Category Archives: Travel

My Podule Hotel Experience

Podule hotels seem to have taken the commuter and international travel world by storm. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a podule hotel is a hotel, often located inside an airport terminal, with tiny podules or cabins instead of big, fancy hotel rooms. The idea is that travellers who might have a few hours to kill between connecting flights, or even an overnight stay in an airport, can rent pods by the hour so that they can catch a few zzz’s or have some quiet and private relax time before their onward travel.  The pods are simple, just what you would need for a few hours kip (i.e. a bed) and are much more hassle-free than a hotel.

My podule bed…

I have always thought that the idea of podule hotels was so futuristic – like staying in tiny space cabin that looks like something out of star trek! But it wasn’t until I recently got the chance to finally stay in one myself that I realised how great they are and what a genius idea it really is. I wanted to write a blog post about my really positive experience staying at a podule hotel in case, like me, you have considered it but weren’t sure about it or preferred to choose a normal hotel option because it was the one that you know.  This is just my personal experience, I’m sure there are some that would disagree with me, but I always find real, personal recommendations written by real people to be the most helpful!

So how small are we talking? Well, of course pods come in different sizes according to the number of people in your party.  I stayed at ‘Yotel’, in London Gatwick’s South Terminal and I rented a single ‘standard cabin’, intended for 1 person comfortably or 2 at a tight squeeze, that was 7 sqm. But this particular hotel also offers a ‘premium cabin’, for two people sharing a bed (10sqm), or a ‘premium twin cabin’, for 2 bunk beds (10 sqm).  All cabins come with an ensuite shower/toilet.

My singe podule was just able to fit my violin width-ways!

The really great thing about podule hotels is that there are no check in/check out times.  When you make your reservation, you simply book the number of hours you need, and this is so perfect for matching the needs and requirements of each individual guest.  You don’t have to worry about meeting standard hotel times – you just book your pod and go!  I also wanted to mention, in case you were worried that you wouldn’t know exactly what time you would be arriving, as I was, that when I arrived half an hour early (and very late at night) to my podule reservation, it was absolutely no problem – there is someone on reception 24 hours a day and they were extremely friendly, helpful and kind.

The cabin itself really is tiny – hopefully you can get a feel for it’s size from my little video below! It was just wide enough for my violin case and once I had opened up my suitcase there wasn’t much floor room to be seen!  But, the bed was really comfortable, and it was nice to have a private toilet and shower too. If you choose to share a cabin with another person, it might be helpful to know that there really isn’t room for any privacy in the pod, and there is only a glass divider between the toilet and the bed space, so make sure it’s someone you know well!  There is, however, a blind on the door window, so you can feel very private from the outside corridor and other hotel guests.  On that note, it may also help to know that, although I slept very well, at about 5am it became very busy outside with people getting up to catch their early flights.  If you are a light sleeper, definitely wear some earplugs!


Some other useful things to know about Yotel:

  • Towels are provided.
  • Free tea/coffee and bottled water from reception 24/7.
  • Free WiFi.
  • Yotel has an interesting blog,  featuring tips for travellers, interviews and recommended apps for meditation amongst other things.
  • Food menu including breakfast, sandwiches, hot meals and snack options, all very affordably priced (around €5).
  • TV in cabin.
  • There are Yotel hotels in London Heathrow, Amsterdam and New York airports.

A podule hotel is really the perfect solution for weary travellers and anyone who just needs to sleep. I will definitely be staying in them again in the future and really recommend you check them out of you need a few hours of down time while en route.

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I am really excited to share with you that I have finally moved my blog over to wordpress!  There’s nothing quite like a good old spring clean, and this feels like the mother of all (metaphorical) clean slates.  My life as a musician and blogger finally feels beautifully connected and I can’t wait to get back into my full blogging routine!

On this site, you will find all my usual blog posts in their normal categories, and you will also be able to catch a glimpse of what I’m up to in my musical life; what projects I’ve got going on, concerts coming up, travel plans etc.  Everything else will all stay the same, but do make sure to subscribe and follow me on my social media so you don’t miss out on anything!

For now though, must get back to packing; I’m travelling to Seattle tomorrow for two weeks of Beethoven Quartets and I CAN’T WAIT.

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Edinburgh Tales #3: Sh!t-faced Drunk

As you walk around the beautiful ‘old town’ of Edinburgh (slightly ironically named, as ALL of Edinburgh is old, just that the ‘old town’ is a bit older than the ‘new town’), you might notice that many of the tall townhouses have rather luxurious-looking first floor apartments; they often have gorgeous balconies, which the other floors do not have, and generally look much more up-market and better kept than the rest of the building.  The reason for this is a historical one, and has a pretty hilarious relevance to an expression that still we use today!

There are many common reasons for placing high value on first floor apartments, as opposed to ground floor or much higher floors, and I am sure you are familiar with them (especially if you have lived in city apartment buildings); you don’t have to worry so much about burglary or privacy, as perhaps you would if your apartment was at ground floor level and looked directly onto the street, and you don’t have to walk up mountains of stairs to get home everyday, which is especially inconvenient in old buildings where there are surely no elevators!  But in the old days in Edinburgh there was an extra reason for desiring an apartment on the first floor instead of any other floor. 

Up until the early 20th century, Edinburgh did not have a proper sewage or waste system installed!  This meant that everybody had to chuck all their waste, and I mean ALL their waste, out of their windows onto the streets below.  Some parts of the Royal Mile – the old (often extremely narrow) streets and courtyards in the Old Town – were constantly knee deep in this nastiness.  Can you just imagine how horrific and unbearable it would be to live on the ground floor or, even worse, in the basements, in this kind of environment!?

In order to try and gain some kind of civility, a French phrase was adopted, ‘Regardez l’eau’, meaning ‘watch out for the water’ (although water was the least of it).  ‘Regardez l’eau’ was quickly turned into ‘Gardy Loo’ by the Scots, who were supposed to yell this before throwing our their waste, to warn and save the poor hapless people down below from a terrible experience!  I am imagining the panic and fear of hearing those fateful words, ‘Gardy Loo!’. 

In 1749, a ‘Nastiness Act’ was passed, which meant that it was only allowed to throw your waste out of the windows between 10pm and 7am.  Now, it’s no secret that the Scots love a drink – this is definitely a country of fantastic whiskey and beer.  So, picture this, if you will.  The poor worker, who has had a few too many drams, makes his way home late one night, hears the dreaded ‘GARDY LOO’ but is unfortunately a little to slow and encumbered to get himself out of the way in time…. hence the coining of the phrase ‘shit-faced drunk’!  What a souvenir to have of such a time! 

Eventually, a proper sewage system was installed in Edinburgh, which must have been a huge relief for everyone.  However, the Nastiness Act was actually never repealed – if you wanted to, it would be perfectly legal for you to throw your waste out of your window over night!  Might not go down so well with your neighbours though… 

Read ‘Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet’ here!

Read ‘Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson’ here!

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Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson

One of my favourite corners in Edinburgh is Grassmarket Square. Not only is it exceptionally pretty, full of gorgeous, old, stone buildings and with a perfect view of the castle, but there are also many nice pubs, bars and cool little shops in the area too!  If you ever find yourself with a free afternoon in Edinburgh, I seriously recommend exploring around here and whiling away some time in one of the many cute cafes!

While I was in Edinburgh recently, I discovered that in the 18th century Grassmarket Square was the site of all the public hangings that took place in the city.  These events were extremely popular; apartments that looked onto the square, which are still there today, were highly expensive and much sought after, and if you were lucky enough to own one, you could rent out your front windows to visitors seeking the best view of the hanging!  It seems quite strange to think of this dark part of Edinburgh’s history when you are there nowadays, in this place that seems so vibrant and lively, the real heart of the city! In fact, in the exact spot in the square where the gallows were located, there are now outdoor tables and chairs full of people laughing and enjoying their beers! 

I learned of one particular story concerning the public hanging that really stuck out to me, though, and I wanted to retell it in a blog post as part of this little ‘Edibnurgh Tales’ series.  The story is about the unique and somewhat unbelievable life of one Maggie Dickson.  Maggie lived in Edinburgh at the beginning of the 18th century, and was by all accounts and purposes, an extremely normal girl – there was nothing particularly special about her.  She worked hard in the city and got married, after which, as was quite normal for women at that time, she gave up a lot of her independence.  

However, one day, her husband left her and Maggie found herself totally alone – she had no friends, no work, no money.  Because of this, she was forced to recreate her life; she found work at a local inn, served in pubs around the city and became a total girl boss!  She also fell in love with the innkeeper’s son and, after some time, found herself pregnant with his child.  This was bad news for her – she knew that if it was discovered that she was pregnant she would lose her job and be charged with having an extra-marital affair.  And so, Maggie hid her pregnancy for as long as possible while she desperately tried to find relatives who would take her child for her, but since her failed marriage and unconventional feminist lifestyle, no family relatives wanted anything to do with her.

Finally, left with no other options and in total desperation, Maggie decided she would have to kill her own baby.  One night, she took the baby to the bank of the River Tweed with the intent to drown it, but at the last minute she couldn’t bring herself to go through with it.  Instead, she just left the baby by the river and it was found dead a few days later.  

It was eventually discovered that the baby had belonged to Maggie and she was charged to be hanged, NOT for murdering a baby, but for concealing a pregnancy! The day for Maggie’s execution arrived and she was publicly hanged as normal in Grassmarket Square.  Afterwards, her body was placed into a coffin and was being taken to the cemetery, as was the normal order of events, when the driver suddenly started to hear some banging noises coming from the back of the cart.  He pulled off the road and saw that Maggie’s coffin was moving, so he opened it up to find her alive!! She was immediately taken back to Grassmarket Square, where she was about to be hanged for a second time when it was stopped, just in time.  The law claimed that, technically, Maggie’s punishment had been followed through – she had been hanged and therefore served the court’s ruling and now, in the eyes of the law, she didn’t exist and should be free to go!

After all of this drama, Maggie found her feet again in Edinburgh; she became known as ‘Half Hangit’ Maggie’, and opened up her own pub in Grassmarket Square, called Maggie Dickson’s Pub, which is still there today!! It is said that she used to open the windows of her pub every time a hanging was taking place, and would shout out to the convicts, ‘Ah, it’s not that bad, what are ye complanin’ abou’!’.

Check out ‘Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet’ here!

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Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet

Having just returned home from a brilliant trip to Scotland, where I spent most of my time in the glorious city of Edinburgh, my head is so full of stories that I picked up there that I want to get them all down as soon as possible, before I forget any!  The fact is, Scotland is just SO full of history; it is such an old country, which is something that really strikes you as you travel around, and it has been home to some fantastic characters throughout history.  Edinburgh itself is an incredibly unique city – it’s dark, old, gloomy and romantic, the perfect backdrop to some truly gruesome and horrific stories from its past (think Game of Thrones, which is actually pretty tame compared to the real stuff, on which the show is based).  Maybe it’s that I have a dark side to my personality that absolutely loves this kind of thing (the more gore the better), but it became clear very quickly that I had too much to write about and too many tales to recount in one blog post alone, which is why I have decided to split them up, giving each story it’s own deserved space.  I have also decided to start off with one that is not so gory, but more comic, about a certain poet who had quite an interesting life.

You might not know, I didn’t anyway, that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, at least the first book for sure, in a cafe in Edinburgh.  She has described how she used to work for hours at a time in this particular cafe, taking breaks to stroll around the neighbouring old Greyfriars graveyard.  Well, in this graveyard, you can find a few graves where Rowling evidently took inspiration for some of her own character names; there is one Tom Riddle, who became Rowling’s Lord Voldemort, and another William McGonagall, Professor McGonagall in the books, although a character of the opposite gender.  I was really interested to learn that this William McGonagall was a very well known, and very bad, Scottish poet!  In fact, he is famous for being the writer of some of the worst poetry in the English language!

William McGonagall, who was born in 1825 and died in 1902, wasn’t always a poet – he actually began his career as a budding actor.  Already though, he was known amongst his peers and friends for being atrociously bad on stage and the theatre where he performed only allowed him to do so if he paid for it!  On one occasion, performing the role of Macbeth, who is supposed to die at the end of the play, McGonagall felt that one of his fellow actors was trying to upstage him, so he refused to follow the script and die!  I would have loved to be in the audience for that one.

McGonagall began writing poetry after he felt a wave of divine inspiration to do so, and he actually has a vast catalogue of work, including about 200 poems!  He performed his poetry in pubs and music halls, recited and sold it on the streets of Edinburgh and London, once tried to become ‘poet laureate’ to Queen Victoria, and even worked for some time in a circus, where the audience was allowed to pelt poor McGonagall with eggs while he recited his poetry!  However, he never really made any money from writing; instead he survived off loans and donations from his friends. 

Unfortunately, for his whole working life, McGonagall was continuously mocked and made fun of for his terrible poetry.  His friends detested his work so much that they once came up with quite a devious plan to get rid of him; they fabricated a letter from the Mayor of New York, requesting that William McGonagall come to New York, offering him the position of resident poet there.  McGonagall believed it immediately and set off on the long voyage to the new world by boat.  After months of being cooped up on the boat, McGonagall finally arrived in New York and declared his presence to the Mayor himself, who, as you can imagine, was extremely confused, angered and sent him right back to Scotland on the boat!  At least his friends got what they wanted – a few months of peace!

What I find really amusing though, is that, throughout his whole life, McGonagall never seemed to realise that he was a terrible poet!  He never noticed his bad reviews or heard his critics, he paid no attention to his friends when they made fun of him and when his job in the circus, which consisted of having eggs thrown at him, was cut, he was disappointed and argued to get it back!  His belief in his own work was so strong that he left for New York straight away, without even questioning the letter.  Isn’t there something remarkable about that?!  If ever anyone was hurt by a stupid/bad review or an insensitive remark by a colleague or critic, take some inspiration from old William McGonagall!

Lines in Praise of Sunlight Soap
~William McGonagall
Ye charwomen, where’er ye be,
I pray ye all be advised by me,
Nay, do not think that I do joke,
When I advise ye to wash with Sunlight Soap.

In my time I’ve tried many kinds of soap,
But no other soap can with it cope,
Because it makes the clothes look nice and clean,
That they are most beautiful to be seen.

Ye can use it, with great pleasure and ease,
Without wasting any elbow grease,
And, while washing the most dirty clothes,
The sweat won’t be dripping off your nose.

Therefore think of it, charwomen, one and all,
And, when at any shop ye chance to call,
Be sure and ask for Sunlight Soap,
For, believe me, no other soap can with it cope.

You can wash your clothes with little rubbing,
And without scarcely any scrubbing,
And I tell you once again without any joke,
There’s no soap can surpass Sunlight Soap;
And believe me, charwomen, one and all,
I remain, yours truly, the Poet McGonagall.

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Berlin Trilogy #3 Attractions

If you are anything like me, when you visit a new city you want to see as much of it as possible and get a real feel for it; for it’s people, it’s atmosphere and for what it has to offer.  There is no doubt that Berlin is a city that has something of everything going on – there are several great museums, theatre shows, concerts and one-off style events, such as Ted Talks, happening all the time, and I can promise that you will never get bored there!  The only problem is, there is SO much on offer in Berlin that sometimes choosing what you want to do can be overwhelming.  On looking into events going on in Berlin recently, when I was visiting the city for a weekend, something like 800 different options for events and things to do came up in the search!  I thought therefore, for this last post in my Berlin Trilogy series (check out my favourite restaurants post and drinks post too!), that I would feature a few things that I particularly love doing when I visit Berlin.  I have included a couple of my favourite museums, some really cool places to shop and a few other ideas for how you can spend your time in this amazing city.

1.  DDR Museum 

Berlin has one of the most fascinating histories out of any city in Europe, and if you are interested in diving right into this then I definitely recommend visiting the DDR museum.  This museum tells the story of when Berlin was divided in two, and particularly focuses on life in East Berlin, on the communist side of the wall.  For me, although I sort of knew vaguely about what happened and what it was like, this museum really opened my eyes and I found it absolutely incredible.  There are lots of interactive displays, which make you feel as if you are actually there and living it for yourself, and even real artifacts from the time, including an East German car which you can sit in!  The DDR museum brings Berlin’s story to life and your experience there will stay with you as you walk around the city afterwards.

2.  Pergamon Museum

In Europe, and indeed all over the world, we have so much access to incredible western art and culture.  Each city holds it’s own masterpieces and wherever you go there will be another similar art gallery to visit.  However, if you want to see something a bit different, or are looking for a gallery with some other kinds of art, try the Pergamon Museum.  It showcases some wonderful Islamic and Middle Eastern art, as well as surviving pieces of the monumental Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Pergamon Alter and the Market Gate from Miletus.  I have to say that it really is a stunning collection, not just because everything you see is SO old and historical, but because there is also so much beauty in it.  After my visit to this museum, I felt that I had really leaned something about the history of humanity and culture; it is a very enriching experience, especially in these times that we live in, and I definitely recommend seeing this museum.

3.  Independent Cinemas

Going to see a movie is not always near the top of our lists when we are visiting a new city.  However, Berlin has a plethora of independent cinemas with some brilliant, less well-known films showing, and if you happen to have an evening with nothing planned, I definitely suggest checking them out!  The atmosphere at these cinemas is always fantastic, with lots of Bohemian people joining you in the theatre, beers and wine available to take to your seat and a wonderful buzz about movies filling the building.  To give you an idea of what’s on, when investigating some movie options in Berlin recently, I found one cinema showing a midnight screening of Casablanca!  Whether you love the old classics, or want to see something fresh and new, the independent cinema scene in Berlin is worth investigating.

4.  Shopping at Hackesher Markt

There are lots of good shopping spots in Berlin, but my personal favourite is around Hackescher Markt!  Only a couple of stops from the main station, it is really convenient to get to, and there are loads of cool little independent shops to browse in, as well as some of the bigger named ones too.  What I really like to do is walk along the road that takes you from Hackescher Markt to Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, and window shop or take a look in the small arty shops that are all along there.  On Saturdays there is also a great street market at Hackescher Markt, with lots of food stalls, jewellery and accessory stalls and artists, from whom I have bought a couple of prints which I love.  There are lots of little bars and restaurants around there too, so it is, all in all, a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

5.  Dussmann

If you are a book nerd like me, check out Dussmann on Friedrichstrasse.  It is a huge store for books, records, CDs, DVDs, stationary and more.  AND they have a fantastic English bookshop located in store too!  It’s one of those places where you can spend a couple of hours browsing and reading on the comfy seats.  They have also recently expanded it to include a foreign language section and a kids section too, so there is something for everyone here!

6.  The School of Life

I have talked about my experience of visiting the School of Life in Berlin on my blog before, but I had to mention it here as well because I feel like it’s one of those amazing places that you need to know about to be able to find.  It is firstly a really cool shop, selling interesting books and objects, things to think about or help you in your thoughts and daily life.  But they also have some great events going on all the time, in German and English; there are workshops, lectures, breakfast discussions and more.  Tickets to these events aren’t cheap, around 35 – 40 Euros each, but they are SO worth it if you find one that really suits you.  I definitely recommend taking a little excursion to this part of town, where you will also find some of the restaurants and bars that I mentioned in my other posts in this trilogy!

7.  Concerts at the Philharmonie or the Opera

Being a musician, I absolutely had to include one music option in this list, as Berlin is a city so rich in music and steeped in music history.  If you are a music lover and want to catch a concert, there is all sorts going on, from big fancy concerts, to smaller underground gigs.  But I can honestly say that the concerts that I have seen at the wonderful Philharmonie hall and at the opera, have been some of the best concerts I have ever seen EVER.  A couple of times I managed to get great tickets for a hugely discounted price from the box office on the day, so if you are flexible in your plans I definitely recommend trying that, or researching what’s on at these halls and booking tickets before they sell out is a good idea too.  Seeing a concert or an opera here will certainly be a memorable experience and absolutely worth it.

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Berlin Trilogy #2 Drinks

It wasn’t difficult to choose a theme for this second post in my Berlin trilogy!  If you missed the first one, all about my favourite places to eat in Berlin, you can catch up here.  Today’s post, however, is focusing on, what I think, are the top places to grab a drink in my favourite city.  We all know that drinking and socialising, and beer in particular, is a huge part of German culture, but the options for places to drink in Berlin take this to a whole new level.  There are some fantastic pubs, craft beer bars, hip cafes, underground ‘invitation only’ type bars… the list is endless.  Whenever I go to Berlin, I make sure to try new places to drink, and I have to say that I have discovered a few gems!  Whether you are looking for a quiet beer, fancy cocktail or somewhere with a fab atmosphere to enjoy a glass of wine with a friend, I’ve got you covered with these options.   I am always looking for more places to try out too, so if you have any more recommendations for places to drink in Berlin, please let me know in the comments!

1. Wohnzimmer (Living Room)

This place is a fairly recent discovery for me, and is definitely one of my favourites!  Wohnzimmer is a bar that is set up like a living room (this idea has Berlin written all over it!) – when you enter, you feel as if you are stepping inside somebody’s apartment.  There are cute little tables and chairs everywhere, none of them are matching of course, and in each little nook you will find another cosy seat or little bar to stand around. There is one central bar where you can order beers and wines, but I also really recommend following the way through to find the separate cocktail bar, which serves all the classics as well as some more unique cocktails too.  Drinks here are really affordable, beers and wines vary between 3-4 Euros and cocktails are around 6.

The atmosphere at Wohnzimmer is one of the best things about this place: it is absolutely full of lively, bohemian type people, everyone is having a great time, conversation and laughter is overflowing out of the doors.  I have to say that it does get very crowded in ‘peak time’, so I would suggest arriving earlier or later to ensure you don’t have to wait long for a table.  This is definitely worth a visit when you are in Berlin, and another great thing about it is that it’s located in an area with loads of other cool bars so you can easily make a fun evening of bar-hopping!

2.  Kashk

Kashk is a fantastic place to drink beer in Berlin.  Specialising in craft beers, there are SO many to choose from, and they are all great!  I would also recommend trying the taster float, where you can try small glasses of several different beers – this is something really fun to do with a friend.   

Kashk is super hip, small, very young and edgy.  I have found that it is a great place to meet people; you always hear several different languages being spoken, and people from all over the world come here to socialise.  I would recommend Kashk as a great place to start an evening, to have a couple beers before heading for dinner, or just to come and relax with a few friends. 

3.  Friedrichshain

I am cheating a little bit here because Friedrichshain is not one bar, but rather a district in Berlin with many great bars!  It is a little out of the centre of town, but if you decide to venture here you will not be disappointed – there are loads of great places to go and each one is totally different and offers something special.  I find what makes the Friedrichshain so cool is actually the setting; it is largely made up of converted old warehouses, which have been turned into art galleries, bars and there’s even a barber shop if you need a haircut!

Visiting during the day, where it is kind of ‘chill central’, especially in summer, can be really fun.  You will find lots of beer gardens with street food style catering, laid back cafes and craft beers.  In summer they put everything outside and people just spend afternoons lounging around, listening to music and chatting with friends.  Come nighttime, it is definitely THE place to party in Berlin.  Each warehouse plays different kinds of music, so if jazz or drum and bass is more your style, you will find something to dance to! 

Typical humour at Friedrichhain!

4.  Zum Starken August

If you are seeking a place to have a nice quiet beer, Zum Starken August has all the best qualities of a pub while still being a little bit different (it wouldn’t be Berlin if things weren’t slightly unique).  It is essentially a pub that is decked out like an old circus!  There are coloured spot lights, mirrors and homemade paper lights on the tables which give it a really trendy, cool vibe.  I arrived here pretty early in the evening on my visit, around 6pm, and it was perfect – very quiet and a really nice place to have a drink.

They offer lots of craft beers, as well as other drinks too, so if you are not a beer drinker it’s definitely not a problem here.  Again, it is very affordable, and I got the impression that other parties of people were settling into this pub for the whole evening, which seemed really fun!

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Berlin Trilogy #1 Restaurants

It is no secret that Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world!  It is vibrant, hip, contemporary yet historical; there is so much life, so many different kinds of people, the mentality of progression and forward thinking is everywhere and I just LOVE it!   As I try to spend as much time there as I can, I am starting to get to know Berlin really well – I feel like with each trip I make, I discover some new corner of the city, scout out new secret dives, and I have decided to share all of these with you here on my blog!  When I thought about how to present this post, it became clear that there was too much to say, too many places to recommend, in just one blog post, so I have made it into a trilogy: restaurants, drinks and attractions.  These are basically the things that I love to do in Berlin and each of my posts will take you a little away from the main touristy places; I will showcase some absolutely amazing spots in Berlin that you might not find in your guide book and I hope that these ideas will be helpful to you if you are thinking of making a trip to this wonderful city!

For this first post, I have collected together some impressions of a few of my favourite restaurants in the city.  There is an incredible culinary scene in Berlin, and whether you fancy Japanese, Chinese, Thai, American, Mexican or just a typical Döner Kebab, there is definitely going to be something for everyone.  Here are a few of my favourite eats.

1. Silo Coffee

Starting with the most important meal of the day, breakfast! Silo Coffee is, hands down, my all time favourite place for breakfast/brunch… ever?  The food is absolutely delicious and all locally sourced, the only problem is that it is so difficult to choose what to get – everything sounds so good!  I can personally recommend ‘The Silo’ – two organic poached eggs on beautiful sironi toast, with herby avocado, bacon and marinated feta… are you drooling yet?! Silo also offers smaller options if you are not so hungry, such as granola or toasties, and gluten free and vegan options are available too.  And I just had to add a mention about the quality of the coffee here; being a total coffee addict I take my coffee very seriously and Silo Coffee is as good as it gets.  

It is also worth knowing that Silo Coffee is a small joint with a limited number of tables.  This is something that I find gives it a very special, intimate atmosphere and a real ‘homey’ and friendly feel.  You cannot reserve tables so be prepared to wait a few minutes (you will need this time to choose what to order anyway) but rest assured you are in the right place – Silo Coffee is a total MUST for breakfast time in Berlin.

Tips: cash only, outdoor seating perfect in the summer, open every day (Sundays too).
Check out Silo Coffee here!

2. Lon-Men’s Noodle House

This tiny restaurant may not look the most promising from the outside, but trust me that it is an incredibly special little eatery.  It is cheap and cheerful, truly authentic Taiwanese cuisine but they also have some amazing speciality Thai dishes too, with lots of seafood options, ox and even pig’s ear – yes we did try it and it was pretty good! I have to recommend the dim sum, which was definitely some of the best that I have ever had, and the noodle dishes were also fantastic.

As it is such a small place, you may find yourself sharing tables with strangers, but there is something really lovely about this.  When we were there, we were seated next to an old German couple, who told us that this was their favourite place to eat in Berlin and they had been coming there for years.  There is no better testament to how good this restaurant is than that! 

Tips: time your visit a little later in the evening to avoid the rush hour (around 9pm is perfect), closed Wednesdays.

 Pigs Ear!

3. Mrs Robinson’s

If you are looking to spend a little more and try somewhere REALLY cool and trendy for dinner, Mrs Robinson’s is the one!  It is chic and modern, in it’s decor, atmosphere and food, and beware that it is so popular right now that you even get a certain allotted time for your meal, after which you will be asked to leave.  Reservations are a MUST.

The food here is Asian style and simply amazing.  Upon arrival you will receive an amuse-bouche of fried nori, and honestly it is so good that if that had been the entire meal I would have gone home extremely happy!  The menu offers a selection of amazing starters, including crispy tofu which is an absolute star of the menu, and a variety buns for your main course which are great for sharing.  I recommend, for a party of two, getting a couple of starters (definitely go for the tofu and perhaps the beef carpaccio) and a couple of portions of buns (the pork and chicken were great).  You can always order more if needed, but remember to save room for dessert because you seriously don’t want to miss out there!  I also hugely recommend trying one of their cocktails – I guarantee you will not have tasted anything like these drinks ever and they are SO worth it.

Tips: RESERVE, cash only, closed Sundays and Mondays.
Check out Mrs Robinson’s here!

4. Markthalle Neun Breakfast Market

Although more of an event and not strictly a restaurant, I had to include this as, if you are a foodie like me, you will absolutely love it!  The breakfast market at Markthalle Neun is a huge food market that happens once per month, on the 3rd Sunday of every month, where little food trucks of all different nationalities and cuisines gather in a huge market space and sell their own culinary delicacies.  You will find Japanese sushi, American apple pie, Mexican tacos, New Zealand pies, Swedish pickled salmon sandwiches and many, many more.  If you happen to time your visit in Berlin to coordinate with the Markthalle, you must give it a visit!

It is extremely fun to walk around, look at everything that is on offer, and is even a great social event too.  There are also little kitchen shops, selling cooking gadgets, nice crockery and art work, as well as lots of little bars where you can pick up a coffee or a bloody mary.  Altogether is is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon and there is plenty of great food to be eaten.  

Tips: fighting for seats at the picnic benches can be tricky so be on your guard, cash only, open 10-5pm every 3rd Sunday of the month, there are lots of other foodie events going on at Markthalle Neun that are worth looking into!
Check out Markthalle Neun here!

5. Papilles

Papilles is a gorgeous little French restaurant located in an up-and-coming part of Berlin.  Like a few of the places I have mentioned here, it is very small, with a very personal and unique atmosphere, so reservations would be a good idea.  I noticed on my visit that the other customers seemed to be regulars here – lots of them were friends or well known with the waitresses, and this gave a really friendly and close vibe.

The chef at this restaurant is known for doing whatever he likes with his food, and as such there is no official menu here!  Our waitress explained to us what was on offer but that, while we could order the lamb or the burger, she couldn’t really tell us what any dish came with or how it would be presented as this was totally up to how the chef was feeling that day.  What a unique idea!  I was already sold after I heard this, but the food was so delicious that it spoke for itself.  This is definitely a restaurant that I can’t wait to visit again, and I know that every time I go there will be completely different.

Tips: cash only, closed Wednesdays.
Check out Papilles here!

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The World of German Traditions

I have been living in Austria and Germany for almost six years now (oh my God, WHERE has that time gone??), and I feel that I have gotten to know these cultures pretty well; I have learnt a lot about these peoples, their histories and ways of life and I have probably picked up more German characteristics and idiosyncrasies from living here than I would like to admit.  The Austrian/Germanic countries are so rich with tradition – we all know about the famous Oktoberfest and Karneval – but there are so many other weird and wonderful traditions and celebrations that you might not have heard of before, at least, they were completely new to me when I first moved here!  I thought I would pick out three of these to feature here in this blog post, to give you a little insight into what life is really like in these countries.

May Pole / Maibaum

Many of the most characterful (or just plain strange) German traditions originate in Bavaria, and the May Pole is a typical example of such.  Although the first of May is celebrated all over the world, I find the German custom, which dates back to the 16th century, particularly lovely!  
Each year on May 1st, the town or village organises a ‘fest’ or party in the centre square.  This generally involves lots of beer (the Germans tend to use any excuse to get together and drink beer), würstchen, Bavarian music, perhaps a procession through the village and, most importantly, a ceremony to erect the infamous May Pole.  The pole, or tree, will typically be decorated in the traditional Bavarian colours of blue and white, and anything else unique to that particular village, celebrating the local industry and art.  The ceremony will then usually be followed by more drinking, music and lots of dancing.  
Another romantic feature of the Maibaum celebration is when the young lads in the village put up their own mini May trees in front of the houses of the girls they like.  This usually happens during the night on the last day of April so that the girls get a nice surprise when they wake up on the first of May!  The little May trees may also have a heart on them with the names of the girls for whom they are intended.  How sweet!

A Man’s 30th Birthday

This was definitely one of those German traditions which I had NEVER heard of and took quite a while to understand!  When a man turns 30, his friends usually organise a big celebration on the city hall steps.  They will first give the lucky guy a funny costume to dress up in, and then cover the steps in beer bottle caps (I have learnt that these are happily donated for the occasion by local pub landlords!).  The birthday boy is given the task of sweeping the steps… for the whole evening on his birthday!  He will start first with a toothbrush, then perhaps a small dustpan brush, and work his way up to a broom over the course of several hours, while more and more bottle caps are consistently poured onto the steps by his encouraging friends.  
While he is busy sweeping, his friends must also make sure that any girl who happens to walk by is stopped and asked to answer a few questions (I was one such girl, which is how I came to find out about this tradition!).  When a girl is persuaded to stop for a few minutes, the birthday boy will break from his sweeping and ask her a few silly questions, such as ‘when was your first kiss?’, or ‘what is your favourite quality in a man?’.  All of this accompanies constant drinking and only ends when the friends of the poor man feel that he has done enough (or is too drunk to continue!), OR when he gets a kiss from a virgin girl.
When I was researching the meaning of this unique celebration, I discovered that in the beginning, it was intended only for single men on their 30th birthdays, and by sweeping the stairs they could show girls what good and hard-working husbands they would make!  I have to admit this isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when I see a drunk 30 year old drunkenly sweeping beer bottle caps on steps, but it definitely makes for a fun and memorable (or not) birthday party!

Tie Cutting In Cologne

I only recently found out about this last tradition, and writing about it now after having just told the story of the men’s 30th birthday, I am wondering if it an occasion for the women to get their own back on the men! 
There are so many Karneval celebrations throughout Germany, and they tend to differ from city to city and region to region.  However there is a rather special day during the Cologne Karneval which is really worth knowing, especially if you are a guy!  The day is known as ‘Weiberfastnacht’, or Woman’s Day, and it always takes place on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.  On this day the women will make sure to bring scissors with them to work and will happily cut off the men’s ties!  By the way, there is no argument here – if you are a man, and happen to be wearing a tie on this day, you absolutely must let the women cut it off, so don’t forget to wear an old one!  The idea is that the tie symbolises a man’s authority, at home and in the work place, so here is a chance for women to show their own authority with an opportunity to take down the powerful image of the men, who must subsequently walk around all day with a blunt cut tie (although, lucky for the men, they will receive a Bützchen, or little kiss on the cheek, in return).  Some women will join the parades in the streets carrying big foam scissors to show their solidarity, and shops even sell purposefully ugly ties for the occasion. 
It should also be noted that on Women’s Day, the women of the house have full authority to leave their children in the care of their husbands, so that they can celebrate their day together with a ‘girls night’!

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A Few Of My Favourite Things To Do In Salzburg

You might already know that I lived in Salzburg for three years in my early 20s – I wrote a post, quite a while ago now, about what that was like and how strange it feels to look back on that time, you can read it here!  I definitely have a lot of mixed feelings about life in Salzburg and, as I am here right now playing in an orchestra project, these are especially fresh in my mind.

Salzburg is an incredibly small, but breathtakingly beautiful, city.  As with any place where you want make a home, you really have to seek out the best corners, the fun places to go and the cool things to see and do.  I wanted to write a post with all of my favourite nooks and crannies of Salzburg that I discovered when I lived here.  If you are ever in Salzburg for a weekend holiday or trip of some kind, I encourage you to find them for yourself; after all, there is much more to Salzburg than The Sound of Music and Mozart!  The fact is that all that stuff is fun for tourists, but underneath it all there is a whole city of people living here and making their lives here, which means there really is a lot more to see, many interesting things happening, if you know where to go.  So, here are my personal highlights of things to do in this city!

1.  Enjoy a coffee and Salzburg’s BEST carrot cake at Kaffee Alchemie.
Salzburg is full of old, grand, traditional cafes, all serving huge and over-the-top cakes by waiters dressed in old-school waiter attire.  If you are looking for something a little different, try Kaffee Alchemie. It’s a very small (only a couple tables and bar stools) independent cafe situated directly on the river, full of interesting books to read, a variety of really fantastic coffees to choose from and, in my opinion, the best carrot cake ever.  It’s quaint and hip and the perfect place to come for a quiet coffee and a chance to read your book as you look out onto the beautiful river.

2.  Hear some jazz at Jazzit!
Jazzit is a cool and trendy jazz club on the right side of the river, a short walk from the main station.  They feature some great jazz and indie bands here and also host a weekly jam session where anyone who feels brave enough can get up and jam out!  It’s got a great lively atmosphere, drinks are cheap and the music is bound to get you dancing.

3.  Catch a concert at the Großer Saal.
Salzburg is steeped in musical history – this gorgeous hall is just one of many such halls in the city.  However, I love this particular concert venue because it is THE place for chamber music (my favourite kind of concert) and they often have some absolutely wonderful musicians performing here.  I definitely recommend checking out what’s on, especially if you happen to be in Salzburg in January – this is when ‘Mozart Week” happens and every day is packed with different and amazing concerts!

4.  Grab a craft beer at the Belgian Beer Bar.
Of course you must try the traditional Salzburg Stiegl beer when you get here.  But I think even Austrians would agree with me when I say that there is only so much Stiegl that one can drink!  If you are a fan of craft beer, check out the small, cosy Belgian Beer Bar.  It’s got around 60 different beers to choose from (the bar tender can help you pick one if you wish) and it’s just a really nice and relaxed place to go with a couple of friends.  I should warn you, though, that it gets extremely busy, especially at weekends, so I would suggest getting there a bit earlier, around 6pm, to ensure a nice seat.

5.  Go for a walk and take in the surrounding nature and scenic beauty.
Situated in the heart of the Alps, perhaps the best thing about Salzburg is it’s outlook and scenery.  One of my favourite things to do here is go for a walk, and there are many choices for where to go!  You can hike up and around Kapuzinerberg, in the middle of the city, which gives you a fantastic view of the old town and the German side of the mountains.  You could also walk up to the fortress and then around the top ridge towards the modern art gallery, for a different view.  If you are really serious about hiking, try Geistberg (it’s the one with the radio tower on the top).  I’ve never done this one, but heard it takes a few hours and gives the most sensational view over the mountains from the top.   Whichever you choose, I guarantee you will not be disappointed! 

View from Kapuzinerberg!

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