Airbnb: Travelling on a budget, meeting great people and cuddling fluffy dogs - obvs

I am a strong-willed woman with a kind face. I'm not just bigging myself up, this is what Eirini told me when I was staying with her in Kos, Greece, last summer. Eirini likes reading about star signs, and she said that I display the typical characteristics of an Aquarius (this is my star sign, so this good). According to Eirini, Aquarians can be contrary and impatient (she had me pegged), but they also have great taste in music. So I'm just going to go with it.

You may have seen from my Instagram, Twitter and just general ramblings on this blog that I love to travel. I probably take it to slightly obsessive levels - I'm constantly researching my next trip, updating my list of where I want to go. My travel philosophy is travel more by spending less. So as much as I like nice hotels (and you'll see some on here), I also love a little bed and breakfast, cheap and cheerful. Oh, and clean. If it means I can save money for another flight, I'm all for it.

And that's why I love Airbnb. Airbnb isn't a new site, but a lot of people haven't used it yet - but you should. It's basically a website showcasing spare rooms and flats around the world, so you can rent an apartment in Rome, a villa in Portugal or a bedroom in San Diego. It has totally changed the way I travel (especially useful on a Springsteen tour), and it helps me take less expensive trips more often.

Most importantly though, I have met some effing great people along the way. There's been Eirini mentioned above, and the sweetest lady called Rachel in Sorrento, who still emails me when she hears Bruce Springsteen on the radio. There was Jagath in Sri Lanka, who opened up his new house to guests to make money after his home was destroyed in the tsunami. And there was Pedro in Porto, who knew all the best bars and burgers in the city. Airbnb has given me the chance to meet incredible people, getting a local perspective on the city and country I'm visiting - and I bl**dy love that.

Most people might choose their Airbnb based how quirky it is - you can stay in a castle, on a boat, or on a farm. I've spent hours searching all the incredible places out there. Lighthouse? Why not. Converted brewery? OK then. Some people make decisions based on convenience, or price, or transport links. That would be the normal thing to do.

Or you could book a stay book somewhere because the Airbnb host owns two little fluffy dogs. That's what I did in New York, one of the most cost effective cities for Airbnb because of the crazy expensive hotel costs.

Meet Rigby.

And Penny.

I was obviously excited about visiting New York - the food, the nightlife. But honestly? I was most excited about getting the chance to stay with these two little fluff balls.

Their owner is pretty great too. Brooke is a young cool New York resident who moved to the city a few years back. Their penthouse apartment is located in Williamsburg, it's so handy for great bars, good food and subway links.

The only problem? Getting me out the door.

You can plan your next trip with Airbnb here. I am, natch.

About Airbnb
Airbnb is the world’s largest community-driven hospitality company, which connects thousands of guests and hosts online every day. To date, over 26 million guests have stayed with Airbnb and the online marketplace now has over 800,000 listings in 34,000 cities across the world; including 80,000 villas, 4,000 castles, 9,000 boats and 2,800 tree houses. For more details see www.airbnb.com


Badly Drawn Boy, Bruce Springsteen and Classic Album Sundays

Oh Bruce Springsteen fans - a great bunch of people. No need to talk about things like the weather when you realise you're in the company of another Bruce fan.

So a few weeks back I was sitting in a room full of fans as part of Classic Album Sundays, a series of events celebrating the greats of the music world. One of those Bruce Springsteen fans was Damon Gough, more often known as the musician Badly Drawn Boy.  This witty Bolton lad is a massive, MASSIVE fanboy of Bruce, so as part of Classic Album Sundays we spent the evening having a little listen to some of the tracks on the new remastered box set of albums, while Damon tried to narrow down his favourites. 

Honesty is the best policy, especially after a few drinks (yes I realise we both look hammered in this picture, we potentially were).

I've added in links to each song, because it seems like a good opportunity to...listen to Bruce. Anyway, here's what Badly Drawn Boy had to say:

It was Christmas 1984, around the time of the Born In The USA success. I was flicking through the channels on the TV and I saw some 70s footage on a documentary. I heard the opening bars of Thunder Road. And that was it.

Bruce made me feel empowered. I was inspired by his path. I should have been out sniffing glue with my mates, but instead I was in the house discovering Bruce Springsteen. 

With every album I couldn't believe he was writing that many quality song songs. It was the best years of my life. Every night I'd listen to him telling me stories. For three years I went to sleep listening to Bruce Springsteen, lying in my bed in the shit hole of Bolton. He made me feel like the world was a bigger a place, a big romantic place. Bruce, he was always chasing the girls. Always making life better than it is. 

His music, it's like escapism.

Greetings from Asbury Park
The Angel
In the early albums this is one of the best songs I've heard. Even I fancy Bruce. He's so beautiful. His voice, it's just amazing. Talking about Bruce, listening to Bruce. It's like therapy.

The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
Incident on 57th Street
That intro. There's something magical about this song. The middle eight is one of the most sublime breakdowns ever written... Johnny was sitting on the fire escape, watching the kids playing down the street. I taught myself to play piano listening to Springsteen. The beginning of Incident was the first bit I learned.

Born To Run
Born To Run
Bruce, he's a victim of his own brilliance. I had the chance to meet him a few years back. He's dead normal, has time for everyone. He's as nice as me.

Darkness on the Edge of Town
Streets of Fire
The Darkness bootlegs are some of the best you can get, Prove It '78 with the 10 minute intros.  And that guitar solo in Streets of Fire is one of the best guitar solos ever recorded. Racing in the Street is another favourite of mine from the album.

The River
The River 
The River for me means the river of life. Getting from A to B and surviving and doing well in the world. It's eclectic, but a fascinating album and full of different ideas.

Used Cars
If I'm honest I think people give the album too much reference. The purists love it. It's important because of where it sits, but it's the album people like to like as it shows Bruce in a raw state. Used Cars is the best song on it by a long way, it's melodic. The rest of it's shit, and bores me to be honest. Ask people how many times they've listened to Nebraska and I bet they've fallen asleep half way through each time.  It's bleak, it can be beautiful. But it's most important because of what followed it, Born in the USA. For me, Tunnel of Love shits all over Nebraska.

Born in the USA
I'm On Fire
Dancing in the Dark - it's one of the best pop songs ever written. A three chord song about searching for something. Can't start a fire without a spark - that' what he's looking for. I'm on Fire has to be up there in the top ten Springsteen songs though. It's a song that's really classic. Just so sublime. A wonderful song.

I just love his romance, his lyrics, his poetry. He's funny too - he has a sense of humour and doesn't take himself too seriously. He's passionate and he's got a voice. I had a career in music and I owe it all to Bruce. He gave me everything, and the chance to step out.

Amen to that. 

I just thought I'd add a link to Badly Drawn Boy's version of Thunder Road. He describes it as the "song that changed my life" and when someone compliments his version, his face lights up. It clearly means a huge amount to him. Here it is.

But back to Tunnel of Love shitting all over Nebraska. Do I agree? I do actually. And it's definitely the the kind of language I'd use too.


Local dishes: a BIG sandwich at Melo's bar and restaurant, Madrid, Spain

Here I am holding a massive F Off  sandwich in Madrid. Apparently it's one of the biggest in Spain, and it's a weighty, glistening, 8 inch heap Galician bread, ham and molten cheese.

You know what's coming. Yes, I recommend you try it.

The zapatilla (meaning sneaker, because it resembles one in size) is *the* dish to order at Melo's Bar in Madrid.

Now I know it looks a bit overwhelming, but share it and it's fiiiiiiine

It's a local kind of place - 1970s decor, old men in flat caps sipping beer, rowdy students, and tables littered with plates and glasses. When I say littered, I mean completely covered in shite. It was hard to resist tidying up.

Still, it all adds to the charm of the place. As does the surly owner, who tossed the sandwich at us when it was ready. Undeterred, as big fans of beer, cheese, bread and a "bit of local", we loved it here. 

As you can see, the sandwich is hefty, so it's best to share, leaving some space for pimentos on the side - fried (obviously, I think everything here is) peppers, heaped with salt.

All that salt and cheese will leave you parched, so head round the corner to the dimly lit Plaza Lavapies for a bucket of beer (small stubbies in a bucket, not a bucket and straw - the Madrilenos are far too sophisticated for that stuff). Or you can have a gin and tonic in a glass the size of your head (maybe they aren't that sophisticated after all).

Grannies knit and natter, and youths dance provocatively to hip hop, asking if you want to buy weed...

Is there a better way to start your Saturday night in Madrid? Nope, I don't think so.

Calle del Ave Maria 44
28012 Madrid 

Review: Burguer de bacalhau (black bun salmon burger), Lisbon, Portugal

What's all this! A black bun?? With a pink wodge of fish?

Not the usual burger I write about on here, but it's a good one. 

You may have seen me banging on about loving Lisbon. I may have said I want to wear the Portuguese flag around my neck, like a cape. I still do.

I'm so into Lisbon that I persuaded some pals we should go back to the city, try out the bars of Bally Ally (that's Bairro Alto) and then head north to see Placebo play in Porto (more on that later).

But before all that, we had to try a "burguer de bacalhau" from O Prego da Peixaria in the Time Out food market. It's a black bun packed with a huge "patty" of salmon, dressed with pickled seaweed. Sound weird? It is a bit. But it's also good, bizarrely filling - and at €7, it's a steal. Definitely try it. And maybe share it, it's pretty full on. 

While you're at the Time Out market get some tempura beans with the mustard dip (from Cafe de Sao Bento).

And then go to Bally Ally. And make the most of the 40p bottles of Sagres. Yes, 40p.

All my other Lisbon tips are in one handy place, right here.
For a more traditional burger in Lisbon, head here.


Review: Burgershack, The Royal Oak, Marylebone, London

London's most prestigious burger blogger (er no, not me) has created his own burger menu. 

Burgerac is my fav London burger detective, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine. He's not a Bruce Springsteen fan (I'm working on it) but he is all about great tunes.

What a relief! London now has sweet ass burgers, in a chilled pub, with excellent music. It's Burgerac's new venture - Burgershack - at The Royal Oak pub in Marylebone.

I'm not writing nice things because he's my pal. I'm writing nice things because these burgers are really excellent. They have been meticulously crafted (I expect no less from Burgerac, he's a proper perfectionist with this stuff) and are some of the best going.

All over my jeans. ALL OVER.

Burgerac loves his music as much as he loves his burgers, so when you go (not if, but when) you can expect to hear some top quality tracks (that's coming from someone who doesn't dish out restaurant/pub music praise too frequently). During my visit there was some David Bowie and Men Without Hats. I mean that song Safety Dance, not loads of men in the pub not wearing hats. Although there was a bit of that too.

The Royal Oak pub is in swanky Marylebone so the burgers may appear a tad expensive. But you're paying for quality and expertise here, and it's all very chilled. Visit on a Saturday and there's 20% off all food. 

And you should eat all the food - we ordered one of each side dish (excluding the slaw) and they were ALL delicious, particularly the deep fried pickles with a light crispy batter. Ooh, and the chilli cheese fries. Perv on the full menu here.

Great tunes, great pub, great burgers? It's a good time guaranteed.

The Royal Oak
74 - 76 York Street

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