16/03/2019

What I Saw and Did in Budapest, Hungary


Visiting Budapest for the first time? Grab a notebook, here are all my tips!

First things first, little disclaimer. Budapest is huge, it is a city full of chances to explore, museums to visit, restaurants to try, and I think it would take you a good week or so to experience properly what it has to offer. My friend and I stayed two full days in Budapest only, and I can tell you, it only makes me want to come back and see more! 
So in this post, you will find a little, non-exhaustive list of the things I did in Budapest - and that you should definitely do too!

THE BUDA SIDE


Budapest is divided in two parts by the Danube River: Buda is the west side, and Pest the east side. We spent one day on each side, starting with the dreamy, picture-perfect Buda side. To get there, walk across the Chain Bridge, or Széchenyi Lánchíd, where you will find a delightful view of the banks of the river. Our February mornings were quite foggy, there were blue skies and sunshine but there was a thin layer of fog covering the buildings and giving them a mysterious atmosphere, as though they were waiting for us to come and meet them at their feet.


When you reach the other side, take the cable car, or your little legs to walk up the short flights of stairs to reach the top of Castle Hill, pausing every so often to take a picture of the beautiful landscape that slowly unfolds beneath your feet. A few sights will catch your attention when you reach the top, and they are:

BUDA CASTLE - HUNGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE - 
MATTHIAS CHURCH - FISHERMAN'S BASTION

Buda Castle is the former palace of the kings of Hungary. It stands proud, overlooking the city, and whenever you look up from the other side of town, you are sure to see its proud dome and wings up in the sky. It is a huge palace, now home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. We did not go in as we were pressed by time and excited to explore as many sights as our feet could bear before giving up to exhaustion, but I will visit again and spend time in these museums to learn more about Hungarian history and culture - which I am sure is well worth stopping by for!


Right next to Buda Castle is the Presidential Palace, Sandor Palota. Stand there on the hour, any time between 9am and 5pm, to witness the changing of the guard. We arrived there right on time to see the ceremony, and trust me, you don't want to miss it! The guards swing their rifles around to the beat of the drum, and they walk past very close to the crowd. It was an amazing moment to see this tradition, which was revived in 2003 after years under a Communist regime.
Behind the Presidential Palace, we strolled along the colourful streets (where you can do some souvenir shopping in one of the numerous little shops) to reach Matthias Church. Its impeccable white structure will probably blow you away, as it did us. The spire seemed to pierce the blue sky in a very dramatic, photogenic way that can only really be appreciated when you see it in person. I mean, look at how tiny people are against its towering walls:


MATTHIAS CHURCH - ENTRY 1800 HUF (£5)

This medieval church is unlike any other I've ever seen. It has lived through the centuries and seen the coronation of many kings; it became a mosque for the Ottomans, and it has been beautiful preserved through time, both inside and out. Inside, the whole church is covered in intricate painting designs, from floor to ceiling, and there is also a museum where you can admire some of the treasures gathered there through the years.
After visiting Matthias Church, you can only be drawn to Fisherman's Bastion - the intricate, fairytale-like structure that surrounds the side of the hill. This is one of the places that look so beautiful, it seems unreal - like a film set maybe, and although I don't watch Game of Thrones, I could totally see the action set at Fisherman's Bastion. In fact, I felt like a princess myself walking around the place.



FISHERMAN'S BASTION - MOSTLY FREE, WITH A SMALL FEE TO VISIT THE UPPER TOWERS BETWEEN MARCH AND OCTOBER (FREE IN THE WINTER)

The fortress is made of seven towers and stretches over a hundred metres. The Bastion takes its name from the fact that the nearby castle and area were protected by the fishermen's guild in medieval times. I find it quite hard to date the structure, which has notable Gothic features but also looks very new and clean, and in fact it was build fairly recently, between 1895 and 1902.
There are many viewing points, from which you have a beautiful panorama of Budapest, from the Danube to the spikey Parliament building.


THE PEST SIDE

Another sunny February day, and another side of Budapest explored. We dedicated another full day to Pest, the east side of the city. This is where you find the lively city parts - the restaurants, the shops, the bars, all surrounded by stunning buildings. This side very much reminded me of the north of Italy, places like Milan or the fanciest parts of Rome - with the elaborate facades and the massive wooden doors protected by statues and columns. If you're looking for a good afternoon of shopping, or maybe for a nice pub in the evening, Budapest's got you covered. My friend and I mainly went for the sights though, so here are the landmarks we saw in Pest. 

THE PARLIAMENT - ST STEPHEN'S BASILICA - THE CENTRAL MARKET HALL - THE SZECHENYI BATHS

The Parliament building is of course the most famous sight in Budapest. You can admire this huge Gothic-inspired masterpiece from all angles, the best-known being from the other side of the Danube River.


I discovered that the Parliament is the largest building in Hungary, and I am not surprised - it really is big. You'll feel impressed by its proportions as well as its multitudes of spires pointing towards the sky. You can visit the Parliament, which we have not done unfortunately, because of a lack of time. You can also see the Changing of the Guard there, although having seen both I would recommend seeing that of the Presidential Palace, much more interesting.


HUNGARIAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY - GENERAL ENTRY 2400HUF (£6.50)

Walking around the streets of Pest is a whole experience in itself. On the way, you'll find plenty of interesting shops (but also mainstrem ones like H&M, Zara and all your typical high street names, if you fancy a bit of shopping), nice restaurants, and pretty buildings. I always like to visit churches when I go to a new place, and thus we went to St Stephen's Basilica. It is located in a lively part of the city and well-connected to everything else, and it is almost surprising to see such a big building right there.


The Basilica is free to visit, but please do make a donation to show appreciation to the place. The inside is full of gold accents, and you can see a relic of St Stephen, the first king of Hungary - his severed hand has been kept through the ages in the cathedral that bears his name. Creepy, I know, but you can't help being curious, right?
The last place that I will mention, and that I think should absolutely be on your bucket list in Pest, is the Széchenyi Baths. Budapest is a thermal city, and there are plenty of spas and baths all around where you can go and spend a nice, relaxing moment. The Széchenyi Baths are the most popular, sure, and they get horribly busy during the day, but they are also the most beautiful I have ever seen, and so unique too.
My friend and I set our alarm for 6am on our last day in Budapest, and walked to the Baths in the morning light. It felt like a struggle to get up so early, especially after two whole days of walking, but let me tell you, when we got there, it was so, so worth it.


SZECHENYI BATHS - FROM 6AM. ENTRY PRICE VARIES. SWIMMING POOL, SAUNA, JACUZZI AND MASSAGES AVAILABLE.

There is a long price list for the baths, and you pay differently whether you go before 8am or after 7pm, on a weekday or at the weekend, and whether you want a cabin and locker, and so on. Do check online, they have a list that's easy to understand. You can book ahead, but it's alright if not - we bought our tickets on the day, but we did go at 7am. Honestly, I 100% advise you to go there in the 6am to 8am slot, even in the winter - it feels so special to have the baths to yourself. I don't think I would have enjoyed the experience as much if I had to share the jacuzzi with ten other random people...
I will now focus on my other favourite part of travelling: the food!

FOOD & DRINKS

Food and drink is incredibly cheap in Budapest. I was almost shocked at how cheap everything was! This means you can eat on a budget, but you may also afford to try out lots of things.
Head to the Central Market Hall for a variety of stalls, from your usual market foods (butchers', greengrocers, fabric sellers) to street food stalls on the top floor. You can try out anything from goulash, rich meat and cabbage dishes, to sausages and fried goods. Don't miss làngos - a fried bread traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese.


Did you know that paprika originates from Hungary? This well-loved spice is featured in a lot of dishes, and you can buy it in any form too. 
In Pest, my friend and I stumbled by chance on a typical Hungarian restaurant called Frici Papa Kifozdéje, which I would recommend if you're looking for a traditional Hungarian experience, without the fuss of the more contemporary restaurants. Everything feels authentic, from the waiters to the dishes, which are hearty, homemade dishes that seem to be cooked by an old Hungarian grandma. The paprika chicken was delicious. There, I also tried the Gundel pancake, a pancake filled with ground walnuts and covered in heavy chocolate cream. If you enjoy alcohol, make sure to get a shot of palinka: sour cherry liquor.

There are a lot of very modern places too, from burger joints to cafes. Go to BITE Bakery Cafe in the morning, for yummy cinnamon rolls and good coffee.

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Budapest is a wonderful destination, and I could never recommend visiting it enough. Don't be afraid of visiting in the winter - you will avoid the crowds and still have a great experience. Give yourself at least four to five days to see as much as you want, and get to know Hungarian culture - not something we hear about every day, right?

Have you been to Budapest?
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02/03/2019

Five Things You Should Stop Feeling Guilty About


Sorry, not sorry.


These photos were taken in St Albans, on a weekend day out with friends. We had a glorious day. We had nice lunch, good cake, walked around loads and spent time together, which is one of the best things in the world. When I came home in the evening, I was knackered and all I did was get a takeaway KFC, eat it and get into bed. I did not work out, I did not prepare lessons for school, and I did not work towards any of my daily goals (blogging, writing, growth.) And this sparked a thought in me: we often feel too guilty about taking time for ourselves and listening to what we want, there and then. I know I do. Guilt is the worst, because it can bring you down and make you forget all the amazing things you do. Do you ever feel like that? If so, this post is for you. Here are the things we should stop feeling guilty for, now and forever.

Stop feeling guilty about...

SKIPPING A WORKOUT
... Because you're not gonna gain ten pounds by missing a workout once.
As someone who takes working out very seriously, and whose life and mind has thoroughly improved since I started working out (years ago, now) I can sometimes be a little too strict with myself. I have a workout calendar that I follow as much as I can, and I hate missing a day. This has sometimes resulted in me working out even though I was very tired, even though my body hurt that day, even though I wanted to do anything but a workout. Of course, I still got the satisfying feeling of achieving the workout, but when I look back, I think that I have been way too hard on myself. Why force it, if everything tells me to skip it that day? Why not giving myself the break I want? 
Don't feel guilty about listening to your mind and body. You are allowed to let go sometimes. It's not because you skip a day that you are going to lose all the muscle you've built, or that you are going to put on some weight. Let go of that pressure, especially if it leads you to exhaust your body. You will do the workout tomorrow.


HAVING JUNK FOOD THAT YOU KNOW IS BAD FOR YOU
... Yes, McDonald's is crap, but having a BigMac every so often won't clog your arteries.
Sometimes our cravings are stronger than our good will, and that's how you end up eating junk food after a long and busy day. More often than not, I feel super guilty after I eat junk food. The guilt overcomes the immediate (and, let's be honest, short-lived) satisfaction of treating yourself to that burger you've been craving all evening. But really, why should I feel so guilty for giving myself this treat? I want the burger, I get the burger, I feel happy eating the burger, and I move on. Does that mean I am going to die at 50 from a heart disease? Unless I have junk food every other day, probably not. If I am going to enjoy the ten minutes I spend eating the greasy chips, just that once in a while, then I should not beat myself up for it afterwards. And you know what? It's too late anyways. It's done and done, so the best you can do is be happy that you treated yourself. Food for the soul! (... If not for your cholesterol levels.)

SAYING NO TO PLANS AND SPENDING THE DAY AT HOME
... Your friends are not gonna hate you for it. (But if they do, change friends.)
We want to do it all. We work during the weekdays, never saying no to a coffee catch-up at 5pm; then we spend the weekend running around: going for brunch, lunch, coffee; watching a film at the cinema, checking out a new exhibition, doing some shopping, planning trips and travels. In today's world, the fear of missing out is real. And with all these blog posts reminding yourself that you only live once (unless you're a cat) it puts even more pressure to accomplish a lot of things, socialise 24/7, and get out of the house to see the wider world. And I'm all about that, all about travelling, meeting with your friends, going on adventures - you name it. But all these things drain up your energy, whether you want it or not. It gets tiring to travel and commute, it costs money to visit all these cute Instagrammable cafés, and, if you are anything like me, social interaction can be exhausting and you need some time to recharge.
I am always torn between going out and having fun, saying yes to all the plans I get invited to, and planning as many outings as I can, and the feeling (guilty, guilty feeling) that actually, what I really want sometimes is just to stay home and enjoy my own company. Whenever I stay home for a weekend - two whole days! without going anywhere! - I often feel guilty. I wonder why I am not like other people, meeting up every day with a different friend and in a different place. This year, I am staying stop to this bad habit. Staying home to recharge is important, and no one but you can bring you this element of balance in your life. So if this weekend, you're not doing anything major, remember that it is O.K. You won't miss out on the fun: the fun will just happen another day.


PRIORITISING YOURSELF OVER YOUR JOB
... Your job is important, but so if self-care. So leave that laptop alone now!
This is important whether you do a job you love or not. It may be even more important if you absolutely live for your job - because if you do, you can easily be consumed by guilt whenever you do something that is not beneficial for the said job. 
One thing my university tutor often said in my teacher training last year, is that being a teacher is not just a job. It is what you become. And I get why he said that: being a teacher can be exhausting. If you're not careful, you can find yourself working during the week, working before the children come into school and long after they are gone in the afternoons. You can spend your free time outside of school marking books, tests, preparing PowerPoint presentations and planning your next few days of content. I have seen many people work long until late at night, and spend their weekends planning lessons. Last year, if I didn't plan at least two or three lessons on a Saturday or a Sunday, I would feel very guilty and disappointed in myself. Luckily, now I know better. I will not let my job dictate my life, and I have set myself boundaries so that when I don't work as much at the weekends, I do not feel guilty anymore. And trust me, it is liberating! The fact that you realise that your life and well-being are so much more than who you are when you work. Give yourself time out, time to express yourself through other things that make up your personality and your life. Not everything should be defined by your job, in my opinion - unless said job is paid hundreds of thousands of $$. Then maybe, keep working. (I know, money can't buy happiness and all that, but still...)

What is one thing you want to stop feeling guilty about?
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21/02/2019

How To Read More in 2019


And no, reading a Buzzfeed post doesn't count.

Reading is one of these things where you always hear "I wish I had time to read more." Truth is, like everything else, if you want to read, you need to shake yourself up and make it happen. I have always enjoyed reading, but in the last few years and up until a couple months ago, it just wasn't on my priority list anymore. But recently I've been craving some reading time again. Picking up a new book or an old favourite, getting lost in the words, reading a passage over and over again because it touches you, makes you laugh or cry... Books are a wonderful thing, and one can never read enough of them. There are so many benefits to reading, and one that I have found with myself is that the more I read, the more my focus and concentration improve - something I had a big problem with last year, as I could not focus for a long period of time like I used to before. The answer to my problem was reading! And I want to carry on in 2019 and read as much as I can. Here are some tips I will use myself, and hopefully they can help you too. Try it out!

ADD READING TO YOUR TO-DO LIST
I have started to add "reading' in my to-do list, most days. I write a to-do list every day, and whenever I can, I put reading as one of my tasks for the day. It instantly reminds me that it's there and that I have to make time for it. Whether it's twenty minutes on a weekday evening, or an hour at the weekend, if it's on my list, I will always find the time to make it happen because it's right there, it has its slot on my busy schedule.
If it means taking away another task to replace it with reading, please do! Prioritising is important, and sometimes picking up a book is the best thing you can do, especially because it means that you are fitting a cosy, relaxing time in your schedule just for your enjoyment.

ALWAYS READ IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT
A lot of us take public transport, even if not on a regular basis. I walk to work, but whenever I take the underground to central London, you can be sure that I will take a book with me. Even for a short twenty-minute journey, reading in public transport is the way to go. Leave your phone in your bag for a while, and get lost in the pages of a book. You will find that time flies even quicker than when you mindlessly scroll through Facebook or Instagram during your journey. If you take public transport every day to work, let's say thirty minutes one way, that's already one hour a day you can focus on reading. Soon enough, you'll be finishing plenty of books - and make your commute mindful time for yourself.


DO A 10 PAN PROJECT, BUT WITH YOUR BOOKS
If you read beauty blogs, you'll be familiar with 10 Pan Projects. You pick ten items in your beauty stash that you've had for a while, and work on using them up. Now, how many of us have dozens of books on our bookshelves that we've had for ages, but just never got round to reading? Well, it's time for a little book 10 Pan! Go through your shelves and pick a few books (doesn't have to be ten, of course) that you own but have not read yet, and make it your mission to finally read them one by one! This is good in many ways, because of course you'll discover new books, but also it will allow you to decide which books to keep and which ones to give away, if you end up not enjoying them that much. Because it's good to spring-clean your collection once in a while.
And once you have read all these books, why not treat yourself with a brand new one to keep your new reading habits going?

AVOID STRESSFUL EXPECTATIONS
Although I want to read more books this year, I haven't set myself a certain number of books to reach. I know that doing that works for a lot of people, but I am sure that for me, it would mean a big pressure to go through books as fast as I can to read loads of them, maybe without really having the time to appreciate them and appreciate my reading sessions (which for me, is a big part of the whole reading experience.) If you fear that giving yourself a goal of how many books you should read this year will stress you out, then don't do it. Just read, read ahead, and you'll look back at your book count at the end of the year. My target is roughly of one book per month, but I am not strict at all with it - some books are longer than others, some months I have less time than others, so I use it more as a gauge than as a rule. In the end, you should read books because you love it, not because it is another expectation that you ought to set yourself due to a pressure from yourself of from seeing others read so many books. Like everything else you do in life, do it for yourself and with the simple goal of enjoying it!

What book have you read recently? Leave me your recommendations below!
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