Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen

Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen

We love Copenhagen. Everything about it just oozes understated style and sophistication. It is effortlessly cool. Bars and restaurants (or at least the ones we’ve visited) are contemporary without being up themselves. Shops are largely of the independent variety, and always seem to be owned by people with exquisite taste. The city is clean. Cyclists are definitely more important than motorists here – the infrastructure is actually geared up for people on two wheels, rather than four. Imagine that in England!

But there is one part of Copenhagen that’s very different – much more rough around the edges, than areas like Vesterbro (named by Lonely Planet in 2017 as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods), Nørrebro or Frederiksberg. Freetown Christiania, in the borough of Christianshavn, is a definitely in a world of its own. A real one-off. Created in a squatted military area in 1971, the anarchist spirit of Christiania quickly developed, in stark contrast to the site’s previous military use. Nowadays, approximately 900 people live in the car-free area, in a community that has its own rules and regulations, largely independent of the Danish government.

Since its opening, Christiania has been famous for its open cannabis trade, taking place in the aptly named and centrally located Pusher Street, in the so-called Green Light District. However, there is much less evidence of this trade these days, as many residents are now campaigning to clear Christiania of all drug activity. Although whispers of marijuana deals can still be heard within The Green Light District, locals have appealed to the people of Copenhagen, and visitors, asking them not to buy drugs in Christiania.

The whole area has a very relaxed feel, almost festival-like, in places. However, as a visitor, there are certain things that are good to know about – probably the main one being about taking (or not) taking photographs. However, tempting it is, try and resist snapping away on Pusher Street – and take notice of the sign at the entrance…

Taking photos is forbidden because buying and selling hash is still illegal.

Running – yes, really – is a no-no, too in Christiania, and very much discouraged. Another sign says ‘running causes panic’. Freetown Christiania is a peaceful area and if you’re just strolling about, taking in the sights, you’ll have little to worry about, but due to the cannabis trade, police raids take place quite often. Consequently, residents came up with the ‘Don’t Run’ rule especially for the area around the cafés, bars and restaurants where most people gather, so as to minimise commotion and painc. Keep your pace slow and steady, and you’ll be fine. It probably also goes without saying too, that it’s not the best idea to try and make any purchases on Pusher Street…

Christiania is colourful – buildings which have been taken over, are generally covered in artwork and grafitti. Everywhere you look, is a feast for your eyes. In fact, for all of your senses. But, cross the wooden bridge – Dyssebroen – that connects Christiania’s main area (Christianshavn Side) to the Amager side, and everything seems a lot more peaceful. Take a walk among the trees, where the locals’ colourful houses are dotted along the waterfront. In this are of Christiania, you’re free to take photos. And even run, if you feel like it 😉 Some of the houses are ramshackle, cobbled together structures, which look as if they could blow away in a strong wind. Some are very cutesy and some look very architect designed. All sorts of materials are used to create these houses – and no two look the same. I’m not sure if I could live in one of them, but hats off to the residents for creating and developing such an interesting area. Up on leaving Christiania, you’re left in doubt that you are leaving a little independent state and re-entering the “real world”. As the sign at the exit says,

And indeed, just blocks away, you’ve arrived at Noma. A contrast, if ever there was one…

Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo

Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo

On trips to Bergamo, we’ve regularly meant to eat at Il Circolino, just off Via Colleoni, up in Citta Alta. But, we’ve never done it. It’s always looked interesting. The menu has always appealed. It’s definitely inexpensive. But, in such a small city, with just so many options to explore, there’s always somewhere else to go. We always say, “We must go!” but every time we’ve decided to go, somewhere else turns our heads. Until our last trip, a couple of weeks ago.

And, do you know what, we’ve been missing out on one the best experiences we’ve ever had in Bergamo. That is how good it is!

Once through the big old wooden front doors, you enter a large-ish dining/bar area. When we visited – a Wednesday lunch time, in early January, this room was packed with locals. Some eating. Some drinking coffee and reading the day’s paper. Some with a glass of wine. Because we’d decided that this time we had to eat here, we were a bit crest-fallen, as it didn’t look like we’d be getting a table anytime soon. However, we were immediately whizzed through this room, and around a corner and into a number of cavernous dining areas. We simply hadn’t expected anything of this size – and again, all areas were packed, largely with locals – and we were lucky to get a table for two. Once seated, we were able to appreciate the amazing surroundings. If I’d had been told the building used to be a convent or a monastery or a church, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Ancient frescoes, which had clearly been uncovered during a renovation phase, were clear to see on the ceilings…

Frescoes : Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

And under the frescoes, tables and tables of chatting Italians, all clearly completely familair with the surroundings. (Tourists, like us, were easy to spot, with phones held aloft, snapping away at the interiors and the food and the general buzz).

Proof they are locals – no-one else taking photos. Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

This bar/restaurant is a co-operative, founded in 1981 by Aldo Ghilardi and fourteen others. According to the Bergamo website,

Il Circolino is the historic headquarters of the Città Alta Cooperative, born as a meeting place and then became a real social enterprise with the aim of keeping the community united in the light of the new economic and social transformations. Il Circolino is recognised as an Aggregation Centre for Seniors, who can frequent without any obligation to consume in a climate of conviviality. The Cooperative is committed, with the profits made from the restaurant, to multi-sport activities, job placements, cultural events, and volunteering.

We really liked this and dug a little bit deeper, to find out what the building had actually been. And what a surprise. Not a church, or a covent. A prison! And even more ticks, when the menus arrived, as just a look at them, told us that they were DagStyle menus. A bit of We Are Life Design geekiness, there – but we just know that if a restaurant has DAG menus, the food will be good. We’ve never been disappointed so far!

Italian DAG Menus – this bodes well…

The menu, it’s fair to say, was absolutely fabulous in terms of choice and price. All produce is local – I’d guess the provenance could be traced to almost the immediate locale – and we were amazed at the prices. In fact, so amazed, that had the food been a bit average, we’d still have been impressed. But, it was AMAZING. And judging by the turnover of diners, we’re not the only ones who thought this. A daily set menu is available, but I like a little bit more flexibility sometimes, and so we ordered off the normal menu. A huge basket of warm fresh bread and delicious olive oil was delivered quickly, with the house wine we’d ordered. And when I think what we paid for this house wine, compared to the rubbish you get back in the UK, for a comparable price, it makes me so happy that we can get to experience things like this, as the norm, now.

Polenta Taragna with Porcini Mushrooms // Scarpinocc de Parr with Melted Butter & Sage

Says it all really…

The turnaround in this restaurant is incredible. We certainly didn’t feel we were being rushed, and so it was clearly testimony to the efficiency of the operation that as soon as one table was finished, it was cleaned down, set up and the next diners seated. Sometimes lunchtime meals can be a bit soulless, especially if in a cavernous setting – but the buzz of chatter (no music) meant that this was a lovely experience. In fact, so lovely was it, that we didn’t want to leave. Even though tables were being turned around quickly, the staff never made us feel as if we couldn’t just savour the moment. So, more wine was ordered and the dessert menu perused. We’re not greedy, mind you. It was only lunchtime (and we still had evening meal to consider!) so it was a dessert with two spoons…

Apparently, in the summer, this place is just even more wonderful, with a fabulous outdoor terrace. So, whatever time you might go – day/night, summer/winter –  we cannot recommend this hidden gem any more highly.

Il Circolino, Vicolo Sant’Agata 19, 24129 Bergamo Italy

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

Although we know most of the north of England fairly well, we weren’t aware of Brimham Rocks. How did we not know about them?

Found on Brimham Moor in North Yorkshire, England the rocks began taking their shape roughly 320 million years ago, when water, grit, and sand washed down from Scotland and Norway to form the land of Yorkshire. However it was a much more recent event, during the last glacial period, (the Devensian glaciation, roughly 73,000 BC to 10,000 BC) that would shape the rocks into the bizarre silhouettes you see today. As the last of the giant ice age glaciers melted they created the ripples and waves on the rocks, creating sculpted looking forms. Since then, rain and wind have further eroded the strange rock formations seen throughout the area. Atlas Obscura

Located about 10 miles north west of Harrogate, where we were staying, we visited on a freezing cold January day. It was a great time to discover this area of outstanding natural beauty, as literally no-one else was mad enough to be out in the sub-zero tempertures, so we were able to explore on our own. Before the snow came down, the views from the rocks, across the Yorkshire countryside were stunning – we could even see the infamous “golf ball” structures, away in the distance over at the RAF base at Menwith Hill.

The rock structures are really quite amazing – paths lead you through a maze of balancing rock formations, many of which look as if they are about to topple over. Sculpted by 320 million years of ice, wind, and the movement of entire continents, they have taken on weird and wonderful shapes. Many have taken on familiar appearances – the Dancing Bear, the Gorilla, the Eagle and the Turtle, and the Smartie Tube. For the more nimble, there are also the Rocking Stones – try and balance on these!

Opening times do vary, both across the National Trust site and over the year, so do check before you set off as you may have a wasted journey. Parking facilities are available – £6 for 4 hours or £8 per day, at the time of writing.

Not too far from Brimham Rocks, and definitely close enough to visit in the same day, is the beautiful Fountains Abbey, one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England

If you do ever find yourself in North Yorkshire, you will be spoilt for choice in terms of places to visit, but we do definitely recommend both Brimham Rocks and Fountains Abbey. Especially if you can hit lucky at the time of year we did, as you’ll largely have both places to yourself.

London Road Trip

London Road Trip

Not too long ago, when we still lived in Didsbury, we often thought about having time away in London, but never got round to it, because, well – London was just too far away from Manchester. The traffic would be awful. We’d end up sitting on the M6 or the M25. It was over-priced and over-crowded. And so, for a long time, we never did the trip. The last time we were in London was, I think the early 90s. But things are different now. We think nothing of long trips – and so when we were planning our Christmas road trip back to England, we decided that this time we would take in London.

Not all of it, of course – we were on a fairly strict timescale and so had to narrow down where we were staying, so that we were able to do a bit of the touristy trail, but also head up to Manchester quite quickly. As we were driving, we took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so it made more sense to stay in the East, rather than driving through the London traffic on the afternoon of the last Friday before Christmas. Rather than search by area, I searched for accommodation that I liked the look of first, and then checked out the area – and this was how we came to find the very lovely Pilot Inn, in Greenwich. The journey from Dover up to Greenwich was easy – just over an hour, straight up the A2. No traffic jams either. As you will all know, Greenwich has changed beyond recognition. We’re lucky enough to now visit lots of places on our roadtrips, but there was something quite exhilerating about being a tourist in London, and seeing for real some of the landmarks we’ve only seen on TV.

My usual choice of accommodation isn’t usually a pub with rooms above, but The Pilot Inn ticked our boxes. It has been refurbished and whilst it is still a pub downstairs, it has been very stylishly renovated. There’s a restaurant too, and we chose to eat here – it’s clearly a very popular choice amongst locals as it was packed. The food was exceptionally good, too – definitely not pub grub. Breakfast next morning was as good, with plenty of vegetarian options, too. Our room was lovely – just what we needed after a long journey through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France and across the channel. Very tastefully decorated, with a super comfy bed, metro-tiled bathroom with a powerful walk in shower, strong wi-fi and views of the O2 Arena and the iconic gas holder at East Greenwich Gas Works. Another bonus was free parking bays, just outside the accommodation.

A good sized piece of green space, right in the heart of Greenwich Peninsula. The Pilot Inn is at the end of the little terrace, to the right.

Love a navy wall. Makes me feel right at home!

River View, Greenwich, with The Pilot Inn at the end of the terrace. The very terrace (albeit with doors now painted blue) that featured in Blur’s “Parklife” video…

Blur : “Parklife”. With red doors.

The Pilot Inn is perfectly located for the O2, which is no more than a ten minute walk away. Again, ashamed to say, we’ve never been here since the area was redveloped and so were quite surprised at how beautiful it all is now. With the Canary Wharf glass towers glistening in the winter sunshine, and the redevelopment of the river area, and the explosion of modernist buildings around Greenwich Peninsula, we really did regret not having taken more of an opportunity to explore the capital when it actually was a lot easier. Now, a journey of four hours seems nothing. Previously, it seemed like such a long time to spend in a car. How your perspective can change!

We spent a good few hours just walking, taking it all in – and I even persuaded my other half, who has a very real fear of heights, to do a round trip on the Emirates Air Line, which crosses the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. I thoroughly enjoyed my aerial view of London. Not too sure about him…

Body language. Arms folded. Steely, fixed expression. *I am not enjoying this*

The Emirates Air Line, Greenwich

Beautiful facade of Ravensbourne University, next to the O2 Arena

It was a shame the next day that we couldn’t extend our touristy trip of London, but we had to head north to Manchester. Instead of skirting around the M25, we decided to do a drive through the city and so were able to see some old haunts, as we drove through Deptford, Bermondsey, Southwark and over Tower Bridge to the north of the river. We’d wanted to get to see The Cutty Sark, The Royal Observatory, The Naval College and of course, a bit of retail therapy at Greenwich Market, but time was against us.

Tower Bridge, London

However, our taste for London has returned. Now that our preferred way to get back to the UK is by driving, we’ll factor in a capital visit next time. Especially as I’ve now got my eye on The Good Hotel – the concept of which is described on the website as combining…

…premium hospitality with doing good for the local community. The hotel is located in the historical Royal Victoria Docks in London, on the river Thames, and is a profit for non-profit business. This means it employs a social business model that re-invests all its profits…

 

Windswept Whitby, North Yorkshire

Windswept Whitby, North Yorkshire

Split by the River Esk, Whitby is one of my favourite spots on the Yorkshire coast. I always seem to have visited in the winter months, and although I am sure spring and summer are glorious (mostly!) – my impression of Whitby is of brooding and dramatic skies, and waves crashing in from the North Sea. The Bram Stoker association just adds to the allure of this seaside resort – I love that the vampire arrived in Whitby, from Transylvania, in the guise of a black dog…

But, strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on deck from below…and, running forward, jumped from the bow onto the sand. Making straight for the steep cliff, where the churchyard hangs over the laneway to the East Pier…it disappeared into the darkness.

The churchyard is exactly what a churchyard should be – ancient, with crooked headstones & weathered inscriptions, sitting on top of a wind swept cliff. An amazing place just to wander – but, you do need to get wrapped up, especially if like us, you like a winter walk!

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

 

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

High up on the headland, exposed to the elements from all directions, sits the atmospheric Whitby Abbey, a 7th-century Christian monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey. Only the shell of the priory now remains, but it was one of the most important Anglo-Saxon religious places in the world. Like the graveyard, it is beautiful, especially under a winter sunset.

Whitby Abbey

From the Abbey and the churchyard, you can walk down the famous 199 steps (or 198 or 200, depending on which way you count them), from the top of East Cliff to the historical centre. These steps were originally wooden, and before the 19th century, were often the way people were carried up to their final resting place in the churchyard. Wooden planks were built to enable the pall-bearers to rest the coffin on the way up – these are now benches where you can take in the view…

The 199 Steps – or Church Steps – Whitby

Once down the steps, it’s a joy to explore the older part of the town, located on the East bank of the estuary. This part of Whitby is a jumble of narrow, cobbled medieval streets and alleyways, full of rickety buildings, leading down to the beautiful harbour. Pretty cottages sit next to utterly beautiful gift shops. Proper old pubs nestle up against cool bars and restaurants. And then of course, there are the fish & chip shops. Oh, the fish and chips from Whitby. Sublime…

So, if the east coast is not somewhere you’ve discovered before, we’d highly recommend you investigate Whitby. And then pop a bit further down the coast, and you’re in the stunning Robin Hood’s Bay, a maze of tiny, cobbled streets, with a tradition of smuggling. In fact, there is supposedly a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses – legend has it that Robin Hood encountered French pirates who came to pillage the fisherman’s boats and the north-east coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the poor people in the village that is now called Robin Hood’s Bay.

Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Blustery North Sea, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Dusk falling in Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire