Copenhagen stole my heart

Copenhagen stole my heart

Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, a Scandinavian country rich in great food, good beer, culture and history. I travelled there a few weeks ago, slightly unsure as to what it would be like. But it completely blew all of my expectations out of the water.

So, here’s the thing. Copenhagen is amazing and you have to go.

I’m not entirely sure how myself and my boyfriend came to decide upon Copenhagen to visit for my birthday. I think I found it on one of these articles as a European city that’s cheap to travel to. And it really was. Our return flight only cost us £42 each! I’d looked at pictures of the city and it was an instant yes, due to it’s brightly coloured houses and distinctive architecture.

When I mentioned where I was going to a few people, most of the reactions were questions. What is there to do there? Admittedly, it’s not one of these cities that is synonymous with a particular thing, like Paris is with the Eiffel Tower. But on doing my research, I found that there were so many things on offer in Copenhagen that many people wouldn’t know about.

One of those things is Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world and one of the most popular places for tourists in Copenhagen. It’s home to many attractions including fairground rides, roller coasters, games and even a few peacocks. I visited the park in the evening because you get to see everything lit up and it looks really magical. What I loved the most about Tivoli was it’s influence from Japanese culture because this is something I’m really interested in. There’s a huge Japanese-style temple in the middle of the park and a section full of red lanterns and a huge weaving dragon. In the dark, it all looked even better. It was definitely worth staying till late because at around 11pm, there was a laser show on the lake which rounded the evening off nicely. Tivoli sits unusually in the centre of the bustle of Copenhagen but it’s a must if you want some fun.

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Something else that is a must if you go to Copenhagen is a visit to Nyhavn. This is the first thing you will see if you search for images of the city. It’s iconic as the place with the colourful houses. It’s more or less just a strip along one of Copenhagen’s many canals but it’s one of the busiest streets in the city. My boyfriend said it was like a mix of Balamory and Whitby which is probably the crappiest analogy ever but it is kind of true. Getting a photo here is something you just have to do else you haven’t done your trip justice! Pics or it didn’t happen..

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Something that me and boyfriend were surprised by was how much we enjoyed the Carlsberg museum. We’re not Carlsberg drinkers (it’s not craft or cool enough, ok) but this beer was originally created and brewed in Copenhagen so we thought of it as something we had to go to. And it was genuinely really interesting. The museum basically runs you through the history of the beer but they’ve also got the largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world, which was my favourite bit. You also get up to 2 free beers with your entry fee which was a nice little perk. We were expecting just your standard but you could actually try their own steam beer and porter, amongst others. It was definitely one of my highlights of our trip.

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The Round Tower was something I’d first heard about through watching Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man when he visited Copenhagen with Noel Fielding (great episode by the way, 10/10, would recommend). It was originally used as an observatory but it’s now a great place to get a breathtaking view of the city. What is most special about it though is getting the top. There’s thankfully no stairs, but the floor just kind of slopes upwards until you reach the top. It’s a strange experience. The view is really, really good too so it’s totally worth it.

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Something else we managed to pack into our week was a visit to Den Bla Planet, a huge aquarium near Copenhagen’s beach. Not only does it have all sorts of tropical fish but there’s also puffins, otters, alligators, tiny frogs and loads of pretty butterflies. We spent about 4 hours there, which gives you an idea as to how much it has to offer. I hadn’t been to an aquarium in years so it was pretty fun.

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Also, you can’t go to Copenhagen and not visit the Little Mermaid statue. Surprisingly, she’s been beheaded twice and had her arm cut off once. Not entirely sure why but there you go. Near the statue is an old military base in the shape of a star which is surrounded by water. It makes for a nice walk if you follow it around and there’s also some architecturally beautiful red and yellow buildings around there. Not forgetting a windmill!

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Copenhagen is home to something incredible churches and the best one we visited was the Marble Church, near one of the Queen’s palaces. It has a distinctive green and gold ornate roof and it’s just as amazing inside. It’s one of those places that you actually have to be at to really get a sense of how huge and intricately designed it is. Pictures just do not do it justice.

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On our final day, we visited Paper Island, named so because of the fact that the warehouse on it used to hold a lot of paper (for some kind of reason). The warehouse has now been turned into a street food market. It holds around 20 food and drink stalls of all sorts of cuisines. There’s so much choice that’s it’s difficult to make a decision but we settled for a gourmet hot dog. The best decision we made. It was the tastiest thing ever! You could easily eat a lot of food there and also spend a lot of money if you’re not careful. It was rustic, vibrant, bustling and I loved it.

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One of the issues with Copenhagen, and Scandinavia in general, is that the food and drink is quite expensive because they tax it heavily over there. Which makes eating out quite pricey. Say you go to a coffee shop and order two coffees and two muffins, you’re looking at paying around £15-£20 over there. So you just have to bare in mind that most of your money will be spent on food. We visited Mikkeller bar whilst we were out there too and it cost us around £5 for about 1/3 of a beer. Mikkeller beer is expensive over here too but it’s still a pretty steep price to pay. Attractions and museums are around £10 each depending on what you’re going to, which is a fair price, and that almost balanced it out. There are also plenty of things to do out there that are free, including the botanical gardens at Copenhagen University which are really fun.

The reason that Copenhagen stole my heart was not only for all of the things we did that I’ve mentioned. It was because of the culture. It looks like such an easy and relaxing place to live and they do say that Denmark is one of the happiest places on Earth. There are more bikes than cars out there and cyclists have their own proper cycle paths with traffic lights and all. Bikes are literally everywhere. And you get the sense that everyone is quite healthy out there. I didn’t see one person smoke in the week that I was there, which was odd for me. Also, everyone is so kind in Copenhagen, so happy to help us useless English-speaking travellers. It was the first place that I’d visited outside of England where I actually thought, I could really see myself living here. I’m trying to figure out if this could be possible because I just didn’t want to leave. I could eat Danishes every morning and bike to work and shop at Monki all the time and life would be great.

If you’re considering going to Copenhagen, I highly recommend it. It’s not just a holiday, it’s an experience of a completely different culture and way of life. There’s so much to do and see, so much to take your breath away and to excite you. I couldn’t have loved it any more than I did!

Studio Ghibli, enchanting and dreamy

Studio Ghibli, enchanting and dreamy

Studio Ghibli has been producing some of the world’s best anime films for over 3 decades. Hayao Miyazaki, one of its co-founders, uses strong female characters in whimsical settings to create memorable movies that stay with you long after they have finished.

I first became interested in Studio Ghibli when I was at college. During a media studies lesson, I was shown Howl’s Moving Castle. That was the first time I had ever seen anything anime, apart from the hugely popular Pokemon. I always saw anime as something a little strange and hard for me to understand. When I was growing up, the only animation I saw was that of Disney or the cartoons I watched on TV. That was what I was used to – the Western world’s style. But here was something created from the minds of the Japanese. Although inititally unsure as to whether I would enjoy it, I watched Howl’s Moving Castle with an open mind.

For those of you who don’t know the film, it revolves around a young girl called Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman by a witch’s curse, and the time she spends with a wizard named Howl. On that first viewing, I found myself very quickly falling in love with it. It was probably the most fantastical thing I had ever seen. Among the long list of characters is a humorous fire called Calcifer and the unfortunate-looking Witch of the Waste. Along with a jumpy scarecrow that follows the castle around (which has legs and moves like a creature, by the way) it made for such a strange yet endearing story. That is exactly what I loved about it. It’s a love story at its core, not something I’m usually interested in, but it also teaches valuable lessons about being shallow about looks, amongst other things. I suddenly found myself wanting to explore Studio Ghibli some more.

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My favourite Ghibli film is the iconic Spirited Away. Released in 2001, it is the most successful film in Japanese history. You will find some of Hayao Miyazaki’s most infamous characters within this film, including a floating head wearing a cape called No Face and a giant baby. Sen, the young girl who the narrative revolves around, is said to be based on the 10 year old of one of Miyazaki’s friends. She begins the film as an innocent girl who seems weary of the world around her, reliant on her parents for safety. As they explore an abandoned fairground in those early scenes, Sen urges her parents to leave. But they continue their journey and gorge on food they find at a stall. Sen watches as her parents are turned into pigs by the spirits that inhabit the fairground, having been taken over by their greed. She is then forced to live amongst the spirits at the bathhouse in order to get her parents back. She uses her inner strength and charisma to save herself and her parents from this intimidating world, proving herself to be the most powerful female character within the narrative.

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This is what Miyazaki does so well. As a pronounced feminist, he creates these inspiring female characters knowing that his audience will be able to relate to them wholeheartedly. I love watching films with strong female leads because it makes a change from the somewhat dominating male presence in many movies. And girls are just really cool. Princess Mononoke from the film of the same name, Kiki of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are other females from Ghibli films who also radiate this sense of strength and independence. In fact, most if not all films produced by Studio Ghibli include central female characters. This in itself is a real triumph.

Of course, I cannot talk about anime without mentioning the animation itself. It is truly beautiful and drawn with the most incredible detail. The colours are vibrant and the landscapes and settings are other-worldly. I find myself getting lost in them. Whether it’s a village by the sea, a vast valley or an inner-city town, the settings are always amazing. It’s hard to imagine the pain-staking process that must go into the creation of the animation for each film. But it brings so much joy and emotion to the narrative that Studio Ghibli wouldn’t be same without their icon style of drawing.

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I think it’s impossible to simply watch only one Ghibli film without starting an everlasting love affair with the studio. The stories they create are so unlike anything else and it is animation at its very best. I sometimes describe Studio Ghibli to those who are unaware of it as a Japanese Disney. But it is so much more than that. I grew up watching Disney films, as most young girls do, but never did their films stay with me as much as Ghlibi has. It’s the combination of the narrative, characters and settings that make them so special and I will always be in awe of them.

Budapest, a hidden gem in Central Europe

Budapest, a hidden gem in Central Europe

Budapest, separated into Buda and Pest by the Danube River, is a beautiful city set in the heart of Hungary. It’s host to many wonderful monuments, historic thermal baths and even its own island on the river. With so much to offer, and at an affordable price, it makes the perfect city break or longer getaway! 

When I told people I was visiting Budapest for a holiday last June, I was surprised by how many hadn’t heard of it before or didn’t know where it was. It was somewhere that I had wanted to go for quite a few years after seeing pictures of its beautiful architecture. So I was really excited when me and my boyfriend finally booked 3 nights in this wonderful city.

Budapest is, unknown to some, an amazingly cheap place to visit. Our return flight only cost us around £30 and took just a couple of hours. We took just under £500’s worth of Hungarian Forint altogether and didn’t even manage to spend it all. To make our entire holiday even cheaper, we decided to ditch staying in a hotel. Instead, we chose to go with Airbnb, a holiday rental company. I cannot emphasise enough how good this is. You get to pick exactly the kind of house/apartment/room you want to stay in and how pricey you want this to be. We stayed in a central studio apartment near Keleti station, situated in a quaint building with its own courtyard, which cost us just £14 each a night. Such a steal! It’s also a great way to experience the city, staying next to people who actually live there.

In Budapest, there is so much to sight see. We spent an entire day walking around the city, visiting all the monuments and buildings we wanted to see. Everything is in such a walkable distant that you don’t need to take a single step on public transport if you don’t want to. We walked in a loop, starting with St. Stephen’s Basilica, onto the Hungarian Parliament building, crossing the bridge over to Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side and ending at Buda Castle. Not forgetting our little detour onto Margaret’s Island as we crossed the bridge.

Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite place in Budapest. It’s where many of the most famous photos of the city are taken because you get the most breathtaking views. I found it hard to believe that there could be somewhere so beautiful in the world. I also couldn’t believe that we had just walked around pretty much all of it. It was the perfect way to end a day of seeing the most unbelievable architecture and buildings I had ever seen.

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Something else that Budapest is famous for are its thermal baths. The city sits on over 100 thermal springs, meaning these baths hold naturally warm water. There are a handful of baths you can visit but we chose to go to Szechenyi Thermal Bath, distinctive for its yellow colouring. It’s hidden within the city park and was only a short distance from where we were staying in Keleti. It cost around £18 each to get inside, which I thought was a reasonable price to pay to experience some of Budapest’s most famous history.

The main spectacle of Szechenyi is its main pool outside. It’s architecturally incredible and so is the experience of stepping into its warm water for the first time. My brain was hardwired to expect pool water to be cool, so it took me a minute to adjust. But then I began to understand the thrill of it. It is beyond relaxing and I could have spent hours in the water if they didn’t suggest you spend only 20 minutes in there at a time. It’s also quite something seeing the old Hungarian men playing chess whilst sat in the pool.

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One of the best times I had in Budapest was in one of its famous ruin bars. These are unlike anything you will see anywhere else in the world. They, as the name suggests, are literally bars located in formally abandoned buildings, with added character. We visited Szimpla Kert, the oldest ruin bar in the city, and it was a sight to behold. The walls were covered in grafitti and scribbles from past visitors. Bikes were hung on walls and hanging from the ceilings. One room was full of plants and flowers whilst another was decorated with television sets and fairy lights. It was such a great atmosphere because everyone there was just as amazed with the place as each other. We drank plenty of beer (beer is ridiculously cheap in Budapest) and enjoyed taking in our surroundings.

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Other highlights of the trip were a visit to a pinball museum, home to over 20 retro pinball machines from the likes of The Simpsons and South Park, which gave us unlimited play for a small charge of around £8. The Hungarian Agricultural Museum was really fun because as a lover of taxidermy, I was amazed to see its huge central room full of thousands (seriously thousands) of antique antlers. Also, on Margaret Island, we drank watermelon juice, ate spicy Hungarian hotdogs, and rode on what could only be described as something similar to that of the two-seated bike featured on Chuckle Vision. My research tells me this is called a Cyclo-Pousse but I’m not going to call it that because that’s hideous.

I could talk about my love of Budapest for days and anyone who’s asked me what it’s like there has probably instantly regretted it because of my incessant rabitting. I could not recommend it enough as either a weekend getaway or a longer holiday. There are an endless amount of things to see and do and I know I have only scratched the surface at what the city has to offer. Maybe one day I’ll get to explore it some more.

Trip Advisor was an amazing tool to me when I was planning my trip, so if you’re interested in visiting Budapest, I suggest having a look at what it says about it here.

Antiques shopping in Leicester 

Antiques shopping in Leicester 

Antiques shopping can be really exciting, especially if you find the right places to look. Over the last few months, I’ve found some great antiques warehouses and shops in Leicester that are definitely worth a look.

I absolutely love searching for antiques. I think it’s the excitement of not knowing what you might find. Antiques shops hold such a varied array of knick-knacks and it’s hugely fun sifting through it all. It does take some patience, however. Some days you might find a handful of things you like, others you might not see a single thing. But, it’s such a good feeling when you find something that you fall in love with.

One of my favourite places to look for antiques is the Leicester Antiques Warehouse, situated on Welford Road. It’s Leicestershire’s largest antiques retailer and is host to a whole range of different traders. There you will find vintage pieces of furniture, taxidermy, curios and vintage clothing. Even Pink Pigeon have their own pitch there, which, if you’re unaware, is a popular vintage shop in the city centre. It takes a while to walk around, as there is so much to see, but it makes for an interesting experience. Everything varies in age, such as the cartoon figures they sell of characters like The Simpsons, that may only be a few decades old. Other things are very much older. This makes it the perfect place to go for whatever it is you’re looking for.

Myself and my boyfriend have had a few successful visits there, with our most treasured purchase being the oriental, hand-painted wall hanging you can see below. The detailed peacock was what drew me in to begin with. I am also a sucker for anything oriental/Japanese/Chinese. It’s a one-of-a-kind and I knew it was something that I couldn’t just walk past. Most recently, we bought some great taxidermy from there. A wonderful Pine Marten housed on a piece of wood, which you can also see below. Taxidermy can be a bit pricey, but we managed to get a good deal on it as it’s just slightly loose on its stand. Other than that, it’s in great condition and goes well with all the curious things we have in our flat. Leicester Antiques Warehouse is definitely worth checking out if you have a good amount of time on your hands.

Vintage Utopia, on Montague Road in the Clarendon Park area of Leicester, is a hidden gem. It’s a tiny place but they make the most of the space they have. There are things hanging off the ceiling and the walls are covered on all sides. Downstairs you’ll find their smaller items, like glassware and ornaments, whereas uspstairs houses their larger pieces of furniture. I found the most lovely framed butterflies in there once (see below), and although I have many framed butterflies, those ones will always be my favourite.

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Another great place for antiques in this area, also on Welford Road, is another small shop called Antiquey Things. It has the most wonderful oriental fan in the window and as a lover and collector of fans, this is what caught my eye. It really is a ridiculously tiny shop that’s crammed full of all sorts of things, but there are some wonderful antiques in there. There’s a little room at the back where the owner of the shop can usually be found. Every now and again I take a quick peek in. The only thing I’ve bought from there is a framed scorpion, but I still dream about that fan a lot of the time. Maybe one day it will be mine.

The final place on my list of antique spots is Kibworth Antiques Centre. This is a little out of the way from the other shops that I have mentioned, but it is worth the journey. The building you first enter looks small, but there is a large hanger behind it with 2 floors full. There are quite a lot of things at the centre that aren’t vintage or antique. Somethings are new but are made to look that way and others just have a vintage feel about them. However, don’t let that put you off. There are some items in there that are great little antique pieces. The second floor of the hanger is my favourite because it’s home to a random selection of antiques, from vintage clothing to taxidermy and books. One of the more quirky things that I have bought from there is a framed feather, pictured below. I love the simplicity of it and the way it is hung. It somehow seems to fit in nicely with the various items I have on the walls of my bedroom. You could easily spend a good hour and a half at the centre and you literally never know what you could find.

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If you’re just getting into searching for and buying antiques, the shops and centres I have mentioned are a good place to start. Once you’ve explored the best spots in Leicester, it’s always fun to have a rummage around other cities too!

Kings of Leon @ Leeds First Direct Arena 

Kings of Leon @ Leeds First Direct Arena 

The Nashville foursome, Kings of Leon, have just finished a 5-date run of shows in the UK, promoting their latest album WALLS. I was lucky enough to grab a ticket for their first show of the tour in Leeds and I was definitely not disappointed.

I have loved Kings of Leon for as long as I can remember. I became aware of them through their second album Aha Shake Heartbreak and I was instantly hooked. Caleb’s screechy vocals paired with their signature raw guitar riffs were unlike anything I had heard before. From their iconic singles, such as The Bucket and Red Morning Light, to their lesser known songs, like Velvet Snow and Pony Up, I loved them all!

Just over a week ago, I was finally able to see them play live at the First Direct arena in Leeds on 19th February. I had high expectations of the gig after patiently waiting for so many years to see them. But, they went far and beyond what I ever predicted. With a stage decorated with red velvet curtains, they walked on to open the set with The End, something they have been renouned to do in recent years at their gigs. It was a somewhat slow, intense start to the show, but it’s a song that highlights the strength of Caleb’s voice. They then kicked it up a gear with Slow Night So Long, McFearless and Four Kicks, which showed me just why they are one of the best live bands around today. They got the crowd jumping and singing their hearts out.

One of my favourite moments during the gig was the moment they played The Bucket. It’s a song that begins with an instantly recognisable riff and had everyone cheering with the first note. It reminded me of why I first fell in love with them and probably did the same for many others in the room. The joy I felt during that song is something that I will never forget.

During the middle of the show, the band had an acoustic section, starting with The Runner. The band left Caleb alone on the stage with just a single spotlight and an acoustic guitar. His voice was raw, loud and completely amazing. It’s such a beautiful song and it was a really beautiful moment. The band then came back and played Comeback Story, a surprise to hear and one of my favourites from Mechanical Bull. This acoustic part then ended with WALLS, which had the crowd bellowing out ‘when the walls come down’ throughout. A few minutes towards the end, the usually slow song became fast and heavy, the lights started flashing and the curtains came down. The band was now in full view for the rest of the gig.

Reverend, one of 9 songs they played from their latest album WALLS, was another highlight. It’s a strong song on the album and sounds even better live. There were some intriguing graphics displayed on the screens during Reverand and for the latter half of the show, such as eyes and lips, which supported all their new songs. Waste A Moment was another new one from WALLS that sounded brilliant live. There was the sense that the band was really enjoyed playing all this new material.

After around 1 hour and 45 minutes, the band ended the set with Around The World. The confetti cannons were released and the crowd was loving the upbeat end to show. I was sad to see them leave the stage. It was nearly a 2 hour set, with over 20 songs played, and I still wanted more! I would have loved to have heard Taper Jean Girl or Red Morning Light, but hearing more of their new songs instead was still amazing. It was an incredible gig and one that I wish I could relive all over again.

The band play two more shows in the UK in Manchester on 9th June and Sheffield on 10th June.

Tall Boys Beer Market, the best craft beer shop you will ever find

Tall Boys Beer Market, the best craft beer shop you will ever find

Tall Boys Beer Market, situated in Leeds’ Thorntons Arcade, is a craft beer shop like no other. It’s cool, it’s quirky and you’ll most definitely fall for its charm.

When I took my first trip to Leeds over a year ago, I had just been introduced to the beauty of craft beer. I was already aware of Brewdog and its classic Punk IPA, as well as a few others, but I was becoming interested in what more there was to offer.

Enter Tall Boys. A wonderfully unique beer shop hidden within Thorntons Arcade. It’s decorated with distinctive illustrations in its windows, including the words ‘good beer’, a phrase associated with the shop. Through looking in, you also get a good view of the delicious sandwiches they sell daily. What makes Tall Boys special is that it is not just your average beer place. It’s somewhere to drink, eat and socialise with friends.

Once inside, you’re greeted with a friendly face, someone who is always willing to help you out if you have a particular type of beer in mind. Craft beer can seem overwhelming at times. There are an endless amount of beers out there coming from an equally endless amount of breweries. But the guys at Tall Boys make your decision easy for you. They know exactly what they have on their shelves and exactly how each tastes. I have visited this shop several times over the past year and now that I am a fully-fledged lover of craft beer, it’s great to go in there and be surrounded by people who feel the same.

After you’ve chosen your beer (or several) you can sit upstairs in a wonderful space decorated with local artists’ work. It’s a bright room filled with lots to look at, as well as a plant or two. The room is always changing, with artwork being switched every few months, so it’s exciting to see what’s new every time I visit. My last visit was only a few weeks ago and they had filled one of their walls with wooden planters and beautiful greenery, as you can see above. It feels fresh and makes for a perfect spot to drink your beer.

At a time when supermarkets are cashing in on the craft beer movement, we now more than ever need to think about independents when it comes to buying our beer. Tall Boys regularly use the hashtag ‘support your local beer gaff’ on Instagram. It’s a wonderful statement to live by and if I had Tall Boys on my doorstep, I would definitely be in there as much as possible. It’s a charming little place that, like me, you will absolutely fall in love with!

You can find Tall Boys’ website here and their Instagram here.