Tokyo as a modern metropolis

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So hopefully you’ve been keeping up to date and have read my historical Tokyo post. For this one, I thought I would take a look at Tokyo as a modern metropolis – an absolutely huge city of technological innovation. The above photo was taken from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building looking out over the city. the building was free to enter, you just head up in some escalators to the top floor where they have an observation deck.

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One of the most amazing places was the Shibuya crossing. Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, it takes thousands of people in all directions from the station to wherever they need to be. Surrounded by towering, neon blocks, the Shibuya crossing is pretty overwhelming, but insanely cool at the same time. There are quite a few buildings around where you can go and sit and watch all the people scatter left, right and centre. There is something almost hypnotic about watching everyone.

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Tokyo, in general, is just pretty crazy. Jam-packed with sky-high buildings, every street you go down just seems so photogenic and cool. One of the places we found really interesting was the electric district, Akihabara. When we went they were doing a scheme to get more people to walking and had closed some of the roads to vehicles – this meant we managed to take some pretty awesome photos standing in the streets. The electric district is packed full of really cool arcades, anime/manga shops, quite a lot of maid cafes, and a 6 story sex department store. Wild. I know. If you love video games or popular Japanese exports such as anime then this is completely the place for you. Even, if like us, you aren’t all that interested in it, this is still an amazing place to visit.

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Another really cool place is Harajuku, known as the street style hotspot in Tokyo. The Harajuku streets are packed full of ridiculously cool clothes shops selling all sorts of wacky stuff you would never even dream of. I mean furry bras?

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Whilst we were there, we had to try one of the snacks that Harajuku is famous for – crepes! We had read online that Patisserie Marion did some of the best so we headed for that. And we were definitely not disappointed. I had a strawberry cheesecake one which was stuffed to the brim with strawberry sauce, cream, ice cream, a slice of cheese and fresh strawberries. It was to die for!

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In the evening we headed to a ridiculously cool area called Golden Gai. It is basically a few streets of tiny little buildings that are all bars. Normally they seat under ten people and are friendly little family run places. We stopped off here for some plum wine (amazing) and to chat to some people who ran the bars. There were so many places to choose from it was so hard, I’m talking row after row of choice. Quite a few of the bars had cover charges to pay so we tried to head for one that didn’t.

Tokyo has some many cool buildings, it is pretty much impossible not to whack your phone out at any opportunity and take pictures. There is so much contrast between old and new but it all just works so perfectly.

 

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Historical Tokyo

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I have loooooads to write about Tokyo and I thought it was a bit boring to just break them down into days, and I have way too much for one post, so I thought I would try and do it as historical sites and the modern sites.

Tokyo really is an incredible city, full of so much contrast between the old and the new. Historical temples and buildings are surrounded by shiny, new tower blocks, like a peaceful oasis in an otherwise crazy city.

One of the most famous historical temples is the Sensō-ji temple at Asakusa. This was absolutely fascinating and absolutely beautiful. We approached through modern shopping streets, then suddenly saw the iconic roof part some trees. We walked down a path lined with food stalls selling all kinds of delicious things, as the sound of drums beat steadily in the background, floating out from one of the temple buildings.

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The temple complex comprises of several buildings. We went into the main one where the drum beat was coming from. Inside were gigantic drums, and a steady stream of hundreds of people coming to pray and give offerings. After exploring in there we went to a small garden with a smaller building at the centre. There was a really beautiful little stream and perfectly manicured bushes (the first picture in this post).

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Another historical site that we loved was the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. Just a short walk from the station through some of Tokyo’s craziest streets stands the historical temple. The walk to it is line by these huge, wooden arches. When we were there, we were approached by a group of students who wanted to give us a tour to practice their English. This is really common in loads of countries in Asia. I think so many people are put off because they think it is just a scam or that people will want money at the end, but I urge you to just say yes and give it a go. the students are normally lovely, and so interested in you and your experiences. In their classes, they don’t get much chance to go out and practice speaking, so this is a really nice chance for them to get to have an informal chat with native speakers. They also normally have loads more information on the places than you would find out otherwise, and if you have any other questions about things you’ve noticed about the culture they are really keen to answer these and help you understand the culture better.

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On the way to the shrine is this absolutely amazing wall of barrels of sake which were all gifted from different areas of Japan, and have been decorated to represent these areas.

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Before we went into the temple, we had to follow the customs and go and wash our hands and mouths so that we could be clean. As you can see from the picture, they had these cool little bamboo bowls to get the water bubbling up in the trough. On the day that we visited we were lucky enough to be able to see a wedding. I didn’t take any pictures as I felt it could be a bit disrespectful but the costumes were absolutely amazing. It was also great to have the students with us to teach us the correct way to pray and make offerings.

Tokyo’s history is so rich and varied, and the buildings are so beautiful. I was so impressed by the way that the city combines the old and the new, and how religion is built so nicely into the city and lives of Tokyo’s residents.

Morocco Advice

So I thought I would do a little post of general advice for Morocco because when I’ve suggested it as a holiday location, lots of people have been like ‘Is it safe for women? Will I have to stay covered up all the time? etc.’ so I just wanted to dispell some of the myths surrounding it. Little disclaimer, obviously this is coming at Morocco from a tourist perspective – I am not educated enough on politics to speak for women who are residents of the country, I am just relying on knowledge passed on from one of my best friends who is from there.

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What to wear

Lots of people seem to be under the impression that you have to stay fully covered in Morocco. This is not what I found at all! Morocco is a Muslim country so you will see women in hijab, and you shouldn’t wear anything too revealing, but it is probably nowhere near as strict as you would think. I would say in general shorts are fine as long as your bum isn’t hanging out, you know the drill. Depending on where/when you go it will most likely be hot so you will probably want to wear loose clothes anyway. In the north, in the mountains, my friend just wore jeans and long sleeved tops and that was fine. I would probably stay away from wearing crop tops and showing off your midriff, I did wear high waisted trousers and a crop top (I had about an inch or two of midriff showing) and that was fine. If you’re by a hotel pool or on the beach then a normal swimming costume/bikini will be fine. We went out to a club at one point and for that, it’s pretty much just the same rules as you would have to get into a nice club here – heels and a dress/smart jeans and top. The club was really cool and it was ladies night so we got free entry and free drinks which was fab!

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Female Travellers

We were a group of four girls, I am really glad that we had my friend with us to haggle and do the talking. There were also points where some of the men shouted things at us in the street and tried to talk to us but on the whole, I felt safe heading out in the evenings. Especially in places like Marrakech, there are so many tourists that it’s not a novelty at all. The one place I was definitely not a huge fan of was the market at the medina in Marrakech. People just kind of grabbed us and put snakes around our neck then took photos and asked for money which really wasn’t a nice experience at all, but again, my friend did all the arguing for us. Because it is so hot during the day round Marrakech, loads of families head out around 8/9 at night when it gets cooler. It’s really nice to walk down the streets in the evening and see families out enjoying food and young children playing.

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On the whole, I felt that Morocco was friendly and safe for female travellers. We met two girls who had been travelling together and staying in hostels and they had not had any trouble either so I really don’t think there is anything to worry about. The media likes to portray these horror stories and how it’s so strict for women, and you have to remain covered, and can’t go out without a man to accompany you, but that really isn’t the experience I had at all. Girls are free to go out and have nice meals in the evening and drink and go to clubs. You can head to the beach or pool in a swimming costume without having to worry. The only thing I would stay away from is public displays of affection. I’m not sure it’s illegal but it’s definitely highly frowned upon.

Morocco is a beautiful and vibrant country and I would go back in a heartbeat. I highly recommend it to anyone, and I would not worry about being harassed or being in any danger (or any more so than you would in European countries at least).

 

Cinque Terre

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The Cinque Terre is one of those magical places you’ve probably seen on travel inspo pages and never realised where it is. A series of five villages (Cinque Terre literally translates to 5 lands) of colourful houses, perch like birds on tree branches on the cliffs, hanging over the sea, their streets seeming perilously steep. We took a day trip out from Florence to go and visit these beautiful little towns, it was a pretty jam-packed day but it was definitely worth it. We visited each in turn, stopping for food and a look round the quaint little streets. We also briefly took the train between towns, it clung for dear life into the rocks, one side looking out over the azure sea below.

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I feel like with somewhere as beautiful as this, the pictures really speak for themselves. I could describe the atmosphere to you, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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There is something so charming about the way Italians hang their stuff to dry out the windows. Part of me wishes that I could just be a sheet, hanging there soaking in the sun in the lazy afternoons. I absolutely love the way the tree hangs over the tables and the way the tables are set with the umbrellas providing shade from the hot day.

5terre7 In this photo, I absolutely love the contrast of the pink flowers against the yellow buildings and the white flowers against the pink building. The scene just seems so full of life the way people are sitting at the tables enjoying lunch, and some are walking round taking in the sights; and the shutters of most of the buildings are shut, with people snoring away having their afternoon siesta.

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This little shop selling delicious looking food caught my eye the way it all just spilled out into the street. Bags of dried pasta and bottles of wine sit in the rustic containers. The items all beautifully packaged with bows looking ever so appealing. I would have loved to have just been able to sit and watch the world go by for hours. If I could choose to live anywhere in the world, I think it would be here.

 

Florence

Being a bit of an art history nerd, Florence was somewhere I had been dying to go for it’s amazing artistic history. Home to Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and pretty much every great renaissance artist you’ve ever heard of, Florence is overflowing with amazing art and architecture. This was all made possible by the Medici family. During the Renaissance period, the church and wealthy families were most often the patrons of the arts, providing the funding for all these amazing works we have today. They turned to biblical scenes and scenes from antiquity to provide the artwork for their homes and other important buildings. The Medici’s were an extremely wealthy banking family who pretty much ruled the city they were so powerful. Members of their family ended up as pope, and they extended their influence into the church. The Medici’s were keen patrons of the arts, and are the reason that we have so many of the works that we do today.

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One of the most important and iconic buildings in Florence is the Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. With construction starting in 1296, the cathedral was altered at the hand of several artists (head stonemasons as they would have been at the time) to develop into the amazing building we have today. In 1420, the artist/architect Brunelleschi, added the dome after winning a competition for the commission. The dome is equal parts puzzling and interesting to historians for several reasons: the octagonal base it rests on is not even, therefore the weight distribution is not even; Brunelleschi used the light material brick, and developed a herringbone pattern so it would hold steady; the dome is made of an inner and outer layer that would walk between to get out onto the top; Brunelleschi designed many of his own machines and plans, and once he was done he burned them all so they could not be stolen and used again; to this day, we still can’t work out how he did it because it mathematically should not be possible.

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The interior of the dome is an absolute masterpiece. Painted in luxurious gold and depicting many biblical scenes, standing and gazing up into the dome, it is truly breathtaking how much time and effort went into building it.

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One of the most striking things about the cathedral is the way it has an almost ethereal quality at night. The white marble is so reflective that it appears just as bright at night as it does in the day, if not more so.

Florence is a truly incredible city, and it seems it just continues into the evening. We spent many glorious evenings wandering round the streets stopping for ice cream, or to admire a merry go round, and on one night, stopping to hear an orchestra play in the loggia at the Piazza della Signoria, surrounded by famous statues carved by prolific renaissance artists. It was absolutely magical. The food, as would be expected, was also incredible. Italian is probably one of most people’s favourite cuisines, it is hard to go wrong with indulgent bowls of pizza and pasta.

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Another stunning place in the city was the Pitti Palace. The palace is surrounded by gardens that made such a peaceful, welcome break from the city. Compared to Rome, Florence felt so much calmer and was generally much nicer to just wander around, but I do always love getting back into nature. We also went to go and see the infamous Ufizzi gallery, again, it was amazing to see so many of the artworks I have spent years learning about now.

 

Barcelona

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For me, I reckon that Barcelona was pretty much my perfect holiday destination. When I think about all the things I consider to be important: weather, stuff to do, food, you really cannot fail it in any of those areas. Being a bit of an art lover and general culture vulture, I absolutely lovely the influence of the architect Gaudi on the city. He is truly the city’s pride and joy, with many buildings across the city having been designed by him. Gaudi draws in tourists from afar and it’s easy to see why. His crazy organic lines and bold style are so distinctive, and something not easily replicated.

We started off with the Casa Batllo. With its colourful tiles and wobbly looking windows and balconies, it is instantly recognisable from the outside. From the inside, it is equally stunning. All the little unusual details such as tiles graduating in colour as they get higher up to reflect the light, and amazing plasterwork on the ceilings leading into a spiral which completely alters the room, all add up to form an absolutely astounding piece of architecture.

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The second one we explored was the Casa Milà. The building is mostly residential apartments, however, you can still visit one, and the amazing rooftop is open for beautiful views of the city. The weather was perfect, never too hot but still beautifully sunny, and we did this towards the end of the day in golden hour which made the experience all the better.

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What trip to Barcelona would be complete without a look round Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral? Designed and started in 1882, the Sagrada Familia has been under construction for what can only be described as a bloody long time, but hey, genius takes time. The building really is absolutely beautiful but inside and out. The level of detail that has gone into the carvings on the exterior is amazing, and inside it is the masses of stained glass illuminating the inside with every colour of the rainbow that really steals the show. The way he has played with light, especially in shaping the ceiling requires such skill and depth of thought.

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The last place of Gaudi design that we went to was the Park Güell. Perched on the top of a hill, it was originally intended as a housing development away from the industrial city. It has now been turned into beautiful parks with touches of Gaudi’s architecture all over the place.

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I was really blown away by the views of the city right down to the sea. You could even see the Sagrada Familia, the sign of Gaudi’s unrivaled influence.

I promise you we didn’t just spend all our time visiting Gaudi monuments (just most of it). We also headed down La Rambla to take a look at the shops and food markets. And took the cable car up Montjüic. In the evenings we strolled around the city and hopped from tapas bar to tapas bar, drinking copious amounts of sangria and getting my sister drunk.

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I would absolutely love to go back to Barcelona, it was a beautiful city, bursting with life, colour, and amazing food. The atmosphere was so welcoming and the city so beautiful.

Hainan, tropical paradise in the south of China

When someone says China, many images probably spring to mind: bustling mega cities, the Great Wall, maybe even terraced rice fields. Chances are that beautiful tropical beaches probably isn’t on the list…I mean if you want that, you go to somewhere like Thailand right?

Before I got to searching, China and amazing beaches was never really something I had considered either, but that’s not to say that China’s beaches are tourist free and unexplored either! Nestled in the south of China, in Hainan province is a stunning island full of gorgeous tropical beaches, blue sea, and palm trees. I think part of the problem is that so much of China is just not shown in the media. We have this idea that China is either crazy technological cities or mountainous countryside, and we never really stop to take into consideration just how huge the country is and how varied the landscape. I think another reason that we don’t really know about it, is that it’s comparatively hard to get a visa for China, compared to somewhere like Thailand, where UK residents get 30 days visa free. However upon arriving, the island is very well developed and quite touristy, it’s just that those tourists are domestic.

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Hainan is well known in China for having some of the best air quality in the country, and for being a beautiful, romantic getaway. My friends and I ended up booking a trip quite spontaneously because we had holiday and days off left to use up. After months spent in Beijing (Greyjing as it came to be known, pretty self-explanatory, I’m not exaggerating when I say everything was grey) what we needed was a good old bit of sun to brighten our moods. We didn’t really check the weather forecast and a few days before we noticed we discovered that the island was in the grips of a typhoon. Now we had been told that typhoons had hit Beijing before while we were there but all we had found was that it rained a bit heavier than usual, however, the typhoon hitting Hainan had already killed multiple people in other countries. We kept our fingers crossed, and by the time we got there, it had pretty much cleared. On the first day, it rained intermittently and very briefly, but we just ran for cover and it soon passed.

The first couple of days we just hung by our hotel, enjoying the fact it had a pool and was within walking distance of the beach. When it came to meal times we just ordered meituan (see previous blog posts), and got it delivered right to the poolside/hotel room. Once the novelty of this wore off we set to exploring.

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I had seen online that there was an amazing beach a decent drive from our hotel called Yalong bay. In the morning we got a Didi into the city centre to a supermarket to go and stock up on food for the day then headed out to the bay. When we arrived we were absolutely blown away. The skies were deep azure, the sands white, and the water inviting. It was the perfect amount of busy where you have your space but there’s not so few people that it feels uncomfortably empty. It also happened that we were a very short walk from a McDonalds for quick trips to the toilet/ice cream/cheeseburgers (I did sample the local cuisine I promise).

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We hung around for most of the day, taking it in turns to sunbathe and go for a dip in the water, broken up by short walks along the beach to take pictures further down. It was one of those places where you can’t really believe you are there, especially after seeing pictures and it looking so beautiful.

We hung around for the sunset then in the evening we wandered into the town area where there were shops and restaurants. We went for Thai because we hadn’t had that for ages. I had some lovely chicken satay and a pineapple with sweet and sour chicken. In general, the sunsets in China were pretty awful. I feel like back at home I’m really spoilt by beautiful sunsets and skies shot with pink, oranges and baby blue, but in Beijing it was all just grey. It was such a welcome break to lie on a beach and watch the sky turn pretty colours.

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Casamia, Bristol

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On the 26th January, it was mine and my boyfriends first anniversary, so we decided to go to a restaurant we have wanted to go to for ages, Casamia. Jack is really into food and spends half his life (not an exaggeration) watching food videos on YouTube so he had seen Casamia rank really highly amongst critics. It also has a Michelin star so we were expecting great things. For his birthday we went to Paco Tapas, a sister restaurant next door (also with a Michelin star) where the food was absolutely phenomenal.

The booking process is slightly weird but does make sense, you basically pay for your meal before hand so the people who run the restaurant know that you’re definitely going to show up and now exactly how much to prepare. We are students so this was a real blow out meal. The Saturday lunch menu cost £48 to book for food (with wine, coffee etc. costing more).

When we first arrived, we took a seat in the bar area and ordered some drinks. The setting is amazing: perched on the waterside by Bristol harbour, the building stands proud by the water’s edge. Rusticated grey stone, with arches, it shows the signs of the city’s industrial past. The inside of the restaurant is done up beautifully: clean lines, and sophisticated; there is nothing too fussy and it retains an edge of chic-ness. We ordered a bottle of German white between us, and as they took the wine to the table we were given a tour of the kitchen. Our table was probably the best in the house, situated right next to the kitchen so we could see exactly what was going on. Everything ran so smoothly and efficiently, it was definitely a calm kitchen environment, but at the same time, the skill and beauty of what was being produced was almost hypnotising to watch.

One of the things that made the experience so special was the way the chefs brought out each individual dish and explained to us what it was, how it was made, and what made it so special. We started off with a parmesan tart – a crispy parmesan case, with a whipped parmesan mousse, and parmesan sprinkled on top. It was a rich and intense dish with a stunning combination of textures. It is the depth of flavour that I wish all cheese dishes had. Next came a beetroot dish. Thin discs of beetroot done in an assortment of ways with a deep magenta yuzu sauce and yuzu powder over the top, and a foamy creamy layer between each disc. The aim of the dish was to make people appreciate beetroot and not just think of it as something that comes pickled in a jar, and it definitely managed to open my eyes to how good it could taste.

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The duck course was broken down into two separate mini courses. The first was an absolutely incredible duck broth, packed full of flavour, with a beautifully poached quails egg providing a rich, almost creamy texture at the end. The second part was duck breast that had been brined and roasted served with collard greens, some of which had been barbequed. Over the top was drizzled a reduction of the broth served previously. The flavour in this dish was phenomenal, in fact, I will probably still be dreaming about it in years to come. With inspiration drawn from Peking duck, it had such a delicate spice and sweet/salty/umami quality that many Asian dishes have. The meat was so juicy and beautifully cooked, it was truly incredible.

Alongside all this, compliments definitely need to be given to the pastry chef for some of the most delicious sourdough I’ve ever tasted. Bread is such an overlooked component of a dinner, but the level of skill gone into getting it so moist and the stretchiness to the dough deserves appreciation.

For dessert was a passion fruit based dish. Served inside a hollowed out passion fruit, it had layers of cream, passion fruit, delicate infusions of tarragon, and on top, frozen passionfruit balls, reminiscent of solero shots I used to have as a child. The combinations of hot and cold were so perfectly thought out.

After dessert we were not expecting anymore, however were delighted to be presented with a selection of sweets. As it was our anniversary they brought out a chocolate mousse, made with the most incredible Italian chocolate. Alongside this was a bowl of freshly baked madeleines. There must have been a small amount of pepper because they left the faintest trail of heat afterwards. To finish, there was a cube of lemon Turkish delight. The texture was so different to any Turkish delight I’ve ever had before, almost falling apart at the touch yet still firmly jelly.

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All this incredible food, rounded off with amazing staff who are friendly, down to earth, and clearly the best at what they do, made for the most amazing dining experience I think I have ever had.

Where was I this time last year?

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at where I was this time last year. Any guesses? The answer is…Vienna!!!

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We were so lucky to have my gran take me and my family and to Vienna for a little city break (I think it was for about 5 days but you will have to forgive me because it was quite a while ago so I can’t remember).

I’m not going to lie, the city didn’t have the best first impression on me. We hadn’t eaten for ages because we didn’t get anything on the flight so we turned up hangry and a bit exhausted. We checked in at the hotel then went for a wander and tried to go to a restaurant to have a drink and some of the cake that Vienna is famous for…the waiters were all rude and no one acknowledged us so we gave up and ended up going to McDonald’s across the road.

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Despite a bit of a shaky start, Vienna is a beautiful city. I am a huge fan of the vibe, food, and architecture of northern European cities, especially in winter. I really love just spending time wandering round, checking out the cool buildings and side streets.

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One of the main things we wanted to see in Vienna was some of the fantastic museums on offer. The photo above was taken outside the Belvedere Museum. The Belvedere is home to many of the works of Gustav Klimt, one of my favourite artists. even if you’re not into art, you have probably seen The Kiss, one of the most iconic paintings of the twentieth century. The Kiss was a huge deal, they even set up a reproduction one in a separate room for people to take photos with so people didn’t spend ages hanging around the original and you could see it better. In the flesh, the gold on the paintings stands out and glimmers under the light in such a spectacular way. There were also some works by Egon Schiele, another artist I was really excited to see.

Another museum that we went to was the Leopold, where the majority of Egon Schiele’s pieces are. Although a somewhat questionable character, Schiele’s work is unsettling a thought-provoking: his bodies contorted in awkward and uncomfortable positions.

The first picture in this article is taken from the tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral. I was really impressed with the gorgeous setting of this. vienna 4

Small, winding side streets opened up into a gorgeous square. The picture to the right is of a flower shop on the square which really captured my heart. We took a look around the inside (I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit dark and gloomy) before heading up the tower. I think one of the most amazing things about the cathedral is the work gone into the roof. As you can see from the photo, the tiling has been done in a zig-zag pattern in yellow, green, black and white. This really added to the stunning views out over the city. There is something so magical about being able to climb to the top of a tower and see the city stretch out for miles around you.

As I mentioned previously, Vienna is famous for its cake, and I ate some spectacular ones while I was there. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures but trust me when I say they were beautiful! Rich layers of cake, chocolate, and caramel with glossy mirror glazes and delicate chocolate curls on top. Tangy fruit tarts, perfectly balanced with sweet cream and crumbly pastry.

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One of the most beautiful places we went to go and see was the passage by the famous Cafe Central. I wanted to find some great photo spots and this definitely delivered.

Another fantastic place is the Hundertwasser Museum. The playful checkerboard exterior of the KunstHausWein (designed by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser) makes for such a cool photo. The interior followed the same distinctive and down right cool style.

All in all, Vienna is a fantastic city to visit. I think if I went back I would stay in a different part that was slightly more lively and had a few more restaurants, but it was still amazing. There’s so much art to see and it’s such a wonderful setting.

 

 

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