Thursday, 11 January 2018

Budapest Diaries - Day Two

So, I left it a little longer than intended to continue my account of our trip to Budapest. I became a bit of a couch potato over Christmas (which was bliss) and then I contracted a cold-flu-plague hybrid virus that's only now exorcising itself from my body, so let's leave that there and move swiftly on now that we're back in the swing of things. Here's what we got up to on day two of our Budapest city break.

The Thermal Baths

I am now a firm believer than you cannot visit Budapest without indulging in the local tradition of heading to an outdoor (or underground) thermal bath for a good soak and a steam. On the morning of our second day we headed up to perhaps the most well known, the Szechenyi baths. Built in 1913, the huge but ornate yellow building has some serious Wes Anderson vibes going on and is consequently not hard to locate once you get out of the metro.

Sitting around in warm water with the locals might not be to everyone's taste, but personally I enjoyed it. It was a quite morning without too many tourists around, just a few locals. It was about 16 degrees outdoors so it did feel odd to walk out in a swimming costume, but I wasn't freezing either. We booked online through this website - although you don't strictly have to we wanted to make sure we didn't get caught in a queue if it was busy.

There are pools of different temperatures, with the warmest around 40 degrees centigrade. This was my favourite as it felt like a very hot bath. You can feel your pores opening and muscles relaxing as you step in. There are also medicinal baths that are prescribed by Hungarian doctors, as well as traditional spa treatments available indoors. I can see why the locals think this stuff is good for you because I hadn't felt that relaxed in months.

The Best Donuts in Town

I knew we'd be digging into a traditional chimney cake or two while in Budapest, but another delicious find on our travels was The Box Donut. There are at least two of these bakeries in the city, with a variety of these signature square donuts available. They were bloody delicious, and to be quite honest with you they didn't actually make it into their box before we'd scoffed the lot. I'd highly recommend swinging by. If you fancy trying to get some home with you then they fit snugly (some might say deliberately) inside a small box. I'd recommend the Creme Brulee flavour. The smoothies are good, too.

The Shoes on the Danube

We decided to visit this particular part of the Danube after walking around the impressive parliament buildings. If you know the story of what happened on the Danube during the Second World War then you will also know how deeply moving it is to walk along this riverside memorial. This blog provides some more details on what happened in the city during that time period. The Shoes on the Danube is one of many monuments to Hungary's bloody modern history that you'll find across Budapest. More on that later. 

It was sad to see that even to this day, members of the Jewish faith come to leave flowers, candles and ribbons in the 60 pairs of iron shoes tacked to the river's edge. While many WWII monuments are grand and impressive, the shoes are life-size and hard to spot until you're upon them. I think that gives them even more of an impact.

The Unexpected Journey

We left our second afternoon free since we weren't sure what the weather might do. We walked across from the Shoes on the Danube to a nearby boat stop (covered by our 72hr travel passes) and decided to hitch a ride to Margaret Island. 

The island is a piece of land in between the Buda and Pest sides of the river, and while it is mainly home to a hotel and casino, the vast park grounds are open to the public. An old water tower at the centre of the island keeps the Wes Anderson vibes going, and there's also an old church, rose gardens and a huge singing water fountain. Although each area of Budapest is beautiful in its own way, the island was so unique.

The best way to see the island is to rent a tandem bike or covered bike (the one's that the Chuckle Brothers used to ride?!). For a small fee you can easily cycle around the whole thing in 30-60 minutes, depending on whether or not you stop at one of the many bars/stalls for a drink and a Langos. These deep fried bread snacks really are the stuff of dreams when you're a little worn out from peddling! 

The Ruin Bars

At sunset we made our way back to the Air Bnb to change, and then we headed out to explore the district of trendy 'ruin bars'. These bars began popping up about 15 or so years ago in abandoned apartment buildings, and are probably the coolest places I've ever had a beer in my life.

Szimpla Kert is considered the original ruin bar, with a huge maze of connected rooms on multiple floors all filled with mismatched furniture, street art and festoon lights. The busy, vibrant atmosphere is something to really soak up in this place.

As Szimpla Kert got busier we walked a little way up the street to another huge ruin bar called Instant. This place is made up of smaller club and bar-like rooms, each with a slightly different vibe. We heard some music we liked coming from the basement (a dive bar called Robot) so we wandered down. It terms out that a band called DLRM were playing and the whole underground tunnel vibe made me feel like I was in a Kerrang music video! Check out my dodgy phone pic...

Since we hadn't yet had dinner we took a walk in search of food, which didn't disappoint. We found a street food park called Karavan where we went slightly overboard at all the different food trucks, enjoying fried cheese, goulash and chimney cake, washed down with some locally brewed beer. It was so cheap, insanely tasty and the long picnic benches filled with people created a great atmosphere.

I'd like to say we partied on into the night but if I'm honest with you guys it was about 10pm at this point and we were pooped! We went back to the apartment to bed and I don't regret it one bit - party animal I am not.


Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year, New Rules: How I'm Taking on 2018

If you didn't read the title of this post and end up with Dua Lipa stuck in your head then I just don't know how else to lead into this post. It's a new year, and despite my best efforts to stay the hell away from outlandish revolutions, carb-free diets and shiny, overpriced planners, here I am writing this. Let's go with it.

I know that Kylie Jenner said 2016 was the year of 'realising stuff', but I've learnt a lot about myself in 2017. It seems mad that even after spending every second of every day of 25 years on this planet with my very own brain, soul and body, that I continue to be surprised by what I find beneath the surface. I think I know myself a little better now, and I feel more sure of myself than I have in a good few years. 

I want to take the experiences I've had in the past 12 months and make sure that I exercise the lessons they've taught me about myself. I am already starting to put this stuff into practice, but I think it'll do me some good to have a set of commandments to live by, to remind me that in order to make progress I have to be consistent.

1. I will not grow by staying in my comfort zone

One of the things I hated the most about how I felt when I let my anxiety get the better of me last year was the way it would leave me paralysed. I mean this in both the literal and metaphorical sense. I would often feel like I was allowing myself to stagnate, staying in a place that felt comfortable and avoiding pushing myself and putting myself out there for fear of failure. 

Over time I became so pissed off with myself for ending up in that kind of mindset that by the time I'd pulled myself out of the metaphorical hole I'd already vowed never to go back there. Although it can be hard, I'm trying to always push forward and make progress within myself even it it feels alien and uncomfortable. That's how you grow! Complacency and procrastination are so last year.

2. I will not give my energy to negative thought processes

One unexpected thing that came up again and again during my CBT sessions last year was just how easily I would collect up the negative things people said and carry them around on my shoulders, like heavy little pieces of evidence that proved I wasn't good enough - that others were somehow better than me. Even if there were a million other positives I could have taken from the conversation, I would let the bad parts preoccupy me. 

I'm sure there are many of you out there that do this without even realising. It took someone completely external to my life pointing it out to me for me to fully acknowledge just how much time and energy I was giving to worrying about what others might think. It made me shy and retiring to the point that even my voice got quieter. I became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm slowly learning to shake it off and let my 'real' self take the floor without fearing judgement. There is power in being able to brush the negative thoughts to one side, and remind myself how awesome I am. No one else is gonna do it for me. 

3. I will not treat personal growth like an afterthought

Something else I was forced to come face-to-face with in 2017 is that although I can reel you off a 'to do' list as long as my arm, the things that really benefit me are usually at the bottom. I will always want the perfect desk set up, a full fridge and a clean bathroom before I can 'allow' myself to sit down and read a book, look at an online course or even just chill the hell out. It's partly the procrastination demons coming out to play, and partly my need for everything to be juuuuust right before I make a start on the next thing. It's not just procrastination, it's completely self-sabotaging.

This year I've made it my mantra to mentally reorder these lists and put the genuinely worthwhile stuff at the very top. I want to develop my skills to give my career a bit of a boost, but I can't do that if my focus is on irrelevant aesthetic details. Life can't be 100% perfect and under control unless you live in a safe little bubble - it's time to let go of that idea. Hopefully in a few months time you'll find me knee deep in some kind of coursework while the dishes pile up in the kitchen!

I'm going to be journalling and blogging more this year, which will help me to document my experiences putting all of this into practice. Look out for an update or two and wish me luck!


Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Things I'm Really Grateful for This Year

If you've read any of my 'end of year' blog posts before, you'll know I'm not the biggest fan of faddy resolution posts. This year I've also been watching people scramble to pick their three biggest achievements to post on a viral quote tweet, and I'm not sure I dig that either. It's great to shout about your successes if you're proud, so don't let me stop you. But if you're feeling pressured to come up with something impressive or you're finding that despite being happy for others, you can't help but compare your personal story with theirs, then know that you're not alone.

I don't want to shout about the fact that my only real achievement this year was that I completed a second course of CBT, after my mental health got pretty out of control, and that the panic attacks don't snatch my breath away from me nearly as often as they did only a few months ago. I don't want to talk about how much I've struggled. I'm just glad I've come out the other side of it, whether it's the end of the year or not.

I don't talk about this stuff a huge amount online because I feel like there are already plenty of people sharing their similar stories more articulately than I ever could. I've already allowed anxiety and depression to dominate my life and thoughts outside of this space and I finally feel like I'm on top of it, so I'll be damned if I let the bastard invade all of my writing too. 

So yes, I found 2017 pretty rough going, but there will be plenty who found it far worse. I'm grateful for my own resilience, and I'm grateful for the people who have supported me. I feel like I've changed and grown an awful lot, so I'm thankful for that, too. I've learned what I should and shouldn't give my time and energy to in order to stay 'sane' and get back on track. I've realised my own worth and am starting to embrace the fact that I'll always feel like a black sheep. I'm also grateful for medication and therapy and YouTube yoga routines and endless Netflix reruns of That '70s Show'. And Krispy Kreme donuts - whoever said you can't eat your problems was totally wrong.

Despite the above probably reading a little bit like the 3am tumblr post of an emo teenager, I'm actually feeling positive about 2018. I'm going to spend the first few months of the new year working on my confidence and trying new things, making up for all the time I spent in a negative head-space this year. 


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Budapest Diaries - Day One

Before Mat booked this trip for us, I'd felt as though I would like Budapest. I had heard there was plenty to do, and that it was a very affordable place to visit. What I didn't bank on is just how much I would fall for it. 

The Perfect Apartment

This was very much a budget trip for us back in October, having just been on our main family getaway to beautiful Crete, however we found that our money went so much further than we expected. We did everything we wanted to do and ate everything we wanted to eat (which is the most important thing!). Our flights were the usual Ryan Air cheap fares, and luckily they weren't among the many that were being cancelled at the time!

We stayed in a lovely little Air Bnb apartment, located on Andrássy Avenue, that was only £36 per night. It was about 15 minutes walk from the famous Szechenyi Baths in one direction, and 10-15 minutes from the Parliament building taking metro line 1. 

This was the perfect location for us, and we found public transport really easy to navigate. It was also a bargain, with a 72-hour travel card costing only £11 each. We were able to use these on the metro lines, buses, trams, boats - you name it! Of course, if you prefer to walk a lot, everything in Budapest is also doable on foot. 

The Craziest Views

Once we had been shown to our apartment and had dumped our bags, we headed straight into the city. Although we weren't initially sure how we wanted to spend our first day in Budapest, we ended up walking across the famous chain bridge and making our way up towards the very picturesque Fisherman's Bastion. 

You have to pay the equivalent of a couple of quid to walk along the top, but it's worth it. It's essentially a big terrace, designed to look like something straight out of the Gothic era - except it was actually only built in 1902. I felt a little bit like Cinderella walking up the (endless) steps. There was even a wedding party in full swing on one section of the terrace.

We had arrived just as the sun was starting to go down, and boy was it a sunset and a half! I hadn't seen too many pictures of Budapest before going - the whole time we were there I kept finding myself taken aback by how pretty this city is. I could've stayed up on the Bastion all day!

On a clear day, you can see for miles, with the majestic parliament building standing tall and Margaret Island separating the Buda and Pest banks. 

The Grand Palace

With the sun still setting, we decided to walk from the Bastion over to the other side of the hill, and see the Royal Palace in all its glory. I should add that it's worth seeing these impressive buildings both from up close and from the opposite side of the river. By day they look ornate and Gothic, and by night they're lit up and make the whole place magical.

After taking so many pictures that my Olympus Pen battery finally gave out, and my feet started to feel like they might drop off, we decided to get back down to river level via the Funicular Railway. It's a very quick trip down, but it's worth the experience of being on a train that's moving completely the wrong way!

The Best Burger

Just a short distance from the bottom of the Funicular Railway, we stumbled upon a restaurant called Meat Boutique. We decided to go in for dinner despite it being a little early at 6pm, partly because we were absolutely starving and partly because I thought the name was funny.

I wish I'd taken some phone snaps of our dinner - not only was the restaurant a gorgeous place to sit and eat, but the food was of a really high standard and the staff couldn't do enough for us. I think it may have been the best burger I've ever eaten, and I've had a lot of burgers!!

After that, we had a slow wander back to the metro and were soon back at the Air Bnb for an early night. Driving to the airport at 4am and walking 12km really takes it out of you...

I'll soon be posting what we got up to on days 2 and 3 of our break in Budapest, so I'll link them here when I do.

If you have any questions about visiting, just let me know in the comments!

Monday, 20 November 2017

A Christmas gift guide for the homebod in your life (under £15)

If there's one thing I love about this time of year it's starting my Christmas shopping. From searching for the perfect prezzie to give someone to sitting on the living room floor wrapping them up while Elf is on TV in the background - it might be my second favourite part of the season, after the food.

I've seen soooo many gift guides popping up all over the place, so I won't bore you with multiple posts. I did however round up a selection of wallet-friendly gifts that I think would be perfect for a pal or relative who loves to live life in the slow lane, get their hygge on and feed their Netflix addiction on the regular. Depending on your budget, you could even gift your recipient a little bundle of goodies for the perfect night in!

First up, who doesn't love a good scented candle! These jars from H&M home smell absolutely divine. My personal favourite is 'Firewood Figs' but Cinnamon Spice is lush too. Plus they're currently only £1.49 so a fab stocking filler.

Help your recipient add to a cosy atmosphere with some subtle but extremely pretty Firefly Lights from Primark. Again they're an absolute bargain at £2.50. They come in a variety of styles in the home section.

Speaking of Primark, they also do some very reasonably priced cosy furnishing. My Harry Potter blanket is kitten soft and super fluffy, and it was only £6. Why not give the gift of snug-ness?

When I'm not watching Netflix on the sofa, I'm usually scribbling notes and ideas down in a pad of some kind. I'm a sucker for stationery and can never resist a pretty notebook. I treated myself to a beautiful journal from Central 23 earlier this month and it's lovely quality. £12.00 might be a lot for a notebook but the design brings me so much joy when I go to scrawl in it. It would make a brilliant gift if you know someone who's into their journalling!

And finally, who doesn't love a good snack? Especially at Christmas (hello endless Quality Street and Matchmakers). Why not give a treat that's a little more luxurious, like a tin of shortbread from Crabtree and Evelyn - they can keep the pretty tin afterwards! Or, if you're buying for a chocoholic, Hotel Chocolat's Milk Chocolate Santas are incredibly moreish.

So there you go, those are my top picks for anyone you'd like to treat to a little R and R and home comfort this Christmas. Have you guys seen any other steals you'd add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.
© kelly anne rist

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