13 August 2018

Budapest

Budapest

After passing through Vienna and Bratislava, the Danube meanders lazily through the Hungarian capital, dividing what had famously been two separate cities - Buda on the western shore, and Pest on the east. Although seemingly small, Budapest is a truly handsome city, rich in architecture, history and culture. It's the kind you can lose yourself in, without much chance of physically getting lost.

Mine and Lizzie's Airbnb accommodation was conveniently located off the UNESCO listed Andrássy Avenue in District VI, which connects Erzsébet Square in the inner city with the Városliget (City Park). As such, it provided easy walking distance to many of Budapest's landmarks, as well as the fabled ruin bars of District VII.

Crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge into Buda, our first full day was spent exploring the historic Castle District, which overlooks the rest of the city from its hilltop perch. North of Buda Castle, cobbled streets lined with pastel townhouses lead us to the magnificent Matthias Church, splendorously adorned with brightly coloured roof tiles. A stroll southward then takes us back past the Castle and down into its formal gardens, eventually returning to the western bank of the Danube. 

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After descending Castle Hill, I then decided the next best thing would be to climb another, because I apparently enjoy punishing my friends with exercise. In all seriousness, I do forget that not everyone posesses the same grace of a mountain goat as myself, nor my mad inclinations to overexert oneself in the name of exploration. That all being said, Lizzie did admit the stunning views of Budapest from atop Gellért Hill were very much worth the gruelling 235m ascent in thirty-degree heat.

As we ventured back to our apartment for a well-deserved shower and rest, we paused en-route to explore Budapest's Great Market Hall, sited on the Pest end of the Liberty Bridge. If you enjoy pottering about Borough Market in South London, or The Covered Market in Oxford, you will find yourself immersed in this maze of stalls selling fresh produce, pastries, spirits, spices and souvenirs.

Later on, we took to the inner city in search of dinner. Aided by TripAdvisor recommendations, Lizzie and I were quick to discover that great food isn't difficult to come by in Budapest, and much of it is reasonably priced. A generous serving of tiger prawns - flambéed in Blood Orange Cointreau, might I add - at Bottega di Brontolo was swiftly followed by a cheese board and Hungarian wine tasting at Doblo wine bar.

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Day Two was significantly more relaxed - at least to the point that we avoided any more hills. Lizzie and I walked the opposite direction along Andrássy Avenue, past palatial Neo-Renaissance houses towards the City Park and Széchenyi Thermal Baths, hoping its temperate waters would alleviate the aches and stiffness we had earned from yesterday's inadvertent workout. Naturally, we failed to appreciate that Andrássy Avenue is a fairly long and straight street, therefore we were doubly in need of recuperation upon changing into our respective bathing suit and swim shorts.

The outdoor lagoon was indeed a welcome retreat from the hubbub beyond its walls, even with dark clouds threatening to break above us. After a couple of hours to warm our bones (and turn our fingertips to the likeness of sultanas), we then wandered across the park to Vajdahunyad Castle, which - although only built in 1896 - could have been lifted from the pages of a fairytale. Given I work at an architectural practice, I ought to have acknowledged the purposeful mix of classical styles used in its construction, but to tell the truth, my mind was filled with Tale As Old As Time when wandering below its spired turrets. Let's face it, English castles simply don't have the same romantic qualities as their European equivalents.

In the evening, Lizzie and I boarded a river boat to explore the remainder of Budapest from the water. Before grey clouds finally drew across the sky, we were fortunate enough to witness the Hungarian Parliament Building bathed in gold from the setting sun. A marvel of the Gothic Revival movement, it stands proudly and elegantly on the eastern bank of the Danube. Catching the last of the sunlight, it was a beautiful moment to conclude our short break in this charming city.

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1 June 2018

ICA Cheese & Wine Evening

ICA Cheese & Wine Evening

It was an exceptionally warm evening in South London, and as Maddy and I climbed the stairwell to a Southwark loft space, the unmistakable aroma of cheese wafted down to us. Our noses eagerly followed the scent to what I can only describe as a banquet, set up for a guest list of insatiable food bloggers.

Arranged by the International Cheese Awards, the evening was quite literally a taste of the main event to be held in Nantwich this summer, encouraging us foodies to sample award-winning cheeses from the UK and abroad. Following a welcome prosecco and introduction to the Awards from Chairman Chris Chisnall, Maddy and I hungrily navigated the tables laden with delicious cheeses, including Swiss Gruyère, vintage Cheddar, blue vein, and - my personal favourite - a white Stilton with mango and ginger, each of which came with a label describing the perfect wine accompaniment.

Dotted around the room were the event sponsors, whose cheeses are likewise hoping to win an award this year. Bradburys, who are responsible for numerous cheese products found in your local supermarket or department store, revealed to us their wish to replace the sandwich meal deal with cheese and antipasti platters, something which myself and Maddy especially have strongly advocated since the first sunny evening spent in Kennington Park with a bottle of prosecco and various cured meats. In fact, Maddy's enthusiasm was so very apparent, the Bradburys team gifted her their remaining Manchego.

Many cheeses and glasses of wine later, we were still in the loft, as the other guests trickled out and the event organisers packed up the leftover wares. It was with a heavy heart that I had to part with the wheel of stilton, yet staying late proved to be fruitful, when the events team actively encouraged us to take home the rest of the goodie bags. To say our fridge is choc-a-bloc with cheese is almost an understatement.

 The International Cheese Awards takes place in Nantwich, Cheshire, on 24th & 25th July.

ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening ICA Cheese & Wine Evening

19 May 2018

Guildford Gin Festival

Guildford Gin Festival

Gin Festival, as the name may suggest, is a celebration of gin. Since 2009, when Sipsmith overturned a two-hundred year old law preventing small-batch distilleries, the market has grown exponentially. Now Gin Festival tours the country, bringing the finest spirits in the UK and abroad to the tastebuds of thirsty Britons - with help from their official mixer, Schweppes 1783.

The set-up is simple: A G&T costs a £5 token, redeemable at the festival entrance. Then head over to one of five bars and order from a wide selection of gins you likely hadn't heard of. There are also talks and masterclasses for those looking to learn more about how gin is produced, or how to create gin-based cocktails at home.

Knowing it would be impossible to sample every gin available without breaking our bank balances (and livers), Maddy and I chose gins based on botanicals we know we enjoy. Maddy, who prefers fruitier flavours, first tried a Skully Tangerine Twist, but ultimately fell in love with Slingsby Rhubarb Gin, having then bought a bottle from the gift shop. I on the other hand enjoy gins with a twang of herbs or spices, so chose a serve of Skully Smooth Wasabi with ginger ale. Yet it was my initially reluctant choice of Sweet Potato London Dry Gin which won me over that day, with distinctive aromas of sweet potato and coriander.

UPDATE: Gin Festival regrettably went into administration on 5th July 2018. To find other gin festivals near to you, please visit: www.eatdrinkseek.co.uk

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8 May 2018

Rush on the Strand

Rush on The Strand

Despite their name, you won't receive a rush job at a Rush Hair salon. Which is just as well, because I paid for some questionable ten-minute haircuts in my teens, which led me to debate whether I might ever have faith in anybody with a set of clippers. Bonus tip: don't ask your mum to do it instead.

It had been four weeks since my previous haircut, at which stage my hair had begun to creep over my ears and down my neck. It's easy enough to hide, albeit it's a mess worth tidying up before my hair inevitably takes on the appearance of a mop. Upon arriving for my evening appointment at Rush on the Strand, I was greeted by the friendly salon team and directed to a chair by my stylist, Michelle. My eyes were drawn suddenly to the crystal chandelier suspended from an ornate, vaulted ceiling - a reminder of the salon's former life as the ticket hall of the Vaudeville Theatre next door.

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Following a brief consultation and complimentary refreshment, Michelle led me to a smaller room behind the main salon to wash my hair. (I hadn't immediately noticed the lack of sinks.) This separate room provides a more intimate and private space for shampooing, and has more distinctive décor than the clean white interior of the salon. While Michelle rinsed my hair free of suds, it certainly seemed a more relaxing environment, although I did ponder if Rush Hair might think to decorate the ceiling too, given customers have their heads tilted back for much of their time within the room.

Returning to my original seat, I was then treated to a scalp massage that very nearly sent me to sleep, followed by the haircut itself. Typically I ask for a short-back-and-sides with a trim on top, though I often give my stylist free rein over how it looks, because - let's face it - they know more about cutting my unruly hair than I do. Glancing in the mirror, I was slightly surprised the salon wasn't busier for a weekday evening, having clocked twenty-something stations, but only three customers. Michelle explained that particular night was one of their quieter periods, albeit they would be fully booked on Tuesdays, when the salon offers half-price colour services. That's a lot of ladies with tin foil heads.

After half an hour in the salon, including a second visit to the back room to rinse away those pesky trimmings, I was ready to reveal my new hair to the world. It may not be an eccentric hairdo, but all I really wanted was a tidy-up to make me look sharper in a shirt and tie (or roll-neck and blazer), not some mad hairstyle sculpted purely for the 'gram. That being said, I wouldn't oppose taking my hair in a wildly new direction, provided it doesn't significantly increase the likelihood of my going bald in the near future. Should any of you fancy doing the same, Rush Hair is offering 50% discount for first-time bookings.

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© Joseph Kent / www.unlimitedbyjk.com

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