7 Most Disappointing Foodie Experiences

When you dine out as much as I do it’s only natural to expect a few disappointments. While getting a crap kebab or a bog standard burger can be a bit saddening, the worst is when you have seriously high hopes for a place only to have them dashed on the rocks of poor customer service. I’ve had quite a few sad foodie experiences in the past wee while, so I thought I’d share them with you lovely people.

The Time We Had To Wait Two Hours for Brunch

Cabslam

We popped into Cabslam for brunch one day because we’d heard awesome things. We sat down at 11am, ordered our brekkie, and we waited. Service was a bit slow, but after an hour I started to notice people who had arrived after us happily tucking into their food: in some cases the same food we’d ordered. Hmmm. I called over our waiter: he couldn’t even remember serving us. Then it turned out he’d lost our order. Cue another hour of waiting. Our food didn’t get bumped up the queue, and we weren’t offered free coffees to make up for the fact that we’d finished our drinks ages ago. The worst part is, to use their free Wi-Fi you have to like them on Facebook. So now I have to drool over their food knowing that I can never go back there because the service was so bad and I have principles. Sob.

The Time the Waitress Ate My Lunch

While we were in the Algarve we visited a restaurant known for its mixed grill. This formidable plate is enough for four people to share, or for two to stuff themselves full and still have some for lunch the next day. Thinking the leftovers would be handy for sandwiches the next day, I ordered it and shared with my dad. We asked for a doggy bag but it never came. As we were leaving my dad asked the owner if we could have our leftovers. She looked embarrassed and said “we must have thrown it out.” BUT! Just after our food was taken away we noticed the staff settling down for dinner. Suspicious! I’m not saying they ate my lunch, but they totally ate my lunch.

The Time We Had to Share a Table with Three French Men

The first sign something was off was that it was ‘Fresh Fish Friday’ but the menu was solely comprised of shellfish. The food was pretty average, but we were looking forward to dessert. Just before we could order it the waiter came over and asked us to budge over as he wanted to squeeze three more customers round our wee table. Didn’t really fancy eating my pudding when the guys sitting beside us were tucking into their garlicky starters, but sadly the waiter didn’t fancy bringing us the bill either. Awkward all round.

The Time We Got Served Raw Chicken

Lizarran is one of my favourite Spanish chains, so imagine my shock when I went into one of their restaurants in Madrid and got served this:

Lizarran Chicken

No apologies from the staff, nothing taken off our bill, nada. When I got in touch with Lizarran head office (via Twitter and email) I was also ignored! Moral of the story is, always cut your pintxo in half. Speaking of pintxos…

The Time We Went for Pintxos in Edinburgh

The arrival of an “authentic” Spanish tapas bar in Leith cheered me no end. But after visiting the place in question I realised this was 100% Edinburgh, 0% Sevilla. We ordered some bread and alioli and got about 3 teardrops of garlic mayo and six wee slices of bread for our £3.20. All the dishes were saucy, so we kept having to order more £3 bread baskets to mop up the juices. When my dad complained about the tiny portions and extortionate pricing he ended up in a Facebook slanging match with the owner. So I won’t be going back.

The Time We Went to a Fado Show

Fado

We had an amazing weekend in Lisbon just before Christmas. We ate so much good food, but sadly the weekend ended on a low note with a trip to a fado dinner show. The food was basically disgusting: my duck was overcooked and my rice was inedible. It was one of the most expensive meals we had all weekend. I spent the next couple of days suffering with food poisoning. Whether that’s the fado show’s fault or the Irish sausages my mum fed me when I got back to the Algarve is up for debate.

The Time We Got Invited on The Restaurant Inspector

Shortly after starting this blog, I paid a visit to Iggs. The food was nice but the service was awful. I complained on TripAdvisor and as a result got invited onto an episode of The Restaurant Inspector. Somehow they’d managed to make the restaurant even worse. We were left sitting for an hour waiting to pay for our drinks while the owner schmoozed with the TV crew. Eventually we just walked out, leaving our address in case they wanted to follow up for payment. They’ve closed down now, which is kind of a shame I suppose?

So, although not the worst meals I’ve ever eaten, these were definitely the most upsetting. What are your worst restaurant experiences?

Another Road Trip: Algarve to Berlin

Driving around Europe sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? When we bought our left hand drive car in the summer of 2012 we certainly thought so. Countless hours on French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Polish and Czech roads later and we’re kind of over it. Still, travelling with a car has its plus points. It makes moving house a lot easier, for one. For two, it also means you get to visit a lot of interesting places on your way from here to there.

Road trip lagos

Our latest road trip took us from Lagos in The Algarve (Portugal), to Neukoelln in Berlin (Germany).

The road trip before that (Berlin to Valencia) took three weeks, but that was far too long. This time we settled on seven days. That seemed just right. Seven days, seven stops. We tried to keep each day’s driving down to about five hours, any longer than that and we get serious road fatigue.

I’ve summed up the highlights of our trip, although to be honest we didn’t  get a chance to see or do too much as we were mostly driving, listening to podcasts, and trying to avoid the temptation of junk food.

Lagos to Granada (via Silves and Sesmarias): about 6 hours

Granada

Our first day on the road started later than we intended. Both sets of parents are based in the Algarve (mine for six months, James’ permanently) and it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye. Two pit stops and countless cups of tea later, we were on our way. We didn’t reach Granada until 9:30pm, where we encountered a bit of grid-lock on the by-pass. Thankfully our hotel was near the motorway exit, and was also a short stroll from some excellent tapas bars. Dinner time doesn’t start until 10pm in Andalusia so we had plenty of time to freshen up.

Granada to Valencia: 5 hours

Drive to Valencia

Living in Valencia didn’t work out for us, but we’ll never regret our time there because we got to meet Mike and Juergen from For 91 Days. It would be rude of us to drive across Spain without popping in to say hi, so we had a pit-stop in Valencia (and quite a few glasses of vino tinto). We still really need to give Valencia a proper second chance, as one night on the way to Berlin (and one month living by the beach) wasn’t enough.

Valencia to Girona: technically, 4.5 hours. Really, 8.5.

Girona

We were all set to hit Girona by lunch time when disaster struck. That’s for another longwinded blog post, : all I’m going to say is that if you’re going to break down in Spain, don’t do it on a Sunday. Once we arrived in Girona it was too late to walk into town, but we did wander up in the morning and oh my lord what a wonderful little city. It’s so beautiful, and the Catalan flags hanging from every window reminded me a bit of Leith last September, with the saltires hanging from almost every window.

Girona to Beaune: 7 hours

Beaune

When we were planning our route I suggested Beaune. For some reason I thought my favourite cheese, epoisses, came from there but I was wrong. It is, however, the wine capital of Burgundy. Guys, you should have seen the supermarket here. There was a GINORMOUS epoisses that I sadly wasn’t allowed to buy because Mr Sensible pointed out that it would make our car smell of dog farts. I was allowed to buy a magnum of cremant de bourgogne, however, and a few bottles of champagne and white burgundy.

Beaune to Strasbourg: 4 hours

Strasbourg

This is when we saw snow for the first time all winter and wondered why we were driving north anyway. Are we mad? After wandering around the city for ages looking for somewhere to eat we eventually stumbled upon Académie de la Bière: two people were just leaving a table and we managed to grab it. The beer was fantastic, as was the flammkuchen. Good music, great atmosphere, and exactly what we needed after a few long days on the road. I’d definitely recommend popping in.

Strasbourg to the Czech Republic: 5.5 hours

Cheb

We decided to mix things up a bit by driving straight across Germany to stay in a hotel just inside the Czech Republic, a short drive from a town called Cheb (heh heh heh). The hotel, called Seeberg, was just… wow. The views were fantastic, the decor was quaint, and we had a huge two person bath tub in our room! The breakfast was really good, too. The only down side was dinner: it got to 7:30pm and we decided to check out the restaurant across the way. It was closed, and it was the only place nearby. The hotel owner seemed confused that we wanted dinner, and said she could give us some cold meat or something. We decided to drive into town but it was the same story, nothing open.  I was gutted as I was really looking forward to trying some hearty Czech cuisine.

Czech Republic to Berlin: 4.5 hours

Berlin

Our last day of driving and the weather made us suffer. It started raining, but as soon as the rain hit our windscreen it froze. Our windscreen fluid had also frozen, and our wipers were needing replaced, so we pulled into a service station to grab some anti-freeze. While we were cleaning our windscreen a guy came over to us: at first I thought he was some kind of scammer but he was just looking for help. His car’s battery had drained and he needed someone to give him a jump start.

His story was quite interesting. He was checking out a flat in Leipzig for his Scottish flatmate, who he lives with in Wales, and only had 8 hours to make it to Denmark to get a ferry to Newcastle: where he’d be driving to Aberdeen to pick up his mate, then back down to Wales. He was deaf, and I felt a bit guilty that I can’t sign. We gave him a boost and he went on his way: if you’re out there dude, I hope you made it!

All in all I felt like this seven day drive was a bit of a whirlwind, and it made me realise that two nights in a place is better if you really want to see it. Stupidly I didn’t take time off to travel, so I was trying to squeeze in a few hours of work around driving and exploring.

Christmassy Weekend in Lisbon

Xmassy Lisbon

Lisbon is one of my very favourite cities. Although I only lived there for six months, whenever I see photos of it I’m filled with home-sickness. When James and I decided to spend two months in the Algarve, I knew a romantic weekend in Lisbon was on the cards. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine our holiday with a Christmas shopping trip.

I booked us into a hotel that I’d always wanted to stay in, he sorted out the train tickets, and we were all set! I’ve written about the perfect weekend in Lisbon before, but some things have changed since then. Our Christmas weekend was damn near bang on perfect, so I thought I’d write a new post instead of updating the old one.

Friday night

LX Boutique Hotel Collage
The LX Boutique Hotel

We stayed at the LX Boutique Hotel in Cais do Sodre. We were greeted with a big plate of pasteis de nata and a bottle of port, which we could help ourselves to after checking in. We were  offered a free room upgrade: the catch was that the lift was broken and we’d have to walk up the stairs to the top floor. Fine by us! Our room had amazing views out towards the Tagus River, where we could watch the cruise ships rolling by.

After freshening up we decided to head for our absolute favourite restaurant: A Taberna da Rua das Flores. You can’t book a table, so show up early! I think we arrived about 7:45pm and if we’d been a minute later we’d have missed out on a table. The restaurant has a kind of tapas style to it, so you pick a few dishes and share. The menu changes regularly and it’s always a little bit unique, often it’s Portuguese cooking with an Asian twist. Our meal was fantastic: especially the desserts. Mine, fresh cheese with honey and toasted almonds, was unbelievable.

Our delicious dinner in Taberna
Dinner in one of Lisbon’s most romantic little restaurants

After dinner we did what any self respecting Lisboeta would do: we went up the Bairro Alto and settled ourselves into a seat at our favourite mezcal bar. A few cocktails later we decided to head to another bar, where they were doing shots of mulled wine and playing heavy metal. On the way back to our hotel we stumbled into a very trendy bar that reminded us of somewhere in Kreuzberg, then stood at the window enjoying the warm evening breeze. Yes, in December!

Lisbon's nightlife is fantastic

Saturday

We started the day at the Mercado de Ribeira, which is a new addition to the city and a heaven for foodies. It was fairly quiet in the morning, but we did drop in to Aloma to sample the best pasteis de nata the city has to offer (sorry Belem!). Afterwards we wandered to our favourite travel book shop in Santos, and then  up to Principe Real and generally all over the place taking in the street art, statues, and gorgeous buildings. We ended up having lunch in a little hole in the wall curry place: it actually looked like a regular Portuguese cafe from the outside.

Saturday

As you can probably tell from my photos It was a bit rainy and minging so we retreated to the hotel for a bit where we lounged around in bathrobes and watched gems like ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘Catfish’. We don’t have a TV at home so this was a right treat.

As part of our hotel package we were entitled to a platter of free ‘welcome’ sushi in the bar, so we decided to go enjoy it before deciding on a restaurant for dinner.

The bar area is very opulently decorated and, luckily for us, is home to the best sushi restaurant in Lisbon. We grabbed a window seat and asked for our freebie (shy bairns get nae sweeties) and watched the pouring rain splashing off the pink street below us. The sushi btw? OMG. Phenomenal. So good that we asked for the menu when the waitress came to clear our plates. Same again after our second round: this time we decided to be brave and try the salmon and camembert (!) roll. I’m glad we took the risk. I’ve never tasted anything like it.

The rain let up a little, and we decided the perfect end to the night would be walking back down to the Mercado and having some bubbly and oysters. We also had a seared scallop with mango salsa and little pastries with mussels in them.

Scallops and oysters from Sea Me at the Time Out marketplace
Scallops and oysters from Sea Me at the Time Out marketplace

We moved to another stall and had a biiiig slice of cake, and another stall for a madrona and passion fruit cocktail.The market has a great buzz at night, and is a dangerous place to be if you’re on a budget or a diet. You can flit around from stall to stall sampling the wares until you get bored. Everything we had was high quality and tasted phenomenal.

Sunday

LX Factory

We took the tram out to our old stomping ground of Alcantara to visit one of our favourite little corners of Lisbon, the LX Factory. Once an industrial factory area by the river, the old warehouses are now home to trendy cafes, vintage clothes shops, quirky homeware stores, art galleries, start-ups, and one of the world’s most beautiful book-shops. On Sundays there’s a flea market, and as we were in Lisbon for Christmas shopping we decided to have a browse. Afterwards we decided to go for lunch: our first choice was our absolute favourite gem, Aquele Lugar em Alcantara, but it was closed so we ended up in our favourite pizza place, A Mesa, instead. We munched on a bacalhau pizza and sipped on Super Bock.

The fadista was good, but unfortunately the food wasn't
The fadista was good, but unfortunately the food wasn’t

On Sunday night we decided to go and see some fado. For some reason we acted like a couple of idiot tourists and went to a fado and dinner show. DON’T DO THIS. It was the most expensive meal we ate on the trip, the food was disgusting and the wine was overpriced. And I spent most of the next day suffering from food poisoning so there’s that. If you want to see fado, grab dinner somewhere else then head up to Alfama. Most of the cosy bars up there have fado singers performing, and you won’t get burned for €100+.

On Monday morning we got up and took the train back to the Algarve. Aside from the sad fado blip, and the fact that we barely got any shopping done, our weekend in Lisbon was all I could have asked for.

48 Hours in Lisbon

I lived in Lisbon for six months, and during that time I fell head over heels for the city. I loved everything about it. Colourful buildings, ancient trams rattling along, and the omnipresent smell of barbecued meat and fish. One of the best things about Lisbon is the laid back vibe, so different from capital cities like London where everyone’s in a hurry. Lisbon simply invites you to sit back, kick up your feet, and enjoy people watching over a strong espresso.

aLisbon1

You really have to scratch the surface to get the most out of Lisbon, but if you’ve only got a couple of days in the city you might not have enough time to hit all the best bits. I thought I’d put together an itinerary for weekend breakers. While this list doesn’t include all of my favourite places, I reckon it’ll give you a good feel for the city. So here it is: my itinerary for the ultimate weekend in Lisbon!

Friday

6pm: Drop your bags in your hotel and get ready to watch the sunset with a pre-dinner cocktail: in a multi-storey car park. I’m not nuts, honestly. What looks like a normal multi-storey car park on Calçada do Combro is actually one of the city’s trendiest rooftop bars. Jump into the dodgy wee lift up to the fifth floor, then walk up the stairs to the sixth. Instead of a desolate roof, you’ll find yourself in a trendy bar with excellent views over to the west. Treat yourself to a port and tonic (my new favourite) and enjoy the atmosphere.

James demonstrates how it's done
James shows us how it’s done

8pm: Once you’ve finished your aperitif, wander up the hill to the Bairro Alto and get yourself some dinner at Blend on Rua da Norte. This is one of my favourite places to eat in the city centre. It’s tapas style food, combining some interesting flavours that you don’t find anywhere else in the city. Try the fuul (kidney beans with peanut butter) and the ceviche. Yum yum.

The desserts here are also delish, but you’ve only got a couple of days to spend here and no time to waste. Cross the road to Tease: the rock ‘n’ roll bakery. Grab a seat on one of the sofas and choose a nice decadent cupcake. I like the ones with half a chocolate seashell sticking out the top. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a big glass of wine!

What a tease

11pm: Now you have two options. One, you can go home (boo!) or two: you can wander deeper into the Bairro Alto, where the party is just getting started. The winding streets are packed with wonderful bars, most serving up great value cocktails in plastic cups so you can stand outside and join the street life. There are some nice wine bars too (I like the Old Pharmacy) but for something different pop up to Mezcal, a wee hole in the wall bar that specialises in the Mexican spirit of the same name. Mezcal margheritas: does it get any better? If you’re lucky, you might even get offered the worm.

Saturday

10am: You’re pretty hungover. I know. Mornings after a night in the Bairro Alto are never good. Pop into your nearest bakery for a bica (espresso) and a pastel de nata (custard tart) or two and you’ll be right as rain: just in time for the 11am Sandeman’s free walking tour, leaving from Largo de Camoes in Chiado. These tours take three hours and cover some of Lisbon’s best sights, as well as filling you in on some of the city’s interesting history. I’ve done the tour myself, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My buddies and I getting ready to walk
My buddies and I getting ready to walk

The tour ends in Praça do Comércio; just in time for lunch. Avoid the touristy restaurants in Baixa and head past Rossio to Praca Martim Moniz. This is the multicultural heart of Lisbon. Named after a hero knight who died in the siege of the castle, the square is now home to loads of street food kiosks. You can get everything here, from sushi and ceviche to hot dogs and pizza. Grab yourself a bite to eat (and a hair of the dog) and sit outside, enjoying music from the DJ/live band/opera singer/whoever happens to be performing that day.

My favourite square in Lisbon: Martim Moniz
My favourite square in Lisbon: Martim Moniz

After lunch, you’re ready to hit the attractions that the walking tour missed out: the castle and Alfama. Instead of walking all the way up the hill, duck into the Pingo Doce supermarket and jump in the free lift. The castle offers some of the best views in the city. It costs money to get in, so if you’re tight fisted like me just climb the walls outside and admire the view from there.

Alfama, the medieval neighbourhood surrounding the castle, is great for a wander. Walk along behind Lisbon Cathedral and you’ll soon find yourself in the back streets. Pick up a souvenir or two; a tram fridge magnet, or a painting of Lisbon done in coffee and red wine. Alfama is where all of Lisbon’s fado houses are, too. Fado is Portugal’s mournful folk music, and it’s definitely worth taking in a show over dinner.

Unfortunately I didn’t get round to seeing fado in Lisbon (although I managed to catch it in Coimbra and Silves) so I can’t make any recommendations here. I say choose whichever place looks good and enjoy a traditional meal with traditional music surrounded by traditional tourists. Order the porco preto (black pork) if they have it. It’s divine.

Sunday

Get up bright and early: today we’re hitting the historic neighbourhood of Belém, out to the west of the city. Catch a Tram 15 (if you’re lucky it will be one of the old streetcars) and jump off outside Jeronimo’s Monastery. You’ll know it when you see it. In Portugal, the national monuments are free to enter before 2pm on a Sunday so it’s the perfect day to hit the cloisters of the monastery, the Torre de Belém, and the Coach Museum. But first: breakfast.

Belem

Remember that custard tart you had yesterday? Well, there’s a shop, Pastéis de Belém, that lays claim to the best ones in the city. There’s always a queue, but take it from me: it’s worth standing in it. Grab a nata or three and sit in one of the rooms, tiled in traditional azulejo tiles. Or if it’s too busy (or you’re not for queuing), try Chique de Belém (conveniently next to the coach museum). James insists that these are actually the best natas in the city: and they have an outdoor seating area, too.

Now do the monuments. Just go in and ask for a ticket: because it’s Sunday morning you won’t be charged. I recommend hitting the coach museum first, then the cloisters, then wander through the cute flea market and go under the subway to the riverside where you’ll find the tower. It’s worth going in, but if you don’t like crowded spaces I highly recommend avoiding a climb to the top.

Belem tower

 

The stairwells are only wide enough for one person at a time: for some reason the 16th Century architects didn’t account for hundreds of tourists tramping up and down all day. There are traffic lights, but people do ignore them. It can be a bit of a crush going up and down. We ended up trapped on the roof for about ten minutes: not fun.

Once you manage to get back down to ground level, it’s time for a nice 2km walk along the Tagus riverfront. You’ll pass the iconic Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), which features some of Portugal’s most iconic golden era figures. Just keep walking alongside the water and you’ll get a great feel for Lisbon life. People fishing in the Tagus, dog walkers playing with their furry friends on the grass, children cycling their bikes, and fitness fanatics like myself (cough) going for a run.

Riverfront

Walk under the Ponte 25th Abril (twin to the Golden Gate Bridge) and you’ll reach the Doca de Santo Amaro: my favourite place for a sunny lunch in Lisbon. The restaurants here are all nice, with outdoor seating areas. Lisbon is famous for its fish, and for good reason.

Head to 5 Oceanos and get a table on their deck, overlooking the dock. When your couvert arrives (bread, butter and olives) be sure to order some cheese. It’s lovely ooey gooey awesomeness, you won’t regret it. Browse the specials, or try something traditional. Bacalhau (salt cod) is the national dish. Don’t be put off by the name: it’s not salty at all. Dourado and robalo are also popular, so if you don’t fancy eating the heavy bacalhau con natas (cod with cream) opt for some grilled dourado or robalo instead.

Skip the dessert menu and head back along the river. Cross the footbridge into the Alcantara neighbourhood. You’ll pass the conference centre on your left: once you get to the main road (with the trams) turn right. Wander along for a bit, then once you reach Rua Rodrigues Faria turn right. Turn right again, and you’re in the LX Factory: Lisbon’s hipster hang out.

aLXFactory

Once a massive factory complex, the old industrial area has been completely transformed. It’s now full of trendy cafes, quirky boutiques, and great restaurants. There are loads of great places to grab some dessert here. Bola da Marta, in the beautiful book shop Ler Devager, does a fine cake. As does Cafe Na Fabrica, another of my favourite haunts. But for the best chocolate cake in Lisbon, it has to be Landeau. One ‘fatia’ (slice) is enough to feed two. It’s seriously rich.

After eating all that food you’ll probably want to head back to your hotel for a well deserved ap, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you’re still up for partying there’s always the pink street in Cais do Sodre (Rua Nova do Carvalho). People spill out of the bars and clubs clutching their beer until the wee small hours of the morning. It’s got got an awesome atmosphere, and is a must visit if you’re a party animal.

So have I tempted you? Go on, book those flights to Lisbon now. You won’t regret it!

February Round-Up

February1. Beautiful day at the explorer’s tower 2. Enjoying date night at The Old Pharmacy 3. Wandering 4. The Electricity Factory 5. The Caves pay a visit 6 & 7 lovely graffiti 8. Enjoying the view 9. Mum’s birthday!

February Highlights

Celebrating our ‘anniversary

It’s hard to believe, but James and I have been together officially for three years now! I’m not sure if I can deal with all this long term commitment stuff.  As the day itself fell midweek, and we’re still sticking to our diets, we were fairly good and just popped down to the LX Factory for a quick steak sarnie. On the Friday though, we really pushed the boat out. We went to the excellent fish restaurant Frade dos Mares, and then stumbled up to Bairro Alto for some bubbly. Lovely evening, though a wee bit marred by my sore ankle.

Les & Mary come to visit

James’s mum and dad popped up to Lisbon for a visit and we had a great time wandering around in the sunshine, showing them some of our favourite places, and just generally having a bit of a catch up. One of the highlights was doing the “touristy” thing in Belem. On Sundays the national monuments are all free to enter, so we wandered around the Monastery of Jerónimos and climbed up the Tower of Belem. We also had a browse of the flea market and then finished off with an excellent kebab in Pao Pao Queijo Queijo.

Exploring more of Lisbon

We don’t have long left in this beautiful city *sob* so we did what anyone would do and dedicated more time to wandering around it. We made it up to trendy Principe Real but unfortunately the uber cool O Prego da Peixaria was too busy for us to sample one of their famous fish burgers. Instead we lounged about on the terrace of Lost In, a sort of Indian inspired hangout that I felt was lacking in atmosphere. We found an awesome travel book shop in Santos, and even managed to wander around those famously winding streets of Alfama that everyone loves so much. I really liked walking into town along the waterfront; lots of cool graffiti and big empty warehouses.

Surprising my mum in Edinburgh

It was a big birthday for my mum this year, she turned the big “five-oh” at the end of the month. I decided it would be awful to let it pass without incident, so I decided to surprise her by flying home on her birthday and taking her out for afternoon tea the next day. I didn’t tell her I was arriving (although my dad knew) and seriously, it was so worth it just to make her cry on her big day! We went out for dinner at Purslane, had an utterly fabulous afternoon experience at the North Bridge Brasserie, and then spent about 8 hours in Jeremiah’s Taproom because my mum decided to start her celebrations at 4pm. She’s a crazy lady, that one.

Anyway, that was my February in a nutshell!

 

January Round Up!

Let’s face it, I’ve been bloody dismal at updating this here weblog. I’d like to say I’m too busy living my life to actually blog about it, but the truth is that when I’m not working (aka writing) I prefer to spend my free time lazing around the house.

Inspired by my good friend Lynne, I’ve decided it might be fun to do a little monthly round up from now on so that even if I forget to blog all month, you guys can still find out what I’ve been up to. So January! Here’s how it was for me.

JANUARY
1. Ringing in the new year on the banks of the Tagus 2. Selfie with Jesus 3. Scrabble with our friends 4. Coimbra’s beautiful cathedral  5. Around the university in Coimbra 6. Dramatic skies in Coimbra  7. Westernmost point on mainland Europe 8. Mid-run selfie 9. Wine and cupcakes

Highlights of January 2014

Having our friends out for new year

It’s become a bit of a tradition that wherever we are for new year, our pals will follow. While last year we were in dull as dishwater Tarbes, this year we’re in Lisbon, a city that keeps winning tourism awards for generally being awesome. Sadly when our friends arrived the binmen were on strike and it was pouring with rain, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time!

We went on a three hour walking tour and learned all about Lisbon’s colourful history, got horrifically drunk in the Bairro Alto, had a steak dinner over the new year bells down at the Docas, took a ferry over to the great big statue of Jesus, and even ventured to Sintra where we stood at Cabo Da Roca: mainland Europe’s westernmost point.

We also played a game of Scrabble where I foolishly put down the word “shat”, which let Sam and Shara play their trump card: “cunts”. Yes, we are twelve years old.

Starting a diet and exercise plan and sticking to it…

Every so often I decide it’s time to lose weight and become a skinny minnie again, but usually I either lose motivation or just can’t be bothered. This year, surprisingly, I’m managing to stick to it. I’ve ditched the fad diets and instead I’m eating more fruit and veg, less cheese and bread, and avoiding alcohol six days a week.

I’ve also ditched the Couch to 5k podcasts because they just don’t work for me, and I’ve downloaded Zombies, Run instead. It. is. AMAZING. I actually get excited about going for a run now. I’ve gone from barely being able to run for a bus to being able to do 4.2km no problemo. I’ve lost over a kilo so far, and my skin is looking fresher and healthier than it has for a long time.

…Apart from on date night

One night a week, I let myself be naughty and have a meal off. This is Friday night, and it’s date night, and it’s a night where I can eat hundreds of calories and guzzle wine and not feel bad. Although it sounds like it’s obviously going to hinder my progress a wee bit, it actually helps. If I find myself craving pizza and wine on a Thursday, I think “I’ll have that tomorrow.” Much better than giving in, stuffing myself, and then saying “that’s the diet ruined! Might as well eat some lard”.

It also means that we’re more likely to go to awesome places like Tease rock ‘n’ roll bakery. Massive cupcakes and huge glasses of vino? That’s what cheat night is made for! This month date night has taken us to swanky cocktail bars, trendy Russian restaurants, and an Irish pub where we listened to live music and drank pints of Kilkenny til 3am. God bless date night.

Taking a holiday in Coimbra

For his birthday last year, James’s parents offered to pay for a weekend break for the two of us. The big day was in August and we’ve just got round to accepting their kind offer this month. We caught the train from Entrecampos up to the beautiful university town of Coimbra, between Lisbon and Porto. We had a great time wandering around admiring the architecture, listening to fado in a bar that used to be a chapel, and eating our fill of suckling pig and goat stew.

That’s the great thing about holidays. Food has no calories when you’re away from home.

How was your January?

The Time I Tried to Break a Guinness World Record

underrun new site copy

 

On Wednesday night I signed up for a race called the Underrun. Over 2000 people were going, it was going to break a Guinness World Record, and I was going to get to run about in my underpants: something I’ve dreamed of doing since I saw the video for “What’s My Age Again?”

Unfortunately, I hate running. I hate all forms of exercise, but running is just the worst. It hurts my legs, it hurts my lungs, and when I do it I turn a fetching shade of neon pink all over. Even my forearms. Do we even have sweat glands in our forearms?

Needless to say, I don’t go running very often. However, the race was in four days time and I thought I better get at least one training session in. I wandered down to the Tagus Riverfront and really pushed myself, kicked the Blerch’s ass and collapsed in a red and sweaty heap at the end.

Mind you, this made me even more nervous. I don’t think I’ve ever ran one kilometer in my life, nevermind three, but still: I was ready.

Tagus Riverfront
The Tagus River: not a bad place to stretch the old legs

Sunday arrived, and after a few days of minimising my alcohol intake and eating fairly healthily, it was time. I chose out some nice matching undies so that I wouldn’t look like a scruff puff, and I put on some clothes that I would be happy to part with.

The race was for a homeless person’s charity, the idea being that everyone would wear winter clothes they don’t need anymore, stripping them off at the start of the race so that they could be donated to homeless folk. Obviously everyone had to bring a change of clothes for after the race too.

I was a bit stressed all weekend, wondering “will there be enough lockers for everyone’s bags? will someone have to go around picking up the crumpled clothes? How are they going to wash 2000 tops and 2000 pairs of trousers? WHAT IF I BECOME A MEME!?”

After climbing onto a crowded tram to Cais do Sodre, then struggling through two long tube journeys, we finally arrived at the Parque das Nações: a hyper modern bit of Lisbon which my parents absolutely adore. We managed to find an internet cafe to print our tickets off at, and then we wandered into the mall to find some baggy boxer shorts to protect James’s modesty.

We found some nice ones in H&M, but H&M in Lisbon isn’t as cheap as H&M in Edinburgh. Two pairs were 14 Euro 95, but hey: it was worth it to look good in the run, right? So James bought the pants and went to the toilets to put them on.

He took ages because the shop assistant hadn’t taken off the electronic tag and he didn’t think he’d have time to go back and get it taken off. We were already 10 minutes late for registration (which was at 3pm), and now one pair of his pricey undies had a hole in them and the other had an electronic ink tag stuck to them.

We hurried into the Parque, expecting to see signs and lots of people wandering around looking ridiculous. Nope. Hmm. We sort of power-walked around the area, expecting bits of the road to be blocked off for the run: again, nope. We finally managed to find the building where the race was set to start.

We were half an hour late at this point and we’d walked pretty much the whole route looking for the building. There were sure to be crowds, right?

Nope.
Not exactly.

The sponsor trucks were just getting set up, and there was a handful of folk loitering with duffel bags. We asked one woman where to hand in our tickets, and she told us (in French) to go speak to the folk wearing the yellow jackets. So we spoke to them (in Portuguese, Spanish and English) and none of them seemed to have any idea what was going on.

We wandered about a bit more before realising there wasn’t going to be 2000 people. No records were being broken today. At first we thought “well we’ve paid good money to do this!” but when we saw just how few people had turned up we decided to sit on the steps opposite and see what was going to happen next.

Running in a stampede of half naked people= fine. Running in a group of 10? Let me get back to you on that one!

The stripping and the run were meant to take place at 4pm. At 5pm, a few lads and two lassies started to get undressed. There were literally 11 people in their underwear. Having worked in PR, I felt sorry for the sponsors more than anything: especially the folk who were dressed up as flashers handing out some dried apple crisps. Red Bull had sponsored the event too, and I’d hate to be the promo guy this morning answering questions about reach etc.

The final turnout, as posted on Underrun's Facebook page this morning
The final turnout, as posted on Underrun’s Facebook page this morning

Resigned, I pulled on my jeans and said to James “shall we go shopping?”

Walked into C&A: James’s underpants set off the alarm.

We went home.

Jemma’s Big Bucket

AKA  “Things I want to do but haven’t got round to doing yet”

I know some bloggers are totally against bucket lists because “sheesh, just get out there and do it already!” but the thing is, I’m not sitting in an office staring sullenly out the window thinking “one day, one day…” I’m already living life as a DIGITAL NOMAD (how wanky does that sound, seriously?) and am travelling at my own pace.

I know bucket lists are so two years ago, honey, but I like using this blog to share my experiences. Surely my hopes, dreams and desires are just as worthy of chronicling as that pizza I just ate?

Also it’s my birthday today, and on my birthday I get to do what I want. So there. And these are the things that I would like to do. I know it’s a bit of a short bucket list, but I am 27 this year. I think Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison et al would think I’m rather prudent for only having five things on it.

So birthday fairy, if you’re out there…

Swim with sharks

I’ve been fascinated with sharks ever since I was a wee lassie. My first computer came with an interactive encyclopedia and I used to spend hours reading articles about sharks. I remember getting pissed off that we didn’t do a shark project at school, and did my own project at home instead: printing out pictures of hammerhead sharks, boring my family to tears with shark facts, etc. Whenever we went to Deep Sea World, I used to drag my parents through the shark tunnel about four or five times. I didn’t like the eels though. Those things gave me the heebs.

Picture by Terry Goss

I kind of forgot about my love of sharks, or put it to the back of my mind, until one evening when I was watching An Idiot Abroad with James. Karl was getting a bit antsy about swimming with a shark, and so was James. I said “what?! I would love to do that!”

For a few minutes James thought I was joking, because I’m a big feardie. Normally my idea of excitement is going to a restaurant and choosing something that I’ve never heard of before. But no, I told him. Sharks are so cool! I then began to rattle off all the reasons that sharks are basically the best things ever, and that’s when I realised that getting in one of those cages and being right beside an awesome shark would basically be the best thing in the entire world. I love them!

Visit Addis Ababa

Working as a freelance writer, I often have to write articles about destinations I’ve never been to. I can tell you anything you want about Istanbul, Rome, New York, and Thailand; but nobody wants to hear about Ethiopia.I think Bob Geldof and his chums have a lot to answer for! Aye sure, they might have helped out a wee bit in the 80’s but look what it’s done for the tourist trade.

Photo by JanManu

I don’t remember where I read it (I’m sure it was on some reputable site), but Addis Ababa is apparently an awesome city. Full of life, bohemian attitudes, and great food, it sounds like exactly the sort of place I’d like to spend a few days in. I’ve also never been to a Third World Country before, so it would be nice to do some so called “real” travelling.

Go and see this big statue of Genghis Khan

I bought James a copy of Andrew Marr’s History of the World for Christmas, and he bought me Game of Thrones season 1. We both thought History of the World was a bit more exciting. I honestly have no idea how GoT is popular with people who don’t read! I only liked it because I read all of the books first. I genuinely cannot wait for The Winds of Winter. Oh but I must, I must.

Anyway, after blethering on about the Mongols, Mr Marr then took a daunder up to this GIANT HORSE STATUE IN MONGOLIA. Ehm hello?! I read travel blogs all day and write about travel for a living. Why haven’t I heard of this awesome freakin’ statue before?! I’m going to go and see it.

Fly with Etihad

As much as I enjoy squeezing into a cramped seat on Easyjet, I think I’d rather love a long haul flight with Etihad. First or Business class OBVIOUSLY (hey this is a fantasy list, after all).

Mmm award winning food, great service, comfy seats… they’d have to forcibly remove me from the aircraft, I think. James thinks I’m a bit silly for wanting to spend so much money on a flight, and I’m a tightwad, so this is probably the one item on my bucket list that I won’t achieve. But it’s here anyway because isn’t that the point of these big buckets?

Eat a Francesinha Sandwich in Porto

As you can tell from the title of this blog, I’m a bit of a glutton. When I found out about this amazing meat feast of a sandwich, I knew I just had to get one in my belly. It’s basically the cheese toastie to end all cheese toasties.

Photo by Nelson Rocha

Wet cured ham, fresh sausage, smokey linguiça, and juicy steak, layered between two slices of bread and topped with oozing hot melted cheese, drizzled with tomato and beer sauce. Served with chips, of course. Doesn’t that just sound like something out of your deepest dirtiest foodie fantasy?

It’s a speciality of Porto. I’ve been to the Algarve countless times, and I’ve always been interested in visiting the North of Portugal too. Hearing about the Francesinha has sealed the deal. I’m hoping this is one bucket list item I can tick off this year, even if my insistence on slow travel means the rest of the items will probably have to wait until I’m passed 30.

So these are the things on my travel wish list. From what I can tell from speaking to James, his own big bucket consists of living in South America, having some kind of crazy adventure (not the Mongol Rally because too many people have done that already), and living in Greece or Turkey for a bit.

What’s on your travel wish list? Anything a bit weird and out there? Or have you done any of the things I want to? Make me jealous (and inspire me)!

Best Piri Piri Chicken in the Algarve at Churrasquieira Valdemar, Silves

When you mention piri piri chicken to most people in the UK, they immediately think of Nandos: the South African powerhouse currently punting the Algarvian delicacy across Britain. I’ve been to Nandos loads of times; I mean it’s alright as far as fast food restaurants go, but that’s just it: a fast food restaurant.

I decided to go to the source of the piri piri, and visit a traditional churrasqueira (barbecue restaurant) while I was in the Algarve. I’m not talking about one of the restaurants punting grilled chicken in the center of seaside towns Albufeira and Lagos: nah, this one was in the quiet mountain town of Silves; the Moorish capital.

There are two things common sense tells us that a restaurant needs: a kitchen and a menu. Churrasquieira Valdemar has neither. There is simply a huge barbecue out front, where the chicken (and sometimes fish) is grilled. And who needs a menu? Our waiter simply asked if we wanted chicken, bread, chips, and salad. We said yes to all of them (the right answer) and they were brought out.  Drink menu: “beer or wine?”. Perfect. Stress free dining.

Unless you find the question “piri piri or plain?” difficult, of course.

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RECIPE :: Home-Made Nandos AKA James Makes Dinner

Eagle eyed Twitter users may have noticed that yesterday was National Men Make Dinner Day across the pond. I say eagle-eyed because there wasn’t much publicity about it; I’m guessing that most men (and perhaps some women) wanted to keep that one quiet.

I’m a lucky girl as James is a great cook and often chips in around the kitchen. We tend to take it in turns anyway, but when I saw British Lamb tweeting about the ‘holiday’ I told James that tonight was most certainly his turn. He said that was fine, but I had to choose what we were eating. I also had to stay out of his way in the kitchen.

I quite fancied mashed potatoes, he fancied garlic bread, so we decided to try something a bit different; home-made Nandos!

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