The Travel Diaries: Brussels August 2016

So last week I headed off to Brussels for 3 days as part of the prize for my Undergraduate of the Year award! Brussels was somewhere that I had never visited before so I was looking forward to seeing what it was like. We also were travelling by Eurostar, again something that I had not done previously so I had no idea what to expect there either! I just wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone at ACCA (Association for Chartered & Certified Accountants) for organising this trip and making it as amazing as it was – especially Alicia (who I hope will be reading this!!).

It was an early start for me on the Tuesday morning as my train left Nottingham for London at 5:50 am. I wasn’t impressed!! However, I did get to see the sun rise, something that I don’t get to see very often so it made it more manageable! Once in London, I dashed through the station to catch my Eurostar to Brussels and thats where I met Alicia and Daniel. Alicia works for ACCA and coordinated the trip and Daniel is last years runner-up so he got to come along too. I was really really surprised as the Eurostar only took 2 hours to get from London to Brussels and did just feel like any other train but we were clearly going a lot faster!IMG_1650.JPG

Day one consisted of meeting members of staff from the ACCA office in Brussels and also hearing about the European parliament and how it effects the different businesses. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know all about Brexit so the trip really enlightened me as to the consequences of Britains exit from the European Union. After our lunch meeting and chats we headed off to check into our hotel which was the Thon Hotel set in the European Quarter. It was a great hotel that was lovely and modern and had the best buffet breakfast i’ve ever seen! You could even make your own Belgian waffles, which I did every single morning!20160831_100940.jpg

That evening, we headed off to Place Luxembourg for dinner and drinks with two lovely members of the ACCA Brussels office, Cecile and Vikte. This square is set just down from the EU parliament building so is a popular networking place for the professionals living and working in the city. Although I’m not a beer drinker, I was told I couldn’t leave Belgium without trying a Belgian beer! I opted for a Liefmans Fruitesse which was a light fruit beer so wasn’t too overpowering and was a good starter beer for beer haters!! It was very similar to fruit ciders like Rekorderlig or Kopperberg so it was really tasty! We stayed there for hours, soaking up the atmosphere and the sun and enjoying the food and drink until tiredness got the better of us all!

Day two started with a breakfast meeting back in the ACCA office and was swiftly followed by a trip to the European Commission office to find out more about how policies were set. I didn’t realise it can take years to make even a small change and that even then it might not be accepted! It was really interesting finding out more about what goes on behind the scenes as most of us only see what is directly in the public eye.20160831_111610.jpg After that we headed off to the European Parliament building which was perhaps one of my favourite things we did. The building is absolutely huge and has thousands of people from all over Europe working inside. We got to sit in one of the rooms where the meetings take place and I couldn’t get over how big it was! 20160831_130928.jpgThe main thing that struck me was how many translation booths there were inside that room. Obviously everything has to be translated into the many languages of the countries from the EU (I believe there are 24?!) so there are plenty of clever men and women working hard to ensure that happens! We also met a couple of lovely ladies who work for Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) and found out more about what they do day-to-day. 20160831_132437.jpgPolitics is not a career path that I am particularly interested in but hearing abut their jobs did paint it in a completely new light for me! They are so busy and permanently running from one place to the next that it sounded quite exhilarating! Sadly, Brexit has had a negative effect on some of these roles and sadly means that some MEP’s and their colleagues will no longer have a job.20160831_151118 As someone who was a strong supporter to stay in the EU it did make me quite sad that the majority of the country had voted against this fantastic union! IMG_1718.JPG

After our trip to the parliament we headed off to do some more touristy things! We paid a visit to the Magritte museum which was full of the amazing art from René Magritte who was a Belgian artist specialising in surrealism. Now I am not really a lover of art so I was not sure how I would find an art museum, but it was amazing! The surrealism element made the paintings so intriguing and there were clear patterns in the style of his paintings at various stages of his life. I set myself a bit of a challenge to try and come up with an interpretation of each painting but some of them were very ‘surreal’! After the museum we had a wander round the older streets of Brussels in search for the Manneken Pis (Weeing Man) statue. We eventually found it on one of the street corners and couldn’t believe how small it was! It was such a funny little statue but one of the main things you have to see when you go to the city! We spent the next half an hour wandering in and out of chocolate shops being handed samples from the staff. I could definitely have got used to that!! IMG_1674.JPG

Finally it was time for cocktails and Alicia had received a recommendation from Vikte that we should go to La Pharmacie Anglaise, which describes itself as a ‘cocktails and curiosity’ bar but specialises in gin – something that I am incredibly fond of!! The bar itself is incredible. It has all sorts of knick-knacks and jars full of crazy things lining them walls and even a staircase full of Hendricks Gin bottles!IMG_1662.JPG There’s also a fantastic balcony level that overlooks the bar too. We all had different cocktails with Alicia opting for a Tropical themed cocktail, Daniel a rose flavoured one and me a berry and sage concoction! They were some of the best cocktails i’ve ever tried and really set the scene for the rest of the evening! We headed off to dinner after that at the delicious Les Petits Oignons which was a delicious french restaurant! I had a amazing truffle pasta dish and we drank some of the best wine I have ever tasted! It was a lovely meal and we all headed back to the hotel very full! IMG_1666.JPG

For our final day, we had no set plans so we decided to try and see as much as we could on foot to make the most of our time in Brussels. We headed straight for the palace as this was something we all wanted to visit. It is actually free to enter so we spent a while wandering the grand hallways and marvelling at the tapestries! It’s definitely worth a visit if you have a spare hour in Brussels!20160901_115328.jpg We spent the next couple of hours wandering round the shops and taking in the atmosphere. We had a bite to eat and then decided that we wanted to find the other famous statue in Brussels, the Jeanneke Pis (Weeing Girl). There was clearly a bit of a theme going on with these statues! This was even funnier than the first one and was set in an even more obscure place – down a small side street opposite a restaurant!!IMG_1677.JPG Sadly, we were fast running out of time so we started to make our way back to the hotel to grab our bags. On the way we did manage to fit in one more sight which was the beautiful Notre Dame De La Chappelle which is a gorgeous church in the centre of Brussels. It was as beautiful inside as outside and made a great end to our trip!20160901_141235.jpg

All good things come to an end and it was time for us to head home on the Eurostar! I was so pleased I got to see such a beautiful city and I would love to see more of Belgium in the future. One thing that did really stand out for me was the fact that there were a lot more women than men doing these kind of jobs. It was incredible to see so many fantastic ladies in such powerful jobs and was something I found incredibly inspiring! Thank you again to ACCA for making the trip possible and to Alicia and Daniel who put up with me for three days! Bits of this post may be distributed by ACCA so don’t panic if you see it somewhere else! Have you been to Brussels before?

Much Love

xoxo

Advertisements

The Travel Diaries: Venice September 2015

Words can’t express how sad I feel writing this post now that almost 4 months have passed since I was in the most beautiful and enchanting city I have visited so far. Writing this makes me want to jump on a plane tomorrow and enjoy the trip all over again, it really was some of the best days of my life. However, with Valentines Day approaching, I thought it was quite an apt time to fill you in on my time in this romantic city. Tom and I were fortunate enough to spend 4 nights in Venice and were both blown away by its beauty and charm. 11224032_10207923403033079_5640331581475703422_o.jpgIt also helped that we had absolutely gorgeous weather whilst we were there, around 26 degrees everyday which the locals said was pretty warm for late September! I thought I would share a few of my favourite things I discovered on my visit and naturally share lots and lots of pictures!

11030309_10207923404513116_8250860313329523607_o.jpg

Where To Stay:

If like Tom and I, you don’t have a colossal budget to spend on a hotel then you really do have to lower your expectations when it comes to accommodation in Venice. Everywhere is very expensive and quite traditional in its decor which makes it difficult for a young couple like us who like luxurious and contemporary accommodation. There’s no slumming it for the two of us FYI. I spent a lot of time panicking that we were never going to find anywhere suitable and we would have to sleep on a stray gondola, whereas Tom actually did some searching and found us a great little place to stay. We stayed in the district of Santa Croce which is walking distance to pretty much all the major attractions that you may want to see. We stayed in Venice Resorts, which is basically a collection of apartments that also provide a breakfast service and free wifi. Perfect! The rooms were spacious and homely and we found them just what we needed for the duration of our stay. We were treated to breakfast every morning just up the street at a tiny family-run cafe that overlooked one of the many canals. If time had stopped on one of those lazy mornings, I simply would not have cared. It was bliss!

What To See:

The Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge are definitely worth a visit when you are in Venice. The canal is pretty break-taking when you see all the boats heading up and down. It is incredibly relaxing to just stroll along the side, looking at all the restaurants and just watching the world go by. Unfortunately, the Rialto bridge was under renovation when we visited but it I believe it was the first bridge to cross the canal.

12030522_10207923398632969_4084764798100219233_o.jpg

Another key thing to visit is Saint Mark’s square! The atmosphere is unlike anything else with many people bustling around, high-end shops lining the perimeter and classical music playing in every restaurant. There is also the basilica and a large tower to take a trip up if you’re a fan of large panoramic views. One thing I would suggest is to not eat in St Mark’s square as it is absolutely extortionate! There is a ‘music charge’ per person just to sit down which could make simply grabbing a coffee very expensive! Overall, I didn’t find venice that expensive as long as you avoided the main tourist sections.

11056559_10207923401233034_7691434402215103108_o12068796_10207923401713046_4932201854640798932_o

One final thing that you may not have heard of is the Scala Contarini Del Bovolo which is a lovely ornate spiral staircase that is quite off the beaten track. It is a beautiful example of Venetian architecture and is a must see in my opinion. It would only take a few minutes to visit but it is pretty breath-taking!

11143526_10207923405193133_8857895275992977832_o.jpg

Overall, I would have to say that Venice is my favourite citIy to date. It has everything: fantastic food, friendly people, beautiful sights and incredible architecture. I don’t often go back to a city again once I’ve visited it as I feel like I want to see as much of the world as possible and revisit my favourites later on in life when things may have changed, however I would visit Venice again tomorrow in a heartbeat. It really captured my heart and the memories Tom and I have taken from those 4 days will last us a lifetime. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to visit it with the person I love and would recommend it to anyone! Next time I go I’d like to visit the islands such as Murano where they make the special glass. There are lots of shops selling the glass but I would have liked to have visited the factory shop to buy it first hand. Have you visited Venice? Let me know your favourite places!

11999599_10207923398992978_2972079958610477831_o12032654_10207923398392963_5439845333052742703_o12017497_10207923400233009_6144108489827882790_o12028693_10207923399792998_8994917916046971253_o

Much Love

xoxo

Thinking of a Last Minute City Break?

I thought it would be fun to tell you about four of the cities I have visited within Europe to help you out if you fancy a last minute long weekend away. I like to visit a range of places if possible so some of these are probably not what you would expect to see listed but I thought that would make it all the more interesting! N.B I was going to make this post into 5 cities but it started getting ridiculously long! If you are ever going to Stockholm (that was going to be number 5) then please just email me and I’d love to tell you more about it!

DUBLIN Dublin

This was the first ever holiday Tom and I went on together as I took him for his 19th Birthday. The city itself is very like London but probably more expensive! The Irish people are so friendly and as uncultured as it sounds, it’s nice to go somewhere where you can still speak in English without feeling useless!

Where to Eat? Our favourite restaurant was called The Church, the food was really tasty and reasonably priced and the atmosphere was really nice and chilled! Having said that, I’ve looked on the website today and it seems to also be a nightclub! Hopefully that chilled ambience is still there some nights of the week!

Where to Go? If like us, the bustling city became a bit much for you, take a trip on the train to Killiney and Bray. Bray has a wonderful long beach front where you can take in the sea air and they also have a really nice sea life centre that Tom and I loved! We went to a little cafe for a cup of tea to warm up and then to contradict ourselves entirely, we sat on the beach front with an ice cream. It really is a gorgeous place to visit! 4695407505_93849ebdd0

ROME rome1

After watching endless programmes about Italy and drooling over the pasta dishes, 2014 was the year I finally got to visit one of it’s many enchanting cities. My 5 days in Rome were absolutely incredible and the city should be on everyone’s ‘to-visit’ list! However, I went in July and it was RIDICULOUSLY HOT! Anyone that knows me at all, knows that I overheat at the drop of a hat so this was in a league of its own for me really. Saying that, Budapest is 38 degrees this week so Rome is quickly looking like it will drop down the overheating rankings soon!

What to See? You HAVE to visit the colosseum! I think it may be one of my favourite landmarks I have ever visited. I really didn’t know that much about what it was until I visited and the history behind it is amazing, if a little stomach churning! The place is a photographers delight, with an amazing picture to be taken at every turn. It would be good to book tickets in advance though, as we spent quite a long time in a very snaking queue and that was even after a sneaky bit of queue jumping! rometravelguide5

Where to Stay? We stayed in the H10 Roma Citta hotel just a short bus ride outside of Rome centre. I have to be honest and say it was perfect! It has a gorgeous roof-top infinity pool and the rooms were really spacious! When going to such a warm city, having a pool to jump in at the end of a long day is just what you need!

What to Avoid? This may just be personal preference, but unless you are REALLY into art, avoid the Vatican Museum! That was honestly the longest and hottest museum I have ever been in and it really does feel like it is never going to end! Also, don’t get a taxi around the Vatican City, they are so overpriced it is unreal!

PARIS 

View on Paris form Notre Dame cathedral

The romantics that we are, Tom and I took a trip to Paris last year. There is so much to see and do that I feel like no amount of time would ever be enough to compete it all in. Before you go, prioritise what you want to see to make sure you don’t go home disappointed!

What to See? The Eiffel Tower. Obviously! I am terrified of heights so the whole process took us 5 painstakingly long hours! Partly because I went into meltdown mode on level one and partly because I was so unfit that the stairs made me out of breath. I only realised how embarrassing this was when a family with 2 children under 6 overtook us and passed us again on their way down while we were still stationary. However, when you do, eventually, get to the top the views are phenomenal! It was so worth all the stress to be able to say that I have stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and seen all of Paris! There are so many incredible sights in Paris that I could write about them forever, if you want any other recommendations then just comment below and I’ll tell you a few more of my favourites!First-Time-Paris-Eiffel-Tower

Where to Stay? If like us, you are looking for cheap and chearful, there are many IBIS hotels across all of Paris. We stayed in the IBIS Paris Eiffel Tower in Cambronne which had fantastic metro links! We could get absolutely anywhere from a stop just up the road from us and it was so cheap and efficient! The whole process was a bit more exciting as it gave the sense that you really were on a bit of an adventure. The rooms at the hotel were small yet suffice and we didn’t have breakfast, we just grabbed something whilst we were out. The hotels across all of Paris are crazily priced so don’t have high expectations about what your money will get you! We were incredibly lucky though, as our room had a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower, it was particularly beautiful at night all lit up.

COPENHAGEN 1428636048_wee_2014-05-03_lif_036_31493321_i4

I have visited Copenhagen many times now as one of my best friends lives there! It is a very interesting and beautiful city that many people overlook when it comes to thinking about city break destinations! If you’ve never considered a trip to Scandinavia, you really should as it is lovely!

What to Do? The best thing I would say to do, is to go on one of the boat tours. They are a great way to make sure you see all the sights and the tour guide ensures that you really get to know the history about this wonderful city. You get to see plenty of great sights like the Opera House where last years Eurovision Song Contest was held (Woo!) and also the Little Mermaid, one of the key things to see whilst you are in Copenhagen!

Where to Go? If like me, and the idea of visiting two countries in one trip really appeals to you, take a trip on the train over the bridge to Malmo in Sweden! It is such a surreal experience to be on a train, going over the sea on a bridge that connects two countries! Malmo is a little Swedish town that is lovely to spend an afternoon in, having a wander round or sat having a coffee watching the world go by. Bridge_3

Want Something Extra? As a little extra, you should visit the Somods Bolcher Factory. This is a tiny old fashioned Danish sweet factory where you can watch the sweets be made and you even get to try them whilst they are still hot! Make sure you buy plenty of bags too as they are very moreish! This will only take you half an hour or so, but I would recommend a visit. I go back every single time I go as it is so old fashioned and I love the smell you get when you walk in! somods-bolcher-shopok

So hopefully now, you have a few more ideas about where you may like to visit. Make sure you pop back next week if you want to hear about how I found Budapest! Writing this post has actually got me so excited now, I can’t believe its only two days away! If I have internet I will be tweeting about it so make sure you’re following me on Twitter! TheTravelLiz2

Much Love

xoxo