Wednesday, 3 February 2016

4 things to NOT do in Budapest (and things to do instead!)

I recently whisked the boyfriend and myself off for a cheeky weekend away to Budapest, Hungary, as his Christmas present. (Aren't I the best?) It was a wonderful trip, and the first we've taken together on our own since July's excursion to Edinburgh! It was the perfect excuse to kick-back, relax, and eat some Goulash.

Thought I'd flip things on their head and compile a list of things to not do if you find yourself in Budapest, because there's honestly too much to tell you to absolutely do.

1. Don't bother with the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) Building Tour.

I know, it's number 1 on Trip Advisor, I know it's the largest civic building in Europe and I know it's beautiful, but everything you want from the tour is unceremoniously denied you, like Nescafe was denied Hungarians living under Communist occupation (bit of a leap there...)

The tour costs around 2000fts or £5 per adult with an EU passport, so it's hardly breaking the bank, but the building is on the far north-eastern tip of the city centre region and kinda on its own, so you're committing to trek up there.

Regardless though, what you want (well, what I wanted) was some juice, some gossip, some insider tid bits and things that you'd never forget like, "President whats-his-chops once vomited here after a particularly lively state dinner in honour of the German Chancellor." We got none of that. Instead, I learnt that the building is 96 metres high and boasts 96 steps within it's central entrance hall, both to commemorate the millennia of Hungary and inauguration of the building, in 1896. Snore. I also learn that if you put all the carpets together, from end to end, (which may have actually been more fun) you'd have over 2.5km of carpet. Fascinating.

Honestly though, you do get to see the infamous wonky-topped crown and some nice ceilings, but I just wanted more history, more about the occupations and the building's innovations and technological advances. Some of my thirst was quenched, however, in the post-tour exhibition, where multi-lingual TV screens walk you through aspects of the building's history, including the totally bizarre Communist Russian obsession with putting giant red stars on everything, including the top-most steeple of the central dome of the Parliament building. Ridiculous!

Things to do instead:

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on

Walk up to the Citadella on Gellért Hill, (District I) it's 100% free and the views are priceless. There are many beautiful aspects in Budapest, the city is named the jewel in the river Danube's crown specifically for the many stunning views that line her banks. But, those from the Citadella are ten times better.
 Wander the streets of Old Town on Castle Hill, (District I) where you'll find the former royal palace, Buda Castle, now the national gallery, library and museum, as well as St. Matthias Church and the current President's house where, if you're lucky, like we were, you'll witness a changing of the guard ceremony!

Tour the St. Stephen's Basilica, for 200ft (or 50p) you can tour the beautiful RC church in the centre of Budapest, (District V) on the Pest side. Its gilded ceilings and effigies are like something out of the Vatican. 

2. Don't just think you can eat anywhere

Whilst it pains me to say this, as I wouldn't want you to think I'm anything but in love with Budapest, Hungary isn't exactly known for it's food. Whilst we did taste some gorgeous Goulash, sensational steaks and Scallops you'd dive into the Danube for (if, y'know, they were there...) this wasn't the case in all restaurants. It would pay to do a little research before putting bottom to seat if you want to avoid frozen pizzas and McDonald's like deep fried Camembert.

Places to eat instead:

Spoon restaurant, a boat restaurant just beside the Chain Bridge, on the Pest side, (District V) with incredible views of Castle Hill, the Chain Bridge and the Citadella from its decks. The food is Hungarian/European, with expert staff and a great house Prosecco too! For two courses, for two people, with drinks, expect to pay around 35000fts or £85. 

Marvelosa, a gorgeous little independent restaurant, with cooking like Old (Hungarian) Mamma used to make. At the foot of Castle Hill's cable car (District I) on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, you'll find this little cafe/bistro facing the river. Decorated like a Gypsy just found her forever-home, the restaurant gives a new meaning to cosy. If you can, grab the two-seater upstairs table in the window, for perfect people watching aspects out onto the promenade and down into the restaurant via the cut-away mezzanine.  Two courses with ample Dreher (local larger) for two people, expect to pay around 11000ft (£27).

3. Don't go out of you way to visit the 8th District for evening drinks

Famed for being the once-Roma ghetto of Budapest, District 8 had an urban regeneration Salford City Council would be proud of, that came in the 1800s bringing with it beautiful palaces erected by the Hungarian aristocracy, giving the area a new name - The Palace District. Since then, the area was neglected and bullet holes form WWII and the 1959 revolution are still visible in the densely built-up area. Now though, the location has a reputation for a somewhat kaleidoscopic night-life with everything from live poetry readings through to street prostitution. Needless to say, we were excited to experience it. But, it was a bit of a let down. 

The supposed centre of things, Mikszáth Kálmán tér, just behind the National Opera House, was sleepy and quiet. We spotted the Lumen cafe, where the local indie types drink craft ales and eventually sat down for a dinner of mixed emotions at neighbouring Darsham Restaurant up Krudy Gyula utca (street).

Budda Bar, just by the Elizabeth Bridge on the Pest Side (District V), is a bar worthy of royalty. But no, not former European dynasties, this temple is one dedicated to the East. With a cocktail list boasting such delicacies as Sake and velvety and refreshing cucumber Kiwi Kukama, there's enough to entertain you for a whole evening.
There's a little bar on Fo utca (street) off the Chain Bridge round-about on the Buda side (District I), the name escapes me, but it's a hilarious little boozer where the locals go. Wall's filled with random memorabilia (crap) and a double Jamesons is like 2p.

4. Don't visit the over-crowded baths

Rather advice learnt from experience, this was advice I took before headed out to Hungary in the first place, citing Rudas Baths at the foot of Gellért Hill, (District I), as my bath of choice. Dating back to the Turkish occupation, the baths is mainly a mens-only space, but I popped by (when the boyf couldn't be arsed leaving the apartment before our flight home) alone on a mixed day. The baths are enormous and whilst many tourists did find the baths too, there were lots of locals floating around. There are steam rooms, saunas, cold dip baths, ice washes, a swimming pool and pools with spring waters enriched with calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate and sodium for joint pain and well-being. 

Courtesy of

The number one attraction though, has to be the roof-top pool with views out over the river, a must-dip!

See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Budapest on my TripAdvisor contributor pages


Friday, 29 January 2016

A walk around Trinity

The boyf and I bought our first home last year, in the last remaining leafy corner of the inner city area, Trinity - a hop, skip and a jump over the river at Spinningfields and the mantelpiece from which Salford displays its best wares.

I spent a day wandering around the area (just 10 months after moving in) because I had a morning of work, and it was splendid.

I started with a coffee from Lupo Caffe,  a gorgeous little Italian caffè on Chapel Street, the main drag in Salford Central. Then, after a peak in the window of neighbouring Pencil Me In Shop, it was straight up Chapel Street toward Salford University campus.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on

It's around a fifteen minute walk from the Manchester end of Chapel Street, up to the University where my final destination, the Salford Museum and Art Gallery, is situated and you pass some impressive sights en route. The old Salford Town Hall, for one, now swanky flats, sits within a pristine and pretty square with the New Oxford Pub nearby, all just around the corner from our home. 

Further up you come to the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, Salford Cathedral, the first cathedral to be built (1848) in cruciforiam shape since the Reformation. It's an impressive space, sparse and solemn like most churches, but surrounded by gorgeous gardens too.

Next door is St. Philip's Church, Salford's answer to St. Paul's in London, with a striking dome shaped steeple.

As well as relics from the past, you pass examples of regeneration in Vimto Gardens, the beginning of a huge residential and retail regeneration of the Chapel St. drag, on the site of the former Vimto factory. Timekeeper's Square is another resident complex, next to St. Philip's Church is being developed right now too.

St. Philip's Church, Trinity, Salford

Nearing the campus, you catch a sight of The Meadows, a expanse of greenery within the meander of the Irwell, before it scoops back around and trims the boarder of Manchester and Salford at Spinningfields and Trinity. It's a nice sight, some green within the urban city environment.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on

Then, the University, and my destination for a spot of culture on a rare morning off when I had nothing else to do. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery is a lovely little spot, with some beautiful permanent displays in the Victorian Gallery and changed exhibits throughout, from pottery and paper-work to modernist painting and photography. Well worth a visit.

For me though, it was time to trundle back down the street toward Manchester.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Breakout Manchester

Being locked in an upstairs room, above a wine bar for an hour is honestly one of the most exciting things you can do with your mates in Manchester, right now.

Breakout Manchester are a two-site entertainment venue straight out of the ordinary, where you and select mates can test the very fabric of your friendship in an immersive experience akin to Crystal Maze. But, 10 times more amazing, because you're not watching it on TV, you're living it.

Breakout is made up of eight rooms, in their sites on Brazennose Street off Albert Square and High Street in the Northern Quarter, each with their own story and puzzle(s) to solve. They range from hard to the near impossible in difficulty and each room gives you one hour to breakout before you're (locked in forever) declared the loser and have to take a humiliating mug-shot to tell all your friends on Facebook.

When we last broke out (and saved the world from annihilation, you're welcome!)

To celebrate our wonderful friend's birthday (which was actually in October...) the boyf and I took him and his hubby with us to play the Madchester room. Together, the four of us have broken out before, we played the Sabotage room last year - a then 4/5 difficulty rating that's since been raised to 5/5 - which tells a Cold War meets 007 Golden Eye story that was absolutely hilarious and saw us break out with less than a minute to spare. 

This time, however, we were playing Madchester (5/5) and were subsequently locked in some sweaty teenager's room, a teenager with an unhealthy obsession with all things Manchester. A bit like the room from that girl in My Mad Fat Diary.

Now, I'm not giving anything away - because that's mean and I think Breakout Manchester would come round and lock me in a Chinese Puzzle Box and then paint it like a rubik's cube and throw me into the canal. But, what I will say is - you don't need to be an expert on Manchester for this specific room, just in the way you don't have to be a war veteran to play Sabotage. It's just the theme, not the nuts and bolts. What you do have to be good at, however, is screaming across the room at your best friends about how shit they are.

In the room, everything is a clue (unless, y'know it's just the light switch...) and you can't overlook a thing. You run around piecing pieces of the puzzle together and you have to keep each other in the loop so you can connect the dots on the things you've seen and done.

There's a big screen on the wall too, that counts down from 60 minutes to 0, with increasingly hostile music being played to, y'know, make you feel right at home and positive you've got this under control. You can shout into the screen (or, actually, the camera above) and the game master person who runs your game can communicate with you on screen if you're desperate for a clue, or to tell you go get down off the wardrobe because their liability insurance won't cover them.

Yeah baby!

So, there's us, running around like headless chickens thinking we were doomed with too many puzzles to solve and only 5 minutes left when we have a windfall and we're all of a sudden, back in the game. We still had a bit too much to do, so started guessing the remaining answers to our puzzles to unlock the exit door, with two of us operating the door locking system. We guessed right and the door unlocked, but in our sheer excitement, the stupid thing locked itself again, I turned around and clocked the screen as the code was being thumped back into the door and we had 3, 2, 1 seconds remaining when the door flung open and we fell out.

I've never come closer to murder.

Book now.

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Roma men X fashion

Stumbled across a magazine whilst visiting Salford Museum and Art Gallery on Salford University campus the other day, the cover of which caught my eye. Love v Style was the title, a fashion magazine I thought, so I rolled it up and carried it home.

Later, when I got around to looking through it, I found it wasn't a fashion magazine as such, but a project as part of Roma Matrix, an EU Fundamental Rights and Citizenship supported programme, working with Salford University and the University of York. The magazine explores Roma identity, including that that of the community's young men-folk and their approach to fashion and clothing.

Portraits, photographed by Vasile Dumitru, from the Roma Matrix project, of Roma men living in and around Manchester are featured, with a short synopsis outlining how they dress and how it impacts/conflicts with their identity as Roma men. 

It's really interesting to understand a little of this community's adoption of western, or as they categorise it, "English," fashion and how it can often be at odds with the practices and expectations of the older men in their community too.


Felix, 20

"I like to look good. I really like bright colours lie yellow, blue and red because they make me feel good. My jeans are from Zara, and my shoes are from Emporio Armani. The belt is Hermes. I like to wear designer things and shiny things. My watch is shiny and stands out. The necklace I'm wearing is real gold - it from my dad, who used to wear it when he was a teenager. He still lives in Romania and gave it to me when he came to visit recently. I'm his oldest son, so this means a lot to me."

Marius, 19

"Today I'm wearing a pink T-shirt from Hugo Boss, some Nike Huarache trainers and a yellow Stone Island jacket. I love to wear very bright colours because they make me feel comfortable. I try to dress in the English style. My trousers are Polo - they are sports style trousers. I buy all my clothes in the UK, from shops in town."

Nicusor, 22

"I think clothes matter - you have to look nice. My dad and uncles dress a bit differently to me but with time everything is changing. I'm wearing denim shorts today. My trainers are from Firetrap and the bag is from Romania. I have tattoos as well: on my right are are my son's names, Josef and Yanis."

Florin, 21

"Clothes are important to me because I care about my looks and style. I get fashion ideas from the TV, from Facebook and from seeing people around. My jacket is from Zara and the bag is Gucci. I don't wear the earring in front of dad and family as they don't really like it - I just wear it when I'm out with friends."

Ion, 18

"The way I dress is not that important to me - I sometimes buy clothes from charity shops. Today I'm wearing a Chinese suit jacket, some jeans, a pair of driving shoes and a gold necklace. My parents don't mind the way I dress, as long as I look respectful. It's the personality that counts to them."

Vasile Dumitru, in self portrait

"I used to dress a bit more traditionally but I have changed my style. If I didn't then my friends would laugh at me and call me old-fashioned."

Ionel, 18

"My shirt is English style, I think, and the jeans came a bit ripped. My yellow trainers are by Polo, from Ralph Lauren. I think these colours go well together. I change my hair style quiet often. In my opinion you have to care what you look like. It's important to look smart, to show Roma are respectable."

 Adiran, 18

"Normally I wear brighter colours than this. I like clothes a lot and feel better if I'm wearing something good. I dress very differently from my dad, who often wears suits when he's going out. Sometimes my parents ask 'what are these clothes?' but the fashion is changing among young Roma guys."

Find out more about the Roma Matrix project here


Monday, 18 January 2016

When life gives you lemons

Tom Daley is fit. Like, y'know, with muscles and stuff.

He said it's all down to one thing.

(years of disciplined training and Olympic sponsorship)



I've been doing this for a week know and I love it, it's like a morning hug. It's calming, nourishing and does honestly give you a nice boost!

Try it!


Thursday, 14 January 2016

You're gunna hear me roar

I just wrote this blog and then the bloody thing deleted it. I want to shoot something.

Sooo, as I was saying, I am aching all over because I, like the rest of the world, has decided to get back in shape after eating way to much cheese and drinking, to be quite frank, a disgusting about of whiskey, over Christmas. As I type this I'm drinking an Avacado, Cucumber, Celery, Apple, Pear and OJ smoothie and an attempt to appease my pickled body and dull skin into forgiving me my trespasses.

So, as well as getting back into our gym, on our morning smoothie regime and curbing my enthusiasm for Irish Whiskey, the boyf and I are feeling a little more human.

But, we're taking it further. In an effort to eat cleaner, we've invested in a bumper pack of lean meats and poultry from, your friendly online butchers who deliver in chilled packages, to your door.

Darren Cravens
Before you go all suburban on me, no it's not GM, 3D printed meat-substitute from Romanian Horse farms. It's British Red Tractor certified, RSPCA Freedom Foods accredited, Soil Association approved, good, honest meat. You get tonnes of the stuff too, filling our 2nd freezer to the brim and therefore forcing us to eat cleaner and more high-protein food as we get back into the swing of things.

But, I'm not finished, I'm going the whole hog. I've joined a boot camp squad too. I know, I'm like Madonna.

Fitness and lifestyle coach Darren Craven hosts a boot camp style, high intensity workout class our of Proper Gym in Ancoats and I'm going to be hopping over the city once a week for 3 months to partake in the classes, get my home-work for in my own gym and receive some one-on-one training too, all for the benefit of your entertainment on this here blog.

So, expect more from me on my training trails soon!

This post was written with my disclosure policy in mind here.


Thursday, 24 December 2015

5 Braces Of Christmas Past

Yep, I'm still a #braceface, still shining from the gob like I'm chewing tinsel. When you're tucking into your Christmas dinner, I'll inevitably be picking Snickers Celebrations out from under my wires. Festive.

Still, I won't be alone this Christmas, (aside from the billions of regular folk undergoing Orthodontic treatment around the world) there will be a barrage of braceface action on our screens this Christmas to watch out for too. Who knew Christmas TV was the best for braces?

1. Linnie McCalister, Home Alone (1990)

Not only is she a fellow braced bitch, but she's a diva with a 'tude too!

2. Darla, Finding Nemo (2003)

She's sporting something a little more severe than I'm putting up with, but girl's owning the ortho.

3. Marcia, The Brady Bunch (1969)

Marcia got her braces in the first season of the hit 60s/70s TV show, let's just say she didn't take to them straight away.

4. Girl With Head Brace, Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

She said "My boy, I think someday
You'll find a way to make your natural tendencies pay"
You'll be a dentist
(Be a dentist)
You have a talent for causing things pain
Son, be a dentist
(Son, be a dentist)
People will pay you to be inhumane

Whilst the Dentist may have once given me nightmares, now I'm a card-holding member of Orthodontia, I can't help but feel a little pang of love for the brutally horrific things he does to his patient's faces. *sigh*

5. Toe Thompson, Shorts (2009)

Finally, a guy in the list! This scene is from the opening of the movie, where our be-braced brethren cleans his mouth-gear.