What I ate in Belgium

Moules Frites in Bruges Belgium

You might remember back when I went to Paris, I started a new post series on what I ate whilst I was there.  Half of the holiday is based on the food you eat anyway, right?  So it’s a series I’m going to continue for every trip abroad.

Soon after I arrived home from Paris, David and I set off on a road trip to Belgium!  Another country known for its dishes, more than you might realise.  But, I must warn you, my ‘what I ate in Belgium’ post might not be nearly as ‘cultural’ compared to the dishes I ate in Paris.  This country is believed to have invented ‘frites’, or chips to you and me, after all.

So forgive me and have a little read on things to eat in Belgium if you’re visiting soon…

A Burger from Ypres Burger

Ypres Burger

And now you must know what I meant by this post not being very cultural.  But we all go on those kind of holidays where we just eat a lot of junk and blob out.  (‘Blob out’ – I love that phrase.)  So here it is; I don’t live a perfect life or eat perfect food all the time and my god I love a good burger, I’m not ashamed to admit it.

So when I looked up the best cheap eats in Ypres on TripAdvisor Ypres Burger was number one.  Located in the central spot in town and after our early start, me and my boyfriend went for it.  A simple burger and chips meal is hard to get wrong anyway.  Ypres Burger could certainly give McDonalds a run for their money.  (Speaking of which, we didn’t see a McDonalds anywhere in Ypres!)

Cheese & cold meat nibbles in St. Arnoldus

Things to eat in Belgium

Before heading to Menin Gate for the Last Post, we slinked into one of the cosy bars that lined the street leading to the memorial.  There must have been over a dozen Belgian beers on tap in here – but not a drop to drink for me… I was driving.

Regrettably I did miss out on some Belgium beers and good beers they probably were too.  But to keep me going I was pleased to see a selection of nibbles on the menu.  We munched our way through some local cheese and cold sausage meat.  Although, for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the sauce (maybe a kind of mustard?) and that sprinkling over the cheese? That was David’s handy work…

Another burger from Paul’s Boutique

Paul's Boutique in Ypres interior

I can feel the judging already.  Don’t you judge me.  Paul’s Boutique was another cheap eat favourite, as voted for via TripAdvisor.  Not only that but it made me feel like a kid again.  (Thanks to its decor, similar to that of an indoor laser tag’s.)

We did manage to fit in some culture here though.  Despite it not being a Belgian dish, the Netherlands isn’t too far away and we dipped into some ‘Bitterballen’; deep-fried and crispy breaded balls with a meaty centre.  They weren’t too bad, but I know, still unhealthy.

Bitterballen from Paul's Boutique in Ypres

Moules Frites in Singe D’or

Moules Frites with Belgian beer

Bruges is a cosy city, especially in winter. The weather can be bitterly cold, but it offers two ways to warm up; sightseeing around the city, walking rather briskly, or nipping into one of the snug little restaurants to warm your belly and soul with Belgian beer and Moules Frites!  (Translation: mussels and chips.)

This was my third time in Bruges but my first time eating one of Belgium’s most famous dishes in the land of which it came.  The Belgians are brilliant aren’t they?  Mussels and chips. Simple yet so satisfying.  (We were sat next to a roaring fire too and felt especially cosy.)

Although I didn’t check TripAdvisor this time and to my horror discovered this restaurant’s 2 and a half star rating half way through my meal.  I was shocked for a second, then just carried on chomping on my mussels.

A Belgian Waffle, from anywhere

Belgium waffle and other things to eat in Belgium

I thought it would be quite apt to end the post on a Belgian waffle, should this post even exist without the mention of a Belgian waffle? Again I paid no attention to TripAdvisor this day (to my detriment or not) and we just swooped up a Belgian waffle from the nearest takeaway cafe.

We sat and munched over the bridge from the Beguinage, next to Horse Head Drinking Fountain whilst horse and carriages trotted by.  Which made me think, I’m glad I didn’t check TripAdvisor, because sometimes you just need to buy whatever food from whichever lovely setting you’ve wandered within.

We plonked down here for a few minutes, rested our tired feet before finally heading back to the car to head home.  You were good to us and our bellies, Belgium.  (We’ll be back.)

Have you ever been to Belgium?  Tell me your favourite meal you had there, don’t let me miss out on the good stuff!

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Discovering WW1 History in Ypres

Ypres_Grote_Markt

When most people think of Belgium they probably think of Bruges, chocolate and Belgian beer.  Their first thoughts might not wander to the town of Ypres, a location steeped in First World War history.

Just before Christmas, David and I set off on a Belgium road trip where our first stop was Ypres. We were there to discover sites in and around the town that was unforgettably caught in the whirlwind of World War 1.

Ypres might not seem like a location, or a history, that fits my blog’s theme/aesthetic.  The First World War is often referred to as a ‘senseless’ war, but one we shouldn’t forget and Ypres certainly has a presence to that. This is why I’ve decided to tell you about our time there and what to do in Ypres.

What to do in Ypres

What to do in Ypres

In Flanders Fields Museum Ypres

I won’t pretend I knew all the battle sites around Ypres, known as the ‘Salient’, before arriving. However, I did expect that I’d feel humbled from what we saw and learned.

Arriving in town this had already began.  It was hard to believe we were looking at buildings that were completely rebuilt back to their medieval design (as they looked convincingly older!).  I found the Ypres Cloth Hall to be the most striking piece of architecture in this area, which shockingly was too reduced to rubble.

Impressively it was reconstructed to its prewar condition, which gazing up at its sheer size you can believe why this took a few decades to complete and why its one of the best sights in town.

1.  In Flanders Fields Museum

Ypres Cloths Hall now houses In Flanders Fields Museum.  We could have spent hours in here, with its high and varied volume of interactive exhibitions and artefacts.  Many of which are activated by a microchip embedded ‘poppy’ bracelet given on arrival, (that can also be kept as a souvenir).

View from bell tower of Ypres Cloth Hall

We chipped in an extra 2 Euros to climb the 231 steps up to the belfry, which provides the best views of the town’s medieval architecture and layout.  The exhibition exits through the Tourist Information Centre, where we lingered to find walking and cycling routes of the surrounding area.  (Our plan was to cycle the ‘Peace Trail’ the next day.  Alas, weather or time wasn’t on our side…)

2. Menin Gate

One of the most touching memorials is found at Menin Gate, inscribed within its walls are 54,896 soldiers names who were killed in the war, yet whose graves are unknown.  If that hasn’t hit home enough, as a tribute from the people of Ypres, every night at 8pm the road that passes through the memorial is closed and buglers sound the ‘Last Post’.

A ceremony that has been carried out, uninterrupted, since 1928 (bar a few exceptions).  Despite us visiting at the end of November when the town was quiet, we found it was bustling under the memorial’s arches before the ceremony began.  Silence soon fell among the crowd though when the buglers were about to begin, with thoughts turning to the men who lost their lives.

Menin Gate at night in Ypres, Belgium

Inside view of Menin Gate, Ypres

Inescapably, you walk away with a weight of poignancy, especially knowing this ceremony vows to occur for eternity.  As we sat in a nearby bar beforehand, a local man told us every November 11th sees the service not just fill the memorial, but crowds pour out onto the street covering the city.

3. Tyne Cot Cemetery

Lying just outside of the town in the quiet countryside is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world.  Walking to the entrance of Tyne Cot Cemetery‘s Visitor Centre we began to hear names spoken from various speakers dotted along the pathway.  Later we would discover these names, 34,887 of them, were those who were reported missing.

Whilst Tyne Cot can be a very mournful place, with white aligned gravestones forming row after row, the stillness of the surrounding landscape creates a peaceful resting place for the fallen.

Tyne Cot Cemetery in autumn

Battle of Passchendaele Museum in Autumn

4. Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917

A short drive from Tyne Cot is the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.  Passchendaele was a horrific battle towards the end of the First World War where half a million men were killed for just 8km gain of ground.

Housed in a beautiful chateau, the museum explores not just the battle at Passchendaele but the old weapons and uniforms of soldiers.  Realistic dugouts and trenches can be experienced too.

5. Hill 60 / Caterpillar Crater

Much is to be learnt about the war through museum exhibitions and seeing how many lives were lost in the many graveyards scattered around the area and beyond.  However, seeing battle sites that are still weathering the carnage of the past really instilled a lasting impression for me.

Hill 60 had been fiercely fought over in the war and although the trenches were filled, the land remains scarred.  Close to this lies Caterpillar Crater, which for me was one of the area’s most sobering sights.  Despite grass and nature growing over it, the huge hollow of land where the mine was detonated has to be seen to be believed.

Hill 60 former battleground in Ypres Belgium

Caterpillar Crater Ypres Belgium

6. Talbot House

Another short drive away from Ypres is the sleepy town of Poperinge, which became a place of refuge for soldiers.  Away from the trenches and shelling, a townhouse was founded where troops could recuperate and feel a little more at home (and looked like it too!).  There’s a cafe on the bottom floor, where you’re welcomed with a hot drink (no charge, but donations are suggested) and a makeshift altar that was created in the attic room.

Talbot House unexpectedly interested me the most and felt like a place stuck in time.  Particularly when I read a few soldier’s letters that were sent home describing this as a place of peace.  It has a huge emotional draw, yet tranquility too which is inescapable.

Talbot House Poperinge

Altar in the attic room of Talbot House

Watch where else we explored in Belgium:

Have you ever been to Belgium?  Where did you discover and what did you like about it so much?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments section below!

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What I ate in Paris

Things to eat in Paris

On top of my How I spent 5 days in Paris post, I thought I’d write a separate one on the hearty meals in cosy cafés I discovered when I was there.  A sort of ‘what to eat in Paris’, if you will and we know the French are well-known for being passionate about food, so why not write a food diary?

The French are known for many culinary delights, such as; beef bourguignon, the best fromages as well as idyllic baguettes from dreamy boulangeries.  Even the best desserts and naughty snacks herald from here – hello macarons!

So here’s a few things to eat in Paris that I particularly enjoyed.  (Don’t read if you’re hungry.)

Ravioli at Le Rouge Limé

Ravioli in Le Rouge Lime, Paris

Our AirBnb was conveniently close to metro stop Charonne.  And, as it turned out, close to some TripAdvisor tipped restaurants too.  Scanning the website for places to eat around us Le Rouge Limé was particularly loved and had received many good reviews.

So after arriving in Paris and eating a mediocre meal earlier in the day, we settled in amongst its cosy bar/restaurant setting, ordered a bottle of wine and its Ravioli (vegetarian) dish.  (Perhaps not the first dish you think of when looking for the best things to eat in Paris.)  But, the wine and food went down wonderfully and I actually regret not eating here again during my trip.  (So if you’re in this area, pop in for a meal.)

Croque monsieur at Café Le Nazir

What to eat in Paris Croque Monsieur

When you’ve been to Paris before as I have, then you’ll know that you’ll be doing a lot of walking.  So after getting up early, climbing to the top of the Sacré-Cœur and wandering around a bustling Montmartre; my tummy began to rumble.

We stopped off at a corner cafe (Le Nazir), which looked quintessentially French (dark red decor, with aloof waiters) and I knew before looking at the menu that I’d be asking for a croque monsieur.  I always have a croque monsieur when I’m in France, which isn’t the healthiest snack (it’s basically a fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich), so I reserve it for when I’m at my most hungriest!

Side note: there’s also a croque madame, which is the same but topped with a fried egg.

Macarons from anywhere

What to eat in Paris (macarons)

Before heading to Jardin du Luxembourg we picked up some macarons from somewhere in Montmartre.  I’m sure there’ll be some Paris experts that’ll tell you to go to prestigious macaron makers, but I’m really not that fussy when it comes to this meringue-based treat!

So apologies I can’t remember the exact name and place where I bought these macarons.  But I can tell you I went for the following flavours: strawberry, pistachio and champagne.  Délicieux!

Axoa of veal fried potatoes at Le Petit Baïona

Meat at Le Petit Baïona

Another restaurant close to our accommodation, although this time recommended by our Airbnb host, was Le Petit Baïona.  I was quite intrigued, given that it served traditional Basque dishes, a part of France that may seem world’s away from Paris in the deep south.

Although embarassingly this is where my memory escapes me.  I’m sure this was a tender pork meat, served with sautéed potatoes, but I can’t find this in the online menu.  So I’ve labelled this the closest meal to it, (I really should start keeping travel notes…).

Different regions of France are known for different culinary expertise, so although this was a bit meat heavy I was glad to try a different taste from the country.

Tarte Fine de Saison at Publicis Drugstore

Tarte Fine de Saison

It’s so easy to get pulled into French bakeries from just window shopping. This tarte fine de saison is a prime example.  I’d only nipped through Publicis Drugstore to get to an ATM, but these caught my eye.  I picked one up on my way back and munched on it in the queue to the Arc de Triomphe.

Its pastry crumbled away as only French pastry does. But sadly for me there was too many onions in the middle.  Other than that, I have no regrets – always buy something that takes your fancy, you’ll never know you might try your next favourite thing!

Have you tried any culinary delights when visiting Paris?  Let me know in the comments below because I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff!

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How I Spent 5 Days in Paris

How to spend 5 days in Paris

For a city where its grand boulevards look like they’re straight from all the movies, its café culture is magnetising, to even its rooftops applying to be UNESCO World Heritage recognised; it can be hard to decide how to spend 5 days in Paris.

Lucky for me then as I was preparing for my third visit in the city of love at the end of last month, I thought organisation is key.  I knew what to expect, yet I also knew what I had missed in previous visits too.

Whilst this isn’t exactly a guide on the top things to see in Paris you must see – after all, I’m no Parisienne expert – this is more a personal account to inspire any future trip to the French capital.  Which, if the spirit of Paris could speak, then it would tell you too to avoid planning it, discard any Paris itineraries and discover your own secret corners of a city that’ll stay with you for a lifetime.

Day 1

Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris
Père Lachaise Cemetery… peaceful and beautiful
  • Arrival in Paris
  • Père Lachaise Cemetery

Being from the UK, I may be flying in, catching a train, boarding a coach or even driving into Paris – so I can choose to arrive at any time of the day; early or late.

Whatever time you arrive, don’t overdo it on your first day in Paris. Pick a sight that’s a walkable distance from your hotel, hostel or AirBnb.  For me, that was Père Lachaise Cemetery – an unusual suggestion for those who haven’t been initiated, but probably the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever wandered within.  (Even in death, Parisienne’s do it in style.)

The final address of famous artists who’ve ever claimed Paris as their home rest here, such as; Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.  After I dipped my toes in some exploring, I ended my day at a café for dinner with a glass of French wine.

“Even the pigeons are dancing, kissing,
going in circles, mounting each other.
Paris is the city of love,
even for the birds.”

― Samantha Schutz, I Don’t Want To Be Crazy

Day 2

How to spend 5 days in Paris
Montmartre is a dream…
  • Montmartre
  • Sacré-Cœur
  • Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Galeries Lafayette

Whether you have one day in Paris, or two weeks; missing out on Montmartre would be like missing out on the artistic heart of Paris.  Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso all lived here, so this should set the scene.  Located on the highest hill in Paris, the Sacré-Cœur also sits here and looks over Paris with incredible views.

After walking this quarter’s charming streets, I headed south of the River Seine to stroll around Jardin du Luxembourg.  Dedicated to the children of Paris by Napoléon, these lush gardens make a good spot for a picnic lunch.  (Or just nibbling on some macarons!)

Jardin du Luxembourg Paris
Picnic in Jardin du Luxembourg…

A hidden gem I hadn’t discovered in my previous visits was the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette.  The luxurious department store provides a free view and is a sight to see itself.  (Even though I couldn’t afford any of the designer names within it…)  A stained-glass dome is at the centre of the building and on the clear day when I visited, I snapped some beautiful sunsets of the Paris skyline (Eiffel Tower included) on the top floor; the rooftop.

“… you’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.”

― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

Day 3

Hall of Mirrors Palace of Versailles
Every corner is a wonder in the Palace of Versailles…
  • The Palace of Versailles

The trip from Paris to Versailles (outside of the city) isn’t that long itself.  But the estate is so vast it requires a day, at least, to explore.  I’d missed out on Versailles too in my previous visits and so the former home of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was a must do for me this time.

It really took my breath away; the palace, Hall of Mirrors and gardens as far as the eye can see.  I didn’t manage to see it all in the 8 hours I had. So if I were to go again, I’d consider hiring a four-person electric car (like golf carts), get around by the shuttle train or rent a bike.

“Paris is a hard place to leave, even when it rains incessantly and one coughs continually from the dampness.”

― Willa Cather

How to spend 5 days in Paris

Day 4

  • Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris isn’t a necessity when you don’t have kids, but considering it’s the only Disney park in Europe I’d have to travel a long way to find another one.

Sadly, I never experienced the *real* magic by visiting when I was young (a lot younger), but I had a blast on my first visit when I was 16.  This time round I particularly noticed how child-focused it really is (which of course it should be).  Or I could just be getting older…  For anyone who loves Disney though, it’s easily accessible from the city of Paris for a day out.

“Paris isn’t a city, it’s a world.”

― Lepota L. Cosmo, Love in Paris – Poetic Guide to the Romance of the City

Day 5

Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Perhaps the most well-known roundabout in Paris.
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Champs-Élysées
  • Eiffel Tower

The famous Arc de Triomphe probably comes second on everyone’s Paris to do list (after the Eiffel Tower, bien sûr.)  Surprisingly, I’d only glimpsed it from the street previously, but even more surprisingly, when arriving at the back of the queue to climb its 284 steps to the top there wasn’t a long wait.  (Most main attractions in Paris have some of the longest queues I’ve seen!)

Now a roundabout, with 12 exits, you can point out a number of other monuments from the sweeping views above it.  (Never try to cross the road, there are underground subways.) I was lucky enough to see Sacré-Cœur all the way in Montmartre!

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

One of these 12 exits is probably the most famous street in Paris; Avenue de Champs-Élysées. (Beauty lovers: stop off here for Sephora!)  Luckily it’s only 2km long too, so you can stroll past all the designer names that line Paris’s most expensive avenue and reach Place de la Concorde.  If you keep going, through Jardin de la Nouvelle France you’ll reach the Louvre, too.

This time instead of getting lost in the artworks at the Louvre (I have done this before and it’s worth a visit), I indulged in a bit of retail therapy before setting sights on true icon of Paris.

How to spend 5 days in Paris

Queues spiral out of control at the Eiffel Tower, but don’t let this put you off.  (Learn from my mistakes; book in advance!)  The harder decision is to choose which time to venture to the top; during the day or by night.

Paris was more ‘Paris when it drizzles’, rather than ‘Paris when it sizzles’ on my first visit.  Meaning the view from the Eiffel Tower, by day, was almost non-existent.  By night, it quite literally sparkles, every hour on the hour.  Luckily, I went for the latter this time.

How to spend 5 days in Paris

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The next day, sadly I was on the train home.  Have you been to Paris?  What are your favourite things to see and do in Paris?  Share your tips, experiences and in the comments section!

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Edinburgh (Day 3) / Travel Diary

National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

This was sadly our last full day in Edinburgh (Edinburgh Day 1 + Day 2 here).  So there were just a few things me and David wanted to see before we were due to leave.

Day 2 in Edinburgh

We still needed to visit The Royal Yacht Britannia as part of our Royal Ticket we’d bought with the Tour Bus company, so we headed here first.

The yacht is yet another royal connection and visitor attraction in Edinburgh and of course belonged to the Queen.  It is, however, no longer in service and is permanently berthed (not docked, as I first typed and needed to google ) at Leith, in Edinburgh.

The bus ride here, which is a little out of town, took roughly 30 minutes.  It was actually a nice route to see some of the lovely houses outside of the city centre in the suburban areas of Edinburgh.

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh

A free audio tour was provided, which had no real set tour route, so we could wander, begin and finish the tour wherever we liked.

I thought it was also nice that taking photos/videos was encouraged, so of course I managed to get some snaps for my blog and vlog!  I found the yacht quite astounding to see, for example some areas of this ship were really luxurious, which of course it needs to be if the Queen’s going to be travelling on it.  I also didn’t know about the many famous visitors who boarded the ship over the years too, like Bill Clinton, Princess Diana etc.

But then there were areas that left me surprised, such as the Queen’s bedroom.  This room had only a single bed – a single bed!  Forgive me for expecting the Titanic sort of proportions of size and grandeur, but this shocked me the most.  Surely she’d at least get a double bed to sleep in?  Anyway, she still had more room than most, if not all, the officer’s on board, I suppose.

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh

It was all very distinctly British, which was interesting to me being British myself, because I felt it was quite ‘homely’, rather than overtly royal.  Surprisingly enough, that’s apparently just what the Queen wanted it to feel like too.

Anyway, there was a cafe on board with a sweet shop.  So after snacking on some fudge me and David headed back into town.

Mary King’s Close

I was really excited about Mary King’s Close, as we read about it in our rather miniature Edinburgh guide book!  This is a series of streets, or ‘closes’, underneath the streets of today’s Edinburgh.

The streets are underground because the government back in the 17th century wanted to build The Royal Exchange in the city, but there was no room.  So they practically built it on top of the slums instead!  Nice…

Unfortunately no photography was allowed in here, which is a shame because a part of the street and one of its houses were still in tact.  Me and David were put within a group that was guided around by an actress.  She told us all about the gruesome living conditions of the time and history of the close, really bringing it to life.  Our tour guide was called Mel, who was fantastic!

The National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinbrugh

We finished Mary King’s Close a little earlier than expected and walked over to the Museum of Childhood that we had heard so much about since being in Edinburgh.  This sounded like a great museum, but we didn’t realise it was closed on Tuesday’s – just our luck!

So, me and David still felt like we were in a museum-y sort of mood, if there is such a thing and ambled over to the National Museum of Scotland, not too far away.

This was quite an unexpected delight, as there were many rooms and interactive exhibitions from world culture, science, technology to culture and Scottish history – all of which were in one beautiful building!

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinbrugh

Goodbye Scotland

Feeling fairly knackered, me and David ate a delicious curry at a restaurant called Slumdog near our hotel and headed back for an early night.

And no!  I didn’t miss out on a whisky this day, me and David actually had a whisky cocktail in our hotel bar.  It was called a Hot Toddy and included whisky and lemon juice, topped up with hot water.  It was quite yummy and something I thought would clear up a nasty cold (if I had one)!  Even David liked it, so that’s saying something.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my Edinburgh travel diary series!  Please share your experiences in Edinburgh if you’ve been in the comments section below, or ask any questions if you’re yet to visit!

Don’t forget I have made a vlog of our trip to Edinburgh, which you can watch here.

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