How to Win at Pompeii

andy-holmes-732846-unsplash

📸 Andy Holmes via Unsplash

Even at 9am, the Mediterranean sun aggressively splits through the sky and I’ve long since whipped off the thin jumper I wore over my cotton playsuit as protection against the early morning and heavily air-conditioned flight from LGW.

Standing sticky from a full-body application of sun cream liberally applied in the loos of baggage reclaim, D and I wait as part of a crowd hanging by Napoli Airport bus stop to take us into the city centre.

As the anticipated bus pulls to a standstill, the impatient congregation swarm like bees around a honeypot. Slipping to the front of the hive, we buy our tickets and collect the obligatory expected sigh from the driver as he sorted out €16.48 in change from our fresh and flat tourist-twenty.

We plant ourselves midway down the body of the carriage, the suitcase we’re sharing rocks and bashes against our bare legs with every bumbling jolt of movement as the scruffy city of Naples races past the windows.

‘Piazza di’ Garibaldi’ a cool robotic voice comes through the speakers.

The doors retract open and passengers stream out as D and I haul our suitcase onto the blazing pavement. A pungent smelly mix of exhaust fumes and hot rubbish sliced through with urine causes a harmonised nose wrinkle from us both. We can see our next port of transport – Napoli Centrale train station – in the distance, down and across the road from where we disembarked.

The streets pulse with locals going about their regular Thursday morning. I march forward, weaving in and out the parade of people, D clasps the handle of the suitcase and rolls behind me.

Employing tag-team efforts we manoeuvre the case down escalators and steps, self-assured in following the light blue line, per Sorrento. Underground, the warm maze of strip-lights, linear colours, and discoloured tiles zap our confidence almost immediately. There were no further light blue lines to follow. Craning our necks, twisting on tip-toes and flitting around corners just to see if there ‘might be a sign over here’ D and I give up willing a marker for Pompeii or Sorrento to appear from nothing and gabble our trouble to a non-English speaking station official. He relays correct directions to where we needed to be in bellowing Italian and exaggerated hand gestures.

Copying back to ourselves the sequenced flicks of the wrist and pointing of fingers, our feet took directions to the automatic gates guarding the train platforms dressed in the per Sorrento baby-blue stripes putting us back on track.

Behind our triumph, another pocket of swarming travellers hum and buzz and shout in chaotic lines outside three ticket windows. A different station official guides D and I to the smallest of the queues. ‘Pompeii Scavi?’ I say slow and loud in uncertain ignorance attempting a native pronunciation. The bored man behind the glass says nothing but beckons for money to be pushed through the bowl at the base of the pane. I have no idea how much the tickets cost, nor did we have the time to sit and work it out. Bibbing ourselves through the gates and glancing down more stairs at the platform, D breathes out a low and drawn out ‘Oh shit’.

Below us is a sea of people. Crammed, sweaty, tinned sardines all expectantly waiting. Hoicking the suitcase down a flight of stairs in efficient synchronicity, we meet the fringes of our next battle. Again I lead, threading through the masses, stopping every third or fourth step to check on D and see if she wants to swap. She’s fine.

I secure us a spot on the platform with a little breathing room, eyeing the old display board hanging above us which displayed Sorrento ‘It’s the next one’ I say.

A tall girl steps through the mobs surrounding us. Wearing a white broderie anglaise midi-dress, she stood out as a gulp of sartorial oxygen amongst the denim shorts and rhinestone belly tops favoured by the gaggles of Italian teenagers that makes up large portions of the crowd. ‘Excuse me’ she says in a soft lilted accent of America’s deep south. ‘Does the next train from here go to Sorrento?’ D and I stare at her for a silent beat, momentarily transfixed by how strikingly beautiful she is amongst the drab dinge of the platform. I first notice her skin; Disney-princess pale and impossibly clear, save for a constellation of freckles scattered across her nose and cheeks. Her face is sweetly cherubic; the likes only usually seen perfectly preserved hanging in a museum bought to life by expert glowy brush strokes of Renaissance masters. Dark auburn-red hair tied into a long bouncy ponytail swishes behind her as she talks. ‘Yeah, we think so’ D smiles.

The Tall Girl smiles back and continues picking her way down the horde, pure white and red flash against the dull muted mass of other travellers. An approaching train whooshes more clammy sour air into the platform hall as I watch The Tall Girl disappear, thinking she looks too clean to be taking a grimy train from Naples on what appeared to be her own.

‘No Sorrento’ a woman calls above the rumble of the train as she shakes her head in conversation with another woman. My ears prick, breaking the spell gazing after The Tall Girl and turn my attention to the two ladies in front of me. ‘No Sorrento’, she shouts and shakes her head again.

Fuck. I panic we’ve just lead a woman travelling by herself to an impending doom of Taken-style proportions or worse. I consider battling through the crowds to get to her but they’re too dense to push through. An incoherent mumble comes from the platform speakers, barely audible above the noise from below. Maybe that was something about this train not being for Sorrento?

I really hope so, as I can’t see The Tall Girl in the now thinned out pack of people left over from the departing train.

Five minutes later, another vacuum of rotten wind charges into the platform hall. This is the train to Sorrento. The carriage is heavy with humidity and sweat and people. D and I cram ourselves and our case into a far corner, next to the doors on the opposite side from where we get on. We are both firmly stuck under separate pairs of damp male armpits.

To escape the unpleasant view at my eye level, I twist my head towards the back of the car. White and red immediately pulls my interest – there she is. The Tall Girl was safely on the right train and sat in a seat facing away from me. The back of her gleaming dress and shiny hair, a beacon once more in a sea of drab. ‘Oh thank God’. I nudge D and point her out in relief.

The journey rattles through 13 stations before Pompeii. The pressure of passengers taking up the car slowly drains away with each stop. The armpits are gone too and we can both breathe a little better.

‘Pompeii Scavi’ is melodically announced over the tannoy.

Back into the searing sun and cleaner air, a steady current of people file down to the platform exit of Pompeii Scavi towards shouting and the brightly coloured umbrellas of local tour guides.

‘The queue to get into Pompeii is at a two-hour wait, if you come with me you’ll go straight in’

‘English-speaking tour of Pompeii starting in 10 minutes’

‘ Unless you’re with my tour, you will be waiting nearly three hours to get into Pompeii’

Turning to each other, D and I figure the tour-touts at the station were exaggerating wait times to pressgang visitors into their groups. We want the freedom to roam the site without restrictions of having to traipse off after a group and we also weren’t overly keen shelling out a possible €15+ on top of the €15 admission fee – protecting the holiday’s prosecco budget where we could was naturally the main factor in this decision.

From researching the logistics of this excursion in the weeks leading up to the holiday, I home in on signs for the station’s luggage room to offload our suitcase. Paying €3 for the whole day, the case is safely stored and we sail by the still bellowing tour guides prowling the concourse.

The clamourous guides weren’t lying.

The what-seemed-like-miles of people forming a snaking line equated to definite two-hour wait. D and I join the end of the queue, clinging to slivers of hope and optimism that it looks worse than it actually is. That somehow, miraculously, the line would magically go down quickly and we wouldn’t fry from standing around nearly 35degree of direct sunlight.

Wilting in the heat in less than 10 minutes we reluctantly start googling ‘Pompeii fast track tickets’ and ‘Pompeii official tour guides’, conceding to let our precious booze budget take a hit. Scrolling through the mass of information D holds up her hand and says ‘ It says here that the best time to queue up for tickets is at 9am or 1pm. There’s another comment here on TripAdvisor from someone saying the exact thing too. ‘Wait until 1.30pm.’ What do you think?’

It’s just coming up to midday. My tummy speaks in response, signalling it was finished digesting the chocolate croissant from the 5am Pret stop this morning.

‘We could risk it? Go have lunch and wait to see if the line does go down.’ I jerk my head in the direction of a roadside restaurant sitting under an orange grove capitalising on the perpetual flow of sight-seers. The queue hadn’t as much as crept half a step forward since we become part of the tourism traffic.

D nods.

Moving from the line much to the loud delight of the people behind us who gain an advancement of less than a foot towards the far-far-away ticket office (just calm down Karen, you’ve still got a long way to go). We scuttle out of Pompeii’s gates to a welcome round of ‘Ciao Bellas’ and icy Aperol spritz’s at the restaurant opposite. Our table is outside under a shady canopy. Overly-ripe oranges and vines dangling above us scent and absorb the dry Italian heat; as we have a direct view of the queue it makes an absolute dream set-up to people-watch those milling around Pompeii’s entrance.

A basket of squidgy warm bread and a ceramic pot of olives is plonked down next to us after ordering mains. D and I ‘salute‘ our goblets of Aperol and finally catch up with each other’s life news and plans from the last two weeks in explicitly minute detail; occasionally breaking from the flow of chat to tear through chunks of focaccia drowned in vinegary oil.

Wheel-sized plates arrive sometime later, and as we tuck into griddle pan vegetables with strips of melting mozzarella, D glances up at the queue ‘Still looks busy’ she says slowly chewing on a mouthful. ‘We’ve still got 40 minutes until 1.30pm. If not, we’ll just join the line again and chalk this move up to a delicious mistake’ I shrug in reply.

Feeling incredibly full and lazy from the heat and spritzes, we draw out the last dregs of our drinks. Another pause in the conversation causes us both to check out the line. But there’s nothing to look at because all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people, have gone.

The entrance looks like a ghost town.

No shouty-guides, no screaming children, no impatient fellow tourists ready to elbow you out of the way and not one group leader waving a flag-topped stick up in the air within sight.

‘Ahh I love the internet’ D smiles with satisfaction ‘I guess we’ve just won Pompeii’ she says clinking her glass with mine.

ACTUAL USEFUL TIPS FOR POMPEII

1/ If you have bulky luggage with you, stick it in the luggage check at Pompeii Scavi train station. The lockers are guarded all day and cost €3. A small price to pay for an afternoon to be blissfully bag-free.

2/ Suncream, sunglasses, sunhats and natural fibre clothing (cotton = your best friend) are VITAL if you are visiting in the summer. Not only can Italy get hotter than Satan’s balls, there’s little to zero shade protection once through the ticketed gate.

3/ Take a water bottle with you. They have refilling stations (from taps that look like they’re well acquainted with a garden hose or two. But hey, beggars most certainly can’t be choosers) all over the site that are free to use.

4/ Go either at the crack of dawn (8.30am if you’re interested as to what I class as dawn) or wait until after 1.30pm to get your tickets. Any time between those two points will have you misspending precious hours standing in line having to listen to Cindy from Arizona complain about the lack of Starbucks on the Amalfi Coast (I mean come on Cindy get a bloody grip, you’re in coffee-mad Italy for fuck’s sake.)

5/ Pompeii is a city don’t forget, so it is bloody massive. You won’t be able to see everything even if you spent a full day there. Plan what you definitely want to visit (the replica Roman villas are cool, the museum is supposed to be fantastic, the brothel with Roman erotica painted on the walls is a highlight as was the amphitheatre) and hit those first. That leaves you time to potter through the streets and come across something unexpected as a bonus. Mary Beard is an authority on Pompeii and her ‘what to do’ article is invaluably helpful.

6/ Like I said, even though it’s a ruin, it’s still a city. Comfy flat shoes are not-negotiable. Those tottering around on the very old, very cobbled and very uneven streets in heels may have great insta-pics but are essentially morons. Don’t be that person.

7/ There is one restaurant within the actual city walls but it is dank, clammy and served sad looking food. Either eat before you go or have lunch in one of the restaurants that circle the site. Yes, they are a bit expensive but what tourist-traps aren’t. The one D and I went to gave us a lot for our money and it was nice being under the oranges as it made the air smell like Tropicana juice.

8/ Don’t go in with a tour guide if you like doing things at your own pace. The groups are large and people have said it was a waste of money because they couldn’t hear the guide unless they became their literal shadow.

9/ Do a little research on what actually went down at Pompeii before you go. Yes a volcano erupted, thousands died blah blah blah but the story of Pompeii itself; what it was like as a city, who it’s people were, what did life look like there, why did people ignore the rumbling Vesuvius to stay and what happened in the aftermath of it’s defining tragedy is so so so so fascinating if you’re into history and cultural anthropology. Mary Beard also has a book that covers all this and is an excellent resource to swot up with (the audio version of this book is wonderful if you’re not a big reader).

10/ If you don’t have a lot of time to wander, consider going to Herculaneum (accessible by train from Naples). It tends to be much much quieter, more compact, better preserved and you’ll still get your fix of horror struck skeletons realising they are about to perish in the volcanic pyroclastic flow… get your cameras ready!

How to Win at Pompeii

How to Cope with Homesickness

how to cope with homesickness

📷 www.glamour.com

tap your heels together three times

 

“I’m fine! Everything’s really great. I’m having THE BEST time”

How often have you spun out that similar line of utter bollocks into a message?

Whether you’re away uni, moved to a new town for work or joined the expat club somewhere completely alien to everything you’re used to, glossing over the negative spots of a new adventure and jazzing up the reality is a universal practice of humans around the globe.

So why do we do it?

Firstly, social media blah blah blah (yeah you’ve heard this one before) – even if you think you’re above the non-subtle humble-brag #soblessed posts of people living enviable lives on the internet, there’s that secret thrill of showing off where you are and what you’re doing to those who are watching you back home. Especially if those ‘likes’ start stacking up on a smattering of your pretty pictures that have been painstakingly retouched by two photo editing apps.

Another reason I think we shine only the brightest, most positive light on our lives is to ease the worry of the ones we’ve left behind. ‘Yes, I’m eating’ ‘No, I’m not hiding in my room’ ‘Of course I’m being social, I went out last night’, you want to reassure your friends and family that you are safe and well and flourishing in a foreign domain miles away from their watchful love and care.

And then there’s the final motivation as to why we plaster on a mega-watt smile and spout happy-worded rubbish – to drown out the whispering inner voice murmuring in response ‘That’s not true, you’re sad and feel lonely. You’re homesick and you have been for a while now.”

Even if you’ve amassed a good group of pals in your new territory and are able to see and do a bunch of amazing things, the sense of missing sneaks its way in and haunts the background of everyday life. Even more so once the shiny novelty of the place wears off. The lack of familiarity from your old world seems kind of jarring.

For me, it came in waves. Sometimes I was so busy, doing one thing after another to focus on, that the heavier thoughts my mind chewed over were forgotten. Other times, I’d be tip-tapping away at my computer when all of a sudden I was crushed with the weight of isolation and how much I missed home and everything / everyone my UK life came with.

 📷 www.giphy.com

I suffered from homesickness baaadddly my first winter away.

Sour feelings took over my mental driver’s seat, Mad-Max-ing me into unhappy oblivion and shooting off lightning bolts of angry resentment as I watched those around me having fun so easily. Why couldn’t I just be that confidently relaxed in these new surroundings? Why am I squirrelled away in my flat yet again???

Retreating into myself more and more, I suspect it was a way to cope with the out-of-my-depth emotions that kept swelling up and down the walls of my head. I presented a shell of a person to everyone else; calm, practised and ‘fine’ on the surface.

The worst knock was when my best friend and mum came out to visit me within two weeks of each other during the January and February of 2017.  As soothing as it was to have them there with me, these two intense links from home were placed in my hands and then had to slip away seven days later.

And it tasted bitter.

The flavour of homesickness is like the nail varnish that’s designed to stop you biting them because it’s a basically a hit of rotting acid.

I figure you have two options when battling with homesickness, either pack it in and go home. No one who’s truly got your back will think any less of you. It’s always braver to make a bold move if you think its right for you. Especially if your homesickness is so debilitating that you start showing other symptoms of being unwell.*

Or

Cope and crack on.

When the clouds parted and sunshine came through again, I’d get on with a handful of the below things to stretch out feeling better.

/ Keep connections going back home.

Yes, it requires planning and effort to arrange Skype dates, having 234 Whatsapp conversations on the go and setting phone calendar reminders to ring people. It sometimes feels like an exercise of diary snap, finding a time you’re both free to schedule a call, but ohmygod it’s so worth it. You don’t realise how much you’re holding in until you’re talking the ear off a close friend. But try not cling to communication too hard though as it could swing the other way and set you back.

/ Cook

I’m not a Nigella-esque spoon-licking effortless goddess when it comes to whipping up a meal. But I like the therapeutic ritual of cooking; assembling ingredients into something that’s comforting, warm and nourishing. Even if it’s a dollop of fluffy eggs on butter-drenched toast, I get a satisfied glowy kick out of this basic form of self-care and feeding my body to fight another day. So treat yourself as you would a loved one going through a rough time and in need of a bit of food-based love. Bowls of cheesy pasta, aromatic noodles, casseroles and soups are a good place to start in giving yourself a big old hug.cooking to cope with homesickness

📷 Buzzfeed.com

‘Like the lightest, most fluttering caress in the mouth’ – Queen Nigella 

/ Shift your attitude

Easier said than done, I know.

I come across peppy and upbeat, but my inner monologue is naturally pessimistic. I have to work hard to set my thoughts and views on the world as positive. Putting myself in a ‘victim’ mindset was something I kept slipping into; that I was the only one feeling low, I was the only one struggling. Bollocks to that. Everyone rides on crappy feelings sometimes, they just handle it differently. Put on some music and dance around your room regularly, it gets your endorphins going and brushes away the gloom.

/ Step out of that comfort zone

If your relocation has frightened the shit out of you, even the smallest challenge will be magnified in your eyes. Guess what, moving to a place where you don’t have a familiar support network around is already pretty fucking fearless, so keep that ball rolling. For me, it was small achievements like learning to comfortably drive on the other side of the road (not just any roads, snowy mountain roads), skiing a run that made me nervous and pushing back against my default introverted setting by talking to people I didn’t know that well a bit more. Each time I’d do what I was scared of doing, another little brick was added to my wall of confidence. A total cliché but I promise you’ll be surprised at how many more things you think you can do, compared to what you can actually do.

/ Tourist in your own town

tourist in your own town

📷 By me                                   Red Bull Hangar 7 Museum

Chances are, you’ve moved to wherever you are now for a reason. Whether it’s for work, to experience a new culture or because you simply wanted to be beside the sea. I’d wager there also might be a handful or more of cool sights and activities that you wouldn’t get to see or do back home. Yeah, you might be living in Barcelona but have you actually gone out and actually seen Barcelona? Make a list of every tourist attraction you can reach and like to go do. If you’ve got local friends, explain you want to go visit X, Y and Z to discover what all the fuss is about. They’d most likely fall over themselves to give you a mountain of tips on what times are best to go or look out for, and maybe even insist on accompanying you for a couple of days out. Getting to know a place really well – tourist traps and all – will reinforce why you’re there and makes you feel less like a stranger in the area.

/ Treat yourself 

In my experience, it’s easier to be mean to yourself than being nice when you’re in a fragile state. Again, approach your care as if you were your best friend. Would say to them half the things you say to yourself? I’m guessing not. You’d be supportive and think of ways to raise spirits rather than beat them over the head with nasty taunts. So spoil yourself a bit. It doesn’t have to be a big extravagance. A new £2 nail varnish, a bottle of wine, a favourite takeaway – or just some fresh bedsheets and an early night. A little self-directed TLC goes a looooonnnggg way in repairing stressed nerves and feeling looked after.

/ Deepen the connections to those around you 

A big part of homesickness is feeling lonely. Becoming friends with a bunch of new people may not come naturally to you. It certainly doesn’t to a hardcore introvert like me. I lucked out in Austria and was adopted straight away by a set of friends who were inclusive and sympathetic when I wasn’t 100%. But that doesn’t mean I sat back on my laurels and waited for them to come to me. As excruciating as it is when you’re not socially confident (hello my tribe!), you must push yourself to make an effort with people. 9 times out of 10, you’ll end up having fun rather than regretting it and becoming an awkward part of the wallpaper.

/ Home comforts 

Turn your home space into a set up that’s more comfortable for you. If that means buying pillowcases, plants and fairy lights to feather your nest then so be it. Making your new digs familiar will give back the control you’re probably missing. Plus you may be experiencing homesickness because your new city or country or isn’t feeling like home yet. Mementoes like photographs or a bed throw that you get to see every day from your previous home will help cosy up your place too and transform it into a sanctuary you enjoy relaxing in.

 

I cannot say that any of these will help your homesickness. And it’s something that won’t disappear overnight.

I was carrying it around with me even when I went back to Austria this year; I think I’m just one of those people who feel it really hard. But when the sadness seeped in this season, I was able to recognise it and try to do something about minimising the yucky despair that plunged me into mind-mist the first time around.

I still cried, but not nearly as much. I also had a total blast. So that’s sort of proof it works.

how to cope with homesickness

📷 By me                                                          😍

 

*Physical manifestations of homesickness can be constant or frequent crying, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite, to nausea, dizziness and headaches. If you are showing any of these signs as well please please please go see a doctor.

How to Cope with Homesickness

5 Cheap or free things to do in Salzburg

Poor & The City

cheap things to do Salzburg

📷 by Em

So you’re either in or heading to Salzburg for a cheap European city break. With the pull of the pound getting weaker and weaker, you’ll want to get enough euro-bang for your buck at every turn. I don’t blame you, with a measly bit of Apfelstrudel and an Aperol Spritz costing a combined tenner, recuperating that beer money from somewhere else during your Salzburg city escape could stretch your overall holiday budget just a smidge further.

Recently I found myself with some time to kill in Salzburg and not a lot of dolla to see me through (having been that wasteful moron spending the aforementioned €10 on a single pastry & booze). I thought I’d try and make a game of figuring out what were the cheapest or free cool things to do while in the city.

Oligarchs and billionaires can stop reading now.

 

/ Mirabell Gardens

mirabell salzburg things to do

📷 by Em – Appalling image quality courtesy of a crappy Galaxy S5 

Take a stroll round the Mirabell Gardens and if you’re with a bunch of extroverted pals re-enact the ‘Do-Re-Mi’ song sections filmed here for The Sound of Music.

mirabell gardens salzburg city

📷 by Em

The neatly groomed Baroque-style gardens are completely free to visit and naturally attracts a boat-load of camera wielding tourists. Looking past the bum-bags and selfie sticks, there’s enough space in the Mirabell Gardens that the  jostling masses are comfortably swallowed up so that the charm of the place is still intact.

mirabell gardens salzburg free to do

📷 by Em

There are scented-swirly plant beds in a rainbow of colours, a smattering of gorgeous fountains (the Pegasus fountain is the star of the show), the ‘hedge theatre’, plus a curious dwarf garden. The whole space is crowned by the Schloss Mirabell – another historical building that is essentially a love letter written in bricks*. Pop inside to see the palace’s sweeping marble staircase and the flashy Marmorsaal (wedding and concert hall).

bride mirabell gardens salzburg

📷 by Em – Brides are floating around everywhere at Mirabell

 

/ Go for a wander

Salzburg city

📷 by Em

Pottering through a city’s streets on foot is by far the best way explore. Map, no map, half-map and half-guess work, start wafting from one place to another. I’d keep a camera handy too and practice getting in some pretty snaps, simply walking around is a total feast for the eyes.

salzburg free things to do

📷 by Em

Salzburg quite compact but the Altstadt (old town) is a bit of a warren, with narrow archways and gallerias each opening out onto a different square which kind of have their own separate personalities from the main city itself. The buildings come in varying sizes, from the skinny to the bloody massive and are painted in ice cream hues with ornate mouldings and striking shop-front displays for browsing (the swankier places are on Getreidegasse).

salzburg free things to do

📷 by Em

It’s people-watching heaven in Salzburg, what with the amount of tourists milling around and people who actually live in the city going about their business. You’ll see lots of folk in traditional Austrian dress (lederhosen & dirndls), granted 98% of them might be tour guides on their lunch break but I like to think it’s because they want to be patriotic dressing up for the day. And if you get achy legs, fall back on the wonderful European café culture by buying a cheap drink, settling yourself at an outside table to continue your observations.

salzburg city free things to do

📷 by Em

 

/ Culture trip

culture things salzburg

📷 by Em

Off the back of taking a simple turnabout Salzburg, like many other cities, the place is a living museum bursting with free culture-stuff – what an eloquent series of words, ‘free culture-stuff’. Just popping out for a quick ramble and you’ll be knees deep in charming fountains and impressive statues along the way, usually complete with a shiny info plaque to explain what you’re looking at.

salzburg culture free things to do

📷 by Em – Mozart’s sunny yellow birthplace on the right

Majority of the churches cost absolutely zilch to enter too, like Franziskanerkirche cathedral, the oldest in Salzburg (it’s always nice to leave a small donation though, to keep these places well looked after and free).

modern art trail salzburg

📷 by Em – 10th art project Salzburg Walk of Modern Art – Würth Collection: Erwin Wurm, “Gurken” (or cucumbers), 2011, in Furtwänglerpark

Or you could spend an afternoon following the city’s Modern Art Trail. This project invites international artists from around the world to create outdoor installation pieces at various sites that flow with Salzburg’s vibe.

music salzburg

📷 by Em

And finally, you’re in a town that has basically been built on music. From Mozart, to the Salzburg Festival and the brilliant Sound of Music film, you’ll be treated to clusters of professional-sounding musicians tinkling out a tune on paths all over Salzburg. Again be kind, and if you can, give these guys a couple of coins for their efforts in providing you with memorable entertainment for practically nothing.

mozart salzburg

📷 by Em – The main man Mozart

 

/ Mönchsberg

monchsberg salzburg📷 by www.salzburg.info

If you want a hit of breath-taking views and can cobble together €2.90 from bits of odd change, you’ll be able to buy a return journey on the Mönchsberg lift. As one of six Salzburg mountains (measuring 508m at its highest point), the Mönchsberg serves as a beautiful panoramic terrace over the city. For crazy active people you can hike the hill for free, scrapping the lift all together.

Once at the top, even though you’re still technically in the town centre, a touch of the countryside will be felt. Meander round the fields and forests to the musical background of jangling cowbells as the animals lazily graze. There’s a handful of other things to see / do like the café-restaurant for a spot of refreshment, as well as the Hohensalzburg fortress or the Museum der Moderne (they aren’t free though).

Feeling energetic? Take the staircase on the way down to St Peter’s cemetery, morbid I know but I’ve been told it’s something definitely worth seeing. Sound of Music fans will appreciate this especially as it’s where the von Trapp family hid from the Gestapo before escaping to Switzerland (cemetery is free to view, but for the church and catacombs you’ve got to cough up).

 

/ Markets

markets salzburg

📷 by Em

Christmas, summer and those in-between months, Salzburg is a city mad on markets. And they can be as cheap or as expensive as you like when visiting. There’s the traditional Grünmarkt running from Monday to Sunday, set against the sky-touching University Church.

market salzburg city

📷 by Em

This is one of the bigger ones, with lots delicious smells, food and drink in every shade, a riot of noise, as well as a hustle and bustle mix of locals, tourists and bellowing vendors. Grünmarkt is a massive assault on the senses (but a pleasant one!). Expect to find more cheese, meat and other produce which could easily feed a small army for at least a decade. I recommend you implement a clear strategy before trawling the stalls for tasty potential samples. Then on top of all that you’ve got handfuls of smaller weekly farmers market to accompany the larger ones. A summer-y riverside market sprung up while I was there, so it pays to just keep an eye out.

salzburg christmas market

📷 by www.salzburg.info

Obviously the big hitter is Salzburg’s Christmas market to celebrate the advent season. This chocolate-box city dials up the charm factor by tenfold once it’s had a dusting of snow and been lovingly wrapped in festive decorations. Imagine chiming bells, the soft crunch of winter underfoot and tiny twinkly lights setting the scene. Maybe a hot Glϋhwein is in your hand to keep you toasty while perusing displays of local crafts, on the hunt for small Christmas gifts. Or perhaps you’re watching a melodic gathering of carollers and musicians performing to the crowds on Residenz Square …

…started looking at flights yet?

 


*As of now, all declarations of love and affection for me will only be accepted in palace form. Thank you.

 

5 Cheap or free things to do in Salzburg

Review: Amalfi Coast Drive from Sorrento

 

An edited version of this post can be found on ciao.citalia.com/blog

italy driving jeremy clarkson quote

After wolfing down a sleepy breakfast on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Capodimonte, watching the first pinky whispers of sunrise over the bay of Sorrento, the girls and I were outside of the hotel at 7.30am sharp for the Amalfi Coast drive excursion pick-up.

Grand Capodimonte Sorrento

Fuzzy 📷 by Em

But of course this is Italy.

And expecting the bus to turn up on time is ridiculously British of me, as the relaxed la dolce vita lifestyle runs through veins of most Italians. However, we didn’t have to wait for too long before a huge coach came rumbling round the corner.

Securing seats on the right hand side of the coach – opposite to the driver’s side – was a tip recommended to us by Sorrento’s Citalia Concierge Nico as the best spot for views. Our coach scooped up the remaining passengers from a point within Sorrento town and then battled its way through the morning rush hour to start the climb up to the coast lined road. The on-board mic crackled and the Italian accented voice of our chaperone, Sasa a 3rd generation tour-guide, introduced himself plus the man with nerves of steel at the helm of coach.

I was under no illusions that an Amalfi Coast drive would be void of sheer drops, narrow snaking roads and what would seem as white-knuckle near misses with local traffic (umm, please see the above Mr Clarkson quote.) Thankfully today’s drive along the Amalfi Coast was done by a chap who navigates this iconic stretch of road day in, day out as his job.

sorrento amalfi coast italy

📷 by Em – ‘cuse the dodgy pics, they were snapped on a crappy phone through a moving coach window. 

Emerging from the town, with a beautiful clear sunny day unfolding over the glittering Tyrrhenian Sea, Sasa pointed out the first point of interest. Li Galli islands (also known as La Sirenuse or Dolphin Island due to its resemblance in shape to everyone’s favourite sea mammal) sits in a prime position on the Amalfi coast and is one of the most exclusively expensive resorts in the Mediterranean.

la galli dolphin island sorrento

📷  www.wimp.com

A collection of three sumptuously luxurious villas, these islands are only accessible to the smallest niche of clientèle as its technically not available on the open rental market. Although reportedly spending a week on Dolphin Island will set you back around €130,000 in the summer months, but it’s all very hush-hush.

Veering round a corner the first houses of Positano came into view. Known as the vertical city, with buildings stacked closely to one another and cascading up the mountain in a real life game of Tetris, this picture-perfect town is a Mecca for tourists visiting the Amalfi Coast and it’s so clear to see why. From the confines of the coach, my face was smushed up against the glass, gawking at the small but jaw-droppingly beautiful hotels, restaurants and houses. Every structure was centred around giving inhabitants panoramic views of the sea and the town (a phenomenal feature in itself) to look out over.

positano italy

📷 by Em 

The coach slowed its pace right down to manoeuvre the marginally wider streets of the higher up roads, allowing for more time to nose at flower-filled patios jutting out on platforms set up for alfresco dining, infinity pools that must feel like paddling in the sky and higgildy-piggildly skinny stairs blending into the slight cracks between buildings for more pedestrian friendly routes of getting around.

The lower half of Positano in the summer months purely serves the tourist trade, with 70% of residents renting out their houses and living in the upper regions of the mountain. Everyday life in this stunning vertical city is not without challenges either, it’s easier to get from A to B on foot or a zippy Vespa, which is not always ideal if you’re loaded up with masses of shopping or have to replace a washing machine… for that you’ll need a working donkey. Yep, Sasa confirmed that in the 21st Century, the locals of Positano still use donkeys to transport large goods up and down roads that are too small for a van to get through.

Leaving the pastel pops of Positiano colour behind, we continued along the windy road that lead to our first stop off – Amalfi town. Sasa had a piece of knowledge or historical titbit to tell about every village we drove through, like pointing out tiny model nativity scenes set into the cliff sides that are lit up at night and plays Christmas music every day of the year.

positano amalfi coast

📷 by Em – Left to right: The silhouette of the Madonna in the rocks on the Amalfi coastal road; An example of the Saracen influence in the local architecture.

Or ‘Africana Famous Club’ a popular nightclub in Praiano that resides in a cave practically at sea level (complete with a dock so you can safely moor the family yacht while you party it up).  For roughly half an hour looking out the right hand side window of the bus (which I can confirm are THE best seats to be in if you’re doing this trip from Sorrento) was a parade of spectacular blue sea, beautiful buildings and scenic ravines lining the road.

Descending into the outer regions of Amalfi town, a sense of glamour was apparent already. The hotels were bigger, the natural rustic charms of quaint resorts we had passed through was discretely replaced with a more polished veneer, the Vespa’s and dusty beaten up Fiat 500s were long gone. Parking next to the marina, Sasa gave the group strict instructions on what time the coach would be leaving Amalfi town that afternoon. This was now a designated free time of the tour, so you could wander round the town at your leisure. However, Sasa had arranged a boat trip for those that wanted it (at an extra cost, around €12 which was cheaper than buying tickets direct from the harbour kiosk) and as it was a gorgeously warm sunny day, the majority of us opted to take advantage.

I cannot recommend enough seeing Amalfi by boat.

amalfi town italy

📷 by Em 

Especially if the sun is out.

Not only did the boat take us right up to the rock formation that looks like two elephants kissing.

elephants kissing rocks amalfi

📷 by Em – Mwah 😘 !

Sasa also gave a star- studded running commentary of which massive villa belonged to which celebrity and which famous person stayed where amongst the line-up of exclusive hotels that dotted the shore line. It was like gossip crack as we pressed our guide for more and more information.

amalfi coast by boat

📷 by Em – Left to right: That little yellow turret is the part of the Romeo &  Juliet honeymoon suite at the Hotel Santa Caterina. Brad and Ange stayed here after they got married (RIP Brangelina); Sophia Loren’s gaff, complete with private funicular that goes too and from her personal beach area.

amalfi hell mouth

📷 by Em – That big natural arch is fondly known by locals as ‘The Hellmouth’ .

 

roger moore villa amalfi

📷 by Em – Roger Moore’s villa (RIP 😭)

 

norman fortress amalfi coast

📷 by Em – Lots of these fortresses line the Amalfi Coast. They are either Norman or Saracen. You can tell them apart because Norman fortresses have square tops and Saracen’s have round ones. 

amalfi coast drive

📷 by Em 

After cruising the length of the waters from the edge of Amalfi where we drove in, up past Minori and back again, we disembarked to explore the town. Before parting, Sasa warned our group that eating at a table in Amalfi would be expensive, especially if you decided to stop for a gelato or cappuccino within the main square as many restaurants implement an extortionate cover charge if you sit down. He even made us learn a handy Italian phrase at the end of his lecture “quanto costa” – how much.

amalfi town

📷 by Em 

Picking our way through the cobbled lanes in search of cake and coffee that didn’t cost the earth (the main street running through Amalfi’s heart is not pedestrianised, so keeping any eye out for cars and bikes is so important) , we browsed tiny shops selling touristy knick-knacks and local crafts.

amalfi town Italy

📷 by Em 

Settling on a side street trattoria tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the centre we enjoyed our own slice of la dolce vita, watching the world go by.

amalfi town map

📷 by Em – The first laws of the sea were written in Amalfi and they like to claim that they invented the modern compass too. But this has been disproven. 

Back on the coach well in time for the scheduled departure, Sasa came back over the tinny mic again to let us know the next stop would be in Ravello, where we would be having lunch at the Hotel Giordano, just outside of the main town.

Gorging on more spectacular coastal views while eating delicious fresh pasta, washed down with cold, crisp, locally made wine, lunch was a relaxing drawn-out affair. Before we knew it we were back on the coach again after a short walk to where it was parked (narrow roads a-plenty up in Ravello) and made the short trip to the centre.

Being now thoroughly smitten with all things Amalfi Coast related, I was expecting the same pretty sights of the sea and surrounding hillsides as we approached central Ravello.

I was wrong.

It was that and much much more.

Ravello Italy

📷 by Em – My pics of Ravello are pants, best bet is to go see the beauty for yourselves. 

The views on offer in Ravello are so breath-taking that no words can possibly do it justice and I’m not even going to bother to try. Seeing this secret treasure of a town for yourself is a must to understand how stunning it is. Not only has this tiny patch of heaven- on- earth hosted a deluge of the rich and renowned (Jackie Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Richard Wagner to name but a few) it’s provided endless inspiration for artists, musicians and writers throughout the ages. Ravello has a history of capturing hearts and it can certainly add mine to the list.

ravello amalfi coast

📷 by Em – Sasa with his jolly red umbrella outside of the Villa Rufolo. 

Wandering round the piazza and passing the Villa Rufolo, we walked to a café at the edge of the square for another coffee and soak up even more of the other-worldly landscape. Clutching frothy cappuccinos the girls and I kept grinning at each other, continuously expressing our awe and amazement that a place like this could be real.

Late afternoon eventually rolled around which signalled the end of excursion. Back on the coach again and settled in our seats, a sated silence fell over our group as the most peacefully dozed for the hour and bit return drive to our starting points in Sorrento.

I plugged in my headphones, closed my eyes and mentally replayed the last eight hours.

What day.

What a tour.

And when can I go back?

 


Nearly two weeks ago I did go back on my own, nine months later from this trip, and was lucky enough to share the Amalfi Coast drive all over again with my bestest pal D. 

We love you 🇮🇹

Review: Amalfi Coast Drive from Sorrento

The quick guide to visiting Bath

10 things to see & do

 

things to do in bath city

📷 by Lauren Emil 

The City of Bath is a honey-hued warren of beautiful Georgian buildings, windy cobbled streets, and in some parts a network of subterranean caverns.

Cupped between the hilly Wiltshire countryside, in the thick of Jane Austen country, Bath attracts a range of visitors from spa breakers, to romantic weekend away-ers, stag & hen do-ers (although more hen parties than stags I’d say) and fly-by day trip-ers.

Bath is one of those places which has a touch of an X-Factor quality about it that you just can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a metropolis of theatres, museums, history and more quality places to eat and drink in than you can shake a stick at.

The biggest tip for visiting Bath is as soon as you know a rough idea for dates, start booking the places where you want to go as rocking up on the day without your name on a list could leave you disappointed (there are also potential early booking benefits to snap up so do some digging). Particularly for restaurants, karaoke pods and certain bars during peak times like wedding season or Christmas.

Needless to say, any kind of trip to this city will leave you utterly charmed to pieces and fervently repeating  ‘when we come back here..’  over and over again – mentally planning your next visit before you’ve even left.

Here’s a round up of food, drink and general ‘tick-off-your-list’ things to do in Bath.

 

/ Thermae Bath Spa

thermae bath spa

📷 by www.thermaebathspa.com

Take a dip amongst the rooftops at the Thermae Spa. Private treatment rooms, a little café and indoor and outdoor pools fed with the naturally warm thermal spring waters running under the city make up this particular ‘thing to do’ in Bath.  As you can guess, the spa gets ridiculously busy, so booking a slot is essential whatever month you visit. If you’ve not made reservations though it is possible to get in relatively crowd-free if you start queueing up a good half-hour before the Thermae Spa opens. Get in and get out.

The absolute best time to go to have the place mostly to yourself would be midweek in the colder off-seasons. Try and wangle it so you’re up there for sunset, all snuggly under the toasty hug of the waters while dusk plays across the sky.

 

/ Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House

sally lunn bun bath

📷 by www.theculturetrip.com

Food, history AND a quaint little chocolate-box of a building…be still my beating heart. Drop into Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House for slice of the past in the form of this legendary treat. Here’s the birthplace of the Bath Bun – although describing this iconic baked-good as a ‘bun’ is technically misleading says the folks running the show. It’s more part bun, part cake, part bread (a.k.a one rather tasty brioche style mongrel), but calling it a ‘Bath Bun’ is an alliteration masterpiece that’s just stuck – and no reservation is needed if you’re sampling the wares throughout the day (although turning up for actual lunch /afternoon tea / dinner is advised to book in advance). The buns are an excellent vehicle for savoury or sweet toppings.

sally lunn bun bath savoury or sweet📷 by www.sallylunns.co.uk         

Think scrambled eggs, home-made lemon curd, chocolate butter or double bacon as topping options…*dribbles on screen*

Unless otherwise stated, you will be served half a bun. You might get a top or a bottom – the tops tend to get used for sweet buns and bottoms for the savoury, although there’s no hard and fast rule. Their website quite rightly suggests that If there’s two of you, why not ask for a top and a bottom so you get to try both.

 

/ Sleight Bar Bath

sleight magic bar bath

📷 by www.sleightbarbath.co.uk

Stick with this one as from the outside the Sleight Bar looks like steps down to a grotty public toilet on the side of a  not-so-pretty pub, but as always it’s what’s on the inside that counts. This is not a posy posh bar where one drink is a tenner – Bath has plenty of those – this a bar where you’ll get a side of card tricks with your cocktails …OOOOooooOOOO!!

Yep, this bar has roaming magicians. It’s cheap for drinks, attracts a down to earth crowd and is so much fun if you’re after something a little quirky. The last time I went it was as part of a hen do where we hired one of the enclaves for the whole evening (£50) and got a private magic show which blew our collective minds.

 

/ Hare & Hounds

hare and hounds bath

📷 by www.hareandhoundsbath.com

The hill-top pub is perfect for a spot of breakie with a view. Not only is the Hare & Hounds a gorgeous building flanked by neat gardens, exposed wooden beams and panoramic windows, the staff are wonderfully friendly plus the food is somewhat cheap in comparison to the actual quality of dishes being served.

Having eaten a full English here on three separate occasions because of the deliciously fluffy scrambled eggs and reasonable prices (£8 for the works before drinks), the incredible floor to ceiling vistas overlooking Bath city is what entices me back each time.

If you’re hardcore and want to earn your bacon, Hare & Hounds is perched on a rather steep incline to walk up to, so I’d advise hopping in/on some kind of motor vehicle to reach it.

hare and hounds bath

📷 by www.hareandhoundsbath.com

The views kinda turn eating toast into a special occasion.

 

/ Bath Abbey

bath abbey

📷 by www.cathedralandchurchshops.com

Ah, Bath Abbey, a limestone mammoth of imposing Gothic architecture, shooting up from the main tourist hub of Bath. If anything the Abbey is a perfect marker / meet up point for groups running around the city doing different things. It’s exceptionally photogenic and has a rich history to get stuck into. The Abbey is right next to the Roman Baths and The Pump Room. It’s also free to get into but a small donation is suggested (and is a nice thing to do). You could pay a little extra on the day and join a Tower Tour around the bell chambers.

 

/ Have a walk round The Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent Bath

📷 by The Royal Crescent Bath

The star of many period dramas both on the small and the big screens, The Royal Crescent is a sweeping Georgian terrace of Grade I listed houses overlooking Royal Victoria Park. It’s an iconic Bath landmark and an absolute must-see during your visit.

A walk and a gaze is completely free, plus there’s lots of information about the buildings dotted around the place. Feeling flush? Stay at The Royal Crescent Hotel and pamper yourself in the swanky spa (like, it’s seriously chic). There’s an afternoon tea option if you want to experience some fancy without blowing a hole in your bank account. Or you know, just have a gin at the bar.

 

/ Fashion Museum

fashion museum bath

📷 by www.fashionmuseum.co.uk

If fabrics and textiles are your thing, then the Fashion Museum will rock your socks off as a unique thing to do in Bath. Holding a world-class collection of historic and modern dress, you’ll walk through the core exhibition as well as temporary curated pieces (Lace in Fashion is on from now until January 2018. One highlight includes a navy blue lace dress worn by Léa Seydoux in the James Bond, Spectre 😍😍). The museum has a dress-up area for those wanting to see if they can pull off a Georgian bonnet and ruffles and morning sketch sessions on the first Saturday of every month.

 

/ Pulteney Bridge

pulteney bridge bath

📷 by www.bath.co.uk

The Pulteney Bridge is a site you’ll encounter pottering around the centre of the city, just a short walk from the abbey. Heralded as one of the world’s most romantic bridges, it’s part of a handful of historic connections with shops built into it. Constructed in 18th century with the purpose of joining Bath with the land on the other side of the River Avon (and making some serious cash for the bridge’s backer, William Pulteney who would charge people to cross it), the bridge now days is an insta-worthy Bath icon.

Get your snaps done in the morning as in the afternoon Pulteney Bridge is in the shadows, it’s best viewed from Parade. The bridge is also a good start / finish point for a night-time stroll with someone special too, as there are plenty of cosy places to eat and drink nearby.

 

/ The Pig near Bath

THE PIG NEAR BATH

📷 by www.rosesandrolltops.co.uk

OK so not technically in Bath but it’s near Bath (hint in the full name). The Pig is a small independent chain of upmarket yet quirky hotels who are big on utilising good local food and good (sometimes local) wine. And when I say wine, I mean this place has wine for daaaayyys.

The Pig near Bath has an air of eccentric old English gent about it. Furnished a bit ‘mock-Victorian’ with glittering stately chandeliers, printed wallpaper to die for and scatterings of designer furniture that have been made to look ‘worn’, but an inkling tells you somehow just one threadbare chintzy sofa costs more than the average car. It’s at a pricier end of the scale but there’s no pretence here though. Spend £6 or £6,000 you’ll still be treated like royalty.

(Pssst…you don’t have to stay here to experience The Pig, popping in for drink or bite to eat is totally fine.)

 

/ Roman Baths

Roman Baths

📷 by www.romanbaths.co.uk

Last but by no means least, a trip to Bath would not be complete without dropping by the Roman Baths. A complex of steaming pools framed by crumbly ruins. You’ll see the remains of the ancient temple, fascinating artefacts (although they wouldn’t look out of place if being sold from some trendy garden centre) and shells of Roman changing rooms and saunas below the modern street level. Have a sip of the mineral spring waters while here if you get a chance.

Naturally, this is one of Bath’s busiest sight’s to see so getting your timing right is pretty crucial too. It’s recommended that an early doors start is the best course of action to avoid the crowds. Going mid-week will further decrease the throngs of people.

 


Obviously being the glorious city that it is, Bath has 24679 million more restaurants, bars and stuff to see and do but I’d end up with claw-hands from incessant typing.

And I kinda need my hands.

Here are some other notable bits.

Watch hot air balloons take off at Royal Victoria Park  / Have afternoon tea at the Pump Rooms / Dinner at Clayton’s Kitchen / Drinks at Sub 13 / Walk or cycle along the canal / Visit The Dark Horse, one of the world’s best bars / Brace the crowds at Bath Christmas Market / Catch a show at the Theatre Royal / Learn a little about Jane Austen 

Finally, if driving, start or cap off your trip to Bath with a stop at Stonehenge.

The quick guide to visiting Bath

Oh Vienna

Whirlwind weekend in VIENNA

 

Vienna weekend away

📷 by www.theviennablog.com

There’s nothing quite like a city break in the ‘in between’ months (or any kind of break let’s be honest), spending a long weekend with a couple of your bestest girls in a fabulous city is something that just can’t be beat*.

For me, the ingredients that make up a perfect short escape are lots of art, consuming at least 1000+ calories per meal, heaps of walking from one historical site to another, drinking delicious wine and mucking about on city rent-a-bikes.

Just one hour + 45 minutes away by plane and Vienna was the autumnal playground for myself, R and B (R‘n’B ha!) to diligently carry out the activities listed above.

Fast forward weeks of planning outfits…

Vienna weekend away

📷 Screenshot from the most sacred of exchanges – The Girl’s Whatsapp group

And trawling the internet for the weekend’s itinerary inspiration (The Vienna Blog is THE one-stop-shop for helping plan out where to go and what to see) and figuring out the best routes to get round everything on my our list.

Myself, R and B kicked off our trip scoffing face-sized pain au chocolat’s and downing caffeine by the gallon at Gatwick early one Saturday morning. Buzzing from the copious amounts of coffee consumed and the anticipation of a decadent girl’s weekend away laying out ahead of us, we practically skipped off the plane through Vienna airport and located the self-service kiosk that distributes tickets for the CAT train into the city.

Sadly not a feline-themed mode of transport, but could you imagine if it was??!! 😍

The City Airport Train takes around 15 minutes in whisking you from Vienna Airport (which is humongous) to the centre of the city. Collecting our tickets – €17 for a return trip valid for 6 months. You can take a cab from the airport into central Vienna but expect to pay €35-40 per journey – we boarded one of the green and silver double decker carriages (which was exciting as we had never seen anything like this. Southern Rail, take note, train overcrowding can be avoided) to the main station of Wein Mitte. The semi-suburban countryside gradually gave way to big concrete buildings with scrawling graffiti tagged in impossible to reach places.

Spiderman’s real guys. He’s a frustrated Austrian teen with a penchant for the word ‘bitch’.

Clattering off the CAT train feeling like superior travellers, we strode up to another ticket machine to purchase our travel cards for the Vienna U-Bahn.

Oh there’s no option to turn the words on the screen from German to English.

Hmm. Well that’s fine. It’s a ticket machine, how hard can it be to work out if we think rationally.

Agreeing within our group on a button that looks like a 24hour pass for use on the U-Bahn we start pushing crisp euro notes into one of the money slots.

The machine spits it out.

Giving the fresh notes a bit of a scrunch and crinkle, and a good old rub on the trousers, we try feeding them in again.

The note flops back out. Nope, it’s not having it.

Out comes the plastic.

The three of us start to get panicky now as a queue of impatient, tutting Austrians is forming behind us while we are literally embodying the clueless, faffing ‘Brits Abroad’ stereotype that the rest of the world laughs at us for.

R punches in her PIN code.

The purchase goes through but the anticipated tickets don’t materialise and the screen resets itself to obnoxious ‘‘Welcome’ text animation. Stepping aside from the machine in confusion so that the perturbed commuters behind us could successfully buy their tickets, we exchanged puzzled looks and gave a fraught verbal run down of what just happened. Were we going to end up in this ticket hall for the entirety of our Vienna trip? Yes. At this moment it felt so.

“I’m going to try again” said R, taking a place in the queue.

“OK, I’ll try the second machine” replied B, joining the end of a second line.

The saga continued for another 15 minutes. Until by what seemed like a fluke, R successfully purchased three U-Bahn tickets.

(You then have to validate them on the little red bollards before the platform. I suggest discretely scoping out how the locals glide through.)

We quickly reached our stop in the neighbourhood of Schwedenplatz –smug traveller bubbles gradually being re-flated – and bickered our way to the Airbnb apartment from the metro station, guided by a pre-plotted GoogleMap on my phone.

‘I’m sure the map means this way’

‘It can’t be down here, these look like office blocks’

‘What?! I can’t hear you, over the sound of the case wheels on these FUCKING cobbles!’

Eventually locating the building (which we walked passed twice trying to find it), contacting the Airbnb’r about how to unlock the door (it appears we’re ‘those people’ who need to take a capability test before going on holiday) we were dumping our bags in the simple apartment, refreshing faces for the afternoon and prospect of lunch.

Let loose on the streets trying to find the Royal Opera house and a gaggle of eateries that surrounded the venue, our raised spirits rapidly deteriorated when we got lost.

Again.

For this I take full responsibility as I suggested dragging the girls to the Royal Opera house area for food as it ‘will be soooooooo nice’ but stupidly didn’t work out a route on Google beforehand as I thought it would be effortless to find.

Hangry and frustrated, R whips out her phone to solve all our problems. Except her map wasn’t picking up a GPS signal.

Great.

Everyone is grumbley once more.

Another 20 minutes of trying different roads for restaurants, an empty café stood out like an oasis in the desert and we rushed through the entrance.

‘Do you serve wine?’ R asks determinedly striding in and up to the bar / counter.

‘Ummm yes’ the waiter / barman answers confused and unsure about the question, his eyes darting across the 3 of us nervously.

Plopping into the chairs around a window seat table, this was not the pretty Viennese restaurant I had envisioned to find on our first day here.

But none of us cared at this point. Lunch was ordered (chicken & chips + a bottle of white) and devoured in record time.

Fed and with happy hats back on, we drew out lunch for another hour to rest weary legs from the miles of wandering done that day.

Around mid-afternoon, tipsy, determined and armed with a set of directions to the Royal Opera House from our pal barman / waiter we left the café only to find out how flipping close we actually were to the bloody thing in the first place.

First on our itinerary list was the Albertina museum. Home to Picasso, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Kandinsky…

Albertina, Opera House Vienna

📷 by Em 

It was quite a surreal experience staring half-cut at paintings you’ve only seen books.

 

bunny vienna

📷 by Em – B and her namesake.

Fountain Vienna

📷  by Em                              OI! You! Yes, you! No photos!!

Our late lunch buzz slowly wore off, signalling time to head back to the apartment to get ready for the evening.

A quick nap and a good hour spent dolling ourselves up for dins and drinks, we tumbled out of the apartment to a local sushi restaurant a short walk away.

Yes, I know. Vienna isn’t really known for its sushi, so why the fuck did we end up there?

Another one of my boo-boos.

I had planned for us to go to Figlmüller on the Saturday night, but didn’t make a booking, thinking how busy could it be? Apparently, very.

It was full up when I rang to reserve a table as we first arrived in our apartment earlier that day. The only table they could give us was for the Sunday at 6.30pm. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t already booked us in to Motto am Fluss – a really cool modern-Austrian restaurant that’s on the river.

Silly Emma.

I rang up Motto am Fluss to switch dinner plans around but they were fully booked for that Saturday evening.

Figlmüller is the home of schnitzel in Vienna, we couldn’t not go during this trip. Sadly I cancelled our table at Motto am Fluss for the Sunday and made the executive decision to take the reservation at Figlmüller instead (#firstworldproblems).

Moral of the story book Motto am Fluss and book Figlmüller as they are both popular.

So back to the sushi place, this was the only restaurant in what seemed like the whole of the city that had a table available for three on a Saturday night.

Glammed up to the nines we rocked up at IKO (which by the way is quite casual, so we got some ‘looks’. Like, ‘who the fuck wears a metallic mini skirt for sashimi’ kind of stares. Well me. I wear a metallic mini skirt for sashimi) it was busy. And hot. Oh very, very hot as the kitchen was a feature within the actual restaurant, so we started sweating from every pore approximately 0.09 seconds after our heels crossed the threshold. Needn’t have bothered with the 45 minutes it took perfecting a dark smoky eye as our make-up steadily disintegrated, one drip at a time.

The waitress parked us at the end of a long communal table and took our order shortly after.

The food was cracking, as was the wine. Plates upon plates of sushi, Thai noodles and spring rolls.

Then drunk on Pinot Grigio and wasabi, I took charge of the girls once more and herded them to a wine bar back up the road that was number 2 on TripAdvisor with rave reviews about how charming a venue it is and happened to be literally round the corner from our apartment.

Vinothek W-Einkehr is run by a husband and wife duo, Roland and Sylvia. Their speciality is wine and cheese, with the place being a shop during the day but a bar at night. Don’t be put off by the smell when you first go in though because it does pong a bit like the back end of donkey’s arse.

A rowdy group of trashed Austrian laaaaaddds were there crowding round the glass cheese counter, stumbling and bellowing at each other in this little space.

Whoops, have I fucked up again… my brain slurred to itself thinking I’ve bought everyone to some shitty shop that serves a bit of warm booze.

We slid past them to a table; Roland came over and started quizzing us immediately about who we were, where we were from and what we planned on doing in during our stay in Vienna. Off the back of his questioning he says he has the perfect wine for us to try.

I couldn’t tell you what it was. Could’ve of been Austrian Jacobs Creek for all we knew but it was delicious and we had some more.

The drunktards eventually left to shout at each other somewhere else so it was just the three of us, Roland and Sylvia for the rest of the evening.

 

I ❤ Vienna #winetime 🍷🍷🍷🍷

A post shared by E M M A T A Y L O R (@ohemmt) on

 

B and I woke roughly at the same time to the sound of R softly snoring in the corner, on a squeaky sofa-bed.

Blissfully scratch-free from the hangover fairy, the sun was shining (kind of) as we got ready for the day.

Also picked up a handy travel trick courtesy of R in the process…

The top that I had wanted to wear was severely wrinkled. Creased clothes don’t bother me as looking like I have a touch of the scruff is my signature style according to B. This top resembled a dish-rag though when I pulled it on. Moaning to the girls that there was no iron to sort it out, R laughed and said ‘You don’t need an iron. Come here.’ Bending down to the socket to plug in her hair dryer, she yanked taught the hem of my screwed up top, whacked up the heat and switched on the power. Blasting the fabric on my body with the hair dryer, close enough to warm up the fibres but not staying in one place long enough to cause me third degree burns, she worked her way round my outstretched arms. The hair dryer clicked off and she marched me over to the mirror ‘There. Much better.’

Staring at my reflection, the top was wrinkle-free.

Have since tried this trick on countless other cotton-like garments I can’t be bothered to iron and it works every time.

I was itching to get going because breakfast is my favourite meal. And any deviation from having a hurried mouthful of porridge while I get ready for work I find very indulgent and exciting (i.e. having it served to me in bed, airport breakfasts and going to an actual restaurant).

Don’t get me wrong, I love a boozy lunch, or a long tasty dinner as much as the next person but breakfast never fails to get me geared up. I love the variety of foods you can have to feed your fasting body. Sweet, flaky pastries, tangy fruits, spongy cakes, spicy poached eggs n’ avo on brown toast, a savoury sarnie dream made up of extra crispy bacon topped with lashings and lashings of ketchup.

Through obsessive Googling (isn’t it weird that Googling is a legitimate verb now compared to 10 years ago?) and scanning TripAdvisor reviews, I had found out that Café Central was a must-visit for breakie in Vienna.

Some people get hyped over must-have bags, must-have clothes, must-have shoes. I get my kicks from must-have breakfasts.

Practically pushing Rn’B out the door we wandered towards the city’s shopping district. The streets were eerily quiet. Nobody was around, save for the odd clan of elderly tourists and their flag wielding guide.

Vienna cathedral city

📷  by Em  

The route took us past the cathedral and up to the pocket of high-end shops. Working up an appetite gazing at the glossy things in the still windows, Café Central’s dark shiny doors shone brightly against the grey building in which it was housed.

Ever the keen beans, we were 35 minutes early for it opening – add not checking timings to my list of complaints for Taylor’s Travel Tours.

Rn’B are good sports though and usually trust me when I say ‘No, we HAVE to eat at this place’.

Killing time we faffed around taking obligatory pics under the sign

cafe central vienna

📷  by Em  

B kept glancing into the glass fronted café door with a confused crick in her brow every so often though.

‘Don’t both look at once girls, but that waiter-man in there has a huge bushy handle-bar moustache. He’s sitting by the door’.’ She says turning to us with a knowing look and making not-so-subtle head jerks towards to Café Central’s entrance.

Never ones to miss an opportunity to check out interesting people (because come on, how often to you see a properly full handle-bar moustache? You would’ve done the same) we started subtly craning our necks to get a good look. Clocking a bald man sporting a spectacular sprout of facial hair under his nose sitting by the door amidst the scurrying waiters and waitresses preparing for the café’s imminent 10am opening, we gawked in fascination.

‘He’s not doing anything.’

‘How long do you think he takes each day to brush that thing?’

‘Why’s he just sitting there staring out of the doors?’

‘Maybe he’s the manager or bouncer.’

‘How raucous can breakfast here get? It’s Vienna. Christ.’

‘Do you reckon he has a special comb?’

‘Guys, I think he’s a statue.’

 

*silence*

 

Ah.

Feeling silly and with still 15 minutes to go we drifted over to a stone wall to people watch actual people. At the 10 minutes-to mark a couple of people also lurking on the walls and against buildings around the café started forming a queue. Like moths to a flame, our British-ness compelled us to follow suit.

Five minutes to go before opening and the line for Café Central was quite long now. Passers-by had gradually joined the parade of Sunday breakfast goers, a riot nearly broke out between a German bloke who initiated the queue and a bunch of Russians who felt they were above the laws of queue etiquette by trying to push in front of him. We witnessed the back and forth, with lots of gesticulating and shaking of heads.

International crisis averted, the doors opened and everyone was happily seated to order their croissants and coffee.  Founded in 1876, the café has high vaulted ceilings with dramatic sweeping arches, intense dark wooden features and a luminous counter heaving with rows of little jewel-like pastries front and centre. It’s not a shabby place to have your morning cuppa.

vienna-breakfast cafe central

📷  by Em, R & B

All opting for a traditional Viennese Breakfast (soft boiled egg, semmel and a large buttery croissant with loads of jams), I ran down the plans for the rest of the day to the girls.

cafe central cake vienna

📷 by R

An hour later, sloshy with hot drinks, we bid adieu to Café Central and its moustached stony guardian. Meandering on down the road, our first stop was the Spanish Riding School.

Mixed feels about this organisation, a) don’t like the fact that these horses are kept in a city, I think they should be roaming the countryside (I know they get a summer hols and breaks and stuff, but still feel funny about the whole equine ballet thing) b) but the actual school and art itself is historical and impressive c) just because something is historical and impressive doesn’t mean it’s good i.e. Giza Pyramids being built by slaves. None of us were totally comfortable with it, needless to say we didn’t hang around for long, as not being horsey people the smell was starting to get pestilent.

Spanish riding school vienna

📷  by Em

Next on the tick list was the palace. Now armed with a physical map of the city (swiped from the riding school), what could go wrong in trying to find a sodding palace?

Everything I tell you.

In the end we all got so fed up trying to read the actual map, attempting a rescue with GPS and a failing 4G, three grumpy girls kept stomping up and down the same walkway over and over again trying to figure out where this bloody palace was.

Vienna is tiny compared London or Paris, and those cities have at least half a dozen palaces between them which are piss easy to find.

Admitting defeat and throwing the itinerary to the wind, we just started walking in a random direction.

And despite loving a good plan, obsessively researching places to go and plotting routes and schedules, sometimes you just need to wander in an unknown city with zero clue as to where you are going.

Correct, I am now officially a walking, talking  Pinterest quote.

But guess what? If we hadn’t of trailed off course and followed our noses, we would’ve never stumbled across ANOTHER Asian couple taking faux-wedding pictures outside a fancy-pants building.

But the scale of this production was minuscule compared to the full on glam squad Paris bride had.

Wedding photo Vienna

 📷 by Em

I feel now is the time to mention that I saw a third pair battling high and harsh Scottish winds on a blustery day at outside Edinburgh Castle (although chronologically, it was my second ‘faux-wedding’ sighting). Veils and Castle Rock in an almost storm do not mix! Let’s not also forget the couple in Mexico partaking in ‘candid’ holiday beach shots for ‘fun’.

It’s an epidemic I tell you.

The smell of warm sweet things and throng of people going in and out of a set of gates lured us to a park hosting a travelling funfair. Sticky-faced children rode a prettily painted wooden carousel, exasperated parents laden with bags of candy floss and popcorn attempted to muster up enthusiasm with each rotation to wave back at their little sugar-crazed darlings. Noisy rides with offensive flashing lights, jutted and jerked up and down much to the delighted screams of the occupants, carts sold packets of hot roasted chestnuts and circus folk darted in and out of the caravans haloing the main hubbub.

vienna weekend

 📷 by R

Uninterested in the fair, save for observing the odd bratty meltdown, the park path we followed led us up to the mammoth building framing the background of the festivities. Vienna’s Rathaus a.k.a The City Hall. The outside of the Rathaus is a vast expanse of time-stained limestone, with steps skirting the body of the hall and dramatic full window arches overlapping each other again and again, creating a simple striking pattern.

vienna girls

 📷 by Em

As someone who falls to pieces over the tiniest bit of art, I was knocked sideways taking in close up this example of extreme Gothic beauty.

Vienna Rathaus

 📷 Vienna Rathaus

I defy anyone not to feel a tiny bit awe-inspired when starring up at the colossal spires touching the sky.

Wandering aimlessly along the empty streets and chattering about nothing while walking, we pottered around the more modern areas of the city peering in the windows of the shut shops.

This is another thing to be aware of if you are visiting Vienna over a weekend. Shops shut on Sundays, including supermarkets. So make sure you have an ample stash of tampons and toothpaste packed in your case.

jewellery Vienna city

 📷 by Em – pretzel bling anyone?

Sensing we needed some semblance of a plan before we had trekked the whole city on foot, I suggested we pick up the itinerary again and go ride the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater.

Jumping on the metro and then walking the rest of the way (another 20 mins, soz guys)

Vienna girls weekend away

 📷 by Em – my little schnitzel.

We rocked up to the park.

Another fair seemed to be taking place, except this time there were a bunch of adults knocking around in lederhosen and dirndls.

All of us had totally forgotten it was Oktober-fest season.

Huge beer tents dominated the patch of green attached to the base of the Ferris wheel and theme park that is Prater. Stalls selling bratwurst, soft pretzels (edible ones not in jewellery form this time) and Glühwein lined the straw / bark mix pathway leading visitors through the event. My favourite feature was listening to a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face played by a Bavarian oompah band.

Similar to this one, but without the minuscule shorts.

prater Vienna

 📷 by Em

Weaving in and out of the stein-drinking crowds, we joined the short queue to buy tickets for the wheel.

€9.50 lighter, stepping into one of the carriages, our little red painted box slowly set off climbing the circumference of this mechanical circle.

view from prater vienna

 📷 by Em

There’s not much to really say about it. The wheel was fun, has some amazing views, lasts for around 20 minutes and it’s definitely a good thing to tick off the list of things to do when visiting Vienna for a weekend break.

Happy that we had at least done something blindingly touristy that day, tummies started rumbling for a sugary snack and wine.

On our epic morning walk we had come across Café Landtmann opposite the university and agreed it would be a good place for lunch. Hopping on the metro again from Prater to the other side of the river where we were a few hours previously, the sun finally started to play ball and burnt away the clouds for a bright blue-skied afternoon.

cafe landtman vienna

 📷 by Em

Sitting outside, shades on, we each tucked into whacking great slabs of cake, washed down with Viennese coffee and a round of Pimms / Aperol Spritz.

vienna drinks

 📷 by Em

This was it. We had set up camp for the afternoon now eating cake and drinking summer cups in the mild sunshine.

Time ticked on to mid-afternoon, suitably jazzed from half a dozen drinks between us, another itinerary activity was proposed.

Rent a trio of city bikes that were docked in a station opposite the café.

Yeshh! Thishh was-sh an excellent idea!

Paying a small fortune for a mostly liquid lunch, our little group ran across the road to the bike station and proceeded to spend a good half an hour figuring out how to release the bikes from their individual ports.

Basically you need a credit or debit card and A LOT of patience.

Not being drunk could also possibly help you too.

The three of us on wheels, we dropped into one of the cycle lanes that snake around the city and whizzed past the sights we had seen that morning. Past the Rathaus, past the location of the faux-wedding photo shoot, up the road we bore trenches in trying to find that bloody palace, through the archway marking out the Spanish Riding School…

bikes in vienna

 📷 by R – pic stop!

Dinging our bike bells at pedestrians in the cycle lanes, laughing and smiling our way, slightly out of breath, to the other side of the city again, we popped the bikes back in another docking station just under the free one hour you have to rent them before being charged. Knackered, hopped on the U-Bahn back to the apartment to get ready for the biggest bit of meat. Ever.

There are two Figlmüllers. They’re very near each other but the larger, grander looking Figlmüller at Bäckerstraße 6 is the newer restaurant to cope with the popularity overspill from the original ‘hole in the wall’ place.

As you can probably predict we turned up at the wrong restaurant (the newer one, there was a queue a mile long of people hoping to snap up an unreserved tables for walk-ins) until we got fed up with waiting and grabbed a harassed-looking waiter to explain that, um actually we had a booking unlike the rest of the rabble, (obviously with a touch of self-satisfied smugness that only comes from your name being on a much sought after ‘list’).

‘Eeh- Emma iz not on the list.’ He said quickly scanning a piece of paper with a huffy shrug of his shoulders.

‘Are you booked at this place? Or on Wollzeile street?’

He had a point there.

Google mapping the other Figlmüller 30 seconds away and giving my name at the door, we were ushered through another throng of table-chancers and squeezed into a corner cover squashed up against the front window.

Figlmüller vienna

The restaurant itself was lit in that soft, glowy, romantic light which acts as a real-life insta-filter and had tables crammed in at every available space – but not in a claustrophobic way as you’d expect, it perfectly accentuated the cosy charm.

The walls were covered in memorabilia of Vienna, Austria and a collection of grainy old photographs of family members who started up and continued to run this iconic Viennese restaurant.

A waiter materialised, took our wine order and handed over massive (in size as well as food listing) menus, describing each type of schnitzel and every possible way they serve it.

I opted for a chicken schnitzel with a side of shredded roast potatoes.

Oh my god it was massive.

Figlmüller schnitzel

 📷 by R                                          ‘That’s what she said.’

It was a beast of a meal and so delicious. Figlmüller is one of the best places to eat if you are in Vienna for a flying weekend visit. But take a lesson from me, book it in advance.

It was still earlyish when we finished up, so our little gang wandered the neighbourhood streets to ride out the meat-sweats.

We popped into an ice cream parlour at the edge of Lugeck, a stones-throw from Figlmüller  and our apartment. Selecting a couple of cold scoops each, we scuttled back to our place and topped off the night piling into the double bed to coo over Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock and the mega-babe that is Betty White on Netflix.

the proposal film

The next morning, after gathering up all of our assorted crap (and one *read: mine* prosecco soaked make-up bag left to dry over the sink from the first night *courtesy of R*) into a trio a of wheelie cases, we clanked and jangled back on the cobbled streets to the metro.

I picked Café Mozart for breakie as its smack in the heart of city and opposite the Vienna Opera house. I thought it would be another impressive place to eat scrambled eggs and sip tea surrounded by buckets of ambience and character.

But it was very flat.

The space itself is a grand restaurant that was probably fancier / more exciting in its younger days but is now purely drawing off the glow from its proximity to the Opera house and museums in the vicinity.

It was OK. And a bit expensive for an average breakfast, but whatever.

The final stop on our (slightly botched) weekend itinerary in Vienna was a visit to the Demel bakery.

Demel is the oldest bakery in Vienna, and like Augustus Gloop rocking up at Wonkaland, I was fizzing to get my mitts on some treats. Cue more map drama in actually finding the place, but we eventually got to Kohlmarkt street and saw a parade of people clutching bright mauve cake carriers with ‘Demel’ boldly printed in metallic gold and white lettering on the side.

Another traditionally Austrian building with huge front windows depicting scenes from children’s story books featuring clusters of sweet things as the star of the scenes.

The bakery was packed. And I mean rammed. You are fighting everyone and their mum to see inside the case of cakes and pastries to take away. Picking a small cake covered in hard pink icing, I paid and got out of the confectionery bloodbath as soon as I could. We sat in the seating area outside the bakery, R and I pulling apart our bright mauve boxes, fishing out our purchases eagerly.

demel bakery vienna

 📷 by Em

I bit into my cake expecting a light, fluffy, fondant-fancyesque cousin. What I got was a mouthful of marzipan and alcohol soaked heavy sponge.

It wasn’t for me, which was sad because it looked so pretty.

R however, had chosen well and was low-key obsessed with her chocolate cake.

Cake demel bakery

 📷 by B on R’s phone – look at those messy chops.

Washing everything down with a bottle of Wasser, we headed off to the station to take the CAT train back to the maze that is Vienna airport.

Three (ish) hours later, exhausted from a whirlwind weekend of fun and food, we were touching down at LGW (why is Gatwick always grey when you come back from holiday? No matter what time of year it is, that runway is shrouded in miserable clouds) and pulling in to the terminal.

I switched on my phone to a bazillion messages.

A new unread email caught my eye.

My face must have betrayed something because B nudged me to look up at her.

‘Everything alright?’ she said

‘Yep’ I replied, desperately trying to sound nonchalant while clicking the display to blacken in lock mode.

I smiled at B, pretend stretching my arms in the cramped plane seat space in front of me in an effort to appear unbothered by what I had just read, ‘Yeah, just mum asking about what I want for dins’.

Satisfied and smiling back, she turned away, standing up to get her stuff from the overhead locker along with R. My heartbeat rang in my ears as I unlocked my phone again, cupping my hand around the case in a casual attempt at shielding the contents from the girls. I glanced down at the email glowing brightly on the screen…

 

CONGRATULATIONS… OFFER FOR INTERVIEW – OVERSEAS POSITION

Hi Emma,

We are pleased to invite you to an assessment day interview for the upcoming winter season. The assessment day will start at 9.30am and will consist of various tasks. If successful through the morning sessions you will be asked to stay for an interview in the afternoon, so please be prepared to stay all day….

 

I was about to be pulled back to Austria sooner than anyone could possibly think…

 

vienna girls trip

📷 by R – die drei Freunde 

 

Steps walked: 46,797  Distance walked:  35.45km

*well maybe a couple of weeks somewhere exotic with Tom Hardy.

Oh Vienna

Made it to Mexico

GIRLS GONE WILD-ISH

 

Like how most summer holidays start, ours begun on a cold, rainy and grey morning.

F and I travelled to Gatwick together and met D at check-in, with tickets printed and bags swiftly pushed through drop off we swanned through security to browse the fragrant tempting maze of duty free.

After a good old airport breakfast and a game of which floppy hat suits D in Accessorize, we boarded the double-decker plane to Cancun. Getting comfy in our seats and flicking through the Tina Fey-heavy choice of films (not that I’m complaining, Sisters caused me to laugh out really loud much to the embarrassment of my travelling companions). One too many gins later, my pre-holiday buzz had upgraded a level as I got off the 10 hour flight clutching a bag of expensive perfume (“Yeshhh’ I’ll buy it! Put it on the card!”) accompanied by a foggy head.

The air in Mexico is thick with humidity, which immediately smacks you in the face when those plane doors open. It’s so dense you almost have to wade through the wet heat that clings to the atmosphere. Thankfully our driver came prepared to help three sweaty English ladies acclimatise and handed out icy bottles of water as we loaded up the transfer minivan to our first hotel.

I like a car journey as a passenger, I plug my headphones in and watch the world outside go about it’s day to day business or look at the surrounding scenery imagining what it would like to live in lands that are so different from the safe Surrey suburbs that I’m used to.

I can also be a bit of an anti-social twat and putting headphones in is the universal sign of ‘Dont you dare fucking talk to me’.

45 minutes later and we reached the Hard Rock Hotel in the Riviera Maya. More is more seems to be the motto when building a hotel in Mexico, as the some of the resort complexes we drove passed were comparable to small towns. HRH Riviera Maya was no exception.

riviera maya hard rock hotel mexico

📷 www.hrhrivieramaya.com

hard rock hotel riviera

📷 www.hrhrivieramaya.com

Disembarking the bus and feeling the gorgeous heat of the day radiating up from the ground around us, we were ushered into one of the cavernous receptions of the resort. Checking in with more chilled drinks while waiting to be taken to our room, the girls and I languished in the soothing cloud of aircon, taking in the fabulously cheesy pop/ rock memorabilia that Hard Rock establishments incorporate into their décor.

Ferried to our digs in a golf buggy, the all-inclusive bracelets we were given acted as a key card for entry (a stroke of semi-genius whoever came up with that). The room itself was all dark wood, black granite tops, with two big beds in the centre and a massive Jacuzzi® dominating one of the corners. Squealing (yes squealing) with excitement we ripped open our cases and slipped into shorts and flip flops. Feeling the lightness of the holiday spirit take hold with the shedding of restrictive jeans and crumpled travelling clothes we shuffled off to dinner. Obviously our first night in Mexico was celebrated by gorging on huge portions of nachos, fajitas, washing it all down with jazzy cocktails and crisp cold beer. The heavy feed, hours of travelling and effects of daytime drinking started to weigh on us, signalling the time for bed.

I woke up with a start and glanced at the digital clock.

5.25 am

Urgh.

Peeking through the curtains, outside was still dark. I settled back into the bedsheets and willed myself to fight yesterday’s timezone and drift off again. With my body clock winning I heard a familiar ‘tip-tap-tap-tip’ rhythm of a finger prodding a touchscreen.

‘D? You awake?’

‘Yeah, what’s the time?’

Spontaneity then unexpectedly struck…

‘Early. Want to go watch the sun rise on the beach?’

Leaving F zonked out, D and I ran still in pjs, barefoot, in a jet-lagged disorientated haze towards the beach we had caught a glance of the night before. Settling on the sides of a stone gazebo that jutted out in to the rocky shore line, the first whispery tendrils of pinky purple light started to score the inky sky.

We kept giggling at each other, revelling in the fact we were here, in Mexico! It was warm! We’re in pjs with no one else around except the sea birds, watching the new day break over the waves.

I love watching sunrises. I see it as a little sprinkle of something special that happens even on the most mundane of days. To me, there seems to be more magic in it than a sunset (which I ‘aint knocking, as that is also pretty epic to watch). I think it’s something to do with the anticipation of the coming day and what could happen. It also makes me feel really, really small and puts much needed perspective on my tiny human life and irrelevant human problems, but I digress!…

The sun inched higher in the sky as we explored the small patch of sand that was set back from the curling wall of rocks protecting the hotel’s cove from choppy sea. Worrying that F would have woken up and freaked to find us gone we headed back to the room (needn’t have worried, she was still face down snoozing away on a stack of fluffy pillows). Gently waking her, we got ready for breakfast.

Filling up on fruit, crispy bacon, quesadillas and breakfast desert (a.k.a. pastries and cake, thanks for legitimising this practice F!) The strict diet that we all had intended to adhere to was swiftly kicked out the window.

Bellies full of every breakfast food imaginable, the rest of the early morning was spent exploring the hotel grounds, browsing the over-priced gift shops and stopping every so often to read the placards against the pieces of music history on display.

mexico girls holiday summer

Arty 📷 by D – spot what F forgot to pack…. 

One on the shops showed a feeds to all the Hard Rock Cafes around the world, kind of weird seeing a bunch of Aussie’s having a wild dance off in Sydney, while subdued Italians enjoyed dinner in Rome. Couldn’t help but think that someone somewhere in the world might be watching us post-breakfast on a television at a different Hard Rock establishment.

Then again it might not have been live, just in case though, be on your best behaviour. At this point it was only 8am but already touching 30 degrees, so after a serious sun-creaming sesh we set up camp by the pool.

mexico hard rock riviera

📷 by D + Em – These handsome chaps are free to roam the extensive gardens at HRH Riviera Maya. 

By the time lunch rolled around, we lazily pulled ourselves up from our sunbeds and ate our way through a mountain of olives and BBQ chicken (plus more quesadillas, whatever form it takes, you can never have enough carbs and melted cheese.)

Flopping back on our sunbeds embracing yet another food coma, dark and threatening clouds rolled in from the sea. The tropical rain showers lasted around 15 minutes, which was quite a pleasant rest-bite from the blazing sun.

Once the day drew to a close, we headed back to the room for showers and read a bit more on the balcony before dins (can’t tame us!).

hammock mexico holiday

📷 by F

I loved the balcony, it was my favourite spot the whole holiday. There was a fab hammock next to the railing which meant you got a good push off and decent rocking motion going, allowing for maximum relaxation feeling the balmy afternoon wash over you while listening to the quiet…

“OH MY GAAAAADD!!! Hahahahahahahahahaaaaaaa!”

Nearly forgot about the Americans.

Yep.

Have a holiday in Mexico, particularly Cancun and be prepared to share the space with lots of Americans, Mexico is the equivalent to them as Devon & Cornwall is to us. That being said, every ‘murican we chatted to was wonderfully friendly and not all of them screeched like foghorns. 

By day three we fell into an established holiday routine; up early, double breakfast, slink onto sunbeds with enough books for several holidays – working out the best area away from the loud music that was pumped round the pool area (DJ Snake feat Lil Jon ‘Turn Down For What’ was played approximately 745 times a day and now causes an involuntary shudder every time I hear it. HRH Riviera Maya is a party hotel, ideal for ‘Spring Break! Spring Break!’), and being slightly out of visibility from the hotel’s entertainment team who would try and rope people in tequila based ‘games’.

girls holiday mexico

📷 by F

No thank you. Not a team player at home, certainly not a team player in Mexico.

Our days would be broken up with a liquid elevenses (“D, another G&T?”), discussions about what we were reading, swimming and gossiping. A collection of growing clouds would start signalling the end of the sunbathing day (usually with a quick downpour) and we’d head back to our room for more balcony reading on the hammock and open up D’s bar.

Ah D’s bar, where everybody knows your name…! (stolen from Cheers!)

D would take charge of pouring healthy sploshes of rum and lemonade into mugs while we waited in turns for the shower. I was bar wench and DJ, F would look on at us embarrassed at our enthusiasm for ABBA and Wham!. We let her be DJ once, it lasted for 0.3 seconds before she was promptly sacked from the role for having abysmal taste in music.

We’d then pick a place for dinner, suitably jazzed up and order more drinks, tease D into trying to eat something we knew she’d hate, then drift back to the room for more drinks and reading before bed. Debauched days of girls gone wild are behind us (aside from one night we decided to order room service – btw if you are are certain type of All Inc. at the Hard Rock Rivera Maya you can order a real life electric guitar and amp to your room for shits and giggs – wolfed down 3/4’s of the menu, got tipsy, danced on the balcony in bikini’s much to the surprised delight of the occupants of the room directly opposite us. About as crazy as we got).

nachos picnic mexico📷 by D –  TIP: Nachos + accompanying gallon of guacamole is best enjoyed served as a floor picnic.

Some adventure days out were squeezed in too as we went zip lining. Having a bad case height freights I thought I was going to puke over the people milling around below on the first ‘easy’ line of the zip line trail and D would have a nice memento in the form of a photograph that she would probably have made into keyrings, t-shirts and coffee mugs, but you do end up relaxing into throwing yourself off a ledge 45 metres high. The adventure park we were playing in was smack bang in the middle of the Mexican jungle. You can go kayaking, swim in underground rivers plus more zip lining than you can shake a stick at. Also learnt that there’s such a thing as natural sun cream and bug spray, neither of which were very effective for us FYI.

The highlight for me was driving the amphibious off-road buggies, again crapping myself as I stepped up to the drivers seat – more out of damaging my ego if I did something that garnered an eye roll and mutter of “Pfft, female driver” response, which just goes to show how ingrained that ridiculous stereotype is that it can touch someone in the middle of a jungle in Mexico.

Nevertheless, it was my first time being in charge of an automatic, with everything set up on the other side of the vehicle. All those years of playing GTA with my sister as a teenager had better pay off, plus having the girls trust in me as willing passengers gave a huge confidence boost.

It was so much fun.

We drove into caves, trundled down big bumpy tacks, skidded through windy hair pin turns, bounced over humps and zipped across shallow streams of water. Every squeal from the girls egged me on further, gauging how fast I could take a corner without capsizing the car.

Then some douchebag dude in a cap ruined it for everyone by showing off in a cave. He bashed the side of his tyre on a rock so hard that the front bar of his buggy bent and the front wheels kept turning in circles causing an underground traffic jam until the park rangers came to sort the mess out… Pfft, male driver.

mexico-holiday-4

📷 by D, Em + F

Nearing the end of our trip we moved onto our next hotel back towards Cancun airport. Another minibus picked us up just before lunch to take us to the Paradisus Cancun.

The Paradisus Cancun is set on top of a hill within the hotel zone of Cancun (Zona Hotelera). It’s not nestled in sprawling green grounds like the Hard Rock but it was no less impressive. Five looming pyramids make up the Paradisus Cancun as an homage to Mayan culture, each capped with a glass tip. The vibe was that of pure luxury from the moment our transfer pulled up to the entrance. A swarm of porters took care of our bags and as we wondered wide-eyed with awe through the entrance. The vast lobby (it was so big I’m not even sure lobby is the right word? Vestibule? Foyer? Picture a space of cathedral-sized proportions and then double it)drew your eye up to the reverse side of the high glass ceiling that topped the building. Frothy green creeper plants cascaded down from the walkways that looped along the walls of the hotel, with a sunken Polynesian-style bar / restaurant at the heart of the room.

mexico-5

📷 by D + F 

The smell of the hotel was heavenly too, every day and in each different area there was a new delicious smell to welcome you. A member of staff said that are big on incorporating the five senses for guests experience. Sadly no candles or room scent spray ‘eau de Paradisus’ are available for purchase in the gift shop, will have to continue to stick it out with Febreeze. Think they are missing a trick there!

Our butler (!!!!) Rossana showed us our room. No need to change out of travelling clothes this time as we were coming from one pool to just to flop at another that day. After quick snoop round our new quarters and top up of sun cream we went on the hunt for lunch.The beach was wider here and sand whiter, the sea was still rough though but the stunning shades of blue made up for it.

 paradisus mexico beach

📷 by Em

 

We settled down for the afternoon under the powerful sun, picking up our standard day to day mode of reading, talking and drinking.The weather seemed to have shifted for the better, as the end-of-day rain clouds never materialised D’s bar reopened in its new location. Went for dinner tapas restaurant, amazing food. Glass ceiling had delicate lasers dancing on the panes. Polishing off a cracking basket of churros, ice cream and hot chocolate sauce for pud. Back to room for more before-bed balcony reading (sadly no hammock, so slummed it in a normal chair). Laid in until 8am (!) and floated down to breakfast for fresh pancakes and crispy bacon. The day played out the same, languishing in the sun with an endless supply of mimosas, swapping between loungers and huge squishy Bali beds, getting overly competitive with several games of pool volleyball.

mexico-girls-holiday-6

📷 by Em + D

OH, and watch a couple do a ‘natural’ beach photo shoot. He was clearly uncomfortable and hated every second, refusing to speak to his wife throughout the duration of the shoot. She was lapping it up, jumping on the poor sods back, pretend kissing his cheek, pushing him into forced romantic-style poses. The whole thing was reminiscent of the couple I snapped outside of Notre Dame back in Paris. 

beach couple photoshoot

📷 by Em

Rossana had booked us into the pan-Asian restaurant for dinner. As expected the food was out of this world amazing, even got D – a fish-hating fussy eater extraordinaire – to try the best seared Tuna steak in the world. In fact I’m so confident that this was hands down the best tuna steak in world, D loaded more on to her plate and now eats Tuna steak regularly now we’re back home. That’s how life changing this dish was.

 girls dinner mexico

📷 by F

As it was our penultimate eve in Mexico we decided to break the routine and go for a couple of after dinner drinks. The lounge bar was busy so the girls went off to secure seats while I went to battle the bar. Leaning over two blonde ladies seated at the counter to speak to the barman.

“Two gin & tonics please and an orange juice.”

One of the blondies slams her hand down on the side of the bar and nearly spits her drink out.

She swallows and whips her round to face me.

“Oh. My. God. You’re British?!!” she shrieked with a Deep South twang.

Now I don’t know about any other fellow Brits, but when someone (and it’s nearly ALWAYS the Yanks) makes a comment about my Surrey-English accent I play it up a bit. Channelling Liz Hurley with just a hint of Hugh Grant mumble-stutter.

“Oh, er, yes. I suppose I am.”

Excitedly grabbing my arm, eyes glittering with the tell-tale tipsy sign from whatever fruity cocktail the stack of empty glasses in front of her contained, she calls over to her drunken husband “This girl’s British! She’s British! Are you listening me Dave*? Dave! Listen!” She turns back to me still clutching my forearm, tilting her head to one side and smiling “Say something British.”

“Oh, right. Um. Ok. What shall I say? Now I’m really on the spot. Ha-ha!”

“You’re a magical unicorn” she sighs, leaning forward, staring at me hard.

“ ‘Ello guv-na! You sah-ound like you’re from Lan-dan!” Her huge, loud and drunker husband Dave shouts at me from the corner of the bar in a terrible cringe-cockney accent.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot D walking over to us at the bar, my new American friend is going to lose her mind with two English girls conversing in front of her “Do you need a hand with drinks?” says D eyeing up the grip Miss USA has on my arm.

“Wait. What?” Miss USA looks at D, then looks at me. Confusion spreading across her face as she tries to figure out if she’s seeing double from too many Tequila’s or if there really are a pair of very similar sounding and looking British girls in front of her.

“There’s another unicorn?” she slowly breathes out gawping at D.

Just wait until F comes along in a minute pet, you won’t be able to handle it!

Lapping up the attention from our British-ness and a couple of gins down. The three of us got comfy at the bar talking to our new pal for the evening. I was introduced to a GORGEOUS lady called Georgette, looking like she stepped out of the Real Housewives of Houston County. Cracking body, huge boobs, big bouffanty platinum blonde hair, blinding white teeth and carefully applied make-up. She was everything I pictured a real Southern Belle to be. She gushed about her son going off to college ‘in the fall’, the Rodeo that comes to Houston every year and her collection of sparkly rhinestone cowboy boots and matching hats.

Turned out our new Yankee pals had never had Sambuca shots before, and we as ambassadors for Brits abroad everywhere had to do our civic duty and educate.

From that point on it did not end well for me.

The last recollection of that night serves up me engaging in a long political debate with an old trilby-wearing Trump supporter (a.k.a. a Trumplestiltskin) waffling out my views on Cameron, Obama and Brexit (was pre-referendum).

This where my memory leaves me and the following account of the rest of the evening is paraphrased from my sober knight in a mini dress, F.

“It was so gross, you HUGGED him –yuck- you hugged the Trumplestiltskin supporter and he looked really happy about it. Like really happy. Like gross old man happy. Then you just jumped off the stool and said ‘Ok I’m going to bed now’ and started walking towards the way out. I say walking you were swaying pretty hard. I had to grab D and run after you to make sure you made your way back alright and alone. You were staggering quite a bit too so I held your hand. And then this random guy came up to me and said that I should take you to bed obviously I told him that’s what I’m doing. Then you and D were having a drunken rant about the Trumplestiltskin, both shouting that you ‘Hate him! You hate him! He’s stupid and you don’t like him’ I had to tell you two to ‘Shhh’ which made you both start giggling going ‘shhhhhhhhhhhh’ at eachother. It was like looking after big toddlers trying to get you back to the room. Once there D was able to pretty much able put herself to bed, you just crashed on top of it, fully dressed, shoes on, completely out of it. I started unbuckling your sandals but you kept saying you could do it. But you clearly couldn’t. So I undid them for you then you were really cute and softly said “I’m freeee”. Then I put the throw over you and you were back asleep.”

With a pounding head and mouth like the bottom of a bird cage I woke up still in my dress. I was reluctantly rolled out of bed along with an equally hungover D, as F wasn’t drinking the night before, she hauled our still half-drunk asses to breakfast for some alcohol absorbing carbs. Eventually creamed up and with tums lined with bread we commandeered a Bali sunbed for our last full day. The roasting sun helped with burning off the worst of the hangover, but by mid-afternoon I was crying on the inside and had to go lie down for a while in a darkened room.

The final evening was uneventful, coming off the tail end of a horrific hangover we spent it wolfing down sub-par tacos, with a bottomless bowl of nachos and guacamole. The anti-climactic end was followed by a gallon of ice cream watching the guests of a wedding party we had seen earlier that day throw some shapes on a makeshift dance floor.

The next day we were back on track being up early again to make the most of our last few hours of sunshine by the pool. Around lunchtime we piled into our transfer back to Cancun airport, miserably waving bye to nearly two weeks of books, Bacardi and the beach.

Landing at a grey Gatwick on a cold Sunday morning, tans feeling faded, feet clad in now soggy flip flops and the reality of our jobs to go back to that Monday looming over our heads, our holiday had come a full rainy circle.

Back to the grind.

Steps walked : Practically nothing  Distance walked: However far away the bar was

*His name probably isn’t Dave, artistic licence at work here.

Made it to Mexico