Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: Heritage

Where to stay Wednesday: Casa dos Lóios, Porto

 

Things have been a bit quiet around here as of late – for which I apologies. Again. This time I blame the sun, making me want to be outside and get out and about and stuff. Anyway, I’m here now and that’s what matters!

Casa dos Loios

Casa dos Loios

I’ve stayed in – probably – more than my fair share of hotels for a 26-year-old. I’ve been lucky enough to sleep in beds wider than my 6″1 boyfriend is long. A wooden-floored duplex under canvas. Ones themed on chocolate, or the Wild West, or New Mexico – the latter coming complete with crash-landed alien spaceships and half buried, rusting cars. Old and new, big and small, grand and understated.

But none of these buildings were as immediately, incredibly breathtaking as Casa dos Loios.

It’s a good thing one of team members was carrying my suitcase, because I’m pretty sure I would have dropped it in shock. Which probably wouldn’t have been great for either the suitcase, or their beautiful, wooden floors.

Casa dos Loios

Formerly home to the Ferraz Mello family, Casa dos Loios occupies a 16th/17th-century townhouse in central Porto, resplendent with wide, high-ceilinged staircases, large windows with decorative frames and beautiful plasterwork on the ceilings. (Actually, it slightly resembled (a smaller version of) some of the Trust properties I’ve visited (/worked on the Guidebooks for and seen pictures of)). Complementary furniture, such as an old wireless, is found throughout the two floors – named ‘Ruby’ and ‘Tawny’ after the two red types of the drink for which this city is famous. (Did you know you can get white (‘Branco’) Port? Very nice it is, too.)

Although our room wasn’t quite as amazing, this was because we booked the smallest possible option on a special deal through booking.com – the rack rate of just over £60 wasn’t even advertised on the list in our room, as I think there’s only two of these rooms in the whole hotel. And for the price we paid, it was perfectly adequate, just a touch on the small side and without any of the building features you might find in some of the more expensive rooms. You still get all the other benefits of staying here though, from complimentary toiletries to the amazing breakfast (more on that below). 

For example, if you fancy shelling out a bit more (a not-that-expensive-really £120 a night, especially as it sleeps four) then you could stay in this:

Casa dos Loios

For those looking for something in the middle, here’s a typical double:

Casa dos Loios

 

Sometimes I find hotels that look so fancy a little intimidating, like the staff and other guests are looking at your like ‘why are you here exactly’? Casa dos Loios is the exact opposite of this. Other guests included a young family, a young group of friends and couples young and old – and all of us were given service as exceptional as the building (and just as impressive too – we heard one person switch languages, seemingly effortlessly, about four times in the course of us eating our breakfast). Casa dos Loios is part of the small ‘Shiado’ chain of guesthouses, and the first one outside of Lisbon. (I like discovering new places, but we were so impressed with Casa do Bairro when we last went to Lisbon in 2011 that we decided to stay there again, and also felt that their Porto venture should be a safe bet.) The ethos is to provide a comfortable, homely place to relax with friendly customer service – and Casa dos Loios definitely achieves that. In fact, I’d even argue that the staff here were even better than those in Casa do Bairro – high praise indeed.

We were sat down, offered a drink and then our host went over the map of Lisbon, recommending places to see, eat and drink based on the amount of time we had and – seemingly – our age (one recommendation – a bar – was prefixed with ‘because you’re young’). They included key tourist sites, but also harder to find miradouros (viewpoints) and some of his personal favourites. In case that’s not enough to keep you occupied, the hotel information binder in the bedrooms also includes tips on places to eat, and a cork board in the dining room features cards brought back from previous guests from places they’d recommend. Both restaurants we went to during our stay were recommended, and neither disappointed (more on those in a Food Friday soon).

Casa dos Loios

The friendly nature of the staff continued throughout our stay – if you popped into the kitchen to grab a tea/coffee/cake (all complimentary) they would chat to you about your day, your plans – but never to the point of being intrusive. There’s also plenty of places to relax outside of your hotel room, either in the dining room or outside in the sun-soaked patio area. There’s no bar, but there is an ‘honesty fridge’ from which you can take wine, beer or soft drinks (though (shh) you’d be better off popping to the supermarket next door).

And then there’s the breakfast. I get the impression that the Portuguese have something of a sweet tooth, because breakfast foods here seem to consist of a lot of home-made cakes and donut-type things. A perfect start to the day in my books. If you’re not into starting your day on a sugar high (why on earth not?!), you could choose from a selection of continental savoury items, fruit or cereal. But I highly recommend going for the cake. Especially the donuts. And then have them again later in the day as an afternoon snack.

Casa dos Loios

The location is excellent too. It’s right on the Rua das Flores, which is full of lovely little cafes, restaurants and specialist boutiques (we particularly liked the one selling products made of cork). You can walk to pretty much all the main tourist attractions in Porto within 25 minutes, and most are much closer – practically on your doorstep. (Though, admittedly, Porto isn’t particularly huge.)

The only minor negative of the hotel might be that the walls didn’t seem particularly thick, and we could hear people in the corridor. However we weren’t kept awake or woken up at any point, so while very light sleepers may have a problem, I have no complaints.

Another thing that didn’t affect us, but might others, is that the entire guesthouse is situated up a – quite long – flight of stairs. I don’t know if there was a lift, so this is something worth enquiring about if you have mobility issues.

If you don’t mind missing a few components of bigger hotels – a bar, restaurant, paid-for movies, nothing I wished we had access to, especially considering you’re in the heart of Porto – then you can’t go wrong with Casa dos Loios. A friendly and relaxing retreat, set in a stunning period building, this is the perfect base for exploring Porto.

Casa dos Loios

Cultural Copenhagen

Design Museum Copenhagen garden

Although we spent a lot of our time in Copenhagen eating and drinking and possibly even more just wandering the streets (no, not like that), we also found time to visit a few museums too.

It’s worth noting that there’s definitely an ‘off’ season in Denmark – most things seemed to be more fully open from about the time the Tivoli Gardens open in mid-April until the end of Summer. This meant that in a number of the museums, not all exhibitions or areas were open. But on the plus side, they were also relatively quiet. So if there’s nothing you’re absolutely desperate to see, then I’d definitely recommend an out-of-season visit.

Design Museum Copenhagen display

Design Museum Copenhagen shop

Design Museum Copenhagen Wegner Exhibition

Design Museum
John’s a Design Engineer and we both love wooden, mid-century furniture so a visit to the Design Museum was always a must. In one half, the museum showcases key design themes, pieces and designers while in the second, the focus is on the more traditional. Our knowledge of historical Danish design was (is) limited, so we were quite suprised by the look of the older pieces.

We also saw the beginnings of a new exhibition (it didn’t open fully until a couple of days after our visit) – Wegner, ‘Just One Good Chair’ which was already looking really excellent.

Also excellent was the (free!) exhibition catalogue we were given on arrival. Thick paper and beautifully designed – I guess we should have expected nothing else considering the museum we were in!

Great shop too – as with everything in Copenhagen, it’s slightly pricey, but there’s some gorgeous products in here. We managed to restrain ourselves and came away with just a large (A4) postcard, but the wallet damage could easily have been much worse!

The details
http://designmuseum.dk/en/
Bredgade 68 / 1260 København K
Nearest Metro stop: Kongens Nytorv
Entry: 90DKK. Free if you’re a student or under 26 (something we very conveniently found this out a couple of days before my 26th birthday. Guess where we headed the next day..!)
Closed Mondays & some bank holidays

Carlsberg Glyptotek Copenhagen

Winter Garden Glypototek

Winter Garden Glypototek2

Glypototek

Peter Bangs Vej 145  - 2000 Frederiksberg   DK
Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket

When I was talking to my manager about my plans for Copenhagen, this was the first place she recommended. Even if you’re not interested in the collections, she said, the building itself is amazing.

Walking into the main courtyard of the Glypototek, I understood exactly what she meant. Called the Wintergarden, it’s like a huge greenhouse or orangery full of trees and plants and fountains and statues and benches. Unexpected and breathtaking. My manager was right – even if you’re not too bothered about the art, it’s worth making the most of the museum’s free entry on Sundays just to see this.

And if you are interested in art, there’s plenty more here to explore, from Egyptian mummies in a basement to rooms and rooms full of statues (so many statues! And busts. And bits of statues and busts) to Danish art to French masterpieces by Gauguin and Cezanne among others. Sadly the latter section was closed when we visited, which was one of the areas we were most interested in, but we still spent an hour or so in the other rooms and marveling at the building itself.

The details
Dantes Plads 7 | DK-1556 Cph
Nearest station: Central Station (Københavns Hovedbanegård)
http://www.glyptoteket.com
75DKK (Adults). Children under 18 go free.
Free entry on Sundays – we thought it would be heaving as a result but it didn’t seem to be.
Closed Mondays & some bank holidays

Danish Jewish museum

Danish Jewish museum

Copenhagen Royal Library Garden

 

Copenhagen Royal Library Garden

Danish Jewish Museum
There was an unwritten rule of city holidays in my family. If we found ourselves in a new city with a Jewish museum, then my Dad would gravitate towards it. When I was younger, I just didn’t get it. Sure they were interesting – but how different can each Jewish museum be? How much more can they say?

But as an adult (allegedly), I have inherited this gravitational pull. It’s like there’s some kind of magnet that gets passed through Jewish blood and kicks in when we get to about 18. I’ve also learnt that Jewish museums can be, are, very different. I’m ashamed to admit I knew very little of how Sweden helped Danish Jews during the war. The exhibits focusing on this area were the highlights of the museum for me. The other displays were more focused on Jewish culture through the years, featuring items like Torahs and clothes.

It wasn’t the best Jewish museum I’ve been to, but it was interesting to hear a new side to the Second World War story. And the building itself, jutting walls and interesting lighting, is stunning; it was designed by Daniel Libeskind, the man behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin – along with many other projects. Although exploring the museum itself will probably only take an hour or so of your time, being able to see inside the building is justification enough to pay the entry fee.

It’s also set within the small, peaceful Royal Library Gardens, the perfect place to just sit and stop and think (or not think!) for a little while.

The details
Købmagergade 5, 3
1150 København K
Nearest station: Kongens Nytorv
http://jewmus.dk/en
50DKK (Adults), or 75DKK for main and special exhibition (special exhibition wasn’t on when we visited). Students and pensioners are 40DKK/65DKK. Children under 18 go free.
Closed Mondays. During off-peak season (01/09 – 31/05), only open 1-4 on weekdays (open all day at weekends).
It’s worth noting that the museum is closed on some Jewish holidays (i.e Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) as well as national Bank Holidays

experimentarium copenhagen

Experimentarium
OK, this one’s not quite as cultural as the other museums we visited – but it was a whole lot of fun! The Experimentarium is a science museum full of hands-on exhibits. Test out your fitness and strength, learn about Danish inventions or see inside your body. It’s really aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean that big kids can’t spend a good couple of hours here playing around. Go in the afternoon though – apparently it gets very busy with school groups in the morning.

I highly recommend if you fancy a laugh for a few hours. That said, when it moves back to Hellerup (their main building is currently being refurbished and expanded) then it’s probably quite not worth the trip for adult-only parties. Though the expansion may add lots of extra features that prove me wrong (and the architects’ designs a Google Image search throws up are undeniably intriguing).

The details
Trangravsvej 12
1436 Copenhagen K
Nearest station: Christianshavn Torv
https://www.experimentarium.dk/
Children 3-11, Students & Disabled: 105DKK
Adults (12+): 160DKK
Under 3s and Disabled helpers go free
Closed some bank holidays
(No I haven’t just missed a line – it’s open on Mondays!)

We also visited the lovely Viking Ships Museum in Roskilde – you can read a little more about it here

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Picture Credits
All pics that aren’t mine link to original source
Design Museum exterior, shop and collection (3rd pic): Design Museum website
Glyptotek exterior and interior statues: Glypototek website
Experimentarium from accross the water: Location CPH
All other pictures my own, please credit if using

A morning in Roskilde

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

 

During our time in Copenhagen we decided to make use of the extensive railway network and take a trip out to Roskilde. Perhaps most well-known for its music festival, Roskilde is also a really pleasant area to just wander around. The main street in the town admittedly isn’t hugely exciting, but just beyond that, past towering Roskilde Cathedral, it becomes greener, the buildings more traditional. And then you see the vast fjord beyond. Copenhagen isn’t exactly a hectic city – far from it – but Roskilde is that bit slower, calmer, quieter.

We ambled through a park and down to the Viking Ship Museum, where we spent a good couple of hours looking around the main exhibition and boatyard, clambering over their exhibition ships and trying on the Viking costumes, before eating an ice cream overlooking the fjord.

The perfect way to spend a relaxed morning in Copenhagen.


Roskilde

Roskilde

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde fjord

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

 

Roskilde Viking Ship Museum

Roskilde Cathedral

Roskilde

 

Getting There
We went by train. Roskilde is in Zone 7, a ticket for which costs DK 108

Viking Ship Museum
Open every day except 24, 25 and 31 December
Open 10-4, or 10-5 22/06-31/08

Prices
Adult: 80 DKK (October-April), 115 (May-September)
Students: 70 DKK (October-April), 100 (May-September)
Children up to 18 go free

Photos
All photos my own, please credit if using

A Sunday stroll at Tyntesfield

This Sunday, before yet another trip to B&Q, we ignored the fact that it was drizzling, pulled on our walking boots and made a diversion to Tyntesfield.

Once home to the Gibbs family (who made their fortune importing guano), Tyntesfield is a Gothic revival house in Wraxall, on the outskirts of Bristol. It’s now owned by the National Trust.

The house was closed this weekend (it reopens on Saturday (8th March) for summer season, which gives us a good excuse to revisit soon), but there was still plenty to explore in the grounds and gardens. We were perhaps lucky that it was quite quiet when we visited; we were the only people in the rose garden and there was only one other family in the kitchen garden. I’m sure it would be equally pleasant when busy – more buzzing perhaps – but it just felt really peaceful when we were there. The rose garden would definitely make for a perfect reading spot if it was a bit warmer (though I imagine then it wouldn’t be as quiet. Catch-22!).


We – unintentionally – happened to turn up on crafts market day too, which takes place on the first Sunday of every month. This was quite food-orientated when we were there (and predominantly preserves and cakes), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were also very tempted by some of the hand-crafted wooden benches on offer – unfortunately we’d taken the car with the small boot this time, but we won’t be making the same mistake again! (Another excuse to revisit…)

And obviously no visit to a Trust property is complete without a trip to the café for tea and scones – the perfect end to a slightly soggy walk.

image

Full disclosure: I’m a Trust employee so get free entry to properties. However this post is in no way affiliated to the Trust and this trip was taken of my own accord and in my leisure time.

Singapore: beyond the skyscrapers

We meander through the Starbucks-ridden Central Business District, down the gleaming could-be-anywhere Orchard Road with its high-rises and designer shops and cleaners sweeping away every leaf that falls from the perfectly-manicured trees that line it, around historical Clarke Quay, now overrun with tourist-trap bars, restaurants and clubs.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why many view Singapore as ‘soul-less’. It’s that bit too ordered, too tidy, too modern and money-focused. If you travel lazy, if you don’t stray far from the more modern, built-up areas, then Singapore won’t give you much in return besides a few decent photos from the roof of the Marina Bay Sands hotel – and a much lighter wallet. Some people don’t mind that, but I find it stifling (and not just because of the city’s all-pervading humidity).

But as we follow our feet through Singapore, we soon find it doesn’t take much to get beneath its skin. Even Orchard Road is book-ended by a chain of less-salubrious shops – they didn’t look seedy, but they certainly detract from the city’s sterile reputation.

Between the perfectly-pruned trees of Istana Park we discover My Art Space, a cafe-cum-art workshop. On the ground floor, shoppers and tourists (ex-pats?) and locals seeking a quiet retreat sit with drinks at garden-style tables, gazing over the park’s impressive pond. Upstairs, artists and makers can hire workshops; a pick-n-mix of their work is dotted around the halls, on the stairs. In the glass-walled studio, an art class takes place. We try not to stare too blatantly, but the paintings (in particular, a bright flower) taking shape on the easels are too eye-catching.


Further down from Istana Park, at the very bottom of Orchard Road, we follow some stairs cut into a grassy hill. They lead us inside Fort Canning Park. We play ‘guess-the-scent’ in the spice garden, take in ancient archaeological sites and discover the entrance to an underground military complex – Battle Box (sadly on this occasion it’s closed so we can’t explore further). It is quiet here. We see a few other pairs of tourists, but we are often alone. Fort Canning Park is not the life and soul of the city, it is a place to slow down. To – quite literally – stop and take in the view.

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Little India – the area around Serangoon Road – is a breath of fresh air for an entirely different reason. The ordered streets so common in Singapore give way to dusty, crowded pavements and roads, cars to mopeds, silver skyscrapers to two-storey buildings bursting with colour. The open-fronted shops spill outside, showcasing vivid fabrics, gold, fruit and vegetables stacked atop beer crates. On the top floors, we spy washing hung to dry – signs of real life. The smell of spices and meats waft from enticing restaurants, mash in the air. In the hawker centre, food is eaten by the hand. It is still, of course, touristy – bars advertise ‘special’ drinks deals and the curious side-streets are home to numerous hostels – but exploring here is exciting and intoxicating and incredibly satisfying.

Chinatown’s main streets are filled with ‘souvenir’ shops; you have to work harder to unearth its charms. We find it in the quiet side-streets; when people-watching in the hawker centres; coming across the understated, slightly wonky ‘offering’ to the Gods on the quiet street of our hotel; in the stunning Temples and mosques and the pretty houses against the backdrop of the Central Business District’s shining towers.


Even wandering off-piste in Raffles Hotel offers rewards. Walking on the outside of the shops, along their back doors, we spy locals hard at work crafting new items to sell.

Later I insist on visiting Tiong Bahru. Books Actually on Yong Siak Street proves worth the trip. Books in the front – a huge variety and plenty of lots of local literature on offer – vintage trinkets in the back. Outside, a piano is painted on the pavement and the storefront patio is filled with plants. We are further rewarded for going slightly off-the-beaten-track with excellent food in Tiong Bahru Market, the local hawker centre. You can tell, from the increased (curious, non-threatening) glances we attract from locals that tourists are less common around here, though apparently this is changing. The area has an interesting history, too – it was the first Singapore housing estate, built in the 1930s. Despite being mass-built, the architecture is actually quite appealing; white-washed, mid-rise, patches of glass. But since the opening of Books Actually, the surrounding area is now ‘up-and-coming’, a ‘hipster’ haven. Fascinating, small independent bars and bakeries, restaurants and clothes shops are everywhere. I peer in their windows and wish we had come earlier in the day, that we had enough time to explore more of this ‘quirkier’ side to Singapore. (Though I admit I leave with mixed feelings; I hope this gentrification hasn’t negatively affected the people who have always called Tiong Bahru home.)



There are many other areas (Kampung Glam, Lavender, surrounding islands) that – we read – will offer a different insight into this country. But we only have 48 hours, we’re a little jet-lagged and we’re adjusting to the climate, so there’s a limit to how much we manage to see. After Tiong Bahru, we decide to spend our last night embracing our tourist status down by Marina Bay (after all, they’re popular sites for a reason. Strike the balance, don’t miss out on some of the best bits of a city by bearing a tourism snob). On the walk from Esplanade MRT station, we take a pedestrian underpass. We suddenly find ourselves on the outskirts of groups of street-dancers, hypnotic as they contort into shapes, moves, practice routines. This is perhaps the most unexpected thing we stumble across in Singapore – and it’s right in the middle of a tourist hotspot. (Incidentally, Marina Bay at night is quite beautiful. Couples lean against one another on the steps, we join in with the many taking self-portraits, enjoy watching the glass boats zip across the harbour, their lights flashing different colours.)

Lesson learnt – make the effort to visit the slightly ‘quirkier’ areas of Singapore, but don’t avoid the places that seem ‘boring’ at first glance. If you’re prepared to scratch beneath the surface then you might be pleasantly surprised.

Image Credits
All images my own except for those listed below. Please credit if re-using.

All images from external sources link to original webpage

Marina Bay Sands across the harbourside: http://srtoverseas.com/?page_id=1656
Raffles Hotel: Raffles Hotel
Books Actually interior: Ficsation Blog
Books Actually exterior: Design Spotlight
Tiong Bahru estate: Doverproperty via Tripadvisor
Dancers in Esplanade: Asia One