Active in Portland | 48 hours

It’s taken me a bloody long time to write up this guide… but better late than never, right? I can’t stop gushing about this city to everyone – I’d go as far as calling it my favourite city in the US, and I’d definitely pack up my bags and leave London for it. Portland’s got everything – from the food and drink, the cool neighbours, and forest hikes right on its doorstep. 48 hours is long enough to scratch the surface of the city but will leave you wanting more.

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The lowdown

It’s Oregon’s largest city and is located along the west coast of the United States. It’s named after Portland in Maine after a coin toss back in 1845 when the city was just a settlement, otherwise, the city would have been called Boston.

Much of Downtown Portland is pretty flat, and on clear days, you can see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens on the horizon.

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Best time to visit

Head to Portland in the summer months (June till August) – the days are long and thankfully dry, you might have heard a rumour that it rains a lot in Portland.

I’m definitely planning a visit to head back in July for their Oregon Brewers Festival. But regardless of the weather, there’s always tonnes to do.

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Where to stay

Head to the Northwest District – it’s an area full of old craftsman-style houses which are packed tightly together with grand apartment buildings within walking distance from restaurants, bars and shops. It’s got that perfect small village feel within a city.

I stayed at the HI-Portland within ‘Alphabet district,’ which gets its nickname from the streets, which run parallel in alphabetical order. It’s got an amazing location, with decent restaurants and bars on its doorstep, plus all the top sights are within walking distance and it’s such good value for the money.

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What to do whilst you’re there

Get lost in a good book at Powell’s City of Books – although I can’t guarantee that you won’t actually get lost in this shop, so make sure you pick up a map on your way in. It’s the size of an entire block and it’s the world’s largest and used bookshop with over 1 million books across 3,500 different sections. I could easily spend all day here nursing a cup of coffee in their cafe.

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Lace up your walking boots and escape to Forest Park. Located northwest of Downtown Portland, it’s one of the largest urban parks. It’s no surprise Portland’s got a rep for being green as this 5,000-acre park is just a short distance from a freshly brewed cup of coffee or a microbrewery to quench your thirst. If I had more time in Portland, I would definitely hike the 30-mile Wild Wood Trail which winds through the park.

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Browse Portland’s artisanal wares at the Saturday market. Located in Waterfront Park, the market is a pretty popular destination for local handcrafted goods. From food carts, live music, cheese, knitted clothing, paintings and incense – it’s all there and then some, it is home to over 250 small businesses after all.

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Where to eat and drink

You really can’t write a guide to Portland without mentioning Voodoo Doughnuts. Head here after browsing the Saturday Market where you can grab some pretty avant-garde creations. Their namesake is the Voodoo Doughnut, shaped like a voodoo doll (of course) which oozes red jelly, whilst their official doughnut for the city is the googly-eyed Portland Creme.

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During my visit to Portland, I stayed at close to the hostel as possible when going out for dinner, and because of that, I stumbled upon The Matador. It’s a Mexican restaurant in Northwest Portland but let’s be honest, anywhere that serves complimentary chips and salad is going to be a winner in my eyes.

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Portland is known as the Craft Beer Capital of the World and the city has earnt the nickname ‘Beervana’ – and that’s actually one of the main reasons why I choose to visit. The best way to visit these Brewpubs are by bike – there are loads of places around the city where you can simply rent a bike, or book into a tour. Either way, you need to try Black Pedal, 10 Barrel Brewing and Fat Heads.

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How much does it cost?

The average price of a meal in a restaurant without alcohol is $15, and a pint can set you back around $6.

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Active in Milan

From it’s Renaissance architecture of Church of Santa Maria, to its postcard-pretty canals in Navigli, to the heavenly gold hue of the Risotto Milanese, and a catwalk-highstreet scene which makes every day seem like Fashion Week – Milan has it all. Add to that a glorious climate, Prosecco on tap, and the fact that the beautiful, natural lakes of Nothern Italy are just a short train ride away – it ticks all the boxes for a weekend break.

My sister and I jumped on a 5:30am plane (ouch) last Saturday to visit my cousin, who has recently moved to Milan after spending her Erasmus year there. She was official tour guide and translator; the perfect way to visit a city is to be taken around by a local.

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The Lowdown

Located in Northern Italy, just south of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s industrial powerhouse and is at the heart of European fashion. It has been ruled by the likes of the Caesars and Napoleon, so it has a fascinating cultural history. But these days it leads the way with the largest post-war redevelopment in Italy whilst keeping most of its historical past intact.

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Where to Stay

South-west of the city centre lies the Navigli District, which plays host to bars which spill out onto the street with unmatchable aperitivo offerings, and an emerging art scene which really adds to the area’s cobbled-street charm. My sister and I booked a charming studio flat on AirBnB complete with exposed brick walls and a juliet balcony – I’d die happy if I could find a place like this in London.

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What to do whilst you’re there

If you’re visiting Milan on a weekend, spend one of your days exploring the city by foot and start your sightseeing trip by visiting Milan’s most famous landmark, The Duomo. It’s a magnificent white, Gothic cathedral, which is home to more statues than any other in the world. You can even climb the steps to the roof, where you can enjoy spectacular 360 views over the city.

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Just to North of the cathedral, lies the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centre, where you can find the likes of Prada, Gucci and Ferrari. It’s four stories tall and highly decorated in marble with glass domed ceilings.

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Castello Sforzesco is a must-see and is home to lakes and the most luscious green lawns I have ever seen in Italy. For a city that doesn’t shout about its history (unlike Rome, Florence and Venice do to excess), it’s the perfect place to visit and really gain a sense of Milan as it hosts 12 mini-museums.

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Jump on a tram and head South until you reach the Prada Foundation, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art. Make sure you get an Aperol Spritz from Bar Luce which was designed by Wes Anderson. It’s full of colour-blocked Formica tables, whimsical wallpaper and themed pinball machines and junk boxes – it could be easily be plucked from a glossy set.

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Dedicate a day and head north out of Milan to Lake Como. We visited the quaint village of Varenna which is made up of pastel-coloured houses dotted along the steep slopes that rise from the lake.

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Where to eat

Exploring Milan with an adopted Milanese meant that we were taken to places which were off the beaten track – and the locals all lunch at Luini which is just a stone throw away from The Duomo. It’s a hole-in-the-wall takeaway eatery, where they serve panzerotti – a fried dough parcel which is stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella, I’d call it Italian street food. It’s greasy and oh so bad for you, but it’s incredible.

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I had one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had at Pizza AM and it’s somewhere I would have never ventured to without my cousin and her Italian pals, where I learnt that it’s sacrilege to put meat on a pizza (whoops). But be prepared to queue for your dinner here, but as you wait, they will bring you a slice of Margarita and a glass of Prosecco! I was shocked when the whole meal came to €16 per person – and someone told me Milan was expensive.

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On the doorstep of our apartment in Navigli, was MAGs Cafe. If you’re in this area for breakfast I’d highly recommend grabbing a custard croissant and cappuccino (fun fact: the plural for cappuccinos is actually cappuccini). It’s also the perfect place to grab a cocktail in the evening and watch the sunset over the canal.

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Milan is during April to May or late September to October. Visiting during the spring and autumn months means you can avoid the summer’s scalding temperatures.

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How much does it cost?

Milan is more expensive than many other cities in Italy, purely because it’s the country’s business centre. We were however taken around Milan by locals, so managed to do it on the cheap – and actually brought Euros home with us for a change! A coffee will set you back €2 and a beer or spitz in a bar or restaurant will cost around €6.

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Active in Warsaw

Visiting Warsaw was never high on my bucket list. Before jumping on the plane, I didn’t research Poland and all I knew about the city is that it saw terrible events of WW2. So, I imagined it to be a depressing city without much character. I didn’t even look at a single travel book about Warsaw (because there actually isn’t one). There’s a part  of me that loves the feeling of travelling to a place that you have no previous impressions of!

My mum, sister and I decided to have a girly weekend away and our decision to go to Warsaw was based purely on the cost as the flights and accommodation was dirt cheap.

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The lowdown

Warsaw is the Polish capital and it’s unfortunate location has meant that it’s struggled a lot through the past centuries. For a traveller, Warsaw’s turbulent history, beautiful architecture,  abundance of green spaces, cheap eateries and quirky bars are a massive draw.

It’s further off the beaten track and Karkow appears to be the tourist hotspot of Poland, but Warsaw’s got a more local and authentic feel to it, don’t waste another second overlooking it.

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Where to stay

Stay in Praga, which is located in the east of Warsaw just over the Vistula River. It’s an incredible district which is overflowing with studios and galleries, and many hidden underground clubs and bars. Much of the post-industrial buildings in Praga survived the war and it’s here where you can find some beautiful pre-war streets and apartment blocks.

We stayed in a two bed apartment that we booked on AirBnB – it was incredibly spacious and it was complete with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. It was also next to this fab cafe, Halas, which just sold coffee, vinyls and banana bread.

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What to do whilst you’re there

One of the most remarkable things in Warsaw’s skyline is the Palace of Culture and Science, dubbed as ‘Stalin’s Penis’. It’s aggressive but is a beautiful piece of Soviet architecture. If you fancy it, you can take a lift up to the 30th  floor for a 360 view of the city.

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The Old Town of Warsaw has literally risen from the ashes and to say that it was hit badly by WW2 would be an understatement. It was completely flattened during the uprising and only two building survived! The buildings here are beautiful and it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the originals. Craft beer is something the Poles know how to do well, so after you’ve wandered around the old town, put your feet up and have a pint at Same Krafty.

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If you’re not staying in Praga seriously consider taking the tram and a day to explore this district. Make sure you head to the SoHo Factory as it’s where designer shops and incredible restaurants are located (but more on the food later), alongside the Neon Museum. It’s an overwhelming experience of colours and shapes which date back to the Soviet time and are collected from all over Poland.

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Another incredible museum to visit is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is a modern and interactive look into the story which shaped the city forever. It’s heartbreaking and expect to walk around the building with goosebumps and tears in your eyes.

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Where to eat

You can’t head to Warsaw without trying some Polish food so trying pierogi’s at Goscciniec is a must. It’s a small restaurant located in the Old Town and their traditional food is fresh, hot and delicious. We had piergois with spinach and cheese, and potato dumplings stuffed with pork.

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Wandering around Warsaw we found a lot of Italian restaurants or places serving up Italian inspired dishes. If you’re in the eastern part of the city head to Pausa Włoska and make sure you save enough room for dessert because you don’t want to miss out on their tiramisu.

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And if you find yourself in the western part of Warsaw, then hit up BYC Moze. Locals love it because you can get your hands on fresh bread, buns and cakes. We loved it for their creamy risotto and breaded turkey with the smoothest mash. It’s complete with communal tables and floor-to-ceiling windows. The perfect place to take a pit shop, rest your feet and people watch whilst you bathe in the light that comes streaming through the windows.

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On our last day we headed the SoHo Factory where we stumbled into Warszawa Wschodnia for brunch. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you’re lucky you can sit around the open kitchen and watch the chefs cook your food in front of you. I had the best eggs benedict that I’ve ever had here. It was so rich and creamy, plus it only cost £3!

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Best time to visit

We were incredibly lucky with the weather when we went in March. We were told by many people that it would be freezing but we actually didn’t need all our thick, woolly layers. To get the best out of the Polish weather, visit in the summer.

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How much does it cost?

I can’t get over how cheap Warsaw is! When we went the exchange rate was 5 Polish Zloty to every pound. A pint of craft beer costs around £1 and we were constantly dining out. We have so many 3 course dinners, bottle(s) of wine, cocktails and even some shots of vodka and the most we ever spent on dinner was £30 a head.

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Active in Rome | How to Spend a Weekend in Rome on a Budget

I went to Rome last weekend, and I definitely learned that sometimes, spontaneity is best. For a meticulous planner like myself, the idea of not booking a hotel and flights at least 3 months before a trip is crazy. I like to have it all mapped out – where I’m going, where I’m going to stay, and most importantly, where I’m going to eat.

I tore up my rule book last and jumped on a last minute plane heading to Rome to visit Scott (as he is currently travelling around Europe). The flights cost a small fortune, so I had a tight budget for when I landed. Going to Rome with limited funds may seem like an almost impossible task but they are plenty of ways to enjoy its sight, without breaking the bank. Here is how I spent three glorious days in the capital of Italy..

Getting into the City

Before my trip began I read everywhere that taxis into the city are incredibility expensive and rip tourists off (shock). The buses are by far the cheapest way to go and will take you right to the main train station in Rome for €6.

Where to Stay 

Scott and I booked ourselves into a cute little apartment a stone-throw away from the Colosseum through Airbnb. The one thing I love about airbnb is that you usually have your own kitchen – meaning you can have a lot of your meals come at a faction of the cost because you’re not dinning out.

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Roma Pass – Is it worth it?

For €40 you’ll get free entry to 2 museum or archaeological sites of your choice and free use of the city’s public transport network.

Personally I don’t think it’s worth it. Firstly transport to and from the airports aren’t included so you’ll have to fork out for this separately. Secondly, Rome is best seen on foot – you’ll be amazed what you’ll see by simply wandering around. Scott and I didn’t actually go into any museums or archaeological sites, and most of the sites can be seen from a far. Scott, being a bit of a history buff, was my walking tour guide so I didn’t feel that I missed out on anything.

The Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, Spainish Steps, Pantheon, and The Piazza Navona are some of Rome’s top attractions – not to mention they don’t cost a penny.

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Food

It can be extremely easy to get carried away when dinning out anywhere – especially in Rome. If you’re on a really tight budget, pack sandwiches in your rucksack for lunch. Scott and I found a couple of local sandwich shops and ate our lunch along the river.

If you love food like me, it’s really hard to strike the right balance (and this is usually where I blow all my money). Dinner is the one meal of the day where we decided to treat ourselves and even then we were careful to only spent €15 each. Cutting back on the alcohol really helped keep costs low.

One night we visited a restaurant near our apartment called Luzzi. If you’re looking for a cheap and tasty meal this is definitely the place to go, so it’s no surprise is popular with families and large groups.

And of course, when in Rome don’t deny yourself that ice-cream.

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