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The BudgetTraveller celebrated 10 years in April. Crazy how time flies. I wasn’t in a very good place when I started this blog 10 years ago. I look back at my former self and marvel how far I’ve come both as a person ( a tad more wiser to be honest) and also professionally. I’ve travelled far and wide, seen some places I thought only existed in Tintin comics or a BBC Wildlife programme. I’ve been lucky to have met some truly wonderful people who continue to shape my life in many ways. I’ve tried to document and shared some of this crazy beautiful journey along the way on the blog. When people ask me what my greatest achievement from blogging is,  it has been always sharing the journey with you and maybe influencing it in some form or manner. Some of you have been kind to take the time and acknowledge that through comments or emails and I treasure each of these emails and comments. It always makes me so happy ( I am one of those who constantly seeks validation…I know. Help me.) to know that one of my tips or a hostel I recommended had a positive influence on someone’s journey.

The word influence has become a bit of a dirty one in this day and age. Not a day goes by when I read about some horror story of someone abusing their influence and screwing up. This post is not going to be about questioning if these people have influence or about how the world of influencer marketing has changed over the last 5-10 years. That’s a topic to be discussed over a few pints of beer for another day.  What I wanted to focus on today is you to take a step back and rethink the word influence and what really influences our wanderlust.

I find some of  the seeds of my wanderlust were sown a long time ago during my childhood years.

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t so well travelled in my childhood years. I had a simple but happy childhood growing up in Kent. Holidays during my childhood would mean the odd day out in London or wondering the medieval streets of Canterbury-that’s as exotic as life would get. Flying was the preserve of the middle and upper classes. There was no Ryanair or easyJet. Coach travel was still quite pricey. The car was our best friend. We often spent our summer holidays with our cousins in Birmingham. I loved and treasured my time with them. It didn’t matter that we were not on a sunny beach or somewhere exotic because the imagination of a child is a fertile playground and where you can travel anywhere really. Thanks to books of Enid Blyton , Tintin and James Bond movies, I managed to form a rich picture of the world around me.

Monet’s ‘View of Vetheuil-sur-Seine’.Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

Then there was art. We had two prints- Constable’s Hay Wain hanging in the living room and Monet’s ‘Poppy Field near Arguentuil’ in the kitchen. I don’t know whether it was the curiosity of a child or the boredom that often defines childhood but I spent a lot of time looking long and hard at both those paintings. They always drew me into their bewitching, hidden world , a world of light and memory, of everyday nature. The countryside of Sussex , the coast of Normandy and the suburbs of Paris- these artworks were my window to the world. I’ve followed Constable and Monet since then and been privileged to see their works across many outstanding art galleries. Since moving to Berlin a year ago I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Alte Nationalgalerie situated in the city’s Museum Island. Their collection includes a number of Romantic and Impressionist masterpieces from artists like Casper David Friedrich, Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet and yes you guessed it, they have a few Monet’s and Constable’s like Constable’s ‘ Admiral’s House in Hampstead’ and Monet’s ‘View of Vétheuil-sur-Seine.’

Constable’s ‘The Grove, or the Admiral’s House in Hampstead’ goes back to the time when he spent his summers in Hampstead. It is a very evocative picture- the texture of the clouds, swirling trees and the typical English chimney stacks standing against them. I looked at it and immediately wanted to jump on a plane to London and visit Hampstead to know if the house still exists. Great art does that. It moves you. Piques your curiosity. Makes you dream. Just like Monet’s ‘Summer’ and his ‘View of Vétheuil-sur-Seine’ paintings. Both sun-drenched shimmering images of the rural idyllic bliss of Vétheuil and Giverny really transport you instantly through time and space to a different world. A world of your own. Where imagination and reality can sit side by side. I sometimes think I am privileged to have lived in a world before the internet existed. Or maybe I am wrong? Maybe we are living in the golden age right now. The digital age of zero boredom where we swipe through multiple sources of inspiration. Pretty much anything you want to know about a place, is online.  The only negative side of living in a world where information is online and easy to access is that I think is that there’s not much left to the imagination….which I think is important to nurture when it comes to travel. It is great to have all these amazing source of information at our fingertips but there has to be some mystery in life.

The Monk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich. Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Going back to the theme of how art influenced me to travel, it got me thinking of how the artists of yesteryear were the original influencers of travel. Back in an age when there was no social media, no Instagram, people would come to art galleries like the Alte Nationalgalerie to form an opinion, an image of the world around them. The 19th century and the romantic period preceding it was a glorious era of travel when artists like Caspar David Friedrich (  his haunting ‘Monk by the Sea’ in picture.) went into nature to seek the meaning of life. Fuelled by their wanderlust to discover and document the unknown, artists like Caspar David Friedrich, Monet and Van Gogh would travel long distances, often by foot to document the many worlds that exist within this world.  Plus there is also the other journey that we often don’t talk enough about in travel-the journey within us, the way travel changes us inside and makes us grow. These artists focussed on their inner journey too. That’s a journey that I think we’re forgetting in this ever connected age of the internet and social media. Phones are important, blogs help people traveller better and Instagram is a beautiful waste of time but we need to take time to disconnect and space to get bored.

So. Next time when you deciding where to go, feel free of course to check my blog for ideas of where to go next. However, do take time to look away from your phone or computer screen. Close your eyes. Delve back into that forgotten world of childhood memories. Look through old photo books of trips past. Go through your parents old travel magazine collection. Pick up a book you loved based on a place or city and maybe plan an adventure retracing the footsteps of the author. Dust off the video tapes and re-watch a movie that might could inspire a trip.

True influence like happiness comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Influence is not dead- we just need to remember what the word really means and re-examine the way we use the word. We need to look beyond those perfectly curated feeds we follow online. We need to strip back the layers of time and value more imperfection in life- remember the boring and mundane childhood holidays of past which for some reason were filled with more meaning and satisfaction. Try and remember a life before blogs and how you travelled. Plus don’t forget that previous life where words and art filled your imagination and allowed you to daydream.

10 years of the BudgetTraveller: thank you for being part of my journey. If I have influenced or made a difference to the way you travelled in the past, let me know! This post was not sponsored but definitely influenced and inspired by a project I did last summer with the Museum Island in Berlin and Google Arts and Culture. If like me, you are curious about what Monet’s Waterlilies or Van Gogh’s Starry Night looks like up close, then please download the Google Arts and Culture app. Also if you are visiting Berlin, do spare some time to visit the magnificent Museum Island where you travel several countries and lifetimes in one place-I love it.

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If you’re coming to Berlin, chance is that you will only be visiting for a weekend or a few days at the most. Most of your time will probably be taken up exploring all the key historical highlights and exploring the neighbourhoods like Mitte or Kreuzberg or Neukolln where all the cool kids are. Rarely, will tourists head up to Wedding.

You’ll find Wedding district in the north western half of Berlin, adjacent to Mitte and the green lung of the city-Tiergarten. The neighbourhood didn’t experience the boom in popularity and gentrification that swept across other working class neighbourhoods of the city like Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg and Mitte.

The upside to this is that the area remains free of the hype and has been perfectly preserved. Low rents have seen a handful of bohemian cafés, restaurants and clubs being established and also some really cool independent art-galleries plus recently an urban gardening project. It is an area still developing and rough around the edge so keep that in mind when you come here.

To get a better idea of the district and to write this guide, I recently dedicated a day to exploring Wedding. Here’s my self guided free walking tour to Berlin Wedding. Lets start walking…

Victor-Ash’s-‘Tree-Children’-Berlin-Wedding

1. Victor Ash’s ‘Tree Children’

Moment you emerge from the U-Bahn Wedding station you come across a pretty cool mural on the building beside the gas station.  This work is by Victor Ash and is called “Tree Children.” You will know Victor’s work in Berlin from his famous mural – “The Astronaut.”

Leopoldplatz

2. Leopoldplatz

The next stop is Leopoldplatz: They have a small daily market featuring local produce that ranges from fresh local produce, meats, cheesemonger , good coffee ( The Coffee Man) plus you can try snacks from Mimi’s African Fast Food ( specialises in delicious Cameroonian food )

Afrikanisches Viertel Berlin Wedding

3. Exploring Wedding’s Afrikanisches Viertel

Wedding is one of Berlin’s most ethnically diverse localities and home to a significant afrodeutsch community. (One of the most famous residents of Wedding is a certain Kevin Prince Boateng- Ghanian who also plays for Barcelona ) The area where they have settled is called the Afrikanisches Viertel, or African Quarter.

You’ll see some of the street names in the quarter named after their residents: Kamruner (Cameroon) Strasse and Togostrasse ( Togo)

Each One Teach One, Berlin Wedding

To understand more about the history of the black and African-diaspora in Berlin and Germany popinto Each One Teach One, (Togostraße 76 ) a lovely community based project for education and the empowerment of Black people in Berlin. With over 6000 books written by authors from the African continent and the Diaspora, the library is open to locals and tourists.

For those of you planning a trip to Berlin In June, they have a African Literary Festival with authors from the African diaspora. The event is free for anyone to attend and will feature readings, panel discussion and performances from writers across the world.

Also keep an eye on the Facebook page of nearby AfricAvenir ( Kameruner Strasse 1) , a non-governmental and non-profit organisation that is engaging in political and cultural education from an African perspective- they run a regular monthly programme of workshops and cultural events 

Salone Market

4. Lunch Part 1: Salone Market

As regular readers of the blog will know, I love exploring places through my stomach and even though I had lunch planned soon after somewhere else, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to checkout Salone Market (Genter Str. 66 )- probably Wedding’s best african restaurant. Run by the affable Denis who is originally from Sierra Leone, the restaurant focuses on West African cuisine. You can sample here dishes like Tilapia Fish, Cassava leaf stew and also their excellent Black Eyed Bean with grounded peanut butter sauce. I had the latter with rice and Denis also served some ‘scharf’ hot sauce on the side. Prices are extremely reasonable and portion sizes are huge ( I had the food to takeaway ) -good for sharing.. You can also purchase exotic delicacies such a spicy plantain chips plus even buy Tusker lager here.

Silent Green

5. Lunch Part 2: Welcome to Mars and Silent Green

Next stop was probably my highlight of the day- a visit to Silent Green (Gerichtstraße 35), an independent arts project in the weird and wonderful location of a former crematorium situated beside a cemetery. The cultural centre was realised with the help of two prominent local film makers- Jörg Heitmann and his partner Bettina Ellerkamp. The centre hosts a regular programme of cultural events with a big focus on music. ( 2-3 events a week)

Entrance to Silent Green

Silent Green , former crematorium turned events, arts space with a cool restaurant

One of the stages inside Silent Green

Asparagus Tagiatelle with lavender lemonade at Mars Restuarant

An interesting extension of the centre is their  in-house restaurant, Mars. Open Monday to Saturday, Mars is a la carte brunch/lunch joint with a limited but seasonal menu where all the ingredients are sourced from the locals area. I enjoyed their asparagus tagliatelle ( buttery, delicious topped with crunchy garlic bits and parmesan cheese) and washed it down with their homemade lavender infused lemonade.

6. More Street Art at the quirky and hip Gerichtshöfe

If you’re interested in street art I also encourage you to visit Gerichtshöfe complex on Gerichstrasse 23. The area is a labyrinth of industrial courtyards that mainly consist of artists studios. With over 70 studios, the Kunstquartier is in fact one of the largest in Germany. With multiple cool murals, stencils, paste-ups and stickers it has a very cool grungy vibe. In many ways it reminded me a lot of the Tapentenwerk in Leipzig.

Cafe Pförtner

7. Shake off the post lunch coma at the fantastic Café Pförtner

Walk off your post lunch coma with a stroll up the lovely local river , the Panke and head towards the hip and quirky Café Pförtner (Uferstraße 8-11). Located in a former bus repair station , if you are hungry or thirsty, you can enjoy a range of tasty delights ranging from curries to salads and soups, nice cakes and really good coffee. The star of the show is the repurposed bus which is a very cool setting for beers or coffee with friends or loved ones.

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Sponsored post: This post is brought to you in conjunction with Visit The USA but all thoughts expressed here are my own.

A few bits and pieces of news to share with you. I’m returning to the States at the end of June! I’ll be speaking at Nomadic Matt’s TravelCon conference and also fulfilling a lifelong dream of visiting New York. ( If you live in New York or Boston, leave me a note below ) To celebrate my trip to the States I have £200 of holiday vouchers to giveaway to one of you lucky people. Scroll below to ‘How to Enter’ for more details.

New York, New York. I lie, a little. I have been to New York briefly 8 years ago but only for a day so I barely got a chance to properly experience the city. I know what you are saying. There are so many places worth visiting in the States. Trust me, I have a huge bucket list of experiences that I’d love to experience in the States. I’ve love to go from coast to coast with Amtrak, party in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras and eat Gumbo, go hiking in the red rock wilderness of Utah , go to Key West Florida to retrace the footsteps of one of my literary heroes- Ernest Hemingway, eat Voodoo doughnuts in Portland and have a walk on the weird side…. the list is endless.

What would be your dream trip to the United States?

Where would you go….what would be your dream trip to the United States? To help plan your trip I have a giveaway to offer you. Courtesy of Brand USA, I have £200 of holiday vouchers to help towards the cost of your dream trip to you.

How to enter

All you have to is checkout Brand USA’s pretty nifty USA trip planner that lets you help plan your trip to the States. Then comment on this post below with the top 5 destinations you’d like to go to in the US. State your personal reasons in a few lines of why you would want to go to these places and who you would bring with you. Add the hashtag #WanderlustWish

The competition is open until midnight BST on April 18, 2019. Please see the terms and conditions below for more details.

Good luck!

The trip planner is a pretty useful tool. For example for my 6 day planned trip to New York, the tool creates a customised trip plan based on my interests which were: ‘culture’, ‘romantic’ , ‘museums’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘outdoors’

The trip planner then pulled together a 6 day itinerary for me and at first instance, I was impressed with some of the suggestions. I had already been doing a fair bit of research but hadn’t come across for example Chelsea Market, an urban food court with over 40 foodie experiences to choose from-  everything from Maine’s lobsters to cupcakes, Italian style gelato and pastrami sandwiches. Then it offered me some suggestions for nightlife.  For example I discovered a show called Blogologues a show created by two Yale graduates -Jen Jamula and Allison Goldberg — who crawl blogs and social media for obscure strangest items of content and then re-imagine it as theatre. 

The trip planner then creates a personalised itinerary for you which you can use for your trip.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Why New York?

In my invisible list of places I’d like live in , New York has always figured high on them. I guess growing up watching movies, New York gets burned into your imagination. I’d love to visit the city to experience firsthand its incredible diversity. Ever since Ellis Island served as the gateway to America, New York has the proud tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world. It has always struck me as a city that welcomes people from all walks of life irrespective of colour creed and wealth… a city where everyone gets an opportunity to make something out of themselves. It many ways I imagine New York to have the same open minded and creative vibe that my current home town Berlin has. A place where the American dream lives on. I’d love to go to New York to experience that vibe.

George Washington Bridge, New York. Image sourced via Pixabay

I’d go to New York to experience the culture. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see masterworks from Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh just to name a few. MoMA, Guggenheim and esp Frick Collection to checkout their Vermeers, Rembrandts & Turners. Have a picnic in Central Park and maybe catch one of their summertime concerts. As an opera lover I’d love to catch a show at the Metropolitan Opera where I’ve heard the stage productions are quite breathtaking. Go to the Strand Bookstore , home to ’18 miles of books’. The city has an amazing food scene-I’d love to check out some of the amazing food trucks here like Kimchi Taco for their Kimchi Tacos, go to Katz for monstrous pastrami sandwiches and try the iconic New York style bagel-heard Absolute Bagels is good.

These are just a few things I’d love to do in New York. Welcome your suggestions below too in the comments below.

Plus don’t forget to share in the comments your 5 favourite places you’d love to visit in USA for the prize giveaway.

The deadline for entries again is April 19th, 2019, midnight BST.

WANDERLUST WISH CAMPAIGN

COMPETITION T&C’S

Eligibility:

• The Wanderlust Wish Contest is open to entrants aged 18 and over, who are resident

in the UK (Mainland).

• Employees of the Promoter, its group companies or their family members, or anyone

else connected with the Contest are not eligible to enter.

• Entrants into the Contest shall be deemed to have accepted these terms and

conditions.

• Participation is permitted irrespective of purchase of a product/service. No purchase

necessary.

How to Enter

• Entries must be submitted between the dates stipulated by this post (“Entry Period”).

• To successfully enter, a person (“Entrant”) must:

• Use the Visit The USA Holiday planner tool and plan a trip to their top 5 USA

destinations. The Entrant must then write a few words and submit their entry as a

comment on this article with the hashtag #WanderlustWish

• There is only one entry per person allowed.

• There is one prize available for the Contest in this post.

• The winner will be required to respond to the notification from the Promoter within

14 days, confirming where their prize should be sent. The winner will receive their

prize within 28 days of providing such postal address (mainland UK only). The

Promoter accepts no responsibility in the event that a winner does not respond to the

Promoter’s notification or where a prize is not received by a winner as a result of that

Entrant having provided inaccurate address details when requested.

• If the winner fails to provide verification or address information within 14 days of a

request from the Promoter or should the Promoter establish that the qualifying

criteria was not met, the Promoter reserves the right to award the prize to an

alternative winner selected from the remaining entries, with the originally selected

winner forfeiting their right to the prize.

• The Promoter reserves the right to modify, suspend or cancel the Contest without any

prior notice.

Privacy and collection of personal data:

• The Entrant’s email address and personal details will be used for no other reason than to

notify a participant if they are a winner.

• By entering the prize draw, Participants grant the Promoter the right to contact them

regarding their entry

General

• The Promoter will not be liable if a winner is unable to receive their prize for any reason

beyond the control of the Promoter. Prizes are not transferrable or exchangeable and no

cash alternatives will be available.

• The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any loss suffered by an Entrant as a result of

entering the Contest or accepting the prize. The Promoter further accepts no

responsibility for any damage to an Entrant’s or any other person’s computer arising

from their participation in the Contest.

• The Promoter accepts no responsibility for Entries that fail to meet the entry mechanics,

are uploaded outside of the Entry Period or which do not qualify for as an entry for any

reason (including where the Entrant does not include hashtag #WanderlustWish).

• You will contract with and receive an agreed fee via the third party supplier.

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Sintra.

I’ve been visiting Lisbon for several years but somehow I never made it to Sintra for some reason. Some places exist in our imagination- half realised, half imagined. You already know the place well from pictures and stories, your soul already inhabits its contours but somehow your body just hasn’t made it there. Sintra was that place for me.

I blame it also on Lisbon. Everytime I visit, the days just disappear into thin air. I never tire of walking these streets. Always some new watering hole or restaurant to induce you into a big food coma. After almost two weeks of winding our way through Lisbon during our last trip, I found myself dreaming about visiting Sintra again.  This time, I had to go. My only concern is that I had only a few hours. Plus, there is a fair amount of walking and climbing up hills involved when it comes to Sintra. From all the advice I received from friends in Lisbon, its best to dedicate a day, an overnight stay, possibly 2 nights if you want to get to the best out of Sintra.

The best option in our case, given the limited time we had, was to take a guided tour. For those of you who know, read my blog will know that I’m not a fan of guided tours. In many cases, I feel like I’m being given a dreary monotonous history lesson which I could read in any guidebook. What’s the point in taking a tour then? Plus I hate big groups. Not very intimate. The feeling of being herded like sheep to slaughter.

I prefer bespoke guided tours where the guide is flexible and can personalise the tour to meet your interests. So when Withlocals,a Dutch based peer-to-peer market place and startup offered me to try one of their bespoke Lisbon tours , I thought why not give them a shot. All their experiences are private and for a maximum of 8 people. As you’ve guessed from the name, you have a choice of locals who you can choose for your tour. In our case for Sintra, we could choose from 4 ‘Withlocals’ to take us to Sintra. All the ‘locals’ had a video profile where you can learn a little about them. Which is cool but still doesn’t leave much to the imagination: at some point the whole process of finding a guide to match your needs feels almost like finding a date online. Rita was the only person not to have a video profile ( she has now! Click here ) but she sounded very cool, down to earth in her profile. When she professed her love of food and local markets- that’s the moment I thought she would be perfect for the tour.

Once Upon a Time in Fairytale Sintra

The tour beautifully named ‘Once Upon a Time in Fairytale Sintra’ offers you the chance to take in some of Sintra’s key highlights in a few hours with a few extras chucked in that include a trip to the westernly most point of Europe.

The other big advantage of taking the guided tour with Rita was the fact that she had a car and could drive us around Sintra. The narrow hill roads of Sintra are not really designed for cars but given the limited time we had to see Sintra, it was perfect to have Rita drive us around. Also since we were coming from Lisbon to Sintra and returning, Rita for a small fee , offered to pick us up and drop us off in Lisbon which was really really handy.

There are two regular inexpensive train services from Lisbon to Sintra for those who prefer taking the train. ( 40 minutes from Rossio, return journey costs €4.50 )

Hopping on the car from Lisbon was also cool because it gave us some time to break the ice with Rita and learn more about her work and about Sintra. Just as we had imagined, Rita was super cool and down to earth. Within minutes we were exchanging stories about travel, food and we clicked instantly. We also discussed a rough plan for the day and what we might be able to cover in the 4 or so hours.

So. Some background information about Sintra. The town of Sintra is just 23 kms away Lisbon. However thanks to its scenic location in the pine covered hills of the Serra de Sintra, Sintra feels like a world away from Lisbon. Because of the cooler climate in Serra de Sintra, back in the 19th century many of Europe’s wealthy ruling elite and aristocracy built summer residences here. The result: the hills are draped with extravagant palaces and opulent mansions which give the town an almost Disney like fairytale feeling. Add to that the ruins of an ancient castle dating from the Moors and you get the idea that Sintra is no ordinary town.

With so much to see and so little time, the challenge in half a day in Sintra is deciding what to see. Rita’s advice was given the short amount of time, to avoid the colourful, eclectic Pena Palace where hordes of tourists were arriving even at the early hour of 10am.

Castelo dos Mouros

We happily skipped Pena Palace and headed straight to the haunting Castelo dos Mouros, a fortification that the Moors built in the 8th and 9th centuries. Built at elevation of 574 feet, thanks to to its advantageous position the Castle was an important strategic point during the Reconquista before it fell to Christian forces after the siege of Lisbon in 1147. The earthquake of 1755 caused considerable damage and the castle fell into a further state of neglect.

The castle to the present day has this feeling of being broken, unloved in parts which lends to its charm. We really enjoyed walking along the rugged inner walls of the castle from where you get a pretty amazing panoramic view of Sintra and beyond. The weather on the day we visited in January was quite temperamental which in some ways added to the atmosphere. The picture below gives you an idea.

Pena Palace Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

From one of the towers we also got a birds eye view of the exterior of the dreamy Pena Palace.

We wind our way down to our next stop, the mysterious and lovely Quinta da Regaleira.

On our way, a few things catch our eye.

1. The street names, made from painted ceramic azulejos tiles, a typical feature of any trip to Portugal, always draw me in.

2. Another thing I loved walking around Sintra were the lovely drinking fountains. A legacy of the Moorish rule, the level of detail and colours really takes your breath away.

Strike a pose: Sabrina perfecting the photographer’s pose in the beautiful gardens of Quinta da Regaleira

We finally arrive at the Quinta da Regaleira and the place really takes your breath away at first sight. From waterfall lakes and labyrinthine grotto’s to a chapel and the palace itself- it’s mesmerising but at the same time, the place feels quite strange. You never know quite what lies ahead.

Water Fountain, Quinta da Regaleira

Once owned by the Baroness da Regaleira, towards the end of the 1800’s, the quinta came into the ownership of a certain Carvalho-Monteiro, a distinguished bibliophile, collector and philanthropist. He commissioned Luigi Manini, a famous opera and theatre designer to incorporate his mysterious iconograpical vision into the Neo-Manueline style of the estate.

Rita had been visiting the Quinta since she was a child. The place has always had a hold on her because of the mysticism and stories behind the beautiful facade-  Carvalho Monterio was a devout Mason and had incorporated masonic imagery and symbols in several places across the estate.

Initiation Well

The most fascinating and eerie masonic imagery can be found beneath the grounds of the estate in the mysterious Initiation Well.

It is not one well but actually a pair of wells that drill deep into the earth. ( Rita later took us to the not so well known sister well which not many tourists are aware of. #winning#sometimesguidescanbeawesome ) 

One of the strange stories behind these wells was that they were never used for their supposed purpose: water collection. The clue to the true purpose of these twin wells lies in the design of the well. You have to descend five floors and pass nine platforms to the bottom of the well. These nine platforms were created to actually remind visitors of the nine circles of Dante’s Hell. It is a pretty dark inside the well and feels claustrophobic. Not quite like hell but still, an eerie feel. At the bottom when you’re looking up, besides the hundreds of iPhones and cameras flashing away, you’ll see on the inner walls, the Moorish design & certain Masonic symbols ( You’ll spot the Greek god Dionysus featured throughout the estate, a popular symbol in the Masonic world )

The wells according to Rita where used for several initiation rites, some of a dubious kind. I’ll let your imagination wonder and figure out what these may been.

Lord Byron once called this place “a glorious Eden.”

Portugal’s greatest poet, Luís Vaz de Camões called the Quinta an oasis where “every pool and stream has Nymphs in its waters,”

We didn’t see nymphs but glorious the Quinta is.

We had ate up a lot of time in the Quinta but we had time for one more key highlight before leaving Sintra.

Lawrence Hotel, Sintra

We amble into the town centre. Along the way Rita briefly stops to point out the historic Lawrence Hotel where a certain Ernest Hemingway once stayed.

Our main stop is something of a local institution- Piriquita which for the last 160 years has been satisfying the sweet tooth of locals and visitors alike. Founded by Amaro dos Santos, a baker by trade and his wife Constância Gomes, the couple initially were famous for baking the local pastry Queijada (a cupcake-like, egg and milk pastry) for King Carlos I who used to holiday in the summer in Sintra. Later in the 1940’s, the niece of the couple, Constância Cunha came up the idea of Travesseiro– a pastry stuffed with sweet eggs and with a almond touch.

Travesseiro

We quaff a few of these delicious Travesseiro’s -well earned after walking up and down the winding steep paths of Sintra.

Cabo do Roca,

After Piriquita, Rita drives us out for a brief stop at Cabo do Roca, the westernly most point of Portugal and Western Europe. It is quite an atmospheric place with pretty stiff winds battering you from the wide expanse of the Atlantic. The view point from where you can see the rugged dramatic coastline is beautiful but with the baggage of hundreds of tourists all keen to take the same photo as you. After an obligatory ‘ I was here’ photo or two, we quickly clamber into Rita’s vehicle.

The journey back via the scenic coastal town of Cascais is pleasant. Rita was great company and besides sharing tips of cool places to eat and drink in Lisbon, we talked a lot about life, food and travel. At the end, she felt less a guide and more a friend that I hope we will meet again in the near future. To summarise, it was a beautiful day spent in lovely company and also visiting a pretty wondrous place.

Sintra.

No longer a figment of my imagination but still a place that lives on in my thoughts and dreams.

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As some of you maybe aware, I had the luxury of spending a whole month in Latvia in Autumn last year. Most of the places I visit for the blog, I’ll usually spend a few days or a week at most so a whole month was a real luxury. I tried to spend my time wisely and explore as much of this wonderful country as possible within that 1 month. One of the fruits of my micro adventures across Latvia is this new little e-book: Latvia Itineraries which you can download today for free from the blog ( click on the image on the right hand side bar ) or via this link 

This by no means is a comprehensive guide to Latvia but a good taster of what you can expect from this beautiful country. There’s not a lot written about Latvia, especially of cities outside Riga so this e-book will help you plan your trip, especially if you’re planning to spend a few days outside of Riga.

Sigulda

The trip felt like a bit of an adventure into the big unknown and I loved it. Especially with over-tourism being the buzzword in media nowadays and cities closing doors to tourists, it was refreshing to go to a country where there are not too many tourists. The locals I met were friendly, curious and they were keen to know why we had decided to visit Latvia. The other perversely beautiful thing was that the high streets of all the places I visited barring Riga were devoid of any high street names or brands you will be familiar seeing in Europe and beyond.

Pure nature: Latvia is a real escape from the elements

Other things that I loved about the whole adventure was how accessible nature is in Latvia- with 50% of the country covered in forests, Latvians spend a lot of their time in the forest. This is where they are truly their hippiest happiest, a nod maybe to their Pagan DNA. It is a country best enjoyed slowly. Not ideal for a weekend break. Riga is cool for a weekend but if you really want to discover the real Latvian way of life get out of Riga.

Liepaja

In cities like Jelgava, Cesis, Valmiera, Liepaja, Kuldiga and even Daugavpils -you start seeing how Latvians live, breathe and die. If that’s your jam then you’ll find my Latvia travel guide useful.

I barely scratched the surface in a month so I do hope to return to Latvia and update this guide in the future.

Meanwhile, I do hope you find it useful. I welcome your feedback, positive and negative via email kash@budgettraveller.org or via Twitter/Instagram @BudgetTraveller -is where you can catch me.

Finally a huge note of thanks to team at Investment and Development Agency of Latvia aka LIAA: Martins, Renate, Agita for bringing me to Latvia and all the people that hosted us and we met throughout the trip.

Special thanks to the lovely amazing Lelde Benke who made our trip possible and made this guide a reality-thank you for a lifetime of memories and introducing me to your beautiful country.

Thank you to you too, dear reader for downloading this e-book.

Latvia, changed my life and showed me so much: I hope this guide is the beginning of a great big Latvian adventure for you too.

Love

Kash Bhattacharya aka BudgetTraveller

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If you’re planning a trip to Latvia and looking for a perfect day trip from Riga, do make some time in your itinerary to checkout the beautiful Sigulda. Ruined medieval castles, picturesque landscapes, historical and cultural monuments spanning several centuries, tons of adrenaline bursting adventure activities that range from ziplining and hiking to horseback riding and canoeing-there’s a ton of exciting things to do in Sigulda. Add to that a burgeoning gastronomic scene that saw the Riga-Gauja region become the European Centre of Gastronomy in 2017 plus the opportunity to stay in a range of excellent and extremely budget friendly places and you have all the ingredients of a wonderful few days. Here’s my Sigulda city guide and an outline of what you can expect if you are planning a daytrip to Sigulda.

1.Sigulda Castle Ruins and the New Castle

One of the key highlights of any trip to Sigulda is visiting its medieval castle which was built in 1207 by the Livonian Order, a military order of monks. Today the old castle lies in ruin although several efforts to reconstruct it to its former grandeur have been attempted. In 2011 the European Union helped to fund the reconstruction of the castle ruins resulting in the possibility to presently climb up the Castle’s southern and northern towers. The castle plays host to several annual open-air concerts and festivals during the year with the castle ruins as backdrop.

Top Tip: One of the highlights of visiting the castle is paying a visit to the castle stables where you can book a creative workshop and learn everything from pottery to leather making, Baltic jewellery and also make the famous walking sticks which are symbol of the area. Pop into Siguldas saldejums to sample their homemade ice-cream and delicious waffles.

2.  Walking Stick Park

The Walking Stick Park was established in 2007 as a tribute to the age-old art of stick making that is popular to this region. Cane-making has a 200 year old history in Sigulda. The walking sticks originally had a utilitarian purpose, given the nature of the undulating local terrain but have gradually morphed into a beautiful art form. You’ll find the Walking Stick Park at the intersection of Poruka and Cesa streets where you’re greeted by a vivid array of brightly coloured walking sticks. The sticks are made from a variety of trees including hazelnut, cherry, juniper, willow and others. After an intense process of steaming, bending and drying, the sticks are painted and varnished to perfection.

3. Museum Reserve and Medieval Castle of Turaida

Another iconic landmark that stands out in the leafy deeply forested area of Sigulda is the imposing turret of the red brick castle, Turaida.

The Castle was made to resemble a mighty ship with the northern forecastle tower being the front part of the ship, the lofty main tower being the spar of the tallest part of the ship and the southern tower forming the ship’s rear.

Having survived decay and destruction over the ages, it has been recently loving reconstructed to former glory.

Hop to the top of the viewing platform of the Castle’s northern tower to obtain a bird’s eye view of the pretty Gauja Valley and the rest of the Museum Reserve, a large area which is dedicated to the preservation of some key sites and buildings of great archaeological and historical importance. These include the Turaida Stone Castle, a Folk Song Garden, a Folk Song Hill, the Rose of Turaida Memorial and many more buildings.

Turaida Church, Sigulda- one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia dating back to 1750

My favourite landmark within the reserve is the hauntingly beautiful Turaida Church which is one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia dating from 1750.

Turaida Castle is located on the opposite side of the Gauja River to Sigulda. To reach the castle, take the bus number 12 to Krimulda, Inciems. You can find the bus stop right opposite the Walking Stick Park. Single ticket costs €0.50 per person.

4. Ruins of Krimulda Medieval Castle

I really recommend the nice moderate hike (about an hour ) from Turaida to Krimulda via a marked trail through the lush green forest.

The end of the walk brings you to the village of Krimulda-on the outskirts you’ll stumble across the atmospheric ruins of Krimulda Medieval Castle in the middle of the woods. Dating from the 13th century, the castle was destroyed in 1601 by the Swedes to prevent the Poles from settling there. It’s a nice place if you’re into ruins and presents a few nice photo opportunities but that’s pretty much it.

5. Top tip: Gutman’s Cave

On the way from Turaida to Krimulda make a stopover at Gutman’s Cave which has graffiti dating from the 17th century and is famous also for the legend of Rose of Turaida. Gutman’s Cave is the widest and highest cave in the Baltic Region measuring 18.8m deep, 12 m wide and 10 m high. The cave has been formed over thousands of years due to erosion forced between the Gauja River and an underground spring.

Considered to be one of the oldest tourist attractions in this region, the cave bears testament to the graffiti of countless visitors over the ages.

The cave also bears witness to the legend of the Rose of Turaida. The story of the Rose of Turaida and her thwarted life- sacrificed to remain true to her one great love Victor is a poignant love story, which has earned Sigulda the name of the ‘City of Love’.

6. After visiting Krimulda Manor, take the cable car back into town.

Finish off the day by taking the seven minute aerial ride by cable car from Krimulda back to Sigulda and drink in the glorious views over the Gauja River Valley. Enjoy breathtaking views of Turaida Castle, Sigulda Bobsleigh, Krimulda Manor whilst viewing the valley and get those cameras clicking.

 

Top tip for Adrenaline seekers

Did not have time but checkout Bobsleigh and Luge Track-opened in 1986- it is one of the few tracks in the world that is accessible to both professional athletes and visitors.

Where to eat and drink in Sigulda

Cafe Doma-delicious food, drinks and lovely people

Cafe Doma

Leona Paegles iela 15A, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, LV-2150, Latvia

With a beautiful garden and outdoor terrace this small family run cafe is one of Sigulda’s best value dining options- expect filling salads, tasty burgers (with excellent thick cut chips) and burritos and a nice range of cakes, desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. There is cold beers on tap plus they serve delicious Kombucas (Honey and Jasmine flavoured) which are made locally.

My fab breakfast porridge with local berries

Mr. Biskvits

9, Ausekļa iela, Sigulda, Siguldas pilsēta, Latvia

We hopped into Mr Biskvits for breakfast just before hopping on the train to Cesis. Place had a warm, cosy ambience. Staff were friendly and helpful. Great coffee. I didn’t try their pastries and cakes but they looked amazing. I had their creamy oats with berries and raspberry compote while the other half had homemade pancakes with fresh fruits. Prices are very reasonable.

 

Where to stay in Sigulda on a budget

Silence and blissful isolation: Klaukas Glamping

Klaukas glamping

Right next to the river Gauja in the heart of the forest lies the idyllic Klaukas glamping.

‘We sell silence and a peaceful nights sleep’ were the words of owner Jacob and that was what we exactly experienced in a small tent. Having visited towards the end of the season in early October we had the only glamping site to ourselves which made for a pretty interesting experience.

There’s 8 safari style tents with electricity, available for rent. Each of the individually designed tents are comfortable and offer a very sound nights sleep. In terms of shared facilities there is a pretty adequate kitchen, compostable toilet with hot shower, plus common guest tent with Wi-Fi,which gathers guests together at night. Owner Jacob was very helpful and gave us a ton of useful tips. My only quibble would be the wifi but you come here to kinda escape civilization which is why the remote location of the glampsite makes sense: be warned…it is quite a jaunt from the train station to the site (about an hour) so be prepared for a lot of walking. Given how much every attraction and places to eat is spread out in Sigulda, be prepared for a lot of walking in Sigulda but if you’re happy with that , you’ll like this place.

Other affordable budget places to stay in Sigulda

Other affordable options in town include the cosy and excellent value for money Krimuldas Muiza and also the equally fantastic Hostel Livonija

Train Station, Sigulda

Getting there and away: Sigulda

There are regular trains from Riga to Sigulda. Journey time is just over an hour and a one way ticket costs €1.90 ( Return €3.70) You can check the timetables here https://www.pv.lv/en

If you’re planning to travel to Cesis, there are 4 trains each day ( see timetable here  ) train journey is around 30-40 minutes and tickets cost €2 one way.

Or you can take the bus. There is a regular bus service between Riga and Sigulda. Journey time is 1 hour 10 minutes and tickets cost €2.50 -€2.75 one way. You can buy tickets at Riga Bus Station or directly from the driver.

Check this website for the latest bus schedule

Planning a trip to Latvia? Checkout the rest of my Latvia destination guides  

1. 48 HOURS IN LIEPAJA, LATVIA’S ‘WINDY CITY’

2. JELGAVA: WHERE THE WILD HORSES ROAM

3. 24 HOURS IN DAUGAVPILS

4. BEER, NATURE AND A BIT OF BAROQUE : 24 HOURS IN VALMIERA

5. THE DAY WE WENT ‘MAD’ FORAGING FOR MUSHROOMS IN LATVIA

Disclaimer

We visited Sigulda as part of a month long storytelling project with Magnetic Latvia (LIAA) While my trip was covered by LIAA, all the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Paldies to Monta from Sigulda Tourism for taking time out of her weekend to show us around her beautiful town. Paldies also to Jacob from Klaukas Glamping for hosting us and to LIAA for bringing us to Sigulda.

If you are planning a trip to Sigulda, also recommend checking out the Sigulda Tourism website for the latest of what’s happening in the town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do you like to explore cities through your stomach? Great. You’re reading the right blog! You should definitely consider Hamburg as the venue for your next foodie shortbreak in 2019. Nicknamed the ”Gateway to the World” (Tor zur Welt) the port city of Hamburg enjoys the rich presence of over 180 nationalities from across the world which has resulted in a cornucopia and melting pot of culture, traditions and flavours. With over 104 districts to explore, each neighbourhood of Hmaburg offers you a reflection of the city’s multicultural vibe with cafés and restaurants serving up dishes from all 4 corners of the world. Whatever your budget, trust me, you will never go hungry in this city. At the back end of last year I had the good fortune of spending a weekend in Hamburg to discover some of the city’s amazing food hotspots. Starting with the local classics-some ‘Fischbrötchen’ with a view of the city’s iconic harbour to drinking freshly roasted coffee in Hamburg’s hippest coffee joint to sampling Nordic flavours in a modern stylish restaurant -I enjoyed a whole range of truly amazing food experiences. I thought I’d share in this blog post some of the amazing good experiences I was lucky to enjoy: I have 11 iconic dining experiences to share with you today that would form the perfect culinary safari of Hamburg. For extra pleasure, we’ve got a video to share with you that my other half Sabrina made for the blog. I hope you enjoy it. Plus, yes. Some of the food experiences listed here are by no means budget friendly. However, I truly believe that you save money on certain things to spend money on the stuff that is really important to you. For me, that is food and drink. Bianc and especially Haebel listed below are expensive but perfect if you’re looking for something a bit special. Hope you find the tips useful and as always, feedback is welcomed.

BREAKFAST IN HAMBURG

Best waffles ever!

1. Nord Coast Coffee Roastery

Germany loves their coffee, so much so that it is rumoured to have a higher consumption than beer and water combined! Nowhere is that love of coffee more evident than in Hamburg which has a long standing long affair with the bean thanks to its access to all the world’s major shipping and trade routes. Coffee was one of the reasons that helped create the warehouses in the Speicherstadt district at the end of the 19th century, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So its appropriate that in the heart of the Speicherstadt you can enjoy today some of the city’s best coffee at the Nord Coast Coffee Roastery. Besides the coffee, customers flock here to buy their pre-packaged coffee plus they also uphold a proud reputation of having the best homemade waffles with cream ( Starts from €4.70) in the city and possibly Germany. Other popular favourites include their freshly pressed juices, homemade granola (€5.90), banana bread pancakes ( gluten free, €7.50) and their avocado and poached eggs on toast with homemade green pesto and baby leaf spinach (€7.50).

Address: Deichstr. 9, 20459 Hamburg, Germany

Cafe Paris, Hamburg

2. Cafe Paris

Strictly not budget but for me this cafe is an unmissable Hamburg experience, an authentic piece of Paris right in the heart of Hamburg. Just a hop, skip and jump from the Alster and Hamburg’s majestic city hall is the classic Café Paris which evokes the charm and elegance of the turn of the century Parisian cafes. This is for me the perfect place to start any day in Hamburg – there’s a beautiful stillness in the morning hours when the cafe is not too busy and you can linger over your coffee and just enjoy the beautiful art nouveau interiors. Grab a seat at the bar. Enjoy your coffee with one of their crisp buttery croissants and if budgets permit and you’re a sucker for oysters like me, order half a dozen of their delicious oysters and wash it down with a glass of their crémant ( €27.90). Later in the day feast on classic French dishes like Bouillabaise, Steak Fries or Poulet Citron.

Address: Rathausstraße 4, 20095 Hamburg

or

3. Try Franzbrötchen from Der Kleine Konditorei or Junge Backerei

Another piece of fluffy sugary goodness that you must try when in Hamburg is Franzbrötchen. Literally named “the French roll,” the origins of this dish hark back to the time of the Napoleonic occupation of the city from 1806­–1814 when the city had been introduced to the croissant. Made with lots of sugar and cinnamon the modern day Franzbrötchen served in Hamburg’s bakeries has a few varieties, such as raisins, chocolate or macadamia. One of the places I often savour it is Junge Backerei, a chain of bakeries that originated in nearby Lubeck. Another local bakery famed for their Franzbrötchen is Der Kleine Konditorei which has outlets in Langenfelder Damm, Lutterothstraße and Osterstraße.

One city, many flavours: 8 of the best Hamburg food hotspots - YouTube

LUNCH IN HAMBURG

4. Shiso Burger

Tucked away on Bugenhagenstraße just behind the lively Mönckebergstraßeabout is Shiso Burger, a gourmet burger experience with a difference. Picture a classic gourmet burger joint but with high quality Angus beef, lamb’s lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers served with an Asian twist in a bao style bun- you get the best of both worlds with Shiso. Simple industrial design, muted colors and small details like the colourful origami cranes set the relaxed and unpretentious vibe.

My favourite is the “Bulgogi Burger” : the burger is not made from a minced patty, but with Angus filet pieces marinated in a Korean chilli paste. I also recommend the Chili-Lemon Burger: Asian spices, lemon mayo, Korean chilli paste and teriyaki sauce dunked over tender fillet of beef and topped off with strong cheddar-food heaven. For sides choose from their delicious sweet potato fries, edamame or lotus chips. All the burger including sides cost less than €10 to give you an idea of price. Wash it all down with their homemade lychee lemonade. Top tip: If the weather is good, grab a seat outside on one of the shared tables on the sidewalk

Address: Bugenhagenstraße 23, 20095 Hamburg

Scenic views of the harbour, great food= Brucke 10

5. Brücke 10

No trip to Hamburg is complete without enjoying one of their hugely popular freshly filled fish sandwiches aka Fischbrötchen. My favourite place to enjoy a Fischbrötchen in Hamburg is the bistro Brücke 10 located directly on the pier in Hamburg’s historic harbour, Landungsbrücken. Watch the harbour ferries and catamarans sail past the historic waterfront while savouring either a ‘Nordseekrabben’ : Little shrimps folded into a crisp bed roll or choose my favourite, the classic ‘Matjes’, a bit sour fish topped up with some crunchy onions. Don’t forget to wash it down with the iconic local Astra beer. There are tons of fischbrotchen vendors along the harbour, some much more cheaper than Brücke 10 but in terms of quality and price, this place is unbeatable.


Address: St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken 10, 20359 Hamburg

TEATIME SNACK IN HAMBURG

6. Zuckermonarchie

Welcome to the most innocent sin in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn district – Just off Taubenstrasse lies Hamburg’s queen of cupcakes: Zuckermonarchie. Choose from pretty pastel cupcakes to champagne flavoured macarons and cake pops in a pink candybox interior worthy of any Disney-esque fantasy. Besides beautifully crafted coffee and range of flavoured teas, the cafe also offers delicious homemade lemonades.

Everything is made from scratch on the premises with no artificial flavourings and preservatives plus they use organic eggs.

If you’re in Hamburg on the weekend, come with an empty stomach and order their special breakfast ‘Katherina die Große’ (€12.95 per person) which is a mixture of sweet and savoury delights. You definitely will not be disappointed.

Address: Taubenstraße 15, 20359 Hamburg

7. Milch

Its worth checking out the beautiful minimalist cafe Milch in Hamburg’s Neustadt just for its dreamy interiors. They serve a fantastic flat white , have a great selection of pastries and the staff are friendly.

Address: Ditmar-Koel-Strasse 22. Hamburg 20459. Germany

DINNER IN HAMBURG 8. Restaurant Teheran

Teheran is one of the few Hamburg restaurants that serve traditional Persian cuisine. I’m a huge fan of their kebabs here. Food is delicious, well presented and prices are fantastic. Whenever I dine here, places is packed with local Persian families which is always a good sign.

Top tip: Try the Mirzaghasemi: (€5.50) Baked eggplant with garlic, steamed tomatoes and eggs for starters  their ‘Fesenjan’(€9.90)- chicken in pomegranate sauce with roasted walnuts and basmati rice-food heaven!

Address: Adenauerallee 70, 20097 Hamburg

9. Imbiss bei Schorsch

While Berlin is the home of the currywurst, in my opinion, Hamburg can claim to be home to probably THE best currywurst in Germany thanks to the fantastic Imbiss bei Schorsch.

From the outside this little ‘imbiss’ in the heart of St Pauli looks quite unremarkable but don’t be deceived by its looks. Pop inside and order their currywurst (€3) which is served with a generous portion of their super secret, spicy tomato sauce. It is so revered amongst locals that often people travel from far and beyond just to buy tubs of their special tomato sauce. Also, while savouring the currywurst, their delicious potato salad (€2.50) is must and of course washed down with an ice cold Astra beer.

Address: Beim Grünen Jäger 14, Hamburg.

Last two recommendations are not the places I would usually recommend in the blog but if you’re one of those foodies that likes the occasional splurge on a high quality, fine dining experience, then do checkout one or both of these restaurants below.

10. Haebel

Unfussy but fine dining in an intimate setting, right in the heart of St Pauli, Haebel is another rising star of Hamburg’s innovative gastronomic scene. Customers love their open kitchen concept which allows them to watch the food while being prepared which is half the fun itself. The restaurant offers a fixed 5 course menu with excellent 100% organic wines to match each dish. Fabio Haebel’s food can be best described as French with a strong Nordic..

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‘We have 5 days in the year without wind. Today is one of them. This was the city where wind was born.’ Sintija Pusaudze

The sun came out and the long towering pine trees were dead silent. The deep blue sea in the distance glowed in the late autumn sunlight. What a difference a day makes. Barely 24 hours ago we had arrived amidst swirling gusts of rain and strong winds to Liepaja, Latvia’s third largest city located on the sandy fringes of the Baltic Coast about 200 kilometers west of Riga. The rain was ok but oh boy, that almost vertical wind lashing into my face…it reminded me a lot of Edinburgh. No surprise that the once upon a time Russian naval base town Liepaja is often referred to as the ‘windy city’. From abandoned concrete bunkers gloriously submerged in the sweeping tides of the Baltic Sea to an eerie infamous military prison once used by the Soviets and Nazis , from sampling the best chocolate eclairs in Latvia to savouring delicious steak and peppercorn sauce , from art nouveau mansions to crumbling beautiful wooden houses hanging onto their former glory -Liepaja like Latvia is a city of many interesting contrasts and flavours. Here’s my guide to Liepaja and how you can make the most of your time in the windy city of Latvia. 

PS: If you missed the earlier instalments of my Latvia series, here are my guides to Valmeira, Jelgava and Daugavpils.

Where to stay in Liepaja on a budget

Ezera Maja

Ezera Maja

Liepaja has a wealth of wooden housing that dates from as early as the 17th century. While some of these buildings have sadly fallen into disrepair , few buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory and Ezera Maja Full Disclosure: I earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Really makes a difference. Thank you supporting the blog. is one of the finest examples. With only 7 rooms and with only 1 fellow resident, we practically had the whole house to ourselves! I loved the interiors of this place-the wooden floorboards, antique beds all combine to give a cosy hygge like ambience.

Ezera Maja Price: From €32 Buy Now Full Disclosure: I earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Really makes a difference. Thank you supporting the blog.

Conservatory, Ezera Maja

Our bedroom at Ezera Maja

The beds were very comfortable, rooms well heated with a spacious ensuite bathroom. The common guests kitchen was very well equipped with all the basic ingredients ( nice local herbal teas too) in case you are looking to prepare your own dinner or breakfast. The star feature of the property is the glorious glass conservatory which is the perfect place to relax with a book. The owners are the perfect introduction to Liepaja- they gave us lots of useful tips plus some interesting titbits of local history. Plus the location, just 10-12 minutes from the sea and the town centre, is perfect. With prices starting around €30-€35 for a double, this place is extremely good value.

Yurts at Bartas Krasts

Bārtas Krasts glampsite

Sleeping in tents is so last season in Latvia. A new craze for glamping is sweeping across the country and at Bārtas Krasts by the River Barta , 30min from Liepaja (25km) and 3h from Riga (240km) you have the perfect place to relax. The glampsite can host upto 40 people: there are 4 cabin style apartments that can host a maximum of 6 people plus 2 luxurious glamping tents that can host upto 4 people. Each cabin is equipped with refrigerator, shower ( with hot water), toilet , electric cooker plus outside each house has a small terrace with a wooden grill. There is also a sauna onsite which can be booked in advance. The glamping tents are spacious, waterproof and come complete with carpets, comfy beds , coffee tables plus en-suite facilities.

It is so peaceful and chilled out here. We spent here just the one night but wish we could have stayed longer. The tents can be rented for as little as €50 while the cabins start from the €80 mark via booking.com

Cool things to do in Liepaja on a budget

The Great Amber Concert Hall

The Great Amber Concert Hall

Designed by Graz architect Volker Giencke ,The Great Amber Concert Hall with its striking Amber coloured conical shape definitely stands out amidst the medieval spires of Liepaja as a symbol of the city’s renaissance. In terms of its unusual colour and shape, it reminded me a lot of Olafur Eliasson’s magnificent rainbow panorama on the rooftop of ARoS Aarhus Art Museum. The moment you come into view of the building, it really takes your breath away. It is even better from the inside. Even on a cloudy day I was basked in the wondrous amber light of the various amber glass panels. Its a huge concert hall. With 1024 seats it is in fact the largest concert hall in the Baltics. The acoustics are fantastic here and it is definitely worth catching a concert here if the opportunity presents. Sadly there was nothing on offer when I visited but they do offer guided tours on request of the building where you can learn impressive facts about how the hall was built and artistic programmes in the pipeline. The views of the city from the 7th floor are fantastic.

Tour price is €2.50 for adults and €1.50 for pupils, students, seniors. Persons with disabilities children up to the age of 7 years get free access. Guided tours must be booked 3 days in advance – call the Great Amber information centre +371 634 24 555 or send them an email to info@lielaisdzintars.lv to organise your tour.

St.Trinity Cathedral

Another highlight of a visit to Liepaja is the chance to see the world’s largest mechanical organ which has never been reconstructed. Built in 1742 and 1758 in the Baroque-style , St.Trinity Cathedral’s famous organ features over 7000 pipes and was built by one of the best organ builders of that time -a certain H.A. Contius. If that organ doesn’t excite you , you can also climb the cathedral’s 55-meter high tower to get a magnificent panorama of the city. Sadly, at the time of my visit the church tower was under reconstruction so enquire ahead of your visit to check if the tower is open for public visits.

The cathedral is open for public viewing from Monday till Saturday only between the hours of 11 and 1pm.

Banged up in Liepaja: This is what €15 gets you at Karosta

Sabrina looking a bit grim on our tour of Karosta (with a bit of spectacle)

Karosta Prison

If you’re a glutton for punishment and have the fantasy of being holed up in a miserable prison cell for a night where you’ll be awoken at regular periods by a prison guard with the luxury of a primitive, dingy squat toilet , then that fantasy is yours for as little as €15 at the infamous Karosta prison. If that sounds a tad too much for you, alternatively you could visit Karosta for one of their hourly tours.

Originally conceived as a infirmary and later a huge naval base, Karosta under Nazi and Soviet occupation gained notoriety for becoming a ‘re-education’ centre where Latvian deserters were subjected to torture  , often locked up in solitary confinement or later released into the nearby woods where they were shot. Used as a detention centre as recently as 1997, the prison now has been reborn as a visitor attraction where a ‘Comrade Commander’ gives you a reality TV show style guided tour of the prison and what life was like for prisoners here. The tour can initially feel a bit on the grim side depending on your guide but its definitely an experience worth sampling if you’re visiting Liepaja. Frozen in time, surrounding by bleak redbrick buildings and a wild unkempt forestland, entering Karosta is like entering into time capsule where you are transported to a much more troubled era in Latvian history.

PS: Guided tours of Karosta start from €5. Schoolchildren, students, seniors pay €3.50. Every working day excursions start on the hour every hour. Duration of excursion is one hour.  If you’re looking for a tour with an extra edge, expect to pay an extra euro for a tour ‘with elements of spectacle’ to directly quote from the Karosta Prison website )

The Northern Forts

There’s an unworldly feeling about Karosta. This could be partially to do with the fact that only few people had access to the area and it was shrouded in secrecy. In Soviet times the town almost doubled in size and yet, paradoxically, became a closed town, with non-residents requiring permits to visit family there. Today the naval base and its residential areas are a virtual ghost town with many of the buildings abandoned, empty, stripped, and returning slowly to the earth. The post apocalyptic feeling is amplified when you wade through the nearby pine forest and come across this labyrinth of abandoned concrete bunkers. Those closer to the beach are slowly being reclaimed by the sea and have taken on a sad, nostalgic and haunted charm, partially submerged and slowly being drowned by the furious waves sweeping in from the Baltic Sea. There’s hardly a soul in sight when we arrive which lends to the eerie atmosphere which I strangely find comforting. I hope it stays it this way. As much as places like Karosta and Liepaja could benefit from more tourism, my heart shudders at the thought of today’s Instagram jetset taking over a place like this and turning into some sort of dismaland.

The St. Nicholas Orthodox Maritime Cathedral

The St. Nicholas Orthodox Maritime Cathedral

Another prominent building whose towering golden cupolas will catch your eyes when wondering through Karosta is the St. Nicholas Orthodox Maritime Cathedral. Finished in 1903 and christened by Nicholas II himself, the cathedral served as the Soviet Naval Base’s church. The Soviets however used it as a recreation and entertainment room, gym, cinema and meeting hall before it was restored to its former incarnation after the Russians left Karosta.

Strolling along the 1080 metre long Northern Breakwater, Liepaja

The Northern Breakwater

To the west of Karosta, a further stroll up the beach will bring you to a 7.35 metre wide, 1800 metre long breakwater that cuts into the fiery embrace of the Baltic Sea. This is a great place to come and watch sunset over the Baltic Sea sunsets or join the storm watchers and see some giant waves lash the coast.

The oldest electric tramline in the Baltics!

Take a ride on the oldest electric tramline in the Baltics

I love a good old vintage tram ride as readers of my blog will be aware of. So when I learnt that Liepaja has an electric tramline that dates from 1899, making it the oldest tramline in the Baltics, I had to fit in a ride. Running on a single tram line the tram cuts through the city’s residential neighborhoods from north to south. Cost: Just €0.80. You can buy the ticket from the driver.

Liepaja Museum

Liepaja Museum

If you’re keen to dig into the history of Liepaja and the Southern Kurzeme region from which Liepaja originates, pop into the Liepaja Museum which is not far from the city’s main beach strip. From..

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Hope you are all having a wonderful Xmas so far. I don’t usually do giveaways on the blog but I thought to the end the year and help kickstart your 2019 year of travel, I’d giveaway few copies of my new book ‘The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World’ PLUS I have some room nights to giveaway from some of the featured Grand Hostels. Some really cool prizes to giveaway that would be perfect for any hostel and travel lover. Scroll below for the details of the competition and the prizes. It is an Instagram only competition ( easier for me to manage entries and pick a winner ) so please hop over to my Instagram feed to enter  Good luck and a merry Xmas and Happy New Year to everyone. HOW TO ENTER 1. Follow me on Instagram @BudgetTraveller 2. Like the post about the competition on Instagram and tag a friend who loves hostels ( 1 entry) 3. Please share your favourite hostel memory. Feel free to tag the hostel in the post too. ( 1 entry) 4. Always Use the hashtags #thegrandhostels and #luxuryhostels 5. Bonus entries for tagging more friends!

All comments must be posted on this Instagram post by Sunday, 12/26 by 23.59 ET. All winners will be selected at random and contacted via Direct Message.

Terms: This giveaway is not sponsored or endorsed by Instagram. Rooms at the hostels are subject to availability and certain restrictions apply. For full terms and conditions are listed below.

PRIZES 1. The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World

I’m excited to be giving away 3 copies of my new book ‘The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World’ 

The 117 ‘luxury’ design hostels in this book are each an amazing experience, a portal to a great adventure. From outdoor swimming pools to rooftop dinners, co-working spaces to Spanish cooking lessons, the services and facilities on offer are outstanding. And all can be enjoyed from the convenience of a private room or if budgets don’t permit, stylish design dorms. These Grand Hostels will provide you with insights beyond just price and location. The hostels featured are perfect for foodies, outdoors-types, and digital nomads alike, as well as for short city breaks. 

Guide to Lisbon-One of 10 illustrated city guides you can find in the guide alongside the descriptions of the hostels

In addition to reading about these hostels, there are 10 illustrated city guides included in the book which have been compiled with the help of hostel owners. The best tips that you won’t find in any guidebook plus a few bonus tips from me.

This book is perfect gift for anyone who loves hostels. You can buy your book direct from Gestalten plus most good bookstores.

2. 3 nights in a private double in Once in Cape Town and Once in Joburg

Once in Cape Town and Once in Joburg are South Africa’s premier chain of design hostel run by a bunch of intrepid travellers that found a gap in the market for a hotel model that offers affordable accommodation for young travellers, but still the luxuries of a three star hotel.  Once in Cape Town is within walking distance of the nightlife hub of Cape Town and is the perfect location to explore Cape Town. Their on-site bar, Yours Truly, is a Cape Town institution where both local revelers and travellers frequent from Monday-Sunday. Once in Joburg, Cape Town’s younger sister is in the vibrant cultural hub of the Braamfontein precinct. This area shows the most authentic side of central Johannesburg. Students and young professionals call this hostel home, in turn creating a homely space where travellers and professionals alike can eat, sleep, work and play.  Once Youth Hotels has grown into a travel and lifestyle brand defined and inspired by the Once A team. These people are passionate about their city and pride themselves on hosting a once in a lifetime experience far beyond the property doors.

2. 2 nights for 2 people in a private double, inc breakfast & sauna at the Dock Inn Warnemunde

A hostel made of shipping crates? Stylish, laid-back and maritime: backpackers visiting the Baltic coast can now enjoy the novelty of sleeping in discarded overseas containers at the Dock Inn Warnemunde, with a unique view onto the historic Warnemünde shipyard and its hulking cranes. This 64-room hostel sleeps 188 people in containers that are 25 square-metres in size, some of which have been welded together to form four- and eight-bed dorms. The star features of the hostel include their on site restaurant , a private cinema which is available for hire for guests ,their very own private sauna to unwind plus an indoor claiming area. Whether you want to relax or want to experience the dramatic Baltic coastline, Dock Inn offers the perfect mix of design, relaxation and adventure at a very affordable price.

3. 2 nights for 2 people in ‘The Big One’ at Long Story Short Hostel Olomouc

Long Story Short is located in the historical centre of Olomouc on a tranquil cobbled street, this trendy design hostel in a restored fortress is perfect for anyone who is looking for a break from Prague and the ordinary. It’s simple, affordable, well-designed yet still more than just a hostel. Here you will find a unique mix of dorms and private rooms for up to 56 people. They have an in-house café & bar, meeting room, free WiFi and more. Outside, you can take a seat in their magical garden or gradient terraces overlooking the petanque pit.

Need to get some work done? Their neighbours on the ground floor will welcome you to their growing creative hub. Vault 42 is an open co-working space for any of their digital nomad guests.

4. 2 nights for 2 people in a private double at ClinkNOORD Amsterdam

Clink! 78 London

Positioned in prime, central locations, both of Clink’s hostels in London and Amsterdam offer all city explorers a unique and creative travel experience. From Charles Dickens to The Clash, there are a few hostels in the world that can lay claim to an illustrious history like Clink! 78 London. Today it is one of London’s coolest party hostels, accommodating up to 500 guests from as little as £12 (€14) per night.

Clink NOORD -I love the interior design and features here like the stained glass windows, the library and the atrium. Their in-house bar Zinc with an affordable food menu is a winner. Plus you have the really cool location in the hip and upcoming district of Amsterdam Noord, just a 5 minute boat ride from Central Station- A pretty cool hostel and fantastic value for its location -this is one of my go to hostels whenever I am visiting Amsterdam

5. 2 nights for 2 people in a private double inc breakfast at the YellowSquare, Rome

The YellowSquare is my favourite party hostel on earth. This hostel has been designed with the idea of you having the wildest night of your life. There are a lot of cool spaces within the ‘Square’ where you can easily meet your fellow guests: greatest of which is the Yellow Bar. However, it would be a huge mistake to label the YellowSquare as just a party hostel. The YellowSquare is a bold concept in hospitality where guests can eat, party, sleep and work in one space. A hostel is no longer just a place to rest your head. You can catch a local band in action. Go on a food tour of Rome with a local or enjoy a cooking class preparing something typically Roman like a pasta guanciale. If you are travelling for work you can catch up with work in their brand new co-working space. Even get your hair cut in their recently launched hairdressing salon. Yellowsquare is a very exciting fun space.

6. 5 nights for 2 people , 2 beds in shared dorm at the Steel House Copenhagen

Situated in Copenhagen’s most hipster area, Vesterbro and housed in the distinctive steel-clad building that once housed the Danish Union of Metalworker , the Steel House Copenhagen is a stylish design hostel launched in the summer of 2017, complete with a gym and a pool.  True to the roots of the hostel, the English designer Mike Duncalf has gone for an ‘industrial chic’ vibe with the 253 rooms rooted in raw elements, soft textures and rustic interiors.  Reminiscent of New York style modern industrial lofts , expect wrought iron columns, exposed pipes, concrete, brick and ductwork. Wonderful facilities, great staff and an amazing design- this is the place to be  when visiting Copenhagen.

7. 2 nights in shared dorm at the Nexy Hostels, Hanoi & day trip to Hoa Lu Tam Coc

The Nexy Hostel is the first hostel of its kind to be found in Hanoi and Vietnam Combining the luxury aspects of a boutique hotel with the low-cost and amenities of a hostel- this luxury hostel is the ideal place to rest for the budget-conscious, stylish traveller. Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter The Nexy Hostel is curiously described as ‘a place to sleep or not sleep at all’. The hostel has a very social atmosphere but also retains provisions for providing a good night’s rest. The hostel accommodates both private and shared rooms. All rooms feature super comfortable beds. Guests staying here will be assured of a comfortable bed and a clean room and bathroom.

8. 2 nights in any of Wombats Hostels in Berlin, Vienna, Munich, London and Budapest

Wombats Berlin

Situated in central locations in the heart of some of Europe’s most exciting cities: Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, London , Munich and next year in Venice- Wombats Hostels is my favourite hostel chain  in Europe. Their hostels are large hostels but have the intimacy of a smaller hostel. Big standout features of their hostels are their friendly, knowledgeable staff who have great tips to share , rooms here are clean and comfortable, they do fantastic filling breakfasts which keep you going for many hours plus their onsite womBAR offer the best drinks deals in town and great atmosphere anyday of the week

Terms and Conditions

1. The promoter of the Draw is Kash Bhattacharya, BudgetTraveller registered at Avenida Arriaga no 50, 2 andar SALA 1 9000-064 Funchal,

2. By entering the Draw, the “Entrant” agrees to be bound by these terms and conditions and agrees that the decision of the Promoter is binding and final.

3. No purchase is necessary for entry into the Draw.

4. The Prize is provided by the Promoter and, where relevant, the Partner.

5. The Promoter does not own or run any of the services which are provided as part of the Prize. In order to avail of the Prize, the Winners will be required to agree to any relevant terms and conditions or contract required by the third parties supplying the Prize including, where relevant, the Partner. The Winners acknowledge that the Promoter will not be party to any such agreements with the third party suppliers, and will not be liable to the Winners in respect of the terms of those agreements whether directly or indirectly.

6. The Prize is subject to availability, and is at the discretion of Promoter and, where relevant, the Partner.

7. The Prize is non-transferable, cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and can only be claimed by the Winners who are notified by the Promoter in accordance with the procedure detailed

8. The Winners may need a visa to travel to the country in which the Prize is located, which they should arrange with the relevant country’s local Embassy, at their own expense. It is the Winners’ responsibility to comply with any of relevant country’s visa requirements. Approval is at the discretion of the relevant country’s Embassy and the Promoter and Partner cannot be held responsible for any visa applications being rejected.

9. Travel insurance is not included in the Prize and it is the Winners’ responsibility to arrange suitable cover for his/her needs if this is relevant to the Prize.

10. Entrants as well as their nominated friend must be aged 18 (eighteen) or over. In entering the Draw, the Entrant does so at his/her own risk and on his/her own initiative, and is responsible for complying with local laws, to the extent any local laws apply. Entry into the Draw may be unlawful under the laws of the applicable jurisdiction and an if entry in the Draw is unlawful, the Entrant will breach these terms and conditions and will be immediately disqualified from the Draw. The winner and their nominated friend have to fully and correctly fill in a form provided by the Promoter, including first name, last name and email address.

11. The Draw is not open to employees or agents of the Promoter or any affiliated companies or subsidiaries or any third parties involved in the Draw including, where relevant, the Partner.

12. The Draw is open for participation between the dates set out in Clause 1 above. The Entrants will be required to comply with any Entry Requirements. The Draw for the Prize will be held on the date set out in Clause 1 above.

13. The Winner(s) of the Draw shall be chosen at random by the Promoter from all entries that meet the Entry Requirements.

14. The Winner(s) shall claim the Prize by the date set out in Clause 1. In the event that a Winner fails to respond in writing via e-mail by that date, chooses not to accept the Prize, is ineligible for the Draw or fails to duly complete, execute and return any document required by the Promoter, he/she shall be immediately disqualified from the Draw and he/she shall forthwith relinquish any right or entitlement to the Prize. The Promoter shall then draw from all remaining eligible entries and an alternative Entrant shall be selected the as winner of the relevant Prize (the “Alternative Winner“).

15. The Alternative Winner shall be notified in accordance with the procedure detailed in Clause 1 above. The Alternative Winner shall claim the Prize by the date set out in Clause 1. In the event that the Alternative Winner fails to respond in writing via e-mail by that date, chooses not to accept the Prize, is ineligible for the Draw or fails to duly complete, execute and return any document required by the Promoter, he/she shall be immediately disqualified from the Draw and he/she shall forthwith relinquish any right or entitlement to the Prize. The Prize shall then be re-issued to the next alternative winner on a rolling basis.

16. The Promoter will accept multiple of 5 entries using the same social media account.

17. In the event of a dispute regarding the identity of the individual that submitted an online entry, the entry will be deemed submitted by the authorised account holder of the e-mail or social media account.

18. Each Entrant releases and holds, and confirms the agreement of their nominated friend, the Promoter and its employees, agents, sub-contractors and consultants not responsible for..

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Continuing my series of stories from Latvia….after raving about the peaceful and offbeat charms of Jelgava last week , I have another charming-not-so-well-known-town of Latvia that I’d love to share with you.

The name of the town is Valmiera.

Valmeira is 62 miles northeast of Riga and lies right beside the river Gauja on the fringes of the Gauja National Park. Just like Jelgava, the town has a relaxed and down to earth vibe which is a nice contrast after the hustle and bustle of Riga. A 2 hour 15 minute ride on the bus, coming here felt like a different world away from Riga. One thing both me and Sabrina really loved about our trip across Latvia was this amazing journey of contrasts and how each town has its own special identity.

I honestly had no idea about what Valmiera had to offer.

Just like Jelgava, there’s precious little written online and in guidebooks. A quick stroll through the town gives you a instant feeling of zen.

Passing through a leafy wooded area close by the river we come across this larger than life monument which I am guessing was a monument towards local soldiers who died in the World War 1? If anyone can enlighten me, please drop me a line.

We cross the river and swing by by the local university. The perfect idyllic setting to be a student. I feel a sudden pang of nostalgia and jealousy looking at the students walking out of the university into the mellow autumn sunshine.

St Simons Church

We cross a modern futuristic bridge and come into view of the town’s beautiful 13th century historic church, St Simon’s , one of the few buildings to survive the brutal destruction of the town. The painful legacy of the war is that the town retained little of the picture postcard charms that other towns in the Gauja National Park possess like neighbouring Cesis. However, as were about to discover, despite its dark history and small size, Valmiera still has a lot to offer tourists.

To help us discover the soul of the place, we had enlisted the help of proud Valmieran Ieva Gredzena who is the marketing manager of the popular Park of Senses.

Sabrina and Ieva doing some kind of a victory celebration after ziplining across the Gauja River, Park of Senses

We’re stayed the first night at the Park of Senses (Jāņa Daliņa iela 2, Valmiera, LV-4201 ) If you are looking for affordable but basic, clean accommodation-this place works. The real highlight here though is their nature park which offers you a variety of outdoor activities, some relaxing and some a bit of an adrenaline rush , all aimed at challenging your 5 senses. I have never had much of a head for heights. So the prospect of undertaking their ‘Trail of Trees’ where you’re walking (swinging) from tree to tree via a narrow piece of rope or a ropey drawbridge is definitely not for the faint hearted. Ok. Word of reassurance. You are secure with a safety harness attached to an overhanging cable so even if you do lose footing, you’re safe as houses. That is not all-to top it all off, the trail has 4 zip lines, the most dramatic being one that spans the entire Gauja river. It looks daunting and I’m a bit hesitant. I remembered the only time zip lined in Storms River and yup, was not too keen then but in the end , it was a lot of a fun. So. I went for it. Was a beautiful moment gliding across the river and appreciating the beautiful wide expanse of the Gauja. I’m glad I did it. The limited amount of time meant we didn’t get a chance to go for the more sedate, relaxed barefoot trail where you can enjoy the different sensations in your feet from pebbles, Valmiera glass fibre’s blue glass marbles, spruce and pine cones, sand, tree-bark mulch, chestnuts and other natural materials….

Next time.

Awesome burger and fries at Terbata

We next hop to Terbata (Tērbatas iela 2, Valmiera, LV-4201 ) for lunch. The coffee is fantastic here, the food is well priced and consists of delicious burgers and good mood comfort food , the staff here are super friendly plus very importantly they have excellent taste of music. If you’re looking for a cafe to work from with good wifi, light and music, this is the place.

Siltumnīca

Next stop on our Ieva’s magical mystery tour of Valmiera was Siltumnīca ( Cempu iela, Valmiera, LV-4224 ): a predominantly summer concert venue on the outskirts of Valmiera in the countryside where you can checkout local and international bands , attend exhibitions, craftsmen’s workshops, potter’s workshops or just have a beer, relax in nature and maybe say hello to a squirrel. The founder of the space Pauls Jegers who was luckily good mates with Ieva was kind enough to give us a tour of the venue…which is magical. There were still tons of ripe grapes hanging from the vines in the glasshouse in September and I honestly couldn’t stop eating them. It is one of those places you have to visit to experience it but it was pretty magical. I loved the dreamy old world charm of the place with the worn out leather chairs, vintage lamps and recycled tables … I could see why the place was a popular venue for weddings and photo shoots. There’s a huge grassy expanse outside the glasshouse where there’s a few wooden log cabins-one which houses visiting bands and a smaller one with sauna. There are plans to erect some yurts. If you are visiting in spring/summer, pop by and say hello to Pauls-promise you won’t be disappointed.

Beer tasting with biscuits made from leftover barley

Valmier Manor

Our next stop: Valmiermuiža Brewery ( Dzirnavu iela 2, Valmiermuiža, Valmieras pagasts, LV-4219 ) is one of Latvia’s biggest gastronomical success stories. On the first day of our trip in Riga we had a brief pitstop at their Beer Embassy In Riga where we were introduced to their fine beers so it remains a sentimental favourite.

The other unusual personal connection, well at least from Sabrina’s perspective was that the original owner of Valmier Manor where the present day brewery is located was once owned by a certain Prince Peter August Friedrich who is from the same province Sabrina is from in Germany: Schleswig – Holstein. The manor, a gift that the prince received for his role in fighting in the war, soon gathered a reputation for being a hospitable place of refuge for travellers. Lying close to the highway from Paris to Petersburg, the manor became a popular haunt for several illustrious European Monarchs that included aristocratic luminaries such as King of Poland- Sigismund, the King of Sweden- Karl XII, the Queen of Prussia-Louise and the Empress of Russia- Catherine II. The informative tour of the brewery which lasts one and half hours gives you a nice overview of the history of the manor plus you can get an insight into their process of how they slowly brew their “live” beer from natural ingredients which includes their very own Valmiermuiža well water. The tour finishes with a generous tasting session in their very own tasting room. The normal tour costs €8 ( Monday to Wednesday) and €9 (Thursday to Sunday) and children upto the age of 6 go free. ( 6-12: €2)  For an additional €2 you can sample one of their beer cocktails or their unique industrial strength malt liqueurs which are guaranteed to blow away a few cobwebs in your belly. Worth noting that the price for visitor groups of less than four persons is €32, so the more is merrier here. Tours can be conducted in Latvian, English or Russian.

I didn’t have time but I recommend booking a meal in the beautiful old granary building next door which houses the popular Valmiermuižas alus Kitchen where visitors can enjoy modern Latvian Cuisine. Also worth noting if you are bringing the wee ones, by prior reservation, both the small and big kids can enjoy a ride on a horse or a pony in the Valmiermuiža park. There is an educational tour of the Valmiermuiža horse stable available where you can learn about the everyday lives of the horses there, their perks and even the option of feeding them a healthy snack.

Ungurmuiža Manor

Lightheaded after all that delicious beer and malt liqueurs, Ieva then whisked us away to the fabulous Ungurmuiza Manor ( Pārgauja district, Raiskums parish, Ungurmuiža, LV-4146 )-the only Baroque-era wooden manor house still standing in Latvia. One of the distinctive features of our trip across Latvia is its love of wooden buildings, from homesteads to family homes to grand manor houses- wooden architecture was popular right until the second world war.

On first sight Ungurmuiza Manor jumps straight out of some fairytale or Jane Austen novel with its beautiful 19th century wooden house that grandly looks onto a beautiful park with well kept grounds lined by  towering oak trees. There’s a wonderful sense of isolation and solitude here that I also felt at Siltumnīca.

The Pavilion

Built in 1732 by Baron von Ungern as a family home, the Manor in the current day is popular as a venue for weddings-you have to go to the back of the manor to discover its coup de resistance: a park pavilion  house , a unique and rare architectural feature from the 18th century. The pavilion, also called the Tea House was restored between 1974 and 1978.

Ungurmuiža Restuarant

We had dinner at the manor’s onsite beautiful restaurant which serves hearty Latvian fare. I enjoyed blood sausage with roasted pumpkin and a garden salad, washed down with a bottle of the local Raiskumietis beer. For the quality of fare and the beautiful setting the food..

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