Exploring Amsterdam

Earlier this year I finally got to visit one of the cities on my bucket list – Amsterdam. With its unique brick architecture, countless bridges and maze of canals, Amsterdam has long been a tourist hot spot in Europe with many attracted to what this cultural city has to offer. With something in store for everyone, here’s my top things to see and do whilst visiting:

 

The Heineken Brewery

One of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions, the Heineken experience, is located in the original Heineken brewery which has been transformed into an interactive tour. I’ve visited many brewery’s around the world but the Heineken brewery has so far been the best for me! The brewery itself is no longer in use but this tour combines the history of Heineken and brewing, with a look at Heineken and their advertising in the modern world. But most importantly…free beer!

 

Canals

With over 60 miles of canals and nearly 1500 bridges, Amsterdam really is the Venice of the north! The ring of canals in Amsterdam has recently been added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites and is the perfect place to get your stereotypical Amsterdam Instagram photo. If taking pictures on land isn’t your thing then there’s an array of boat trips to choose from for as little as €15. Head to the Jordaan, if your looking for the more picturesque canals and you can stop at one of the many indie shops and boutiques located there whilst your at it!

 

Food, food, food.

If your anything like me then your favourite thing about exploring a new country is trying the local food! You may have heard of stroopwaffles from the great British bake off, but in Amsterdam you can find these heavenly gooey treats being sold freshly baked, and they definitely make the perfect snack to nibble on whilst you’re taking in the sights. If stroopwaffles don’t do it for you, then ‘proffertjes’ definitely will! You’ll find proffertjes, which are fluffy mini pancakes, being sold at many street food stalls and they’re often accompanied by sugar, cream, butter, syrup or strawberries; it’s hard to resist this bite sized treat! If you’re feeling adventurous, then you could try the Dutch delicacy of ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’, which is raw herring served with raw onions and gherkins, which doesn’t sound the most appealing dish but is proven to be popular with tourists willing to try new things. But if you’re a fussy eater it’s probably best to play it safe and stick to the Amsterdam favourite – chips and mayonnaise!

 

Museum time

Amsterdam has some of the best museums in the world, and with over 40 museums you’ll definitely find a museum for you. The biggest and most well known museum in Amsterdam is the Rijksmuseum; the dutch national museum. Here you can a mix of both history and art, hosting some of the worlds most famous artists. But if you’re a lover of the famous Dutch artist Van Gogh you wont find your fix here…head over to the Van Gogh museum which hosts the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings in the world. If you’re not interested in art, history or museums in general then there might museum there which will change your opinion…the sex museum located in the red light district. This place is definitely not one for the shy or prude, and perfect if your up for a laugh! If none of these museums take your fancy then maybe the house of one of history’s most well known figures will – Anne Frank’s house. The house is located along the Prinsengracht canal and is house in which Anne and her family hid from nazi persecution during World War II. Here you can learn more about Anne and experience her life story with audio guiding. Even if you’re not into history it is most definitely worth a visit!

 

‘Tulips from Amsterdam’

When exploring a new city I can’t resist the opportunity for the perfect ‘instagrammable’ photo, and in Amsterdam you are spoilt for choice with the beautiful scenery. The Netherlands are famous for their tulips and in Amsterdam you can’t go 500 meters without seeing them being sold somewhere, but the most beautiful display of their national flower can be seen in the Keukenhoff gardens located a 40 minute drive outside the city centre. The floral displays are out of this world, and the best time to visit is mid-April to early May when the flowers are in full bloom. Unfortunately when I visited the flowers outside hadn’t bloomed due to a cold winter, so I was only able to get photos of the indoor displays. However if you search the gardens on google images you can see how amazing they are in full bloom.

If you don’t fancy the travel to Keukenhof gardens, then the floating flower market in Amsterdam is your next best option! Located along the Singel canal the market is made up of floating house boats, which have been turned into stalls. The market is amass with fresh cut flowers, specifically tulips, as well as the odd souvenir shop. A good stall to visit is the first market along the floating market which is exceptionally picturesque as it has hundreds of bunches of dried flowers hanging from the ceiling creating a colourful and innovative display. Apart from the beautiful scenery you can buy every colour and variety tulip bulb to take back home and brighten up your garden!

 

Amsterdam is such a vibrant city, and there’s so many things to see and do whilst there. My guide has only briefly listed some of my favourite things from when I visited but needless to say you’ll never run out of new things to do there. Amsterdam deserves so much more than the outdated reputation many hold of it due to the red light district and ‘coffee shops’, so why don’t you give it a go and get your own opinion on this quirky and picturesque city!

Have you got any tips for must see places whilst visiting Amsterdam?

Laura 

Staying Safe in Summer 

If your anywhere near as pale as me then you’ve probably had your fair share of sunburn. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised how important it is to look after you skin, and that ‘bright red lobster’ look is definitely not ok. Whether your a beach bum, or just enjoy soaking up the lovely British sun (on the rare days we get it), follow my tips to stay protected and keep your skin on top form!

 

Check Your Rays

Most people buy suncream only in regards to the level of SPF it contains, however it is important to also check if it protects against UVA and UVB rays. Not all suncreams protect against UVB rays, which can also cause skin cancer. So to make sure your protected get a suncream that covers both.

 

Don’t Get Star Struck

Only recently I discovered that two suncreams with the same SPF may not have the same protection level. All suncreams should have a UVA star rating on the back, however two suncreams of the same SPF level may have very different UVA star ratings. Some well known brands have been shown to have a lower UVA star rating than supermarket own brands so it’s important to check the back of the bottle before you buy!

 

Scorching Scalp

One problem I have always faced on holiday due to my fair skin is getting a sunburnt scalp. This issue is easily avoided by wearing a hat, but if you’re like me and prefer to show off your beachy waves then you may end up with a seriously sore head. I’ve always suffered with this issue on holiday, until recently when I discovered Malibu Clear Hair and Scalp Protector SPF30. At only £3.49 it’s an absolute steal, and I will no longer have to suffer from my sore scalp on holiday! A few sprays on your hair parting and your all set to go and enjoy the sun safely.

 

Acne Aggro

Most conventional sun creams don’t suit acne prone skin, and can cause breakouts which is the last thing you want when you’re on holiday! However suncreams are evolving from their thick, white, pore clogging past and there are now many ranges that offer lightweight non-comedogenic suncreams which will leave your skin feeling fab. One of my favourites is La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen SPF 60, which contains perlite silica to absorb oil throughout the day, keeping your skin fresh and matte; it also works brilliantly under foundation. In addition it is also important to use a good cleanser to remove all sunscreen residue every night regardless of whether they’re are non-comedogenic or not.

 

Moisturise, Moisturise, Moisturise. 

You can’t undo damage, but you can assist your skins repairing process by stepping up your after sun care. Being in the sun can dehydrate you, but products that contain Aloe Vera are perfect to help rehydrate your skin after sun exposure, and soothe any sun burn that may have occurred. It’s important to reapply products up to three times a day because not only does this help your skin retain its integrity and moisture, but also helps prevent the dreaded skin peeling. After-sun should be an essential part essential part of your sun care routine as it delivers antioxidants which help combat free radicals that are caused from UV exposure, and will also help your tan to last longer. Malibu ultra hydration lotion is a moisturiser as well as an after-sun lotion so it’s well worth purchasing to keep your skin looking as good as ever after you’ve been in the sun!

Just because you want to be a bronzed goddess does not mean you should permanent damage your skin in the process. Sun exposure causes premature aging and many well known celebrities, such as Madonna, will not leave the house without slapping on the SPF. The best way to stop photoaging is prevention, and the best anti-aging cream is SPF moisturiser! So if you want to remain youthful, then be proactive with your sun care routine and reach for bottle of Fake Bake instead.

What’s your favourite tips to stay safe in the sun?

Laura 

10 Things To Do Whilst in Dublin

Dublin, the capital of the emerald isles that just oozes charm. I’ve been lucky to visit Dublin many times due to my father being born there, but never had chance to see all the main tourist attractions because as you can imagine, my dad had already seen it all hundreds of times and didn’t want to be a tourist in his own city. On an off chance in November I managed to blag some return flights to Dublin with Ryanair for £4 in total. Yes you heard right…four whole British pounds! So me and my friend packed our bags and headed to the airport, and this time I was determined to see ALL that Dublin had to offer.

1. The Guinness Storehouse
A trip to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Guinness storehouse located at St. James Gate. A visit here will teach you everything you need to know about Guinness, from the history of it, to the fermentation process. The tour begins at the bottom of the worlds largest pint glass and continues up through its 7 floors which are full interactive experiences. Upon reaching the top floor you enter the Gravity Bar, where you receive a complementary pint of Guinness to enjoy the panoramic 360 degree views of Dublin City. With adult ticket prices starting at €14 this is not one to miss!

2. Temple Bar
This thriving cultural hub is the area in Dublin which is most popular with tourists. Temple Bar is a maze of cobbled streets that are full of life and vibrancy. You can find anything here, with many traditional pubs, clubs, art galleries, and restaurants; not to forget a fair share of quirky shops. If you want to expand your cultural horizon, or just have a good old drink then this is the place to go.

3. National Museum of Ireland – Natural History and Archeology
If your on a budget then look no further! Located not far from each other are two museums run by the National Museum of Ireland; the natural history museum and the archeology museum. The archeology museum hosts an array of treasures from Ireland’s prehistoric times, with Celtic, Gaelic, and Viking artefacts on display. The most popular exhibition is the famous ‘bog bodies’, which are mummified bodies from the Bronze Age which were found preserved in bogs; definitely not for the faint hearted! In contrast the natural history museum is almost like a dead zoo. The attraction is filled with 10,000 specimens of species from Ireland and all over the world. Admission is free to both of these attractions so are worth a visit.

4. Phoenix Park
Although Dublin is relatively small for a capital city, it hosts Europe’s largest urban park at 1750 acres. The park is a short bus journey from Dublin City centre and hosts Dublin zoo, the official residency of the president of Ireland, the residency of the US ambassador but best of all a large herd of deer which are tame enough to come up to you if you have food! If walking isn’t your think, bikes can be hired from the main entrance to Phoenix park which is located on Parkgate street which allows you to enjoy the 14km of cycle paths found within the park.

5. Ha’penny Bridge
When I think of Dublin I think of the Ha’penny bridge. Built as a pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey, this bridge has become one of the most iconic spots in Dublin. An average of 30,000 people cross it each day, so why not pop down as well and get your perfect tourist shot for Instagram.

6. The Gravedigger Ghost Bus
Why not hop onto the worlds first ghost bus? This hair raising tour takes you around Dublin’s ghostly past, from the chilling Kilmainham Jail, to the passage tomb known as the hellfire club, where Satan himself is said to have appeared. The tour costs €25 and lasts around 2 hours that are packed full of laughs, frights and interesting stories. The live actors definitely make sure you’ve screamed at least once by the end of this tour, and you even get a free drink included at one of the oldest pubs in Dublin, The Gravediggers pub!

7. Trinity College
Located in the heart of the city, Trinity College is the oldest and most prestige university in Ireland. The university hosts over 40 acres of rich architecture and green open space, with notable alumni including Courtney Love, Niall Horan, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. The university often hosts exhibitions, including the science gallery and the Book of Kels. The 9th century illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kels is regarded as one of Ireland’s finest treasures and can be seen inside the university for a small entrance fee.

8. St. Michans Mummies
This is one of the lesser known tourist attractions in Dublin but is still worth a visit. Underneath this 1095 Protestant church lies vaults which contain many mummified remains, that have been uniquely preserved by the dry, limestone conditions within the vaults. As you walk down the eerie cobweb lined stairs you will be greeted by a passageway with several rooms off it, all containing coffins and mummified remains. The tour guide gives you information on the people who are found there, as well as letting you get up close and personal with the mummified body of ‘the crusader’ inviting you to touch it! This is definitely not one for the screamish.

9. Grafton Street
No trip to Dublin is complete without visiting the renowned shopping strips. Just a short walk from Trinity College, Grafton street is usually the first choice for shopping due to its vast array of shops and a multitude of street performers. The famous Brown Thomas department store is located here and is definitely worth a visit; it is often frequented by celebrities so you never know who you’ll bump into! St Stephens green park is located at the top of Grafton Street allowing you to escape the hustle and bustle of the inner city for some peace and tranquility. In addition Henry street is another principle location where you will find a great choice of shops including Arnotts, the oldest department store in Dublin.

10. Have a drink at one of the 751 pubs in Dublin
You’re never far from a pub when you’re in Dublin, with the city hosting over 751 pubs! You’ll find everything from the old traditional pubs, to swanky cocktail bars, but in my opinion you can’t experience Dublin fully if you don’t try and soak up some of the culture, so leave those cocktails bars for now and get yourself through the doors of those little old pubs, for a good pint of Guinness and some Irish music.

Have you been to any great places in Dublin that I didn’t manage to visit?

Laura 

Battle of Birmingham’s Best Rated Cafés

You don’t have to venture far from Birmingham to experience flavours from all over the world. Being blessed with a handful of mitchelin star restaurants such as Purnell’s which is located on Cornwall Street, ran by the Birmingham born master chef Glynn Purnell. Birmingham is a hub of variety when it comes to food. But good food doesn’t always have to be expensive, with the new street food venue Digbeth Dining Club taking Birmingham by a storm, you can enjoy gourmet foods at a low cost. Hosting weekly events at the Spotlight venue, the Digbeth Dining Club showcases various street food venders who offer fare to tantalise the taste buds and allow you to embrace your senses with the various smells and tastes which this venue has to offer. After moving to Birmingham when I started university, I have been fortunate to try what Birmingham has to offer, and I am impressed. Brunch is one of my favourite meals; I mean who doesn’t love a good coffee paired with eggs benedict? This year I took it upon me to try out two places that I had heard great things about; Boston Tea Party and Yorks Bakery Café.

Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party is a chain of independent cafés located around the UK, one of which resides on Birmingham’s Corporation Street. Opening in 2013, this café has gained a lot of fame, being featured in The Times list of top 25 places to eat brunch in the UK, as well as winning Food Magazine’s ‘Best Café’ award in 2015. The chain is proud to be ethically run, being a three star member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. The rustic, ‘upcycled’ interior is one of the first things you notice as you enter Boston Tea Party, but if you’re food obsessed like me you will probably notice the huge array of baked goods displayed on the counter instead, which I couldn’t resist! As well as an extensive hot drinks and food menu, the café offers a great range of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food to cater for all dietary needs.
After ordering a latté and eggs benedict, I took a seat in the corner of the room to get a good view of the café itself. My coffee arrived after a few minutes wait, nicely presented with an nice attempt at some latté art on the surface. The coffee here was to die for, it was one of the nicest lattés I have had, but I wasn’t too long into enjoying it when the main event came, my eggs benedict. The presentation was brilliant, enticing me in with the rich, tangy smell of the hollandaise sauce. The eggs were perfect, the coffee was perfect, the experience was perfect, and I left (with cake in hand) feeling very satisfied.

9/10

 

Yorks Bakery Café
Yorks Bakery Café is an independent café with two locations in Birmingham, with one being an espresso bar. Founded in 2012, Yorks Bakery Café has a passion to deliver the very best speciality coffee and uplifting food to Birmingham, with an emphasis on craft and ingredients. Rated by the Sunday Times as one of the best places in Britain to have brunch, I first heard about this café in an article by The Guardian, who stated it as one of the top 50 best breakfast places in the UK in 2017. With high expectations I eagerly made my way to Stephenson Street to locate Yorks Bakery Café. Inspired by the travels of the team, the interior had a similar feel to that of Boston Tea Party, with a more urban feel to it. Excited, I ordered immediately, choosing a latté and the Arabian buttered eggs. Once I settled into my surroundings, I felt that the café itself was small and cramped, but this may be due to the café being entirely full when I visited. The counter hosted a small array of baked goods, but nowhere near the quantity that Boston Tea Party displayed. As this café calls itself a ‘bakery’ I was expecting there to be more on offer. As I sat there staring out the window I had noticed 10 minutes had gone by, and I still had not received my coffee. It arrived a few minutes later, and although there was a wait, I was impressed by the presentation. The coffee used in the latté itself was a very dark roast, with a bitter taste which I did not enjoy. After drinking my latté my food had still not came yet, with it eventually arriving a good 30 minutes after I ordered. The Arabian buttered eggs were something new to me; I enjoyed the new tastes, and eating things that I normally wouldn’t put together. The presentation was slightly lacklustre compared to Boston Tea Party’s offerings, and I noticed my food was missing the ‘mixed herbs’ which were stated on the menu. Although I enjoyed my food, I left (with cake in hand obviously), feeling rather disappointed. I had high hopes for this café but they sadly didn’t meet them.

6/10

 

After sampling the delights of Birmingham’s best rated cafes – Boston Tea Party and Yorks Bakery Café, I can conclude that Boston Tea Party is hands down the winner. For me first impressions are everything, and Boston Tea Party made a cracking one. Although both cafes are good, and I would recommend going to either if you are in the area, there is no doubt in my mind the Boston Tea Party comes off as superior. Maybe one day I will give Yorks Bakery Café another chance one day to impress me, but when I am not busy, as it’s not the best place to go if you are in a rush! So if your after ethically sourced food, amazing coffee and brilliant service, I highly recommend you pay a visit to Boston Tea Party, you won’t regret it.

Laura


Links to the websites for the cafes in the review can be found below –
BTP: http://www.bostonteaparty.co.uk/our_cafes/birmingham.php
Yorks Bakery Café : http://www.yorksbakerycafe.co.uk/