Day trip to Kaunas

Arrivals – Lithuania’s second largest city and just over 60 miles from the capital Vilnius, trains regularly leave the capital and take between 60-90 minutes, costing less than ‚ā¨6. You can easily buy your ticket on arrival at the station and there are lots of daily options, but if you have a particular journey in mind or are travelling in from other towns or countries such as Poland, you could book online –¬†Lithuanian Railways. ¬†There are great inexpensive bus routes all across the Baltic countries, so you can travel into Kaunas from many other cities and towns, such as Riga in Latvia or Warsaw in Poland. I have used¬†Lux Express¬†to travel in this region, but other bus companies in the area are¬†Eurolines¬†and¬†Ecolines.

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History Bit – Legend has it that the Roman duke Palemon fled Rome with his 3 sons -Barcus, Kunas and Sperus. After his death, the land he inhabited was split between his 3 heirs and Kanas got the land which became known as Kaunas. This part of Lithuania has been important for hundreds of years though, mainly because it is located at the spot of the 2 largest rivers in the country, the Nemunas and the Neris. Many wars, uprisings, the Black Death, great fires and for a while during the early 19th century, it was the temporary capital of Lithuania while Vilnius was under control of the Russians and Polish.

Sights – Full of green spaces, long leafy streets full of shops and cafe’s, beautiful orthodox churches and a historic old town with a picturesque castle at the heart, I am definitely glad I layered up and caught the train from the capital for the day. ¬†Heading straight out of the train station, I stuck to the main road and headed up Vytauto Prospektas towards the Cathedral of the Annunciation, then past the Ramybes Parkas a snow covered park (well, it was January) full of interesting and undecipherable¬†monuments due to my poor ¬†(none existant) Lithuanian language skills. Continuing up the same street I excitedly came across a very interesting orthodox church known as¬†St. Michael the Archangel’s Church unfortunately it was closed, which was a disappointment as the more chance I get to explore these ornate religious buildings and see the insane golden fresco’s inside, the more I want to visit them. But by this time I was starting to lose the feeling in my fingers as I had spent quite some time wandering outside, so it was time to head on and I ventured down what appeared to be the main pedestrian street of the city, Laisves Aleja.

It was indeed pedestrian, regardless of the fact that in the UK, the amount of snow on the roads would have rendered it impassable anyway, and I was pleased to see my favourite Baltic coffee chain РCoffee Inn in the distance. I made a beeline for its orange sign and warmed up over a coffee and probably, maybe some cheesecake as well. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants along this street, so you can easily spend an hour meandering down it, exploring whats on offer, if like me you still like sending postcards (I know!) the main post office is located here too.

Walking straight down this long pedestrian street takes you to the center of the medieval old town, its well signposted, so its not¬†hard to get your bearings and find your way around without too much trouble. There are lots to keep you occupied in this part of town, with the castle, town hall square, churches and the Kaunas National Cultural Centre all close together and all worth visiting. The gothic Kaunas Castle, stands proud on the bank by the river and when I visiting in the winter it was absolutely picture post card perfect. As well as exploring the castle there is an art gallery inside the round tower, but its worth noting, it’s closed on Mondays. ¬†Also visit its neighbour the gothic St George the Martyr church, although its not much to look at, because of the distruction it has been subjected to over the years, it plays a long and important part in the history of this town and is luckily being renovated.

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Before you get to the castle though, you’ll more than likely walk through the town hall square, you wont miss it, as right in the heart is the town hall itself with its 53 metre tower, known as the white swan. This building has had an interesting history since the original hall was burnt down, reconstructed in 1542 its been a trading post, prison, ammunition store, home for Russian Czars, a firemans office and theatre. Nowadays its a popular place for weddings, as well as being home to a ceramics and history museum. It was a busy place when I arrived and I saw at least 2 couples pull up outside to get married and take pictures, which made for some great people watching.

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If you need a place to shelter from the cold, or want to learn more about the history of this town, then the Kaunas City Museum is a short walk from the town hall, also closed on Mondays! If art is more your thing, then the National Museum of Art which is one of the largest and oldest art galleries in the country and close by too. There is also a lovely park called Santakos Park which I only briefly explored due to the freezing temparatures, but can imagine in warmer times its a great place to picnic and admire the views of the 2 rivers which join here.

I stopped for some traditional food as I made my way back along Laisves Aleja, I cant quite remember the name of the place, but they did big plates of dumplings for about ‚ā¨3.50, before I grabbed an upstairs seat on the early evening train back to Vilnius.

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Always be polite ¬†–¬†Thank You is AńćiŇę! (pronounced almost like Achoo)¬†¬†Please is¬†PraŇ°au¬†(prasow)

 

Vilnius two ways . .

I have experienced the capital of Lithuania twice, once in the freezing -10 snowy conditions in January after scoring some rediculously cheap Ryanair flights, and then again in the summer months, when I was going to use it as an inexpensive gateway to Belarus. If you only plan to visit the capital once and you want to make the most of its outdoor spaces  and dont have any thermals, then I would recommend the summer option, but if you like adventure, empty museums and warming up with coffee every 40 minutes, then take a chance and head over during the winter, it made for some amazing memories.

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Arrivals. You can fly direct from many UK airports to the capital Vilnius (VNO), including Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Belfast. From Edinburgh and Bristol you can fly into Kaunas, which is a beautiful city in itself and only a short direct train journey from the capital. If you are already over in mainland Europe a great way to see this part of the globe is by bus, as well as flying into Vilnius I have used the overnight¬†Lux Express Bus¬†from Warsaw, and have also flown with¬†Air Baltic¬†for other trips in the region. Trains aren’t that great at the moment in this part of the Baltics, but there is a direct train from the Belarus capital Minsk to Vilnius that leaves daily.

Getting into the city centre from the airport is easy too, there is a airport train that travels 16 times a day between the airport and the main train station in Vilnius, from there its a short walk or taxi journey to your destination. The translation of airport is Oro Uostas which may be handy if you plan to use one of the ¬†local buses that regularly leave between the main bus station (Stotis) and the airport, you could hop on the 1, 2 and 88, all costing ‚ā¨1 or another more direct bus option is the¬†Micro Bus¬†that also costs ‚ā¨1.

History Bit. The area that is now Lithuania¬†has been inhabited by tribes in the Baltic region for thousands of years with the first king of Lithuania being crowed in the 1200’s. By the 1400’s, Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe as it encompassed parts of present day Belarus, Russia, Poland and Ukraine. ¬†Many wars and famines caused unrest, migration, uprisings and coups pretty much off and on until 1991 when it gained its independance from the Soviet Union after WW2. The capital Vilnius itself was first recorded in the history books in 1323 and has always played an important role in the history of the country. It was here that over 200,000 people demonstrated against Soviet rule in the late 1980’s culminating in a bloody battle that resulted in the Republic of Lithuania finally being recognised as an independant country once again, free from foreign rule.

Sights. Awarded UNESCO status in 1994, the Old Town is a great place to start with the beautiful Cathedral Square making a central point in which to visit a lot of the historic sights.

 

Here you can find the impressive Bell Tower which acts as a beacon across the old town ringing out every 15 minutes, and you can climb to the top for a small fee for an even better view of the city. Opposite the Bell Tower is the most important catholic building in Lithuania, The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav, definately pop inside to see the stunning interior, frescos and the crypt, guided tours are available on certain days too, should you want to learn more.

The other important and must see building here in Cathedral Square is the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, now a national museum. The original palace was demolished in the 19th century, but its now rebuilt and hosts official and public events, with the museum part of the building showcasing the history of the country including architecture and folklore.  When I visited in early January, I pretty much had the museum to myself, but it is a v popular tourist attraction and looked a lot busier when I walked past a few months later, so time your visit well, again guided tours are available. Cathedral Square itself is a lovely place to explore and people watch, surrounded by benches and green spaces, notable highlights are the markets that spring up at various times of the year like at Christmas, the statue of Gediminas the famous ruler of Lithuania and the lucky stebuklas tile that is said to grant wishes. Its also here where the New Year Eve celebrations take place.

IMG_0037 Sunny day chilling by Cathedral Square

Gedinimas Hill and Tower – You cannot fail to miss this impressive 15th Century tower looking down on the city and with 360 views afforded from the top of the hill, its the reason I have been up in both in the winter and summer. It is definately easier to walk up the path in the summer than in snowy conditions, but a ‚ā¨2 funicular ride is available around the back should you fancy a more sedate journey upward. Once on the top there are ruins to explore, a history museum¬†inside the tower (currently closed for renovations) and just epic views across the capital.

 

Summer and winter views.

Gedinimas Avenue – If you head across Cathedral Square away from the hill and bell tower and cross over the road, you walk down what is essentially the Oxford St of Vilnius. The main street of the city is full of shops, restaurants, theatres and government buildings, if you walk far enough you end up at the Parliament. Keep an eye out for the Feast of Muses sculpture outside the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre and Vinco Kudirkas Square which is named after the author of the National Anthem, as I was travelling on a budget I bought some food from a local supermarket, then found a bench and ate here watching the locals pass by.

 

Ausros Vartu Street¬†– Where Gedinimas Avenue has all the shops and cafes, Ausros Vartu Street has the history, religion and architecture. There are lots of churches to explore here, St Cazimir, St Teresa and the Holy Trinity as well as the original city defensive, the Gate of Dawn built in the 1600’s, its even more important now that the other 9 gates have been destroyed. I really enjoyed just wandering up and down here and peeking my head inside the various churches and interesting buildings.

 

The Republic of Uzupis –¬†Not long after the country gained its independance and freedom back from the Soviets, a small bunch of artists wanted to test the idea of independance to the max and so in 1995 decided to set up a partly tongue in cheek republic of their own, so they did and 15+ years later, its still going strong. Uzupis means ‘other side of the river’ and its only a short walk over a small bridge (over the river!) about 10 minutes from Cathedral Square to this quirky, neighbourhood inside the capital. There are cafes, restaurants, some really cool bohemian shops and art galleries as the place is still inhabitied by many local artists. Make sure you visit the angel statue, the multilingual welcome sign as you enter and pick up a copy of the¬†constitution¬†which includes – Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat and Everyone has the right to be happy, which I think should be on everyones constitutions dont you?

 

 

The Museum of Genocide Victims. Housed inside the former KGB headquarters this haunting building and reminder of past atrocities will stick with me forever. I am not sure if it was due to the winter weather so I pretty much had the place to myself that made it more eerie, but im pretty certain due to the subject matter, its most definately is a place for stark reflection due to the horrific nature of what occured here. The museum serves as a living reminder of the terror from when the Nazi’s and then Soviets took over this imposing building that once was a gym. Spread over a number of floors, the museum takes a no holds barred approach to telling its story. Culminating in the cells, torture and execution chambers, I needed some quiet time to take it all in once I left the museum, but I’m glad I visited as I learned a hell of a lot, but be prepared to need a little recovery period afterwards.

 

Ensemble of St. Anne and Bernardine Church. Standing out due to its red brick exterior, St Annes church at over 500 years old its worth a visit as is its neighbour the Bernadine Church. I visited these on the way to the Bernadine Garden, which when I visited in the January was a snowing wonderland of children sledging and ducks skating on the frozen river, quite beautiful, there is a botanical garden, fountains and a monastery here too, so make sure you give it enough time.

 

Once I had explored the park, I was still feeling energetic and not too cold, so I crossed the River Vilnelńó and climbed the many steps up the Hill of the Three Crosses¬†for spectacular views across the snow covered city. Originally at the summit were 3 wooden crosses said to be the site where Franciscan Friars were beheaded hundreds of years ago. These crosses eventually perished, were rebuilt, only to be torn down during Soviet rule, with a new and improved version finally being erected in 1989 once the country became independent again. Now a prominant monument of the city, its a popular spot for both locals and tourists and i’m glad I made the effort to climb up to the top, it involves a bit of a climb and a lot of steps, so bare that in mind first.

 

Town Hall Square, Vokieciu Street and Pilies Street are all areas I explored at length, both in my summer and winter visits. The tourist information centre is located inside the Town Hall Square, which was one of my first stops to load up on a local map and grab a few tourist leaflets, off from here are loads of shops, cafes, interesting buildings and intriguing alleyways. In the winter is was definitely quieter but there were still outdoor market selling wooly hats and local crafts, returning in the summer the cafes opened their doors and put tables outside and there was much more of a buzz, understandably as it wasnt -10!

 

Coffee and Cake – Coffee Inn located on Didzioji and Laisves al are just two of many locations from this Baltic coffee chain, but don’t think because its a chain its all sterile tasteless coffee and uncomfortable seating. Im pretty sure each Coffee Inn is run independently and each one has a unique vibe and style, one I visited had a bookshop inside, another a record store, and all seemed welcoming to a solo English traveller, they serve soy milk and their cheesecake was insane! Another caffeine gem I found was¬†Second Cup¬†which is also a chain, although this one goes further than just the Baltics, with cafes in Iraq, Ghana and soon the UK apparently. Again, friendly¬†comfy seating, with plenty of places to charge devices, they had a really great menu of regular and flavoured coffees with soy milk options too and lots of cake!

 

Eats РFor my first night I wanted to eat Lithuania 101, so I headed to Amatininky uzeiga a friendly restaurant serving local beers, delicious beetroot soup and stodgy potato Zeppelins which I devoured after a snowy sightseeing afternoon, then followed it by the recommended and ginormous apple pie. If you fancy something slightly less meaty, but still with massive portions, the vegan restaurant Gyvas Baras was a place I visited for lunch and dinner and then returned for another meal on my summer return. I found it a really friendly place, relaxed, and not just serving the typical falafal, but the menu included amazing burgers, mexican food, insane desserts and local beers.

IMG_0052  Cheers!

Other sights to see – Explore the Jewish ghetto around DominikonŇ≥ and VokieńćiŇ≥ Streets, head out of the Old Town to the tallest building in Lithuania, the¬†TV Tower¬†for epic views of the city, and take a train for a day out in Kaunas the 2nd largest city and less than 90 minutes by train (thats a whole other blog post!)

Always be politeHello is Sveiki and Thank You is AńćiŇę! (pronounced almost like Achoo)

 

 

 

Weekend in Bristol

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Consistently being voted best place to live and study in recent years, this South West English city, located by the River Avon is just short train ride from the Welsh border and packed full of things to keep you busy over a weekend for sure. There is the pretty waterfront at the Harbourside, beautiful cliffs and Georgian houses in Clifton, the eclectic and graffitied Stokes Croft, the historic old part of Temple Meads, as well as a vibrant city centre full of shops, bars and restaurants. I probably visit twice a year due to having friends here and with so much going on in the city, there is always a reason to return.

Arrivals РAround a 2 1/2 hour drive from London, and 3 1/2 hour drive from Manchester and Liverpool, it may be better to take a train instead of fighting the motorways especially if you are travelling on a Friday.  Bristol Temple Meads is the main train station, and its possible to get direct trains here from a lot of the big UK train stations, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, London, Portsmouth, Cardiff and its one change if you travel from destinations such as Liverpool or Swansea. There is also a National Express bus station for those on a tight budget but have time to spare.

A lot of the sights around Bristol are walkable, but there is a good system of buses that stretch all across the city and lots of taxi’s and uber’s. The tourist information centre¬†also sells tickets for the hop on hop off tourist bus and its here where you can book onto one of the walking tours aswell.

History Bit – There has been evidence of people living in the Bristol area since the Stone Age, no doubt the River Avon playing being an important factor over the years. During the Roman Era, Sea Mills (a current suburb of Bristol) was recorded in a registry and a road was created from here, linking it with Bath. It was in the 13th Century that Bristol really developed into a busy port and by the 14th Century was said to have become Britain’s 3rd largest town. By the mid 1500’s Bristol became a city, but in the 1600’s the city was damaged badly during the civil war. Prosperity returned in the 17 & 1800’s as it became an important part of the slave trade between Africa and America. By the 1900’s the main industries were tobacco and cigarette manufacturers, the now large empty warehouses converted into modern apartments, art spaces and cafes such as the one in Southville.

Sights – Temple Meads is the largest train station in the city and the first train station built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel so seems a good place to start, as many people arrive from here. Isambard’s particular part of the station is no longer operational, but still present and now a grade 1 listed building. About a 5 minute walk in the direction of the city centre is where you come across¬†Temple Church, a grade II listed building which was built on a site originally housing a church of the Knights Templar. It is definitely ¬†worth an explore on your way in, but wrap up warm, as all that is left now is the exterior walls and a leaning bell tower. The Quay area around is a new developing part of town full of cafe’s, bars and restaurants and makes a good stop off if you’re about to board a train onward. ¬†If you have just landed though, ignore that growling stomach and wait until you make it into the heart of the city.

Harbourside – This riverside area is a great place to explore whether you want history, ships, culture, entertainment, or just good food and drink. Probably the most visited site here is another one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s creations, the¬†SS Great Britain.¬†Although ¬£14 per adult, the ticket allows you a full years access, and this includes touring the ship from the hold, to the steerage and up out onto the weather deck. There are different talks on different days, so check the online calendar to see if you can time your visit with something of interest and a Victorian dressing up area complete with photo booth is also included in the ticket price. The surrounding dockyard is also worth a wander, full of grade II listed buildings it really gives a sense of how it must have been like during the busy days, when it was full of sailors and merchants ready to set off and explore the seas. Anyone interested in Isambard Kingdom Brunel may want to visit the Brunel Institute to get a greater understanding of Britain’s most famous and prolific engineer, the institute is free but closed on Sundays, Mondays and the middle two Saturdays of each month.

M Shed¬†is part of the Bristol Museums group and is located here at the Harbourside inside a 1950’s transit shed. Celebrating all things Bristolian, its free and well worth an hour of your time in this part of the city, as it tells the tale of Bristol from prehistoric times to present day, featuring videos, photographs and artifacts as well as the obligatory cool souvenir shop and coffee bar. More and more of the old buildings are being regenerated into quirky art spaces, restaurants and theatres around here, so if more art and less history is your thing, visit¬†Arnolfini¬†or¬†Spike Island, regardless; a visit here to the harbourside should be on anyones Bristol itinerary.

 

City Centre – This is where most visitors will be spending the majority of their time (and money), and with good reason. There are brand new shopping centres jam packed with shops, restaurants, cinemas and cafes, loads of live music venues and theatres too and I always tend to time my visit with a gig at the Academy or Bierkeller. Venture towards the old part of the city centre too, taking time to explore St Nicholas’s Market with its vibrant food markets and beautiful Georgian buildings and Queens Square which used to be the city rubbish dump back in the 17th Century, but is now a gorgeous tree lined park. Park Street and College Green have a great selection of boutique shops, bars and restaurants as well as more stunning Georgian buildings and last time I walked through they had a Sommes of the Shroud¬†display to remember WW1. Oh and keep a look out for the Cary Grant statue who although went on to find fame and fortune in Hollywood, was actually born in Bristol.

 

 

 

Those wanting a more eclectic, bohemian experience head up North to¬†Stokes Croft, the road is named after the mayor in the 1300’s John Stokes, but the side streets and surrounding area has now also taken on the nickname as well. In the early 19 Century it was a busy thriving part of the city, but the whole area had to be rebuilt after WW2 and has now developed into a centre for arts, music and food. If you want an alternative history of the area then you must visit the¬†Stokes Croft Museum¬†Hungry? then visit the first¬†Pieminister¬†to be opened in the UK, or if you fancy a local cider and live music (it’s also a hostel should you need an overnight stay) then head to¬†the Full Moon.

tumblr_o2j7gat6YC1tapupdo1_400 Trying the local cider always leads to a good night out

Heading a bit further north on Stokes Croft, you’ll end up on the Gloucester Road, known as one of, if not the longest street of independent shops in Europe, I havent had the chance to explore it yet, but will report on it next time!

Clifton is an area I only just started to explore on my latest visit to Bristol which was earlier this month (Dec 2017). As well as Clifton Village the main draw is yet another Isambard Kingdom Brunel masterpiece, the¬†Clifton Suspension Bridge. On the Leigh Woods side there is a visitors centre, when I visited there was limited parking and I was tired and cranky from my 3 1/2 hour drive. With the rain starting to fall, my anxiety got the better of me and I ended up driving to the other side of the river via an A road to admire the bridge from afar. Although its only ¬£1 to cross if you are driving but take note, the toll machine didn’t take notes, and although you can get change from the visitors centre, I couldnt find anywhere to park, so ended up doing a 3 point turn and heading¬†off. Frustrating!! But I shall return to walk or drive it next time with my ¬£1 ready!

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So close, yet so far, I’ll try again next visit.

A cool local area I discovered on my latest visit was the area around North Street in Southville and Bedminster where my friend now lives. Full of small independent shops, cafes, organic supermarkets and art spaces, it makes for a good wander, look out for the amazing street art too, the John Lennon mural made me feel like I was back home in Liverpool ūüôā

 

Speaking of street art, you cannot fail to ignore the impact that Banksy has had on the art world and even if his identity is still largely a secret, it is known that he is a Bristolian. His art can be spotted in many places around the city and a quick google search will give you some good tips on where to spot them, or you could tailor your trip to Bristol around a Bansky Walking Tour.

 

Eating and Drinking in Bristol would need its own blog post and as I often stay with friends when visiting the city, we don’t always eat out, so I would say just head to the city centre or Harbourside and explore, there are so many cool little finds. A couple of gems I have found during my trips are the epic cat pub (Yes cats!!) called¬†Bag o’ Nails¬†which as well as lots of cats and kittens just chilling around the place, has a great selection of ale, board games and a decent amount of vinyl. Close by is a great little organic cafe that serves delicious brownies and coffee with none dairy options too, called the¬†Salt Cafe. If you fancy a bit of a different night out, I can recommend¬†Thekla¬†which is a live music venue, club and bar on a cargo boat. Moored in the Mud Dock not far from Queens Square, its the first time ive been to a gig on a boat and loved it.

More to see. . . . Step aboard Concorde at the Aerospace Museum, get hands on at the We Are The Curious science museum and go on a treetop walk at the Westonbirt Arboretum.

Always be polite -Alright my luvver? is basically Bristolian for Hello!

 

 

Day Trips from Kotor Bay, Montenegro

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When we took a chance on booking flights to Tivat, Montenegro earlier this year, we had no idea where it was on the map. A brief google search ensued and we found it made sense to stay a 10 minute taxi ride away, through the other side of the mountain and in the UNESCO world heritage region of Kotor Bay. As I wrote in my blog post about Kotor Bay¬†earlier this year, there is a lot to explore in this ancient walled town, but its position on the Adriatic Coast and its access to regular and inexpensive bus routes, means that its easy and cheap to use Kotor as a base to see more of this young Balkan country and that we did. So where can you go for easy day trips from Kotor . . ¬†read on –

PERAST – Only 15-20 minutes along the main road north towards Croatia, every visitor to Kotor should make the short but scenic trip along the bay to this small town. Blue Line buses leave regularly just outside the old city walls of Kotor, its easy to pick up the bus, even though there is no physical bus stop, just look for the white bus sign painted on the road, close to where the market stalls set up. There will more than likely be people waiting around to board and there are benches close by to sit and wait, buses are regular and cost ‚ā¨1.

IMG_5593 Riding the bus to Perast

Perast itself is a small town with only one main road, but there is a whole heap of history here, including gorgeous interesting buildings, stunning views across the bay and 2 unique small islands a short boat ride away. Its colourful historic past vast outways what appears at the surface just a picturesque coastal town, its position along the Adriatic meant that the town was involved in important wars with the Venetians as well as schooling many Russians sailors in the 18th Century at their aclaimed naval academy. This has allowed a lot of wealth to flow into Perast and is responsible for the many elaborate churches and palaces that stand here to this day.

 

 

 

You can easily explore this little town by foot, the Church of St Nicholas¬†is by the main square¬†and the Tower Museum is located inside the Bujovic Palace. These are popular sights, but many arrive here to visit the two islets situation a short boat ride away. Both are incredibly unique with widely varying histories, despite their close proximity to one another. One islet, Sveti ńźorńĎi or the Island of St George is home to a 12th Century Benedictine Monastery and has been owned by the Venetians, the French and Austrians, before eventually returning to Montenegro. The 2nd Island – Gospa od Skrpjela or Our Lady of the Rocks is actually a man-made island, and was formed with rocks that were left there by the sailors for good luck before a voyage, locals starting dumping rocks too and eventually a small island was formed. A small chapel was then built on the island to which captains passing through would offer a silver gift, all of which are now displayed inside the chapel which has expanded to become a small church and museum. Its a fascinating place and well worth a visit, boats leave regularly for the islands for a small fee, and with us visiting just out of season, we had a boat to ourselves.

 

 

 

There are quite a few places to eat and drink here too, with many offering bayside outdoor seating with spectacular views, we started with a coffee mid morning at Cafe Armonia and ended up returning for a delicious lunch and glass of local wine in the afternoon.

BUDVA. This Adriatic coastal town is well worth the 30 minute trip south, not only is it a busy seaside town with beaches, shops and restaurants, there is also a fascinating well preserved medieval old town that is over 2500 years old! You can easily split your day by eating/walking/shopping around the modern ‘Miami of Montenegro’ as well as steeping yourself in the captivating history and buildings of the old town.

Buses leave regularly from the main bus station in Kotor and Tivat, taking about 45 minutes, with tickets costing¬†between ‚ā¨3-4 euros direct.

 

 

 

 

Located along a peninsula, there is a stunning shoreline of around 17 beaches, glistening blue waters, offshore islands and limestone mountains serving as the backdrop. A great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants line up just back from the beach, where you can order a coffee or glass of wine, sample some local cheeses and soak up the views whilst watching the locals walk their dogs and prepare their boats for the next trip out.

The newer area of Budva is developing into a modern bustling town, with plenty of shops, restaurants, nightclubs and markets. In the summer months it becomes known as the Montenegro party capital, so if¬†Turbo Folk¬†is to your liking, you’ll want to at least stay one night to hit the cocktail bars and clubs.

But if that is most definitely not your thing, don’t be put off, there is a lot more to Budva than just its nightlife and shops. It’s just a short walk to the old walled town, with its enthralling citadel, churches, passageways, sunlit squares and breathtaking views of the terracotta rooftops and Adriatic from up high. Take time to just wander and get lost in the paved alleyways with many shops selling local crafts, making sure to explore inside of the Church of St John, the Church of the Holy Trinity and Church of St Mary in Punta. The City Museum is a charming small museum and really gives context to how important and well preserved Budva is and I was glad we made time to visit that too. In the summer months there are often concerts and exhibitions up here inside the walls, so its worth checking online¬†if there is anything worth seeing before planning your visit.

 

 

 

 

There are a few islands just off shore, with water taxis easily available to take you there or you could hire a canoe and make the journey yourself. We didn’t manage to squeeze that into our itinerary, but its something we would have liked to have done, popular and picturesque¬†islands that are highly recommended by locals include¬†Sveti Stefan,¬†and¬†St Nikola Island.

You will be spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink among the many beach front cafes and restaurants all offering prime seating with perfect views across the peninsula. We stopped for a coffee at a lovely place on our way to the Old Town and then had a delicious Serbian meal right by the beach at Jadran on our return, before catching a bus back up to Kotor in the evening, watching the sun set as we travelled up the coastline.

IMG_5868 Serbian food and wine with beautiful Budva backdrop.

CETINJE is the old historic royal capital of the country, and high up in the mountains. Taking just over an hour on the bus from Kotor, its what can only be described as a breathtaking, but heart in mouth mountainside bus ride.

 

 

Once you have recovered from the bus journey, and have landed back on terra ferma, there is a lot to explore here, its all well signposted and the centre is a short walk from the main bus station. Although the capital of the country is Podgorica the president actually lives here in Cetinje and its here where many government and cultural events take place. ¬†The town has a really vibrant, busy feel that although it seems on top of the world, doesn’t feel too far removed from it.

A good place to start is the central square where there are lots of little shops and outdoor cafes, once hydrated, walk a short distance North to the Vlaska (Vlah) Church on Baja Pivljanina. This plain looking church is only small, but take a look inside for the most beautiful interior and we found a very helpful elderly volunteer who also gave us mints as we explored inside, check out the guard rail outside aswell, which is made of ottoman rifle barrels.

 

 

We then headed back towards the main square and explored the only pedestrian street in the town, this is where the main restaurants, cafes and shops are to be found, its worth a wander especially for postcards and souvineers and a chance to try some local food and wine.

Probably one of the main tourist sights here in Certinje is the¬†Cetinje Monastery, it was demolished in the late 1600’s by the Venetians but rebuilt with the original stone. Located a short walk from the main square and easily signposted, you can visit the grounds as well as the inside where several relics are to be found, including what is said to be John the Baptist’s hand, which I admit wasnt completely sure about. Where the original monastery stood is now a lovely little church called Church of the Birth of Our Lady which is worth a visit to see the beautiful golden iconostatis from Russia.

 

The Chipur Church is short walk across from the Monastery, but if its locked, just head back over to the Monastery ask around, and you will be given a key to venture inside.

 

 

The National Museum of Montenegro actually comprises of a few small museums dotted around the town, and you can get single or joint discounted tickets depending on what you fancy seeing. We made time to see the Archaeology Museum, the Historical Museum and Art Museum, which are all located close to one another in the Vladin Dom.

 

Before heading back down to Kotor on the bus, we had a bite to eat, I originally didn’t want to try what I would term ‘Italian’ food which seemed to be on the menu everywhere. Soon though, I rather ignorantly realised that pasta and pizza dishes are pretty standard and local here too, with its close history to Italy. So we went for Pizza and beer at Obelisk on the main street sitting outside outside, a lovely end to our day trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clearing US immigration in Ireland.

Ive just done my first ever US Pre Clearance and it was a revelation! I have been aware of it for a while but only just got round to trying it out and I’m¬†not sure I can ever go back now. Any none US travellers who have visited the United States must have experienced that fun 30-90¬†minute wait, filling in the white arrival cards and being sternly instructed to GET IN A LINE. Then undergoing 20 questions about where you’re going, who you’re staying with and for how long, whilst being jet-lagged, confused and forgetting the name of your accommodation, then missing your connection to Nashville? No, maybe it’s just me then.

There are actually 6 none US countries from which you can now go through all the immigration and customs checks, before you board your flight when you are still fresh faced and excited for the journey ahead. The particular airports are located in Aruba, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Canada and where I boarded, Ireland. Sweden and the Dominican Republic are next to join the list I believe.img_2388

The main reason I believe these pre-clearance centres have been set up is to reduce the risk of terrorism and identify potential criminals before they even board the plane to the US. The other advantages for everyone else, is these airports potentially gets more traffic, it reduces the numbers and waiting times for everyone else at border controls in the US and makes it easier for travellers to leave their destination airport quickly and easily without delays on arrival. Basically a win win!

I¬†travelled to Newark, New Jersey from Manchester, UK via Dublin this month (Nov 2017) with Aer Lingus and it was smooth sailing or should I saw flying, the whole way. I was then heading onward to Philadelphia, so it was refreshing to get straight off the plane and to the train station, potentially catch an earlier train than I would have if i’d had to queue in customs.

On arrival in Dublin there are loads of staff on hand to direct and advise all passengers who are travelling onward to the US, the Pre-Clearance area is easily signposted with a small US flag, making it hard to get lost. Before going through customs though, you end up in the main departure lounge, so unless you immediately need to head to your next flight, stick around here for a while. There are coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shops and a currency counter, although there are a few places to eat once you pass the pre-clearance area, they are limited. If you are vegetarian there are quite a few options, but the only place I found accommodating vegans was coffee express which had a falafel wrap, all coffee shops did seem to offer soy milk though.

I chatted to a member of staff who said at times the Pre-Clearance area can get busy, so don’t leave it too long to go through, but there were also announcements advising when passengers should clear the customs area for each US flight. When I heard an announcement for a different American flight, I left it 20 minutes and decided to take my chances and go through.

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First there is small x-ray security area to pass through with your bags, there was no queue! So I quickly moved on to stage 2, which was the customs machine. Here you answer the questions that are on the white arrival form, it is push button answers so it’s much easier, then you scan your own passport and fingers, again no queue. A clearance form was printed off and it was on to final stage 3, speaking to an official. Third time lucky, there was no queue again, and after a friendly chat, my passport was stamped and I was welcomed to ‘America’, the whole process maybe took a little over 5 minutes.

There is a separate departure lounge for all those who have passed clearance and are travelling on to the US, which like I mentioned has some facilities, a small bar, small restaurant, coffee kiosk, charging points, toilets and free but temperamental wifi, but its not as extensive as the main departure lounge, so just be aware. Once I landed in New Jersey, we exited as though we were on a domestic flight, straight out into arrivals, I had carry on luggage only, so headed straight to the Air-train onward to the main railway station.

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I would definitely consider travelling via Ireland (Dublin or Shannon) again, especially if I had a considerable amount of travelling to do once I had landed. It just means you can get a stress free head start on your onward journey and don’t need to factor in for an unknown wait at customs. In fact, I’m already looking at flights to Boston for next Autumn maybe . . . .

Philadelphia- City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection

State No 6

I’m just back from a trip to Philadelphia, but as it was over 10 years since my last visit to this historic, vibrant East coast city, I was excited to return and explore more parts of the city I never managed too last time. I was there attending a workshop, but made sure I put aside time to visit some sights aswell.

Arrivals. You can fly direct from London, Manchester or Dublin, which takes around 8hrs. If you go via Dublin you get to experience Pre Clearance before you board the plane, which as I mentioned in my previous post is a revelation! I didn’t fly direct to Philadelphia this time, I went from Manchester (via Dublin) to Newark in New Jersey. There are lots of options to get yourself straight to downtown Philadelphia from other East Coast destinations, so don’t be put off if flights are super expensive direct to Philly as they were for me. If you fly straight into Philadelphia and are not hiring a car (if you plan to stay solely in and around the city you wont need one) then get the inexpensive, handy¬†SEPTA,¬†straight from the airport to downtown, the most central stations ¬†to get off at will be 30th, Suburban or Jefferson.

If flying in from Newark your best two options are; get the Air Train to Newark Airport Train Station, then either board the Amtrak straight to 30th Street Philadelphia which is direct but can be expensive, or get the NJ Transit train to Trenton, then change to the SEPTA straight to downtown Philadelphia. If you fly into New York, you can get the train or Bus from Penn Station, while Washington DC also has direct buses (taking around 4 hours) and trains from its gorgeous Union Station direct to downtown Philadelphia.

Getting Around. A lot of sights are easy to walk too, especially if you group a few of them in the same neighbourhood together during your visit, the SEPTA (buses, trolleys and subway) runs all over the city and is super easy to use, while taxi’s, Uber and Lyft are also available everywhere.

History Bit. The city was founded by an English entrepreneur and Quaker called William Penn in the late 1800’s after he was gifted some land from King Charles II. Prior to this, the area of land that eventually became the capital of Pennsylvania was inhabited by the indigenous people of the Lenape. There is so much history here in this city, whether you want to learn more about slavery, the declaration of independence or even its religious past, it is all richly reflected here in a lot of the popular sights visited today.

What to see.¬†Independence National Park and of course the star of the park, probably the most famous broken bell in the world, is the Liberty Bell. There is a lot to see in this area, all the sights are located close to 5th and Independence Mall which is a SEPTA stop handily enough. There is the huge Independence Visitor’s Centre which is the perfect place to start your historic day trip, open from 8.30 daily and free, there is a shop, cafe, theatre as well as exhibitions which illustrate and inform all visitors on the importance this city has had on the rest of the country. Across the street is the Liberty Bell centre, which is also free and open from 9am, its first come first served, so time your visit well to avoid the queues. If its busy and you can’t face waiting for a B’elfie (Bell Selfie?) then walk towards the Independence Hall past the Liberty Bell centre and take a look back and to your right, you can see the Bell through the glass wall. Visiting the Independence Hall is also free, but you need to book onto one of the tours in advance, there are also free gardens and outdoor exhibits all around this area making it a must do whether you have a passing or keen interest in the history of the USA.

One block north of the Independence visitor centre is the National Constitution Centre this is open daily, costing just under $15 per adult for a ticket. This includes access to the Signers Hall, lots of museum exhibits, an interactive We The People show and a theatre production which runs every 30 minutes depicting the history of the signing of the constitution, fascinating stuff!

This area is part of the oldest neighbourhood of Philadelphia, so just wander around and you will constantly find places of interest and historical significance, the oldest street is here Elfreth’s Alley in fact it is known as the oldest residential street in the US. Christ Church Burial Grounds is located close by, where you can take a fascinating leafy green walk through the churchyard where Benjamin Franklin was buried amongst other figures important to US history. This church ground is situated on Arch St and Independence Mall, and if you continue East down Arch, close by is the Betsy Ross House which is where the first US flag was made by Betsy herself, see there is history around every corner.

A short walk west along Arch St you pass the African American Museum, I couldn’t get to visit this time due to the workshop I was attending, but I definitely want to schedule in time to go next visit. Keep walking along this street and next up is the Chinatown Friendship Gate signally the start of Chinatown, like any Chinatown across the world there is a great colourful vibe, tonnes of shops, restaurants, cafes and a monthly Night Market. I headed away from Chinatown though this visit to Arch and 12th St and what may become my most favourite farmers market that I have ever visited, the loud, vibrant, assault on all the senses that is the¬†Reading Terminal Market.
img_2595 img_2593

Over 100 years old and open from 8am-6pm daily, you must plan a visit to explore the 80+ stalls of food, drink and crafts. Definitely give the place a once over before deciding where you sit and eat and what to buy, there are Amish stalls serving home made cheeses, butchers and fishmongers selling their fresh produce as well as places to buy kitchen supplies and flowers as well as the many restaurants. Stay for something to eat for sure, whether its a vegan corn dog at Fox and Son, a Philly Cheesesteak at Carmens or comfort food at the Dutch Eating Place you can easily spend an hour here, I even spotted peanut butter chocolate bacon for sale, but gave that a miss!

The architecture in Philadelphia is amazing, with a range of styles both old and new, from the art deco railway stations of Suburban and 30th St to the 60 storey Comcast Tower (due for completion in 2018) and its even higher neighbour One Liberty Place, it can make for a dizzying but fascinating wander. If you head West from Reading Terminal Market towards the skyscrapers of downtown, dominating the skyline is the Masonic Temple. Taking 5 years to construct and then another 15 years to finish the interior, you cannot fail to miss this beautiful elaborate granite building, taking up a whole block of its own. Tours are available but limited and cost $15.

Right opposite the Masonic Temple is the largest municiple building in the US¬†City Hall,¬†its another huge impressive building, that proudly stands in the heart of the city and makes a good point of reference when exploring this part of town. Although it never became the tallest building in the world as it had been hoped, it did hold the record for tallest building in Philadelphia up until the 80’s. If you have a head for heights ascend up the tower for what I can imagine are insane panoramic views of the city, tower tours finish at around 4pm though, so dont leave it late, I couldnt fit it in this time with it being a work trip, so have pencilled it in for next time.

IMG_2673 The great city hall peaking out at the end of Broad Street

The next big attraction on most peoples itineraries when visiting Philadelphia will probably be the Museum of Art and even if you arent an art lover and dont want to pay the $20 entrance fee, still head over so you can run up the famous Rocky Steps and get a photo by the statue. You can get there by bus or on the metro to 30th St station and from there its a 20 min walk along the Schuylkill River, but if you fancy walking from downtown, head down the gorgeous tree and flag lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Even if you dont visit inside the art museum, head round to the back of the building and visit the sculpture and landscaped gardens with gorgeous views along the Schuylkill River, I only found them after a tip from my Lyft driver, who I gave 5 stars too of course!

There are so many more museums that are worthy of visiting, but as I was over for a work trip, I just couldnt squeeze as much in as I would have liked.  On my hit list for next time is the Franklin Institute, Rodin Museum, Please Touch Museum, The National Museum of American Jewish History and The Eastern State Penitentiary as well as the African American Museum that I mentioned earlier.

There is so much outdoor green space in Philadelphia, lots of parks, squares and river walks, which makes for a nice contrast when you have got your fill on museums and other indoor sights. Fairmont Park is the big one, with over 9,000 acres to explore, but there is also Franklin Sq, Love Park, Washington Square and the Schuylkill River Trail to name only a few.

Food and Drink РPhiladelpahia does great coffee, with some unique independent coffee shops that also side hustle as clothing shops, creative spaces and music venues. Some gems I visited during my latest stay included Rival Bros and United by Blue and next time I really want to visit Grindcore Coffee which is a vegan coffeeshop.

Speaking of vegan food, I visited¬†Hip City Veg¬†twice during my stay, its a 100% plant based diner that serves the most delicious meat-free food including chick’n fajitas and tempeh burgers that even the most hardened carnivore would love and the green drink below is the insanely amazing kale lemonade.

 

Hot Tips –

  • A single fair on the Septa costs $2.50 or a 1 day convenience pass (max 8 rides) is $9
  • On the first Friday evening of each month there is a¬†Art Walk¬†in the Old City District.
  • Known as one of the best beer cities in America, there are more than 60 brewing companies in the Philadelphia region alone with many local companies organising brew pub tours.

Other sights

  • Six Flags Theme Park is only around 90 mins away on the train (change at Trenton)
  • Jump on the Septa to Wissahicken and hike the Valley Park Trail and then eat and drink along Main Street afterwards in the Manayunk district. Manayunk is Native American for ‘Where we go to drink’ by the way!
  • Shop, eat and drink along South Street in the heart of the city.

Always be polite – If you buy a $10 cheesesteak at Reading Terminal Market then a tip would be around $1.50.

Coffee, Kombucha and Dairy Free Ice Cream – LA Style

A slight change for this post, writing up my last visit to LA I was conscious it could have turned into a War and Peace type epic if I had included all the places I have enjoyed eating and drinking over the years here as well. So this post is just that, a collection of some of the spots that I have enjoyed visiting in Los Angeles for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and late night drinks. Cheers!

Mornings – I will start with breakfast and coffee as any good day should start and at the famous and original Los Angeles¬†Farmers Market¬†on 3rd and Fairfax.¬†Originally a large ranch in the late 1800’s, it wasn’t until the 1930’s when the idea of starting a small village for farmers to sell their wares came to fruition and the Farmers Market was born. Open from 9am-9pm (different on weekends) you could easily visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but I think its a nice way start to the day before the tour buses arrive. As well as food stalls there are also vendors selling clothes, candles, flowers and even a dog bakery. With over 30 different places to buy fresh food, coffee and alcohol, its worth doing a full tour of the place before deciding where to eat, last time I had French toast and my friend had an Armenian breakfast.

 

Marmalade Cafe¬†is a small chain with about 7 locations in the LA area, open from 9am till late they serve breakfast lunch and dinner, with a decent range of coffee, teas and champagne cocktails. There is one squeezed in between the Farmers Market and the gorgeously designed¬†Grove Shopping Mall¬†should you fancy a sit down between shopping. The Grove is definitely worth a visit if you are close by, as well a great mix of shops and a cinema, there is a real diverse spread of restaurants and bars, although the shops don’t open till around 10am, some of the cafes and restaurants open up at 9am for breakfast and are open till 11pm for late night food and drinks. I haven’t tried Umami Burger¬†yet, but it’s on my list for next time.

Another place with 2 locations in LA that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is¬†Swingers.¬†I find a lot of breakfast places in the US are really heavy on eggs, but as I don’t eat them this place was perfect, as they had a great selection of egg free vegetarian and vegan options and the coffee was pretty good too.

 Swingers on Beverly Blvd.

The International House of Pancakes or IHOP¬†is¬†maybe not a place you would associate with health conscious LA, although it is a chain that originated in California. Even though I have been visiting the USA for over 20 years, I hadn’t visited any IHOP’s until 2015 when I visited the one on Sunset Blvd. As well as burgers, sandwiches and soups, they serve an extensive mouthwatering list of pancakes, waffles and French toast, if you’re jetlagged, hungover and hungry (I was all three) it definitely ticks all the boxes as a cheeky one off treat.


Heading towards the coast, if you are in and around Santa Monica, you can’t go wrong exploring the length of¬†Third Street Promenade¬†which is full of cafes, coffee shops and restaurants and if you still can’t find something you like, head to the food court at¬†Santa Monica Place¬†grab a protein bowl or breakfast wrap with a smoothie from the Fresh Healthy Cafe and sit outside in the sun.

You are spoilt for choice for great breakfast and coffee places in Venice Beach, and there are many websites out there giving you detailed instructions for finding that perfect latte or cold brew. On my recent visit I enjoyed an almond cappuccino at Espresso Yo Self just by venice boardwalk and an interesting green tea latte and delicious pastry from Cafe Cielo. One final breakfast recommendation is the cafe/restaurant¬†Rose, housed in a gorgeous space with both indoor and outdoor seating, its own bakery, a fresh Californian menu, a coffee bar and cocktail area, I’m definitely returning for dinner next time.

    

Afternoons. Many of the places I have mentioned for breakfast are suitable for lunches too, but one particular gem I found last month was Lemonade. Focussing on fresh Californian seasonal ingredients, you create your own mixtures of salads, and there is a great choice of meat, vegetarian and vegan options and not surprisingly, delicious thirst quenching lemonades.  We visited the one in West Hollywood, but more and more are popping up around LA, including one in Venice and one in Santa Monica, I remember the kale and tangerine salad being majorly tasty.


If you’re heading up towards Warner Studios for a tour, it will be hard to miss¬†Bobs Big Burger¬†the quintessential 1950’s coffee shop/diner. We stopped here for lunch before heading to the taping of a show one year, I ate meat a lot more back then, so had the big boy burger, but nowadays the menu is more vegetarian friendly I’m pleased to report.

This last visit to LA, we made a wonderful discovery of the organic natural supermarket Erewhon, I could have easily spent a good hour wandering the aisles of the stores of which there are 3, one on Beverly Blvd, one in Venice and one up in Calabases. Full of freshly made salads, sushi and sandwiches to go, a juice and coffee bar, fridges filled with the latest in kombucha and activated charcoal lemonade (yes I tried one!) protein bars and even shots of clay (had one of those too). We visited a few times last month to stock up on cold drinks and made picnics to take to the beach and the hills.

  

My last lunch recommendation is basically anywhere with outdoor seating that doesn’t completely break the bank in Bel Air or Beverly Hills, the people watching will be amazing. My friend and I still talk about our lunch that we had a¬†Momed¬†two years later where we sat right by the pavement, with paparazzi and celebs walk past and overhearing film deals taking place. The food was pretty good too, but it was all about our location and the stories we came away with.

 

Dairy free – Ice Cream. As I don’t tolerate dairy very well, enjoying ice cream is few and far between nowadays when travelling, but dairy free ice cream is pretty easy to come by in LA, so here are two epic recommendations.

Little Damage Located in downtown, we took a trip here specifically to try the ice cream which is made daily with local ingredients. They always have one vegan flavour and are served in the most delicious chewy black charcoal cone. Well worth a visit!
  Little Damage
Kippys Ice Cream Is a 100% none dairy ice cream parlour in Venice Beach, all ice creams are made with 5 organic ingredients or less, and come with a range of toppings such as bee pollen, cacao nibs or goji berries. Open till 11pm, it made a great post taco tre  Kippys None Dairy Ice Cream Parlour

Evenings. I always enjoy a night out on Sunset Blvd, so many bars, cafes, hotels and restaurants, I think the best approach is see where the winds takes you, thats always how we end up finding somewhere. If there is such a thing as an iconic burger bar, then In-n-out must qualify, its good to remember that they stay open till 1am on Sunset, which was around the time when we visited whilst waiting for our uber at then end of a boozy night out. During another visit to the strip, we found ourselves in the Pink Taco, great music and friendly vibe with a menu chocked full of tacos, enchiladas, and a daily happy hour featuring frozen margaritas! Last month, my friend and I just fancied some beers and a few small plates and ended up in The Den on Sunset the food was to die for, especially the cauliflower wings and with a happy hour and fire pit in the outdoor courtyard, it ticked all the boxes.

 Spicy Cauliflower wings on Sunset.

If you fancy a meal out along Hollywood Blvd, then you can’t go wrong creating your own burger at¬†25 degrees, situated inside the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, I visited it about 10 years ago and I’m pleased to see its still going strong, looking at the updated menu, I may need to return when I’m next over for sure.

Over in Santa Monica I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find somewhere nice to eat along Third Street Promenade or along Ocean Ave. There are many places covering all budgets, from small Italian cafes, English pubs, Thai, Mexican, Mediterranean and fresh local American restaurants. If you fancy viewing it from above, take the lift up to the Cheesecake Factory¬†in Santa Monica place and get a seat on the terrace, as well as ginormous cheesecakes, they serve cocktails and small plates, I’d recommend the Korean fried cauliflower with a glass of prosecco!

Down the shoreline in Venice you have a whole range of options along the boardwalk, some touristy and loud, but not all and despite the beach front location, they aren’t all overpriced either, so it’s worth a wander. Last time we chose Venice Beach Bar¬†and sat upstairs overlooking the beach, watching the glorious sunset, listening to the drum circle, while drinking cold beers and sharing a platter of kale and sweet potato tacos.

Late Night. If you fancy visiting the newest and hippest bars in town, then don’t use this blog as a reference lol, use Time Out LA¬†instead, I’m just all about casual, friendly inexpensive places that serve local beers and play decent music. The Rainbow Bar and Grill¬†has become a bit of a tradition when on a night out on the¬†Sunset Strip¬†even though I’m not particularly into rock music, I’m more of an indie girl (Women? Now I’m 42). ¬†There’s no denying its historic past, a who’s who of rock and movie stars have drunk here since the early 70’s some pretty much living here, and you can’t help but feel the past tales of debauchary seeping from the walls. You can sit outside by the iconic strip, or head inside and pick a booth and since Lemmy past away, there is now a dedicated Lemmy Lounge with a statue of the great man himself, which is fast before a tourist spot in its own right, I can’t wait to return again, a brilliant night out is always guaranteed.

  
Saddle Ranch Chop House¬†describes itself as a ‘destination restaurant’ which I think means as well as serving food and drink, due to its loud music, outdoor fire pits, big screen tv’s, huge bar and oh yeah a mechanical bull which you can ride, diners end up having a great night out in and of itself here. I haven’t eaten here or ridden the bull (honest!) but have grabbed a booth with the idea of staying for one drink and ended up staying a lot longer. One last place we found last time on the Strip was a restaurant/bar called¬†The Everleigh, we¬†saw a gorgeous outdoor courtyard all lit up, looking a little fancier than the places we usually visit, but it still gave off a welcoming vibe, so we ventured in and spent a good hour putting the world to rights with the friendly bartender, whilst sampling the Rose wine at the bar.

Although I have stayed in downtown LA on previous trips, I haven’t really many recommendations for bars in this area, as I think we tended to gravitate towards Hollywood and the coast. One place we did visit though, was the¬†Standard Rooftop, which had entered my radar after I had stayed at the Standard on Sunset. Its Downtown relative is famous for its bar not surprisingly on the roof of the hotel, with insane views across the downtown skyline, a pool, waterbed pods, a dance floor and fireplace. Definitely a place to dress up for, and be prepared to spend some time and money queuing with the beautiful people at the bar, but it was fun for a one off.

  Waterpods and Milkshakes.

A great way to finish the night is to head to the iconic¬†Mels Drive-in, there are 7 locations around the city, but the one on Sunset is open 24/7. Of course you can go for breakfast or lunch, and it’s great during the day, but I love the atmosphere in the early hours, when everyone is slightly drunk, ordering sliders and milkshakes whilst deciding whether to call an uber home or to carry on to another bar.

Finally, if British pubs are more your thing, there are a few gems in LA. I wouldn’t normally visit anything remotely modelling themselves as a British pub when abroad, but these three – The Cat and the Fiddle,¬†The Pig & Whistle¬†and¬†Ye Olde Kings Head¬†have real character with unique back stories and have firmly planted themselves in the history books of this city.

Before you go – Tipping is an essential but potentially confusing component for anyone visiting the US. I believe it’s acceptable to pay $1-2 in a bar for wine or beer, increasing if you’ve ordered a fancy cocktail that’s taken time to prepare. In a cafe or restaurant it’s between 15-20% of the bill, so if you spent $20 you would tip an extra $3-4.