New Years in Lisbon

 

Three years ago, my friends and I were celebrating new years in Cardiff, when we met some people who told us that every new years they travelled to a different country. Three years later and I find myself arriving in Lisbon with the girls, our fourth new year’s destination after Cardiff, Amsterdam and Cork, Ireland.

Over the years, we’ve learnt a lot…

  • Don’t book the holiday at the last minute. Travelling at new years is expensive and you have to be smart about booking club nights in advance.
  • Or don’t book a club night at all. This new years we planned to spend the special moment on the streets in Lisbon’s famous Comércio Square and then find somewhere to party.
  • Go somewhere warm… or as warm as it can get mid-Winter. Amsterdam was freezing and this year we were looking for somewhere slightly above 0°

With all these things in mind, we had a pretty successful trip. We stayed in GSpot Party Hostel, a place that is exactly as you can imagine it is from its title. They were fully booked on New Years Eve and had a nice programme all planned out for us.

We paid 25 euros for a 12-course dinner buffet, all you can drink sangria, and our own bottle of champagne to take with us to Comércio Square to see the fireworks. And in case you were wondering, the buffet wasn’t the usual standard hostel food – it was proper buffet that did not leave us disappointed. With their free pancake breakfasts and dinner meals that included, tapas, flaming chorizo, Portuguese stew and mash, it was suffice to say I kinda fell in love with the chefs at GSpot.

The atmosphere was amazing on New Years Eve. In the hostel we met people from all over; America, South Africa, Italy, Australia… It’s one of the reasons why I love staying in hostels, because of the cultured experience and opportunity to meet new people, even if its only for the couple days they’re in Europe.

The fireworks display at Comércio Square was amazing. It was fully packed though which meant that it was very easy to lose people and our group quickly broke up. Nevertheless, I made it to Barrio Alto, a street near the Square which has apparently been published in the Guinness World Records as a place with the most concentrated number of bars.

As most clubs were closed after New Years Eve, Barrio Alto was a place we returned to on the other nights and every time we went, we found somewhere with a different vibe and different music. Lisbon is definitely a great place to party, and the drinks were very cheap as well which is always a plus.

 

Cristo Rei (Jesus Statue) in Almada

During the day we visited a couple sites. We were nearly swept off the ‘Jesus Statue’ in Almada due to the rain and wind on Monday.

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Maritime Museum in Belem

Belem is a small town, just under an hour away from Lisbon. We didn’t have enough patience for the queues in Pastéis de Belém, a café with a 200 year-old pastry recipe that comes highly recommended. Instead we tried Portugal’s famous ‘Pastel de nata’ in a café outside the Maritime Museum after having a wonder inside, and it was still delightfully delicious.

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Castle dos Mouros in Sintra

On our last day, we took the train to Sintra, a beautiful resort town that has many beautiful gems like Sintra’s National Palace. As it was our last day we spent all our time exploring Castle dos Mouros which provided us with a great view of Lisbon.

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After five days the end of our trip came only too soon. The moment we stepped out into the cold English winter air outside Stansted I instantly wished I was back in Lisbon with its mild 18° weather.

What did you do this New Years Eve? Do you have any strange traditions?

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Hometown Holland

Firstly, I’m aware that I have chosen alliteration over geographical truth in my title – I live in the Netherlands not Holland which is a small region in the country and not the official name for the country. And while my ‘hometown’ may not qualify as a new place I’ve travelled too, I’ve been feeling a lot of love for the Netherlands recently. So I thought I’d blog about the top five reasons why I’m glad that my family still live in the Netherlands and I can visit them in the Summer.

  1. cycling

This is what I miss the most when I’m living in England and studying at University. The Dutch are crazy about their bikes, something my family and I quickly learnt when we moved to the Netherlands in 2002 and our neighbours expressed their astonishment that at age 8 and 7, my older sister and I did not know how to ride a bike. This was soon remedied as my neighbours had my sister out on their bike, somewhat roughly, somewhat kindly, insistently teaching her the way to do it. I learnt the following year and then in secondary school, no matter the weather, (and I really mean no matter the weather, come rain, snow or hail) we were out cycling the fifty-minute route to school. It gave us the kind of freedom we would never have had growing up in South-East London. We could get ourselves to and from ice-skating and swimming lessons, meet up with our friends in town and even cycle home safely and easily after a night out without having to disturb our parents.

Years on and one of the best things about coming home is still being able to get out and cycle in Waalre and Eindhoven.

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  1. The People

Dutch people are very chill. And not because weed is legal, but because I believe it is part of their culture. They’re often described as being quite ‘blunt’, meaning that they’re very open and direct which can sometimes be perceived as a bad thing. Mostly it’s nice to be around people who say hi to you on the street, strike up a chat while you’re shopping. I remember trying on a coat in a shop and a lady coming up to me and abruptly helping me into the coat, sorting out the collar and declaring I had to buy it because it really suited me. When I got into a minor accident with my bike and a car, a couple cars were quick to stop, pull up on the side of the road and make sure I was okay. I’m aware that I’m generalising here, but based on my experiences, Dutch people are more often, incredibly nice and welcoming. Which brings me to my next point…

Waalre

Waalre

  1. Safety, NL is childhood heaven

The Netherlands regularly tops the list of the safest country to raise your children and I can easily see why. It was great growing up there. I had much more freedom to go out cycling and rollerblading in our neighbourhood without any parental supervision, something we would never have been able to do in London.

High-Tech Campus in Eindhoven

 

 

  1. The countryMy street leading from Waalre into Eindhoven

My family lives in Waalre which is a tiny, suburb like village, which means we get all the peace and qui

et that comes when you live in a small town, but we also reap the benefits of living twenty minutes away from Eindhoven, a much bigger town that has lots to do without having all of the intensity of a bigger city like London. In addition the small nature of NL means that Amsterdam is just over an hour train ride away, a city that is so picturesque it almost feels like no matter where or when you take a snap over a canal it always ends up looking like this the picture below; unfiltered, natural, city beauty.

 

Canal in Amsterdam

  1. Dutch pancakes

I have a confession to make; I prefer Dutch ‘pannekoeken’ to french crepes and American pancakes. Crepes can be too thin and small. Give me a thick, pizza sized dutch pancake with apple, bacon and cinnamon and I’m happy. Proffertjes – tiny pancakes are delicious as well.

Bacon and apple cinnamon Dutch pancake

So there you have it, five reasons why I’m going to miss the Netherlands in October when I head back to England for my final year at University.

Do you miss your hometown when you’re away? What makes it special for you?

Four days in Roma

Every traveller has that special country they have always wanted to visit. For me that place was Italy, mainly for the reason that I am a big pasta eater and never say no to an Italian restaurant choice for dinner.

So when I found out I would be doing a year abroad in Paris, knowing that France is not too far from Italy I knew this had to be the year I finally made the trip. Fast forward nine months after my arrival to Paris and the trip was actually happening.

Early on Sunday morning I set off for Rome, Italy to join seven my friends in Campo de’ Fiori, just south of Plaza Novana. I was immediately impressed and enchanted with Rome. I had expected crowds of tourists on every street and a bustling city for the capital of Italy. Instead Rome was a smaller and more village-like than I expected with endless beautiful narrow streets and a quaint, calm atmosphere. Except for the bus we took from station Termini to Campo de’ Fiori we were able to easily walk to all of our destinations.

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At the Vatican and Colosseum, we were of course faced with the crowds of tourists, it being June. However, we had come prepared by booking our tickets online which meant we were able to skip the long queue. For the Vatican I would recommend booking tickets with their official website as they are cheaper than the Rome-Museum site, which I would advise to use for the Colosseum.

The Vatican and Sistine Chapel were stunning. The real treat was being able to go almost straight into St. Peter’s Basilica next door which has to be one of the most impressive, grand religious buildings I have ever been in. The photos cannot do justice to the actual experience of entering the church.

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The Colosseum was just as amazing. Instead of grandeur it was the history behind the monument that intrigued us. As the guided tours were quite expensive, averaging at 18 euros per person we brought a 5-euro guide book from a bookshop inside the Colosseum and this provided us with plenty of the gruesome facts of the many fights and killings that had taken place there.

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The food was of course delicious. My mother warned me not to get my hopes up as I rattled on about finally trying an authentic Italian pasta. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed with my first meal; Pasta allo Scoglio (Pasta with shellfish). The bruschetta was a lovely starter and for the main, the tomatoes tasted fresher and so did the spaghetti. It may have been due to my naiveté and sheer excitement but it felt like I could taste the fact that the spaghetti was homemade.

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The restaurant was in a lovely square near our Air BnB apartment and we could hear beautiful music being played in the background. Instead of cringing as I usually did when another singer or accordion player stepped on the metros in Paris, the street music we continually came across in Rome was more pleasing and subtle.

As quite a large group of English speaking girls we were often victims to the Italian waiters who are eager to fill their restaurants. However, their attention was mostly charming and we were often offered free prosecco. Everyone we spoke too was nice and helpful. Eventually I stopped being thrown into temporary panic every time an Italian person said the word prego – a word that seems to mean everything from ‘your welcome’ to ‘there you go’ and just learned to simply smile and say it back.

A mid-day gelato break quickly became a routine, as way to take a break from the 30 degree heat and relax before continuing with exploring. The best gelato I had was on the last day when we stumbled on the sight of a massive slab of chocolate in a shop window. On the corner of Via S. Simone, Gelateria del Teatro prepare their ice cream behind a massive window that allows us to see how they make it. Once hooked we walked inside to discover a wealth of delicious favours. My lemon cheesecake, garden sage and raspberry and passion fruit gelato was by far the best of the trip.

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On Wednesday I was very sad to be leaving Rome. I had enjoyed seeing the major sites such as the Pantheon and Fountain de Trevi as much as the long walks we took through the Trastevere area and in Villa Borghese. I can’t wait to return to Italy, maybe to Florence or Venice next…

What is your ideal travel destination?