City Breaks, Joy, Walking

Walking in Innsbruck

This past week we have been on a city break to Innsbruck.  Yes. you heard that right, a city break to Innsbruck.  Earlier in 2019 husband and I decided we’d like to go somewhere with snow and I always love a mountain.  A quick google search later and we discovered that Innsbruck is, in fact, one of the up and coming city break destinations.  Add in ridiculously cheap flights, for some reason we never did work out, and we were good to go.


For me the main highlights included the trip up to the top of the Nordkette mountain  This involved a ride on the Hungerburg funicular, from the centre of Innsbruck itself and two further cable car rides to take us up to the top of the mountain.  The weather whilst we was there was just beautiful and the views at the top made the journey up well worth while.  And it was quiet, so very quiet.  I had assumed that once we’d left the city centre and hit the ski-ing areas it would become much busier, but it was beautifully serene, with barely a soul to be seen on the ski slopes.  We weren’t there to ski, I love it but husband isn’t a fan.  Either way, I’m not sure that my back would have been up to the challenge at the moment anyway, so it was best to stick to walking and admiring the views.  The walk at the top of the mountain was quite challenging, but well worth it to experience the views across the Karwendal Nature park.

Views at the top of Nordkette

I also loved our train trip into Seefeld which we took on our last day.  Just a 30 minute ride out of the centre of Innsbruck and it was like being in another world.  I have always loved being up in the mountains since my first school holiday – a ski-ing trip to Italy.  This, for me, was paradise.  I’d passed through Seefeld once before.  30 years ago, my family went on a coach holiday to somewhere in Austria!  After we’d been on the coach from London for about 60 million hours, the first stop was in Seefeld!  It was more how I’d remembered Austria, with the Tyrolean chalets.  We had a lovely walk around the Wildsee frozen lake and through the town.  What I particularly loved about it was how active everyone was.  Within the space of 100 yards we saw ice-skating on an outside rink (with real ice, obviously), curling and cross country ski-ing over the golf course.  Everyone was there – older people just out to stretch their legs, right through to competitive skiers who were taking it very seriously.  It made me sad that we have nothing similar in the UK.  We don’t have that general outdoorsy attitude towards life.  I appreciate rain soaked Bristol isn’t quite sunny Asutria, but I’m sure more could be make available to enable people to get fit and active.  We had a fabulous lunch in a typical Tyrolean cafe, sitting out in the sunshine, surrounded by snow.  Just perfect.

Walking by the frozen Wildsee lake in Seefeld


Innsbruck itself grew on us.  Initially I think we were both a bit underwhelmed by it, not helped by less than perfect accommodation, but it’s definitely a grower.  On our first morning we did the good old ‘hop on, hop off’ bus which gave us a great idea of the layout of the city.  We stopped off at the Bergisel ski-jump and took the lift up to the very top.  My dad was right with his memories of that trip, you do look straight down the jump into the cemetery of.  Quite what possesses people to hoist themselves of a small metal seat down a slippery slope into oblivion is quite beyond me – certainly not for the faint-hearted! But well worth the visit just to get an idea of the insanity!

We stopped in a suburb of Innsbruck called Hotting which meant we had a good 20 minute walk or so into town, which we did for several days and provided us with great views of the River Inn and the original buildings of Mariahilf.  Eventually we discovered just how easy the bus service was to use and that our Innsbruck Card included free travel on all public transport, which really opened up the city to us.  If you do ever visit Innsbruck, I highly recommend getting the Innsbruck card as it is amazing value for money.  There are also a number of useful apps, one ‘Innsbruck’ which is basically a tourist guide of the city, but also one for the buses and one for the trains, which were easy to use.  My knowledge of the German language is nil, but I found that I was able to navigate my way around them to find out the information I needed.

Walking alongside the River Inn with views over to Mariahilf

As ever, we tried as much as we could to find smaller, less touristy places to eat and weren’t disappointed.  We had been given to believe that Austria would be expensive when we got there, but we found that it was similarly priced to Bristol, if not a little cheaper, but much of that may be because we actively seek out places to eat that are a little off the beaten track. We ate a fabulous Turkish lunch in the Marktplatz, overlooking the river, which besides having traditional market stalls, also has a range of smaller eateries ranging from pizza to fish and more traditional Austrian food options.  I was determined to eat as much authentic Austrian food as I could and wasn’t disappointed.  Two restaurants that we particularly enjoyed were Weinhaus Happ and Stiftskeller, where both the service and atmosphere were great.  Whilst both are in the more touristy area of the old city, there was a good mix of tourists and locals in both establishments!

Swarovski Kristallwelten

Innsbruck has been the home of Swarovski Kristallwelton for 25 years.  Swarovski has been producing crystals in Innsbruck since the late 19th century.  I have to confess that I’d always assumed they were made in America as that’s where I’d seen most stores and to my mind that was the over the top, shiny market it mostly appealed to.  We went along because we had the Innsbruck Card, so the shuttle to Kristallwelton and entrance were included.  I wasn’t expecting much from the visit, but as it was included it seemed rude not to give it a try, and anyway, crystals are sparkly so what could go wrong?  Like most modern art museums, some of the pieces I really loved.  I didn’t quite understand what they meant, even after reading the information, but some were just lost on me.  My favourite was walking through the forest – although it was a bit nerve-wracking as you really couldn’t tell where the pathway through was.  The Chandelier of Grief of Yoyai Kusama, although lovely, is much like the Northern Lights, the photo I took looks far more dramatic than the reality! I also loved the ‘clouds’ outside.  As we had such beautiful weather, they really did sparkle in the sunshine.  As you would imagine, there is a shop, a very big shop.  At which point I did remember why Swarovski is lost on me.  I’m not a dazzly, jewellery sort of girl and it would be fair to say, nothing that they sell is understated!  As it was included in the price of our Innsbruck Card, I’m glad that I went, however, I would have been disappointed had I paid full price for the entry tickets.

Chandelier of Grief of Yoyai Kusama

By the end of the 5 days we spent there, we had fallen in love with Innsbruck and would visit again, especially as there are still parts of the city we’d like to walk around.  It was quiet, I’m not sure if that’s because it was January, it was relaxed, it was flat and so easy to walk around, the people were friendly and welcoming and eager to help out where they could.  If you’re looking for a different place for a city break, with far fewer tourists than you’d expect, I’d highly recommend a visit.  It doesn’t have any ‘wow’ monuments or museums like many other cities, but the overall experience and the atmosphere around the city more than makes up for it.  Having said that, what more of a ‘wow’ do you really need than being surrounded by snow capped mountains in every direction that you look.

City Breaks, Happiness, Mindfulness, Well-being

Getting there!

It’s hard work, this sorting out your shit malarky.  But slowly I am getting there.  Husband has, on more than one occassion, wondered if it is making any difference.  But he can’t see inside my head.

If he could he would see that on the whole I no longer stress about every little thing and manifest it into a huge disaster in the space of three seconds.  


Take, for example, my recent trip to a hen party in Bath.  The facts of the situation, I had been invited to a Hen Party in Bath by good and exceptionally lovely friends that I realised I have known for over 15 years now.  I was due to stay in a house with 10 other ladies and had only met one before.  Queue meltdown – or so I thought – but it didn’t happen that way.

Not long ago I would have had the meltdown:

  • What if they didn’t like me
  • What if I had nothing in common
  • I certainly wouldn’t have had any sleep – I don’t sleep well at the best of times, so I certainly wouldn’t sleep in a house of 9 other ladies I barely knew.
  • What was I going to to do when they kept me awake all night in the hot tub.

Sadly, I can also see now, that I would have behaved in such a way – quite subtly – to ensure they didn’t like me and I achieved my objective.  Very similar to the children I have taught who behave badly, they know they are going to get thrown out of the class at some point, so they fast forward the whole process to ensure that happens sooner rather than later.  That’s what I did.  I projected my anxieties about situations and achieved the end result.  

This time was very different.

  • I knew I was going to spend the weekend with lovely people who make me laugh, a lot.
  • I explained my concerns about my sleeping in advance, rather than have a tantrum at the time, and was earmarked with a single room, so I could potter about to my hearts content.  As it happens I barely spent any time there – due primarily to shocking sleeping habits!
  • I took advantage of the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until the house was quiet by making sure I was the last to bed!  In this one step alone I felt myself turn from miserable party pooper to really enjoying every moment of the weekend.
  • I threw myself with abandon into each of the activities that had been arranged – wore the tiara with pride and had a thoroughly good time!

This wasn’t easy for me.  I would be the first to admit that I find the meditation bit hard and have not been doing it for a while now, however, I have maintained one aspect of it.  Returning my brain to the present.  What’s happening now.  Don’t create a future that isn’t real, don’t create stories around what might happen, how people might behave, respond to what is here now.  Generally, nothing has ever been as bad as the scenario my head has created, so I have had to start trusting what’s happening now.

The worst part was actually the train from Bristol to Bath on a Friday afternoon – the world’s biggest queue waiting to get on the world’s smallest train.  I had to remind myself that this service runs every 15 minutes or so – so it really wasn’t a disaster if I didn’t get on the first train.  I met up in Bath with two lovely ladies that I’d never met before and that was it – I had arrived at the Hen weekend and from that moment on I had a ball.

I do, however, still have my down moments.  We had some visitors staying with us last weekend and I really struggled with having someone in my home whose basic ideas of housekeeping vary so much to my own.  Someone who manages to press all of my buttons without even realising they are doing it – and so a consequence the negative monsters reappeared back in my head.  I’ll admit that I very much lost the ability to remain in the present, or to see the positives in the situation and so I realise that there is still much to be done.  But on the whole I would say that I am making progress, that the down days are much less frequent than they used to be.  

Things that I do find are really helping me are yoga and exercise.  I am a bit of a nightmare if I don’t do at least a bit of exercise in every day.  In addition to this I am slowing starting to realise that I don’t have to like everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like me.  Nor do I have to take part in what everyone else is doing.  One aspect that I loved about the Hen weekend was I was with likeminded ladies – and I had an absolute ball – it really confirmed for me that I do have a place in the world.  It may not be mainstream – but who wants to be mainstream – but I do have a lot to offer other people and if they don’t get what I’m about, or are dismissive, then that’s just the way it is.  Move on!

But slowly – day by day – I am getting there and am starting to spot the positives in the situation before the negatives.

City Breaks, Food and drink, Seville

Another visit to Seville

We love to visit Seville and this time was no exception.  However, as we have now visited the city several times we were able to take our time and not rush around the key tourist spots, which were as busy as ever.  This time our visit included a trip to a Spanish cooking experience, Taller Andaluz de Cocina, which is based at Triana Market.

The experience began with a short tour around the market, where we learned the differences in the hams that are on sale, and now understand why some is so expensive to buy.  The traditional Iberian ham comes from free range black pigs who eat a diet primarily based on acorns, before being cured for approximately 3 years.  This is different to the ‘white ham’ which is taken from farm bred pigs, fed a diet of animal feed and the hams are cured for 18 months to two years.  I’m not sure that we can taste the difference between the two, if I am totally honest!

IMG_2403We also learned that the market is built on top of what was a castle, the Castillo de St Jorge.  This was the home of the Inquisition during the reign of the Catholic Kings and so really isn’t the most enjoyable of experiences.  Whilst I love a castle, and I love the history of the Catholic Kings, knowing that this was primarily a castle of torture was a little bit difficult.  The tour around the castle is free and was brilliantly done, and I do recommend a visit, but you can’t help but be affected by what happened there.

But the day was mostly about learning how to cook traditional Spanish food.  We started by making a salmorejo, a cold tomoto based soup, which is quite possibly my favourite tapas dish, so I was thrilled to learn how to make my own.  This was followed by chickpeas in spinach.  I have tried this previously in restaurants and it’s not my favourite.  I loved making it, the smells in particular were very appetising, but at the end it still didn’t excite me in the way many other dishes have in the past.  I’d certainly make it again, to share with friends, but just a few mouth fulls is more than enough for me.

Then on to the paella, they key dish of the morning.  We discovered that paella does not include fish, of any kind, nor does it include chorizo and especially not frozen peas.  Traditional paella includes just a few key ingredients:  chicken, butter beans, runner beans, artichoke, garlic, chicken stock, a little passatta, spanish saffron and spanish smoked sweet paprika.  That’s it – besides the rice, obviously.  Any other dishes that include ingredients other than those listed above are just ‘ingredients in rice’.  Of those ingredients listed, if they are not in season, they don’t get used, so the paella we made didn’t include the butter beans – because they are not currently in season.  This is one aspect of cooking and eating in Portugal and Spain, they still eat seasonal foods, they don’t expect strawberries in winter, because they don’t grow and I’m not too sure where in Britain we became so obsessed with having year round foods.

IMG_2390Making the paella was equally interesting.  There was no recipe to speak of.  There is just a pan.  The rivets in the handles are there to help with the measuring.  Basically you cook enough chicken to form a ring around the outside of the pan.  Then you cook enough of the artichokes and beans to form a second smaller ring inside the chicken.  Then you add the passatta, saffron and paprika to the small circle that is left in the centre of the pan.  Sort of an advanced version of ‘put what you think’.  And then you add the stock and the rice.

Adding the paella rice

And then you add the stock and rice; enough stock to cover the rivets, simmered until its below the rivets; followed by the rice.  The rice needs to be as wide as the rivets, and as high as the rivets.  Once you have put that much rice into the pan, you mix it all in and leave to cook for precisely 18 minutes.  It all seems very straightforward.  We bought a small pan and are going to give it a go, but are anticipating a couple of botched attempts on the journey to perfect paella.

As an aside,  it is seemingly impossible to make paella in the quantities that you need in restaurants.  Evidently there is one company in particular in Spain that makes a good level of profit selling frozen paella to restaurants across Europe.  In the majority of restaurants that sell paella, it will be this frozen mix that is served. Some might transfer it into a paella pan for presentation, but it is unlikely it will have been cooked in the pan.  Any paella that arrives to your table with peas included has more than likely come from this factory.

Our meal was topped off with a dessert made from lemon sorbet, mint and cava all whizzed together.  Very refreshing and a very enjoyable finish to a superb meal.

Waterfall in Parque de Maria Luisa

The cooking experience was definitely the highlight of our visit this time, however, as the weather whilst we were there was fantastic, we were also able to take the opportunity to walk around parts of the city that we have not visited before.  The scents from the orange blossom on the trees filled every street with a beautiful smell.  We spent a lovely morning walking around the city streets, walked through Parque de Maria Luisa with the stunning Plaza de Espana, along a part of the river side that we have not seen before and ended our walk with a coffee in Lonja del Barranco market.  If you visit Seville, this is well worth a visit.  Unlike traditional markets, this one sells a huge range of tapas dishes.  Each stall cooks and sells a different range of dishes and the choices can be overwhelming at times.  Usually very busy, right on the river side with great views and a brilliant spot to sit and watch the world go by.

This time we stayed at Sevilla Central Suites at Fabiola.  It was a brilliant location.  Quite close to all that we wanted to see and do, however, well out of the main hustle and bustle of the city which meant it was also very quiet.  A big advantage was that most of the restaurants we visited were primarily filled with local Spanish people and fewer tourists than we have encountered in restaurants in the past.

City Breaks, Walking

Tapas Tour of Andalusia

Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral and Giralda

Over the past week husband and I have visited Seville and Granada in Andalusia, Spain.  It was husband’s birthday, and he adores the tapas in Seville.  Every time we visit Albufeira we take a trip over to Seville to sample the atmosphere, the architecture, the food and the wine.  This time we decided to extend the visit to include Granada, which has also been on my list of places to see.

Due to an A Level History unit I taught on the creation of Spain under the rule of Isabella and Ferdinand ‘The Catholic Kings’, I have an unusual level of historical knowledge about the area and the events that took place there.  This provided me with the chance to  spend the week as my alter-ego ‘History Geek Girl’.  I had a ball.

View from Metropol Parasol

Our week away, started in Seville, where the tapas is just amazing.  The streets are very closely packed together in the main centre and there is an opportunity to eat and drink around every corner.  We were thoroughly spoilt by the options and choices available to us.  We spent much of our time there strolling through the different areas, El Arenal, Santa Cruz, Triana and along the river front, just taking in the atmosphere.  We’ve visited  both the Cathedral with its Giralda Tower and the Real Alcazar several times, so this time we gave them a miss.  However, we did have another visit to the top of the Metropol Parasol or  ‘mushrooms’ which provides stunning views across the rooftops of Seville.

One thing we did discover this time was the simple breakfast, toasted bread, with olive oil, pulped tomato and Serrano ham.  Just beautiful and a great start to our tapas filled days.  Another highlight for us is La Brunhilda Tapas, one of Seville’s top ranked tapas restaurants.  Well worth the visit.  A new restaurant for us this time was Petit Comite – like fine dining on a small-scale, just superb.

Walking through El Albacin

We travelled on to Granada – the ‘final frontier’ for The Catholic Kings and the place they chose to stake their claim to the area now known as Andalusia.  Until 1498, this area was inhabited by Moors and as part of their quest to create ‘Spain’ from it’s disparate parts, needed to be conquered.  When you walk around Seville, you can see evidence of Moorish influences particularly in the Real Alcazar and the Giralda tower, however, it is on a much smaller scale than in Granada.  Whilst I knew the history of the area and that both Muslims and Jews were both inhabitants of Granada I had not anticipated seeing such a Moorish influence in the town.   Walking through the small streets of El Albacin, the Moorish area, is quite breathtaking.  The streets are both narrow and hilly.  The area is filled with tea shops, and here the restaurants are very Moorish in their influence.  It was wonderful to see how the different religious groups have worked to create the city that is Granada today.

Obviously no visit to Granada is complete without a visit to the Alhambra.  Quite remarkably, given it’s size and location, prior to visiting we had not caught sight of it.  Due to the close-knit nature of the streets, it is actually quite difficult to see that high.  We walked from our apartment up to the Alhambra.  It wasn’t until we arrived that we realised that shuttle buses do exist to transport people up the hill and that only idiots walk it.  We are quite clearly idiots!  Whilst it was difficult, I would not say it was overly challenging and the views on the way up were well worth the effort.  We walked back down the hill through the serene pathways, enjoying the views of the city as we walked.

I was awed and disappointed in equal measure at the Alhambra.  The ‘must see’ part of

Inside the Alcazaba

the Alhambra, the Nasrid Palace, was disappointing.  This may just have been due to the immense number of visitors which made really enjoying the palace quite difficult.  The carvings there are just beautiful, and it’s quite amazing to think that some date back to the 14th century.  I prefer the Real Alcazar in Seville as evidence of the Moorish palaces.  For me the part of the visit that stood out was the Alcazaba.  I was really awestruck by the sheer magnitude of this part of the castle – and the views from the top were just breathtaking.  It provided a real sense of how a castle functioned and how the living areas around it supported the life of the monarch within.  For Isabella and Ferdinand to have succeeded in their defeat of this city would have required a huge level of determination and commitment to their cause.

I really loved teaching the history of The Catholic Kings to my students and have loved being able to see the parts of Spain that were so important to their reign.  On our last day in Granada we visited the Cathedral and next to it the Royal Chapel, where the remains of Isabella, Ferdinand still lie, along with their daughter Joanna (a bit bonkers), her husband Philip I, and their son Charles I of Spain.  (Also Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor).  Being History Geek Girl I was thrilled to bits to be able to see the final resting place of these 5 people, as they so influenced my teaching career and introduced me to a whole aspect of history I would otherwise never have got to learn myself.

The Alhambra

As we walked out of the Royal Chapel my husband asked me if I was pleased to have seen the remains of people I admired.  I’m not sure I did admire them.  Who could admire the people who introduced the Spanish Inquisition for the sole purpose of forcing religious groups to convert to Christianity?  What I did admire was their commitment to global domination.  They provided the money for Christopher Columbus to travel to the New World and thus begin the Spanish influence of South America.  They also made sure their children married into influential households across Europe, so that future generations would not just reign over Spain.  Kathryn of Aragon married both Arthur and then Henry VII, with their daughter Mary I reinstating Catholicism to England.  Joanna married Philip I, heir to the Holy Roman Empire, and their son Charles V becoming the first king of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  These marriages sowed the seeds of domination and influence beyond the Spain.

But what about the tapas?  Sadly, in Granada it was a little disappointing.  Every time you order a drink you get a free tapas dish.  In a way this was brilliant, as it forced us to eat things we would never have ordered – a sea food paella, a dish made with squid.  But beyond this, whilst the food was beautiful, it was delivered in full size portions, so the opportunity to sample a number of varied small dishes wasn’t available to us.  We ate some beautiful food, but probably didn’t get to sample as much as we would have liked, had the tapas sized portions been available to us.

Granada was a beautiful.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and the opportunity to immerse myself in its history, if you are ever in the vicinity, I highly recommend you stop  for a visit, hills and all.