Tag Archives: city trip

City of Bridges: 24 Hours in Newcastle

After moving to Glasgow last autumn I had a long list of places to visit in Scotland, but things don’t always turn out the way you think. I have always been fascinated by the history of individual buildings and the people who lived in them. When I was watching the BBC documentary series ‘A House Through Time’ the other day, which portrayed a home in the English city of Newcastle, it seemed like an intriguing place to visit: industrial history, a vibrant cultural scene and many beautiful green spaces, very similar to Glasgow.

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About a week before the trip I booked a train ticket and found a good hotel deal. I decided to stay one night only and see how much I would manage to discover in 24 hours just by walking a few different neighbourhoods and soaking up the local atmosphere. I made a shortlist of things I absolutely had to see and usually group those by area with spots for lunch or coffee preselected, which gives me a few things to aim for along the route without restricting me too much in terms of spontaneity. It also really helps working out beforehand when certain attractions are closed, so you don’t end up missing out on them. Here are a few of the things I especially enjoyed:

The Lit & Phil

On my travels I often visit beautiful cities and buildings, but not many have the kind of wow factor the Lit & Phil has for me. Fairly unassuming from the outside, you walk up a flight of quite dark stairs until you emerge into the most brilliantly designed (by John Green 1822-25), large yet cosy space every booklover would want to never ever leave again. Give me 180k of books to browse, a cup of coffee and a comfy chair and that’s me sorted. Apart from its undeniable instagram appeal, it was the friendliness and uncomplicated feel of the library that made it even more enjoyable. I was made feel welcome by an enthusiastic volunteer (who worked as a librarian for 40 years) and while it is an independent members library, everyone is encouraged to browse and explore the space. It has always been a place to discuss books, not just for quiet contemplation, so if you want a guaranteed good experience on your visit, even just 10 minutes in here will lift your spirits. The Lit & Phil is a mere 5 minute walk from central station, so no excuse, plus they have lovely souvenirs to take home to those unfortunate ones who missed out on experiencing this amazing library in person.

NC19 Lit & Phil

The Bridge Views

Even if you only have an hour in Newcastle, walk down to any of the bridges and look across the river Tyne and you won’t regret it. The city’s 7 stunningly different bridges spanning the Newcastle Northern side of the river and the Gateshead side on the south are a sight to behold and you’ll never get tired of those fabulous views. In fact, I dare you to walk across any of them and not feel like wanting to take hundreds of pictures from the many possible angles. Once you’ve crisscrossed them to your heart’s content, grab a sandwich, take a seat somewhere by the Quayside and indulge in some people watching. Newcastle is a lively city with a large student population and as I was lucky to have excellent weather during my visit, everyone was out and about enjoying the rays and a relaxed drink by the water. Bliss.

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The Ouseburn Valley

I often find the best places to visit by simply opening Google Maps and zooming in on individual neighbourhoods. When you type in things you enjoy doing or spending time in like (in my case) vegan cafes or charity shops, you often find the best places for a nice walk. I therefore quickly worked out that the Ouseburn Valley (once the cradle of the city’s industrial revolution) east of the city centre would be a fun place to explore and I wasn’t disappointed. After enjoying the views over the city centre from the top floor of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art I crossed the river and walked east along the water until I got to the Cycle Hub (bicycle repair and great coffee with a view). I then followed a footpath next to the Ouseburn (pronounced ‘use-burn’, a small tributary to the Tyne), which took me past Seven Stories and to Ouseburn City Farm. There is even a horseriding centre just up the road. The Cluny pub right opposite and the Tyne Bar (a bit further south) are both great for live music, so I guess I’ll just have to come back another time. It’s an area that won’t appeal to every first time visitor with its rough charm and mix of old and new, but to me it’s just perfect.

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Green Spaces & Cosy Cafes

City trips don’t need to exclude spending time in nature. On the contrary, many modern cities have a wealth of green spaces, which are well worth enjoying, promoting and saving for future generations. On my second day I walked from the city centre north towards Jesmond, turned right on Osborne Avenue and continued north along the river for a little while, then turned around and walked south on a forest path to Heaton Park, ending up on Heaton Road. I had a chat with dog walkers, European visitors who used to live in the city and locals along the way and one of them recommended The Butterfly Cabinet for brunch. It turned out to be a good tip. After a morning’s brisk walking, I enoyed tucking into a yummy veggie burger and then still had some time left for more sightseeing in the city centre, including the intriguing historic Bessie Surtees House. The day before I found Super Natural Vegan Cafe (see their amazing food below), which I managed to visit twice, as there always needs to be time made for cake.

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The Sage Gateshead

The large and modern Sage Gateshead music centre and concert hall on the South Side of the Tyne (easily walkable from city centre accommodation) was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2004. I had been aware of it for a while as they run a fabulous sounding Americana festival ‘Summertyne’ in July (on my list!). So it was very lucky that the one night I happend to be in town an absolutely wonderful special event was taking place. ‘Modern Fairies’ an enchanted mix of folk myths, ancient and modern instruments, storytelling, illustration and film making was simply beautiful and it somehow summed up my whole Newcastle experience for me: it’s a city that manages to marry the old with the new in a vibrant, down to earth way, which is really inspiring. Having scribbled down the dates of lots of upcoming festivals and other cultural events in my notebook, I’m certainly planning to be back fairly soon. I hope the above gives you a few additional reasons to visit this Northern City with its friendly vibe.

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P.S. If you’re a bunny lover like me or even if you’re not, don’t miss the Vampire Rabbit, you’ll have fun hunting down this bizarre over a century-old gargoyle with a mysterious history in the city centre.

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Not Just The German Carnival Capital: Your Weekend Guide to Cologne

I admit, I was guilty of it myself: I’ve travelled to quite a few other German cities and towns before, but never really considered going to Cologne, the largest city of the German Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, until I was heading from Berlin to Bavaria this spring and happened to pass through during carnival time. I totally loved my stay! Cologne might not be as well-known as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, but its friendly, talkative locals will have you forget about being a stranger in no time. Just like in my other favourite cities of Dublin and Glasgow, you can have a brilliant time in Cologne if you immerse yourself in its lively festival, culture, café and pub scene.

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Festival City All Year Round

Kölner, as the locals in Cologne are known, are always up for a party and the city offers an enviable number of festivals throughout the year. From the famous Kölner Karneval in February and a smaller, but equally busy summer version at the end of August, there are always some great events on. Apart from a few of them, you don’t need to be able to speak German to join in and they often even have a website or programme in English. The most popular include Lit Cologne (March), Cologne Pride (the city is very LGBT friendly) and the Film Festival Cologne. While I was visiting during the first weekend of September, there was an urban arts festival on, City Leaks, and I also found a small world music festival, Festival der Kulturen in Troisdorf, which was only 30 minutes away on the train.

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It’s all about ‘Veedel’ Culture – Meet the Neighbours

Cologne has a number of distinct neighbourhoods and its locals strongly identify with where they live. Ehrenfeld has an East London or alternative Berlin feel to it, the Südstadt is quieter (but not at carnival time!), Nippes and Agnesviertel has lots of cafes and parks and the Belgisches Viertel is the place to head for boutique clothes and designer shopping. Just like London has its cabmen’s shelters, Cologne has its ‘Büdchen’, little stalls/snack bars where you can purchase a coffee and a bite to eat or some sweets. The Büdchen am Nikolausplatz (tram stop 18 nearby, see pic below) in Köln Sülz (near the University) is especially lively, it’s run by a group of six people who take turns with the shifts and also sometimes organise outdoor live music and little literature events around their stall. The Weisshaus Kino is only 5 minutes down the road on Weisshauptstrasse. If you don’t speak German, don’t worry, some of the cinemas show movies or documentaries in the original version (marked with OV behind the title and Monday is usually the cheap cinema day, expect to pay around €5 or €6 for a ticket).

While I was visiting I joined a local walking tour, which was part of the City Leaks Urban Arts Festival and it took us around the streets and alleys of the Eigelstein quarter, where prostitution has been thriving for hundreds of years up to this day. But you’ll still find hotels, kindergardens and playgrounds nearby. While you might want to stay clear of Ebertplatz at night, the Eigelstein-Torburg square right beside it has some lovely restaurants (burgers, a gelateria, Thai food, coffee) for a sunny afternoon on the terrace or a cosy dinner in wintertime.

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Café Culture and Brunch Spots

The city has a huge number of cafés and bakeries with a lot of veggie and vegan options. You can basically start wherever you are and pick any nice-looking place. Zeit für Brot in Ehrenfeld is great for people watching (or pet dogs that are passing by) while you munch on one of their super yummy cinnamon, walnut/maple syrup or plum buns (see pic below). Nearby is Café Goldmund, a book café with walls lined with endless number of second hand books. I also love the BadenBaden in the basement of the Neptunbad (spa) in Ehrenfeld (mixed menu including Flammkuchen). But beware, only the ones marked with a green sticker on the back are for sale. Another lovely coffee place is As If Records in the Belgisches Viertel, a record store, vintage store and café rolled into one with very friendly staff.

On Sunday we went for breakfast at the local ‘cat café’ Café Schnurrke, in Ritterstrasse, less than 10 minutes on foot from the Hauptbahnhof. The two black and white resident rescue kitties, Millie and Merlin, might join you on the sofa while you enjoy your breakfast (both veggie and vegan options available) or a cake and a smoothie. Going for breakfast or brunch (usually a buffet or choice of sweet and/or savoury combos) is very popular in Germany, especially at the weekends, and many cafes have special breakfast menus available.

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Cathedral, Street Art & Unusual Museums

I always like getting an overview of a new city by joining one of the free walking tours (usually in English and often also in Spanish; the only city that didn’t have one was Vienna – for legal reasons – where I simply went to one of the hostels and joined theirs). The Dom (Cathedral), the fourth-tallest in the world, is a no brainer and I suggest you get there first thing in the morning or in any case plan for at least an hour as you’ll have to climb the steps all the way up for the best views. Cologne also has a number of excellent art museums, as well as a few more unusual ones, such as the German Olympic Museum and the Chocolate Museum (which sounds tempting, but I suggest you spend the €11.50 on actual chocolate). There is also lots of fabulous street art to discover, for instance in Ehrenfeld, Eigelstein and other neighbourhoods.

Cologne Street Art Ehrenfeld

Live Music any Day of the Week

Earlier this year, I made a friend on Instagram, who lives in Cologne and enjoys the same kind of music I like. So she gave me lots of great tips and we met up one night for a gig at Kulturcafe Lichtung. In fact, I ended up going there two nights in a row. The musician on Friday night, Ofer Golany from Israel, also told me about a great little (and free) world music festival in Troisdorf, a 40 minute S-Bahn ride away, the Festival der Kulturen. I went there on Saturday and had fantastic homecooked Ethiopian food, listened to various musicians from around the world and met many cute dogs (see Cuddle a Dog a Day). As it was the weekend of the summer carnival, there were also lots of local live bands singing in various pubs in their local dialect, Kölsch (which is pretty much unintelligible by other Germans too, but it’s always a good idea to learn a few phrases before you go). In fact, at the Weißer Holunder pub you can join a Kölsch singalong every Sunday night from 6pm, beginners welcome. Other live music venues to try include Studio 672 (venue &  nightclub), Kulturkirche (a Protestant church but also a concert venue), the Gloria Theater (both plays and gigs), Die Wohngemeinschaft (hip hostel and gig venue), Blue Shell (club, live gigs & poetry slams) and many more.

Where Should I stay?

I found a very cosy Airbnb for my first stay and returned there again as it was the perfect base for me. It is across the river in a quiet neighbourhood and was easy to reach by tram, even after midnight. Any of the Veedel (neighbourhoods) are a great place to stay, just pick it based on whether you’d prefer a quiet night’s sleep or prefer staying in a busier area with the nightlife options right outside your door. Either way, there are many choices, so you can’t really go wrong.

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Public Transport, More Local Tips & Saving Money

Cologne is fairly walkable and I love discovering it on foot. To get from your accommodation or to a venue quickly though, you can use the local public transport. A single ticket costs €2.80 (buy it with coins or a credit card at a machine at a tram stop or inside the tram, make sure you have one as ticket inspectors patrol the trams and it can cost you €60 if you get caught!), so a public transport day pass (currently €8.60) is usually a good idea. You can use it in the whole city and East of the Rhine river, too. The Cologne Card is only slightly more, for €9 a day it also gives you 20-50% off some museums. As I was there for four days, I bought a weekly ticket for €25.10 (cheaper than 3 day passes). There are trams, buses and S-Bahn (commuter) trains and, in my experience, they were safe to use even at night and also run every few minutes after midnight, so you can book cheaper accommodation a little further out and still won’t have to worry about getting home. The tourist office is very close to the Cathedral and the main train station (where you can leave luggage in lockers or in a left luggage place for ca. €6 a day). There you can pick up a very clear map of the city centre and slightly beyond for about 50 cents and find out about current events. There are quite a few guide books in English, but I was glad I found a few specifically local guides, Green City Guide Köln, Basic Köln and the yearly updated Köln 2 Go (all three in German), which were more aimed at locals and had a lot of great tips for veggie places and more alternative sightseeing options.

Whatever you do, make sure you visit Cologne sooner rather than later, it’s one of the easiest cities to enjoy whether you’re a seasoned traveller or a travel newbie of any age.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author. Prices listed are as of August 2017, please confirm them before you go. All photography by Life is a Festival.

Gothenburg Travel Guide – Using the City Card, Festivals & Island Hopping

The first time I went to Sweden I visited its capital Stockholm and absolutely loved it. But I’d also heard lots of good things about Sweden’s second city Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish), so I decided to head there this time around. It has a lot of great museums and other attractions, many of which are included in the City Card, and lots of cultural and arts events all year round, such as the Göteborg Film Festival (January), popular music festival Way Out West (August), the Göteborg Book Fair (October) and also a large culture and arts festival, Kulturkalas, which happend to be on from 16-20 August 2017 when I was visiting.

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The Kulturkalas Festival

Göteborg’s culture festival Kulturkalas has hundreds of free events for all ages happening around town every August and attracts huge numbers of visitors. As I was pretty lucky with the weather, it was a pleasure walking through the city’s parks, which were decorated for the festival and offered lots of things to try and lots of yummy pop-up food stalls. If you’re travelling with children, there are many craft workshops to try, even metalwork and I saw many small kids proudly pulling along little wooden carts, sometimes with a teddy bear in it, which they had made themselves. But there are also walking tours, a bus tour of all the churches of different religions around the city and non-stop live music on many stages and on some street corners. The main information tent is near Kungstorgsplatsen and the volunteers are happy to help you with finding events. Alas, most of the programme is in Swedish, with a smaller section in English, but they also have a great website, where you can search for individual types of events or by date. My favourite event was a contemporary dance performance at the Göteborg Opera, for which you just had to pick up a free ticket beforehand. I checked earlier that day and of course it was sold out, but decided to return just before it started and got a ticket without any problems as there are usually some returns. So never give up when someone tells you something is sold out (this applies to most events I go to in any city or country btw.).

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Is it Worth Getting the City Card?

I was lucky to have been given a 48 hour City Card to try, but would definitely buy one anyway, as it included many cool attractions as well as (unlike in Stockholm for instance) public transport (buses, trams AND ferries). The City Card starts at SEK 395 for 24 hours, SEK 545 for 48 hours and SEK 695 for 72 hours. This does sound like quite a lot if you’re on a budget, but a public transport ticket already sets you back SEK 90 for one day (a single trip is SEK 29) or SEK 180 for three days and you can easily do enough sightseeing in 1-3 days to get the best out of your card. All attractions mentioned below are included in the card, but don’t worry, you can also have a great time exploring the city on foot and for free if you like.

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What Should I See? 

This is, of course, entirely up to your own travel preferences. As the weather was so good while I was visiting, I decided to spend two of my four days just exploring the islands (more below), but there are plenty of high-quality museums to keep you busy all day, such as the renowned Gothenburg Museum of Art, Maritiman (a collection of historic ships to explore in the harbour), Universeum (a science centre with a rainforest and ocean zone, open until 8pm on weekdays) and the Volvo Museum, if you’re a car lover. Sadly, the one I really wanted to see, the design museum Röhsska, is closed until June 2018. Next time. You can also get an amazing bird’s eye view of Gothenburg from Utkiken (86 meters high, stop Lilla Bommen near the Opera). Make sure you time your visits well, i.e. leave the attractions that are open longer until the evening, e.g. Liseberg Amusement Park (often free concerts, but be aware that rides are not included in the city card).

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Bus and Boat Tours

Seeing any harbour city from the water is always the best way to get great photos and Gothenburg was no different. I had time for a Paddan Canal Tour (normally SEK 175), a flat open-air boat with live commentary in Swedish and English by a tour guide. This was awesome as it had picture opportunities galore (e.g. of the Feskekorka, the city’s fish market) in just 50 minutes and even went into the harbour (don’t sit in the front and on the side if you’re afraid of the odd splash of sea water!). I also did a 2.5 hour Archipelago Tour with live commentary in Swedish and English (normally SEK 280) on a historic ship from 1881, which is perfect if you’re in need for a break from all the sightseeing (coffee, cake and lunch can be bought on board, card only, no outside food allowed), but can take a good chunk out of your visiting time, if you’re on a tight schedule. Instead I recommend a visit to Brännö island (20 minutes by tram to Saltholmen, 15 minutes on the ferry), where you can have lunch by the sea or go for a swim or a walk in the same time. I also did one of the short 50-minute Bus Tours (normally SEK 189, from Stora Teatern near Kungsportsplatsen) in the morning as it gives you a quick overview of the city’s history via a recorded commentary in a number of languages. There are also plenty of walking tours for a leisurely guided stroll through the city.

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Island Hopping on the Archipelago

The main reason I’d come to the West Coast was to be by the sea and to explore the archipelago just off the coast. The Southern Archipelago islands are car-free and can be reached by ferry in 15-30 minutes. Simply take a tram to Salholmen and any of the ferries from there (pick up a free booklet plus a map of the islands on board plus a timetable as some are more regular than others). The ferries are very comfy and generally have clean toilets, which can be useful when you’re out and about all day. My favourites were Brännö and Vrangö and I’ll post separately about how to plan a trip there. Make sure you bring a credit card, as many places in Sweden do not accept cash.

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Fika Breaks, Shopping for Local Products & Dog-friendly Travel 

My only regret during my four-day visit to Gothenburg was how little time I had to check out the city’s many great music venues, street art, cafes and shops. I did have an evening stroll through the Haga district and made an effort to spend a morning walking around the city centre plus enjoying a ‘fika’ (Swedish for coffee break) in the lovely secluded courtyard of Da Matteo cafe on Vallgatan. There is a cluster of cool shops in the same block (Swedish design, clothes, second hand books, flowers) plus some food trucks for a great lunch option, so it’s fantastic if you’re short of time. I also happened to find lots of cute dog sculptures all around town and the Gothenburg tourist office website even has a dog-friendly guide to the city.

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Meet the Locals

Swedish people are generally relaxed and friendly folks, but most of them tend to be on the reserved side. So in order to experience life like a Swede, West Sweden started a great initiative called Meet The Locals. You can browse a list of people and activities online (visiting a farm, meeting for coffee, going on a boat trip) and get put in touch with your chosen local. I tried this but due to a lack of time on my part as well as my local’s part, we didn’t actually manage to meet up. However, I still had lots of nice conversations with people on trams, in cafes mostly while visiting the islands and due to my dog project Cuddle a Dog a Day (so many cute Swedish dogs!). I also randomly met another translator at a bus stop who invited me to his home, what a lovely gesture, which also gave me an insight in Swedish everyday life.

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Of course, all of the above only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in the West Swedish city of Gothenburg. I’m most definitely going to return for another visit as soon as I can! Feel free to leave a comment if you have additional tips or questions. You can also find more pictures and videos of my trip on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour City Card by the lovely people at Goteborg.com. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.