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House sitting UK: 6 lessons learnt (and ‘must dos’ for YOU)

House sitting UK: 6 lessons learnt (and ‘must dos’ for YOU)

It’s been over six months since we set off on our house sitting UK adventure. We’ve explored terrific destinations in the UK through house sitting, including London, Northampton, the Cotswolds, Bedfordshire and soon Devon and the Sussex coast.

We’ve loved house sitting in the UK, and we’ve also been to Malta, France and Ireland.

House sitting UK: 6 lessons learnt

Leave the toilet seat down!

You hear stories about dogs drinking out of the toilet, right? One night we were sound asleep but awoken at 1am.

“Can you hear a noise, is that an intruder?” I asked panicked (but still tucked into bed)

“I’m not sure… do you think I should check?” asks Cooper, as we hear again… what is that?

“Slurp, slurp, slurp…” 😆

Our beautiful shepherd, Luna, couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to her bowl. Our lesson? Close the toilet lid! It’s true – dogs DO drink from the toilet.

Luna in Northampton on our dog sit where we learnt a house and pet sitting lesson...

Never forget poo bags

We find poo bags in all or pockets now. It’s pretty funny. The bags always come in handy, of course. But what about the one occasion you forget to take them?

In Northampton we had simply popped out to the corner store. When I was inside gathering supplies, Cooper was walking Luna (pictured above) around the block and having a little play with her. You guessed it – she chose this very time to do her business.

And it was no small matter!

Cooper scrounged around to find cardboard and resources to clean up after Luna, but it wasn’t pretty, oh no.

Hence, poo bags in every pocket since that time.

 

Watch what your dog eats

I’m sorry, this seems to have turned into a post about toilets and dogs’ business. You see, we took care of another gorgeous pup, Teal. A Springer Spaniel – about the best behaved and most affectionate creature you’d ever meet. But Teal has a secret.

Teal eats poo. In the depths of fields around the Cotswolds, this innocent pooch will grab a ‘snack’ the second you turn away. At first I thought Cooper was exaggerating because he spotted this, er, behaviour first. I didn’t believe him. Not our lovely Teal.

However, when I turned around after being engaged in conversation with a fellow dog walker, I saw it. Oh Teal. Perhaps he needed some nutrients that are in there?

Whatever the case, we were reminded that dogs are like kids. Keep an eye on them at all times 🐶

 

👉Find out how we got started pet sitting in London

Be mindful of how you’re using treats

We took care of a precious little old man called Monty. He was such a beautiful old soul. A 15 year old Jack Russell, for the most part he was super easy to look after. Except he suffered major senior separation anxiety.

When we arrived he seemed ok, but once his parents left he wouldn’t leave his bed or hid under theirs. It broke our hearts. We kept an eye on him over the 12 hours to come, and we even called TrustedHousesitters pet line for guidance to make sure we were doing all the right things, which we were.

For anxiety, we’ve discovered we need to give dogs in this scenario their space. It’s beneficial for them to be in their own home. If they are not sleeping or eating, then you should contact a vet. One thing we had going for us was that Monty liked his food. We used this to try and coax him to love us 💖 We even got him downstairs by laying out a cheese trail – his favourite treat.

After a while though, we realised we were using treats in the wrong way – we were reinforcing his behaviour to stay in his bed or hide from us. We’d give him treats for it! Instead, we switched it around – gave him treats for coming to us and we got him outside on walks which cheered him right up. Our lesson: consider what kind of behaviour you’re rewarding with treats, or are you giving them to make you feel better?

We’ve shared more on this in our video guides 👇

 

Close doors and check where your pets can go

House sitting in the UK brought many lessons our way. When we took care of Blue, a senior Lurcher doggie in London, we’d been told where in the house he could go. It was pretty much everywhere except the bedrooms. What we didn’t realise is that’s exactly where he’d try to go. Some of the door handles weren’t shut properly and we discovered this after he went missing twice. Blue managed to break into the rooms, have a nap on his siblings’ beds but then got locked in, bless him!

Our Luna in Northampton was known to break into the fridge and eat all the meat, so we had to lock the door to the kitchen if we went out. Luna’s also actually unlocked the front door to go in search of her family 💕 So, we needed to deadbolt it for her own safety from the busy street outside.

A special mention must go to Harley in Dublin who knew how to follow you into the toilet, jump up on the sink and drink water while you wash your hands. His mum said that is entirely his father’s fault for teaching him 🤣

 

Learn to share your personal space

 

 

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Polly and Darcy ☝ haven’t been the only babies to want in on our private space. Pretty much all dogs and cats, once they get to know you, will want to be with you – or on top of you, in bed with you…

But you know what – that’s the bit we love the most. If you don’t, then this gig probably isn’t for you.

 

 

Find out more practical tips about house and pet sitting as you travel the world: subscribe to our newsletter for a FREE guide on how you can travel the world house and pet sitting. 

And of course – questions/comments are appreciated below 😸

 

 

Why the Ibiza sunset is SO special (and where to see it!)

Why the Ibiza sunset is SO special (and where to see it!)

Ibiza has struck something in us: there’s a magic here, and the Ibiza sunset certainly proves it night after night.

There’s an energy on this island, and it’s got nothing to do with the clubs or the music. Although I won’t lie, those are cool too. However, this is a place where people have gathered for a very very long time, to pursue a spiritual calling.

Around the island you’ll find mementos of times gone by: the Romans were here; we took part in a sunrise Yoga class by an ancient Phoenician tower… It’s rumoured the lost city of Atlantis is under Es Vedra which is just across the water. Ancient stories, tradition, culture – they all reference the sun as a source of energy. Here, there really is something very beautiful about the light, and everyone must see the sunset.

As the sun hits the horizon, everyone cheers. It’s fabulous. We’ve seen proposals happen at that moment, and a roar of happy energy as thousands of people from all corners of the earth relish in one special moment.

Where to experience this for yourself?

Best beach clubs Ibiza - Sunset Ashram

 

3 areas where you can see the Ibiza sunset: our favourite spots

Restaurant el Carmen or beach areas opposite Es Vedra

Many people go to this area to meditate as the sun sets. That’s pretty special 🌞

Head for the beach areas opposite Es Vedra. Here you’ll witness the sun set over the mystical island. It’s one of the three most magnetic places on earth (alongside the North Pole and Bermuda Triangle).

Sirens, UFOs, and more mysteries surround it. This blog writes beautifully about sunset here – worth a quick read.

Sunset Ashram or Kumharas beach bars

Two excellent places listed in our round-up of best beach clubs Ibiza: Sunset Ashram and Kumharas are on the same side of the island. They’re not too far from each other, and you need to get over to this side of the island to explore all its lovely secret beaches, but you’re best to have a car to get to them.

Kumharas is set right on the beach. Sunset Ashram is stunning, surrounded by aqua and deep blue coloured waters! Enjoy non-stop music, great energy and a spectacle you won’t forget.

Ibiza sunsets - our fave spot is at Cafe Mambo

Cafe Mambo

While there are plenty of great venues along Ibiza’s sunset strip, all the way from Wi Ki Woo, Cafe Del Mar, and Savannah to bars like Ibiza Rocks and Tulip around the other side of Sant Antonio Bay (Sant Antoni de Portmany), our very favourite is Cafe Mambo.

Here, a tradition has unfolded, where hundreds gather on the shoreline to watch the sun hit the horizon. There’s cheering, and the music kicks in. Live DJs (some very big names, I might add) do their stuff right there for all to enjoy.

It’s a brilliant experience if you want to be around people and are partial to a bit of dance music at its best (me!).

Have a tip or questions? Let us know in the comments.
 

 



 

Milan to Varenna train – how to day trip to Lake Como and Bellagio

Milan to Varenna train – how to day trip to Lake Como and Bellagio

I had to dig around to find out how to get to Lake Como easily and cheaply, only to discover the Milan to Varenna train trip was my answer.

In the hope we can save someone else the hassle of figuring out how to see Lake Como and Bellagio in a day trip from Milan, details are here.

 

Why take the Milan to Varenna train route to Lake Como?

We’ve been lucky enough explore various parts of Italy previously. Rome is excellent, as are Florence, Siena and Tuscany. I didn’t know my way around this area though. I’d been inspired by a colleague at work who suggested getting around Italy by train. On planning a week away in April, Cooper and I chose an itinerary of Milan to Verona to Venice.

Lake Como is close to Milan, fashion and business capital of Italy. We knew we’d be flying into Milan, and didn’t want to miss the Lakes region.

At first I considered a guided day tour to Lake Como. It’s a viable yet expensive option. Most of these day trips are about ten to twelve hours long – that’s a big day.

We settled on taking the train from Milan to Varenna, a village on the shores of Lake Como, because:

  1. It’s an easy trip from Milan Central station, just over an hour
  2. It’s inexpensive at just over €6 each way
  3. Taking the ferry to Bellagio from here is easy and inexpensive
  4. Varenna is also a pretty little town on the lake.

 

Varenna on Lake Como

How to book and board Milan to Varenna train return

Our tickets were booked through thetrainline.com. I have the Trainline app on my phone that stores the tickets for display at the station or on board.

You’ll book from Milano Centrale (Milano Central station) to Varenna-Esino station.

I booked our fares for specific leave and return times. But, we just missed our train on the Sunday morning and staff said it was fine to take the next one, scheduled an hour later.

Our experience with Milan and Varenna train stations has been that they’re not very well signed. Platforms and trains can be hard to identify. If you’re taking the Milan to Varenna train return trip, give yourself time to get it right.

As we encountered a rainy day, we decided to go back to Milan an hour early. The trains going back are not signed well either. Additionally, they weren’t running to time. Little did we know, the day to follow this, the train to Verona ended up departing ten minutes before our stated ticket time.

At Varenna, we got on the wrong train. In a panic we got off at the next stop, a deserted platform. Fortunately we could walk back to Varenna in about twenty minutes along the lakeside.

It’s not a big deal, but double check and give yourself time.

Milan to Varenna on the train

Why Lake Como?

Lake Como is the third largest lake in the lakes district of Italy. That is behind Garda, which you can spot on the train ride to Varona, and Maggiore. It’s 46km long and at its widest is about 4.5km.

Imagine, snow capped mountains and a mystical body of water, home to centuries-old history and celebrities from near and far. Ferries glide in and out of hills that look like islands rising out of the deep blue. Pink and yellow buildings are tucked together along the bottom edge of the mountains. They’re divided every now and then by an ancient church steeple. Other homes line sections further up these hills. Their views must be marvellous, one can only imagine.

 



 

It’s all so pretty, almost looks like they’ve been drawn on. A real life oil painting on a canvas that’s kilometres long.

Roads, rail and tunnels are carved into sheer rock cliffs. Sculpted gardens are set along the waterfront with their Roman statues and water fountains. Little birds dance along cafe tables hoping for crumbs. Dogs chase ducks as clouds float down from the sky. The air is fresh and the world at peace. It’s as lovely as I imagined, and you’ll want to visit here too, trust us.

Visit Lake Como in a day trip from Milan

Exploring Varenna on a day trip from Milan to Lake Como

Varenna is situated in the Lombardy region. It’s very pretty and conveniently is only a five minute walk from Varenna train station. The village is picture-postcard beautiful with sweet winding alleyways and waterfront dining.

It’s easy to wander up and down the hills and along the lake’s edge, although wear comfortable shoes because the stairways are long and steep.

The option to travel from Milan to Varenna on the train proved a happy escape from the bustle of Milan. Even though we had a rainy day, the place was beautiful – worthwhile.

Getting to Bellagio from Varenna

Many people say Bellagio is the gem of lake Como. It’s a pretty village jutting out into Lake Como and is included on most day trip itineraries to Lake Como from Milan. It’s popular for cobbled lanes and elegant buildings.

It was our intention to visit Bellagio on our day trip from Milan via Varenna. By the time we arrived though, it was pouring rain so we chose to explore Varenna instead. No regrets.

There’s plenty of questions and some confusion on Tripadvisor about how to get to Bellagio and when the ferries go.

Most information is difficult to understand as it’s in Italian and the official website is hard to navigate. Take it from me (I like to be organised), don’t worry at all about it.

The ferry costs about €5 each way, and runs every 30 or 40 minutes. It’s slightly less frequent in winter, but the ferry terminal is manned and there’s plenty to do in Varenna while you wait to board.

The ferry dock taking you on a short trip to Bellagio is on the waterfront about five minutes from Varenna train station. You can’t miss it. If the day is clear, you’ll be fortunate to see gorgeous views of the colourful buildings on the hills surrounding the lake.

Italian treats abound

Questions or comments…

I hope this answers any of your queries or concerns about how to do a self-guided day trip on the train from Milan to Lake Como.

Varenna is a lovely option for its views, ease and style. It’s really simple to get to and from Bellagio. We spoke to the ferry team to clarify this. The train (if you don’t miss it) is comfortable and quick. A paid tour costs a fortune and hours out of your day. Even if you don’t go to Bellagio, Varenna is a beautiful glimpse into the tranquillity that is Lake Como. Despite rain and a number of missed trains, this day out was close to perfect.

On this week long trip, we travelled across the country to Verona and Venice on the train. Click the links to find out more.

Got questions or a tip to add? Let us know in the comments below

In this series – a week across Italy by train:

Milan, budget travel tips

Milan to Lake Como, via Varenna and Bellagio [you’re reading it]

Verona, Italy travel guide

Milan to Venice – how to take the train

How to find your perfect wine tasting in Italy experiences

Why you should find a food tour in Italy

Venice, Italy travel guide – things to know before you go

 

7 travel Venice facts – a guide for before you go

7 travel Venice facts – a guide for before you go

We want to help you get your Venice facts in order. Is it magnificent and marvellous or hot and crowded? There’s facts you need to know about Venice before you go, which may make or break your visit. I was totally converted on my second trip. It’s why I want to highlight important travel Venice facts that will help you make the most of your experience.


Venice was our last stop on a self-guided train trip across Italy for one week, beginning in Milan. Our highlights included a day trip to Lake Como; rail to Verona and then to Venice. Click the links to read more about those destinations, and read on for more facts about Venice.

Venice Rialto Bridge by Sarah Blinco

Travel Venice facts

5 facts for starters, about the city…

  1. Venice is built on over 1 million wooden stakes.
  2. There are 118 islands that make up Venice, linked by over 400 bridges (about 70 being private) over more than 170 canals.
  3. In 1608, the Council of Ten approved wearing masks only during the Carnevale in February. Breaking this law meant enduring punishments that ranged from two years in prison to public beating and binding to the ‘pillar of shame’.
  4. Sadly, Venice is sinking at the rate of 1 to 2mm per year.
  5. The population of Venice has decreased from 120,000 to 60,000 in the last 50 years. Apparently Venice could be a ghost town by 2030 with only tourists visiting by day. A sad thought for Venetians, who perceive this level of tourism to be totally unsustainable. So, for us as the travellers, be grateful for the time in the city – seems a lot of sacrifice has taken place for us to enjoy it all.

 

The weather can be wet or hot, timing is important

If you can be flexible in your travel planning, the top travel Venice fact to work with is that the best times to go are April, May, June, September, and October.

Summer in Venice can be scorching. The first time we visited back in August 2011, we were tired from being on a non-stop tour and drained by the heat. April was near close to perfect though. Venice can also be very wet and flood. The flooding gets to the point where visitors need to buy Wellies (rubber boots). Even waiters in fancy restaurants need to, to get by serving customers seated outdoors.

There’s a helpful piece on all of this here, by Rick Steves.

Fondaco dei Tedeschi - best Venice facts - free view

Undeniable Venice fact: it gets VERY crowded

It doesn’t really matter what time of year you go, Venice is a magnet for people. Main attractions like the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square and along the Grand Canal are swarming with people – travellers, tour groups, cruise ship stop-over passengers – throughout the day.

During the famous Carnevale in February, the streets get so crowded that distances which would usually take ten minutes to walk might take up to an hour to reach. Our Airbnb experience walking tour guide, Roberto, told us that the city actually constructs lanes, so it’s one way walking to a certain destination, and one way back.

 



 

Top tip:

Find a good deal on Airbnb and stay centrally. We were just a couple of minutes walk from the Rialto Bridge. This meant we could get up and go exploring first thing in the morning. Not only was the light lovely, but we weren’t battling crowds to get from A to B.

Additionally, if you want to visit the museums, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the queues.

Venice facts - cheese cichetti

Fab Venice fact – some great experiences are FREE

One of the best travel Venice facts that our Airbnb hosts shared with us was to do with the unmissable free view available from the top of Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

This historical building is situated on the Grand Canal, very close to the Rialto Bridge. It’s seen many uses including being used as a trading post for German merchants, a post office during Mussolini’s time, and a customs house under Napoleon.

Today it’s a luxury shopping mall, but at the top you can experience breathtaking rooftop views. It’s absolutely worthwhile, and it’s free, but you need to book your spot.

Venice facts - book into Fondaco dei Tedeschi for a free view

Venice facts: Gondola rides need-to-know

A gondola ride ranks highly on most travel bucket-lists, but it can turn out to be very expensive. Know before you go:

– A gondola ride costs around $90
– Typically lasts about 40 minutes
– Your Gondolier knows what they’re doing; they all have to pass extensive training to represent the industry in Venice
– Gondolas hold six people so you can share the ride and split the cost
– Sunset or night rides are spectacular, but you’ll pay more for that experience
– Avoid booking through an agency or hotel, you’re likely to pay extra fees
– Talk to the Gondolier about any requests you have for places to see, and consider skipping the crowded Grand Canal
– Wear sunscreen and a hat during the day.

 

Local water bus options offer cost-effective travel adventures

If a gondola ride is not within budget, try taking the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal instead. It’s like the local ferry and for just over €7!

To and from Santa Lucia train station, or the airport:

If you’re coming into Venice from Santa Lucia train station or the Marco Polo airport, be careful of people coming up to you offering to take you to the water taxi that goes into town. These are quite often private services that cost much more than the public ferries.

Look for route number 2 that does the journey between Santa Lucia railway station and St Mark’s Square, making only five stops including Rialto Bridge, where we got off to meet our Airbnb host.

The Alilaguna ferry will take you to and from Marco Polo airport. We got on near the Rialto Bridge and it cost about €15 one way, and the ride was just over an hour.

You will get lost

The streets of Venice are a maze, and you will get lost. But that’s absolutely fine. Don’t worry, just give yourself time to get places if you happen to have an appointment or need to meet a walking tour.

Google Maps led us into quite a few walls, so don’t rely on it. It’s helpful for finding general direction though, and recommendations on where to find a beer or food.

If the prospect of wandering the streets like a pro (and out of tourists’ way) is appealing, we’d highly recommend you engage a guide for a couple of hours. Roberto from Airbnb Experiences was excellent! His Walk, Eat and Drink in Venice tour took us through charming back streets we’d never have found, and showed us there’s much life away from St Mark’s Square. Contact him directly for details or to arrange a bespoke trip if you like.

Venice facts - find Bacari for authentic cichetti

Authentic dining options may be hard to spot

When in Venice you want to find yourself a local Bacari. This is a bar that serves wine and typical Venetian snacks. These snacks are referred to as cichetti, which generally means savoury snacks or small side dishes. We learnt more about this on our walking tour, referenced above.

A trip to Italy means eating gelato, especially if the weather is warm. But there’s plenty of inauthentic expensive tourist options you should avoid. It’s always good to support the genuine producers.

Basic rules of authentic gelato are:

  1. Look for the gelato being stored in metal tubs, preferably with lids; plastic tubs are a no-no.
  2. Quality gelato will not have vibrant colours because the aim is to make it with a high proportion of natural ingredients and very little (if any) added colouring.
  3. If the ‘gelato’ is piled up high for display and doesn’t melt it means it’s high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers – it’s not the real deal.
  4. Seasonal fruit flavours are a good sign, anything wild resembling Baskin & Robbins is probably not gelato, but something else, like ice-cream.
  5. Not always, but for the most part, the real gelato is sold away from tourist hot-spots. We found a lovely authentic one in Verona that fits all the criteria here, and it was cheap, unlike rip-off options we’ve seen in Florence and Venice.

 

There’s much more to see

We’ve not had the chance to day-trip from Venice yet, but we plan to, which is why I’m linking ideas in here.

Let me know in the comments what else you’d recommend.

Castle of Monselice – one for fans of the series A Discovery of Witches. Other Italian and Welsh filming locations outlined here.

– The islands, including Murano and Burano, are apparently incredible. Have a read here for a summary on each, and why you should visit.

Venice view point

Travel in Venice: safety, packing and payment advice

Our final tips

Cash or card?
There’s a lot of markets and smaller vendors who require cash payments so do have some on you. Most places take cards though.

Safety
We felt safe, but always use common sense in crowded places. Thieves operate in these areas in all big cities. Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t carry things in your pockets, and don’t lose focus because you’re distracted by your phone! We’d suggest ignoring people who try to sell you things on the street too.

Packing
Pack light. The streets are old, you’ll walk a lot and the ferries are crowded. The last thing you’ll want is to be hauling a huge suitcase along! Shed your stuff, you won’t need half of it anyway.

 

Got questions or tips? Please do let us know in the comments below…

 

In this series – a week across Italy by train:

Milan, budget travel tips

Milan to Lake Como, via Varenna and Bellagio

Verona, Italy travel guide

Milan to Venice – how to take the train

How to find your perfect wine tasting in Italy experiences

Why you should find a food tour in Italy

Venice, Italy travel guide – things to know before you go [you’re reading it]

– ‘Italy by Rail’, a special travel feature in the June 2019 issue of Get it Magazine, Australia 💕

 

1 day in Brussels – the best things to see, do and taste in a day

1 day in Brussels – the best things to see, do and taste in a day

Belgium is the perfect little escape from London, especially on the Eurostar. We’ve got your 1 day in Brussels itinerary sorted that includes history, fun, chocolate and beer!

Brussels is an easy two hour trip from London’s St Pancras. We booked fares when they were on sale, and would have a solid 24 hours to explore. We did some research on the best things to do in Brussels in a day to make the most of the experience.

Travel tip

Sign up to the Eurostar mailing list to find out about sales. It’s how I scored £29 fares which I bought last November for a February trip.

 

1 day in Brussels – city facts and fun

A few things to know about the city before you set up your itinerary for best things to do in Brussels in a day:

– Brussels is the ‘capital’ of Europe. It’s home to the European Commission, the European Council, Council of the European Union, European Parliament, and NATO to name a few critically important world organisations.

– Actress Audrey Hepburn was born here in 1929 and you can scope out some of the places where she lived and worked.

– Famous philosopher Karl Marx, poet Victor Hugo and writers the Brontë sisters have also called Brussels home.

 

1 day in Brussels - the Grand Place

 

– There is much Portuguese influence in the city, with 20,000 from Portugal living in Brussels. Interesting for us to see, following our recent trip to Lisbon.

– Brussels is known for grand architecture, wonderful art, museums and one of Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, Galeries St Hubert (1847).

– Brussels is also known for being a little quirky, with peeing statues and comic book art all over building walls.

– Brussels is a foodie city! Muscles, waffles, fries, and Europe’s third biggest market (Midi market, open on Sundays near the train station where the Eurostar arrives/departs).

 

1 day in Brussels - Galeries St Hubert

 

Upon serious consideration (yes, really), we realised that with just 1 day in Brussels we wanted to get to know it quickly and in a special way.

What better way to appreciate Brussels than through the lens of two of Belgium’s most famous exports: chocolate and beer!

Where to begin for 1 day in Brussels though? That’s where The Brussels Journey comes in!

We stumbled across this excellent experience online and made contact with the team to see how we could work together.

The Brussels Journey offers a beer and chocolate tour that takes in the best things to do in Brussels in a day. This includes seeing the key sites, learning about the city’s history and sampling beer and chocolate. Honestly, the tour exceeded our expectations!

A huge benefit was that we landed in the city at 10am not knowing a soul, but by 10pm had a handful of fab new friends from all over the globe.

 

1 day in Brussels - Grand Place

 

1 day in Brussels – the best chocolate in Brussels

The Belgian chocolate industry is almost 400 years old, which means there are plenty of stories to tell here in Brussels when it comes to our favourite sweet treat.

There are countless chocolate shops here, so how do you know where to find the best chocolate in Brussels?

Our Brussels Journey tour started in front of popular Chocopolis, and took our group on a lengthy excursion through the streets in search of the best chocolate in Brussels.

 

1 day in Brussels - best chocolate in Brussels - get amongst it on The Brussels Journey tour

 

We sampled some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted; unique flavours and blends.

I found it fascinating to learn that chocolate-making has so much to it. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before (too busy guzzling), but chocolate is like wine, tea or coffee.

The flavours and quality depend on the origin of ingredients, amount of cocoa used, what other flavours are infused, how its stored and produced.

Belgium is a top player in chocolate production and export, and local chocolatiers told us the secret is that they still use 100% cocoa butter.

Praline chocolates were what made Belgium famous, although they more quietly share that this was the invention of a Swiss migrant in 1912 (Switzerland and Belgium are of course the world leaders and fierce rivals when it comes to chocolate production supremacy).

 

1 day in Brussels – the best chocolate in Brussels - The Brussels Journey beer and chocolate tour

 

Lively and helpful Brussels Journey guides, Julie and Baptiste, pointed out where to find the best chocolate in Brussels, and shared cool history and anecdotes along the way about all of Brussels favourite landmarks.

If you’ve only got a short time in the city, this walking tour is the way to go. You’ll maximise enjoyment and learning while making new friends and not have to wonder if you’re heading somewhere great.

I couldn’t tell you if any of the chocolate in Brussels is bad. All chocolate seems pretty great to me. For spending only 1 day in Brussels I certainly gorged on plenty of chocolate and enjoyed every bit.

 

1 day in Brussels – the best chocolate in Brussels - The Brussels Journey tour

 

Best chocolate in Brussels?

If you’re after ideas on where to get the best chocolate in Brussels, take The Brussels Journey tour, or keep an eye out for some of the best-known ones like:

Belvas | Chocopolis | Elisabeth | Frederic Blondeel | Godiva | La Belgique Gourmande | Lawrence | Mary | Pierre Marcolini | Passion Chocolat

 



 

Fun fact

We were amazed to discover that a fellow Queenslander from Toowoomba, Ryan Stevenson, actually took out the chocolatier of the year accolade back in 2012, right here in Brussels!

Watch this  interview with Ryan on the BBC to find out more about the industry.

 

1 day in Brussels - best beer in Brussels

 

1 day in Brussels – best beer in Brussels

Belgium is also very famous for its beers. It’s said you could spend four years here, drink a beer every day and not drink the same beer twice. That’s a LOT of choice.

Again, another reason to take a guided tour. We had so much fun sampling the best beer in Brussels with their team and our new friends on the beer and chocolate tour

Beer has been brewed here since the 12 Century. As for the story of chocolate, I was fascinated to find out that there’s so much more to beer than I imagined.

On The Brussels Journey tour we learnt about Trappist beers, which are a special kind of beer that must be brewed by monks, next to or within the walls of a Trappist monastery.

The beer brewing is the responsibility of the monks and some of their output is so unique that it’s nearly impossible to purchase! Extra limited edition, if you will. There are only 12 Trappist breweries in the world, six are in Belgium. No profit can be made from the sale of the beer, it must go back to the abbey or to a designated organisation.

Beer is a huge deal here, and actually really interesting. There’s many types of different beer, read more about that here.

The tour took the hassle out of trying to figure out what to do in Brussels in such a short amount of time, including which is the best beer in Brussels to try.

I’ve found an another interesting article on how to order beers in Brussels, the industry’s history and the types of Belgian beer here.

 

1 day in Brussels best dining

 

1 day in Brussels – make it big and make it count

We loved Brussels – it’s a cool little city with a big attitude.

Also BIG in Brussels:

– Fries, or Belgian frites – not to be confused with French fries! There’s even a museum dedicated to one of our favourite savoury snacks.

– The Palace of Justice in Brussels’ stunning Grand Place (main square) is the largest law court in the world!

– Brussels puts on BIG shows, like the Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter festivals in summer.

– It’s the home of comics, which is evident within street art around the city. For a different type of tour you can follow the Brussels comic strip route.

 

Dining tip

Within the city there’s an area known as the Restaurant Quarter. There’s plenty to choose from, but some is worth a splurge while others are not. The council addressed this by awarding plaques to places you should try. Keep an eye out for anywhere that boasts the ‘Maison Recommandée’ signs, as the image above depicts.

 

1 day in Brussels – our itinerary and top spots to visit

Highlights in our map include chocolate shops, beer stops and view points – take yourself on a wander around beautiful Brussels!

Enjoy – and do let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments.

 

Huge thanks to The Brussels Journey who let us collaborate with them to find out more about Brussels and discover what they offer in the city!

 

Tips, tricks, comments, or just love beer and chocolate? Let us know in the comments!

3 days in Lisbon travel itinerary

3 days in Lisbon travel itinerary

It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and offers wonderful glimpses into Portugal’s layers of time and influence – needless to say we were very excited to get going on our 3 days in Lisbon adventure!

It was the Age of Discovery when Portugal ruled the world, stretching a hand (as well as culture and language) across the globe, from Brazil to China, Africa and beyond.

Set upon seven hills, imagine old-world trams bustling along narrow, cobbled streets; grand architecture, quirky stores scaling hilltops, and colourful rooftops as far as the eye can see.

 

We flew in for a Christmas city break and managed to cram quite a bit into our 3 days in Lisbon itinerary.

I’ve shared our discoveries below, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to book a trip soon too.

3 days in Lisbon itinerary

 

“Welcome to Lisbon – a roller-coaster city of seven hills, crowned by a Moorish castle and washed in an artist’s pure light. Lisbon is cinematically beautiful and historically compelling. This is a capital city of big skies and bigger vistas; of rumbling trans and Willy Wonka-like elevators; of melancholic fado song and live-to-part nightlife. Edge, charisma and postcard good looks, Lisbon has the lot!” –Kerry Christiani, Lonely Planet Lisbon Pocket Guide 

 

3 days in Lisbon - building art and beautiful views from Alfama

 

Understanding the layout

In your research on travel to Lisbon, you’ll find there’s a few main areas within the city’s old ‘centre’ and along the waterfront.

These areas of interest include:

  1. ‘Old town’ Alfama, Castelo and Graça: cobbled streets and amazing views from Castelo de São Jorge, Largo das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Usually reached by tram from streets around Rossio and Baixa.
  2. Rossio and Baixa, Lisbon’s riverfront gateway sitting below Alfama, with bustling trams, Elevador de Santa Justa and the charming Praça do Comércio to name just a few highlights.
  3. Bairro Alto and Chiado, particularly good for dining and nightlife. These areas are along the waterfront and within easy walking distance of Rossio and Praça do Comércio – all of this is close together and easy to explore on foot.
  4. Belém, a little further along the waterfront and overlooking the Ponte 25 de Abril (bridge); with its pastries, and historical charms like Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower on the banks of Tagus River, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) celebrating travellers from the Portuguese Age of Discovery.

Here’s how we divided our time, focused on the areas outlined above:

 

3 days in Lisbon, day one

We stayed not far from Rossio Square (pictured below), overlooking São Jorge Castle.

This was a perfect spot for exploring a large portion of the older part of town around Rossio and Baixa on foot. Or you can easily catch a tram around here, including the famous no. 28.

 

3 days in Lisbon - overlooking Rossio Square from Santa Justa Lift

 

Day one on your 3 days in Lisbon itinerary is best spent getting your bearings in this area.

Start early at Santa Justa lift to avoid the queues. Head up high and take a look around this beautiful city.

From here, you can also get an early start on the trams including the no. 28 which is famous for the pretty and historical route it takes; also the tourist options like the Yellow buses or trams (very good value for a 48 or 72 hour pass, if you ask us), or wander around and go shopping.

On your adventure, head for (or you’ll inevitably stumble upon) Praça do Comércio (pictured below), gateway to the lovely waterfront here.

There’s a romantic promenade along the front of the city, where you can enjoy excellent views looking back up onto the hills and Lisbon’s colourful canvas, plus out to sea where so many have taken to the waters for an adventure before you.

 

3 days in Lisbon - Praça do Comércio

 

Fascinating history and architecture

The reason I suggest you spend a little time in these parts along and around the waterfront, is so you can get a good sense of the rich history all around you.

In its heyday these parts of town were wealthy – some of the wealthiest in the world, in fact. This was thanks to trading happening in the 16th Century in gold, spices, silks and jewels among other things. Not to mention Portugal, alongside rival Spain, ruling half the world!

 



 

Fast forward to 9.40am on 1 November 1755 though – three major earthquakes hit as Lisbon’s residents celebrated Mass for All Saints Day.

These earthquakes triggered a devastating fire and tsunami, destroying much of the city. About a third of Lisbon’s 270,000 inhabitants died.

From this tragedy emerged a hero, Sebastiao de Melo, who set about reconstructing the city from the ashes. Together with architects and engineers, he made sure the city’s new design was earthquake-proof, and developed one of the world’s first grid systems that we see implemented in so many major cities to this day.

 

“We must bury the dead and heal the living.”

 

3 days in Lisbon - Cooper hanging about in Chiado

 

Surprising facts

There’s a lot I didn’t know about Portugal, and across our 3 days in Lisbon I continued to be more and more fascinated!

For instance, the country was run by a dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, who was prime minister between 1937 and 1968.

A contemporary of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, Salazar is remembered by some as the greatest figure in the Portugal’s history, but by others as keeping the country repressed and backwards.

Salazar was overthrown in 1974. Lisbon’s huge suspension bridge (resembles the Golden Gate in San Francisco and was built by the same company) was renamed Ponte 25 de Abril, or ‘April 25 Bridge’ (my birth date!) to mark the event.

Across the city there’s a fascinating legacy hailing from Lisbon’s Arabic roots – tiles, known as Azulejos.

These date as far back as the 13th Century, when the Moors invaded Portugal and Spain (per a contemporary map. The Moors secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th Centuries and used Azulejos to decorate plain walls of buildings. These beautiful little polished stones adorn old walls still. Thankfully not all was lost in 1755.

 

3 days in Lisbon - Azulejos tiles adorn many of the old walls of the city of Lisbon

 

I was also happy to learn that St Anthony was born here (coincidentally buried in Verona, Italy, where we are visiting in April). All through childhood, my mum used to tell us to ask St Anthony for help if we lost something.

Somehow, this always did the trick. The link to St Anthony here was more sentimental for me than anything else (and I did by mum a memento to thank her for all the times her advice helped me recover missing things). The Lisbon Sardine Festival (sardines and other canned fish are a BIG industry here) celebrates St Anthony’s life and brings everyone out into the streets for a party every June.

 

3 days in Lisbon - Mercado da Ribeira

 

Eating and drinking – quirky ideas for you

A couple of places that I wanted to find but that were closed over Christmas, and perhaps worth adding to your list, are the storybook-themed Fabulas and Pharmacia cafes/restaurants (in the Bairro Alto / Chiado area). Lisbon is known for offering quirky experiences to locals and visitors alike.

The TimeOut Market (Mercado da Ribeira, pictured above) is also within walking distance in Chiado – only about ten minutes walk from Praça do Comércio in fact.

It’s cool for an evening outing, with a large variety of food and drinks on offer to try. A word of warning, it’s definitely not the cheapest spot in town, although is definitely worth a visit.

 

3 days in Lisbon, day two

Whether you’re enjoying a self-guided tour on local transport or have taken advantage of one of the tour operators (the Yellow tour brand appears to have the upper hand in Lisbon in terms of tour options and best value), add Belém to your list for the day.

In Belém you can’t miss the romantic Coach Museum, stunning Jerónimos Monastery (pictured below) and Padrão dos Descobrimentos the inspired explorers’ monument that’s along the waterfront (in front of Jerónimos Monastery).

 

3 days in Lisbon - Jerónimos Monastery

 

Wander a bit further past the monument and you’ll come across the medieval Belém Tower (pictured below) which is fascinating for its architecture alone, not to mention its prime spot by the river.

There’s a lot to do in this little area that’s about twenty minutes from the centre of town. Give yourself time to deal with any queues at the monastery and tower.

 

3 days in Lisbon - Belem Tower

 

You can’t go to Lisbon and not try a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart).

They’re everywhere, sweet and delicious! Try at least one from Pastéis de Belém, where they’ve been making these according to a top-secret recipe since 1837.

 

3 days in Lisbon - custard tarts are a must-try

 

The city is best experienced from up high, so to wrap up your day, find a rooftop bar for a cocktail as the sun sets. Many hotels have their own roof bar, but the Mundial Hotel in the middle of the city near Rossio Square is well known, as is the luxe Topo (although this appears to be a summer destination).

If you’re up for it, there’s one more stop to make – pop into a Ginjinha shop like Ginginha Sem Rival around Rossio Square and enjoy a shot (or two) of this delicious and inexpensive local delight. It’s a sour cherry liqueur (tastes like Port) that has been served in the city since 1890, and it’ll knock your socks off if you have too many in a row.

Tip: Before your visit, have a look at the Discover Walks website. They offer a range of free and inexpensive walking tours of Lisbon, including around Belém, so you can gather all the knowledge and inside secrets from a local!

 

3 days in Lisbon, day three 

Today you might want to start early and catch a ride on the famous no. 28 tram.

Ride a lap and eventually get off in historical Alfama – it’s about a ten to fifteen-minute tram ride from the city centre (e.g. Rossio Square or Praça do Comércio) up into the hills.

Alfama is colourful, interesting and easy to get lost in, so give yourself time to find the best views. Trip happily along the cobbled streets, and visit the historical sites like São Jorge Castle or the Moorish Gateway, Largo das Portas do Sol that also offers postcard-perfect views.

 

3 days in Lisbon - views from Alfama

 

Tip: See if you can find the quirky and cool circus school Chapito, where you can eat or have a drink. The view is excellent and you might even witness a bit of a show.

 

Your last night

Back in town, head towards Praça do Comércio, the old place of international trade in the Age of Discovery and home for the Royal Family. It’s often lit up to showcase a magical spectacle.

Wander along the waterfront and then back up the hill towards Bairro Alto where there’s a few fun rows of streets that boast a selection of bars, restaurants and clubs.

Be careful though – we headed out for an innocent dinner but after being lured into a bar playing cool dance music, two free shots later (courtesy a generous barman), we ended up on a bigger night than anticipated. Oh who am I kidding? It was awesome!

 

3 days in Lisbon - Sarah Blinco exploring Lisbon's old streets

 

Where to stay

I did a lot of research trying to figure out the best area to stay in that was convenient to everything.

I settled on the stylish Lisboa Pessoa Hotel near Rossio Square, that’s nestled on a hilltop overlooking São Jorge Castle. I’d recommend the area and the hotel.

Visiting in December around Christmas time in Lisbon

It gets very busy in the summer season (May to August), and while it’s cooler in the autumn/winter months, everything is still open, and you’ll avoid the crowds.

Late December was cooler than we had anticipated. Take warm clothes.

There is sun though so that’s a bonus, but in the wind it is chilly.

Pretty much everything was open over Christmas though which was great (some places shut down for many days across the period). While you could spend so much more than 3 days in Lisbon, it’s a taster to get you ready for the next trip. That’s our thinking anyway!

As a city break at Christmas, it’s ideal. Busier even than Mallorca and definitely Ibiza – they have different things to offer at Christmastime though.

 

If you’ve been to Lisbon and have tips, please do share with us in the comments below. And any questions, you know where to find us.