The penultimate stop on my three-week interrailing trip was Budapest. And this was by far my favourite city. The buildings, weather, people and nightlife made it such a wonderful and memorable place.
We stayed at the Hostel Budapest Center, which was in a fantastic location, close to bars, restaurants and banks, etc. It was cheap, had free wifi and really friendly staff. It even offered a free postal service, so you could hand in all your postcards for the hostel to post. Great value place.
And the Mountains Echoed
This novel is like a series of short stories, woven together by the characters within them who touch on each other’s lives over generations and across different continents.
It starts in 1952 in rural Afghanistan with the story of young Abdullah who has taken on the role of bringing up his young sister, Pari, while his father tries to find work and his step mother tends to the baby she has recently given birth to. The two siblings are very close and have developed a special bond. The family struggles to make ends meet and one day, when the children’s step uncle visits from Kabul, he makes the father an offer, which will break poor Abdullah’s heart and tear his family apart.
The novel doesn’t dwell on this heartbreak, but moves on swiftly to the stories of other characters who are affected in some way or another by the father’s acceptance of his brother-in-law’s offer. It travels back and forth in time and in place from Afghanistan to Greece, Paris and the USA, finally returning to the two siblings who we met and fell in love with at the very beginning.
We are given a hint of what the novel might be about in the first chapter when the father tells Abdullah and Pari a story about a farmer Baby Ayub who is forced to give up his favourite child to the ‘div’ (demon) and consequently undertakes a long and onerous journey to challenge the creature and try to win back his son. It is this fable and its underlying theme that is threaded throughout And the Mountains Echoed.
View over Prague from Arpacay Hostel
We left Berlin and caught the train east. Having never been to the Czech Republic, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Prague. I found it to be a beautiful city with many interesting sights. I especially loved Charles Bridge with all its little market stalls.
My friends and I stayed at the Arpacay Hostel, which is in a perfect location. There are dozens of restaurants a few metres away and a tramline just down the road. This is a great hostel for anyone on a budget.
Another place I would recommend is the Cross Club/Bar. Although it’s about a 20 minute tram ride away from the centre, its quirky interior and friendly staff more than make up for the journey. With cheap beer and food served during the day and great music played at night, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Arpacay Backpackers Hostel Prague
The city that never sleeps
After three nights in Amsterdam, we arrived in Berlin, the city that never sleeps – literally! In the UK, the majority of bars and clubs are closed after 3am, however, in Berlin this would be regarded as completely strange. The clubs we visited opened on Friday evening and remained open until Monday morning. Fantastic!
- Suicide Circus – an open air club directly next to the Warschauer Str. Station. Entry €10.
- Felix – a club on the slightly more fancy side of Berlin with very expensive drinks. Located near the Brandenburger Tor (gate). Entry €12.
River by East Side Gallery
Chalet – similar to Suicide Circus. A club located in an old house with a mystical garden out back. Entry €10.
As well as the above clubs, we also went to some famous sites in Berlin. The East Side Gallery is a must and so are the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor (gate).
Berlin is known for its notorious club door policies. I would recommend always going in pairs and don’t act drunk or speak loudly in the queue. This way you are more likely to get in.
Asparagus, halloumi and new potatoes
Asparagus, halloumi and new potatoes
Our family loves this recipe, taken from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things… book. Sometimes we might have it with a piece of grilled fish, fried sea bass or simply with a poached egg on top.
The salty halloumi works brilliantly with the slightly caramelised asparagus and the tender potatoes. Add as much lemon juice as you like at the end to give a nice perky lift to your taste buds.
A nice, easy supper dish.
600–700g new potatoes, scrubbed or scraped
4–5 garlic cloves, unpeeled, bashed
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1–2 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley to finish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5. Cut the potatoes into small chunks. Put them in a large roasting tray with the garlic, add the olive oil and some salt and pepper and toss well. Roast for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, snap the woody ends from the asparagus and cut the spears into 3–4cm lengths. Cut the halloumi into 2cm cubes.
- Take the potatoes from the oven, add the asparagus and halloumi and toss to combine. You don’t want the tray to be too crowded – everything should be in a single layer. Return the tray to the oven for 15 minutes until the asparagus is tender and the cheese is starting to caramelise.
- Hugh recommends discarding the garlic, but we don’t like to waste it, so mash it and mix it into the ingredients.
- Add a generous spritz of lemon juice and toss everything again.
- Scatter with parsley, if using, and some more black pepper.
- Serve straight away with aforementioned, fish, egg or just a piece of sourdough bread.
Amsterdam is the first stop in my three-week trip around Europe. My three friends and I have just spent three days here and loved it.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city, filled with many streets and canals. It’s buzzing with people, culture and tasty cuisine. I would certainly recommend CAU, an Argentinian restaurant with a diverse menu. To anyone visiting this restaurant, I would advise you to have one of CAU’s small salads with a side of thin fries. Together these dishes came to around £12 and were worth every cent.
Another place to try is the Metroplitan Deli, which sells a wide range of foods from ice-cream to delicious pastries. Although it can be expensive, it’s definitely a shop worth visiting.
In terms of nightlife, we had a great time at a club called the Sugarfactory. Great music and atmosphere.
1012 JL Amsterdam
1012 JB Amsterdam
1017 PH Amsterdam
Before we met
If you want to read an unputdownable, fast-paced, easy-read thriller, this is a book for you.
Hannah is a New York-based British advertising executive who is whisked off her feet by a tall, dark, handsome and wealthy stranger, Mark, and marries him within seven months of meeting. She moves back to settle in London where he lives. She knows very little about him but is sure she’s found her Mr Right. Life is rosy. Mark runs his own successful business, he is loving, attentive and charming.
When Mark doesn’t return home one weekend from a business trip to New York, Hannah starts to worry. Worry soon turns into suspicion when she realises that he has been lying to her. She digs around in his files for information and questions his colleagues and friends about certain issues that don’t add up. Within days she has uncovered a nest of vipers about Mark’s past. The question is: how much of it is true? And that is what Hannah decides to find out.