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    Discovering Montreux

    As you may already know from my social media feeds and my last post, this weekend, I popped over to Geneva to celebrate my best friend’s birthday with her.

    However, I have decided to dedicate this post to another gem I found in Switzerland (sorry Fi)… Montreux.

    Sunken into a valley at the foot of the Alps and renowned for its famous jazz festival, iconic Freddie Mercury statue and festive Christmas market, this idyllic town is a must visit whilst in Switzerland!

    Surrounded by the Lake Geneva, Montreux boasts some incredible scenery.

    With its traditional Swiss houses, richly decorated in woodwork and nestled in the mountains, picturesque snow-capped Alps, disguised by fluffy clouds and the BEST Christmas market I have ever been to (sorry Champs-Elysees but this Christmas market had Santa Claus in a sleigh…with reindeer… IN THE AIR), Montreux is exactly how I had always imagined Switzerland to look like.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Santa - My Culture Craving

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Lake - My Culture Craving

    Around the Christmas period, the streets of Montreux come alive with the soft sound of Christmas songs, the smell of melted cheese and spiced mulled wine and the sparkle of Christmas lights and decorations.

    Decked in line upon line of cute, wooden chalets selling everything from scrumptious mulled wine (in the cutest cups), yummy raclette, fondue and burgers (these being the most important of chalets) to unique Christmas trinkets, indulgent chocolate, twinkly fairy lights and roasted chestnuts (roasted by hunky men covered in soot in hard hats…), there is a hut to suit any passing traveller… there is even a bubbles bar (to my disappointment, it wasn’t of the fairy liquid variety however, I very much enjoyed the champs).

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Christmas Market - My Culture Craving

    Aside from the shops, there was also a brass band singing and dancing up and down the market dressed as elves, cosy fire pits placed in several of the wooden chalets (a slight fire risk, but atmospheric nevertheless), restaurants, fairground rides, bars, various, shimmering Christmas lights and, there was even a glitzy, gold carpet, winding throughout the market.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Elfs - My Culture Craving

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Fire Pit - My Culture Craving

    After a long hard day of drinking mulled wine and rum tea, whilst bopping around the numerous festive huts, we ended the evening in the most perfect way I could ever imagine… WITH A CHEESE FONDUE (if you haven’t already figured it out, I am a huge cheese lover).

    Served up in an adorable wooden chalet, adorned in Christmas decorations, sleighs and fur, it was Switzerland all over… we stuffed our faces until our fondue forks were scraping the bottom of the pan and our top buttons were undone.

    It was heaven.

    Discovering Montreux, Switzerland - Fondue - My Culture Craving

    HELPFUL INFO:

    – Depending on what method of transport you use to get there, Montreux is approximately an hour away from Geneva. The train takes just over an hour, costs around £20 each way and leaves on a regular basis from Geneva train station.

    – Although Switzerland is renowned for its extortionate price tags, Montreux wasn’t horrendously priced. A glass of mulled wine cost approximately £3.50 and depending on where you went, a fondue to share was around £10-15pp.

    – The Christmas Market is open from 24th November – 24th December, Monday – Thursday: 11am-8pm, Friday: 11am-10pm, Saturday: 10am-10pm and Sunday: 10am-8pm.

    Bonjour Geneva!!

    The surprise is out!!!

    After a week of being sworn to secrecy by my best friend’s boyfriend (who I have to thank for booking me an impromptu flight so I could be here to celebrate my friend’s birthday with her *you are the best boyfriend EVER*) I have just touched down in the beautiful Swiss city of Geneva!!!

    I am here for a grand total of 24 hours, and intend to make the most of every single minute of it (sleep is unlikely).

    Christmas markets, fondue, mulled wine, more wine, cocktails, sightseeing and of course, some exciting blogging opportunities!

    Stay tuned!

    I hope you all have a fab weekend… I know I will :)!

    Festivities in the City of Light, Paris

    With the season to be jolly fast approaching, I thought it was about time I did a festive post about good ol’ CHRISTMAS.

    Over the past three years I have been blessed with having a best friend living in Paris (she has now moved to Geneva… alright for some, eh!?) Therefore, each year, we made it a tradition that I would visit her in Paris over her birthday weekend (December) for mulled-wine-fueled celebrations and mince-pie-filled festivities.

    During my first trip (I had never been before, minus the obligatory Disney trip when I was younger) I was captivated by Paris’ enchanting aura (it’s not just Disneyland which is magical in Paris!) – how had I never visited this incredible city before?

    Its charming buildings and charismatic cobbled streets, which were lined with the hustle and bustle of people sitting outside drinking, smoking, eating and chatting, gave me that fuzzy, festive feeling you get close to Christmas. This merry ambiance was heightened by the twinkling Christmas lights, which were sprinkled over every arrondissement of the city (they don’t call it The City of Light for no reason) and the abundance of ‘Christmassy’ things to see and do.

    Here are a few of my favourite things to see and do to get you in the Joyeux Noël mood in Le Paris:

    Festivities in Paris, France - Christmas Market - My Culture Craving

    Champs-Elysées Christmas market

    There is no better way to get you in the festive spirit, than snuggling up in a jumper, hat and scarf, sipping on a delicious cup of spiced mulled wine and taking a stroll around a Christmas market.

    Stretching from the Champs-Elysées roundabout to the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées Christmas market is the largest in Paris. Lined with cute, iconic wooden chalets, selling everything from gingerbread, macaroons, mulled wine and crepes to clothes, memorabilia, gifts and toys, here, there is enough to keep you in your Christmas bubble until New Year!

    It also benefits from a view of both the big wheel at Concorde (see number 3) and the Eiffel Tower! Make sure you keep an eye out for the Eiffel Tower’s stunning sparkling show, which glistens on the hour, every hour (after sunset) until 1am.

    The Champs-Elysées Christmas market is open from 10am to 11pm (Sunday – Thursday) and 10am to midnight (Fridays and Saturdays) from 14th November 2014 through to 4th January 2015.

    Metro: Passy, Champs Elysées-Clemenceau or Concorde.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Christmas Tree - My Culture Craving

    Go to Galleries Lafayette to see the huge Christmas tree 

    Galleries Lafayette is like a grand opera theatre, Harrods and Selfridge & Co. laced into one. It is outstanding, upmarket, elegant and vast.

    With its theatre-like layout, magnificent, detailed ceiling and extravagant centerpiece Christmas tree, this is a department store, which is definitely worth admiring whilst in Paris (even if you can’t afford to buy anything!)

    Galleries Lafayette is open from 9.30am – 8pm (Monday – Saturday) with late nights until 9pm on Thursdays.

    Metro: Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Concorde - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Roue de Paris (or big wheel) at Concorde

    The Roue de Paris takes centre stage in December.

    Illuminated by a promenade of trees embellished in shimmering Christmas lights, the Roue de Paris, which was originally built to celebrate the millennium, gleams at the pinnacle of the Champs-Elysées.

    It is open everyday from 11am – 12 midnight from November to February.

    Tickets cost €10 for an adult and €5 for a child (10 years and under).

    Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile.

    Festivities in Paris, France - Ice Skating - My Culture Craving

    Ice Skate at the top of the Eiffel Tower or at Hôtel De Ville

    With the frost in the air, the Christmas carols in full swing and the sweet, indulgent smell of roasting nuts floating through the high streets of Paris, there is only one thing missing to complete this festive harmony – the chance to topple over into a puddle of icy water… ICE SKATING!

    Whether you are a child, adult or OAP? I don’t think the novelty of ice skating ever wears off. And in Paris, there are plenty of choices of where you can glide your way back into childhood.

    You can ice skate at new heights on the Eiffel Tower, whilst enjoying the fabulous view over Paris or spiral your way across the ice rink outside the lavish Hôtel De Ville. Either way, you will be ice skating in your very own wonderland with a view to die for!

    The Eiffel Tower is open from 10.30am – 10.30pm daily from mid December to late January.

    Tickets cost approximately €9.

    Metro: Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel on line RER C.

    Hôtel De Ville is open Monday – Friday 12pm-10pm and Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays 9am-10pm from December 19th 2014 to March 1st, 2015.

    Admission to the ice skating rink is free however, skate rental is around €5.

    Metro: Hôtel de Ville.

    So, get those ear muffs on and get skating!

    Happy Friday everyone. I hope you all have a wonderful, festive filled weekend :)!

    What are your favourite things to get up to in Paris around Christmas time?

    Amsterdam Isn’t All Red Light District and Drugs…

    Amsterdam is most commonly known for its promiscuous red light district, drug fueled ‘coffee shops’ and unrestricted sex shops, sex shows and sex museums. However, these aspects, which seem to be ‘selling points’ for stag and hen parties, tend to mask Amsterdam’s distinct allure.

    With its enchanting, dollhouse-like buildings, spectacular, scenic canals and overwhelming history, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than the Red Light District and drugs.

    I hang my backpacker head in shame and admit that I too, judged Amsterdam by its seedy, crimson cover. However, my underestimation of the city only made it that bit more remarkable when I arrived.

    Its dark cobbled streets, weird and wonderful narrow buildings, picturesque, winding canals and crazy number of bikes, mean you can wander around Amsterdam for hours on end soaking up the city’s culture and many attractions, sometimes, without even spending a penny.

    Despite the Red Light District, ‘coffee shops’, sex shops, sex shows and sex museums all contributing to the crude side of Amsterdam, there’s no reason not to venture into the red haze and check it out for yourself! Even if you’re not into that ‘kind of thing’, you will never see anything quite like the Red Light District or the ‘coffee shops’ in Amsterdam, so, investigate them for yourself – even if you do end up running away in shock. And don’t forget to explore the extensive amount of other sites Amsterdam has to offer!

    Here are my pick of things to see and do whilst in The Dam:

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - Pedalos - My Culture Craving

    Rent pedalos

    Renting a bike in Amsterdam is just too cliché… be different and rent a ‘canal bike’ (a pedalo, to you and me)!

    Although you run the risk of getting lost in the maze of canals and occasionally stuck on other boats, there is no better way to see this majestic city than by bobbing down the canal on your very own pedal boat.

    Add a barrel of cheese and a bottle of Amsterdam’s finest wine… ‘fat bastard’ (I’m so glad I’ve managed to get that in) and you’ve got yourself a marvelous and unforgettable day out!

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - Anne Frank Museum - My Culture Craving

    Go to the Anne Frank museum

    The history of The Netherlands is heart-wrenching. However, it is paramount that people learn about what the Nazis did during WWII and pay their respects to those who died during this devastating period of time.

    The Anne Frank museum provides an emotionally moving walk through the house where the Frank family sought refuge from the Nazis in 1942. Inside the museum you can find manuscripts of Anne’s original diary, video footage, historic timelines and images, making it no surprise that the experience brings a tear to the eye.

    Nevertheless, you can’t leave the city without visiting it!

    It is an independent, non-profit organisation. Therefore, all costs go towards preserving the building as well as creating awareness of Anne’s life story and the danger of anti-Semitism.

    Tickets are approximately €9.

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - My Culture Craving

    Enjoy the other kind of porn Amsterdam has to offer – cheese porn…

    Because there is no better porn…

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - Sign - My Culture Craving

    Visit the Amsterdam sign

    You can find this iconic I amsterdam sign at the back of Rijksmuseum on Museumplein and at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. There is also a travelling sign, which pops up at fashion shows, fairs and festivals etc. throughout the city.

    Whichever sign you end up at, get creative, choose a letter and capture your obligatory ‘I went to Amsterdam’ photo (as you can see in the feature image for this post, I was pretty much sliding off of the letter ‘e’).

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - Wander - My Culture Craving

    Walk, walk, walk 

    Walk around the shops, down the cobbled side streets, beside the canal, through the museums, across the bridges, into the crepe /ice-cream stalls… walk until your heart’s content!

    This way, you will get to see soooo much of the city whilst also unearthing some fab places you wouldn’t have usually come across.

    Get wandering!

    Top Things to See in Amsterdam - Clog - My Culture Craving

    Sit in a big clog

    Because… why not?

    What were your favourite things to see and do in this unique city?

    Sun, Sea and… Beaches in Ibiza, Spain

    Having just returned from a fun-filled, messy yet, EXHAUSTING week in Ibiza, I thought I would do a blog entry on something other than the extravagant nightclubs which lure millions of tourists to this vibrant island each year (mainly because the thought of Spanish Rushkinoff vodka is still making my stomach churn).

    This incredible day/nightlife (Ibiza never sleeps) often leads tourists to overlook the outstanding beauty which this Hispanic island also has to offer.

    Therefore, I have compiled a selection of beautiful beaches which I visited whilst I was there – all of which I loved for different reasons.

    The Beaches in Ibiza - Beach - My Culture Craving

    Cala Bassa Beach

    This stunning beach looks as though it has been swallowed by rocks. Set within a semi-circle shaped alcove, it has a more secluded feel than some of the other beaches in Ibiza. Lined by an outdoor, airy restaurant which serves up fresh fish, yummy sangria and a relaxing ambience, this is the perfect beach to enjoy a day of luxury and relaxation by the sea.

    However, if the sangria happens to go to your head and you fancy doing something a little more daring, Cala Bassa also has a selection of activities available such as, pedalo boats, jet skiing and rock diving.

    The Beaches in Ibiza - My Culture Craving

    Bora Bora Beach

    The party beach of Ibiza, Bora Bora offers the usual stretch of smooth sand and glimmering sea as well as, pumping music and beach/pool parties throughout the day.

    If you are looking for a day of drinking, background music, lookie lookie men trying to sell you sunglasses and pr’s offering you boat trips, then this is the beach for you however, I personally preferred the tranquility of Cala Bassa beach.

    The Beaches in Ibiza - Sunset Strip - My Culture Craving

    Sunset Strip

    The beach here is… grim. With a carpet of glass, bottle tops and rocks it isn’t the most appealing of beaches to the eye.

    HOWEVER, when the excited crowds start to gather and the luminous sun begins to set, this beach transforms into a kaleidoscopic paradise.

    Relaxing music echos from the bars along the beach, groups of friends bop around high on life, eyes fixated on the horizon and others play charades (not my friends and I, I promise…).

    The sunset strip is not a place to go for a day of sunbathing however, it is a place to go and witness one of the most breathtaking and colourful sunsets in the world.

    Hippies, Gimps and Red Indians… only at Lake Parade, Geneva

    The Lake Parade – a large ‘techno-parade’ where thousands of people have gathered in lavish fancy dress by the lake of Geneva, Switzerland every July since 1997.

    Well, having heard a lot of intriguing stories of intoxication, extravagance and foolery at the Lake Parade from my best friend who now lives in the city, I thought it was about time I made my own memories of this ‘gay pride’ equivalent – and boy did it deliver…

    After booking my flights (£90 return from Luton) and hotel (£50 for two nights at the Ibis hotel) and having originally thought that Geneva was the city that the film ‘The Princess Diaries’ was set in (please don’t judge) I decided to quiz my friend who lives there and a couple of friends who had already visited about the ins and outs of the city.

    ‘IT’S EXPENSIVE’ were the two words which were constantly thrown at me – two words that do not bode well with a now unemployed graduate (me).

    However, during my visit I discovered that although to drink and eat out was rather pricey if on a budget (approx £15.50 for a main course, £9.50 for a beer and £20 for a bottle of house wine) I found some ways to cut down on costs which yes, may not be… ‘allowed’ but worked well for me while I was there…

    On our first night ‘out on the town’ we began the evening by sinking a mix of gin and vodka.

    However, we were very quickly faced with the daunting realization that we did not have the luxury of a knife to cut our fancy garnish of cucumber with – so, what were we to do? Use an invented tool of a broken plastic cup – Bear Grylls style.

    After solving that difficult task, we bounded enthusiastically towards the bus stop. Naturally, I made my way to the kiosk to pay for my ticket however, no one else seemed to be doing the same…

    I soon discovered that the bus and tram drivers do not check tickets in Geneva.

    Saving tip number one – (however do this at your own risk as I’m sure there is a hefty fine if you are caught).

    After a fun-filled night of cocktail drinking and socialising at a bar called Barber Shop (£9.50 cocktails (the passion fruit cocktail was to die for) and £5.50 beers) and buying every single rose from every single child selling them in Geneva, we headed out to find some inevitable ‘drunk food’.

    An hour and a half later we were left gob smacked… McDonald’s, – closed. Kebab shops – closed. Pizzerias – closed.

    It was at this point that we questioned what sort of place we had come to – dominoes apps were downloaded and flights home were considered.

    However, we took the high rode and decided to stick it out for Lake Parade (drunken first world problems eh!). Reluctantly, we retreated back to bed with a wrap from the hotel restaurant the size of a canape.

    After a morning stroll admiring the delightful architecture of Geneva, a strong latte to eliminate the gin head from the night before and a pungent block of blue cheese for breakfast we were excited to get ‘hippifying’ ourselves.

    Draped in tie dye, peace signs, flowery headbands, glitter, plaits, face paint, eccentric multi-colours and cradling a 4.5L bottle of Absolute vodka we made our way to the Pearl de Lac park for pre drinks (at 2pm).

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Drunk - My Culture Craving

    Everyone had pulled out the stops and by 4pm I was surrounded by a haze of red Indians, police men, fire men, builders, a bizarre red Indian gimp (I know!), snow white, cowboys, bananas, the list could go on.

    Lake Parade, Geneva - BBQ - My Culture Craving

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Red Indian - My Culture Craving

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Hippies - My Culture Craving

    As we drunk, barbecued, bounded around socialising and meeting new people and sheltered from the rain for a brief downpour I was beginning to see why my friend had expressed such love for this ‘messy, messy’ day.

    Lake Parade, Geneva - BBQ Food - My Culture Craving

    Yet, we hadn’t even made it to the parade yet…

    After indulging in a few more alcoholic beverages we bundled into a questionable dingy boat to take us over to the parade.

    Saving tip number two – you can take your own alcohol over on the boat but are not allowed to if you enter the parade on foot.

    Que, plastic bottles of vodka.

    As we piled cautiously of off the boat we were greeted by the pulsating sound of techno music blaring out of each of the moving floats.

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Festival - My Culture Craving

    Each float was decorated with their own unique touch – flamboyant, colourful, gothic, drag, you name it.

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Float - My Culture Craving

    Energetic individuals, who had been dedicated enough to gather before the beginning of the parade to get onto the float, swarmed at the front dancing for the crowd’s attention.

    We danced, we drank, we played frisbee, there were dance offs, we did the limbo, people jumped in the lake, we made new friends, phones were lost, phones were found, pizza was eaten (YES we found drunk food) and then it all becomes a bit of a blur…

    So here are some pictures which will hopefully sum it up for you…

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Dancing - My Culture Craving

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Gimp - My Culture Craving

    Lake Parade was one of those days where you wake up the next day and however hungover you may be – and I was HUNGOVER (I had to shower sitting down), you are gutted that you can’t go back in time and relive the exact same day again.

    Despite not seeing many of the tourist sights Geneva had to offer, the city did me well on the fun factor front and I will be back next year to visit CERN. Not Lake Parade…

    Until next year Geneva… Peace out.

    Lake Parade, Geneva - Hotel - My Culture Craving