Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

Wroclaw Christmas Market

Back in 2016, the year before we went to Finland, my Spanish roommates and I went to Poland in early December. This was part of a larger trip I was taking (bless the Spanish school system and their many holidays) – first into Berlin and Amsterdam with G, then Prague with Vera, and then Vera and I took a train to Poland to meet up with Shaina and the Wroclaw Christmas Market.

Wroclaw Christmas Market

Wroclaw, especially in December, is insanely charming. We stayed in an Airbnb right on the square, so were perfectly positioned for the market. There were hundreds of stalls, surrounded by the cutest, almost gingerbread styled houses, and there was so much to do. Unlike any other market I’ve been to, this one had a little carnival – a mini (but shockingly fast) rollercoaster, talking (and slightly creepy) puppets acting out Christmas scenes. It was all old enough that it didn’t feel modern and gimmicky, more like being at a (tiny) old world fair.

Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

We took a gorgeous walk through the city after it got dark, stopping at FC café for some cake, and then checking out the university, Cathedral Island and Ostow Tumski, Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Lover’s Bridget, the botanical gardens, and gorgeous views of the Odra river. Everything was stunning all lit up and it was such a scenic, lovely walk.

Be sure to be on the look out for the dwarfs around the city – they each have an individual story, and we loved spotting them – some are quite funny.

Wroclaw, Poland, Dwarfs

There’s so much to see in Market Square as well – Church of Saint Elizabeth, the Town Hall. The city is so picturesque and seems almost caught between two ages – there’s the young university students that have a vibrant energy, but there’s the historical surroundings and easy to find nuns and older, traditionally dressed people in the streets as well.

Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

For food, we basically only ate perogies and managed to spend about £3 per meal which was a great deal after places like Berlin and Amsterdam. Poland was unexpectedly great – not that I expected it to disappoint, but it surprised me how homey it felt. I’d really like to visit Krakow and Warsaw at some point as well.

https://goo.gl/maps/PxLDYyECwUkrnJpH9

A weekend in Helsinki at Christmas (with Reindeer!)

During the Christmas of 2017, a year after going to Prague and Poland together, and after almost a year of living apart, I travelled to Helsinki to meet up with my roommates from when we lived in Spain. At that point Shaina had been living in Italy, getting Italian citizenship, and Vera was spending another year in Spain, this time in the Granada in the south.

I’ve heard Helsinki is boring and there’s not much to do in Finland. I can’t speak for other times of the year, but we did something awesome in Finland – we went to see the reindeer.

An easy half day trip from Helsinki, you can get to Nuuksio Reindeer Park. It’s about an hour on public transport, and so worth the trip. I’d never seen reindeer before, and in the environment in Nuuksio it does feel so magical and Christmasy.

Getting to nuuksio reindeer park:

You can take commuter trains U, L, E from Helsinki Railway Station to Espoo (8 stops/25 min) and then bus no 245 from Espoo to Nuuksio. The bus stop at Espoo is right next to the train station. Ride the 245 bus until the Punjobsuo stop (27 stops/23 min). Walk a little bit forward and turn right after the crosswalk – you’ll see a sign advertising for the Reindeer park!

Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland
Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland
Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland
Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland
Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland
Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland

Getting back we had a bit more trouble as we had looked up the 245 bus schedule and obviously written it down wrong. The bus doesn’t run very often and we were waiting in the cold for about 45 minutes. I’d suggest asking the people working at the reindeer park to advise on the next bus, so you can avoid this.

The park itself is small but so lovely. When we went it was just the three of us and one other small group. You can feed the reindeer, pet them, and there’s a candlelit hut with a fire pit where you can warm up and enjoy some warm cider or mulled wine. I think I recall being given some chocolate as well.

Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland Nuuksio Reindeer Park, Finland    If you have more time (and money) than us, I would have LOVED to stay on site in one of the two iglu huts. These handcrafted huts are made from natural materials and look so cosy. You can feed the reindeer right from your window – there is a national park trail just around the corner that is meant to be a gorgeous walk as well. If I ever go back to Finland in the winter, I’ll definitely do this as a night in nature would be so wonderful.

The rest of our time in Helsinki was spent wandering around and taking in the city slowly. We went to Stockmann Shopping Centre, as it was quite festive and I bought a few decorations from that I look forward to putting out every year. We ate at Restaurant Savotta and spent an afternoon wandering around the stalls in the Helsinki market where there were tons of adorable handcrafted items.

Where to eat:

We had dinner at Restaurant Savotta, which was delicious and the place was adorable. It was like having dinner in someone’s house – traditionally decorated with Finnish furniture and rya rugs and the table settings were perfect. I wouldn’t miss this place on a return trip!

Helsinki, Finland

We also had dinner at Café Engel, which had great food and was perfectly located just across from Senate Square – where the Christmas Market is.

Christmas Market, Helsinki, Finland Helsinki, Finland

For breakfast, going to Regatta Café is basically a requirement. Traditionally Finnish and is right on the water, full of decorations, a fireplace, candles and is possibly the cosiest café I have ever been to. Go here and get the cinnamon roll – you won’t be sorry!

Cafe Regatta Helsinki, Finland
Cafe Regatta Helsinki, Finland
Cafe Regatta Helsinki, Finland

Logistics:

We stayed at Eurohostel, which was a cheap and cheerful option with a free sauna in the mornings. It’s a five minute tram ride to the city centre, and the trams are so easy to use in Helsinki it made getting in and out super easy.

Tram Helsinki, Finland

To/from the airport: This is really easy as well. It’s one train that takes about 30 minutes between the city centre and the airport. Two trains connect the two: Line “I” train: Runs via Huopalahti to Helsinki Central Station. Line “P” train: Runs to Helsinki Central Station via Tikkurila. See their schedule here.

Though we only had two days in the city, we packed in so much and had such a lovely time getting in the holiday spirit. One thing we didn’t have time to do but wished we had was visit the Winter Garden. It’s meant to be a bit of an oasis in the middle of the city and we were sad to miss it.

Devastatingly, I haven’t seen Shaina in person since, PROBABLY TIME TO SORT THAT. Instead of Africa 2020 maybe London-for-my-wedding 2020?

We Put a Ring* on It!

A few weeks ago, on a random Wednesday night when we were home painting the living room, Gareth asked me to marry him. It was very sweet and homey and low key and perfect.

We drank some wine we’d been saving since our trip to South Africa a few year ago and spoke with family and friends and celebrated for most of the night.

*Because I convinced Gareth he has terrible taste during our move, he bought me a place holder ring so we can design one together. And though he has terrible taste in home décor, the ring he chose was perfect and will be something I wear and treasure forever.

Now onto planning the wedding!

Zagreb, Croatia

Four Days in Zagreb

Before going to Croatia, I was most looking forward to spending time on the coast, in places like Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. However, my friend Lee had spent three weeks in Zagreb in 2015, and insisted it was one of the best places around. Our original itinerary didn’t plan for any time there, so instead of cramming in Belgrade or Sarajevo after Slovenia, I decided to spend four leisurely days in Zagreb, and I am so happy I did!

Zagreb, Croatia

I spent my time in Zagreb before Gareth arrived, and it was the perfect city to do solo. It was small, safe, walkable, and oh my god so cute. I LOVE Zagreb. In an alternative life I never left and am hanging about, still as enthusiastic and in awe as I was when I first arrived.  It was my favourite part of Croatia. Perhaps if we’d gone in warmer weather, when swimming was an option, I’d feel differently, but we went in April and Zagreb was the hands down winner.

Where to stay

I stayed at Hostel Chic which was exactly what I needed after being in crazy (bed bug ridden!) hostels for the last week. I’d only recommend Hostel Chic in the right circumstances. Unlike any other hostel I’ve ever stayed in, I was the youngest person there. It seemed to have about a 50/50 mix of people there for a short time, and people there longer term. Each night I planned to leave to find somewhere a bit livelier, but I ended up staying there the whole time. Zagreb is known for its amazing hostel scene, which is definitely worth looking into. But Hostel Chic was quiet, and each bed had its own lamp, plugs, and a half wall, so no one could see anyone else from their beds, and the bit of privacy was so refreshing!

If you’re looking for something a bit more social, I’ve heard great things about Swanky Mint Hostel.

Things to do

Zagreb is so beautiful and so walkable. The city isn’t very large and it’s easy to explore. It’s also home to my absolute favourite museum in the world, the Museum of Broken Relationships. I spent hours in there—I wish they would open a place in London so I could go back all the time. It was so interesting and healing in a way, to see all the different experiences people have had. It wasn’t just romantic relationships, but familial, friends, everything that once meant something. A lot were decades in the past and it was like getting to skim the book of someone’s life. I really loved it and could not recommend it more.

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

I also went to the  which was smaller, quieter, and fairly inexpensive to visit. The art inside was gorgeous, and I loved getting another tiny taste of Croatian culture.

Museum of Naïve Art, Zagreb, Croatia

St Mark's Church, Zagreb, Croatia

Be sure to visit St Mark’s Church which is maybe the most vibrant and fun church I’ve ever seen. On the way up I stopped into some really cool art shops, and picked up a hand painted canvas depicting Marija Jurić , the first female journalist.

Marija Jurić , Zagreb's first female journalist

After leaving, keep heading away from the church and you’ll end up at an incredible outlook, with great views of the city. You can order drinks and sit, which I did, spending a few hours reading and writing. It was one of the best days, and I basically repeated it again and again —just changing up where I ate, and adding in a few new hang out spots—the Botanical Garden, the little café next to the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the other parks around the city. There’s also Dolac, a big market open daily from 7-2, a great place to pick up fresh produce and souvenirs. And while Zagreb was very relaxed, the city still felt really vibrant and alive.

Zagreb, Croatia

I feel awful Gareth missed it, but it just means we have to go back to Croatia—what a not terrible problem to have!

Food Recs

Definitely do breakfast at Otto & Frank. I went there two of my four days, and nowhere else compared.

Eat at one of the places above the market. I went to PLAC and had their mixed grill plate, which was pretty good, though some of the other food looked better.

Make sure to try a fritule, a yummu donut-like Croatian pastry made for Christmas (but available year round).

Dolac market has fresh fruit and veg, which is a nice snack for a day spent wandering.

Croatia

Zagreb was just the start of a fantastic week and a half in Croatia, but I maintain it was the best part. Don’t skip it just because it isn’t on the coast!

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Where to Eat in Montpellier, France

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Montpellier earlier this year, studying French. Montpellier is exactly my kind of city – fairly small, walkable, artsy, has fantastic weather and tons of delicious food. If you’re heading to France soon and wondering where to eat in Montpellier, I recommend:

Breakfast

For breakfast there is no beating the patisseries. There are two I strongly recommend:
Des Rêves et du Pain was named the best patisserie in France a few years ago, and this everything from this place is insanely delicious. However the staff are not the nicest and it’s more expensive than other patisseries.
Lo Monaco is just as good (better?), with more/cheaper things on offer and the smell wafting out of this place in the morning is the actual best way to start your day.

Lunch

Auden, Montpellier, France

I loved my lunches at Auden. The food was so good, fresh, and healthy. Exactly what I was craving after eating almost entirely noodles and zebu whilst living in Madagascar. Most days I ate here, went to the market and had some sort of cheese, fruit, and bread combination, or got something from Lo Monaco.

Dinner

Cocotte, Montpellier, France

Rosemarie has great vibes, good wine, and yummy food.
Rocco et Sa Mere was delicious and has a really cool painted facade.
La Cocotte was also wonderful.

Dessert

Montpellier, France

Absolutely go for wine and a crepe at Le Melody and enjoy the views of the Cathedrale Saint Pierre.

Pubs

Montpellier, France

Montpellier has amazing wine and too many good places to drink it, but I had a great time at Le Beehive and Le Foch.

There’s a ton to do in Montpellier as well, a small mountain to climb and a bike ride to the beach, but as I was locked in the library my only time appreciating the city was during meal times. I’ll go back at some point and write a better guide to Montpellier, but until then I’ve got the most important bit – the food!