When I travel it’s my pleasure to shop for small souvenirs that create memories of my travels. They have to be light and fun, because who wants to be burdened with too much stuff, spend a lot of money that could have bought another holiday, or pay for extra baggage? As I’m a hand-luggage only girl, my souvenirs have to squeeze in between the clothes and the laptop.
On our recent spring break in Budapest with Avios, we had our fair share of strolling the famous boulevards of Váci utca and Andrássy út, lined with designer names and top international brands. But my heart was in those folk-art gift shops, sifting through the striped woven table cloths and cut felt cushions, thinking about the work of some lady in the Hungarian steppes, who might be using skills that she learned from her grandmother.
Budapest is full of tempting and original souvenirs to buy, so here are some of the things to look out for when you visit;
Traditional Hungarian Folkart
As we were there just before Easter, I was drawn to these baskets of pretty painted eggs with colourful Hungarian motifs. The gift shop in the square of St Stephen’s Basilica had a great selection of these and other traditional Hungarian crafts. I bought a few in pinks and creams to hang up at Easter and one in red and gold to come out again at Christmas to hang on my tree. These painted eggs are perfect to hang from silver twigs or spring branches in a vase to decorate the house at Easter. I also saw some beautiful dyed and patterned real eggs in intricate patterns in the Central Market where the food stalls were downstairs and the handicrafts and souvenirs upstairs.
In the main shopping area we enjoyed looking round the Folkart Kézművészház shop that was full of textiles, red and white woven cloths and cut felt designs from the Hungarian steppes as well as hand embroidered blouses and table cloths.
Folkart Kézművészház, 1052 Budapest Régiposta utca 12
A modern twist on Hungarian crafts
The distinctive Hungarian embroidery designs cropped up again at Fian Koncept, a shop that we discovered along the road from Ruszwrum Cukrasda where we’d been having coffee after looking around the Fisherman’s Bastion. This store was packed with souvenirs and gifts that are modern interpretations of the traditional designs. Here I bought a gold leather purse with colourful Hungarian motifs by Gabriella Lukács and admired the embroidered zip bags that would make a great sponge bag or even a clutch. The owner offered us some dried apple from Fruitfull.hu which seems to be a local speciality and I also bought a red embossed notebook from Szia! for my travel notes. I loved the way that Hungarian motifs had been used on all sorts of desirable objects from Cinq Filles scented candles, to Hungarian gift cards from Moha Design; you can see some beautiful examples on the Fian Concept Facebook Page.
Fian Concept H-101 Budapest, Uri u. 26-28
Hand-painted Herend Porcelain
Herend is the world famous porcelain of Hungary and you can’t go too far in Budapest without seeing the classic, handpainted plates and ornaments. My parents used to collect Herend and gave me some years ago a beautiful plant holder that I kept on my mantelpiece, without realising the Budapest connection. If you are a serious collector, you need to watch out for fakes and be sure to buy from the Herend stores or from a registered stockist, and you should be given a little card of authenticity with your purchase. We passed the Herend Store on Andrássy út with this enormous painted lion which was far to big to bring home in the suitcase so instead my sister bought my mother a pretty little heart shaped dish to put on her dressing table.
Herend, 1061 Budapest, Andrássy út 16
Honey and candles
Walking under a covered arcade near the Intercontinental Hotel where we were staying, we spotted a small shop selling honey and beeswax products. There were all kinds of ornamental beeswax candles on sale as well as jars of local honey and some pretty decorative biscuits. They seemed to be keepsakes to give to that special person in your life, and as Valentine’s day had just been and gone, I wondered if they were just for Valentine’s day or sold all year round. The pretty heart biscuits were a more refined version of the decorated gingerbread that is sold in Christmas markets, more for display than eating.
Mehzi, Budapest 5th District, Erzsebet Square 1 (under the arcades)
Paprika, Sausages and Palinka
For edible souvenirs, we went to the Central Market where the downstairs is full of stalls selling more variations of paprika than you could possibly imagine. On other stalls, cured sausages hang in rows, flavoured with paprika and other spices, ready for you to add to a rich, hearty Hungarian stew. Another speciality is the goose live pate sold in small tins at all the meat stalls. If you want to drink the flavour of Hungary try a glass of Palinka in one of the restaurants you visit – it’s a strong spirit that’s flavoured with fruits such as cherry, strawberry and apricot. When I tried a sip at the Strudel House after dinner, it made my eyes water – I can see why it’s traditionally drunk in the morning to wake you up!
Great Market Hall, 1093 Budapest, Vámház körút 1-3
If you love to look and shop at beautiful handicrafts and textiles you’ll find plenty to buy in Budapest – enjoy looking and bring a little piece of Budapest home with you.
If you’ve been to Budapest, what were you tempted to buy as a souvenir?
More things to enjoy in Budapest
We booked our Budapest spring break through Avios, who offer ways to earn points at the places you shop everyday, that you can convert into a flight, hotel or holiday. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next weekend escape and you can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points or directly on the Intercontinental website if you are not an Avios member and it’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
In Travel Podcast Episode 27, I talk to La Carmina; fashion blogger, TV host and expert in Japanese street style, about Tokyo. We find out where to shop if you’d like to dress in Gothic style or as an antique doll from the forest. Hear about the Tokyo theme restaurants that will give you a night out you’ll never forget and some of the more extreme body modifications like snake tongues and bagel heads, as well as hanging out in Cat Cafes and finding things that you can enjoy in Tokyo with the family. Even if you’ve never thought of Japan as a place to visit, you’ll be fascinated by all the cool and quirky things that La Carmina recommends in Tokyo.
An Introduction to La Carmina
La Carmina lives in Vancouver in Canada, although her family is originally from Hong Kong. As a child, she travelled widely in Asia with her family and started to fall in love with Japanese street style, the cute Hello Kitty culture, the punk and Gothic styles and Harajuku. Her experimentation with crazy fashion continued when she went to college in New York and she started blogging to share her photos and fashion style. Since then she has written books and worked on TV shows about Japanese street culture. You can follow her on her blog at La Carmina.
So what makes Tokyo unique and special?
There’s something for every type of traveller in Tokyo. Whether you love fashion and nightlife or whether you want to go for adventure or relax with the family, Tokyo has it all. The food is wonderful and the people are so nice. Of course it can be a bit of a culture shock – the movie Lost in Translation sums it up. It’s hustle and bustle, neon lights, and people don’t necessarily speak English so it can be a challenging place. But if you give Tokyo a try, it can be an eye opener and shock you out of your comfort zone.
Which areas should we explore in Tokyo?
Ideally you’ll want to stay a minimum of 5-7 days to explore some of the main Tokyo neighbourhoods as well as take some day trips. La Carmina recommends that people stay in Shinjuku, because it’s the hub for the famous subway system and the bullet train. Shinjuku is also an area where there are a lot of great restaurants and nightlife, and only one stop away on the subway is Harajuku, famous for the Harajuku girls who pose in their Gothic and Lolita fashions. Also nearby is Shibuya, where you’ll find shopping, the trendy Gal culture – it’s shopping central.
Getting around in Tokyo
The subway is the best way to get around unless you can afford the taxis, which are very expensive. If you’re not careful a 20 minute taxi ride could blow your entire budget for the week! On the other hand the subway works very well, the trains come very frequently and are always on time. However you need to remember that the subways stop running between 1am and 5 am so if you are going out late, make sure you have a ride back or you plan to stay out all night, otherwise you could get stuck.
Tips on Japanese etiquette
Everyone knows that the Japanese are very polite and always bowing, so when in Tokyo you should try not to be too loud. On the subway it’s considered rude to speak on your mobile phone – you can text message but otherwise you should only be whispering. The subway is not the place for you to be chattering loudly with your friends. Then there’s food etiquette, for instance you should not put your chopsticks into the bowl of rice so they stick up vertically, as this is a symbol of death and you don’t want to be thinking of death as you eat.
How do you describe your fashion style?
My look is influenced by so many Japanese street styles. There are so many different tribes and fashion sub-groups that have a particular fashion outlook. For example there are the J-Rocker or Visual Kei group, then there are the Goths, the Punks, and also groups that only exist in Japan like the Mori girls who look like antique dolls that live in the forest like Hansel and Gretel. It’s fascinating to walk through Harajuku and see the stores that carry these designs and see the teenagers all dressed up. I personally like to mix up all these styles, but I don’t associate with any particular one group or style as I find them all fascinating. I like to find my own personal style and I don’t like having rules for ways to dress. Sometimes these fashion sub groups are very strict about wearing things a certain way and that’s not for me.
Harajuku – the place to see and be seen
I love Harajuku, it’s a great place to go, even if you’re not into fashion. It’s a wonderful place to people watch, to just sit in a cafe and check out the scene. I’d recommend taking the train to Harajuku station and go down Takeshita-dori, which is a narrow street with a colourful arch over it. Down there you’ll find all these bizarre, quirky, wonderful stores, that sell toy accessories, colourful bracelets, crazy stockings. Walk through there and browse around. There’s also the famous Jingu Bashi bridge in Harajuku, where young people come in their flamboyant costumes and styles to pose for photos. It isn’t as popular a hangout as it used to be but you’ll still see people there, especially on Sundays. You can’t go wrong if you stop in Harajuku and walk around – you’ll see crazy fashions and you’ll find something funny to buy.
Shibuya for crazy clothes shopping
Shibuya is also a wonderful place to go, especially if you’re into Gyaru or Gal fashion. For this style, the girls might have bleached blonde hair and wear shorts and boots; it’s a trendy celebrity style and a lot of them have big doll-like eye-lashes. The main hub for these shops is a place called Shibuya 109 which is a craziest department store you’ll ever set foot in. Once you walk inside, there are tons of little shops, each blasting techno music, it’s a total assault on the senses. These cute Japanese shop girls are yelling at you to come into their store and try on the clothes. You wander around and see everything from hip hop to trendy to doll-like fashions. You’ll find Shibuya 109 by the big red sign when you step out of the Shibuya subway station.
Designer fashion or vintage in Tokyo
If you’re more into the high end fashions, then go to Omotesandō, which is also in Harajuku, just a few blocks away from the station. Ginza is also famous for being the ritzy part of Tokyo, you can find some beautiful fashions there from all over the world and I’ve seen some gorgeous kimonos on sale there. If you’re into bohemian, vintage and young hippy fashion, there’s a neighbourhood called Shimokitazawa, that not many first time visitors know about. It has a really laid back atmosphere, and feels a bit like college town with lots of cafes, tons of vintage stores and you can get some pretty good deals.
Cute inexpensive souvenirs
All my friends are happy when I bring back souvenirs from the 100 Yen stores, which are like dollar stores in the USA. However, where dollar stores can have a reputation for being full of junk, the 100 yen stores are full of colourful, unique gismos. You can get everything from cute stationary to bizarre cleaning products such as sponges shaped like teddy bears. When you buy something in these stores to give to a friend, they think, Wow! only in Japan. The most famous 100 Yen store is called Daiso and there’s a big one in Harajuku, where you’ll find an amazing selection of things you’ll love.
Japanese foods to try when out and about in Tokyo
A lot of travellers know about the typical Japanese food like Sushi and Ramen which you can find everywhere. For a unique experience try the vending machines, where if you want to buy a bowl of Ramen or hot noodles, you would punch in your order then get a ticket which you give to the cook to make your order. With Sushi you can go from the most high end $100 a meal to conveyor belt sushi, and although it’s inexpensive, you’re in Tokyo so you know the quality will be amazing.
Quick bites on a budget
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat on a budget, try the convenience stores. In the West nobody would dare to eat there but in Japan you can find delicious foods in the 7-Eleven stores. For instance, they serve rice balls with intriguing fillings such as plum or fish eggs and although you only spend $1-2 on these they can be a delicious and filling meal. They don’t have any place to eat inside, but are full of little take-out boxes for rice balls and tofu platters. There are convenience stores on every block in major neighbourhoods, so stop by and grab something that will make a cheap and delicious meal.
Theme restaurants in Tokyo
The Theme restaurants in Tokyo are an immersive experience - it’s as if you are entering a theatre world and you are part of the play. Take the Monster Theme Restaurant which I went to quite a few times. As soon as you walk inside you are surrounded by jail cells, the waitress is wearing a skimpy nurse uniform and she handcuffs you, then she leads you to your table which is inside a jail cell and locks you up. Then when your waiter comes and you order a drink it might come in the form of a syringe or a bedpan and while you’re eating, the monsters would run around, the lights would go off and the monsters would pop into your jail cell and scare you. It’s completely over the top and you are a part of the experience.
To be honest the food is not the main draw, although it has got better as theme restaurants continue to pop up, creating more competition, so the restaurants started to put more emphasis on the quality of the food. The main thing that distinguishes the food is how quirky it is and how well it fits the theme. For example there’s something called Russian Roulette Takuyaki which are octopus balls. You would be served 6 octopus balls but one would be filled with Wasabi which is green horseradish paste, which if you bite into it your head would explode. Everyone would take one octopus ball but the victim would be the one running to the bathroom, sweating all over.
Sounds scary, but where can I eat with my family?
There are all sorts of theme restaurants and not all are frightening. Some have a fairytale theme, for instance, there are Princess cafes where the guys would treat you like a princess, they put a crown on your head and bend to your every whim. There are Cat cafes and Dog cafes that pet lovers would love. In a Cat cafe you will have a dozen little kitty cats running around and you can play with them; you can hang out and drink your coffee and eat your cake with cats all around you. In Japan there’s very little space in apartments for people to have pets, or they work too long hours, so a Cat cafe is a great way for them to have a pet for a few hours. On the other hand the dog cafe is where you bring your dog, and you can eat at the same table as your dog and dress them up, and even eat the same food as they prepare food that is edible for canines and humans.
Which Theme restaurant do you suggest for teenagers?
Teenagers might love the Ninja restaurant – you walk through secret passageways as if you were in a hidden Japanese cave, and the Ninjas are doing acrobatics and magic tricks at your table. They might serve you a desert shaped like a frog, or an appetiser where the fire travels down a string until it hits the appetiser which bursts into flames. Theme restaurants are also very popular with groups of friends and co-workers in Japan, as it gives them a chance to hang out and also something to talk about.
For a group night out my favourite restaurant is Kagaya, and it’s impossible to describe if you don’t want to ruin the surprise, let’s just say that when you walk in it seems like a homey little restaurant/bar and the owner seems perfectly normal until he pops into a closet and comes hopping out, dressed in a frog costume, it’s a bit of a surreal performance art. It’s completely unpredictable, there are gags everywhere. He’ll serve you beer and then the beer starts shaking so you can’t drink your beer – that’s just one of the 50 surprises that will happen all evening.
How about bars and nightlife in Tokyo?
A lot of tourists go to Roppongi and although I can’t especially recommend it, it’s the Disneyland version of Tokyo. If you want to hang out with other foreigners then Roppongi is the place where people let loose, but the locals don’t really go there. It reminds me of a Las Vegas environment.
Another fun area is called Golden Gai in Shinjuku, it’s a series of little streets packed with tiny bars, where you might only fit three people inside and each one may have something unique about it. One has a punk theme, another a Gothic theme and some offer Karaoke, so that could be an interesting place to bar-hop. If you want to try drinking something that’s uniquely Japanese, try the Sake or the Soju which are the rice wines. I personally love cocktails that use a Yusu flavour, it’s a Japanese citrus which is a cross between an orange and a lemon, it has a distinctive taste and it’s very hard to get outside Japan, so be sure to check if they have any drinks that have a Yusu flavour on the drinks menu.
Where should I go clubbing in Tokyo?
For clubbing it depends what kind of music you like, and the sub group you associate with – there’s an amazing music scene in Tokyo. They bring in DJs from around the world so whether you’re into techno or into hip hop there will be a fascinating scene for you. I personally love the Gothic and alternative parties which are centred in Shinjuku, and my two favourites are called Midnight Mess and Tokyo Decadance. At the parties they play everything from classic Gothic to Industrial to Synth pop and everyone dresses up in these flamboyant, elegant Gothic costumes, they are some of the best parties I’ve been to ever, On the extreme side there are fetish and experimental nightlife events as well, especially one called Department H, inside you’ll see people in head to toe handmade costumes and body-moders who do extreme modifications like snake tongues and temporary piercings all over their body or even bagel heads.
Sorry, did you say Snake tongues and Bagel heads?
Yes, a snake tongue is when you split your tongue in half, so that it now has two points instead of one, and the two points can flip back and forth or dart in and out like a snake. There are other temporary forms of body modification, for instance I’ve seen some people who get their mouth sewn shut; it’s a half fetish, half body modification thing.There are also suspensions, where people have metal hooks inserted into their backs, and then they are suspended above the ground and they can swing back and forth. Extreme as they are, these effects are temporary. In a society like Japan people can’t go around in the streets with permanent body modifications and there’s a great stigma against tattoos in particular, as they are associated with the criminal culture, that’s why temporary modifications can be pretty popular at these events.
The bagel heads are created where you place a needle under the skin of your forehead and drip saline solution into the skin, so that your forehead bulges out into a bubble shape, then you press your thumb into the centre of the bubble so that it creates a doughnut or bagel like shape, which lasts for around one day. (Although La Carmina hasn’t had a bagel head done herself, her company worked on four TV shows about bagel heads) If you get a bagel head done in Japan, although it looks extreme, they use sterile solution and are very experienced and qualified.
So where do I get my party outfit?
I think people in Tokyo are very creative with their outfits. I have friends who go into 100 Yen stores and create costumes out of surprising materials there; they might use a plant or a broom, or fake flowers to create an incredible costume. There are plenty of costume stores especially in the district called Akihabara, where all the geeks go, as it’s a centre of electronics, video games and comic books. However, even though you see these crazy costumes in photos, not everyone dresses up, for instance some people if they go to a Gothic party would just wear all black.
Any other places I could take the family for a unique Tokyo experience?
One area that is fun for all ages, but especially families and kids is Odaiba, it’s the Tokyo port on the east side, right by the ocean and not that many first time visitors know about it. It’s a great little half day trip where you take the subway there, and there are a number of different attractions. There are a few museums and as is typical in Japan, there’s a theme everything. For instance there is a cat petting zoo, similar to a cat cafe except that you only go there to play and pet cats. There’s a gigantic video game centre with every video game you could think of, there are giant robot panda bears that you can put a coin in and ride on the back of the Panda bear, there’s a Rainbow bridge and a Little Hong Kong, It’s an indoor recreation of Hong Kong, you walk inside and you see neon signs and Chinese restaurants and even sound effects like the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong – everything but the smells!
Where to find La Carmina
My thanks to La Carmina for sharing her tips on all the cool and quirky things to see and do in Tokyo. You can find more about every aspect of Tokyo culture on La Carmina’s blog and on Twitter @LaCarmina on the La Carmina Facebook Page and watch some cool travel and fashion videos on the La Carmina Youtube Channel
La Carmina’s Books
For more information about the Tokyo Theme Restaurants, you can read La Carmina’s book on Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo and Cute Yummy Time with 70 recipes for the cutest food you’ll ever eat.
Photo: All photos are copyright of La Carmina
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
April 3, 2013 by Guest Author
Filed under Accommodation, Beaches and swimming, Devon and Cornwall, Eating and drinking, featured, Guest post, Hotels, Leisure, Nature, Shopping, Sightseeing, United Kingdom, Walking, World
Lynton and Lynmouth are two neighbouring villages on the coast of North Devon known for their extraordinary beauty and unique railway. Tiny Lynmouth can be found directly across from the crashing waves of the ocean, whilst Lynton sits 500 feet above it on a cliff overlooking spectacular scenery. Connecting the two towns is the Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway, which consists of a funicular cliff lift.
The Cliff Railway
The history of the railway dates back to the late 19th century and it still operates in very much the same way is has for over a hundred years. Along the 862 foot track, railway passengers will be gifted with one of the most beautiful views in all of England. Both Lynton and Lynmouth have plenty to offer tourists in terms of English village charm, cultural attractions and natural surroundings. Visitors making the train ride up to Lynton can enjoy the scenic walking trails, most notably to the famous Valley of Rocks. The easy 20 minute trek reveals North Devon in all its glory and has become popular with tourists thanks to the herd of feral goats who make their home here. True to its name, the valley is also home to stunning rock formations.
Craft Shops and Cream teas
A charming ambiance and friendly locals make Lynton the perfect place to get away from it all. Visitors can choose from a good selection of local tea shops and eateries where they can enjoy true Devonshire cream tea among other things. Lynton is also full of great shops to explore. Crafting enthusiasts will not want to miss the Lyn Valley Art and Crafts, which is filled with beautifully handcrafted jewellery, ceramics and accessories. It is located on the site of an old church and focuses almost solely on goods made locally.
Down on the beach at Lynmouth
Down in Lynmouth, the beach is hard to resist. The shallow waters surrounding the town are ideal for rock pooling. When the tide is low the sea uncovers a wide range of shore crabs, anemones, periwinkles, limpets and mussels in a variety of sizes, colours and textures. Advanced surfers will also find that the waves around this part of North Devon are some of the best in the UK. Those who are looking to get on the water can partake in one of the many boat excursions departing from Lynmouth Quay daily. Boat trips typically last an hour or so, and show off the Exmoor coastline well.
Tourists have been attracted to Lynmouth and Lynton for well over a century and it’s easy to see why. The two charming villages could not be better situated to highlight the true natural beauty of the English coastline. The tallest cliffs in the country are located here and fall dramatically into a deep blue sea teeming with colourful sea life. The towns are as charming as the scenery and along with the fresh sea breeze; tourists will be greeted with the smiling faces of locals as they are more than happy to share their slice of paradise with the world.
Author Bio: Many thanks for this Guest Post to Karen Orson who has worked in travel and tourism for over a decade. While travelling the world through South America and Asia, she has always called Devon her home. Returning to her roots, Karen now works with Highcliffe House , a boutique guest house in the village of Lynton.
More things to enjoy in Devon and Cornwall
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey