Friday, 9 October 2015

Getting the perfect pint at Dublin's Guinness Storehouse

Let me say this from the outset, dear reader: I've been to themed attractions before. I've visited a museum dedicated to cat-related curiosities, the poignant and excellent Titanic Belfast, and even a museum focusing on one foodstuff - frites, in this case - in Bruges. 

But the venue of my most recent themed excursion takes this to the next level.

Seven levels, to be precise.

Regardless of whether we were consulting hipster travellers or standard top-ten lists, there was one common denominator across all of the recommendations.

When in Dublin, it would almost be considered a crime to not stop by the Guinness Storehouse.

Guinness Storehouse, St James's Gate

Located at St James's Gate Brewery, this attraction is considered to be one of the city's most popular sites and it's reportedly brought in millions of visitors since first opening back in 2000. The Guinness Storehouse is considered to be an absolute must for anyone even remotely interested in Ireland's most famous beer. 

Spread over seven levels, the Storehouse contains everything you need to know about 'the Black Stuff', from its origins to the practical side of obtaining a perfect pint of Guinness. If 'seven floors' sounds like a lot, that's because it definitely is; you'll need to set aside a decent few hours to have the full Guinness Storehouse experience. 

If the multiple storeys don't impress you, the next structural factoid will; the entire building resembles one massive pint of Guinness.

Escalator into Guinness Storehouse
The way up into the Storehouse.

Store at Guinness Storehouse
To be immediately confronted with *many* temptations.

Our self-guided tour of the pint glass in question began with a quick look around the official Guinness Store (conveniently placed on the bottom floor so that the temptation starts straight away!). After almost buying one of everything, we decided to deal with the story behind Guinness before spending all of our money.

And this story is set out in a spectacular way. One of the first levels deals with the actual ingredients used in Guinness, but don't expect a few display cases lined up next to each other. Instead, each of the core ingredients is presented in the most memorable manner possible: a ballpit-like expanse of barley, the top-secret strain of yeast in a vault and, for the essential water, there's an entire indoor waterfall on hand.

Barley at Guinness Storehouse
A pool of barley, which strangely made me want to dive in (not recommended).

Barley at Guinness Storehouse

Water at Guinness Storehouse
Loved spotting details like this aged wall amid the sleek displays.

This level of detail continues throughout the Storehouse and, happily for the real Guinness fans out there, there's the chance to taste some Guinness relatively early on in the tour. 

The Tasting Experience was one of my favourite moments from our day here. Making our way through a tunnel of neon red, orange and yellow, we were about to have a multi-sensory introduction to Guinness. I won't ruin the experience by divulging all of the details, but expect scent pods highlighting the different aromas of Guinness (I found the malt one particularly alluring), mini glasses of the popular drink and a tutorial on the correct way to drink this beer.

Barrels of beer, Guinness Storehouse

Modes of transport at Guinness Storehouse
The numerous modes of transport used to take Guinness around the world.

Monday, 5 October 2015

An afternoon with Audrey and Amba

A few weeks ago, a very enticing invitation landed in my inbox. I was already intrigued by the mention of afternoon tea at a central London location; after all, I've become a full-blown fan of this very British tradition since moving to the capital. The invite had a double lure, though, as the second part included the chance to find out more about an icon of the 20th Century.

I accepted within minutes and counted down to what could only be considered an extremely stylish way to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Stepping out of the ever-busy Charing Cross station, we were already, more or less, at our major destination for the day.

Amba Hotel Charing Cross
Arriving at Amba hotel.

Staircase at Amba Hotel Charing Cross
One of the impressive staircases within.

Our host, the Amba Hotel Charing Cross, is actually located in the building standing above the station. Boasting a Grade II listed status and over 150 years of existence, the Amba Hotel was the first stop in our exploration of style.

But this introduction only consisted of quick glimpses of grand staircases, bold artwork and architectural heritage, as, after a quick glass of champagne and introductions to fellow bloggers, we set off for the activity part of our day.

To be fair, it wasn't a long walk, as Amba Hotel is a few hundred metres away from Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. The latter is currently holding an exhibition about that icon I so casually mentioned in the opening of this post.

Have you guessed who I'm talking about yet? 

Ticket, Audrey Hepburn Exhibition

Audrey Hepburn Exhibition

The post title gives it away, but we were all about to become acquainted with the life of fashion icon and actress, Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993).

Since the exhibition takes place at the National Portrait Gallery, there's an emphasis on the visual. Over 70 images have been displayed, which follow Audrey's life, from grinning child to budding ballet dancer to world-renowned actress and fashionista to her later years as a philanthropist. 

No photography is allowed in the exhibition, but you can expect to see iconic photos (Breakfast at Tiffany's, anyone?), as well as rarer prints, all of which show how she rose to stardom and became one of the world's most recognisable figures.

If you're keen to check out the exhibition, though, you'll need to move quickly! It's only running until 18 October, with standard tickets going for £9 per adult (admission to the rest of the National Portrait Gallery is free).

From getting tempted in the exhibition's gift shop to temptations of a ... sweeter... kind, it was time to head back to Amba Hotel to embark on the next part of our day.

Awaiting us were tray upon tray of afternoon tea treats. There were the usual suspects: sandwiches, fluffy scones and delectable pastries. While all of these were delicious, I was most impressed by the fact that the hotel catered for all of us; gluten-free, diary-free, vegan - you name it, there was a sandwich/scone/pastry that fitted the bill.

Afternoon tea at Amba Hotel
With so many bloggers at one event, there was a long stretch of some serious photo-taking before anyone actually got their hands on these beauties!

More bubbles?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Three fairytale spots you must visit in Sintra

I’ve been to Sintra twice.

I know, I know: Going to *new* places is important, and I definitely try to discover the unfamiliar whilst on my travels. However, some places are so amazing that they deserve a return visit; Sintra happens to be one of them.

To be fair, though, I went to this destination at very different times of the year. My first visit occurred in the dead of winter (which is still much more friendly temperature wise than the UK!) where our walking was accompanied by mist, drizzle and a chill. 

This time, I was there in summer. My mum and I were together on our first trip but, since we were back in Lisbon, we couldn’t resist the chance to show our new companions - my sister and my boyfriend - why people always talk about Sintra.

Colourful buildings of Sintra
I mean, look at it: why wouldn't you want to come back to this?

If you’re in Lisbon, this is a day trip that will be recommended again and again. And even as you walk a few metres away from Sintra’s train station, the reason for the praise will become apparent. Directly ahead, a mountain looms above, covered in vegetation yet with a few rooftops of otherwise obscured structures just glimpsed between the treetops. As the road winds into the centre of Sintra, you’re treated to views of fantastic palaces, colourful houses and public artworks.

Unsurprisingly, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are traces of human habitation stretching all the way back to the Neolithic times and the Romans also spent some time here. Fast forward to now, and the town seems to be filled with castles, parks and monasteries.

If you're also planning to go up to Sintra for just a day, it'll be difficult to know where to start. While there are so many wonderful places to see in the town and its surrounds, there are three spots that, in my opinion, can't be missed.

Sintra National Palace

With its two conical towers rising up above it, you'll notice Sintra National Palace from a fair distance away.

Sintra National Palace

Its unique appearance and pristine white walls work to conceal the palace's age. There has, in fact, been a palace here since the 11th Century. Construction began during the Moorish era of this part of the country and many additions and amendments have occurred over the following years. What we see now closely resembles the palace as it was in the 16th Century.

Passing through the courtyard, filled with people posing for photos and carts selling popcorn, it honestly felt like we were entering another time period entirely as we moved into the palace. 

Courtyard, Sintra National Palace

The Swan Room, Sintra National Palace
The palace's grand 'Swan Room'.

Sintra National Palace is not only a favourite with tourists, the Portuguese royals held it in their affections too, resulting in the fact that the palace was continuously occupied from the 15th to the 19th Centuries.

When you walk through the rooms of Sintra National Palace, you'll be able to spot the influences of all of the palace's former inhabitants. There's the mix of architectural trends - Manueline, Moorish, Gothic - as well as the decorative styles and quirks found in each room. No single chamber resembles the next, and the best part of visiting this palace is that you'll never know what to expect.

Moorish room, Sintra National Palace
An exquisite Moorish-inspired room.

My sister hides out in a tiny doorframe.

Bedroom, Sintra National Palace
One of the opulent bedrooms.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Street food and live music at the Boiler Shop Steamer

When we were up in Newcastle upon Tyne to explore Hadrian's Wall, we took a little break from our time travel into the UK's past to discover a decidedly more modern event.

I live in London where - on what feels like a regular basis - there seems to be a new food market on the go. Combining food, booze and often music, these are popular year round, no matter what the weather might be doing!

I'm guilty of frequenting these events in London, so I was very keen to see what the equivalent would be like in another UK city.

While Newcastle might be known for the debauchery of the stag and hen dos that occur in the city, there are plenty of other avenues to take for an excellent night out. And the Boiler Shop Steamer ticks all of the boxes: live music, street food and all manner of drink.

Boiler Shop Steamer, Newcastle
At Newcastle's Boiler Shop Steamer.

The Boiler Shop Steamer happens on the first Friday and Saturday of every month, and its setting is impressive. Food trucks and market stalls take over the Boiler Shop, which was the birthplace of Stephenson's Rocket, an early locomotive created all the way back in 1829.

Although the car parts and other mechanical bits are long gone, the giant shed, even after having undergone some renovations, still looks like something out of the past with its massive metal beams and rustic interior.

Food trucks at the Boiler Shop Steamer
It's a street food takeover at the historic Boiler Shop building.

Food trucks at the Boiler Shop Steamer

The Boiler Shop Steamer kicks into gear (see what I did there) on Friday nights from 17:30 and on Saturdays from noon. There is a cover charge - £5 at the time of writing - although there is free entry for those arriving before 14:00 on Saturdays. Children are welcome, but it might get slightly rowdy into the evening hours.

And that's exactly when we went. On Saturday evening, we advanced onto the Boiler Shop, got handed tokens which we would trade for food and drink, and set off to see what was on offer.

Inside the Boiler Shop
I loved the metal beams inside the Boiler Shop - awesome venue for an awesome event.

Live music at the Boiler Shop Steamer

Monday, 21 September 2015

Giveaway: A meal for four at SuperStar BBQ

* This competition has now closed. Congratulations to fellow blogger Hannah from That Adventurer for winning this great prize! *

Fancy a trip to Korea?

Ok, while the prize up for grabs does not involve any flights or passports, I am offering an adventure involving the above-mentioned country - albeit a culinary one.

If you've been reading this blog for a little while, you may have seen that I recently paid a visit to one of central London's newest - and most interactive - restaurants.

A few weeks ago, Chris and I popped by Central St Giles to try out SuperStar BBQ's set menus. Since neither of us had been to a Korean barbecue before, we were excited to get well acquainted with this form of cooking.

SuperStar BBQ's setting in Central St Giles.

A barbecue feast - with the meat ready for the grill.

If you're a little confused by me saying that this was an interactive dining experience, this is the reason: you'll be doing some of the cooking yourself. I know this might not appeal to those that think dining out should involve little to no exertion from the diners, but you'll want to be hands on with this particular cooking escapade!

With a small, modern grill built into each table, diners at SuperStar BBQ get to become the masters of their own barbecue. You'll cook the protein (or vegetables for the vegetarians) of your choice to perfection*, while the set menu also means you get a soup, rice, as well as a salad. It's stating the obvious but we did not leave hungry.

* Fear not; if you're a bit unsure of your barbecuing skills, your waitron will be happy to pass on some tips.

Some rather delicious accompaniments.

Inside SuperStar BBQ.

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