Category Archives: Cities

Why the UK isn’t so bad after all

Just like every other British person, I love to moan about Britain. What awful weather we have. Why must the bin man only come every fortnight? My Waitrose sausages aren’t as good as they used to be, can I have my money back?

I have always dreamed of moving away, to Australia, Canada, even Spain. They have sunshine, laid-back attitudes and loads of fun. What does England have? Nothing. I thought…

That is, until I went exploring last week to discover more about this rainy, miserable country.

My partner and I decided to set off to Somerset – Bath, in particular. Why? I don’t know. Because it’s not too far from London, it has nice countryside and because they make cider there, I guess.

My boyfriend is from Holland, so I really wanted to showcase the best of Britain. We started off by driving past Stonehenge, entirely unexpectedly, which brought back memories of childhood holidays for him and feelings of disappointment for me. It’s a lot bigger in the pictures, isn’t it?

We then made our way to Bradford On Avon, where we were going to be staying on a farm for two nights. It’s a gorgeous little town with narrow streets, old buildings and winding country roads. The sun was shining, our B&B was lovely and we felt pretty good.

As soon as we’d dropped our stuff off, it was time to go to Bath, where we were going to visit the Thermae Spa.

Getting to Bath was easy. Driving around the city was not. It’s not a big place, but my god it’s confusing if you’re behind the wheel. For a start, the Sat Nav suddenly had no idea what it was doing. I expected it to say “I give up. This city is a mess. You’re on your own.” Instead it tried to make me drive down streets that didn’t exist and sent me down the same roads three times. Google maps had no better an idea of what was going on there, and the maps app on my iPhone had no interest whatsoever in helping me out.

So we drove round and round and round. Signposts were everywhere, but every one of them pointed down a road that had a no entry sign. You literally couldn’t get anywhere. I started going mad. I also expected the Thermae Spa to be outside of the city, and to have its own car park. If I’d known it was smack bang in the middle and had no car park I’d have dropped the car off the moment we hit the city limits and walked.

Anyway, after an hour of driving round and going mad, we asked for directions and finally found a car park, ditched the wheels, and headed spa-wards for a relaxing four hours of hot-water bliss.

The spa was like an oasis of calm in the middle of a mental-breakdown-inducing city. The girl who met us at reception completely sympathised with our situation, and said the first time she’d come to Bath was from Birmingham, and she’d arrived in the city, driven around and gone mad, and turned around and gone straight back to Birmingham without even getting out of the car.

So I felt like our eventual arrival at the spa was a miracle. We quickly stripped down to our swimmers, grabbed a robe, towel and slippers and a wristband that times your stay and opens and closes lockers, and jumped into the indoor spa pool. It was full of people bobbing about on blue foam sticks, and warming up in the bubbly area. I was disappointed with the temperature, though. Earlier, we’d been shown the VIP pool, where they have a small fountain of natural spring water bubbling up from underground, and that water was seriously hot. But the spa water was as warm as the bath is when you decide it’s time to get out. But to be fair, I like my baths so hot I almost get blisters.

The spa also has a beautiful rooftop pool, which is a great place to be at sunset. The steam rises off the water and the sky glows orange as you bob about in admittedly tepid (for me) water. The main incentive to stay in was that the outside air was freezing. It is November after all.

The best bit had to be the steam room. It’s one big room with four small, round, glass-walled compartments inside. Each steam room compartment had a different aroma, from eucalyptus to lemongrass. In the middle of them all was a waterfall shower, and to the sides were hot and cold showers. It was wonderfully hot in the steam rooms, and a perfect way to end the evening.

I used to think spas were boring, but this place, with its chilled-out atmosphere and rooftop pool makes me think there’s something in it after all.

After the spa, we grabbed a Chinese from a restaurant full of Chinese people (always a sign of good food), then drove out of Bath as fast as the Sat Nav would allow (not very).

The next day was uneventful, as Thomas had to work (he convinced his boss to let him visit me once a month for a week at a time as long as he still did his work), so we sat in a cute cafe in Bradford On Avon eating lots of food and drinking lots of tea.

The next day we went to Wales, to visit one of our fellow Trek America group members. Tristan lives in a farm on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, and the area is just gorgeous. Rolling hills, fresh air, nice people. Plus, Tristan’s farm was awesome and he has five cats and three dogs, so I was very happy. They also had a few ghosts, a fact that scared the crap out of me.

We spent our time wandering the hills and playing with the dogs. Went to see Skyfall, and the cinema had 95% old ladies (the other 5% was us). They were clearly just there for Daniel Craig.

Soon it was time to head home, and I realised that I don’t hate the UK after all. In fact, it’s absolutely beautiful and has so many really nice people (and complicated cities, but who doesn’t like to punch the steering wheel in frustration?). As long as you’re not inside the M25. Which is where I live. Until I buy a farmhouse in the countryside…

Getting my chocolate and churros on in Madrid

Chocolate and churros. Yum.

Last week I was summoned to jury service. Over the two weeks I had a gun case and a drugs case. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing to blog home about. But the last case finished on the Thursday and we were told to go home and not worry about coming back, as they don’t hand out new cases on Fridays. Yippee!

But now I had a decision to make. Did I tell my boss I’d been let go a day early and go back to work, or did I buy a flight to somewhere exciting and make the most of my unexpected three-day weekend?

Twelve hours later, I was boarding a plane to Madrid with a backpack of essentials and a mischievous grin.

I have no idea why I chose Madrid. It was the first place I thought of. It’s funny, when I have to choose between five brands of toilet roll, each of which have five more varieties, I can stand in the aisle of Sainsbury’s for half an hour before walking away because I just can’t decide. But when it comes to big stuff, I don’t even think about my options. God help me when I come to buying a house or getting married.

So off I went to Madrid. The first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t as hot as I’d hoped. In fact in was downright bloody chilly. The second thing I noticed was that it’s a little bit grotty. I was staying in a hostal just off the main road, which was a haven in the midst of madness.

On my first night I went to bed at 8pm, got up at midnight and set out to Plaza del Sol – the place where all the parties happen. I’d heard about a salsa club called El Son near there, so I started walking in that direction. Then a British man bumped into me, said sorry, and I said it’s fine. His 19 mates all turned to look at me in wonder. They were all men. On a massive stag do. I was a girl on my own. It didn’t take me long to make new friends.

After getting some rip-off drinks in an empty, blue-lit bar, I told them I was going to the salsa club with or without them. They came, and I realised this was a lot of pressure on me – it could make or break the stag’s Big Night Out.

It was a hell of a lot of fun. The local men take turns to ask girls to dance, so I was never short of a dance partner, and the drinks – well, I can’t tell you how much they were as I never had to buy any myself.

We danced (and the stag took pictures of his privates) all night long until morning. Feet sore, I got a cab back to my hostel at about 7am while the people who don’t need sleep went to the Plaza Mayor to watch the sun rise. The amount of people on the street was incredible – it could have been 8pm on a Friday on a street in London in the middle of a hot summer. Madrileños certainly have a different body clock to the rest of the world.

I bumped into the stag group again the next day, and they said they’d been kept awake all morning by construction work going on. As usual, I thanked my decision to carry earplugs and an eye mask everywhere I go.

I spent all the rest of my time in the city eating and drinking lots of chocolate in the chocolate cafes. My favourite way to eat the thick, delicious gloopy stuff was to scoop it up with deep-fried churros. The choc places are open all hours, so you can get your churros on any time of day or night. I got my churros on every time of day and night. Heavenly. A good enough reason to go to Madrid, if you ask me.

Secret squats, daytime raves and crazy locals – discover the hidden Berlin

Fancy partying in a bombed-out train depot? Or getting messy with the street artists? How about getting to know the local crazies a bit better? Then pop along to one of these free city tours, run by local lovers of Berlin, who will give you a unique and personal tour of the wonderful German city – but not the usual tourists sights – there are no big walls, shiny gates or boring museums here. The tours focus on the music, art, shops, skate parks, abandoned neighbourhoods and party spots that only the locals know about. Continue reading