Sunday, 30 October 2016

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Black Axe Mangal


I like Turkish food and I like rock n roll, so when I heard about Black Axe Mangal, a restaurant that combines the two I knew I had to visit. Situated near Highbury Corner, the self described avant-garde kebabs are cooked in a pizza oven, making the entire atmosphere of this restaurant an incredible unique experience.


We started with the lamb offal flatbread. The bread was incredible. Stretchy, fluffy and incredibly flavoursome, it would have tasted great without a single topping. The lamb offal was nice, the flavour was mild but the softness of the meat made this feel like a relatively bland dish, nevertheless I did enjoy it.


Our neighbours had ordered the squid ink and cod's roe flatbread, when we saw it we had to order one for ourselves. Hard to describe, this really was a wonderful dish, especially thanks to the runny egg yolk allowing the cod's roe and blend seamless with the quid ink bread.


I've developed a bit of a thing for sardines and tomatoes recently and this dish was simply wonderful. Again, the bread was the star feature but the perfectly cooked fish and deliciously sweet tomatoes helped give this dish a fresh, almost salad like vibe.


Simple but perfectly cooked, I loved the corn on the cob. The cod's roe butter gave it a unique taste.


When we realised how much bread everything had come with we started to feel a little silly for ordering a side of sesame bread. Once we tasted this we had no regrets, the bread was perfect!


Our final plate was my least favourite, the grilled ox heart, tongue and charred onions really didn't do much for me. It wasn't that they didn't taste nice, I just found this plate a little bland and unexciting compared to everything else we had eaten.

I thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Black Axe Mangal and am looking forward to a subsequent visit. The place is most definitely unique and with an ever changing menu with the promise of incredible bread there will always be a reason for me wanting to return.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

HOW: to do an Iceland road trip












Now that I've written about all about our road trip around Iceland including what we did, where we stayed and what we ate I thought it was time to put a more informative post together. A bit of a do and don't list for all things related to an Iceland road trip and how to plan your holiday.

Once you've decided that a road trip around Iceland is the thing for you, which it absolutely should be because Iceland is amazing, you need to figure out what time of the year you want to travel. The summer season in Iceland is short, it pretty much covers July to August with a few weeks on either side.

The great thing about travelling in the summer like us (first half of July) is that the weather is generally pleasant with 24 hours daylight. However this is the optimum time to visit the country which means prices are expensive, accommodation fills up months in advance and attractions are busy (relatively speaking). Travelling in winter provides a slightly cheaper option as hotels offer off peak prices but the downsides include short days with little light and weather so bad that many roads are completely closed.

Route 1 aka the Ring Road which circles the entire country is open all year round but all the best sights are discovered by detouring away from the main road so depending on what you want to see your options might be limited in the winter. I loved Reykjavik in December when I visit in 2012 for a long weekend but if I was ever to do a road trip again I would definitely stick to the summer as the lack of snow made the roads easy to navigate and you're able to see the entire country.

We knew about a year in advance that we were going to visit Iceland as we had ATP festival ticket so we booked our flights the second they came on sale with Easy Jet. This meant we paid just over £100 total for 2 return tickets and added luggage with Easy Jet. However, another good option is to look at package deals for flights and accommodation. I did this the first time I visited in 2012 as we found some fantastic bargains. I have a feeling the packages mainly exist in the winter months but they're a great option for a long weekend visit to Reykjavik.

Once you have your flights booked you need to start thinking about the route of your road trip, whether you want to drive around the country clockwise or anticlockwise and which towns you want to spend the night in. When it comes to holiday planning I am super organised. I always buy myself a Lonely Planet travel guide and read it from cover to cover, highlighting places I think sound interesting.

With all the research I did I couldn't find any preference for which direction to drive the ring road. However the book did state that anticlockwise appears to be the more popular direction. For no other reason than this was how the book was laid out, we drove clockwise which was perfectly fine and if I'm completely honest I think it's the better option as you don't need to pass through Reykjavik on your way back to the airport when it times to return home.

Whilst reading my guide book I identified which towns I wanted to spend the night in. Due to the number of things to do I was naturally drawn to the biggest town in each area of the country. However, that certainly shouldn't stop you from staying in one of the less visited villages which are probably even more charming than the bigger towns.

You can easily divide Iceland into different regions; Reykjavik and the south-west, the west, the west fjords, the north, the east and the east fjords, the south-east, the south, and the interior. Apart from the interior which is a desolate bare region, predominately used for hiking, we spent one night in each of the different areas I just mentioned.

This was our route:

Reykjavik (4 nights) - Stykkishólmur (west) - Djúpavík (west fjords) - Akureyri (north) - Húsavík (north) - Seyðisfjörður (east fjords) - Höfn (south-east) - Vík (south) - Keflavík (south-west)

Apart from Reykjavik, we stayed everywhere for 1 night, except Keflavík which is where the airport is located. We drove around the island in 1 week which is extremely doable but be prepared for a lot of driving. If we'd had more time I would have spent a night in Ísafjörður which is between Stykkishólmur and Djúpavík. I would have also spent an extra night in Akureyri and Vík which would have helped break up the journey a little. If you can take 2 whole weeks to do this road trip then I think it would be very rewarding without being too exhausting. You don't need to spend 4 days in Reykjavik. I'm glad we did as it meant we got to see absolutely everything on my list but 2 full days is more than enough time to get a feel for the city as it's so small.

DREAM ROUTE: Reykjavik (3 nights) - Stykkishólmur (1 night) - Ísafjörður (1 night) - Djúpavík (1 night) - Akureyri (2 nights) - Húsavík (1 night) - Seyðisfjörður (1 night) - Höfn (1 night) - Vík (2 nights)

If you want to book accommodation without spending a complete fortune you need to be organised and prepared to book as far in advance as possible. I started booking in March and many places were already fully booked for July. Fortunately the majority of hotels let you pay once you've arrived so you don't need to worry about spending too much money until you get there.

To get the best possible deal on transportation you should think about booking a car as far in advance as possible. We knew we wouldn't need a car for our first three days in Reykjavik so when we made our booking we choose to collect the car a few days into the trip. We used Go Iceland Car Rental who offered the best deals we could find with an array of different car options. Because we knew we'd be driving in some of the more remote areas we wanted to rent a 4x4. On retrospect we probably would have been fine with a 2x2 but the bigger wheels meant that the journeys over bumpy roads were a lot more comfortable and less stressful as we weren't worried about rocks damaging the under carriage.

Once you have your travel and accommodation booked you don't need to think about much else until a week or so before your holiday. If you're visiting in the summer then it's worth booking day trips in advance as they can get busy. You should book the Blue Lagoon a few weeks before you visit as well as any glacier hikes and whale watching tours. If you're travelling during the winter you don't need to worry about pre-booking tours as it's not as busy.

Apart from booking accommodation, transport and the odd excursion there isn't too much to worry about. Plan your route and enjoy driving around the country, taking in the natural sights and seeking out natural hot pools.

I really didn't know what to expect from our road trip but we ended up having one of the most incredible holidays ever. Iceland is definitely a place for those who appreciate nature and the quieter side of life. The towns are tiny with not much going on so think twice about any sort of night life, except in Reykjavik, because it just doesn't really exist. Some of the local museums are definitely worth visiting and whenever you get a chance, converse with the locals as they're some of the most friendly people you will come across.

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Where to have lunch in Farringdon Part 2

Exmouth Market

I really enjoyed making my where to eat in Farringdon guide and because there's just so many lunch options to choose from I thought it was about time to make a second instalment.

KIN


I've only been to KIN once but I've been meaning to return ever since because the Pan-Asian inspired street food is really delicious. With dishes spanning Chinese, Indian, Thai, and more there's definitely something to suit everyone. I loved the red vegetable curry which had a great amount of heat without blowing your face off. If you're in a rush check out the stall outside. KIN is found on Leather Lane and always looks busy so make sure you turn up early to grab a table.

Good and Proper Tea



Relatively new, Good and Proper Tea on Leather Lane is one of my go to lunch options. The crumpets are absolutely delicious and whilst they don't look that big they're still filling. I love the cheese and ham crumpet but there's a few to choose from including sweet toppings like Nutella. They also sell loads of handmade pastries and cakes, the chocolate brownie is particulars tasty. I'm not a big tea drinker but the selection to try here to massive. I've been working my way through the herbal varieties and love collection the little cards with tea descriptions.

Tajima-Tei


There's quite a few Japanese places around Farringdon but if you're looking for some excellent quality raw fish then Tajima-Tei is the place to try. The day I visited it was frequented by Japanese business men which must be a good sign! It's definitely more of a sit down restaurant but you can get sushi boxes to take away which is what I did. It's certainly not a budget option. The above box cost me nearly £20 but the quality and freshness of the food was noticeably good. Sometimes I think sushi isn't particularly filling but I ended up struggling to finish this in one go as there were so much to eat.

Ibérica Farringdon


A few months ago myself and 2 colleagues when to Iberica Farringdon to try the £15 set lunch. I was absolutely astounded by the amount of food we were given, plus everything tasted amazing as well. There are three courses and you can choose one item from each. Of course I went for the croquetas which were heavenly. Then pork sliders were incredibly tasty as well.

Cielo Blanco


I visited Cielo Blanco with work during the soft launch. Whilst there was a bit of a mess up with our order causing it to arrive incredibly late I did enjoy the food. We opted for sharing platters which was a nice way to sample lots of different items but next time I visit I definitely want to try some tacos and the like.

Grill My Cheese


Grill My Cheese really do the best cheese toasties in London. A few weeks ago they did a limited rainbow toastie which looked a bit gross but tasted really great thanks to the use of natural colouring like beetroot. The toasties are simple but simple is definitely king in this situation.

Check out my where to eat lunch in Farringdon part 1 guide.
Check out my where to eat lunch in Farringdon part 3 guide.

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

BRUNCH REVIEW: Shackfuyu

I love Shackfuyu, I've been numerous times because the Asian come American food is right up my street. When Lily arranged a visit for her birthday to sample the Sunday brunch menu I was excited to give it a try as there's a bunch of new dishes that aren't available on the everyday menu.

For £35 per person you can order 2 small plates, 1 large plate, dessert for the table and have access to unlimited pineapple sake or prosecco for two hours. The pineapple sake is OK but I most definitely prefer the prosecco. Sophie and I decided to share a few of the smaller plates so we could sample more of the menu.

Katsu sando - iberico pluma - homemade tonkatsu sauce

The katsu sando is basically a sandwich with deep fried pork and tonkatsu sauce, it was more delicious then I ever thought possible thanks to the sweet and stick sauce.

buttermilk fried chicken bun -kimchee

The Bone Daddies family sure know how to do fried chicken and this bao is no exception. Hot, sticky and sweet this really was a wonderfully moorish plate of food. The kimchee gave it a nice edge and the pillowy soft bao held it all together nicely.

green tea waffles - smoked bacon - black sesame butter - maple syrup

I'm not a fan of matcha but I was keen to try the waffle, good thing I did because apart from the waffle looking green when cut open it didn't taste like green tea at all. The bacon was perfectly crisp and combined with the maple syrup this was the perfect mix of sweet and savoury, Much more exciting than pancakes.

USDA beef short rib - bo ssam style
 
The short rib has to be ordered for 2 people so make sure you team up with someone because this is one of the best items on the menu. Perfectly cooked rare beef is served with an arrange of sauces and pickles as well as lettuce leaves to make little pockets of meaty goodness.
 
kinako french toast with soft serve ice-cream
 

Dessert consists of the famous green tea soft serve and kinako French toast. I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of this dessert. I like the ice cream combine with the sugary bread but once the bread has been eaten I'm not too keen on the solo ice cream. If you like green tea I'm sure you will love this.

Sunday brunch at Shackfuyu is great, especially with the attentive staff who are always eager to top up your prosecco glasses. The food isn't for the light hearted, it's packed with intense flavours and most definitely a lot of calories. It's perfect if you don't want to share but I like the option of sharing a few plates so you can try more of the menu. I know I'll definitely be back soon as there's plenty more small plates I'd like to sample.

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Sunday, 16 October 2016

RESTAURANT REVIEW: 28-50 Fetter Lane

I'm not much of a wine drinker but when I was invited to 28-50, Fetter Lane to enjoy an evening of food and Burgundy wines I knew it would be a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge.



The evening started with salted cod on bruschetta and baked celeriac on cracker crudités. Both snacks were absolutely delicious, especially the celeriac which was extremely moorish. To accompany the  canapés we were served a lovely, fresh Chablis (Le Bas de Chapelot, Vocoret 2013) which I very much enjoyed.



Our starter consisted of huge, meaty scallops in a deliciously creamy sauce. This was accompanied by a slightly oaked white wine (Puligny Montrachet, Chateau de Puligny Montrachet, Etienne de Montille 2009). Whilst this was my least favourite of the four wines, thanks to the oakiness, I still think it worked well with the shellfish.


Our main course of pigeon breast and leg with a side of potatoes was wonderful. Both meats have distinctive flavours and accompanied with a glass of red (Gevrey Chambertin O.Bernstein 2011) this was probably my favourite course.


The dessert was definitely the most unusual of the meal. It tasted more like a starter thanks to the use of savoury flavours. When I read goats cheese, pickled beetroot, grapes and chocolate on the menu I had no idea what to expect. The end result was most certainly tasty but I couldn't quite get my head around the lack of something sweet, even with the chocolate. This was served with an enjoyable glass of red (Morgon Javernieres, L.C.Desvignes 2012) which I could have happily kept sipping for the remainder of the evening.

I had a wonderful evening at 28-50 sampling delicious food and getting to know a little about Burgundy wine. If you're a wine enthusiast I definitely recommend checking out the wine bar's events which have different themes. The event we attended cost £85 per person which sounds like a lot but when you take into account the high quality food and the fact that your wine glass is constantly topped up throughout the evening I think it is most definitely excellent value.

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Friday, 14 October 2016

Ja-Planning #2


Today I'm off to Japan and South Korea for 3.5 weeks and I beyond excited. Right now I'm on my flight to Tokyo, hopefully trying to get some shut eye because we land at 7am Japanese time, but more likely watching some trash on the in-flight entertainment system.

It felt like a really long time ago that I wrote my first update about holiday planning and all of a sudden the day is here. I've felt a little stressed this week, I started planning months ago, giving myself plenty of time but the last few days have been a bit of a stress when it comes to finishing details. Everyone keeps telling me to just go with the flow but I'm not good at this. I like to have a train time in mind and I like to know a list of interesting bars and restaurants in each area I'm visiting so we can make the most of the place. But I know we will be fine. I've got a day-to-day plan of where we're going and what we want to see. We have out JR passes so that's most of our trains accounted for and I managed to buy Ghibli Museum tickets which involved me staying up until 2am (10 am Japanese time).

I gave you a pretty decent run down of our plans in the last blog post so there isn't really that much more to say on the subject. We booked our 2-week JR passes with JTB which was a really straight forward process. When we get to Tokyo we need to swap our exchange order, which was delivered to our home a couple days after ordering online, for the actual rail ticket. Hopefully it'll be smooth sailing. I booked our Ghibli Museum tickets on the official website using the 1 month in advance option. I tried to book DisneySea tickets in advance but the website wouldn't accept any of cards so we'll just pick them up on the day. I've also booked a DMZ tour with Koridor from Seoul which I'm super excited about. I asked our guesthouse in Kyoto to book a couple of restaurants for us and apart from that we don't really have much else booked.

My itinerary is jam packed and I'm slightly worried we'll be run off our feet after the first few days but it'll be worth it. I want to see everything so I'm going to make it work. Whilst Tokyo will be super busy, day and night, other places we visit will be much more chilled out as there isn't as much going on. I'm really looking forward to an evening of down time in Hakone and come the evening time I don't think Kyoto will be too manic as well.

Apart from a mishap in Naoshima I am really happy with all the accommodation I've booked. We have an airbnb in Shibuya for 5 nights followed a traditional ryokan in Hakone for a night. We've got a great looking traditional hostel come guesthouse in Kyoto for 5 nights and then a little traditional inn in Naoshima for 1 evening. I messed up when I tried to booked Benesse House which I'm still seething about because I really wanted to stay in this plush looking boutique hotel for one night. We've go an airbnb in Hiroshima for 2 nights and then a cool looking hostel in Osaka for 4 nights. Then we fly to South Korea for a few days, we spend one night in a very cute looking hostel and then we spend our final 3 nights in Seoul in a lovely looking hanok.

I've tried to mix it up with traditional places, apartments and  fun / boutique looking places whilst trying to keep prices reasonable. Our ryokan in Hakone and hanok in Seoul will definitely be the most expensive places we're staying but it'll be nice to try something super traditional, as well as having something a little fancy at the end of our trip. I really wanted to try a capsule hotel but in the end it just seemed a little impractical.

When it comes to food I can't wait for all the sushi, ramen, katsu curry and noodles. I've tried not to fixate on visiting specific restaurants as we're going to be so busy who knows when we'll be stopping for food. What I've heard from anyone is that you don't have to worry about having a bad meal in Japan because everywhere is great, I can't wait! I definitely want to try some of those cute doughnuts with faces on them!

So that's it for the plan. The itinerary I've made with our day to day plan is intense but I can't be bothered to share it here because you'll think I'm bonkers. If you've been to Japan before please do leave me some tips in the comments because I'm always keen to hear about exciting places.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2016

HOW: to travel cheaply and often





I like to travel, there’s no denying it. But travelling can be difficult. Not only am I constrained by my full time job and annual leave allowance (25 days not including bank holidays or the Christmas / New Year period) but it’s also expensive. When you’ve got a list of dream destinations longer than your arm this only adds to the stress and I find myself asking questions like "will I ever get to visit everywhere I want to". I don’t know the answer to this, especially as my list grows longer every year. But I try to remember that at the grand age of 29 I’ve done pretty well so far. By the end of this year I will have visited nearly 60 countries in 5 different continents, which is a pretty impressive feat. 

Last year I travelled a lot and I managed to visit Paris, Glasgow, Cologne and Düsseldorf, and Bilbao and San Sebastian for long weekends. I spent quick weekend breaks in Newport (Wales), Ireland and Glasgow (again). I spent one day in Paris and I did a 2 week road trip around Iceland. To top it off I spent 2 weeks during the 2015 / 2016 New Year period in South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar).

My holiday schedule this year has included two days in Luxembourg City, and long weekends in Northern Ireland, Porto, Gothenburg, and Aberdeen. On Friday I fly to Tokyo for a 3 and a half week trip around Japan and Korea for my 30th birthday. In December I'm visiting Nuremberg for a Christmas market weekend, and I'm in Ireland for a week over the Christmas and New Year period. I also went to Latitude Festival and Indietracks in July and will hopefully visit Paris for the day with Mum again (although that's looking less likely now that it's already October).

So how do I manage this with limited time and limited income?

OK, first let’s be real about this and do a little disclosure because I want you all to understand that it is possible to travel without a huge amount of resources. In terms of salary I have an average job, my pay is fine, far from anything special, but it’s OK. I live in London which is expensive but I have very cheap rent. I was fortunate to go to SE Asia on holiday with my family so my parents paid for that and my trips to Ireland are usually to visit family so they cost me very little as we have a house there.

But this still doesn't explain how I managed to visit so many places and there are two main things that make this happen, clever planning and compromise.

I think the majority of holiday planners fall into two camps; people like me who spend hours upon hours lusting over locations and figuring out how they're going to do it; and people who just want to find a last minute holiday with a great deal. There's nothing wrong with the latter, in fact you can get some excellent last minute deals if you don't mind where you end up. But for someone like myself who loves the planning process as much as the actual holiday this last minute approach isn't ideal.

So here's how I do it:

Compromise

Compromise is such an ugly word, in fact I hate it because I hate having to make a choice between the things I love. But unless you're super rich compromise is a term you'll be very familiar with. I want to see the world and I want to see it now which means I need money and I have to make compromises in my life to accommodate this. Long gone are the months when I could easily drop £400 on ASOS, long gone are the weeks that I'd eat out at new restaurants more nights than staying home, and long gone are the days I'd wonder aimlessly around town spending money on all sorts of crap I didn't need. Yes I still buy clothes and I still eat out but I do it a lot less than I used, for the sole reason that I'd rather spend that money on travelling.

A lot of my friends are saving up for mortgages at the moment but owning my own place is not high on my list of priorities. However, taking a 3 month sabbatical to visit South America at some stage in the next few years is. I want to spend the majority of my income on seeing the world which is why I comprise with my living arrangements and put up with living in a flat share with cheap rent.

Compromise isn't fun but it's really simple. Prioritise the things that make you happy. If travelling is the number one goal in your life then it's time to take some control of your income and make sure you set aside enough money each month to make your dreams come true. If saving for a house or updating your wardrobe every couple of months is what makes you happy that's great, you can still go on holiday but you might not be able to travel every couple of months. Decide what's important to you and compromise accordingly.

Make a list

I love talking to people about their holiday plans but I genuinely find it baffling when people tell me they have nothing organised for the foreseeable future, especially when they tell me they don't even have an idea of where they'd like to go. Now, I know not everyone can afford to go away every year (hopefully this post gives you some tips about travelling cheaply) and that's totally fine, but to not even know where you'd like to visit is something that really surprises me. I could literally reel off a 'my 20 dream destinations list' in 10 seconds. I spend a lot of time day dreaming about my holidays even if I know I won't be able to afford them for a very long time.

To make sure I always have a location of interest at the front of my mind I have two different travel wish lists saved in the notes section on my phone. I have a list of the destinations that I really want to visit at some stage in my life and I have a list of places I want to visit in the next few years.

For example, on my long term list I have destinations like Antarctica, India, Indonesia, a 3 month sabbatical in South America, a Californian road trip, a journey on the Trans-Mongolian Express, and a train trip across Canada. Whilst I really want to visit these countries I don't feel the need to visit them right now. On my short term list I have things like return to Norway and NYC; city breaks in Athens, Beirut, Baku, Lisbon, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam; a train trip through Russia; Croatian island hopping; an inter rail trip around south-eastern Europe; a road trip around the Scottish Highlands; and a week in Israel.

My lists have developed from years of research and suggestions from friends, whether it's in real life or via the internet. I love talking to people about travel and when I ask you about your recent holiday I literally want to know every single detail from when your journey to the airport started to the moment you made it back home. Hearing people talking about the feelings they experienced when they were in a certain city will make me want to visit more than any editorial will. But of course written content accompanied with fancy pictures helps and I can't deny the impact a friends holiday album on Facebook will have for making me want to instantly book a trip to wherever they've just been. That's one of the reasons I went to SE Asia when I finished university, hearing about friends visiting on their gap year made me jealous and I wanted a piece of the action.

Whilst a lot of my holiday suggestions come from friends a lot also come from the media and by this I mean film, TV and music. The main reason I want to visit San Francisco is because my favourite band is from the Bay area and I want to go on a musical pilgrimage. This was predominantly why I wanted to visit Glasgow and on doing so I realised just how amazing a city it is. The film Lost in Translation has definitely had an impact on me wanting to visit Tokyo and pretty much every time I see panning shots of the New York skyline I have a sensational urge to return.

Being in a relationship also means I have to listen to Steve on occasion and go somewhere on his list. Fortunately we like the same sort of places but our trips around the Baltics in 2014 was definitely his idea as I really didn't know much about the area. I adored that holiday therefore proving that stepping out of your comfort zone and going somewhere you wouldn't normally think of can be a huge blessing.

I also have a few holiday traditions that I try and keep up. One is to visit a new country every year, another is to visit somewhere in Scandinavia on an annual basis and the third is to visit a German Christmas market come December. Once we've exhausted our list of cities in Germany I'm sure we'll branch out but these little traditions help plan our holiday schedule. If I know we're going away in December then I don't need to think of any trips until October or March time on either side. I like to plan my holiday schedule so that I don't have to wait 6 months between each trip, otherwise I start to get bogged about not going anywhere.

Of course your lists will change over time and that's totally fine. New exciting places will pop up and some locations may become less important to you. As long as you keep referring back to it you will constantly have a list of key holiday destinations which brings me nicely onto my next point.

Plan holidays a year in advance

I know that there are many people who hate the idea of planning a holiday (or anything for that matter) so far in advance but if you want the best possible deals in order to maximise the number of trips you take then that's what you need to do. This year is sorted and whilst I don't have everything booked yet I know exactly where Steve and I are going on holiday next year; a 2 week road trip around Denmark in June, a week in the Netherlands in October, a weekend in Liechtenstein come December, a long weekend in Baku or Beirut in August hopefully, and a trip to Romania over Easter. In fact I have a good idea of 2018 as well; a week in Russia, a long weekend in Norway and a 2 week trip around Southern Eastern Europe most likely.

If you know when and where you want to go a year in advance you will be able to snap up cheap flights or train tickets the day they go on sale, find the best accommodation deals and plan what money you need to put aside to pay for it all. Airline tickets are generally not on sale for more than a year in advance (even less for budget carriers) and if you can find out the day they're released (just ask the company on Twitter or sign up to newsletters) you'll be able to take advantage of cheap flights, which is especially ideal if you're planning to fly over the weekend. Train tickets come on sale about 3 months in advance but sometimes Eurostar make exceptions which you need to look out for.

I'll give you an example.

Steve and I went to Iceland in July 2015. We knew a year in advance that we'd be going because we'd bought super cheap early bird festival tickets after a band I love was announced as the headliner. Easy Jet was the only budget airline that flew to Iceland and I found out that their 2015 summer schedule was due to come on sale in October 2014. I booked our flights within minutes of them being released and was able to get 2 return journeys with added luggage for just over £100. This was a phenomenal deal and only a few months later the same flights would have cost us nearly £200 each. Being prepared really paid off, quite literally.

Loyalty schemes

This is an avenue I am keen to explore more as there are a few ways you can really tap into this resource. First of all, I don't think airline loyalty schemes are always cost effective. BA let you save air miles but their flights are usually phenomenally more expensive than the budget operators so it doesn't always make sense to just fly with them. Saying that, if you're travelling to the airport by train it's a good idea to offset the price of getting there against the plane tickets. BA flights from Heathrow might cost more than Ryan Air flights from Stansted but it only costs me a few quid to get to Heathrow compared with £20 for Stansted.

Back on the topic of air miles, there are a few credit cards available that help you build up air miles. If you're good with money you can buy everything on your credit card, making sure you pay it back at the end of each month so not to be charged. You'll soon build up a big supply of miles.

Embrace Europe

You'll notice that most destinations on my short term list are European based and that's because it is so quick and easy to travel around this continent. When I was 22 I spent nearly 2 months inter railing around Europe. I visited 16 countries (even more cities) and most of the places I stayed in were so small that the majority of sights could be seen in one full day. Everywhere I visited was fascinating and completely different from the cities I had previously been in. Europe is so diverse with so many excellent things to see that it really shouldn't be snubbed for locations further afield. For the most part Europe is cheap which is another reason I have travelled so much, out of all the countries I have ever visited the majority are based in Europe. So rest assured that you can have an incredible holiday without the need to fly 10+ hours.

When I went inter railing I mainly visited capital cities but thanks to my enormous European guide book I had the chance to read about a lot of other places. I'm now finding myself revisiting countries but to experience different cities. Gothenburg this year is an example of this. I fell in love with Stockholm back in 2009 and on reading about Sweden's second city I knew I wanted to return one day.

Maximise you time

Regardless of money, the reason I travel so much is because I maximise my time. I have a Monday to Friday job which means I can take advantage of the weekend and book a Friday off work to be left with a 3 night holiday using only 1 day annual leave allowance. Whenever possible I try to fly on a Thursday evening to make sure I have a full day on Friday to sight see. I also try to travel home as late as possible on my last day, maximising the amount of time I actually spend in the place I'm visiting. Ideally I want to see everything without making a return trip.

I said earlier that most cities in Europe are pretty small so a long weekend is usually more than enough time. I also take advantage of bank holidays including Christmas and the Easter weekend to minimise the days of annual leave I need to take. I don't work between Christmas and New Year which means I can go on a week long holiday without using a single day of annual leave. I'm taking 16 days annual leave for Japan so I've had to be clever about how I planned everything this year.

When I worked in a shop that was open 7 days a week things were a little different but I still managed to make it work in my favour. If your manager allows it ask for your days off to be a Saturday and Sunday one week with the Monday and Tuesday as days off the following week. This will give you 4 consecutive days off work and you'll be able to go away without using a single day of annual leave. If you're planning your holiday far in advance your manager should be able to work this into the rota, even if that means working a few weekends into the lead up.

For those of us with Monday to Friday jobs or who want to travel during bank holidays we all know that it can be a lot more expensive to travel at the weekends which is why you should refer to my previous point about planning in advance. Cheap flights still exist during the weekend but they get snapped up more quickly than those during the week. If you're on the ball and keep an eye out for the release dates you can save yourself a lot of money, especially for popular destinations.

FYI if you're going away for a long weekend you may want to consider flying Friday to Sunday instead of Saturday to Monday. The reason I say this is because many attractions are closed on a Monday which can really screw up your timings if there's lots of different things you want to do.

Another way to save money without losing too much sight seeing time is to travel really early in the morning instead of the previous evening, therefore saving yourself the cost of 1 night in a hotel. This can work for small cities where there isn't too much to do, otherwise you can end up pretty exhausted by the early afternoon. We did this for Luxembourg City, catching a 7am flight on the Saturday morning and returning home on the Sunday night. We had practically 2 full days with only 1 night accommodation. It was a little tiring but it was 100% worth it, plus the money we saved by only booking a hotel for 1 night instead of 2 was used for future holiday planning.

When I look back on previous holidays I don't remember how I got home at 1am on a Monday morning and felt dreadful at work all day. I think about the amazing time I had and how I was grateful for an extra few hours to squeeze more sight seeing in.

Travelling mid week is usually cheaper and you can often grab a great deal with only a few months notice however if you work Monday to Friday this will mean using a lot of holiday allowance. That's fine if you don't travel much during the year but when you want to make every single day of annual leave count then this isn't ideal.

Sales, sales, sales

All airline companies have a sale at some point during the year. BA have a fantastic Christmas sale and budget airlines like Ryan Air seem to have some sort of discount every other month. But sales can be tricky business to navigate - do you book your flight the minute they become available or do you wait and see if they're cheaper in the sale a few months later?

I'm flying to Tokyo in October and flying home from Seoul in November so I knew that the flights would not be on sale until the previous December. Knowing that BA have a Christmas sale I decided to hold off booking anything until the new year. This paid off as Steve and I each saved over £100 each. However, it all depends on what time of year you're going away and how long you need to wait for the sale to start.

The reason I manage to go on so many short trips is because I fly with budget airlines at the weekends thus saving me money and time I need to take off work. If this is your plan then I'd say book the flights as far away as possible regardless of sales. Even when the sales come around it's unlikely that there will be super cheap tickets available for a Friday night. This is especially true for popular destinations or destinations that only one or two airlines service. If you're planning to go somewhere less popular and/or during the week then you're likely to find a good deal when the sales come around.

This is a little London centric but I'm a huge fan of Eurostar, I think it's absolutely magically that you can travel from London to Paris by train and I thoroughly believe that the locomotive was one of the greatest ever inventions. Eurostar is quick, arriving and departing in the city centre plus the security is minimal so you don't need to turn up for your train hours in advance. Eurostar is also cheap with standard returns starting at £70 and even better is that they have great sales where you can grab a return ticket from £60. Whilst budget airlines often do tickets for £20 return you end up paying an awful lot more just to reach the airport so if you live in London Eurostar could actually work out cheaper and most probably quicker. Signup to the mailing list and keep an eye on sales but it's normally pretty easy to grab cheap weekend tickets. I've caught the train to Paris, Bruges and Cologne so far and I plan on many more journeys in the coming years.

Pick your accommodation wisely

Most of this post has covered flights but the second most important factor to consider which will end up saving you money is accommodation.

When I go on holiday I don't automatically look for the cheapest accommodation available. I love staying in places with character, history and something a little unusual. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a huge fan of affordable luxury which means my first port of call is to always check out the local boutique hotel scene. If something in this area piques my interest and is a reasonable price (for me that's anything cheaper than £100 a night per room) I probably wont look any further. However if I don't find anything that takes my fancy I'll widen my search.

My next port of call is air bnb and I'm sure you all know how that works. I usually start my search with £50 a night as my top price and increase my budget in multiples of £10 if nothing jumps out. If you look early enough you'll be able to find some real gems. I've booked an apartment in Shibuya, Tokyo for £53 a night which is an amazing find considering the location. For Porto I booked an apartment which cost us £123 for 4 nights, an outstanding deal!

If you're looking to book something far in advance but you don't have the money to pay for it then it's definitely worth checking out booking.com where most hotels let you pay once you check in. The hotel takes your card details but doesn't charge you (unless you're a no show) so it's a great option if you need to budget yourself. Another handy website is hostelworld.com where you can find hostels, guest houses and apartments. You usually have to pay a deposit but for an extra £2 you can make this refundable which is handy if you just want to secure a room somewhere but continue your search for something 'better'.

My final advice for cheap accommodation is hostels. Sharing a room full of bunk beds won't be to everyone taste but if you're serious about travelling often without spending a huge deal of money than this could be an ideal considerations. The larger the dorm the cheaper the bed. When I went inter railing I was staying in rooms with 10 bunk beds sometimes and paying £5 or less a night. It's far from luxury but at the end of the day all you need is a bed to sleep in as you'll be out and about exploring all day.

Couch surfer is a similar theme, staying on someone's sofa for free but the most you'll probably be able to get away with is 2 nights. I've never done couch surfer but I've heard so many wonderful things about it that I think it's a great option for cheap travel. It's definitely something I want to try in Denmark next year.

Let me know your list of top travel destinations and if you have any helpful tips for travelling cheaply and often, I'm always on the look out for a good deal.

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Monday, 10 October 2016

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Indietracks 2016



I lost the SD card with my photos from Indietracks and Latitude festival this summer but hallelujah I found it under the bed at long last! Note to self: be more careful next time!

Indietracks is a very small festival set in the idyllic surroundings of Midland Railway. The music is indie pop in the most truest sense of the meaning and due to the railway centre location it's pretty easy to work out where the name derives from. I knew I'd love Indietracks before I even arrived and after my first weekend at the festival Steve and I decided that we would return every single year without fail. Indietracks truly is an annual gathering of twee and I honestly don't think I've been to a happier place in my entire life.

It is my festival highlight every year. The friendly faces, great indie-pop music, and wonderful atmosphere make me return year after year without question. This summer I visited for the third time, celebrating the festival's tenth anniversary, and secretly wishing I'd known about it since the beginning.

Day 1:











My least favourite thing about Indietracks is the journey to Derbyshire from London on the Friday afternoon. Predictably, we got stuck in traffic on the M1. We arrived at Golden Valley Caravan and Camping Park around sunset and quickly put up our tent whilst cracking into a can of cider. From the campsite it's a 10 minute walk to Midland Railway - Swanick Junction, where the festival takes place, just in time to grab a spot near the front of the stage for The Spook School.

The Spook School's performance felt like an Indietracks homecoming in the best possible sense. Festival favourites, the band has risen through the ranks, first playing the festival back in 2012 and now culminating in the much coveted Friday night headline spot.

To me, The Spook School sums up everything I love about Indietracks and indie-pop music as a whole. Full of energy, their music spans various genres until it nestles in a DIY indie-pop punk, frenzy. Songs are short and bouncy with catchy melodies and singalong choruses. I love seeing the band live, especially as their set-up is something of a spectacle in itself. The three Scottish members of the band (Adam, Anna, and Nye) stand at the front of the stage, small and almost timid appearing whilst Niall, the drummer, causes havoc at the back. Niall reminds me of a crazy uncle whilst the front three look embarrassed and fed up by his shenanigans. But this is all part of the bands schtick, I'm sure they all love each other really.

Day 2:













Day 2 started with Falling and Laughing in the Church. We didn't know who they were but I liked the fact they were named after an Orange Juice song. Despite not sounding anything like Orange Juice, I enjoyed their noisy, energetic songs. Great stage banter too.

When it comes to most festivals I normally exhaust myself by running about from stage to stage. At Indietracks I like to take it easy, chilling out by the Outdoor stage for most of the day, soaking up the great indie-pop sounds. I spent a good few hours catching up with Claire whilst taking in Dirty Girl, Vacaciones, Boys Forever and Flowers. Steve and I shared a delicious vegetarian thali from Gopal's Curry Shack and before long it was time to head over the the marquee for Niall (from The Spook School) is your life coach 2.0. Niall's session the previous year was hilarious, he's gave out advice ranging from inspired, terrible and downright obscure. This follow up session was more of the same and even Kelly Jones made an appearance. 

We dashed over to the Indoor stage to watch Expert Alterations, a jangle pop band from Baltimore, USA. Every year there's one Indietracks band that makes a lasting impression on me. The first year I went it was The Spook School, last year it was Martha and this year it was definitely Expert Alterations. Exceedingly cool, this band has a great stage presence and fun songs. Steve and I have gone to see them since the festival because we've enjoyed them so much.

It was back to the Outdoor stage to see Emma Pollock who was lovely and quite chilled out before heading back into the Indoor stage to catch The Lovely Eggs who are a fantastic indie punk band. The night finished with Saint Etienne who I did enjoy but yet felt like a somewhat understatement after a fantastic day of music.



After a little dance at the festival disco Steve and I headed back to the campsite for some midnight snacks. We overheard someone talking about a secret campsite gig and as we were making our way back to out tent we stumbled across a gathering of people amongst the children's playground. David Leach, who writes funny ukulele songs, had organised a little lineup up bands and musicians to play a secret show. It was absolutely lovely and we watched David, Wolf Girl, and Black Terror sing some songs before one of the campsite staff came along and told everyone to stop drinking in the kids play area. he gig was moved inside to the space above the bar but by this stage Steve and I were ready for bed. We can't party as hard as we used to it would seem.

Day 3:










Despite our last day at the festival being short lived due to us leaving early (we had work on Monday) we managed to squeeze quite a few things in. We enjoyed Witching Waves on the Outdoor stage followed by Lorna inside. After a little music we went for a little stroll and check out the train facilities. Being set at a heritage railway centre there's a ton of train related things to enjoy. We always try and do something new each year. On our first year we went on a tour of the museum which was extremely fascinating, last year we took on the narrow gauge railway and this year we finally discovered the miniature railway where we took a ride on the tiny replica trains. With the model railways scattered about the place and all the old carriages parked around the site, Indietracks really is a train spotters dream.



We watched a little Seazoo on the Outdoor stage and made our way over to the station for our one and only train gig of the weekend, White Town. The train gigs really are a special experience. The carriage fits around 50 people but being about to watch someone play an acoustic guitar whilst a steam train rambles though the countryside is a really wonderful experience. White Town was perfect! I first heard the song 'Your Woman' when I was living in Derby, it's where the music video is filmed and it's such a great 90s anthem. Being able to hear this performed live was brilliant and was most definitely worth queueing up to secure a spot.







After our train ride we caught a bit of David Leach in the merchandise tent and was gutted to realise we'd missed The Just Joans. The church of merch is one of my favourite things about the festival. Indie-pop labels sell a huge number of records over the weekend and it's where Steve and I buy the majority of our vinyl every year. There is usually a line up of performances during the day and if you're lucky you could spot one of your favourite bands putting on an impromptu show. We visited the owls one last time, a festival favourite, before making it over to the Outdoor stage to catch Haiku Salut. I love Haiku, their instrumental performances are simply magical and watching the three members running around the stage playing an assortment of different instruments in beyond impressive. I've seen them live numerous times now and they never cease to amaze me.

Before we knew it we had to head home. The Festival's 10th anniversary addition was perfect and I cannot wait to visit next year. It's the only festival I return to without fail, regardless of who's playing because it really is one of my favourite places in the entire world. 

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