Bristol Gin Festival from a Finnish perspective

Like Karis, I don’t enjoy ginger but gin has never been a problem. Therefore, it’s no surprise that I was excited to hear the Gin Festival was coming to Bristol while I’d be visiting.

The festival, which has been touring the UK since 2013, was set up at The Station in the Bristol city centre. It’s an easily accessible venue with a great courtyard. We arrived about an hour after gates had opened and the place was packed, music was playing and people were mingling happily.

While the atmosphere was great, the queue to the ticket counter was a bit daunting. I guess that’s the price to pay for an atmosphere like that, but at least the crew were up to the task and the line moved quickly and efficiently, and before you knew it we had our stack of vouchers.

Gin Festival

Vouchers and brilliant glass now in hand, we browsed the comprehensive event guide about all the gins available at the festival. The booklet was complete with drink recipes, gin quizzes, tasting notes and other interesting info. We picked various drinks from the booklet (admittedly, the garnishes played an important role in the decision making) and headed over to the bars. They were divided into four different areas and the booklet guided you to the right corner of the counter. Very efficient! Cocktails were also available, but we stuck to the main feature of the night – gin and tonic.

Speaking of tonic, there was a selection of Fever-Tree tonics available as mixers and the guide book came with recommended tonics for each gin. And the recommendations seemed spot on.

After cruising around the crowded expo hall we headed out to the courtyard to enjoy our drinks. It was surprising and pleasing to notice how different all the different variations were and I developed a new-found appreciation for the different styles of gin and the versatility of such a simple combination.

Gin Festival

What we drank (garnish and mixer):

  • Blackwoods Vintage Dry 60 (mint & lime with Fever-Tree aromatic tonic)
  • Poetic License Old Tom (apple with Fever-Tree ginger ale)
  • Trevethan Cornish Gin (orange and clove with Fever-Tree elderflower tonic)
  • Eccentric Citrus Overland (lemon and thyme with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic)
  • Kalevala (lime with Fever-Tree Indian tonic)
  • Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger (apple with Fever-Tree soda water)
  • Ely Dark Chocolate (with orange juice)

We really enjoyed our night and the drinks we tried (sadly all agreed that the Ely Dark Chocolate wasn’t to our tastes, but it’s good to give things a go, though!), so thanks to the Gin Festival team!

Perhaps the Gin Festival should come to Finland?

Juho.

Details: The Gin Festival has regular events around the UK, take a look at their website to see where they will be next!

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A long weekend in Amsterdam

My holidays are usually pretty packed, but now that we can go away for 3-4 days at a time, we have a little more time to relax. Not.

Earlier this month, we finally made it to Amsterdam. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. As a history buff and foodie, I’m keen to go anywhere with old buildings and good food.

As it was my first time in Amsterdam and we only had four days, we did a lot of the very touristy things – ate cheese, visited some windmills, walked through the red light district and ate some dutch goodies.

We had a really good weekend, so I thought I’d share what we got up to:

Explore the canals

This one is pretty easy – walk around. Amsterdam is compact; there are a lot of different aspects to the city in a very small space (it seems). I can highly recommend just walking along the canals, taking in the sights, particularly the houses:

  • You’ll note that some a bit wonky – in some cases this is on purpose because apparently if your house leans forward, it looks bigger.
  • Keep an eye out for the hook holders jutting out from the top of many – they were used to haul up goods to the top level of the house so they remained dry.
  • Take a look at the make up of each house – many have coats of arms and imagery to show who owned the house and what that person did for a living. I think the more detailed the image, the more ‘well-to-do’ the person living there.

Amsterdam canals

I found it interesting that because space was so sought after, housing lots were narrow and tax was charged on frontage. Therefore, houses were narrow, but often extended backwards a fair way. These houses look very small on the outside, but some have 30+ rooms and would be considered mansions.

I could keep going because it was absolutely fascinating learning about how things worked in old world Amsterdam, but I’ll let you figure all of that out when you get there.

If you don’t want to walk around the entire time, I can highly recommend a canal cruise. You’ll get a bit of commentary and you can see a huge amount of the canals, without needing a foot massage! We did a cruise with the Blue Boat Company.

Amsterdam canals

The infamous red light district

One of those places you read and hear about often. You’ll find that it’s crowded once it starts to get dark and the throng of people don’t really stick around, they just take a look and move through. I can recommend doing the same. Take a look – see what the buzz is all about – and then move on to other (more interesting) things, like the Museumplein to get your obligatory photo with the Iamsterdam letters. Keep in mind that food and drink is expensive in the red light district because it’s so touristy.

Amsterdam redlight

Markets

I love markets and I always try to fit one or two in wherever I go, much to the annoyance of my husband. We were very lucky in that Dappermarkt was right outside our AirBnB, so even walking from the train station to the place we were staying was fun!

We also went to the Albert Cuyp Market. It was long and there were plenty of goodies to view (and eat!). You probably don’t need to go to both, but I recommend going to at least one.

Amsterdam markets

A countryside tour

All you need for this is half a day, really. We chose a half-day tour that would take us to see the windmills in Zaanse Schaans, try cheese in Volendam and see clogs being made in Marken. We had a quick lunch in Volendam, which consisted of kiplings, oorlog patates and we may have had some poffertjes to round out our deep-fried meal of champions.  The tour we took was excellent, because we got to see plenty in a short space of time.

Amsterdam windmills

A cheese tasting class

What’s a trip to Amsterdam without cheese? I found this by accident and I’m really glad I did! For 16 euro, you’ll get an hour full of cheese with a few wines. Held at Reypenaer Cheese – an unassuming shop front on Singel representing a company that doesn’t actually make the cheese, they just ripen it.

Amsterdam cheese tasting

You’re shown downstairs in their shop to a small room with desks all set up for our session. No joke, kind of felt like we were in a classroom – it has tables with all the implements you need to taste cheese successfully.

We were given the history of the company and what they do, as well as a taste of their five cheeses. The best part – the cheese was left on the table with you, so you could have as many testers as you wanted to get your mouth around the various flavours and textures.

Amsterdam cheese tasting

On the plus side, we scored cheaper tickets to the Bols experience as a package deal…

Heineken and Bols experiences

There’s always seems to be some kind of alcohol-based museum in the cities we go to. In Amsterdam, there were two: the Heineken Experience and the Bols and Genever Experience.

We went to both.

The Bols and Genever Experience was actually really interesting in terms sensory activities. My favourite part was smelling the flavours of the various liqueurs and trying to work out what they were. It takes about an hour to go through and at the end you get a cocktail of your choice.

Amsterdam House of Bols

The Heineken Experience was actually disappointing for me. I didn’t like the way they had set things out and I didn’t enjoy waiting 20 minutes for the ‘brew you ride’ which wasn’t anything spectacular. Part of the ticket price gives you two beers at the end of the experience and you get a quarter-pint or so right after the ‘brew you ride’. If you must go, I can recommend not going on a weekend – we stopped by on the Saturday and we could see from just the outside that it was packed because the queues were huge.

Amsterdam Heineken experience

This was clearly no relaxing tour of Amsterdam; we were most definitely tired by the time we’d finished everything on this list, but I really felt like I’d managed to see so much of Amsterdam. I should also note that we also went to a few other places not mentioned here, but the above were my highlights (or things I felt I should cover).

Happy to share my tips if you have any specific questions!

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A Grand old time: Bristol’s Mercure The Grand Hotel

Being in the UK means I’ve had the opportunity to travel so much more. This means scouring travel websites looking for the best deals on flights, accommodation and tours in brilliant locations (and I’ve really spent a lot of time looking!).

Because my wanderlust usually takes me further afield, unsurprisingly, I often forget about what’s happening right here in Bristol. But, I know some of you don’t come from here and perhaps you’ve been thinking of visiting.

When I’m looking at hotels, people often say “it doesn’t matter where you stay because you’ll be out and about and you’ll spend very little time in your room”. I think that’s half true – you spend longer than you realise in your hotel room and the more comfortable it is, the better. I also think it’s nice to walk into a lovely clean room with practical features and nice things to look at.

I was recently invited along to Mercure’s The Grand to see their very funky makeover. I know this isn’t the 70s, but they really have done some amazing work with the refurbishment.

Located on Broad Street in the Old City, close to Broadmead and St Nicks’ Market, it’s the perfect place to base yourself if you’re in Bristol.

The building itself is gorgeous. I couldn’t find any history on the building itself, though it’s Grade II listed. When you see the outside, you imagine you’ll walk into something old world. But after the refurbishment, it’s now a stunning combination of classic and modern. You walk into the lobby and it feels bright, clean and modern, but it the old and new world compliment each other well.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol

Local artists

The team who designed the new look and feel of the hotel worked closely with Upfest to give the hotel the ‘Bristol’ feel. More than 500 pieces of art have been created by local artists. So often when you walk into hotels, they are bland and clinical, you could easily imagine yourself in any city in the world because there’s no art or even personality in the hotel, let alone the rooms. I think it’s brilliant that Mercure has taken the opportunity to make use of Bristol’s creatives to make the hotel something to write home about.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Art

Comfortable amenities

The rooms aren’t just pretty. They are practical too. The beds are amazingly comfortable and the bathrooms are classic and clean.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Room

Keepers Kitchen and Bar

As part of the refurbishment, the restaurant has had an even bigger makeover and it’s not your usual boring hotel restaurant. As you’ll see from the photos below, you’ll note that Keepers has a theme – honey! Their plan is to eventually have bees on the roof of the hotel, so they can use (very) local honey in their cocktails and on the menu.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Speaking of cocktails, they have a brilliant range on offer in the bar, including three honey-based cocktails.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

On the food side, the restaurant has a solid menu to please everyone. We were treated to anti pasti, pizza, and small versions of mains from the menu, including mushroom pappardelle, pan-fried sea bass, glazed pig cheeks (my favourite from the night), and the Keepers posset made with honey, of course.

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Mercure The Grand, Bristol - Keepers Kitchen and Bar

Mercure The Grand, Bristol is the perfect place for a staycation or if you’re just visiting, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Details
Address: Broad Street, BS1 2EL  Bristol
Telephone: 08713769042
Web: mercure.com

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