Friday, 16 November 2018

Why You Should Visit Bucharest

Bucharest is a city you may not have thought about visiting but if you are interested in history, architecture and a vibrant city life it's a place that should be on your radar.  Bucharest is the largest city in Romania, a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe and bordering the black sea. It's the capital, cultural and financial centre of Romania. 

I was invited to Bucharest recently as part of the Experience Bucharest initiative, a project which is part of Travel Massive Romania, which invites influencers to the city to share with them, and their readers what Bucharest has to offer.

Our full two days focused on tours jam-packed full of information and stories of communism, Rroma history, street art, architecture, garlic and Vlad the Impaler. It made me realise in my brief visit that there were many reasons to visit Bucharest. Here are just some of them.

For the history

Arcul de Triumf - The Triumph Arc

Bucharest's history is one thing - certainly not boring. Now I'm not a historian and you could write reams on the history of Bucharest and Romania, so here is a very brief history lesson, of some of the important historical events in Bucharest's history.

Legend has it that a shepherd named Bucur founded Bucharest on the banks of the Dambovita River, however, it was first mentioned in 1459, as one of the residences of Vlad III (the Impaler), ruler of Wallachia. Yes, that is Vlad the Impaler, on which the story of Dracula was based - more of that later. 


After Ottoman rule, two hundred years later it became the capital of Southern Romania. in 1866, the Hohenzollern prince, the future King Carol the 1st, modernised the capital with the help of the political elites. 

In the early 20th century Bucharest was known as 'Little Paris' and this was the golden age of this city.

The balcony where Nicolae Ceaușescu gave his last speech

However, bringing history up-to-date is the story of Bucharest as a communist country.  Bucharest was bombed by the German and the Allies in the 1940s. After three consecutive fascist regimes, the communist regime came to complete power in 1947.

Nicolae Ceaușescu was the communist leader from 1965 to 1989, and during his reign, his government became severely totalitarian, His secret police was responsible for mass surveillance as well as severe repression and human rights abuses within the country. It was a dark time in the history of Bucharest.  He gave his last speech on a balcony known as Revolution Square and thousands of workers were bussed into the square under threat of being fired. He was overthrown in 1989 and executed by firing squad three days later.

To see the architecture



University Library

The architecture in Bucharest is a wonderful mix of styles due to the history of this city. Here are some of the notable buildings.


Stavropoleos Monastery

The Stavropoleos Monastery is definitely worth seeing. From the Brancovan architectural style from the Ottoman empire, a mix of Islamic, Byzantine and Orthodox Christian design, go inside to see the beautiful ornate decor.

Triumph Arch


The Arcul de Triumf or Triumph Arch was built hurriedly after Romania gained it's independence in 1878 so that the victorious troops could march under it. The original version was built of wood. This modern version made of stone was built in 1936. Soon tourists will be able to go inside and see views of the city from the top. The arch has a height of 27 metres. and the facades are decorated by famous Romanian sculptors.
 Parliamentary Palace

The Palace Of The People, now known as the Parliamentary Palace is the second largest administrative building in the world.  During the communist regime over 10,000 buildings were destroyed, and over 50,000 people were moved into communist buildings as Ceaușescu's vision was to transform villages into cities   Many buildings were demolished to make way for Ceaușescu’s grandiose project, the Palace Of The People and surrounding civic centre. It's a large and dominating building.

The Romanian Athenaeum 

The Romanian Athenaeum is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. A neoclassical French designed concert hall which was restored to its original glory and saved from collapse in 1992. It's Bucharest's main concert hall and home to the "George Enescu" Philharmonic and of the George Enescu annual international music festival. 

Abandoned buildings

In contrast to some of the beautiful buildings built in its history, the communist era left Bucharest full of buildings with flat panels, in a simple unadorned no-frills style. Today some of these buildings have been neglected due to arguments about rights of ownership. It's interesting to see some of these buildings where people still live, that are designated unsafe. We were surprised that people still live in some of these buildings.

To find out more about the architecture of Romania, including the palaces, the ‘Belle Epoque’ period and the hidden Art Deco gems, which I haven't covered here, take a trip with Walkabout Free Tours.

For the street art

Some amazing street art

Bucharest has its fair share of graffiti dotting the buildings but also has some amazing street art.  Over the years graffiti in Romania was used as a form of protest against the corruption of those in power. Now it's an expression of creativity.


Our Open Door Travel tour guide

I did a tour called the 'Alternative Tour' with Open Doors Travel which showed us a lot of the street art around the city today. Street art around the world can be a controversial topic, but we were asked to think about whether we wanted to see an advert or vibrant colourful street art. I think I know what I would rather see.  


So bright and vibrant

Today there are street art initiatives to make the streets more colourful, such as the Un-hidden Bucharest street art project, and personally, I think that could only be a good thing.


Street art by Jace

One artist that stood out was Jace, who is a French graffiti artist. He has lots of little sculptured masks hidden around the city, as well as larger paintings like this face above.


How detailed is this?

As you can see the street art brightens up the streets

More cool street art

For the food

Garlic themed food tour with My Secret Romania 

Bucharest has a great cafe culture and an emerging food scene. Traditional food features meat heavily, soup and sarmale, which are stuffed cabbage leaves, polenta and local wine.  As well as traditional restaurants serving food that has been passed down through generations, it also has a handful of top-notch restaurants of which The Artist, and Kane, stand out. 

Garlic and bean pate

I was here though to try the traditional cuisine and signed up to the 'Garlic-themed food tour with My Secret Romania.  Our meal was at La Copac - a restaurant known for traditional food. 


Sausages and potatoes with a healthy portion of garlic 

We heard about how garlic is a 'magical' plant in Romanian and how garlic kept the vampires at a safe distance. The menu consisted of a bean and garlic pate served with a topping of peppers and onions, huge tasty sausages with garlic, and potatoes in a parsley and garlic sauce. 
Tuica - Romanian brandy

Our guide Ioana told gruesome stories of Vlad the Impaler as we ate. A cruel but fair man apparently, he secured his kingdom using fear and he impaled his enemies on steaks vertically, avoiding the major organs so they would live longer! It was almost enough to put me off my sausages! We heard about Strigoi, the Romanian vampires of legend. The writer Bram Stoker combined the real-life person of Vlad the Impaler, with the stories of the Strigoi to make Count Dracula. 

We also heard more about Vlad and other legends of Bucharest on the 'Old Town Legends and Stories tour' by B Trip Bucharest, another tour well worth doing.

We finished the meal with a shot of Tuica, a Romanian brandy, which was very strong but delicious.

For the people

Ciprian from B Trip Bucharest

Before I came to Romania I read about the country and the people. When I came I found the Romania people warm and friendly, especially when they get to know you. It was certainly true about Tudor, the organiser of Experience Bucharest and all our tour guides. Our guide on the B Trip Bucharest walking tour, Ciprian, was exceptionally friendly and even offered us a lift to one of the evening events.



I also saw another side of the people of Romania, when I went on the Rroma Heritage Tour by Open Doors Travel. The Rromas or gypsies as they used to be known, originally came from India, then they travelled through Turkey before expanding into Eastern Europe in 1385. It was sad to hear how they were welcomed originally due to their skills in craft making, tool making and selling, and then they were kept and sold as slaves, sold by weight, even little babies. 


Rroma flower market

We went to see the Rroma flower market and saw children helping out their parents and the huge wreaths all made up for funerals. 


Mesteshukar ButiQ-MBQ

Our last stop was a co-operative where the Rroma people sell their goods, called Mesteshukar ButiQ – MBQ. The prices were good and it was interesting to see unique pieces of jewellery. 


Jams and honey

They also sold bags, clothes and some lovely jams amongst other things. The Rroma tour was interesting and thought-provoking and definitely worth doing as it challenges misconceptions and looks at the history of the Rroma people.

How to get there

Blue Air

Bucharest is easily accessible from most European destinations. We flew there from the UK with Blue Air from Luton Airport and Wizz Air, British Airways and Ryanair also fly there.

The city is easy to get around, many of the main sights are walkable, and there is also the Bucharest Metro which is easy to use and cheap. Buses and trams criss-cross the centre of the city and run from early in the morning until 11pm. Look out for the yellow kiosks with the logo RATB to buy your tickets. Tickets are cheap at less than 30 pence a ticket.


Taxis are also cheap compared to most of Europe, we used Uber and were never charged more than £2.00 for a short trip, although our trip from the airport to the hotel was in the region of £6-7.00.

Where to stay



Radisson Blu Bucharest

Bucharest has a variety of accommodation options, from the exceptionally cheap but well run independent Pura Vida hostels with prices from £11 per person per night to the 5 star Radisson Blu Bucharest with rooms from £80 a night, and everything in between.  

We can highly recommend the Radisson Blu Bucharest, as the breakfasts were amazing, and the facilities including 5 restaurants, 3 bars and a wellness centre with swimming pool, exceptional for Bucharest.

Cost of living


Passage Victoria

The cost of living in Bucharest is higher than the rest of Romania but is relatively low compared to western Europe and the US. The currency is Lei and you get a better rate to exchange there at currency exchange centres than changing your money in the UK. 


Pin for later

Check out the comparison prices at Numbeo to get an idea of the cost of living. As an idea, a meal in an inexpensive restaurant in Bucharest is £5-6.00, a meal in McDonalds £3.55 and a cappuccino in a cafe £1.57.  We found it is a destination where you get a lot for your money, and why not add on a few days exploring the smaller towns and villages in Romania to get even more for your money too, and see what else Romania has to offer?

Thanks to Experience Bucharest for the opportunity to explore this interesting city. Food, accommodation and tours were provided on a complimentary basis in exchange for a blog post and social media coverage. Check out the social media coverage by following the hashtag #ExperienceBucharest and for more information on Bucharest check out Romania Tourism.

Let me know, would you visit Bucharest?
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Thursday, 15 November 2018

The Most Popular Wedding Cake Traditions

Whether you have a small wedding or a big wedding, there are a few things that you will almost always have on your wedding day and one of them is a wedding cake. It's so traditional to have a wedding cake on your wedding day and it's also one of the tastiest traditions too. Here is an article about some of the most popular wedding cake traditions.

The origins of the Wedding cake 

Wedding cakes weren't always the fruit or sponge concoctions with icing you get these days though, once upon a time, in ancient Rome, marriage ceremonies ended with a barley cake or a cake similar to a scone, broken over the bride's head for luck and fertility. The newly married couple would eat a few crumbs of the 'wedding cake' and the wedding guests would gather some crumbs as a symbol of good luck. 

Most popular wedding cake traditions


Your wedding day is very important and of course, choosing the perfect wedding cake is high up on a list of priorities after the dress, the ceremony and ensure your guests are well looked after. It's also nice to include some of the most popular wedding cake traditions into your ceremony, so here are some of them. 

Cutting the cake


Cutting the cake is one of the first things a newly married couple does today and is a special moment.  Historically the new bride cut the cake on her own as a symbol of losing her virginity, but today the couple cut the cake together, possibly due to the larger more intricate cakes we have these days. It's a sweet photo opportunity, up there with the first dance. 

Saving the top tier


Now this works best with fruitcakes that are rich in alcohol to preserve it, but saving the top tier of a wedding cake is a tradition that goes back years since multi-layered wedding cakes came about in the 19th century. It was thought that you saved the top tier for the first anniversary which often coincided with a christening or birth of a first child. Today as couples often wait longer before having children the top tier is saved for the first anniversary. If you have a sponge cake on your wedding day, you can always have a small cake made later for your anniversary.

White wedding cakes


Cakes were traditionally white as the sugar used for icing was white, and it also symbolised purity. Over time, a whiter than white look became almost a status symbol. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1804 the wedding cake was covered in white icing and that is where the term 'royal icing' comes from. Today the sky is the limit when it comes to the wedding cake, and a bespoke wedding cake can be any colour or design you like, and reflect your tastes and your personality.  

Groom's cake


The tradition of having a groom's cake started in 17th century Victorian England and were often small cakes given to the guests as presents, at the end of the night. Today it's a popular tradition, especially in the US and often the cake is only limited by your imagination, with chocolate cakes, croquembouche and decorative unusual cakes that focus on the groom's interest popular. Even Prince William had one on his marriage to Kate Middleton.  

Feeding the cake


A new tradition is feeding each other cake on the wedding day as a commitment to each other. Sometimes this is replaced by another tradition, smearing or smashing the cake into each other's face! It's a great idea for non-traditionalists and people who have a great sense of humour. It makes for great wedding photos and a great wedding video but think about the mess, and be sure to have a load of napkins on hand to clear it up after!

So here are some of the most popular wedding cake traditions. Which would you have?

*In collaboration with Bethany Taylor
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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Plough At Lupton - A Country Pub With Luxurious Rooms

Bordering on the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales is one of those hidden gems that you want to keep all to yourself - The Plough at Lupton.

It's one of those places you stumble across if you are driving through the countryside and when you realise how good it is, you want to keep it a secret from everyone you know. 



From the outside, The Plough, looks like a quiet unassuming pub, on the side of a road, but inside it's cosy, luxe, and a little bit gorgeous. In fact, it's a lot gorgeous!


First Impressions





First impressions were very good - rustic beams, wood floors, and a sense of a lived-in laid-back country style.  Check-in was super quick and Jonathan the manager was very welcoming and showed us straight up to our room.

The Bedroom

We were shown to the Torsin suite. As we didn't expect a suite it was a wonderful surprise and I really did go 'wow!' as I walked into the room.  They describe this room as 'country inn style with modern opulence' and you can see why. 

When you walk into the room there is a large wardrobe and dressing table with mirror, then you walk into the lounge area, which leads to the bedroom. Just off the bedroom is the vast bathroom.







The decor was calm and collected with cream walls, a plush cream carpet, and eggshell blue accents. The cushions seemed to reflect the prints on the walls - like a dreamy waterlily painting from Monet. 

Lounge area

To have a lounge area is a real luxury and having a turntable and a supply of vinyl really added to the ambience, especially as Mr W collects vinyl.  

The corner sofa was made of a velvet material that was luxurious to the touch and was piled high with cushions with a blue and green print. 
A choice of books were supplied and were the perfect browsing material while relaxing in the suite. Who doesn't love a Lonely Planet travel guide?

Although everything was incredibly stylish, I liked the quirky touches such as the horses head table!

On the table, next to the large flat screen TV was a tea and coffee tray with quality products, such as Illy coffee, Fair Trade tea and Penningtons Hot Chocolate. A fridge with wine, spirits and soft drinks to buy also contained complimentary fresh milk, which you don't get everywhere these days. 

Bathroom





Moving onto the bathroom which was huge, I was immediately impressed with the double sinks. Mr W can admire himself in the mirror for ages in the morning so having two sinks is a plus point. The mirror was very grand and huge too and added a real presence to the room.

Of course, the beautiful slipper bath was a highlight, you could just imagine sinking into the warm water with the bubbles right up to your neck.




Having both a gorgeous slipper bath and a lovely double shower we felt well and truly spoilt, and I can see why this room is popular with honeymoon couples. I also liked the fabulous tiles in the shower as well as the high rainfall showerhead. They even provide bath salts for a good soak in the tub.

What I also liked was that the towels were super soft and not like the average towels you get and so were the robes. The lighting in the bathroom was excellent, really bright but also the lighting can be adjusted to create a relaxing ambience.  

Dinner



So after some time in the room working, (the Internet wasn't strong in the room so feel it's only fair to point this out), we got ready for dinner and headed downstairs.

There are two areas to sit for food,  a dining room and a bar area, both with the same menu. 



There was a decent selection of gins in the bar, as well as a cocktail menu.


The menu sounded delicious and had something for most people. I had to decide between slow cooked pork belly, braised lamb, and seabass so as I couldn't decide I went for the chicken supreme. Contrary I know!


Firstly though I started with an excellent chicken parfait served with sourdough bread. What I like about this chicken parfait, which was a smooth pate,  was the layer of citrus glaze on the top which added some sweetness and sharpness to the richness of the dish. The presentation was very good too, on a wood slate adding a rustic appeal.


Mr W had the chicory and goats cheese salad, which he declared 'very good!'. I tried it and liked it a lot, as the goats' cheese didn't overpower the rest of the dish. Walnuts added some texture too.

After a brief interlude, the main courses arrived. We were both pleased to see a couple of chicken dishes on the menu. These days, we find that chicken can be hard to find on a menu due to the fashion, in the higher end restaurants, for red meat and game. It can be even easier to find vegetarian options than chicken these days, albeit vegetarian options with mushrooms in. Mr W isn't vegetarian but doesn't eat red meat, seafood or fish and hates mushrooms - this means he can be surprisingly difficult to cater for, especially when we travel to Europe.  So top marks to The Plough for having chicken on the menu.




Getting onto the dishes - the butter poached chicken supreme was exceptionally good. The chicken breast was cooked well with a lovely brown skin, the chicken soft and tender and the sauce was very tasty, with bacon, mushrooms and a hint of cream.  Served with cabbage and on a bed of potato rosti I really enjoyed this dish, and it was one of the best dishes I have had in a long time due to it being exceptionally flavourful. 

The chicken burger that Mr W had was really good as well. The chicken again was chicken breast, the bacon on top really crispy, the gherkins added some pizzaz and the spicy tomato relish some zing. The chips were good but didn't blow we away, I think the promise of triple cooked chips made my expectations high, but they tasted like any other chunky chip to me, without the extra crunch you get with triple cooked chips, but here I am being exceptionally picky.



For dessert, we chose a chocolate torte and an apple and blackberry crumble. 

The chocolate torte was in a crispy pastry case and served with thick local cream. It was rich, it was decadent and it was exactly as a chocolate torte should be. Very indulgent and delicious.

The apple and blackberry crumble was served with an accompanying creme anglais. The creme anglais, a light pouring custard, was sweet with a good vanilla flavour.  The crumble topping was made of oats and sugar, I prefer a standard crumble topping myself and I must admit the apple and blackberry compote was too sharp for me. It needed more sugar I'm afraid. In hindsight, I should have ordered the torte.

So full as we could possibly be, we retired to our room for the night. 

Breakfast


The next morning we woke up after a great sleep, and after a lovely bath, (Mr W liked the rainfall shower) we came down to breakfast. Something we did notice in the morning was that there was a little road noise, as our room looked directly onto a country road that was moderately busy. Not enough to wake me up but if you are a light sleeper something to be aware of.

The breakfast in the morning included a cold buffet with a cooked to order option. 





The buffet section was simple but of very high quality. Fresh juices, fresh fruit salad, delicious thick yoghurt, cereals, and pastries.  Soya milk was also available which I was pleased about.



Our made to order breakfast came before long. I ordered the sauteed field mushrooms on spinach and garlic and Mr W ordered the Plough vegetarian breakfast.

The mushrooms came on sourdough bread and I asked for it to come on wholemeal bread and that was no problem at all. I really enjoyed the mushrooms, which were sauteed well but not greasy, nestled on wilted fresh spinach. The garlic didn't overpower the dish too which was good. 

Mr W enjoyed his vegetarian breakfast with vegan sausages. He opted for his eggs to be scrambled and these were well seasoned.

Conclusion



So it was with heavy hearts that we had to check out of this beautiful country pub with rooms. The Plough Inn is a very good choice if you are in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales. Moments off the M6 it is a great base for exploring the area further. We highly recommend checking out Bowness-on-Windermere and Grasmere which were both under 40 minutes away. 

I think the decor was inspired and was very chic, marrying traditional and modern design well. The Torsin suite was huge and really blew me away. It has that wow factor, that's for sure and would be an excellent choice for a special birthday, anniversary or simply to spoil yourself.  The bathroom was exceptional, the space divine and the finishing touches such as the fresh milk in the room, super soft bathrobes and the retro turntable added luxury details you don't get everywhere.

The food in the restaurant was also very good indeed - tasty, presented well and not overpriced, If I lived in the area I would definitely be visiting the restaurant on a regular basis. 

Would we stay again? Of course! With rooms starting at £85 a night, and our opulent suite starting at £135, I think this is great value for this high-quality pub with rooms. In fact, we are thinking of returning to the Lake District early next year so you never know, we may be back sooner than expected. Highly recommended.

The Plough Inn,
Cow Brow, 

Lupton, 
Cumbria LA6 1PJ
015395 67700
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