Bristol vs the world

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

Tag: travel

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

Walking Copenhagen

Christianshavns
Copenhagen harbour

Copenhagen is best seen from the pavement. It’s a city where your journey could take you down a street pock-marked with foosball tables. Where a riverside walk leads you past moored boats painted with happy murals and bursting with flowers on their decks. Where the suddenly slow-moving traffic you pass by is the result of a sausage cart vendor dragging his stand to work.

Copenhagen

Assistens Cemtery, Copenhagen
Assistens Cemetery Copenhagen

We wandered through Assistens Kierkegard, final resting place of Hans Christian Anderson and exactly the lively sort of place you don’t imagine when you think of cemeteries. A sunny afternoon, locals (families, friends, couples) were scattered among the graves – reading, talking, kissing, sleeping – with their bikes at their feet.

Frederiksberg Gardens

We strolled through Frederiksberg Gardens, whose grass stretches for miles, past post-work runners. We climbed its hill and looked down over the city we for which we fell, instantly, head-over-heels in love.

Tante T, Viktoriagade, Copenhangen
Tante T tea
We were typical Brits; in a city known for coffee, we sheltered from the rain in Tante T on Victoriagade, a tea shop filled with chintzy chairs and black and white photographs on the wall. (John, to be fair, did then order a coffee.) They provided an egg timer with different strengths marked at different points, to make sure my coconut-flavoured tea would be just right.

illums2
illums
Illums Bolighaus

We discovered the beautiful Illums Bolighaus, which feels more art gallery than designer furniture shop. We spent an hour drooling and planning which sofas and chairs and lights we’ll buy when we make our first few million.

Lego Nyhavn

We found ourselves in the Lego shop a few streets later, marvelling at their models of Nyhavn and other landmarks and making plastic versions of ourselves. We even managed to represent the almost-a-foot height difference. By giving me a Lego child’s legs.

Copenhagen Latin Quarter by
Latin Quarter by Ania Krasniewska

We took right turns and left turns at random in the Latin Quarter’s bright backstreets full of vintage clothes shops and studenty bars. One of the city’s many cyclists passed us, eating an ice cream.

Copenhagen botanic garden

We slowly circled the lake in the (free) botanic gardens and found ourselves in one of the greenhouses, surrounded by cacti and other spiky, wonky, jutting, alien-like plants.

 

torveshallerne

We resisted eating everything in the Torvehallerne, glass-walled markets with stalls selling coffee and spices and vegetables and larger meals from around the world.

Karriere cocktail bar, Kodbyens

We explored Kodbyens, the meat-packing district, come nightfall. We passed al fresco diners making the most of free blankets (they – the blankets – are a common site in Copenhagen), neon lights flashing from dimly-lit bars and a bonfire outside Karriere cocktail bar. We walked through its plastic flaps, left over from its former life as a butcher’s shop, and sipped a rum cocktail.

We meandered past the large ponds behind the planetarium. Down side-streets full of independent shops. Past small artists’ galleries, prints tempting us from the windows.

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We breathed in the coffee and the hot dogs. We sat on benches and the sides of harbours, not because we were tired, but because we wanted to watch the city go by.

We walked slowly (Copenhagen does not rush). Hand-in-hand. Happy.

Summer graffiti Copenhagen

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Copenhagen
Copenhagen botanic garden

Photo Credits
Assistens Kierkegard (x2): Open City Project
Tante T: Tante T website
Latin Quarter Photo One: Euroshop
Latin Quarter Photo Two: The New Diplomat’s Wife
Torveshallerne: Heather Spalling via Flickr
All others my own, please credit if using.

Journey south: Totterdown & Knowle, Bristol

colourful Totterdown houses, Bristol
With all these entries about far-flung adventures, I’ve been neglecting the ‘Bristol’ bit of this blog recently (again!). It’s not an excuse, but sometimes I take living in such an exciting city for granted, to the extent that I become uncertain whether what I’ve enjoyed recently is really worthy of a blog post.

And then something happens, like Bristol being named as the best city to live in the UK by the Sunday Times, that makes me appreciate how lucky we are to live here, to have so much right on our doorsteps.

In the spirit of ‘right on the doorstep’, today’s post is all about the first Bristol neighbourhood I called home, Totterdown and Lower Knowle. Although they may not be the most well-known areas of Bristol, both have a lot to offer. And, if you first visited Bristol by train, they also may have even given you your first impression of the city (hopefully a more positive one the beautiful Parcel Force building, too!). If you sit on the left of a carriage, look out for the rows of brightly-coloured houses peering over the cliff edge, marking the start of Totterdown.

These communities may be a little out-of-the-way for the average Bristol visitor (or even anyone who lives north of the river), but here are just seven reasons they’re worth turning left out of Temple Meads station.*

The Office

This tiny bar opened in 2012 and has fast become a local favourite. It looks ‘cool’ (exposed brick, industrial-style lights – you know the drill) yet feels welcoming rather than try-hard.  It’s a particularly lovely spot on a warm day, when they open up the glass screen-fronts onto the patio  and the sun streams in. And while a patio set not-too-far-back from the busy Wells Road, one of the main routes out of Bristol, doesn’t sound like the most pleasant of spots, somehow it manages to be a really relaxing place to wile away the hours with a pint (or two). They also serve tapas, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

 A Capella, Wells Rd, Totterdown, Bristol

A Capella

Whether you want a full English breakfast, a light (or not-so-light) lunch or a huge pizza, this award-winning restaurant is the place to come for tasty, good value food at any time of day (the pizzas – which can be eaten in or taken away – may not look cheap, but even those with huge appetites would be hard-pushed to finish one on their own). Other bonuses: friendly staff, it’s bring your own and they will put their (amazing) cake in a take-away container if you’re too stuffed to eat it there (or if you’re just walking past and have a craving for a slice or two, but don’t have time to stop). Incidentally, while all the cakes are excellent, I particularly recommend the carrot and ginger ones.  

Interior of Thali Cafe, Totterdown

Thali Café

I may have written about this restaurant before, and it’s not unique to Totterdown, but a list of my favourite places in the area wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the amazing Thali Cafe.

Farrows Fish and Chips

If there almost always being a queue isn’t enough to convince you of how good this takeaway is, the fact that it’s won a number of awards – most recently storming away with the title of Bristol’s best budget eatery – should do.

Victoria Park, Bristol

Victoria Park

Not a local BS3/4er and looking for somewhere to sit with your Farrows chips (or A Capella cake/pizza)? Or just fancy a post-breakfast/lunch/dinner walk? Head down to Victoria Park, one of my favourite spaces in Bristol. It even has a table tennis table (though you do have to supply your own bats and balls). Watching the sun set over the city from the top of the hills is particularly special.

Perrett's Park allotments + balloon

Perrett’s Park

That said, views from Perrett’s Park are arguably even better.

Gaines Greengrocers

This might look like a bit of an odd addition to this list, but I couldn’t not mention Gaines. You’ll recognise it from the bright array of fruit and vegetables spilling onto the pavement (not literally! They have crates and boxes and tables, you don’t have to pick produce off of the floor!). But Gaines doesn’t just sell your five-a-day. This tiny store is a bit like Mary Poppins’ bag, packing in more foodstuffs than you’d ever think possible, including (but not limited to) freshly baked bread (or baking ingredients to make your own), organic grains, fairtrade chocolate, tofu, tasty peanut butter and even matzah. The owner, Jason, and his co-workers are genuinely friendly and helpful, too. Good food served with a smile – sums up the spirit of this part of BS3 and 4 for me!

Totterdown houses from Albert Road railway bridge

*This is far from an extensive list of things to do in Totterdown and Knowle – there are plenty of places that are still on my ‘to visit’ list but I’m assured are really nice (in particular the Star & Dove, Duchess of Totterdown and Assilah Bistro). And I haven’t even started mentioning the many pubs, either!

Image Credits

Colourful Totterdown Houses (first pic): The Guardian

Office Bar and Canteen, A Capella: Courtesy of Tripadvisor

Thali Totterdown: Thali Café website

Victoria Park: Toulouse and the Vegetable

Perrett’s Park: Gaelallan on Panoramio More Totterdown houses (last pic): Rwendland via Wikipedia

Where to stay Wednesday: The New Majestic Hotel, Singapore

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In May-June 2013,  J (my partner – because apparently we’ve got to the stage in our lives where they’re no longer a ‘boyfriend’ but ‘manfriend’ feels too old and too Sex and the City cliché) and I went on the holiday of a lifetime to Malaysian Borneo, via Singapore. This is the first of a series of posts from the trip.

Baths are one of those things that are always so much better in my head. It’ll be just like an advert, I think, I’ll look like a Bath Goddess, with water and bubbles up to my neck with just my glowing face on show. I’ll make content sighing noises as I become absorbed by a magazine or book. The reality is never like that. The water doesn’t come quite high enough, which results in either having to lie at an awkward angle or your top half getting a bit cold. Reading is impossible, unless you don’t mind sacrificing either a limb to the cold or the book to soggy pages (I don’t even like bent spines, so you can imagine my feelings on this). And then, when you’ve finally got yourself into a semi-comfortable position and are starting to relax, the water starts to go a bit lukewarm and you have to drag yourself out again. That’s when you encounter the worst part of this experience – the cold, cold air, and cold, cold tiles that inevitably await you, which even a fluffy towel that has been strategically arranged over a radiator on full blast can’t counter. So instead of being the relaxed, glowing goddess you envisioned, you’re shivery and frustrated and not even that clean because you’ve been sat in water with your own dirt for half an hour.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered the dream solution to all my bathing woes: the outdoor bathtubs in Singapore’s New Majestic Hotel. It doesn’t matter if the water doesn’t come up high on you, because it’s always 30 degrees outside. So you can make the most of the high-sided vintage-style bathtub and get yourself into a comfortable reading position without having to make the choice of cold body parts vs book pulp/mess. And the aforementioned temperature means there’s definitely no need for the it’s-so-cold hopabout when you finally drag yourself out; in fact the air is so warm that you barely need a towel to get dry. (There are awnings you can pull over to cover the private veranda area where the bath is, so no opportunities for voyeurs. Which is good, because apparently it’s illegal to be naked in your own home in Singapore, so I’m not sure how they’d take to unintentional displays of nudity. And based on some of the warning signs we saw about for other crimes, I don’t want to find out either!)

newmajestictub

The outdoor bath tubs are just one of the many fun features of this boutique design hotel. There’s also art installations in the lobby (and, more importantly, a bookshop), portholes in the pool (so diners in the restaurant can watch swimmers…) and each of the 30 rooms is unique, many decorated by local artists. Our room was ‘One Day I Just Drifted Off and Floated Away’, which was CAT THEMED.

Black Tomato new majestic hotel

To get the outdoor bath tubs and veranda you want to book a ‘Premier Garden Wing’ room – not much more than the cheapest category and definitely worth the extra! However if you really want to splash out, then the attic rooms look pretty special too.

New Majestic Attic Room

However as you can probably tell from the photo above – in most rooms (judging from photos – and definitely in ours) the bathrooms are quite exposed. In that there isn’t a separate one. Our toilet was hidden by frosted glass. Fine for those of us in long-term relationships, and actually quite a fun and space-saving design idea. But probably not one for new couples who still want to maintain a bit of mystery about their toileting habits.

newmajesticcats

We were also quite taken with the cute ceramic Chinese-style teacups in our room, which a less honest version of myself would have been very tempted to permanently borrow. (I feel like the thought may have been crossing my mind when this photo was taken – shifty eyes…)

Teacup Testing

The hotel’s location on the outskirts of Chinatown was also ideal. We preferred this area as a place to stay to Orchard Road and Marina Bay – we didn’t dislike those places, but we felt Chinatown had a bit more charm to it. It’s also home to a few food courts, perfect for cheap but tasty eats (more on that later). And while most of the key sites were within walking distance if you wanted them to be, as we were still acclimatising to the heat and humidity we really appreciated being a very short walk from Outram Park SMRT (Metro) station.

Overall a great experience that I’d highly recommend – especially the Garden rooms. That really was one fine bath.

Image

The Essentials

Website: http://www.newmajestichotel.com
Pricing: List prices start from 238SGD (about £115). Premier Garden Rooms (with the outdoor baths) start at around 268SGD (about £130). Splashing out on an Attic Suite will set you back about 385.20 a night (just under £190). Prices include breakfast, but not taxes and fees – so remember to budget a bit more if you’re booking directly via the website.
Location: On the outskirts of Chinatown, near Outram Park SMRT stop – which is handily on the same line as the airport.
Any other extras?: Lots! Non-alcoholic drinks in the mini-bar are complimentary; Kiehls toiletries; Nespresso machine; iPod dock; ginormous bathrobes
Recommended?: Absolutely. The prices may not sound cheap, but Singapore isn’t an easy place to do ‘budget’ – when we were looking, it actually seemed quite good value for money compared to other hotels in a similar price range. I also have to mention the staff, who were really friendly and helpful.
Any reason not to?: If you prefer your hotels traditional then this probably isn’t the place for you. Also while we really liked the location, some might find staying in the Marina Bay/City Hall or Orchard Road areas more convenient.

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Photo Credits: New Majestic Hotel exterior: Wikipedia (Creative Commons License); Room Photo – One Day I Just Drifted Off…: Black Tomato; Room Photo – Attic Room: New Majestic Hotel; Pool photo: New Majestic Hotel. All others are my own, please credit if using.

My favourite things

It turns out introductory posts are hard. Do you ease readers in slowly with a bit about the idea behind the blog, which will probably change as we go on? Or do you dive straight into a ‘proper’ post?

Because I don’t like decisions (and hey, isn’t compromising always the best option?) I’ve gone for something in-between. Although I love exploring new places, the truth is that – as with most people – most of my time is spent in my home city, Bristol. (Not a complaint – Bristol is amazing.) The result of this, though, is that most new blogposts will probably be set in and around the area. So I’ve decided to start as I will likely go on, with a post on some of my favourite Bristol places from the first 18 months I’ve lived here. And hopefully it’ll also tell you a bit more about me, too – mainly that I spend quite a lot of my time eating…

Photo by Adam Gasson / adamgasson.com
Thali Cafes
The Thali Café in Totterdown was the first restaurant we tried after moving here in 2012*, and we’ve collected many a loyalty card stamp since. Made up of five venues in various Bristol suburbs, this local chain of Indian restaurants serves up some of the best value, tastiest food the city has to offer. The main attraction are their five ‘thalis’ – fresh curries that are full of flavour and also, somehow, seem to feel quite healthy. I can also highly recommend their starters, especially the poppadoms and selection of dips.

They also do takeaways and their Tiffin tins are definitely a worthwhile investment, especially if you live within walking distance of one of the restaurants. The first takeaway will set you back about £20, as you have to buy the Tiffin tupperware. But after that each refill is £8.95 – £10.50 (depending on the thali you choose), and that includes rice and two vegetable side dishes – all of which is more than enough for two people. Perfect!

*Restaurants tried during visits as ‘tourists’ not included!

birdcage bristol bites 2
Birdcage
Anywhere that combines tea, Chesterfield sofas and mismatched crockery, and vintage clothes is always A Good Thing in my book. It’s not just good looking – the drinks are good quality, too: they offer a good selection of loose leaf teas (my personal favourite being the Russian Caravan, whose unusual smokey flavour really does remind you of the smell of bonfires) and my friend and I agree that their hot chocolate is some of the best in Bristol. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but apparently those are pretty tasty too. Music lovers should check out some of the bands that play there, most of which are free entry. Birdcage isn’t just an ideal place to stop off mid-shopping trip though; open until 10 or 11pm (except Sundays), it offers a more relaxed late-night alternative than many of the nearby bars.

Watershed Bristol 247
Watershed
Located on the harbourside (I guess the name is a giveaway!), Watershed is an arts venue, probably most well-known for its great restaurant/bar and its cinema. The latter shows a mixture of your more ‘highbrow’ ‘big’ new releases (for example Long Walk To Freedom is currently playing, as is Gravity 3D, and we saw Alpha Papa here last summer) and the smaller films that you might not find playing at the bigger chain cinemas. The bar is a great place to relax with a pint before the showing, and the cinemas themselves are lovely and comfy. If that hasn’t convinced you, tickets tend to be cheaper than the nearby chain cinemas. They also do a lot for the arts, both in Bristol and elsewhere – so lots of reasons to support them.

arnos-vale_1743956c Telegraph
Arnos Vale Cemetery 
With some notable exceptions (Highgate in London, Père Lachaise in Paris, etc), cemeteries aren’t usually very high up on the ‘visit for leisure’ list.  But Arnos Vale has something special about it; it fast became one of our favourite spots, an ideal escape for when we feel like we want to get away from the hustle of being in a city without actually leaving its confines. We mainly visit for the walking routes, some of which go through woodland and others on paved paths for when you want to avoid the mud! If you want to learn more about the history of the site, there’s a small area dedicated to the old furnace and crematorium. Oh, and there’s also a great on-site café, ideal for post-walk lunch or cake (are you sensing a theme?!).

St Nicholas Market a place to shop and snack.

St Nicholas Market
Forget Cabot Circus – if you want all your shopping under one roof then head to St Nicholas Market. Whether you’re looking for hot sauce or vinyls, second hand books piled to the ceiling or South African food supplies, you’ll find it in the maze of shops and stalls that make up the Arcades, Exchange and Covered Market. It’s also the best place to grab lunch in the city; Grillstock and Pieminister both have stalls in the Glass Arcade, where you’ll also find stands selling Caribbean food, falafel, sausages, Moroccan and much more. On Saturdays there’s also an outdoor market on Corn Street.

tobacco factory bristol post
Tobacco Factory Theatre
I’m not usually one for signing up to mailing lists, but it’s worth making an exception for the Tobacco Factory’s. They play host to diverse shows aimed at a wide range of people, but particularly seem to specialise in Shakespeare/classical theatre, comedy and family-orientated productions. Being relatively small (with the even smaller Brewery Theatre accross the road), it’s also an intimate but friendly-feeling venue that I just really enjoy visiting. Although their full price tickets aren’t expensive (generally around £12-£15 for full price, though shows such as Shakespeare can creep up to around £20 at weekends), it’s still worth looking out for their £6 ‘opening night’ ticket deals – ideal for when you’re interested in giving something a bit different a try (it was thanks to this that we discovered the brilliant Molly Naylor, for example – because for £12 for a date night, you can’t say no. Thanks Tobacco Factory!).

But there’s lot more to the Tobacco Factory than the theatre, including a Thali Café, bar and Sunday Market, all of which are worth a visit in their own right.

I’ve realised writing this that there’s lots more places that could count as ‘favourites’ of mine, so I could see this becoming a bit of a regular feature. So I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Image Credits (in order of appearance)
Adam Gasson; Emily Knight (Bristol Bites) (x2); Bristol 247; The Telegraph; Geoff Paine (Canal Scene); Bristol Post

All photos should link to original source or photographer’s website