Weekend Wanderlust: THAT lake.

A rather specific Weekend Wanderlust this week, but let's go with it...

At the beginning of this Summer's Poland/Berlin adventure, I spent five days staying with my lovely friend Marta (and her family) in Barlinek, Poland. Before I went Marta had said to me, 'There's a lake at the bottom of the garden', by which I assumed she was referring to some sort of pond (ever the optimist). I was, therefore, somewhat amazed when I walked to the end of the garden and saw this:


Isn't it incredible?! The weather was amazing so we went swimming four times a day. Compared to the good old British sea it wasn't really that cold either. The only slight disadvantage was that I got bitten to death my mosquitoes, and ended up with such bad swelling that strangers started stopping me in the street to ask what had attacked my legs (I really, really wish I was exaggerating). Mosquitoes aside, it was such an incredibly relaxing place to be and the perfect way to start my holiday and forget about work stress.
My floating head...

I love this place so much that I've even started using it as my 'calm' place in therapy. 

And, relax...

Good Stuff #2

Enjoying the sun at the big screen in Trafalgar Square... Illegally dipping my feet in the fountain... Awesome Borough Market picnic of lamb 'baaah-rito' and blueberry cheesecake... Way TMI from Thames Water (the sign says 'We're getting ready to tackle sewage overflows)...

A bit of a 'last day of the Paralympics' special. This is the last I'll say about it, I promise!

Weekend Wanderlust: Northern Lights

Unfortunately (for me) today's Weekend Wanderlust is more wishful thinking than review! Although I spent six months living in Norway in 2009, I didn't get to see the Northern Lights. I did spend a month in the dark, but wasn't quite far North enough for the aurora borealis.

I've been thinking about maybe planning a visit in February half term next year. I want to go back to Norway anyway, and I do have a friend (and her baby) there that I need to visit, so I could possibly, maybe, just about justify it... I'm thinking that I might go to Tromso for a few days and then heading South to visit my friend. There are many, many reasons not to go (lack of money is the main one) but for now, let's just concentrate on the pretty pictures:


All together now: Oooh, aaaah...

Paralympics 2012

Wow. Just wow. I didn't really know what to expect from the Paralympics. I knew it would be good to see the stadium and the Olympic park, but I wasn't really sure if the atmosphere would be the same as it was for the Olympics. I needn't have worried, there was absolutely no sense of these events being secondary to the main Olympics. The park was packed, the stadium was almost full and the atmosphere was indescribable (or maybe it was describable, but I don't have the requisite word power!)

I cried. Obviously.

Last week I went to see athletics at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. I did as I was told and turned up two and a half hours before my event to get through security. I got through security in approximately four minutes. Being there so ridiculously early did have its advantages though, because I managed to get tickets to go up the Orbit (that weird looking red tower next to the stadium) and I managed to visit the Coca Cola music thingy before the queues got too ridiculous!

It's me! Near the Stadium! With an actual Paralympic torch!

I couldn't quite believe how good my seats were when I got into the Stadium. I was in a bit of an awkward spot, granted, but I was also sitting in the second row. £20 well spent, in my opinion. I loved the fact that the focus wasn't really on the disabilities, at least not in a pitying way; this was world class athletics. I guess I know more about disabilities than the average person because of my work but, still, the Paralympic games have genuinely changed my perception of disability.

I also ended up going to The Mall to see the wheelchair marathons (seriously, when did I get so into sport?) That was also amazing and everyone really got into the spirit. I think the glorious sunshine might have helped a little with that.

I came away from both of these days feeling so humbled and inspired. If these athletes can have the motivation and dedication to succeed in spite of (or in some cases, because of) their disabilities, then why can't I?

P.S. If you think this post is a little bit photo-heavy, bear in mind that I actually took 300 photos. This post is restrained, damn it.

Weekend Wanderlust: Manchester

Not quite as far away as the previous two destinations, but still very much worth writing about...

...BECAUSE THERE WAS A BAR WITH BEER TAPS AT THE TABLE. Yes, that did merit the capital letters; in my opinion it's worth shouting at. Called Taps, it's, well, it's a bar with beer taps at the table. Seriously, if you're not already feeling excited about this then we probably wouldn't get on that well in real life. BEERY TAPS.

We did manage to fit in something slightly more civilised, namely a trip to Lyme Park, where the BBC filmed Pride and Prejudice. The house and gardens were beautiful, although I feel like I should confess that my favourite part of the visit was dressing up and 'performing' on the small stage inside the house (bet you thought for a second that I'd had a mature, cultured National Trust outing...). Although I've put the word 'perform' in inverted commas, we did do a song and dance routine, once we'd, you know, pushed our way past all the children. 

So there you have it, my Manchester highlights. Even if beer taps and Colin Firth aren't your thing, I'd definitely recommend it for a weekend away. There's fabulous shopping, drinking and eating everywhere... Unsurprisingly, I ate a lot. I'll leave you with the following thought: BEERY TAPS.

My Story...

My mental health story is up on Sail The Ship right now!

Go and read it, and have a look at the other 'Your Stories' too (yes, that is an order).

(It's not really an order. But go look if you want to...)

Weekend Wanderlust: Krakow

Krakow's a place that's been on my 'must visit' list for a while; I went to Prague nearly ten years ago (when did I get so old?!) and loved it, and I knew that Krakow was quite similar in terms of architecture and atmosphere. Its most famous draw is undoubtedly the Old Town square.

It is pretty huge, and surrounded by cafes and restaurants, which makes it a great spot for people watching, day and night. It's also a great place to get chatted up by stoned Finnish backpackers, but that's another story. I didn't really go to any of the restaurants on the square itself, but Chocoffee (just around the corner) was great for chocolates and hot drinks, and it's super-cosy so it's probably even better in the Wintertime. Kino Pod Baranami is a cute, old cinema just of the square and is well worth a visit if you're looking for a cheap way to spend an evening.

The two pictures above are of the Wawel royal castle. The 'castle' is made up of lots of different buildings, all of which were added at different points in history (so, as you can see in the first picture, this has resulted in there being a brilliant mish-mash of architectural styles). There are lots of different exhibitions and restored rooms inside the various buildings, and I spent one (very hot) day exploring them all. 

I really enjoyed spending an afternoon wandering around Kazimierz, Krakow's old Jewish Quarter. The market square here couldn't really be more different to the Old Town square and, having spent four days in Krakow by this point, I found that very refreshing! I went on a Sunday and explored the second hand clothing market. The Galicia Jewish Museum was really interesting; it's a photography exhibition showing surviving examples (sadly, mostly relics) of Jewish culture in the area. I found this exhibition all the more poignant because I had visited Auschwitz just a couple of days before (I'll write about that, but it definitely merits it's own, separate post).

And, of course, I couldn't go to Krakow without visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The rock salt carvings are breathtaking, as is the scale of the place. We're talking underground chapels, lakes, knomes (really), conference centres, and bars. And the lift back up to the surface is delightfully terrifying (unless you're claustrophobic, in which case I imagine the lift would be hell on Earth).

Krakow was definitely worth visiting, especially when you take into account it's proximity to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines. It was, however, absolutely heaving with tourists and backpackers, so I'd definitely recommend visiting outside the Summer months. I'm glad I've ticked Krakow off the 'to visit' list, but I probably won't return anytime soon. Not because it wasn't worth going to, but because you can definitely get around all the key attractions in a few days. I think it'd be a great destination for a Winter mini-break...

Erm, there's steak in my pint...

What happens when you hold a cider in one hand and a steak pasty in the other?

Another example (as if it were needed...) that I lack the basic co-ordination and grace to function in polite society. Luckily this happened to me at Watchet Festival, which probably doesn't really count as 'polite society'.

The festival, which takes place in the tiny town where I was born and raised (on the playground was where I spent most of my days), has expanded over the last ten years from being one evening of free, post-carnival music, to a proper three day, multi-staged festival. This year's was the best yet, and I loved the combination of local bands, big acts and acoustic/open mic offerings. My favourite acts were The Blockheads, The Real Thing and the endlessly entertaining, 'swingabilly', dancealong-until-you-drop-on-the-floor Ten Pound Suit Band. Disappointingly I didn't get round to trying the Silent Disco this year, but there's always 2013...

(In case you're wondering, I scooped the meat out with a straw and then drunk my pint as if nothing had happened. Seriously, I am one sophisticated lady...)

Weekend Wanderlust: Gdansk

Last month I was lucky enough to be able to travel for three weeks, after saving hard for most of the year (and having a job in a school, which gives me lots of holiday time). I love exploring new places, and the trip has inspired me to blog about my travel tips, experiences, and also to write about the places on my wishlist for future holidays... Welcome to Weekend Wanderlust.

First up: Gdansk, a small yet vibrant Polish city on the Baltic coast.

Gdansk has lots of old merchant's houses, like the ones in the picture above, and I loved walking around in the sun and taking insane amounts of photos of them! The 'Roads To Freedom' exhibition (about the shipyard strikes and Solidarity movement) was brilliant and well worth a visit, but the other museums and galleries I went to weren't particularly mind-blowing. For me, Gdansk was all about wandering around, sitting in cafes, and people watching. And I can't think of many better places for doing just that.

Gdansk is part of a 'tri-city' area incorporating Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. Sopot's beach and pier were pretty impressive and really easy to get to from central Gdansk. I also went to the fishing village of Hel (which you can see in the middle picture). I think that on a sunny day Hel would be worth visiting, but I personally enjoyed the boat ride much more than the time I spent in the village itself. I did really enjoy being on the coast though, especially as it was quite unexpected; I don't know about you but I never really thought of Poland as a particularly 'seasidey' place.

I stayed at the Grand Hostel in Gdansk, which I would recommend. It was fairly quiet compared to some hostels, so maybe it wouldn't suit you if you like to party every night, but it was really clean and comfortable and the staff were lovely.

My favourite places to eat and drink were Original Burger (guess what they serve) and Cafe Factotum (for amazing coffees, milkshakes and cocktails).

Have you ever been to Poland or to Gdansk? Does it sound like somewhere you'd like to visit?

Next weekend I'm taking you to Krakow, you lucky things.