Sunday, 16 July 2017

One Day in Cardiff, Wales

When we were booking our 2015 Christmas break trip to London, we suddenly got this brilliant idea to start the holiday off in Cardiff, Wales instead. After all, there's Megabus for cheap tickets, cheaper accommodation than in London, and a new city/country for Julcsi to collect (I'd been to Cardiff once before, back in 2010 when I didn't have this blog yet). So, we flew to London, found our way to Victoria Coach Station, caught our Megabus, and were on our way for our one full day and two nights in Wales.

Once we finally made it to Cardiff, it was quite late and the only thing we wanted to do was find our hostel, YHA Cardiff Central. Though what the word 'Central' is doing in the hostel's name I shall never know - that place is nowhere near the city centre! We wandered around God knows where (I certainly don't) until we finally found the place, after what felt like at least ten kilometres of aimless dragging of our feet and suitcase around Cardiff. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating slightly, but just know that this place is far away from the Megabus drop off point downtown. If you have a car, you'll be fine, and quite a few people did. The hostel at least back then was in a residential area around a construction site so you won't have a fabulous view from your window or anything like that. However, the hostel itself is really nice, kind of like the one we stayed at in Belfast in that it's more like a hotel. There's also a lovely restaurant/café/pub downstairs, and everything is quite affordable. On our first evening, we only went downstairs for some fish and chips before going to bed as we were quite knackered from all the travelling.

Anyway, so it was December when we went to Cardiff and the weather was quite horrible. It was raining non-stop on our one and only full day, and since I hate carrying any extra stuff with me, I obviously didn't have an umbrella, either. Good thinking, as always. (No but really, WHO wants to carry an umbrella around?! It's nothing but trouble! Plus if you have one, it never rains anyway. Rain NEVER happens when you have an umbrella  - this is a fact of life.) Despite the weather, we were determined to do some sights, and headed to Cardiff Castle. In the rain. Yes we did. (And we eventually also bought a fabulous umbrella, which lasted for maybe an hour and is the star of all of our pictures from Cardiff until its untimely death.)

We had a guided tour of the castle, and the tour happened indoors - yay! I can only recommend visiting the castle - it's one of the best I've seen anyway! Here's a sneak peek!

The Clock Tower.
We then had some coffee before venturing out into the rain again properly and climbing up the Norman Keep, which is completely outside.

It's very good to have an umbrella!

Julcsi with the Norman Keep in the background.

The Roman Wall.
Umbrella fun!

A view from the Norman Keep.
Wartime shelters.

We then went to the souvenir shop across the road and bought an insane pile of stuff. Since both of us are English teachers, we go positively nuts for anything we can bring to the classroom from our trips to English-speaking countries. What we love the most about all things Welsh is lovespoons. Traditionally, these wooden spoons were offered as gifts to express romantic interest - and yes, we do have our own lovespoon as well, only we presented it to ourselves in the name of equality and picked it out together :D.

Then, we went back outside (oh noes, totally wet boots!) to have a look at the completely gorgeous Animal Wall depicting 12 different animals.

Julcsi with animals of all kinds!

The lens was getting blurrier and blurrier...
By this point, being outside had turned completely impossible as my socks and shoes were thoroughly soaked! Therefore, we headed to the shops, mainly Primark for new socks and shoes! Since it was December, Queen Street was nicely lit up with Christmas lights, which brightened up the otherwise very cloudy afternoon. Christmas is here!!

Aaaand, whoever wants to see what we bought...

Oh yes. Don't ever let us near souvenir shops...:D

On our second and final day, we packed our bags and took everything with us downtown where we went to the Natural History museum while waiting for our bus to London. They have space to store even a bigger suitcase so it was quite a good idea to go there right before catching the bus. I loved the museum - finally got to see some dinosaurs!

Better weather - just as we were leaving! Figures!

A T-Rex head!

A mammoth.
So yeah, this was our mini little Cardiff excursion. There's a lot more to see there than this, but I honestly don't recommend for example Mermaid Quay for a rainy day. It's always good to leave something for the next time, though, so until then, Cardiff!

Aaaand, the next post will be about London, once again, so stay tuned :)!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

8 Reasons Why We Love Gyula, Hungary

We have just spent two weeks in Gyula, Hungary - an idyllic smalltown in Eastern Hungary, close to the Romanian border. It's my partner's hometown, which is why we go there every summer. I consider myself really lucky, I have to say! After all, I'm the girl who used to cry after each and every episode of Dawson's Creek as I was so desperate to live in a place like that. Getting to go to Gyula every summer, therefore, has truly been a dream come true for me! It's definitely a summer town with its castle festivals, spa, quadcycles, pedal boats, the long queues for ice cream and the kids bathing in the many fountains downtown. So, this post is all about the 8 reasons why I love Gyula - and as a bonus, Julcsi is providing you with a local's top 8, too! Enjoy!

Emilia's Top 8

1. The canal
Aah, the canal! It's called Élővíz-csatorna and it flows through Gyula, eventually connecting to the river Körös. The canal is so romantic! There are bridges, fountains, a possibility to rent a pedal boat (and get wet from the fountains being switched on when you're right under them)...You can have a beer or a nice meal by the canal at a pub or a restaurant, or listen to the frog choir sing while jogging along the riverbank...

2. The animals
In Gyula, there are animals everywhere you go! When you walk along the streets, a dog will come and check you out from behind every fence (and bark at you for being suspicious!), cats are wondering around or sunbathing on porches...There are stork nests to be admired, the aforementioned frog choirs to be listened to, horses bringing watermelons to the market place, baby ducks swimming in the canal with their mother, and crickets playing their violins at night...It always takes me forever to get anywhere because I need to stop to meet every cat along the way...Love it!

3. The ice cream
Ice cream is a crucial part of summer in Gyula! There are many places to choose from, but the best one by far is Korzó Fagyizó. You will recognise it from the longest queue in town! A new addition to the ice cream parlours in Gyula is Levendula, which is a chain selling lavender ice cream. Also worth a visit!

4. The spa (especially the sauna section!)
Hungary is a spa country with its thermal waters and mineral pools. The spa in Gyula is called Gyulai Várfürdő and it's huge! There are several outside pools including thermal ones up to 38 C, a wave pool, a couple of slides, and a swimming pool. Inside, there is Aquapalota with lots of slides, and in a separate building there is the wellness pool with bubbles and a stream. And then there is Szaunapark, the most perfect thing that could happen to a person! It has several saunas, an 18 C dipping pool, private jacuzzis outside, sauna huts, buckets of water you can pour on yourself by pulling a rope, and barrels with cool water. AND, they have szaunamesterek, people who'll give you a cool sauna experience of around 20 minutes with essential oils, music and towel waving to make the heat really hit you. It is perfect! And, what's even better, you're supposed to spend the whole day at the spa! You won't hear me saying no to that!

5. The castle (and the many festivals there!)
There is something going on at the castle all the time in the summer. The castle area is nice in itself - you can rent a pedal boat from outside the castle, you can visit the castle (completely for free, too, if you're a teacher!), or have a drink at Rondella, the terrace next to the castle. In the summer, there are many festivals at the castle and there's a good chance you'll see some folk dancing, taste some Hungarian specialities or even see some fireworks.

6. The coffee shops
Gyula is the promised land of cute coffee shops! My personal favourite is Százéves Cukrászda, the oldest coffee shop in Gyula and one of the oldest in the whole country. Delicious cakes, romantic interior design...what more can you ask for?

7. The narrow streets lined with cherry and plum trees
No explanation needed - just look at the picture!

8. Lemonade
Házi limonádé is one of the best inventions in the world! You can get homemade lemonade from pretty much any coffee shop in Gyula, or Hungary in general, in the summer, and it's gooooood!

Aaaand, here's the local's take on the matter!

Julcsi's Top 8 (in Julcsi's words)

1. Hamburger Bár
"It has always been there, and it's The Thing to Do with family and friends. It's the only place where I've ever had a chicken liver hamburger. When I was small, the queue was so long that I couldn't see the beginning of it (which probably means that I was very small, but still). Also, when I was small, it was just a window of a kiosk, but now it's this proper restaurant where you can actually sit, too."

(And by the way, it's good to know that you can only pay by cash.)

2. The Market Place
"It's a big enough market place so you can find anything you want from fish soup to watermelons to shoes. In some families, it's a tradition to go there together on Sunday mornings to get lángos, fish soup or sausages."

3. The spa
"Since I used to be a swimmer, I technically grew up there. I think nowadays my favourite is the sauna section. There are more than 20 pools, so when you haven't been at the spa for a while, it feels like being at an amusement park - you just go from pool to pool!"

4. The fountains
"It's a new thing, meaning that they came when I was in high school maybe. Before that, we didn't have the pedestrian street, the World Clock or the fountains. I think the fountains have made Gyula really pretty compared to what it was before!"

5. The products of the sausage factory in Gyula
"I especially like Gyulai kolbász and majorannás kenőmájas (a kind of oregano-flavoured spreadable liver sausage)."

6. Póstelek
"Póstelek is an area between Gyula and Békéscsaba - there are ruins in the middle of a forest. What people do is that they bike there, they have a picnic, and there used to be drive-in cinema, too...It's a place where you go with your friends on day trips. It at least used to be a place where teens went."

7. Swimming in the river
"There are two major beaches - Szanazug and Városerdő. Both of them are a bit further away from the town so usually you go by bike and you spend the whole day there. It was always fun to watch kayaking schools' training sessions there."

8. Végvári esték
"When you live in a small town, it's very exciting when something finally happens. I guess this is why there are these small happenings from time to time such as Pálinka festival, Gyula days, a sausage festival...Végvári esték, in other words the Castle Days, is the biggest of these. The activities that you can do during those days are mostly related to the medieval life of the castle. You can for example try archery or take part in a cooking competition. There are also usually two nationally well-known bands having a concert, too."

So there you have it! I hope this post has inspired you to visit Gyula - it's definitely one of my favourite places ever :)!

This summer, I've made two Gyula videos as well, so if you feel like watching, here they are!

Thanks for reading and/or watching :)!