Love Lisbon: Solo travel guide

For the last few years Lisbon has been on my radar. I feel as though there was a period when everyone was heading there, and I kind of missed that bandwagon (thankfully). I figured a trip this summer was well overdue, so I booked a few days in early July. I can tell you with certainty that ever since returning, I’ve had major holiday blues. Let me explain…

If you’ve seen photos of the Portuguese capital, or even heard stories, then you’ll know just how pretty it is. Every inch is covered in intricate detail; colourful buildings laced in patterned tiles, sun-kissed balconies and cobbled streets that make a city hike up rolling hills oh so worth it. Typically, I found myself in an airbnb staying with with an artist in Principe Real (yes, holiday goals indeed). She was amazing, and so was her home. I won’t share detailed photos here, but when a host leaves you cheese, a bottle of red and fresh fruit as a welcome gift you know you’ve found a good’un.

Here’s a quick and honest rundown of some of the best places I visited, and where I recommend you go too.

Getting around

The simple answer is by foot. Not only will you see more of the city this way, but you’ll want to walk around just to get a feel for the place. There’s always something to take a photo of or a side street to meander down, but those legs WILL be tired come evening. On a few ocassions I got the bus up to LX Factory and Belém, which is kind of essential being a fair distance away. Also, a tram ride from Baixa-Chiado is a fun way to do some hop-on hop-off sightseeing around the inner city.

Shopping

Possibly half the reason I came here. Lisbon is so cheap compared to other european cities, and you will not be disappointed with it’s array of designer and vintage boutiques, speciality food shops, independent stores and high street chains. One of my favourites was Embaixada, the Portuguese concept department store in Principe Real. Outdoor creative island LX Factory is home to agencies and professionals, plus a trendy mix of food outlets, fine art, fashion designers, world-famous chocolate cake-makers Landeau, and the rather special bookstore Livraria Ler Devagar. Head to Baixa-Chiado for the main shopping district, that will eventually lead you down to Lisbon Square where you can quite literally dip your toes in the river Tagus.

Eating + drinking

If brunch is your jam, make your first morning stop at Copenhagen Coffee Lab. Founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2013, these guys are onto a winner and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Staff are well-versed, and the vibe is very east London coffee-house. All white interior, communal seating, fresh-baked goods (cinnamon rolls are insane), and a neo-soul playlist to rival my own. The breakfast deal here is a winner for around 6 euro, and the speciality coffee is good and strong. Similarly, The Mill is perfect for avo on toast, eggs your way, great service and an eclectic crowd – but it gets busy. Just opposite here is a tiny little juice bar called YAO Pressed Juicery and it’s WONDERFUL.

Lunch on the go is the perfect excuse to head to the Time Out Market – an old fishing market near Cais do Sodre. It’s a buzing food hall, with around 35 vendors plus a couple of bars and a gift store. The made-to-order pad thai at Asian Lab and traditional pastéis de nata at Manteigaria (sister to the Chiado branch) were worth the trip alone. If you fancy a quiter spot for food or cocktails, Lost In blends Bohemian decor and nature with uninterupted rooftop views.

If like me you eat a vegetarian or plant-based diet, Lisbon won’t fail you for dinner. There’s plenty of seafood and meat floating arond the city’s restaurant scene, but look hard enough and you’ll find some amazing vegetarian gems suitable for attending alone, too. Jardim dos Sentidos is in a beautiful garden setting where you can eat a full three-course meal for under 20 euro, and you’ll find the BEST stonebaked organic pizza at In Bocca al Lupo – a cosy and friendly joint along the most unassuming side street. On my second visit they knew my order!

And to relax?

I found myself lazing around Jardín del Príncipe Real in the evening warmth – a neighbourhood garden filled with beautiful flowers and a conservatory-style restaurant. You’ll find these gardens dotted around Lisbon districts. If you enjoy being by the river, when in Cais do Sodre take a walk along the seafront; there’s a nice buzz around there. Equally, when in Belém, a walk along the prominade of this slow-paced town is a nice way to wind down with great views of 25 de Abril Bridge. For sunrise and sunset views, head to the infamous Portas do Sol (The Gates of the Sun) for panoramic views over the rainbow-coloured houses of Alfama.

 

 

 

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Travelling in Europe

Travelling is one of those things most of us aspire to do, but in reality we don’t do enough. For anyone like me, you’ll have a revolving wish list that grows month after month. One minute you’re soul searching for Yoga retreats in Bali and the next you’re certain a girls trip to Miami will be the best experience of your life. The world is a colossal place after all, and in 2016 finding travel inspiration is almost too easy.  I usually flick through Stylist’s ‘Escape Routes’ on a Wednesday and find myself lured into the charm of coastline views and thermal spas across the Far East. This is swiftly followed by the realisation that £2,000 is probably a little extreme for some sunshine. So, feet firmly back on the ground I look at more realistic ways to travel and find that I’m never disappointed with what’s just on my doorstep.

Luckily, I’ve been able to visit a substantial amount of destinations (24 and counting) and that has shaped my outlook on what it means to really enjoy holidays, big or small. When it comes to planning, packing, spending and those exciting bits in between, I’ve managed to adopt a list of essential tips to guide me through, especially on a budget! This year, if a five star holiday to desolate sandy shores isn’t feasible but a three-day city break is, there’s no reason not to make the best memories!

Where to start?

– Write down what kind of holiday you want. What are your interests? Are you a huge foodie or culture enthusiast? Do you want to relax or explore? Let this be the basis of your search in terms of location
– Assess your budget and mentally stick to it; it’ll help you avoid browsing holidays that you simply can’t afford
– Who are you travelling with? Solo or a group? If it’s a group, who is the lead organiser? You’d be surprised how essential this is to save time and confusion
– Do your research! Get online, read magazines and blogs, speak to travel agents, friends and family. They are all helpful in planning a holiday
berlin branderburg gate

 Six travel hacks: 

– Price compare: Flights can drastically increase or decrease just days apart so it’s worth checking out a few different sites and being flexible with departure dates. Flying off-peak can save you £! Shop around for currency conversion rates too. Post Office Currency is a good start but avoid currency bureaus in busy stations and airports that will charge a premium.

 – airbnb : A firm favourite. Take your pick of local people’s homes in near 200 destinations based on style, size, location and price. Let them host you or rent the entire property for your stay. It’s a revelation.

 – easyJet Euro currency cardA simple and secure way to take money abroad. It’s free and uses chip and pin security. Oh, and there’s no transaction fees.

 – Cash over card: I’d always advise taking cash (converted) and keeping a credit card as back up. You can monitor what you spend much easier avoid unnecessary charges.

 – Avoid the excess: Pack with interchangeable outfits and accessories in mind rather than too many single items. Like a mini capsule wardrobe. You’ll save suitcase space, potential airport fees and time stressing in the mornings!

 – Going solo: More and more of us are travelling alone and it’s a liberating experience. If a hotel isn’t on the cards, airbnb is perfect if you want a little home comfort. I’d always recommend learning just the basics of the language so you can talk to locals. Be sure to try new food, find new ways to relax and take in everything you see around you. It’s a completely different experience to having company 24/7 and you can plan your time (and expenditures) freely.

– Citymapper app: A great journey planner that is available for a wide range of destinations. It has live departrure times for all available transport, plus tube, train and metro line maps.

European city escapes:
If you are on a shoestring budget and a tight timescale, here’s my top four recommendations that can be reached within a few hours.

 

– Copenhagen and Stockholm ooze Nordic charm and are aesthetically pleasing, within easy reach of major UK cities like London, and are a perfect mix of great food and culture. You’ll find cheap last minute flights on easyJet and Sky Scanner, two of my recommended travel websites, and once there you can travel mostly by foot or bike. Explore lush green spaces, island hop by boat, explore attractive shopping districts, eat your way through local delicacies and capture the candy coloured buildings through your lens. The streets are extremely clean, the people are friendly and the pace is uber laid-back.
– Berlin is another incredible city full of vibrancy and adventure year-round! Whether you hit the stylish streets to people watch during Fashion Week, mingle with the locals at karneval der kulturen, or explore the energetic nightlife and music scene, there’s something to keep you occupied from dusk till dawn. Make the most of free galleries, markets, coffe shops, lakes and parks. At its cheapest, you can get to Berlin for around £20 each way – a bargain if there ever was one! Most people speak fluent English there, so getting around is a breeze on public transport.
– Prague in the Czech Republic is a mere two-hour flight away from London, and it’s beautifully well preserved. Again, flights are a snip with airlines like easyJet and Ryan Air. Explore the Old and New Towns, National Galleries and the historic Prague Castle, or enjoy live music through the cobbled streets before a dreamy sunset over Charles Bridge. Amongst bespoke jewellers, bakeries, bars and cultural hotspots, Prague will have you lusting over its picture perfect postcard streets.

Asian noodle soup

As soon as winter swings around, the British tradition is always to enjoy a few more warming home cooked meals that can be knocked up quickly without spending hours in the kitchen. For me, by the time January comes around I want to consciously eat cleaner, but still keep that element of comfort food for those cold nights! This recipe is one I created based on my appreciation of Asian flavours and the humble coconut and it also happens to be a brilliant way to use up the remainder of fresh veggies in the fridge come Sunday.

So, all you really need is 20 minutes spare in the evening and you’re good to go. The noodles really bulk out this soup, so it can easily serve 3-4 or if you’re cooking for one then divide out for the week. As with most of the recipes on here, adapt the heat/spice to your liking so if you want a milder flavour just use one chilli.

Serves 4 | Prep: 5 mins  Cooking: 15 mins

Ingredients: 

• 1 large carrot
• 1 small red bell pepper
• 2 spring onions
• 1 small white onion
• 2 green chillies
• 1 garlic clove
• 1 oxo vegetable stock cube or 1 tbsp bouillon powder
• 2 handfuls fresh or frozen green beans
• 200ml good quality coconut cream
• 300ml hot water
• 2 dried wheels of dried wholewheat noodles or rice noodles
• 1/2 tsp curry powder
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• Sea salt and black pepper

Step one: Prep the veggies. You’ll need to peel and cut the carrot into four even quarters and then slice finely length ways. Finely slice the onion, bell pepper and spring onions to even sizes. Crush the garlic clove.

Step two: Heat a large, deep saucepan on a medium heat with the olive oil. Add the garlic, chillies and onion and sweat for 2 minutes until softened.

Step three: Add the coconut cream and water, stir and simmer for 2 minutes before adding the spices, seasoning and stock cube.

Step four: Add the remaining veggies except the green beans. These cook the quickest and should be added last to retain the crunch and colour. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Step five: For the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the noodles and green beans and cook until soft. Serve hot and garnish a few spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Stockholm travel diary: A city of food & culture

I couldn’t go abroad and not document my foodie adventures. Of course for this here blog, but also because I genuinely love food/lifestyle photography. It’s a great way to savour memories and it’s an instant conversation starter, too. There’s something more exciting about eating out on holiday that differs from here in London and the UK generally; the curiosity of not knowing what you’ll find and I suppose the freedom to chose whatever you want, whenever you want without any preconceptions. The choice to plan and dress up for a special dinner, or have an impromtu pit stop as you explore. It’s also things like the hospitality and service, the menu, social surrounding and the satisfaction (hopefully) of giving that new discovery a thumbs up afterwards.

Over the course of our four days in Stockholm, we actually tried quite a few different cuisines. From traditional Swedish/European breakfast food, to authentic Italian lunches and flavour-packed Indian dinners. Amongst all of that, we discovered bakeries, fruit and veg markets, quaint coffee and dessert cafes and some of the best pistachio ice-cream I’ve ever indulged in. I’d done my research before heading out, so there were a few places I just had to tick off my to-do list. Here’s a few of my favourite spots across the city that’ll take you from dusk til dawn.

Broms – Karlaplan

Chokladkoppen – Gamla Stan (Old Town)

Hötorget (Haymarket Square) – Norrmalm

Vapiano – Sturegatan, Östermalm

Fabrique – Drottninggatan

Stockholm travel diary: Hotel Hellsten

For the last year, Sweden has been on my hit-list of countries to visit, so when my other half booked us a trip there this July for my birthday, I was ecstatic. We headed to the capital, Stockholm, for four incredible days and it certainly lived up to my expectations. The city has such a cool and attractive aesthetic; from the building designs, to the high street fashion, cafe culture and street style. Although it’s built of many islands and surrounded by water (which is pretty breathtaking!) amongst the lush greenery I noticed there were many similarities to big cities like London, New York, Paris and Berlin which carried a nice sense of familiarity, yet there were many elements that set Stockholm apart. I couldn’t wait to explore!

We stayed in the Vasastan area of Stockholm, close to neighboring areas Norrmalm and Ostermalm, and our hotel was about a 15 minute walk from Central Station (or two stops on the underground) on Luntmakargatan 68. Like my Prague travel diary, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the hotel itself. Hotel Hellsten is a boutique hotel housed in a 19th century building with a relatively compact, homely feel. There was a mix of antique and modern furniture dotted around. Initially, the staff were so attentive and a speedy check in meant no time wasted. The communal areas off the reception included a ‘living room’ seating area with unlimited free fresh coffee and tea (this seemed to be the done thing in Stockholm!), an eclectic cocktail bar and a small glass-enclosed breakfast room to the back of the property where there was also a courtyard with seating. What I loved most was the unusual nooks and crannies that gave the hotel so much character.

We stayed on the top 5th floor in a ‘Single Lit Room’ which is essentially a small double room. But what a room! They have a range of others, including superior rooms and suites, but this was perfect for our needs. Everything matched the hotel theme perfectly. Exposed brick walls, floor length curtains, high ceilings, real wood flooring and an incredible distressed wooden bed frame. It was all quite romantic. The bathroom was neat with a walk in shower and grey slate tiles – dreamy! Luckily for us, our room had the ideal spot to see the glowing sunset and rooftops each night, too.

Of our three nights there, I had no complaints. There was no noise from other guests, housekeeping was faultless and the room also had free wifi. The little touches throughout the hotel also made it special, from the piano in the Hellsten Earth Bar to the candlelit candelabra in the living room and old fashioned bookshelf. The breakfast spread was sufficient although some things weren’t to my to taste. We spent every day and evening out so we’d have lunch and dinner around the city, which is how we usually spend our holidays. I would definitely stay here again and recommend it to city travellers; it’s convenient, clean and unique in style. And if you’re anything like me and enjoy a good photo opp, then it’s very photogenic!

Soy & ginger stir fry pak choi, broccoli & portobello mushroom

I’m a huge fan of Asian dishes (Thai and Chinese) especially because of their speed, versatility & vibrant flavours. I’ll whip up a stir fry when I want quick, clean, no fuss and honest food. There’s no endless dirty pots and pans to contend with either. I came up with this delicious recipe that happens to be vegan, too. It’s light & full of green goodness!

Along with the mushroom, broccoli & pak choi base (you can find this in larger supermarkets or a local fruit & veg market), I add courgettes and spinach along with a delicious mix of fiery red chilli, garlic, lime and muscovado sugar to balance out the hot, sour and salty flavours. There’s a few other additions but this really is a simple and satisfying meal alone or as a side dish. Grab your wok and you’re ready to go!

Serves 2-4 | Prep: 5 mins Cooking: 8-10 mins

For the stir fry:

  • 1 bulb pak choi
  • 10 – 12 small broccoli florets
  • 2 large portobello  mushrooms
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of scotch bonnet red chilli
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Ground nut or vegetable oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper

Step one: On a medium heat, warm up a wok with enough oil to cover the base.

Step two: Wash and prep your vegetables. Cut the courgette into half-moon shapes, slice the onion and mushrooms, separate the broccoli florets and pak choi leaves, thinly slice the garlic, ginger and chilli.

Step three: The wok should now be hot. Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli for one minute before adding the remaining veg. Keep the pan moving constantly for 5 mins to spread the heat and cook them evenly.

Step four: Season with salt and pepper, then add the thyme, soy sauce, a squeeze of lime, sugar, sweet chilli sauce and spinach leaves. Add a splash of water if needed to create a little steam. Cook for another two minutes before turning off the heat. Best served hot, with steamed basmati rice, noodles or as an accompanying side dish.

Understanding flavour combinations: herbs & spices

Spring is upon on us and I’m so excited to be cooking lighter, flavourful meals full of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices that can be easily thrown together. I’ve always loved buying little and often when it comes to fresh food and now the sun is out, I haven’t hesitated to visit my local markets in search of the good stuff. London is bursting with choice when it comes to fruit and veg markets. There is something very satisfying about picking and choosing from the many stalls at a leisurely pace, chatting with the vendors and generally coming away with several bargains for your money! My recent trip inspired this updated post on understanding flavour combinations.

If you’re not much of a cook, flavour combinations will seem like an alien concept. When you go out to restaurants or cook at home, you just eat and know what tastes good or bad together, right? From classic duos like lemon and thyme or garlic and ginger, to sweet things like strawberries and chocolate or apple and cinnamon, they’re all combinations that we eat often because somehow, they just work.

But why?

Often, sweet foods and spices work well with more savoury, salty or sour foods – sharp contrasts that will enhance the overall flavour and bring out the undertones. There’s a reason why everyone is going crazy over salted caramel! Salt is one of those fundamental ingredients that do just that. One of my favourite combinations is a soft tangy cheese like goats or feta, with a sweet and spicy chutney like carrot or mango. It’s something I will always order on a menu!

I’ve found it can take a lot of trial and error to find out what compliments each other when cooking at home, as there are so many variations you can try that will elevate your meal to another level. Another fail-safe of mine? Honey or agave syrup. I use these in savoury meals a lot, usually in sauces or veg based dishes. You can combine with crushed garlic for fragrance, dark soy sauce for saltiness, fresh or dried chilli for heat and olive oil to make a tasty sauce or marinade.

The foodie and traveler that I am, discovering new countries, cultures, foods and amazing flavour combinations is what I enjoy the most so I eat out a lot, and I incorporate those ideas into my everyday meals and weekly shops too. Indian, Moroccan and Mexican cuisines are some of my favourites. Having Caribbean heritage also means I’ve always eaten well spiced and delicious food, so it’s what I know best.

Spices:

My spice cupboard is bursting, literally. Partly because I dislike bland food but also because I like to try new things. There will always be the staples though – I’ll let you in on my essentials.

  • Paprika – you can get hot, sweet or smokey varieties. I like smokey personally with it’s deep red/burnt orange colour and deeper flavour.
  • Fresh chilli – for added warmth but not necessarily overbearing heat. A little goes a long way, especially the dried flakes. Generally the smaller the chilli the hotter it is (except the round shaped scotch bonnet which is the hottest variety).
  • Whole cumin seeds – a classic aromatic Indian spice, usually toasted in a dry pan to release the oils before use. Works well with meat, potatoes and carrots especially.
  • Curry powder – hot or mild varieties. I use this to flavour veg and curries. Traditional in Caribbean and Indian cooking.
  • Turmeric – a subtle flavour with natural medicinal qualities. I use this to add colour and warmth to various dishes.
  • Fresh ginger – juicy, pungent and spicy it’s also part of the turmeric family. I use this in fresh teas and Asian inspired dishes mainly.
  • Garam Masala – a fragrant Indian ground spice made up of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, black pepper and cumin.
  • Whole nutmeg – ah, perfume worthy. I prefer the whole nut over ground varieties because the smell lasts longer. Used primarily in puddings, white sauce, cakes and other sweet bakes.

Herbs and misc:

  • Dried bay leaf – a pungent, strong and bitter sweet spice that I use in soups, stews and porridge. Works very well with nutmeg.
  • Thyme – fresh or dried. A fragrant but strong spice that I use in soups, sauces and stews. Works well with meat, chicken and roasted root veg.
  • Garlic – neither a herb or spice, but an essential. And always the fresh stuff!
  • Lemon and lime – I use the zest and juice to add a fresh lift to otherwise heavy dishes like curries and sauces, as well as in salad dressings, teas and plain water.

There are plenty of other fresh and dried ingredients I use for added flavour which you’ll see throughout the blog, but these are the foundations and a pretty good start for anybody just beginning to explore spices and herbs. Hopefully you can try some of these ideas out if you haven’t discovered them already, and if you have then keep going!

Prague travel diary: A weekened in photos

A visual collation of my weekend in the beautiful city of Prague. I rarely put my camera down over those two days, so here are some of my favourite snap shots – from exploring the Old and New Town, National Galleries and museums, to shopping in quaint side streets, trying Czech delicacies, wandering over Charles Bridge and getting lost in the grounds of Prague Castle. All photos taken using my canon 700d.

Prague travel diary: angelo Hotel

In-between those long Summer holidays, an overseas city break is always well received, especially at this time of year when things are just starting to warm up in the UK with lighter evenings pushing through, but not quite enough to leave those Winter coats indoors! A few days away does me the world of good to both inspire and recharge my batteries, so travelling is one element of my lifestyle I wouldn’t change for anything.

One place on my bucket list was Prague, so my partner and I took a cheeky trip to the capital of the Czech Republic for a late anniversary treat at the weekend, and we certainly enjoyed this chocolate box city. Although it’s still the Spring season there, it’s slightly warmer than London and we enjoyed some beautiful March sunshine and dreamy sunsets for two days. If you’re anything like me and love a good photo opportunity, then you’ll soon fall in love too  – everything is just so incredibly picturesque!

So, this is the first of two travel diary type entries about our weekend. This post will focus on our location and choice of accommodation.

We stayed at the incredibly sleek and eccentric four star angelo Hotel, Prague 5. It was perfectly situated in Andel, a neighbourhood within the entertainment district and close the metro line B with a convenient 5-10 minute journey into (central) Prague 1. There are three metro lines: A, B and C, so not too confusing to get around, which was a huge plus. Oh, and a 24 hour travel ticket for the bus, tram and metro was next to nothing!

The hotel had a vibrant aesthetic, colour-blocking red and yellow with monochrome here and there. The interior was clean-cut with immaculate tiled and dark wooden flooring, panelled floor-length glass walls, a secluded courtyard, and comfortable sofas throughout the reception. Check in was so efficient and we even had a free welcome drink from the jazz bar – another tick from me.

The best part for me was the theme of music and art throughout the hotel – black and white framed images, montages and prints of famous afro-american soul and rock n’ roll musicians/artists/bands from the 60s era, as well as vintage photographs of the city. It was certainly unique.

We stayed in an executive room, which had it’s own 6th floor location. Very classy. The room was like everything else, faultless. The running theme of colour blocking and monochrome was evident with a textured black feature wall that I was lusting over. Underfloor bathroom heating, black out blinds and a bed big enough for four were just some highlights. You can read all about our expeditions in Prague in part two of my travel diary on Sunday.

We ate out in the evenings to make the most of our time, so moving onto breakfast on our second morning. If you like a buffet style spread then this place ticks every box. I’m a vegetarian and had no issues – from offering soya milk, to having gluten free pastries and cakes, tofu and vegetables for ‘made to order’ stir fries, fresh eggs and all the fruits, cheeses and breads you could imagine – I’d say I was spoilt for choice.

I’d definitely recommend angelo Hotel, whether it’s a business trip or a leisurely break for a few days, you won’t want to leave in a hurry. It was the little touches like chilled music playing in the reception, speedy wifi, comfy bathrobes and slippers, and no rush to leave after check out that made it extra special.