Last February I had the chance to explore Austria’s capital guided by my local friends. Having been there before, I was surprised to see how many different layers the city has. There’s something for nature lovers, something for classicists, something for alternative crews… and for all kinds of foodies and coffee lovers. Here are my top coffee places in Vienna, awesome to go to for a quick bite and a caffeine fix.
This is a wonderful place for breakfast or brunch. It is in Margareten (which is also a great area to stay, full of cafés and young people), and their manu is both simple and tasty. With its minimalistic decoration and great window panes, it is a cozy little place to have your first coffee or chat with friends. I had a wonderful sweet potato omelet there, and the hot coco is also very good.
A very chic place for dinner and drinks, dim lights, comfy chairs and really good food. It is a little expensive, but worth it. They have everything from burgers and pasta to gnocchi and curry (which I had and was very tasty). Specially good for large groups of people.
This place is cool because it’s on a boat on the Danube. Although the interior is very pretty (long, shared tables and glass ceiling and walls), it is better to go here when the weather is good, because the terrace overlooking the river is closed in Winter. However, as the prices are a bit expensive, you can just try it for coffee and cake, they have really good cakes (try the carrot cake!).
If you’re looking for a very Viennese coffee experience, this is the place. This “konditorei” has it all from coffee to fancy food and exuberant cakes, all in an elegant three-store store building that’ll take you back to the Imperial days. Whether you’re going by yourself of with a small group, this place will make you feel instantly at home with their cozy corners and cozy chairs. As it is in the centre, you might get pretty cool views of Kärntner Straße from the upper floors.
This place claims to have the best pastries in Vienna. They probably do. This place’s food is prepared by grandmas and grandpas and they have all sorts of cakes and hot beverages, and the decorations and atmosphere are both great. Walls full of pictures, large sofas and low tables. The only downside is that it is usually booked for brunch, so plan ahead.
This is a place not many people know about, because it’s on top of an official building. You’ll have to go through security check and then climb all the way up to the little terrace where government employees have their lunch. The coffee and food are alright, but hey highlight of the place is the view. On summer there are tables on the terrace and in Winter, if you can stand it, you can still look at the city from the balcony.
“And yet [Edinburgh] establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will, they find no city of the same distinction.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
If I had to choose a place where it rains more than half of the year to live in, it would be Edinburgh. The clouds there seem to be heavier, immune to the strong winds, forever set upon every turret and tower in the city. Edinburgh’s Old Town just be one of the most mysterious and enigmatic places in the world. Great part of the city is built on mass graves and ancient graveyards, so it is no wonder that the city is still the centre of many urban legends and the “most haunted place in Europe”. However, it is also an astoundingly beautiful city, and it’s no surprise many writers have found inspiration while living there. I have been in Edinburgh two times now, during winter and Spring, and have visited some places that I’m sure any fellow book lover would love to hear about, so here we go:
The Elephant House
This is a big, comfortable café in which J.K. Rowling spent many hours writing and imagining the world of Harry Potter. There’s usually a queue to order and have a table, but if you’re a fellow potterhead, you just can’t miss it. Coffee and food are okay (the macchiato is really good), but it’s the vibe that is amazing. There are some locals there getting coffee or reading the table, but mostly there are HP fans looking around. The walls are covered in fan art (and elephants, hence the name) and the toilets are completely covered in quotes and messages from the fans. If you have some time to spare, it is a good idea to wait for a table, have coffee or breakfast and take a look around.
This graveyard is both creepy and amazing. It is amazing because of all the centuries of history buried there and because its connection with Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling took some of the names for her characters from some graves here. You can actually see Thomas Riddell’s stone and the place from where Sirius Black’s one was stolen (presumably by a fan). To go during the day I recommend taking a free walking tour of the city offered by Kick Ass Hostels, that’s the one I took and it was amazing (and staying there is a good idea if you’re on a budget). There are many legends about the graveyard, my favourites include (and read at your own risk) grave-robbing and the Mackenzie poltergeist.
And if you’re a bit more daring, Greyfriars Kirk is also open for midnight tours. When I was there I took a tour with City of the Dead tours, which also included a night visit to the South Bridge Vaults. Needless to say, I was scared out of my wits. But hey, it’s fun if you don’t have a heart condition.
The most famous landmark of the city. A 12th century castle built on top of an extinct volcano, Castle Rock.
The view you get from Castle Rock is pretty amazing too, so it’s worth the walk.
The Royal Mile, Victoria Street, the Grassmarket
These are the most picturesque and chic streets of Edinburgh. Rowling is said to have been inspired by the colorful and cramped houses and shops of Victoria Street to create Diagon Alley. Also, Princes Street has beautiful gardens and some of the finest architecture of the city, including Sir Walter Scott’s Monument.
All in all, Edinburgh is an amazing city, a vibrant mix of the old and the new (see, for example, The Frankenstein, an old church converted into a nightclub). It is also city with a huge literary history and you can visit the birthplaces of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, or recognize some of the iconic places from Welsh’s Trainspotting.
On April 2017 I took a bus to Cork from Victoria Coach Station in London. It was a fifteen-hour journey, leaving at dawn and arriving almost at noon the next day. It was my first trip completely alone—no friends to stay with, no acquaintances to meet once I was there, and a pretty tight budget—. When I got on the bus I was excited, but excitement soon gave way to tiredness when I realized the bus would stop almost every hour, we’d have to wait for new passengers or wait while there was a driver change. Nevertheless, I had two whole seats to myself, some food, music and a book with me. After ten days I would be leaving Cork to join some friends in Dublin, so I took Joyce’s Dubliners with me.
The bus would take a ferry from Fishguard, Wales, to Rosslare, Ireland, instead of going from Holyhead, near Liverpool, to Dublin, which I’ve been told is much faster, although more expensive. The way to Fishguard was about five hours and before we arrived there, almost half of the passengers had gotten off. At one stop we got to take a break outside the bus for some minutes and the few of us who were left, tired and hungry, started talking. An elderly lady who was sitting in front of me asked if that was going to be my first time in Ireland and, when I said yes, she told me she was from Cork. She’d been living for almost thirty years in England though, and now she was going to visit her nephew during the Easter holiday, in some small city near Cork. She looked happy to be going back.
Even before I arrived in Ireland, I noticed a distinctive nature among the Irish people on the bus, a kind of closeness and introverted warmth, a discreet friendliness. My new friend kept asking me things about Mexico and once the bus entered the ferry and we finally got off, she told me that het mother had served as a nurse during WWII. That’s why she had decided to become a nurse too. I made many fleeting friendships during my time in Ireland, all of the with very interesting stories to tell, but this one I still remember clearly. This lady also told me to go to Cobh and spoke for a long time about the Titanic.
Once in Cork, neck aching and a bit confused, I decided to walk all the way to the place that would be my home for the next ten days, just to get familiar with the city. The bus station is right in front of the River Lee, which crosses the city and flows to the East, into the Celtic Sea. So the first thing I did in Cork was to cross the Lee, with a giant backpack on my shoulders, to go north, towards Dillons Cross. From there, passing through St Luke’s, I directed my steps towards down to the river everyday. The city centre is literally embraced by two thin arms of the Lee, right before they unite again, running West, towards the limits of the county Cork.
The centre, at first sight, did not look very appealing. But the more I went through its wide streets and narrow, crooked alleys, gardens and decks, the more I realized that it was really quite different from other European cities I’d visited. There was some weird irreverence about it. The nickname of the city, I learned later, is “the rebel city” because of its support for the House of York during the War of the Roses. And this defiance is notorious, like an effort to set itself aside both from Dublin and Britain. Cork is what we call now “alternative”, with walls filled with street art and stickers everywhere, bars and pubs that promote indie bands, a great diversity of urban characters in outfits that range from punk and goth to quirky. It is as if a second city, a grunge one, positioned itself on top of the religious, gothic architecture, as if a coat of colour covered the grey vestiges of the middle ages. And the city is vibrant, even under the ever-cloudy, almost-always-rainy sky.
Not very far, following the river east, there is Blackrock Castle, a military fortress that later became an observatory, looking northwards. The castle has been modified and reconstructed plenty of times since its construction in the 17th century and, more than a majestic structure, it simply looks like a part of the landscape, with its grey, almost black, bricks agains the grayish blue of the river and the even grayer blue of the sky. Close to the castle (and inside the castle itself) there are many restaurants, cafés and tea rooms from where one can get a nice view of the castle and the river, which is bursting with life during spring.
Going further to the West, still following the river, there is Cobh (pronounced, I was told, like Cov), a little port town, the last place in which the Titanic called before sinking. I arrived there by train and it took like 20 minutes or so. Cobh looks like a little mountain, and on its top stands a spectacular gothic cathedral, the kind you only see in Ireland, and around it lie hundreds of little colourful houses. Here the river flows into the Celtic Sea and hundreds of boats and ships crowd the docks. When I visited Cobh, the sky was clear and the sun shined, although the wind didn’t stop blowing. Cobh’s beaches are of large stones that the sea strikes furiously, there is little sand and walking there is a bit tricky since there are many broken glass bottles among the rocks. But the view makes it worth it. After walking for a while, I went back the centre of the town, full of children and their parents buying ice cream at the many colorful stands near the beach. Only a few minutes from the city of Cork, Cobh seemed to me a very different place, calmer and, despite the vocational atmosphere, more formal (or perhaps just a bit less rebellious) than Cork.
Time after, very far away from Ireland and the cold seas, I read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the book, there is a part in which Stephen Dedalus and his father walk through Cork, among pubs, restaurants and theaters. The impressions of the city that Stephen gets are always related to blooming trees and sun streets, and he ponders over his father’s rebellious youth. Certainly I cannot think of Cork as a sunny place— while I was there the weather changed constantly and almost always the wind blew with playful strength. However I do remember it as rebellious, filled with laughter and people drinking wine in the park. A city of carefree beauty, careless and almost defiant.
When I left Cork to go north, I realized it was a unique place, even in Ireland. It was different from all the places I visited near Killarney, near the beaches of Bantry and Kenmare, different too from Dublin, which beats to a different tempo. And different too were the people I met in Cork, friendly, just rightly extroverted, always looking for things we had in common, with a national pride that didn’t seem to impose barriers between us and, with a particular talent to tell stories or, rather, to tell of any event as if it was the most interesting thing in the world (and some of them were, too).
While I stayed in Cork I also visited some other parts of the centre and south of Ireland, but apart from a long trip along the coast towards Killarney National Park and back, I preferred to stay in Cork, get familiar with it and save money for the next adventure, a road trip around Scotland with five friends and a complete stranger. While I was in Cork I though that the worst that could happen would be that we’d end up hating each other. I did not think of the dangers of going north in early spring without a clear plan or no phone signal, or of the frightening freedom of not knowing exactly where we’d end up next, or that my sneakers might not be appropriate for the weather and the roughness of the Highlands.
However, my time in Cork gave me a discreet confidence in traveling alone, as well as it taught me, quite cruelly, about the disadvantages of traveling heavy. I arrived there with a 20 kilogram backpack and left with around 13 kilograms, having had to get rid of uncomfortable shoes, books and shampoo bottles to board the train being able to carry my backpack. Since then I believe I am more careful with shopping, although not as much as I’d like. So I took a train from Cork to Dublin, the meeting point and last stop in Ireland, to then go north in search of some mountains and some more adventures.
Places to visit in Cork City:
St Finn Barre’s Cathedral
Cork City Gaol
Crawford Art Gallery
The English Market
If you’re in Cork you could also do day trips to:
The Ring of Kerry
Have you been in Ireland?
What did I miss? Would love to hear from you on the comments!
I arrived in Nottingham not knowing what to expect. Before this trip I had spent some time in England—in Cambridge, London and some other places north and south—,but the Midlands remained unknown to me. I had heard of the city only in relation with Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart and Sherwood Forest. When I arrived, on a bus from London in the middle of the night, my first glimpses of the city were not quite the best. A dirty bus stop and an empty street. And damp cold. However, my first morning there made me realise that Nottingham is one of those cities that transform from day to night and from weekdays to weekends.
On Market Square, a modern explanada with fountains and a few slender trees in front of the City Hall, a big ferries wheel occupied most of the space and that’s now one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Notts. Even though it’s there for just one season, the wheel against the grey skies and the white building behind is a charming sight. During my stay, the wheel was my friend’s meeting point when exploring the many cafés and tea rooms in the city centre. Though the streets that encircle around Market Square are filled with fast food chains and phone repair shacks, a short walk in any direction will lead to more colorful, narrow streets where pubs, little cafés and handicrafts shops abound. My favorite street is Pelham street, even when it’s dangerously close to Primark.
Boy, did I spend time here. It’s a small and cosy coffee shop that also offers cakes, breakfast and lunch. The service is great. This is the perfect spot to have lunch with friends or a quiet time by yourself with a book, some tea and banana bread (which I specially recommend). It is also a great spot to look around; one of my favourite things about Nottingham was the variety of people that live there and that walk past Pelham Street (where Fox is) every day! Guys in black leather outfits, girls with corsettes and piercings, tattoos everywhere, guys with cardigans that looked out of the Hamptons, girls that look Instagram-famous, elderly couples in the most British jumpers, loud children, young couples with several Primark bags, slender cyclist and lots of university alumni in jumpers.
It’s a little bakery almost in front of Fox Café, which serves some of te finest cakes I’ve tasted in my life. They have a huge variety of cakes (even vegan and so on) and they’re all really good. I used to go there with two or three friends and each one of us would ask for a different cake, then we’d share. The place is small and a bit crowded during weekends though. You can also have a good brunch here.
I wish I had spent more time here, it’s a fancy bar beautifully decorated and with a cool terrace. It’s good to start a night out (though a bit expensive) or play some board games over drinks, if you’re in a quieter mood.
There are plenty of traditional pubs in the city centre and close to the Castle (like Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, supposed to be the oldest pub in England, or The Pit & Pendulum, named after Poe’s short story, an eerie kind of place).
Okay, so this place is famous because of Batman. This Elizabethan country house was featured in The Dark Knight Rises as Bruce Wayne’s mansion. But apart from that, it’s a magnificent piece of architecture and currently a creepy taxidermy museum. There’s a gift-shop and a restaurant where you can hang around once you’ve walked around one of my favorite jogging and reading spots in Notts: Wollaton Park. There are plenty of trees, a trail and a lake. It is beautiful during Winter and Summer, and there are red deer hanging around. In a sunny day, this is the perfect place for a picnic and even during the colder months you could walk around or sit on the benches and do some deer-watching. I had never been so close to deer in my life and they are such beautiful, graceful creatures. So yes, this is a must.
This is the famous forest where Robin Hood and his Merry Men lived, as the story goes. It is also the home of the Major Oak! A very huge and very old tree where Robin Hood supposedly slept. Legend aside, the tree is like 10 meters high and between 800 and 1000 years old. Nowadays it is supported by some metallic structure, but it’s still majestic. The forest in general is a quiet, nice place. There are many species of birds flying around, as well as rabbits and squirrels. There are also camping and dining areas with tables and a gift shop at the entrance.
You can also take a look around the University of Nottingham, University Park Campus, a vast extension of land around period buildings, cafeterias and cafés where you can get very good chicken curry (at Portland Building), or head to the Lakeside Arts Club to see a play or listen to some live music.