Monday, 24 June 2013

Barcelona, How Can I Forget?

Hola senors and senoritas - on a much more sunny, exciting and, well, sangria-fuelled note than my Bringing Back Britain posts, Helena and I recently returned from the bonny Barcelona after a quick 5 day break departing from Southend airport early on Monday morning with trusty (sl)easyjet. Honestly I needed just a little bit of time to travel a bit more, but I feel like Barcelona really was the end of this year's travelling! Gosh that's a Big Thing for me but I still have my home-based adventures as my previous posts showed.

Hello Barcelona, I have arrived.
We stayed near the University, just 4 metro stops from the main station and very near Las Ramblas, many beautiful parks and many tasty restuarants. I can't count the amount of times I have said this about a place, but I fell for Barcelona hard and fast. No other city has had such a chilled and welcoming atmosphere. Maybe it was the parakeets that chirped outside our window in the mornings, or the charming noise that is Spanish (or was it Catalonian?) being gabbled on the streets. Nothing had prepared me for the sunshine and smiling, tanned faces of Barcelona harbour, or the beaches just half an hour from the city, or the good, good food!

I didn't know what to expect but Barcelona's charm and street escalators was definitely not it. 

Sagrada Familia!
...and  the interior.

For me, the highlights were Sagrada Familia (despite the hour long queue) as the stained glass windows and Gaudi architecture really did take my breath away. I also held my breath and survived the cable car up to Mont Juec which, when armed with a picnic and minimal sense of direction, made for an interesting last afternoon. Gaudi's park too was fantastic (I may have had a power nap on the world's longest beach) and the Magic Musical Fountain at the bottom of the MNAC made for a twee, colourful, and Top Tourist Trap for our final evening. 

Thoroughly enjoying the bench.
Conquering the Mont Juec castle.
Showing her skills at the open (and free!) Olympic stadium.

As with all of my trips, I'd like to give my most succinct and concise, 'dos and don'ts' of Barcelona:

avoid dinner by the seafront if you're on a budget - we struggled to find a cheap place to eat on the beach.

take a day out of town to one of the more beautiful, quiet beaches just 30 minutes away from the city. Our day outside of town was well worth the €7.30 and extreme sunburn.

Do queue from the tourist spots. I would recommend this in very few cities but I fell in love with the cathedrals, parks and museums here. 

Don't be afraid to try out your Spanish. Or English. Don't be afraid to be friendly. 

Do invest in an appropriate number-of-days public transport card! I cannot stress this enough - Helena and I constantly thanked our lucky stars that, for near €30, we had unlimited transport on the metro which was a lifesaver. 

I am already aching to go back and would recommend this city (despite its pick-pocketing record which, we were not party to..) to anyone. Just chill out. Relax. Have some paella. And was the world go past on even the quietest streets.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Bringing Back Britain: London Bridge Walk.

So I have always hated exercise. I survived in top set PE for just a few weeks before being demoted to 'Girl Who Stands In Goal During Hockey But Actually Does Nothing'. And yet, here I am, going to the gym four times a week, I'm into the first week of the 30 Day Shred, and last week I undertook, with my endearingly motivated and over-enthusiastic boyfriend, a 21 mile walk of all the bridges in London between Tower Bridge and Kew Bridge (that's 19 bridges).

Much like my muddy converse at Wimpole, my trusty pumps in Rome and my flip flops in Delhi (latterly known as The Worst Mistake I Made In Asia) - I whacked on my trainers and running trousers, filled my rucksack with cider, sandwiches and deodorant and we headed across and up the Thames.

Below is a rough route of our journey:

We started at Tower Bridge and finished at Kew Bridge - following the shape of the Thames though, it is possible to walk to the final bridge at Twickenham if you wish.
Now, the post is featuring on my Bringing Back Britain page in a desperate plea that you, dear reader, may decide to undertake this walk too. Walking along Chelsea embankment in the rain, jogging through Battersea Park, and fighting tourists on Westminster Bridge made this day such an experience. I saw parts of London so beautiful and new, and places that I'd never seen before.

Kew, as I now know, is a gorgeous makeshift village (with a cricket green!) just 40 minutes on the underground from Central London. Hammersmith, right by Riverside Studios, is full of quaint pubs and cafes. And Albert Bridge is the cutest ever.

Despite my complaining (Ben can vouch for me in that I kept it to a minimum..), the little bits of rain, and the overpriced drinks in the pubs of London, I have never seen London as wonderful as I did on this walk and, honestly, it doesn't feel like a near-marathon. Not with good enough shoes, company, and a supply of food. 

L - R: 1) Rain on Lambeth Bridge, 2) looking far too cheerful on Millennium Bridge and 3) starting on Tower Bridge.
I frequent London a lot due to the direct trainline from Stansted, but this was different to anything I've done before and I'm so glad I did it. Just make sure you have the essentials of water, a map for both distance and direction (I used the Strava Run app on my iPhone) and a good sense of humour. It's a wonderful day out.

And hey, like Louise and Spencer from MIC, this walk enables you to do both Deep Thinking and having Deep Chats on the Chelsea Embankment like a true posh-o.
(PS, I returned back from Barcelona less than a week ago, so keep an eye out for my Barcelona posts coming very soon!)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Bringing Back Britain: Cambridgeshire.

Frankly, my absence from this blog is nearly embarrassing. I have had so much to write about, and have been on so many adventures (both home based and some slightly farther abroad) that I want to share. I've been applying for jobs (unsuccessfully), making the most of a combination of my National Trust membership, my car, and my wonderful friends and boyfriend leading to me having had a wonderful past two months since I returned from Germany.

I love England. My coming-back-post (as recently featured in this article) states this clearly; I love where I live. And although I've been fighting it since my return, my denial of the fact that I am home (I hope that makes sense) has meant that I have kept both busy and local and so my new feature, 'Bringing Back Britain' was born. Today's focus is the gorgeous Cambridgeshire.

Although drinks in Cambridge, when not from student hangouts, aren't the cheapest - an afternoon by the river really is a must.
I've always been a fan of Cambridge: the classical architecture, the colleges, the people, just to mention a few - and as far as a town goes, it really is perfect for Summer. Whether it's a G&T at the Anchor (located in between Newham and King's) or a picnic on Jesus Green, the sunshine makes it the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. Punting for a newbie in Cambridge is a must, and I always prefer to hire my own with a group of friends, a few drinks, and punt in the Grantchester direction.

Downton Abbey? No, not quite. But still pretty impressive.
About 20 miles out of town, situated in the real Cambridgeshire countryside, is the classical Wimpole Hall. With entry to the grounds and gardens being just £6 (and free for National Trust members) and a farm for exploration, even on a rainy day Flo, Luce and I made the most of the grounds.

Don your muddy converse, stock up on lunch from either the farm shop or - like us - take a Sainsbury's middle class picnic extraordinaire and cower in the boot of your car in between rain storms. The gardens are currently in full bloom and the orchard, much like Audley End (slightly more local to me), is stunning. My only piece of advice would be go on a weekday and before school's out - I can only imagine how busy the pig pen is when the children start their summer holidays in three weeks.

Car picnic anyone? My boot still features crisp crumbs as a result.

Fun for the family, or the more middle class/middle aged young adults among us - it is a lovely day out!