crepe for breakfast. Plus, it’s the hotel in this advert:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbwDOlLgnmo”]

That said, if I was to visit again, I would book an apartment (probably from Go with Oh, I can’t vouch myself, but friends have used the service with success and the apartments look brilliant). It was wonderful to stay somewhere where the bed was made for me every day, but I missed having a kitchen, and a bit of relaxing space for when you’ve got time to kill. Barcelona is not overly expensive, although not cheap, but eating out at every meal can get expensive. Being able to make lunch or breakfast would have meant that we could have ate out at the more expensive restaurants in the evenings, or just had more where we did eat!

 Eating 

The best meal of the holiday was definitely at Cafe De L’Academia. The guidebook suggested booking, but we managed to sneak the last table without a booking. It could not have been more perfect – so if I were you I would book so you are not disappointed (or you can eat at the bar). We sat in a little square in Barri Gotic, lit by candles and serenaded by buskers sat on the steps of the church opposite all night. Perfectly cooked steak and a beautiful pear, rocket and parmesan salad were definite highlights of the holiday. At 3 courses each and a bottle of wine at 80 euros, it didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny.

The other restaurant which stands out for me was Bo, off’ve the Avenue Diagonal, in the Gracia region of Barcelona. Again situated in a little square, a bit of the beaten track – have the mussels (the biggest I’ve ever seen), and the prawns in garlic oil. The service was excellent, the waiters were very friendly and relaxed! Afterwards, we walked back the the Metro via Petrus Soul Bar where I had the strongest Tequila Sunrise I’ve ever had – definitely worth the 8 euros!

Other than that, I would skip the patatas bravas (usually piled with mayonnaise rather than alioli – boo!). And you should definitely eat some Crema Catalana – a Catalan version of creme brulee with cinnamon and orange flavours (although I swear I could usually taste nutmeg as well). Absolutely gorgeous. I will be trying to recreate it, and posting my efforts soon!

 Visiting 

 By far and away the best tourist site we visited was Mercat De La Boqueria – the massive marketplace just off Las Ramblas (get off at Liceu). It is a pure cacophony of beautiful sights, sounds and smells (apart from the fish stalls!). Fresh juice in an exciting mixture of flavours, the best of which being Strawberry and Pineapple in my opinion, for only 1 euro. Whole legs of Iberian ham for near on 100 euros. And everything in between. Every kind of meat and fish that you can imagine, cheese wheels, deli meats, huge piles of brightly coloured sweets, dried fruits, and a lovely bakery at the right hand side. Grab a cheeky breakfast or lunch at one of the stand up tapas bars – perhaps the coolest place to eat in the city, and the produce couldn’t be fresher. Mercat de La Boqueria is the very definition of a cornucopia – and yet another reason why I wish we had had our own kitchen.

I am never sure about tourist attractions. The Gaudi bits and pieces were impressive, but I wouldn’t bother paying to see the inside of La Padrera if you are not super fussed about it. Save your money for an ice cream in Parc Guell instead. I would have liked to go the Picasso museum, I think.

But really, what is travelling about if not eating and drinking? The interesting sangrias that can be bought at quite a cost on the beach-side restaurants are worth a go, since you pay for the location as well as the drink. I had a vanilla, strawberry and coconut sangria. It. Was. Amazing. Similarly, a wander around the bars and coffee shops of Barri Gotic, or similarly beautiful areas of Barcelona is never going to steer you wrong. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?

Miscellaneous 

The Metro is the best thing ever. It is efficient and air conditioned and cheap – all things that public transport should be. Get yourself a T10 card for 9ish euros and whizz around easily.

Watch out for pickpockets. That’s the advice everyone gives if you are off to Barcelona – we had no problems at all but we were very careful – keep your bag securely fastened and don’t advertise your expensive cameras and phones to all and sundry. Same as you would anywhere else really!

Wear comfy shoes. ‘Nuff said. There’s a lot of walking.

We used the Rough Guide to help us navigate around and choose what we wanted to visit – it comes recommended from me, the metro map was useful and there was all the information we needed.

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