Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This weekend the clocks go back. And whilst I am so excited about that one extra hour to bury myself under the blanket I know the fact that it signals the end of British Summer Time will bring on months of struggle. As, along with many others in the country, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is bound to set in.

Despite being a Winter baby, I despise the Winter months. Days when I wake up in darkness, get to work in darkness and leave work in darkness does nothing for my mental well being. When you thrown in the cold, wind and rain too – it just about pushes you over the edge. Those who say they enjoy the winter months can only be those who do not suffer with SAD or find it easy to cope with what it brings.

So what is SAD? SAD is a condition that means that those who suffer with it are greatly affected by the season changes. The dark, cold days and nights have a big impact on mood and energy levels, which can lead to symptoms of depression which in turn have a significant impact on daily life.

Those who experience SAD will have a variety of symptoms. This could be lack of energy, concentration problems, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood change, over eating, greater drug and alcohol use and social and relationship problems (often irritable and not wanting to be in social situations).

As someone who does not cope well in winter, I’m not going to lie – I am not looking forward to it. Whilst many friends are rejoicing in the thought of cosy knits and a hot toddy by the fire, I already long for warmer days soaking up the sun, whilst lounging in the garden – and technically the Winter is not even here yet.

As with many issues in my life I have learnt to find a coping mechanism. A way to get through the months and months of misery, and we have not even touched the awful “C” word that comes just before New Year.

AVOID STRESS

It is known to be more stressful at this time of year. When Christmas (yes that blasted C word), is fast approaching the stress levels rise. In my previous job there was a heavy focus on Christmas, with 40% of sales made in the last 3 months of the year. So the pressure was on to perform, to hit targets and at the same time be “super happy, and super jolly.” I got on board with the targets and focusing on sales – that I had no problem with. However, despite constantly telling colleagues I just don’t enjoy Christmas, some seemed to think it was okay to use this as a way to target me as being a “Scrooge.” At this time of year, I think others need to have a little respect. When someone says they don’t enjoy the Christmas period it doesn’t mean that they are miserable or a Grinch – there may be a reason behind these feelings that they just don’t wish to share. So if you are one of the jolly, jolly festive types – leave those that don’t wish to be all singing and dancing alone. You don’t know their reasons, just show some respect.

To say I am overjoyed that I don’t have the same level of stress this year would be an understatement – I am ecstatic. To be in a role where Christmas is not shoved down your throat just lifts the stress off my shoulders.

There will be other demons to deal with this Winter, like the first Christmas without my Uncle – which is bound to bring its own struggles when I don’t see him dancing around to Madness on Boxing Day.

SUPPORT NETWORK

A support network is key.

I am lucky to be surrounded my so many lovely friends, many who understand and have experienced issues themselves. And if they have not, they just drag me out and bring up my spirits anyway. Some I don’t see for months, but are always there when I need them and vice versa.

Home and family is key too. Again I am lucky here. The past few months has shown that my home life is pretty amazing, we have got through some pretty tough times and still have the ability to laugh, joke and support each other.

The same goes for family. Tough times have shown how amazing family are. You may not agree, you may fight most of the time – but at the end of the day, they are there.

EXERCISE AND DIET

Keeping active is a given. The last few years I have found suffering with SAD easier because I have been so active. Spending the Winter months at Boot Camp in the dark, in the mud, in the rain has had a positive effect on my well being; because not only does it get you out of the house, it gets you interacting with people.

Interacting with people is something I have tried to avoid over the last few months and I completely lost my routine. However the last two weeks has seen me back on track; I joined a new gym and I am sweating it out every morning at 6:30am with the rest of the early birds. It bloody hurts to get out of bed at 5:30am but, once done, I find that I feel happier and ready for the day.

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WORK

Work is one of the biggest stresses in our lives (as mentioned in one of my previous points). But work is just that, it is work. It should end at the working day – especially in the Winter months.

I have always been a strong advocate for a healthy work-life balance. And it is never more required during the Winter. We will spend months of arriving to work and leaving work when it is dark. Its horrible. Its depressing. So stick to working hours.

Unless there is an important deadline, go home on time. Work will still be there the next day. Do what you can in working hours, then come back the next day and work again.

There is more to life than work. If you do not see that, then you need to leave work on time and live.

GET MORE LIGHT

Its simple. Get outside during daylight hours.

I have always been a stickler for this – especially during working hours. When colleagues wanted to spend time eating and working through their lunch breaks (another no no in my book), I encouraged as many as possible to get out, to go for a walk during lunch breaks.

You don’t get paid for the lunch break, so take it. Sitting in front of your computer and being indoors for hours on end every day is bad for your health.

GET OUT.

I made sure I went for a walk during my lunch break as I was lucky enough to have a park nearby during my previous role.

Now, I only get a 30 minute break. But that does not stop me finding the best possible route and completing a power walk in this time.

My break time belongs to me after all. It is my time. I will use it to get out and enjoy the daylight.

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GET HELP

If you find everything a little too much, like with all mental health issues, get help. Talking about any issues you may have is the best thing you could possibly do.

If someone you know is suffering, encourage them to seek help and give them as much emotional support as you can. Just the smallest gestures could help someone who is suffering.

Lets get through the Winter months with fewer people suffering with mental health issues. Its a tough time of year.

Lets keep removing that stigma. Lets talk.

Cooking with Quorn

As someone who has been vegetarian for the vast majority of my adult life, and someone who did not enjoy meat as a child, it is no surprise that Quorn alternatives are included in my daily diet.

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With recent studies suggesting that the protein found in Quorn meat-free products being just as good for muscles as animal proteins anyone living a vegetarian diet can easily get the levels of protein they need. Not only are Quorn products high in protein but they are high in fibre, low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol – so including these products into your diet, even if you are a meat eater, provides a way to cook healthier versions of every day recipes.

When Quorn offered me some vouchers to spend on the products in order to share my recipes on my blog I was, to begin with, tempted to hunt out the new products to test.

However, with the weather rapidly changing I thought It would be a perfect opportunity to cook a batch of some of my favourite comfort foods. The dishes that can easily be adapted from a meat version to a Quorn veggie delight.

The Quorn product I use most in my cooking is the mince – fresh or frozen is good. I am not too adventurous with the mince. There are two staple dishes that I throw together, mainly because they are the ultimate comfort food and secondly, they are dishes that I have made so many times I need no recipe. Bolognase is one, a dish that is one of my favourites – especially when I want to indulge with some pasta!

The second dish, and one of the first dishes I am going to share is the Quorn chilli. It is another favourite of mine and can be eaten in so many ways; with rice and a dollop of sour cream, with tortilla chips, on a jacket potato or even in a wrap. I love it all ways, and as I can smell it cooking away in the slow cooker I will provide my version (without exact measurements as I rarely measure anything):

Quorn Chilli

Packet of Quorn Mince
Can of Chopped Tomatoes
Can of Red Kidney Beans
Tomato Puree
500ml Vegetable Stock
Fresh Chilli
Red Pepper
Onion
Garlic
Cumin
Chilli Powder
Smoked Paprika

Now I am a complete cheat these days, I literally throw all the ingredients into the slow cooker, on a low setting and cook for around six hours. Not only can you just leave the everything to cook without constant checking, but also I find that it tastes so much nicer cooking at a lower heat for hours. All those flavours fuse together and it is divine!

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If you prefer sticking to cooking in a pan or need a more structured recipe Quorn have their own version here. 

As well has throwing together a recipe I am used to, today I wanted to also try something new. I found a recipe from Slimming World for “Chicken and Ham Hock Pies,” which all meat aside sounded rather delicious.

So I used one of my vouchers to purchase the Quorn Chicken Pieces. I have tried dishes using this product on a number of occasions. Sometimes they work, sometimes I have thrown the whole lot away. This time I was determined to make the dish work so I followed the recipe as much as possible.

Quorn “Chicken” Pot Pies

2 Large Parsnips
2 Large Potatoes (I actually used 4)
1 Large Carrot
100g Fat-Free Natural Fromage Frais (I actually used low fat cream cheese flavoured with herbs and garlic).
1 Large Leek
300ml Vegetable Stock
1 Packet Quorn Chicken Pieces
1 level tbsp Wholegrain Mustard
2 level tbsp Freshly Grated Parmesan

Method

  1. Cook the parsnips and potatoes in a saucepan of slightly salted boiling water over a high heat for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain well and mash until smooth. Stir in the carrot and half the fromage frais (or cream cheese) and season to taste (I added some mustard to the mix).
  2. Meanwhile, put the leek, stock and Quorn into another saucepan and bring to boil over a heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender.
  3. Reheat the grill to hot.
  4. Remove the Quorn mixture from the heat and stir in the mustard, parmesan and remaining fromage frais. Season to taste and divide into 4 individual pie dishes. Spoon the mash on top, smooth over with a fork and grill for 5 minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve with veggies.

This dish is so tasty. I often get bored with the dishes I put together, cooking the same over and over again. This provided a lovely change and found it also allowed me to discover another way to enjoy the Quorn chicken pieces.

These are just two of the many products that are available from the Quorn range. I prefer the raw products – like the mince and chicken pieces. However I also love some of the other products too. The “Quorn Ham” is a regular in my lunch box, replacing the cheese for the ham most days. The cocktail sausages are amazing for a quick snack – I often take these with me to races as a quick way to get protein post race – and they are extremely tasty too.

Recent purchases also include the Sweedish Style Meat Balls, Peppered Steaks and Fajita Strips in an attempt to not only provide a little more variation and excitement to my meals, but additionally to ensure that I don’t become bored of eating the same food. As, although the mince dishes are extremely tasty, no body wants to repeatidly eat the same food over and over again.

For those who don’t have the time or do not enjoy cooking, then Quorn have a range of “ready meals” for you to choose from; I have been known to pick up the Cottage Pie or Lasagne from time to time. And I love the sound of the Lentil Dhansak (my favourite dish at the Indian). If you are the kind of person who loves to cook up a storm in the kitchen Quorn have a whole page of recipes with dishes that are bound to tease your taste buds.

Does anyone else use Quorn products on a regular basis? What’s your favourite Quorn dish?

The Bucket List

The “Bucket List.” Often seen as the list of things you want to see, do or accomplish in your lifetime – before you “kick the bucket.”

I have read so many bucket lists lately. I’m not sure why so many bucket lists are suddenly coming to my attention. Maybe big birthdays are on the horizon or maybe people are just ambitious in life and want to achieve things, and as such are sharing to aspire others.

Either way it has made me take a step back and look at the bucket list I made in my twenties, to see what achievements I have made and what is left to “cross off my list.”

So we go back several, dare I say ten years, to see what I have accomplished:

Travel

  • Take city day trips to Edinburgh, Brussels, Paris, Lille and Cork
  • Go on a Baltic Cruise
  • Kiss the Blarney Stone
  • Be a tourist in my home town
  • Fly First Class
  • Wine tasting in the “Wine Country”
  • See Niagara Falls from both sides
  • Walk the Great Wall of China
  • Climb Kilamanjaro
  • Watch the sunset in Santorini
  • Visit the Valley of the Kings

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  • Drink bubbles in Prosecco
  • See La Sagrada Familia 
  • Run in a foreign city    Running in the one and only Central Park
  • Drink a pint of Guinness in Dublin 
  • Visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

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  • See the Astronomical Clock in Prague
  • Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Swim in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Hike down the Grand Canyon
  • Visit the Roman Baths, in Bath
  • Take a walk in the Lake District
  • Complete the Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand
  • Visit Loch Lomond
  • Take a city break to Madrid, Lisbon, Prague, Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Istanbul, Barcelona, Budapest, New York, Rome, Nice, Hamburg, Milan, Bucharest
  • Go on Safari in Africa
  • Shop at the Christmas markets in Europe

Adventure

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Achievements

  • Learn to drive
  • Complete the Great North Run
  • Run the Royal Parks Half Marathon
  • Learn Italian
  • Complete a 10k race under 60 minutes
  • Start a Blog –   almost two years in to my blog and I still have things to talk about.
  • Run a half marathon – there have been one, two……and a few more
  • Become an organ and blood donor – becoming a blood donor meant I discovered I have a rare blood type. B+ – only 8% of the UK have this blood type.
  • Go on a fitness weekend
  • Run an OCR race  to name a few: Rat Race Dirty Weekend, Nuclear, Commando. There is nothing like a muddy OCR race.

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Looking back on my bucket list; I am rather proud. The majority of the accomplishments I have ticket off the list are physical. Those that require an element of determination and discipline.

I remember the day I added some of these to my bucket list. The London Marathon in particular was added after watching the marathon on TV, crying my eyes out and thinking ” I can do that, that is a piece of cake.” So easy to say when you are sitting on the sofa and when, in fact at the time – I could not even run a mile.

But it was added to the list none the less. If I only ever run one marathon in my life I was determined that it was going to be my home town – London.

And between the time I added that to my bucket list I have ticket so many physical accomplishments off my list it is hard to imagine what I did before.

Then we come to the travel bucket list. A list I think will be never ending until the day I actually “kick the bucket” as quite frankly I cannot imagine a life that did not allow me to travel, to see the wonders of the world and to experience everything that it has to offer.

So as I review my bucket list I start to wonder how long the list will become over the next few years, where my travels will take me and what more I can achieve.

Because life is for living. You should never stop trying to achieve things in life. You should aspire to see more, to do more and experience everything you possibly can.

Keep ticking things off that Bucket List.

Adidas City Run: Shoreditch

A crisp, rather fresh, yet sunny morning welcomed the first race in the Adidas City run series. It could not have been better weather for an Autumnal race – warm enough to not require additional layers, yet cool enough to be the perfect running temperature.

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The race was designed to showcase the very best of one of London’s most vibrant areas – and it did not disappoint.

Beginning at Shoreditch park the race was officially opened by Tom Daley, though I don’t remember any announcement from him on the day, just runners moving out of the organised pens towards the start line.

The route saw runners wind their way through the rather picturesque streets of Shoreditch, lots of twists and turns around the residential streets taking in the beautiful town houses in the area. I never realised how charming this area of East London actually was until I began pounding the streets.

Just after the half way point the route saw us head towards Hoxton Street Market and Hoxton Square before looping back round to cross the finish back in Shoreditch Park.

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Image courtesy of Adidas City Run

The route was one of the flattest runs I have taken part in to date. With the flat terrain, wide roads and closed streets it offers the perfect opportunity to obtain PB’s. With the exception of the area round Hoxton Square, where you will find yourself dancing around to avoid the cobbled streets (a new running experience for me) the race ticks all the boxes. Even local residents came out to line the streets in some areas, cheering runners on, playing music and generally bringing a little atmosphere to the race – again making me proud of London, the people and sense of community.

Sadly, however, there were a few residents who thought it was perfectly okay to try and drive down the closed roads – completely oblivious to the massive signs and the thousands of racers running towards them. I praise the marshalls who had to deal with these ignorant members of the public. If I personally had to speak to such people I would not have been so polite.

For me this race has a special place in my heart. For months I have failed to get motivated, to get my mind working with my body and enjoying running as a whole. Sunday saw my mind go back to my happy running place. I was focused, I was determined and I did not stop. Not once.

For many the race may have been about time, about achieving a PB on a route that offered the opportunity to get one. For me it was about reminding myself that I can still run, that my ability is not lost and to attempt to get my running mojo back.

Mission accomplished.

I ran my heart out. Even when my mind was telling me I could not go on – my legs were carrying me through. And as such I saw my best 10K race time for 2017. Was it a PB? No. And it wasn’t the sub 60 minute time I crave deep down either.

What it was, was a chance to prove to myself I still have what it takes. I am still a runner. No matter how fast, I still have it in me to finish.

Thank you Adidas City Run. For providing a great race. A race that has enabled me to regain that lost mojo, with a snazzy medal and tech t-shirt to boot!

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World Mental Health Day

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According to statistics 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem this year, affecting both men and women.

However, in 2015 75% of all UK suicides were male. An even more shocking is the fact that suicide remains the most common cause of death for men between the ages 20-49 within the UK.

Despite moves to remove the stigma related to mental health for most dealing with a mental illness, no matter how severe, it is still a subject that many are too ashamed to speak about. The silence is just as bad as the mental illness itself. There should be no shame, those suffering should be able to feel like they can speak out, but many don’t. And and as such it is becoming a growing concern not just in the UK, but around the world.

On World Mental Health Day I am dedicating my blog post to mental health. To try and reach out, to try and help others. To get people talking about mental health because it should be spoken about. There should be no shame.

I have had my own dealings with mental health in the past. Luckily for me, it was not severe. However that doesn’t mean I don’t have to keep an eye on myself and know when things are just getting a bit too much. I have my own battles with depression and anxiety, and although the feelings don’t surface every day – it does not mean they are not there. I have good days and bad days.

Recently there have been more bad days than good. Work, redundancy and a recent death have led to the past three years becoming an emotional battle. My method of coping nine times out of ten has been exercise. I have always had a strong belief that exercise and mental well being come hand in hand. Having an outlet to work out your stress is a must have for everyone – mine is sweating it out.

But then there are times when even that doesn’t work for me. When everything got just too much recently even the thought of bumping into someone I know whilst out and about filled me with dread. When I was made redundant the thought of being in a social situation where someone would ask me “have I got a job yet” would increase my anxiety levels to the point where I simply avoided all social situations.

The point is, you need to know how to deal with your own mental health and know when to seek help.

Sadly, not everyone is strong enough or feel too much shame to be able to get the help they need.

I never thought I would be in a situation where I could personally relate. My Uncle falls under the latest statistic. At a young age of 48 he took his own life after failing to get the help he needed.

The warning signs were there. He talked about taking his own life, in public and privately too. However, being the joker he was I did not take him seriously. I told him he had plenty to live for.

No one who talks about suicide actually does it right? WRONG. So completely wrong.

Tragically, we found out the hard way. That it had just got too much and being the middle aged man he was, he did not seek the professional help he needed – despite many reaching out to him.

There has been a lot of time spent going over and over everything, asking why? What possessed him to take his own life? And no matter how many times I ask myself this question I will never be able to understand the reasons. Because, despite having my own issues in the past, my mental health is not so severe that I feel suicide is the only way out. I can compartmentalise situations and find ways to work through. I know when it is time to sweat it out and when it is time to simply have a glass of wine with friends.

Others are not so lucky.

I will live the rest of my live with regret. Regretting not answering that last message. For the last words we had not being ones filled with love. And for not taking the talk of suicide seriously. For not intervening and forcing him to get the help he needed.

But I will also spend the rest of my life dedicating as much time as possible to preventing someone else from going through this pain. To promoting mental health awareness and campaigning to remove the stigma around it.

Because for someone who said he had “no one” I am overwhelmed with the amount of love shown since his death.

In loving memory I will be taking part in the Isle of Wight Challenge for Mind:<<DONATE HERE>>

Regaining control of your schedule.

I have made no secret of the fact that I have lost control of my schedule over the last few months.

When I was made redundant at the beginning of the Summer having no schedule felt fantastic. Not having to rely on alarms, joining the rat race round the M25 or being tied down to office hours made me feel so free. I enjoyed the free time; endless hours at garden centres, time spent with friends and family and generally getting through that “to do list” that never gets done.

However, at some point having no schedule becomes frustrating. After three months of fitting job searching in between the glorious time out I found myself loosing the ability to keep motivated, to keep focused. Throw additional factors into the mix, like loosing a family member and I found myself completely lost.

No focus. No drive. No motivation.

I stopped going to classes. I missed races I had planned in. And I started to skip meals.

My short trip to Budapest could not have come at a better time. Taking myself out of the country gave my mind and body time to reset. I did not think about job hunting, about training or even the grief I was feeling in the lead up to the break away.

And now, as we are in the final months of the year with a few races left in the diary for 2017 it is time for me to put the schedule back in place.

This week I started working on this plan. I began getting some running miles under my belt to prepare for tomorrow’s up coming race – Adidas City Run.

I also started a new job, giving me that much needed schedule in the day and giving my mind something new to focus on.

And the goal for next week? Getting back into a training schedule in time for the Herts Half Marathon in just six weeks time.

Life can throw many obstacles in your way that can distract you, that could try to bring you down. I never imagined I would allow my personal situation get in the way of my training, it is usually the one thing I can rely on to deal with stress. However, I am only human. I have to accept the good times and the bad times too.

Now is time to take back that control. Make a plan and stick to it. Shake off the bad times and move forward. To pick myself back up and get ready for the next challenge.

To come back stronger.

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City Break: Budapest

Last week saw me fly away to the cultural delight that is Budapest. A city that is full of fairy tale charm and culture on every corner – it has quickly become top of my city breaks list.

With just two full days in the city there was plenty to pack into the schedule. And pack it in we certainly did. Staying at the Soho Boutique hotel in the Jewish Quarter of the city provided a perfect base to get around by foot.

Day one saw us cover almost 14 miles around the city, heading down across the Danube and making a steady climb to obtain the “best views the city has to offer” from the Citadel at the top of Gellért Hill. After the steep climb up the hill we spent a little while at the top soaking in the views across the river and catching our breath before continuing our adventure on the Buda side of the city.

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After the steep climb of Gellért Hill we hopped on the funicular railway to the castle district, where the stunning scenery and architecture continued delight. Here we took in more views over the Danube, took in Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.

 

The Fisherman’s Bastion in particular was something to be seen, it was breath taking and looked like a backdrop from a Disney film – quickly becoming my highlight of the day.

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Views across the river to Parliament were beautiful, especially as we were blessed with such a sunny afternoon and bright blue skies.

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After spending a significant part of the afternoon soaking in the delights around the castle region and having a spot of lunch in the sun, we made our way back down to the river, crossing back over to the “Pest” side of the city.

A brief walk around Parliament followed, an impressive building up close, before making our way back to the hotel for a pit stop before dinner.

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Our second day saw us head towards Városliget, the city park – which has plenty to offer all kinds of tourists.

Walking up Andrássy Avenue, you will spot some spectacular looking buildings en route. Here you will also find the Terror Museum, containing exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in the 20th century. If we had more time on our hands this would have been something we would have liked to have visited. However, with it being another beautiful sunny day we wanted our time to be spent out doors.

So we continued up the Avenue until we saw the entrance to the city park, which is very hard to miss with the iconic landmark of Heroes Square.

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Just a short walk into the park and you will stumble across the beauty that is Vajdahunyad Castle. With more fairy tale charm, I half expected a Disney princess to throw down her hair from one of the many turrets.

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We could have spent all admiring the castle and wondering around the park grounds, however we had booked tickets to spend some time at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths – one of the best and largest baths in Europe. It boasts 15 indoor and 3 outdoor pools with natural hot spring waters.

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Personally, I found the indoor pools rather eerie. Getting in and out of different heated pools with the strong sulphur smell was a bit too much for me so we did not stay long here. The outdoor pools would have been great, if they were not so crowded and perhaps better suited for a winter visit, when you could fully appreciate the heated temperatures of the water. I found the baths were not for me; far too many people for my liking. But it is all part of the experience, if you don’t try these things for yourself you don’t know.

So after our short visit to the baths we were on our way again, working our way through the city, stopping for lunch and visiting a Lego shop we stumbled across in our travels.

We spent more time around the city centre this afternoon, wondering around the Parliament building again. And then on to seek out the “Shoes on the Danube Bank.” A rather poignant memorial to those who were shot along the banks and thrown into the river during the Second World War.

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With just two full days to spend in Budapest we had seen many of the major landmarks, soaked up the culture and admired all the beautiful buildings (covering a total of 30 miles). Without a doubt it is a city that offers so much history, charm and beauty – quickly becoming one of my favourite places to date.

Two days was not enough to appreciate everything Budapest has to offer. We did not get the chance to cruise the Danube at night or to wonder inside the Parliament buildings – so I imagine there will be a return visit in the future.

It is clear to see why Budapest regularly features as a top European city break location. I have yet to hear a bad review, everyone I know who have visited appreciates its charm and beauty.

If Budapest is not already on your bucket list – then it should be!