A Festive Afternoon Tea at the Europa Hotel, Belfast

Festive afternoon tea - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

During our stay in Northern Ireland, Kat and I were treated to a festive afternoon tea in the Europa Hotel, located right in the centre of Belfast. We were entertained by the pianist in The Piano Lounge while we relaxed in comfortable chairs overlooking Belfast’s Great Victoria Street.

Thomsons family teas - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

Our afternoon tea experience began with an introduction to the selection of 10 Thompson’s Family Teas, grandly displayed on a trolley. I must say, I found this quite exciting. See, I’d spotted the trolley the evening before but hasn’t realised these were teas. In fact, I had mistaken them for elaborate bar snacks and am so glad I didn’t dip my hand in and try any of them. As our hostess Helen McCune discussed each of the teas with us, she allowed us to sample the aroma of each in turn. Strangely enough, she thought we wouldn’t want to smell the rooibos and orange tea but being South African, that was my favourite and smelled like a little piece of home!

Mumm Champagne - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

Once we had chosen our teas and opted to take champagne, our selection of festive finger sandwiches, pastries and cakes was brought to us on a delightfully modern three-tier stand.

Afternoon tea cake stand - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

The finger sandwiches were divine. I was really pleased that for once, salmon was not served but prawn and lobster instead. I am allergic to salmon but can eat prawn and lobster in limited quantities.

Finger sandwiches - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

The finger sandwiches were served on Irwin’s Fresh Breads and in addition to the prawn and lobster, we enjoyed the Givan’s clove baked ham with wholegrain mustard, County Down roast turkey with savoury stuffing, and free range egg with spring onion and rocket. Our favourite was certainly the roast turkey, so much so that we asked for a second portion and barely left room for the pastries and scones.

Glass teapots - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

One of the best aspects of the afternoon tea at the Europa Hotel Belfast is that guests are encouraged to sample as many of the teas as they so desire. Naturally, I began with the Rooibos with Orange, a delicately subtle tea, blended with orange and vanilla. It was delicious and I consumed the whole pot. With our scones, I enjoyed the Earl Grey Special and I finished off with the Florida Fruit Tea, a zesty infusion with orange, apple, papaya and rosebud seeds which proved an excellent accompaniment to the pastries.

Scones - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

We were treated to both plain and cranberry scones which were light and fluffy. Kat was a little concerned that they were served with buttered cream rather than clotted cream but to be honest, I prefer them that way.

We were also served traditional Christmas cake, miniature mince pies, Armagh apple and cinnamon sponge cake, gingerbread cupcakes and, by far my favourite, a Christmas trifle. Thank goodness we were encouraged to take our time because we were certainly full by the end of the meal.

Afternoon tea - Europa Belfast afternoon tea

As you may have noticed throughout my post, the produce at the Europa Hotel Belfast is all locally sourced and some items, for example the Thompson’s Family teas, were selected specially for Hastings Hotels. What impressed us most about the afternoon tea is how well-thought-out each aspect of the experience is from the teas to the delicious and interesting sandwiches to the selection of pastries and sweets. We appreciated the generosity of the portions and the offer of more sandwiches, which we gladly accepted. We especially appreciated the chance to sample a selection of teas and the chance to choose each tea according to our tastes.

All of these factors make the Afternoon Tea at Europa Hotel one of the best that I have experienced. I enjoyed it so much that I would love to return one day with my mother for one of our frequent afternoons off together.


Europa Hotel, Belfast
Great Victoria St, Belfast BT2 7AP
028 9027 1066

Cost: Afternoon Tea £20, Champagne Afternoon Tea £28
Open: daily from 2pm to 5pm.

We were guests of Hasting Hotels and Tourism Ireland during our stay in Belfast. As always, I promise to share sincere and honest opinions with my readers.

Bratwurst and Hot Chocolate at Southbank Centre Christmas Market

As I gaze out of my office windows in the late afternoons (something I do far more often than my boss would really prefer), I look upon the bright lights of the Southbank Centre and the boldly illuminated National Theatre. It is so inviting (and far more interesting than month end accounts) that I promised myself that I would visit the Southbank Centre Christmas Market this year, which ran from mid November 2013 right up to Christmas Eve. And so it was that I met up with Melissa for some German food, hot chocolate and festive Christmas cheer.

Southbank Christmas Market Carousel

Southbank Christmas Market garlands

The Christmas Market at Southbank was relatively small, stretching along the Thames from the London Eye to Waterloo Bridge. The stalls wee all housed in cute wooden chalets and there was a lovely mix of food, confectionary, trinkets, clothing and gifts on offer.

It was surprisingly cold on the evening that we visited and so our browsing time was thankfully short. We started off with some bratwurst from the stall pictured below and then we walked a little further on and bought some hot chocolate. The bratwurst was yummy but then I do have a fondness for German sausage (and practically any other form of sausage known to man, including black pudding). As you can imagine, I was in my element in Munich.

Southbank Christmas Market German food

Southbank Christmas Market

I ordered a mint hot chocolate which certainly warmed me up. The only complaint I had is that they used a sickly sweet, synthetic syrup as flavouring which doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t taste nice and why not use real caramel, mint or Baileys Irish Cream for flavour?

Southbank Christmas Market Well Hung

Southbank Christmas Market skate park

Despite that small issue, we had a lovely time at the Southbank Christmas Market and enjoyed browsing, wandering and chatting.

Southbank Christmas Market Wahaca

All of these photos were taken using the Nokia Lumia 925 smartphone which I had the opportunity to trial for two weeks. I was really impressed with the phone’s night time photographic capabilities but I certainly missed out on a few good shots as I was still learning to use the phone and my fingers were really cold! Would I swap my iPhone out for a Nokia Lumia next time? Probably not but using the Nokia Lumia did convince me to buy a Microsoft Surface when I eventually upgrade to a tablet.

Southbank Christmas Market clothing

If I had to choose, I’d have to say that I preferred the Belfast Christmas Market. It seemed more festive and entertaining in Belfast but perhaps that is because we went in the day. It was also bitterly cold on the evening we visited Southbank.

Have you visited any Christmas Markets this year? Which was your favourite?

And finally… Seasons Greetings to all of my readers. I know that I have readers from all walks of life but if you are celebrating this year then I hope you’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve had a fantastic time resting and spending time with family.

The Colours and Aromas of Belfast Christmas Market

Long before we visited the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall, I knew to expect something special. The market had been recommended to us no less than four times and with each recommendation there was a sense of pride and appreciation. Then again, you will soon notice in Belfast that the locals love their city and they are keen to share that love with visitors. It worked because we loved Belfast and we loved the bright colours and alluring aromas of the Belfast Christmas Market.

Confectionary Belfast Christmas Market

As we walked through the grand gates into the grounds of Belfast City Hall, we were met with the most alluring aroma of all – warm maple syrup. The aroma was so rich that it made us kind of heady; I was able to identify the aroma but simply unable to detect where it was coming from. We were soon able to escape from the spell and began to make our way deeper into the market.

Piece of Cake at Belfast Christmas Market

The first person we met was the lovely Hannah from the Piece of Cake Bakery. Hannah was more than happy to chat to us and agreed to let us take photos of her stall. I was dying to try some of her gluten-free goodies but we knew that we had afternoon tea coming up.

Scones at Belfast Christmas Market

Don’t Hannah’s scones just look delicious? They were well-priced too. We noticed that everything in Belfast was affordable compared to our inflated London prices.

Senegalese bags and toys at Belfast Christmas Market

Our next stop was the Afrik’ Art stall featuring bags and wooden toys all the way from Senegal. You can mix and match the letters of the alphabet to make up little letter trains – what a fabulous gift for a young child!

Senegalese wooden toys at Belfast Christmas Market

We soon spotted a sign for real hot chocolate for only £1 which we couldn’t resist. While Kat braved the queue for the hot chocolate, I made myself useful and took photos of the stall.

Real chocolate at Belfast Christmas Market

Taking photos became slightly more difficult once I was holding my cup of hot chocolate in one hand and attempting to hold the hood of my parka up with the other. It had started to rain and we knew that we’d soon have to come in out of the cold.

Cheese at Belfast Christmas Market

I solved my problem by inhaling my hot chocolate, something I would later regret when I was unable to have two of everything at our afternoon tea. We also stood for a time under cover as the worst of the sudden rain shower passed.

The Merry Monk Bier Bar at Belfast Christmas Market

As we wound our way towards the exit, we were happy to drink in the colours and sights of the market. Everything we saw was inviting and colourful…

The Cheese Board at Belfast Christmas Market

…from fiery dragon and whisky ginger flavoured cheese…

Clothing at Belfast Christmas Market

… to rich and brightly coloured clothing and tiny scrap iron metal sculptures from Roans Art

Wall-E at Belfast Christmas Market

…to hazelnut and green pepper salami (which was simply delicious!)

Sausages at Belfast Christmas Market

Everywhere we met, people were friendly and really interested to learn about the pair from New Zealand and South Africa who had arrived in their city via London. I noticed that it wasn’t just the locals that were so curious and friendly, it was everyone including the Senegalese woman we met and the owner of the salami store who was Italian. We concluded that it is simply the atmosphere of the city and the people as a whole are friendlier, relaxed and more open. It was a lovely experience.

The Belfast Christmas Market at the City Hall runs until tomorrow, 22 December. If you are planning your trip to Belfast in 2014, be sure to visit by the last weekend before Christmas to ensure that you catch the market.

Have you noticed that there is no collective noun for the people of Belfast? I’m not the only person who has noticed this and In Your Pocket City Guides have conducted some research into what you might call the people of Belfast. I think I’ll stick with ‘the lovely people of Belfast’ because they are from Belfast and they are indeed lovely.

What are the people from your city called? I was a Jo’burger in South Africa and a Londoner now.

48 Hours in Belfast

Christmas at Europa Hotel Belfast

This weekend, I spent a fabulous 48 hours in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast with the lovely Kat from Lady Loves Cake. I’m going to tell you all about our stay in the next couple of weeks but I thought I’d give you a quick idea of all there is to do in this friendly and enchanting city. First, let me share some valuable advice:

  • 48 hours is not nearly enough to spend in Belfast. If you have planned a weekend of leisure and relaxation as we did, it is entirely possible that you won’t have enough time to take in all the sights. That said, I wouldn’t change our weekend for the world and I’ve returned to London feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
  • If you’re visiting Belfast, you must pack walking shoes! Belfast is a compact city and it is really easy to get around on foot. High heeled, knee high boots might look great, but your feet will not be very happy once you reach the 5km mark.
  • Compared to London, taxis in Belfast are really affordable. There are also bus and train routes across the city. If you are short of time like we were, consider catching a taxi or bus. To give you an idea, we caught taxis both to and from the airport as well as between our hotels and each trip was about £8.50. Obviously, the more of you there are, the more affordable this becomes.

Getting to Belfast from London

I’m always on the lookout for destinations that I can easily visit in a weekend and getting to Belfast was extremely easy. We caught the Gatwick Express from Blackfriars after work on Friday and then caught the 19:40 Flybe flight to Belfast City. We learned at the airport that the Flybe service might be changing in 2014 but there are also reasonable easyJet and Aer Lingus flights from Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Luton which fly to both Belfast City and Belfast International.

There is no shortage of things to do while in Belfast and I will absolutely be returning. However, if it is a weekend of luxury and relaxation that you are after, might I suggest that you follow our itinerary?

The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel

Drinks in The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel

The strains of laughter and piano music could be heard as we made our way up the circular staircase to The Piano Lounge at the Europa Hotel. The atmosphere was festive and every seat in the lounge was filled with groups relaxing before or after Christmas functions. We soon found a seat by the window overlooking Belfast’s most famous pub, the Crown Liquor Saloon and we chatted the night away while Belfast’s best December weather blustered away outside.

The Christmas Market at City Hall Belfast

Take a walk around Belfast

With everything in Belfast so conveniently central, it makes perfect sense to explore the city centre and surrounds by foot. You can head south to the Ulster Museum and Belfast Botanical Gardens, both of which have free entry or you can head north east to waterfront to visit the brand new Titanic Quarter and Titanic Experience. We had so little time that we opted to head east to see the murals in the Falls Road and then we headed back into the city centre to spend a far more festive time in the Christmas Market at City Hall.

Afternoon tea at Europa Hotel

Enjoy a Festive Afternoon Tea in the Europa Hotel

The first thing you will notice at afternoon tea at the Europa Hotel is how well thought out and intentional each part of your experience is. Helen McCune was on hand to explain every choice between the impressive selection of 10 Thompson’s Family Teas, the locally-sourced produce and the seasonal afternoon tea menu variations. Look out for the superb County Down roast turkey finger sandwiches with savoury stuffing – we had to ask for a second serving!

The Crozier Lounge at the Culloden Estate and Spa

Live Jazz and Cocktails at the Culloden Estate and Spa

The moment I saw the beautiful Crozier Lounge located in the old chapel of the Culloden Hotel, I knew that I wanted to spend an evening there enjoying drinks by the fireside. As it turns out, we were in for a treat. As we sipped our respective rum and gin cocktails, we were entertained by a fabulous jazz trio playing a mixture of Christmas tunes and jazz favourites. The trio were only meant to play short sets but they proved to be extremely popular and played for over 90 minutes as patrons streamed from the restaurant to listen to them. It was a fabulous, memorable evening and we were glad to have secured seats before the lounge got busy.

The Spa at Culloden

Unwind and relax at The Spa at Culloden

There is something wonderful about floating in a swimming pool in a warm, bright and airy spa, oblivious to the cold and rainy wintery weather beyond. We splashed about in the pool, relaxed in the Jacuzzi, spent time in the steam room and cooled off under the refreshing monsoon showers before another dip in the pool and time spent snoozing on the recliners. It is the first time I’ve ever gone to a spa during the winter months but for just a couple of hours, I was filled with brightness, warmth and light to chase away the winter darkness. Highly recommended!

Afternoon tea at Culloden Hotel

Experience Afternoon Tea in the Culloden Hotel

The Mitre dining room at Culloden Hotel overlooks the Belfast Lough and the mountains of County Antrim beyond. It is certainly the best view I have ever encountered during an afternoon tea. It is here that you’ll encounter the fluffiest scones you have ever tasted as well as the perfect ham sandwich. The view, food and service set this afternoon tea experience apart from any I’ve previously experienced.

We had a wonderful time in Belfast and I can’t wait to tell you more about our experiences there. From the people to the service (always with a smile) to the accents and atmosphere, Belfast has become one of my top destinations in the United Kingdom. Dare we say love at first sight?

I’m keenly aware of what we didn’t see during our all too short time in Belfast. What would you recommend for our next visit?

Three Colourful Facades of Polperro

Back in June I introduced you to Five Black and White Facades of Polperro and was asked why I had only taken monochrome photos of our Annual Rainy British Summer Holiday. Well, I hope that my other posts about Cornwall have proven how colourful our visit was with lush green hills and bright blue skies.

Still, I had fun with my iPhone on that trip, inspired to play around with monochrome and desaturation. And so, without further ado, I present three colourful facades of Polperro.

War Memorial Institute and Couch's Reading Room, Polperro

The Coombes is the long road that leads down from Crumplehorn Inn to the harbour in Polperro. As we wended our way down the Coombes, we stopped by some of the historic buildings along the road. We visited the art gallery in the Ebenezer Chapel which was built in 1877 and I bought some souvenirs in the market in the former village school which was built in 1878.

We stopped for a Cornish Cream Tea at a lovely little shop called Bean and Scone and I was simply inspired by this doorway. The plaque reads ‘War Memorial Institute and Couch's Reading Room, 1920’ and I think it might refer to famous Cornish author Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.

Nelsons Restaurant, Polperro

This was the gorgeous facade to Nelsons Restaurant (yes, no apostrophe) on the Saxon Bridge where we had a lovely seafood meal one evening. Betty, Peter and Tony Nelson established this restaurant in 1974 and are still running it to this day!

The Leeward Lounge, Polperro

Kids, dogs and muddy boots welcome at The Leeward Lounge. There were some fabulous signs and great humour in Polperro. This sign reminded me of the one we saw on our first evening in Polperro which noted that nice dogs and happy babies go free.

Am I the only one that needs to find inspiration before I can take photographs? I often find that I go out with my camera but find it difficult to take photos unless I can think of a story to tell.

Which do you prefer – the black and white photos from the previous post or the colourful ones in this post?

The Death of a President and Feeling Very Far From Home

It was 10pm London time when I heard the news. My husband saw a post on Facebook and we immediately flipped over to a South African news site to check. The site was only reporting that Mandela was seriously ill and so we switched on BBC News. There it was: Nelson Mandela had died at the age of 95. Still with a glimmer of denial, I retired to bed and checked my Twitter stream as thousands of tributes began to pour in. As I lay there in the dark, I felt farther from home than ever before.

When I woke up this morning, I felt strangely shaky and teary. I’m not one to get upset about the deaths of politicians or celebrities but this felt different. I didn’t want to be sad, I wanted to celebrate the life of Madiba and the changes he brought to our country.

Crowds queing to pay respects to Nelson Mandela

I felt unsettled the whole morning and then at lunch time, I felt drawn to the South African embassy in Trafalgar Square. It was incredibly emotional standing there at South Africa House. People were singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and Shosholoza on a crisp, cold December morning as they waited in a line to enter the embassy and pay their respects. The embassy had set up one single book in which visitors could leave a message and the queue stretched all the way up to St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. There was a moderate police presence and barriers had been set up to control the increasing crowds. I overheard a man ask an embassy official whether they would consider setting up a place for people to leave flowers and tributes but the bewildered official seemed unsure.

Tributes to Nelson Mandela at South Africa House

As I walked up towards the end of the queue, I saw that people had set up a memorial site after all against a rear wall of the embassy. News cameras focused on individual people being let through the barriers to leave their tributes and a mother took a photo of her daughter as she left a small bunch of flowers.

Camera crews at South Africa House

Suddenly I felt really self-conscious. It was exciting to be there among so many South Africans, to hear those beautiful accents and to feel part of something so historic and important. But as I looked down the queue, I realised that I would never reach the end of it during my short lunch hour and my heart sank. My eyes filled with tears but then I looked around at the people around me. I was surrounded by hundreds of South Africans on a cold winter morning in London. There were many teary eyes and sad smiles but we were here in mutual respect and admiration of a man who changed our country. Suddenly I didn’t feel so far from home after all.

Teary eyes and sad smiles

A Walk Through Old Town Mostar

Old Town Mostar

When we had taken our fill of the best view of Stari Grad Mostar, we decided to stroll through the old market in Old Town Mostar. It is no secret that I fell in love with Mostar and it is one of the few places to which I will definitely return in future, so it would be difficult to choose which was my favourite place or moment in our all too short stay. Ultimately, I think it was the market and Old Town that inspired my imagination the most.

Mostar Market

There is evidence of Roman and Christian settlements in Mostar but it was the Ottoman rule that gave the town its distinctive character. In Ottoman tradition, Mostar was rapidly urbanised and the town was divided into a residential area and the čaršija or commercial area. Tales of Ottoman bazaars with rich fabrics, spices and exotic foods fill my mind as I walked through the market and imagined a place that resembles so closely the town it was almost 500 years ago.

Stari Grad Mostar

I imagine the grand fashions of medieval times and the Ottoman empire, travellers passing through Mostar on their way to distant and mysterious lands, different languages and culture and the trade of trinkets, keepsakes and precious goods.

Stari Grad Mostar over Neretva River

I imagine what it must have been like to see the beautiful bridge, built in 1566. Evliya Celebiya, travel writer, described the bridge as a rainbow in 1566. “It looks like an arch of a rainbow... And it stretches from one cliff to the other... As the fortresses were positioned on both sides of the bridge, consequently it is not possible to cross from one side to the other except for by means of that bridge”.

Never Forget Mostar

Of course, the truth is that there is not a single bridge in Mostar that is older than 1994. We are urgently reminded that we must never forget about the war that destroyed the bridge and unity in the town.

Old Market Mostar

Can Mostar rise above this to once again become a symbol of unity, the centre of the world? I believe so. The Bosnian people are incredible. They are warm, inviting and friendly which in part is why I want to return.

View of Old Bridge Mostar from Market

The Old Bridge area of the Old City of Mostar has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and they cited especially the reconstruction of Stari Most in their decision: “The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities”. Stari Most was reopened on 23 July 2004.

Market Mostar

Can you hear the chatter, detect the scent of fragrances and spices carrying on the air, hear the different accents from travellers across the empire?

Regent’s Canal: Walking from Paddington to Camden Lock

Regent's Canal at Paddington Basin

A couple of weeks ago, one of my oldest friends and the father of my stunning goddaughter was in London for a short visit. He lives in Seattle now and doesn’t often visit London, so it was a treat to see him on this cold and rainy autumn afternoon. I had already explored Little Venice and Grand Union Canal once before but I was keen to explore the stretch I hadn’t walked from Paddington, through Little Venice, past London Zoo and up to Camden Lock.

Little Venice sign

Little Venice is a beautiful network of canals lined with houseboats that are inhabited throughout the autumn and possibly into winter. Many people live permanently in their houseboats but visitors can also hire them for short stays.

The view from cafe Laville

Some parts of the canal are quite exclusive and snooty and there was a large portion of it along Blomfield Road where we were unable to walk alongside of the riverboats and canal. As soon as we were able to rejoin the canal, we spotted the terribly inviting Cafe Laville where we stopped to inhale three hot chocolates and admire the view.

There is quite a long distance after Cafe Laville where Regent’s Canal flows underground, so be sure to follow my map at the end of the post to find the canal again.

Little Venice

This is the view of Regent’s Canal from Lisson Grove. Despite the cold and occasional rain, it really was a beautiful autumn day.

little Venice to Camden Lock

As we began our approach to Camden, the area became decidedly grittier which was an interesting juxtaposition against the mansions lining the edges of the canal. The mansions were pretty but were so imposing that I couldn’t seem to get any decent photos of them at all.

Autumn along Camden Lock

It would be interesting to see these scenes in just another month or two. It looks so pretty now with the oranges and browns but will look stark once the leaves have fallen.

Graffiti Regent's Canal

What I love most about this stretch of the Regent’s Canal is how popular and diverse it is. There were families walking with their children, some pushing prams. Cyclists tried their best to drive pedestrians into the canals and groups of young men drank lager under the arches. I have to be honest, I was happy to be with two strapping South African lads who could protect me if need be!  Can you spot them up ahead in the photo above? Both were lovely about my incessant photo taking.

Reflections Regent's Canal

As the day turned to dusk, lights were switched on giving the canals a festive look.

Blue light Regent's Canal

I was really interested to see the blue lights under some of the arches. It reminded Stephen and me of the public toilets in Melbourne, Australia where they used blue lights to prevent addicts shooting up in them (evidently you can’t see veins under blue lights). I wonder if they were using the lights here for the same reason?

Camden Market

We eventually arrived at Camden Market and not a moment too soon as it really began to pour down with rain. I would have loved to have indulged in some street food but we were really too wet and soggy for that. We stayed under cover while I showed my friend around the market. We spent a memorable half an hour in Cyber Dog reliving our raving past and then headed to an old favourite of mine, the Lebanese Mezze restaurant in the Stables Market.

It was a fantastic day with old friends, life-saving hot chocolate and shared Lebanese food, just the type of day memories are made of.

Book sale Camden Market

If you'd like to recreate our walk, here is a map of the route along Regent's Canal from Paddington to Little Venice to Camden Lock. As long as you don’t take a wrong turn like we did, the walk should take about 90 minutes which includes the hot chocolate break.

View Larger Map