The Island of Freedom

Known as the Island of Freedom or the Burning Man of Europe, we joined 400,000 people from around the globe to indulge in some of the world’s best music, art and food at Sziget festival in Budapest. A heatwave had encompassed the city by the time we arrived with the daily highs averaging between 38 – 40 degrees celsius. Words cannot describe the heat and dust that was blanketed the crowd of thousands yet no amount of sweat was going to dampen our spirits. From Limp Bizkit to Kings of Leon to Major Lazer, we were lucky enough to experience one of the best festivals in the world.

In an attempt to see the city beyond the festival, we spent a day sightseeing on the Hop on Hop off bus and took a cruise on the Danube river at night. The Parliament building at night and the Palace by day were my two favourites.


An emerging dining scene was present in central Budapest with numerous fusion, ethnic and bistro eateries found around every corner. Kiosk (http://www.kiosk-budapest.hu/) down on the waterfront was my favourite with delicious food, ambience and the most impeccable bathrooms.

Terminal (terminalrestaurant.hu/) situated under the Budapest Eye was another beautiful dining experience where we tried the slow-cooked pork ribs and the pulled pork and slaw sandwich. The misting fans outside were a must-have in the 38 degree heat and again, the bathrooms – impeccable.

Photo courtesy of terminalrestaurant.hu
Photo courtesy of terminalrestaurant.hu

Amsterdam beyond the Red Light District

Amsterdam was everything everyone has ever told you and so much more. The Red Light District was vibrant yet laid back with an anything goes attitude. A Bucket List destination for so many tourists, when in the Red Light District you are surrounded by a diverse combination of people, it essentially felt like one big Global Village.

Bicycles are king in Amsterdam being both locals and tourists transport of choice, with 15,000 bicycles salvaged from the canals annually you can imagine the dire need to keep them under lock and key at all times. Hiring a bicycle while in Amsterdam meant we got to explore the city at our leisure with visits to the urban paradise Vondel Park, a the Heineken Factory tour and the Jordaan district.

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Vondel Park is the largest and most popular park in Amsterdam with over 10 million visitors a year, the pathways are used by bicycles and the the grass is scattered with groups having picnics and soaking in the sunshine. The Heineken factory tour leads you through all elements of brewing and the brand’s history culminating with tastings at the rooftop bar with views over the city.

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The Jordaan district’s scenic streets have galleries, cafe’s and boutiques waiting to be discovered around every corner. We visited Cafe Thijssen (http://www.cafethijssen.nl/) for lunch and sat in the outdoor terrace people-watching the immaculately put together Dutch as they went about their day.

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Relying on Time Out my old faithful for food recommendations we found ourselves at Cafe Amsterdam http://www.caferestaurantamsterdam.nl), seated at a table on the edge of the canal we were met with wonderful service and delicious french-inspired food – the Escargot were delicious and the Beef Carpaccio was one of the best I have seen. A local recommendation led us to Amsterdam’s first Mexican restaurant Rose’s Cantina (http://rosescantina.com/), after 30 years in the business it’s certainly evolved with the times delivering contemporary and flavoursome Mexican cuisine.

I could spend hours musing about the houseboats and their decadent rooftop gardens, the higgeldy-piggeldy terraced houses that are constantly on a lean and the classic lines of the Dutch fashion. There’s so much observing to be done and there’s no better way to partake than a cruise on the canals – by simply walking up to the skippers on boats lining the canals you can indulge in a private cruise throughout the canals.

Charmed by the Basque Country

The Basque Country situated on the Atlantic Coast is famous for it’s language that not only predates the Romans but is under great debate of where it actually derives from, the cuisine and the surf. The famous surfer (and Hollywood star) Miki Dora spent much of his time in Biarritz, Quiksilver France was born on the coast with headquarters still based in Saint Juan de Luz and San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is safe to say that all of this combined certainly piqued my interest but it wasn’t until I actually visited that I realised the extent of it’s charm.

On arrival it San Sebastian it was clear that school holidays were in full swing yet,  you couldn’t help but feel captivated by the beauty of San Sebastian. It had a feeling of “old glamour” and the sunset was exquisite. San Sebastian is famous for it’s Pintxos; tapa style snacks that are usually spiked with a toothpick adorn the bars in the Old Town with patrons spilling out onto the narrow streets throughout the evenings. Pintxos fuel the social vibrance in the early evening and are deemed as a “bite to eat” before the famously late night Spanish dinners.

Only 50km around the coast in Biarritz we were still in Basque country yet everything was inherently French. The same relaxed coastal feeling was prevalent but there were less British tourists and it was Escargot, Confit Canard and Steak Frites on the menu. Whilst I loved the Pintxos in Spain it is the French cuisine and wine that I have loved most travelling across Europe. Timed perfectly, a big swell hit the Atlantic Coast on our arrival to Biarritz and we were entertained by some explosive surfing at the Le Grande Plage.

Instead of focussing on being right, I’m going to focus on being kind

be kind

Being over here in the midst of the migrant crisis has reminded me just how lucky we are to call New Zealand home – born with the freedom to be absolutely anything we desire. Over the last few months I have had copious conversations throughout Italy, Portugal and Croatia with locals who believe the Eurozone is a detriment to their country’s growth and seeing the leaders disagreeing over how to handle the first major hurdle they have had to deal with does make you wonder who is actually benefiting from this all?

As South West as it gets

Located at the most south-western point of Europe, Sagres, the namesake of the signature Portugese beer, is a sleepy town that cannot be missed. Known for it’s fishing and surf, Sagres is a coastal paradise. The beaches resemble those from home; long sandy stretches that are shared by only a few lucky people and the only real difference is the bone-chilling cold Atlantic waters.

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We stayed on the beautiful Mareta Beach in an Air BnB above “The Hangout” – a cafe and hangout for surfers and beach-goers alike. We spent hours at The Hangout playing cards, drinking coffee and sampling all that the menu had to offer. With a laid-back feel the cafe looks out over Mareta Beach and the trees that have had been adorned in crochet by the loving residents.

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A stones throw away we discovered Warung (www.warung.eu), yet another bar/restaurant/hangout full of great company. The owner originally from Mexico had spent years living all over the world (including little old New Zealand) and the menu was a combination of her favourite mexican, portugese and good ol’ fashioned burgers. With surfboards adorning the walls, hammocks outside and a pool table in, it’s safe to say we didn’t just visit once.

Wunderkammer: Grow your own

I have been collecting a wunderkammer of sorts, capturing all of the little touches I stumble across daily. Some of the collectables I capture I find inspiring, others interesting and some are just simple yet wonderful ideas. When visiting Wahaca (www.wahaca.co.uk) in London I stumbled across one of the aforementioned simple yet wonderful ideas. Known for it’s delicious Mexican market-style eating and vibrant interior, the menu and atmosphere could not be faulted. Yet, what I liked even more than my tacos came after the meal. When delivered your cheque, it is accompanied by what at a first glance appears to be matches but when taking a closer look it is actually serrano chilli seeds for you to take away and plant at home. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo pre-planting of the seeds but I’m sure you get the idea from the photo below.

WAHACA