A Copenhagen City Break

 

The Danish really know how to turn it on so I can totally see why it has been labelled as one of the happiest places on earth…because everyone is actually very friendly. A massive plus and huge attraction when visiting a new destination, in my opinion.

 
I had asked my good friend and avid traveller, Natalie to join me on this short Nordic adventure over the weekend.  The most unfortunate thing I’d have to say was not being able to spend the extra day or two in the capital as this city truly is one of a kind. In fact, it would be a big call to say it is my second favourite after Berlin, I was that impressed, I’d gladly go back in a heartbeat.
I decided to fly with British Airways and upgrade myself to Club Europe on the outbound flight. Its not something I would do often, especially when its such a short flight, but I do enjoy the chance to use the airport lounges, while having a bit of extra space (and enjoy the champagne). 

I’m a big fan of boutique hotels and I managed to stumble across one in the trendy Latin quarter called SP34 via Booking.com for quite a reasonable price. This included breakfast in the lush green-house looking restaurant called Väkst – but I will come back to this a little later on.

The hotel was approximately 10 minutes walk from Norreport station which is the stop after central and very easy to get to when travelling from the airport. It only took me about 20 minutes and was greatly less cheaper than a taxi is in Copenhagen. So while we are on this topic, I will note that its not the cheapest of places in the world, so don’t be surprised by the prices of everything – they pay high taxes which is all relevant to wages and the cost of living. I get it. 

Nat had arrived a day before me so she was already pretty familiar with the neighbourhood. I met her for a beer then we quickly made our way to the hotel to dump my stuff off and go for a quick explore. As it was a Friday night, it was fairly rammed around the main streets. It was also in good proximity to the very famous Tivoli gardens, you know the fun park. I didn’t have time to check it out but I’ve heard its worth going if you do have some free time and a bit of a thrill seeker. I was pretty exhausted after travelling from work so we opted to go back to the hotel for a few glasses of red wine and a catch up session in the funky foyer area of the hotel. I was really loving the interior design – totally my kind of style!

The next morning, we arose fairly early to have breakfast and go about our day. I didn’t want to be sleeping in as there just wasn’t much time for that on this trip. The breakfast at Vaskt is quite a delightful experience. Most of it is very healthy and all organic. You can sit upstairs amongst all the hanging potted plants, while downstairs is the kitchen there are rows of food items such as fancy yoghurt, fruit, cheeses, veggie sticks, boiled eggs, hand made bread and pastries. There is even bottles of freshly made juices and smoothies and champagne if you are up for it. Of course, we couldn’t resist a cheeky one to get us going for the day! 

After breakfast we finished getting ready and off we trotted for some sight seeing. The one thing that drawed me into this city, is the variety of cafes, art galleries, bars and restaurants – it is endless. In my last post I spoke about my experience at the Studio restaurant which is just one of dozens of Michelin star restaurants they have on offer here. Rather than me repeating myself about this ultimate 9 course lunch, you have the option of reading more in depth by clicking here https://wp.me/p4vC9M-1gU 

We decided after properly gorging ourselves, that a stroll around Nyhavn was very much needed. Famous for its beautifully coloured buildings, sail boats and the ferry terminal, it is what I call the the most instragramable spot of Copenhagen. Of course after a few photos snaps, a beer a long the waterfront was necessary before making our way back to the hotel.

The thing I really do love about travelling is not knowing what is around the next corner or getting lost without hitting panic mode – just casually mooching around discovering new sights and everything that comes with it. On our journey home we stumbled across what I would call a street party with live bands and even a saxophone player! We couldn’t stay long because we knew that wine o’clock was calling us at the hotel… yes they have free wine hour at SP34 from 5 – 6pm. It packs out very quickly as you can imagine, so we made the most of it by grabbing a couple of glasses of wine in the early evening. 

As I am always thinking about food, I was beginning to feel peckish again, so decided it would be a good idea to grab something to eat, freshen up and see if we were up for venturing out again. After all, it was a Saturday night. 

Cocks and Cows was a fun burger joint attached to the hotel and seemed a rather popular place to hang out on the weekend. Not to mention the extensive cocktail list they had and the most delicious, generous burgers I have probably eaten in a long time. I had the New Yorker which was full of juicy chunks of steak accompanied with twister fries, veggie sticks and chilli cheese balls. Not exactly that healthy but that wasnt really what I was aiming to be on this trip.. and anyway all that walking balances it out 🙂

As predicted later on, I went into a massive good coma so we thought it was a good time to call it a night, with cups of herbal tea in bed by 10pm. Rock n roll! 

The following day I woke up with a fuzzy head but I was so glad that I had made myself go to bed at a  decent hour because there is nothing worse when you’ve got loads planned and you’re tired and groggy. Its happened far too many times to even count and I think I’m finally starting to learn. (or is that grow up?!)

The plan was to hire cycles which we did through the hotel, that way we would be able to see more of the city in a short space of time and really, its just what you do here. Even if you aren’t the most confident on a bike, I can assure you that its pretty straight forward in Copenhagen. Bikes tend to rule the roost, a bit like Amsterdam and I really dig that. Not only is it good for your health, its better for the environment and it has financial benefits! 

We wanted to see the Little Mermaid that I was told, was rather on the small side so try not to be to disappointed when you see it. I think I was more fascinated by just how many people were crowding around taking photos of this iconic statue. It reminded me when I was in the Louvre Museum, checking out the Mona Lisa painting. Gosh, too much for my liking but anyway, but you have to laugh. 

Once we had ticked this off our list, it was over to the Palace for the second time in a row. Natalie is a Princess Mary fan and that has nothing to do with the fact that she is an Aussie 😉 The palace is a very open space to the public and consists of four grand-looking buildings facing each other. I was quite surprised by how accessible it was considering when you compare it to the likes of Buckingham Palace which is completely walled off, although there are plenty of security guards roaming around. 

We had a quick pit stop at the tipsy mermaid which was a boat-bar serving local craft beers & rather cute might I add. In the summer months I can only imagine how busy it would get with a prime spot on the water. Next it was over to the bohemian district or Christianshavn, which is well now for its hip cafe culture, arts, music and street food. We didn’t stop there for long as we only had the afternoon to check out the meat packing district in Vesterbro which I believe is the place where all the locals like to hang out in. When I visit a city, its important for me to explore a place like I’m a local and really embrace the cultural by going off the beaten track a little. We ate at Warpigs which serves traditional American BBQ dishes and many beers on tap to choose from. Weirdly enough, I opted for the veggie option but if I hadn’t of eaten a burger the night before I would have been totally down for some ribs. 

There was one particular bar I wanted to visit called Noho. Decked out with pink flurescent bright lights, quirky ornaments and oozing that chic industrial feel, it was love at first site followed by a glass of crisp white wine on the sofa while thinking, I could really do with staying just a few more days. **Sigh**

We ended our bicycle journey at a local trendy cafe called the Living Room. The two level space was decked out in mismated furniture including multiple sofas and supplied with most thirst quenching juices, smoothies and cocktails. The perfect location on a chilled Sunday afternoon reading a book or catching up with friends for a coffee. 

I was feeling emotions of sadness on my way in the taxi to the airport. I knew this city was unique but I had no idea just how special it really was. I cant even imagine how much it would come alive during the summer months and I’m so eager to get back over this way at some point again. Its such a wonderful part of the world and if you haven’t been before, I strongly suggest that this be on the top of your travel list of places to visit! 

The Studio – A Culinary Danish Affair

 

Copenhagen has placed itself on the map as being a leader when it comes to Michelin star restaurants, not only for the quality but also the quantity.  It is said that it is the city with the most awarded stars restaurants in the entire world, which is pretty unbelievable when you think about it. 

I had done my fair share of research before I arrived in the Danish capital but the choices seemed to be endless, making it a hard decision to pick one and then deciding whether I wanted to eat a truck load of courses during the day or just before calling it a night. Of course I had my eye on Noma – the 2 Michelin star eatery wowing the critics and once named the worlds best restaurant 3 years in a row, however that has now closed to my utter disappointment and re opened as a spin off called 108.

Finally I came across The Studio, which was situated one floor up on the waterfront with lovely views, in a Tiffany green multi-story complex, which also houses the Standard and was set up by Claus Meyer – who happens to be the co-founder of Noma.

The head chef at Studio is Torsten Vildgaard, who hastrained at a restaurant called Tinggarden north of Copenhagen, and then at restaurants Norrebro Bryghus and Extra. However his formative years were spent in a intense eight-year stint at Noma (there it is again!) where he worked as sous chef and head of research and development before he moved to Studio. In his new kitchen, he gained a Michelin star only four months after opening and believe me, after enjoying this high level culinary experience, I can really see why this was awarded.

 

So it was decided that lunch was the way to go. 9 courses, which does seem a lot, but these are tasting dishes which means they are very small mouthfuls of food but in some cases extremely rich on flavours. 

It is a smaller scale restaurant which sits 40 diners and the 9 course lunch menu is available on a Saturday for 1000 DKK (approximately £120.00) I didn’t fancy drinking too much as this tends to fill me up rather quickly, so just opted with a glass of white called Pouilly Fume. 

Jerusalem artichoke/ cep / pineapple weed

Sorrel / Fermented creme fraiche/ dried caviar

Churro / cheese / truffle

The staff were very tentative and welcoming, and each chef brings the dish to your table explaining the ingredients, which I thought was a winning touch.  The first couple of course are litereally a bite size each, followed by the most incredible tasting bread with salty butter, ‘the main courses’ and then the mind blowing desserts to finish with.  

Scallop ceviche / raw onions / elderflower 

Monkfish /celeriac / apple 

Lobster / passion fruit / chilli 

Duck / grapes / lavender

Apple / coriander / olive oli 

Almond / cep/ balsamic apple vinegar

Everything was timed at a steady pace and nothing was out of place – the execution was completely flawless and the food… well this was out of this world. Playful, unique, experimental and the presentation on point. So many bizarre pairings of ingredients but they worked deliciously well! 

A few more after meal treats

The restaurant itself is minimalistic and contemporary in style, designed by team duo Christina Meyer Bengtson and Ulrik Nordentoft. I really liked the layout, as sometimes you can feel so overwhelmed by over the top designs and trying to cram too much furniture in.

I also got a chance to meet with the chefs, who were all super lovely to chat with and genuinely interested to know what I thought about the food and my overall experience. Very important to ask these questions in my opinion! 

A big thumbs up to the Studio and chef Damian Quintana for making this such a memorable and special Nordic experience for us, I couldn’t recommended it enough – this is the place you want to be visiting when in Copenhagen! 😉

B2B – Budapest/Balaton Part 1

FACT.

I am a massive fan of Budapest, having travelled there once before, I have a very soft spot for the city known for its hot baths, ruin bars, culinary scene and of course its fascinating history.

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Little did I know, that about 130 kilometres away was a picture perfect Lake centred in the middle of Hungary called Balaton, in which I’m advised, has been a popular destination for holiday makers over Europe to frequent this hot spot during the summer months.

It is also host to a music festival every July that runs for 5 days called Balaton Sound which I will be talking a lot of on the second part of this post. On top of this, Budapest also have a festival of their own which is held on 108 hectare island in the middle of the river called Sziget. This runs for slightly longer and is one of the biggest festivals in Europe so if you’re looking to go overseas, this would be my top preference. 

With all these facts in mind, it seemed crazy to pass on such an amazing location and at such a reasonable price. You see the decision was between that and Glasto and after weighing up the options, all arrows were pointing to a European festival excursion. A holiday and a festival in one is definitely the way forward and who can trust the English weather anyway. 

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I decided to go all out and book myself in business class (Club Europe class) on a BA flight and because I was doing this journey alone, I thought, why the hell not. The BA lounge at Heathrow was stock standard. It didn’t wow me but it was equipped with all the essentials. Examples would be the house wines, beer and spirits, newspapers to magazines and light food to keep your appetite at bay.

On the plane, it was a totally different story. Most people will say it is a waste of time travelling business class on a short haul flight but on this occasion I would strongly oppose plus its always nice to go all out, especially if you are going to do it as a solo ranger. 

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I had a very welcoming air hostess who bought me a few too many bottles of French champagne (yes this is another reason to upgrade) and her exceptional service really shone through. I can always tell when people are being genuine and truly love what they do – its just so obvious in my opinion. The food was also an improvement and so much of it this time around. I had a selection of fish with vegetables, cheese and chutneys, dessert with crackers and a fresh selection of bread rolls. Had to say, I was not expecting to be fed so much and with the extra champagne to take away in my bag, I was one happy little customer!!

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Once I had arrived in Budapest, it was baking hot so the quickest option to get across town was to catch an Uber over to my Airbnb apartment which was located right in the heart of the city. I had friends (who had already arrived) eagerly waiting for me so we could all go and hit a few of the famous ruin bars that this city is widely known for.

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One of my favourites is Szimpla Kert which is head to toe in vintage decor, has its own garden, market and live music. Inside it was completely rammed and although there was no music being pumped, the atmosphere certainly made up for it.

As did the wacky decor. 

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The following day it did take a little while to spring out of bed but who needs to get up early when you’re on holiday. Not this one! Since I had already been to Budapest before, I was pretty relaxed on the sightseeing part and really only interested in finding places to eat and cocktails to drink (only being upfront here!). Besides, we were in a prime spot within walking distance to a gazillion and one places so the choice was absolutely endless!

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There was one bar in particular that I had been recommended to visit which was called the 360 bar and boy these views well and truly lived up to the name. Although I was trying not to melt from the heat, it didn’t stop me from sitting directly in the sun and then opting for some shelter a little later on in the day.

My friends Jon and Charlotte also joined me for what seemed like a well deserved relaxing afternoon, basking in the sunshine while sipping on wine and fruity cocktails. The ultimate spot that provides views for days and a place you must go if you love to be snap happy. 

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That evening I wanted to roam around the cobbled streets and find a low key restaurant serving Hungarian wine and some tasty traditional schnitzel. The Red bistro had just that including welcome shots and some interesting murals on view! I was super keen to check out at least one more ruin bar before calling it a night and after wandering around we stumbled across a place called Kuplung which was a former repair shop – completely random I know, but the popularity of these bars is astounding. You are doing well to get a seat or even a table for that matter….and what I absolutely dig about this place as you can be walking for hours around these historical little streets and you wont even feel like you are lost in the slightest! 

Jolly good. 

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Early Wednesday morning, we decided to mission it across to one of the most delightful breakfast spots in Budapest called Villa Bagatelle. They have a bakery which is located on the ground floor and you have the option of eating in the lush garden or the restaurant which they have upstairs. A bit of an obscure location however a tremendous way to kick off a very invigorating day, travelling over to the Lake and experiencing a 5 day European festival. Oh yes oh yes.

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Although this time around it was a brief ‘in and out’ trip ‘, my love for Budapest never changes. A city that is straight forward, unique and so cosmopolitan – it always keeps me coming back for more! 

The Admirable Algarve

 

Portugal has always been one of those places I often thought about, and even spoke about; but never actually got around to visiting…..

Until now!

 

I was really indecisive about where to go and what appealed to me the most and after a few weeks of driving myself around the bend, it was decided, that Lagos in the Algarve was a winner. This is a particular interesting location because a lot of people still aren’t that familiar with it, where in fact its known as a top holiday destination to visit throughout the European summer months.

As we had booked the trip at the start of May, this is generally classed as being in the off peak season which means ridiculously cheap prices from the accommodation, right down to the food and wine.

Speaking of accommodation, I am one for really shopping around online, while trying to veer away from the standard hotel stay. I much prefer to use Airbnb for the true cultural experience or booking.com which always has never let me down with some pretty amazing deals. 

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We ended up booking Villas D. Dinis who happen to own a number of luxurious villas dotted around Lagos and including an offsite property which had that ‘exclusive’ feel about it. Our villa was about 2 mins drive from the main office and also where they had breakfast set up each morning. It sounds like an unusual set up, but I quite liked the idea of being away from the other guests and being able to enjoy the quieter surroundings.

By the way, the breakfast I have to say, was completely amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen a selection like it before and even included bubbles for a cheeky bucks fizz. This girl was in heaven every morning 🙂

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The property, consisted of three levels, with modern features and an outdoor pool that was unfortunately a little too cold to dive into, however I loved how private it was with high fences and gated with a security coded pad. (also plenty of space for car parking)

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To get to Lagos, you need to fly into Faro international airport and it will take you about an hour by car or one hour and thirty minutes by train. Also be aware that the A22 highway is a toll road but this is far quicker if you are in a hurry and seeing as though we had got a later flight in, I preferred this option.  

If you do happen to have some extra time on on your hands, then the N25 would be a more pleasant option as it is far more scenic. 

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The weather for the time of year was still a little unstable. A lot of thunderstorms which followed by some heavy downpours but generally during the day, the sun shone and with temps around the 22 degree mark which was acceptable when you are trekking around those steep hills! 

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So Lagos is very hilly. With miles of cliffs and plenty of golden pristine beaches to swim at and because we were in such a great location, we had the option of walking to each (and there were dozens!) My favourite would have to be Praia do Camilo for some captivating views. There were 200 steps down to the water, so decided to take a rain check, while taking a few snaps and admiring the aqua blue water. I also loved Praia Dona Ana, which is one of the most popular swimming spots in Lagos and a little easier to get to 🙂 

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The other thing I really loved about Lagos, was the unusual architecture of the old town. The first time we decided to drive through it and oh my gawd, the streets were insanely narrow as well as being mega steep and fully cobbled, you almost feel like you were going to drive through someones house and end up in their living room. 

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It was also unusually quiet and this was noticeable after going back in later on to have some dinner.  Im guessing that the streets normally don’t come alive until at least after midday.

Speaking of dinner and food, there are plenty of hidden gems around the city and we had the chance of experiencing a few standout restaurants whilst we were there. 

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This included Restaurante Dos Artistas which is not quite Michelin star, but really should be. Set in a beautiful colonial styled dining room, it screams fine dining with its impeccable service, quality dishes and beautiful wines.  I also had the chance to try a 10 year aged Port, aka a Portuguese fortified wine. Its a very strong and typically sweet taste and very similar to that of a dessert wine which is not something I would desire to have on any occasion, but when in Portugal, one must at least give it a try! 

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Another memorable restaurant in the Old Town was called Dom Vinho which we stumbled across, while casually strolling around one evening. The waiter we had was fantastic and if I could remember his name, I would happily give him a shout out right now! Every dish he recommended on the menu was perfect including the Murganheira champagne (from Portugal of course) which made the night just that little more special. Even better, was the fact that a jazz band had started to play across the street so we had live entertainment as an added bonus. 

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If you are looking for something a little healthy, I can suggest a great juice bar called Bora Cafe. Very hard to get a table but well worth the wait. 

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As far as exploring the Algrave is concerned, we did manage to find a couple of secluded spots to stop off at and admire the incredible views of the coastline. Pria Do Beliche which is about 30 mins from central lagos, is great for surfing (as Nick discovered after walking down a million steps) and is also on the way to Sagres, a small town on the South west tip of the Algarve. I didn’t find there was a lot to do here, and I guess with it being the time of year, only very few businesses were actually open. We did manage to stop off for a bite to eat but it was more for just a look around while breathing in a good dose of lovely sea air. 

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On the other side of Lagos, there is another larger sized town called Portimao which takes about 40 minutes by car and has slightly more to do so you’d probably need most of the day if you plan to walk around it and perhaps have a bite to eat. Funnily enough, we ended up coming back here twice. The first time, we took a walk around, then ended up across the other side at a seaside village called Ferragudo, before heading straight towards a hidden beach bar called Kalu, which was tucked inside the rock face and surrounded by aloe vera plants! We decided it was essential to grab a burger and a glass of rose to rehydrate and my word those burgers were insanely big and totally scrumptious. I was pretty stoked to have come across such a cool spot, so much so that I was almost tempted to laze about there all day…. 

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So I mentioned earlier that we ended up visiting the area twice and this time we had been recommended to try out an even better beach bar called NoSolo Agua Beach Club. Situated right on the port, and equipped with spectacular ocean views, blazing sunshine and unbelievable good seafood, you couldn’t have asked for much more – This place was massive and fully decked out. It almost reminded me of Nikki Beach with its similar decor, daybeds and lagoon style pool. It was just a real shame that we had saved this to the very last minute and before we had to head back to the airport, otherwise I couldn’t have seen myself moving from my chair for the rest of the day.. or week in fact! 

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This definitely has to be one of the most chilled, low key holidays I have had in a very long time and I couldn’t recommend it enough, especially if you love your beaches, hot weather and fresh seafood.

 

I really fell in love with the Algarve’s natural beauty and as a whole, felt a good vibe about the place.

Obrigada Portugal!!

In amore con l’Italia!

 

Italy.

One word that is guaranteed to make me smile from ear to ear.

Ever since my last holiday on the Mediterranean coastline of Amalfi, I fell deeply in love with its picturesque landscapes, humble people and traditional succulent food that it is well known for.

Two years on and I was itching to get myself back there again. This time around I wanted to check out the north western coast of Cinque terre. Made up of a number of fishing and coastal villages, it has been high on my list of places to visit. Lake Como, situated at the very top of Italy and a short distance from Switzerland, was also on my ever growing wish list.

I asked my best friend Grace to come along with me and since she is learning Italian, I knew she would be keen to brush up on her language skills as well as being able to spend some quality time with her, which rarely happens in London. This holiday was also about winding down, which is definitely something I needed. 

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We caught the earliest EasyJet flight out of Gatwick Saturday morning (6.50am) to Pisa and although this is an absolute killer getting out of bed at 3am, is totally worth it to get the most out of the day plus those Swiss Alps views to admire along the way aren’t too shabby. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination if your body has had enough,  after all you are on holiday so you can catch up on some z’s whenever you feel the need too. 

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We all know that Pisa is famous for one thing and that is the leaning tower. We hadn’t planned to stay in the city for too long as I wanted to get on that train to Vernazza before late afternoon so we didn’t have to worry about lugging a suitcase around! The Tower itself is certainly leaning and im glad we were there at a reasonably early time, before the crowds of tourists started flooding in. I had to laugh at the amount of people with their selfie sticks in action and getting creative with all sorts of poses. Of course we had to create a few for ourselves which had us in stitches for a brief moment and until I noticed the gelato van. Italy is well known for its creamy ice-cream and its something you must try when you’re out here. Daily is recommended 🙂

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We boarded our train to Vernazza just before midday and one thing I must warn you about the stations is the slow and very relaxed customer service they provide. Expect to be waiting up to 40 minutes in line if you are wanting to purchase your tickets this way. You an avoid it and use the ticket machine if you know where your going but as a tourist I prefer to ask a local. 

The trains are clean, nothing too flashy but as long as you are taken for A to B then I have no qualms about travelling cattle class. Trentitalia are the main train services to use and fairly reasonable in price. I believe it only cost us about 15 euro for an hour & a half ride.

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We arrived in Vernazza and checked into a boutique hotel called Arosadeiventi which is a short walk up the hill but only a 5 minute stroll from the central district, so location wise, is perfecto. Giuliana greeted us with open arms and provided us with all the finer details of this quaint seaside village. Although it was lunchtime I couldn’t resist and make a small detour towards the gelato shop for some fig and ricotta cheese delight in a cup. There is no such thing in eating light when you are in Italy so forget the diet completely.

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September is most definitely an ideal time to venture to a place such as this, with temperatures around 25-28 degrees you may even be lucky enough to go for a dip in the ocean. After a light stroll around the pretty town and checking out the castle views, we had some time to kill by watching the boats coming in and out of the port and catching the last bit of the sun for the day. 

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That evening I had booked us into Ristorante Belforte which is located on a bold tower over looking some incredible ocean views. I was feeling famished from the day and was ready to tuck into some hearty italian food. We had the best seat in the house on a covered verandah with extraordinary glimpses of the sun setting and a bubbly waiter called Andrea to serve as with some crisp rose wine.

I got chatting to the couple next to us, who would you believe it are from Christchurch – my birth town. They have been coming to the restaurant for years and tell me it is the best in Cinque Terre. Undoubtable our first choice was the traditional caprese salad, followed by fresh seafood and a dessert which was beyond dreamy.

Andrea was ever so kind to sing to us as he was pouring the caramelised strawberries over the ice-cream. Where in london can you get service quite like this?! Towards the end of the evening we were introduced to the owner, Michela Basso who was kind enough to thank us for eating at her restaurant, so very humble and appreciative. Refreshing to see this! 

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The following morning we had made it our mission to treak across to Monterrosso – another cheerful bright coloured village just north of Vernazza. I had been warned that it was a steep climb so setting off reasonable early was not such a silly idea. I would class myself a semi fit person, so I had no worries about climbing on an angle for a few hours…just make sure you carry a bottle of water, you will need the hydration in the heat.

There were many people who had the same idea and in some areas the paths are very narrow but the breathtaking views are well worth every leg pain and sweatiness that may be endured. We even managed to make a friend along the way that decided to go to sleep on my bag while we had a quick stop! Along the way I purchased a pair of frangipani earrings at a cute little stall and im still mind boggled as to how this person actually managed to carry a table up the hill but it did happen. I swear!

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Monterosso is a slightly larger village, with a vast shoreline for swimming and sun baking, sprawled with those gorgeous multicoloured umbrellas and plenty of alfresco cafes to ear or sip on some lemon cello. It wasn’t quite warm enough for me to get my body in the clear blue waters but any excuse to lie on a beach and I am a happy woman.

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To end the day on a high note, I had been recommended a wine tasting bar situated on top of the south of the cliff. It is called Vernazza Wine tasting experience and hosted by Alessandro who shares an enthusiastic and passionate attitude for wine and teaching others about it. I cant even describe to you just how breathtaking the views of the balcony were. We had prime views of the sunset and tasted some of the best wines I have ever had in my life – no word of a lie! A stand out for me was the red from La Crima Di Morro. Have you ever had a wine that smelt of rose flowers?! Absolutely incredible.

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Monday morning we found ourselves up a little before mid morning so we could check out, grab some sustenance and make our way to the train station for our 3 and half hour journey to Como.

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Now this was a complete eye opener for me. Firstly, we had to get on the train to Monterosso which doesn’t sound complicated but as I previously mentioned Italy is a little relaxed with its systems and trains don’t always appear to be on time. Then we had about a zillion people get off, trying to cram onto the platform while everyone else is crawling to get on. For a moment there, I really didn’t think we would get on and their was a brief bit of panic but after dealing with London tubes I am well used to these kind of situations and just decided to push my way on. I know, how terrible but sometimes you just have no choice in the matter. If we had of missed this train then it would have made the rest of the journey a little unpleasant. 

The joys of travelling abroad 🙂

Luckily I had the bottle of prosecco on hand and trusty train snacks to get us through the ordeal. It was a lifesaver.

As always I managed to make some friends, a couple from New York who were on their honeymoon. Don’t you find this makes the journey go so much quicker, while also getting the chance to meet some fascinating people along the way?! Now this is what makes travelling a positive experience. Im sorry what train was I speaking about a moment ago 🙂 

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Before we knew it we were on a train from Milan heading to beautiful Como and I was ready to do some more exploring of this good-looking part of the world.

Our apartment in Como was situated in Piazza volta, a central and convenient location. Although it is a small area in proximity, it is accessible by foot and very easy to get around with a 5 minute walk from the main train station (Giovanni). I had booked this trendy 1 bedder through booking.com and as soon as I walked through the door I knew I had picked a winner. Draped in black and white with diamante lights, Marilyn pictures and quotes, it couldn’t have been any more suitable. 

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Getting back to the location side of things. Our accommodation was a stones through from the local supermarket and it was a pretty decent on at that. Staying in a apartment with a kitchen meant we could have the freedom of cooking our own meals as I know it can get a little OTT eating out 3 times a day (says the girl who loves food) and expensive. Luckily Italy is inexpensive! 

The sparse cobble lined streets are filled with restaurants, the best smelling bakeries you can imagine and no annoying large crowds of people.  Rather calming when you don’t have to be thinking about rushing to a tube station.

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For dinner we decided to just wing it and take another stroll around town in search for a little gem to wow us yet again. We stumbled across one place that had the most adorable outdoor garden area called Number 9. This place was just what the doctor ordered after travelling for most of the day and I was hanging out for some beaut Italian vino. Surrounded by the tranquility of low lighting, green shrubbery and candles, you could say that is would be the perfect place for a romantic date.

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Greeted by our friendly waiter to take our order, we started off with the caprese salad & a sparkling glass of prosecco before being introduced to the owner (yet again!) He gladly went on to tell us that we would be looked after for the evening which made me giggle. Gotta love the Italian hospitality – like no other!

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For my main dish the steak and duck foie gras was a game changer. This was a succulent dish like no other and lets face it, we know how much of a fuss pot I can be when it comes to eating red meat. Five stars for that one.  Followed by the all important dessert which was shared for fear of tummy explosion – chocolate ganache, pistachio and caramel decadence and the thought of not being able to finish such a work of art was rather upsetting. 

After guzzling a hundred wines courtesy and lemon cello courtesy of the owners dear friends, we left the restaurant only realising that we had been in there for a minut 4 hours. Bed was certainly calling our name in preparation for a big day ahead out on the water.

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                                                                          “The big brunch!”

The 50 km deep blue lake is a highly regarded destination, famously known for its picture perfect views, upscale hotels and surrounded by the forested foothills of the alps. It is also a playground for the rich and famous, in particular Mr George Clooney and Richard Branson, who both owner property out here. 

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We took a boat over to our first stop of the day which was lunch at Ristorante Crotto dei Platani. I had done hours of research to find a restaurant that had the best of both worlds – breathtaking panoramic views of the lake and excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. We were seated in the garden verandah and greeted by our waiter who bought us a glass of prosecco while we sat and admired the gorgeous views. At that point I really started to realise just how lucky I am to be able to live the life I do and cherish valuable experience such as these.

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The menu and choice itself was outstanding. For the duration of the trip we had been searching for spaghetti and seafood but had failed to come across it until now. As soon as I saw the white fish tartare and black truffle there was no stopping me. It just had to be done. Spaghetti with the clams and octopus followed soon after and boy was it worth the wait. A decent enough portion meant we were completely stuffed with no room for dessert. I know, such poor effort on my part but I still had some space for the petit fours and an espresso. Oh and don’t forget about the half bottle of rose; which I may have had to myself 🙂

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After all that gobbling we were in desperate need of some exercise, so while we had some time to kill, we decided to have a wander around the cute little town of Argegno. The exploring wasn’t over just yet as we had to hop onto another boat over to beautiful Bellagio.

No, I’m not taking about the lustrous resort in Vegas.

I am speaking about the resort known as ‘Pearl of the Lake’

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I can really see why everyone wants to pay a visit here. The village itself oozes old hollywood glamour, filled with century old building, cobbled stairways, plush cafes and loads of shops. This place showcases Italy at its finest and it really is just magnificent. Sadly, we didn’t have a lot of time to spend here and didn’t want to miss our last boat back to Como which was also the speedy service.

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The day ended with an assortment of cheeses, hams and bread as we said good bye to one of the most stunning places I had ever had the pleasure of visiting.

On our very last day of the trip we had to catch a flight from Milan Linate airport in the late afternoon so thought it would be a great opportunity to briefly catch up with my italian mate (including Jack the dog) for lunch and see a bit of Milan before heading back to London.

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We meet up at an urban farmers market called Mercato Metropolitano which is situated just outside of Milan in Navigli. 

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Lined with rows of stalls featuring local produce of fruit, veggies, breads and additional spots to purchase pizza, pasta, cheese and even wine tasting machines if you’re into that. I liked how it had that ‘local’ feel to it and would definitely recommend to anyone travelling to Milan who wanted a more down to earth eating experience.

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Another remarkable Italian vacation, feeling a few kilos heavier but never the less taking away many happy memories that this alluring country is so good at providing.

Amore Italy!!

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My holiday in the Ibiza party playground!

Generally when you tell people you are taking a vacation in Ibiza they either look at you with a smile and laugh or they squirm at you with outright jealousy. Im not going to deny that I love a good party, the madness of a rave and appreciate a balmy coastal lifestyle. As my second time visiting the vibrant island, I was pretty amped about this trip because my friend Mel (DJ Decimel) had secured a few gigs and at the last minute, I had a few friends from Australia who wanted to meet up while over on their European holiday.

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For those who have yet to be acqainted with the white Isle, there are normally two sides to it. Not just for the clubbing and partying but its also well known for its spa and yoga retreats, over the top villas and stunning landscapes. If you’re fond of a sunset or sunrise then you’re in for a treat as well. The island has numerous spots for catching some of the most spectacular sights, in fact the best in the world I reckon.

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Going in August, which is the peak of the summer and also the hottest, means it is swarming with people, so make sure you are as close to the beach or a pool as much as you possibly can be. With the sizzling humidity, it really is essential.

We caught an EasyJet flight out on the Friday evening form Gatwick Airport. You’ll find the times to fly in and out are slightly obscure, even with airlines such as BA. Im not sure if they do this on purpose but the airport is literally only a few km’s from the central part of Playa d’en bossa so very convenient if you happen to be staying around that part of town. I personally think this is the best part of the island to stay in and certainly as a ‘base’ if you are a club fanatic. All the big name clubs are a stones throw away and the beach scene is very popular providing loads of tunes to kick start the party. Ibiza Town which is only up the road, is quite upmarket (and close to Pasha).

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We stayed in an apartment type block above Delano Beach club, which is adjacent to the well known party spot, Bora Bora Beach club. Equipped with an ample sized balcony providing us with some not so shabby views of the surrounds, it was only a few minutes walk to Ushuaia on the right and Jet apartments to the left. Being a small island, you don’t have to worry about transport, most things are reachable by foot unless you plan on travelling to San Antonio which requires a taxi.

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The first night we arrived was a fairly late so we opted to stay in with a few beverages and soak in the energy. For me, I was glad to be looking at some dreamy ocean views after being teased after my Oz trip back in February. That and being able to wear a pair of shorts! I was also determined to wake early for the first sunrise of the day which was well worth it for the lack of sleep.  Anyway sleeping is cheating 🙂

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The next day I wanted head straight to the sand and catch a few rays. A normal afternoon around here would be a packed beach with people looking slightly worse for wear, a lot of naked bodies, girls in bikinis strutting along with their megaphones and with head turning outfits (usually promo for the club nights) and some seriously loud beats. We were lucky enough to have some wicked tunage supplied by Delano with even a few patrons getting up and dancing on some furniture. You see in Ibiza, its ‘anything goes ‘which may be quite an eye opener for some but for me this place is all about letting go and enjoying the moment, crazy or not it has to be done!

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Over the course of the next few days you can pretty much imagine there were some late nights tearing up the dance floor or as some would say, raving until the break of dawn. Spain is profoundly known for its partying so this pretty much means that nothing gets going until  at least after midnight.

The only negative thing I could say about Ibiza is the cost. Bring cash and plenty of it. To get into a club like Space, Sankeys, DC10 or Pasha you are looking at around 40 to 50 euros and then drink prices are enough to make you weep. Sometimes you will find people on the streets giving out wristbands with cheaper prices. This does not necessarily mean you will getting a good deal, so be very wary of that.

For Amnesia I went for the VIP Terrace option and purchased online. Or you can find local people like Luigi who are selling tickets and not ripping people off. Another smart idea is to always pre drink in your hotel/apartment before you head out. There are little convenience stores dotted around selling beer, wine and spirits so you shouldn’t have any issues finding one and this will save you hundreds. Trust me.

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If I had to say what the highlight of my trip was I would probably say Formentera. I missed out on going to this magical island the first time around so I was determined to get there this time! You can catch the Ulises Cat which is about 15 minutes walk from Bora Bora beach club and really easy to spot. It will take about 40-45 minutes to get there and if the seas aren’t too choppy you should be in for a nice ride. When you get to the island you will need to hire a bike or moped if you want to go swimming as this is a good 40 minutes of walking and know one wants to endure that in 30-40 degree temps. No thanks.

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We didnt have the foggiest clue where we were going once on our bikes but the beauty about getting lost on a small island is that you cant go too far and besides, thats what makes its a hell of a lot more fun! We managed to stumble across a hidden gem off the beaten track called El Tiburon. Undeniably providing some of the best views of the pretty turquoise waters and white sandy beaches that the island is known for, we were exceptionally lucky to get a table because it was full booked with reservations. (good sign of a decent restaurant) Ibiza is highly regarded for their fresh seafood and sushi so go nuts if you enjoy this type of cuisine as you wont find much better in this part of the world.

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I was feeling like an overload of carbs as I knew it was going to be a rather long night ahead and wouldn’t have time to be eating before heading out. My attention was drawn to the tagliatelle pasta on the menu. With fresh succulent prawns, semi sun dried tomatoes, it was incredibly delicious and paired nicely with a couple of glasses of Julie & Navines white vino (cheers Indy for the modelling). It was in fact, one of the best meals I had the pleasure of eating on this entire trip – absolutely sublime. 

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After a small food coma moment we made our way down to the pristine, crystal clear waters for a long dip and a session of sun baking. However it didnt end there. On our tipsy trek back to the port we stumbled across another colourful beach bar for some obligatory sangria. White to be precise. Cant recall a time that ive ever had this before, its always been a red but this I much prefer, especially when it comes with a bundle of the longest straws you have ever seen!

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As I mentioned earlier my friend Mel had a couple of gigs secured – one being at Tropi trance bar in San Antonio. This is known as the West End and takes about half an hour by taxi to get there. If im honest this part of the island doesnt really do it for me but Mel’s set was so impressive I completely forgot about where I was (or perhaps that was a few too many vodka’s) After we headed to one of the oldest and well known clubs on the island – Amnesia. The place is totally off the hook, bagging some of the best DJ’s in the world, I was fortunate enough to be in the same presence as Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz and Jordan Suckley that evening for Cream night and let me tell you this club is on steroids, its humungous!! I cant even count on my hand the amount of times I got lost in there but that is a whole different story which shouldn’t be told 🙂

After nursing a severe hangover on the beach all day, I was almost unable to make it to Eden that night but with the legend Judge Jules playing behind the decks in the main room it would be really rude of me to miss out on this one. My friend and our photography for the trip Jon Self, managed to worm his way into the DJ box and take pictures of the man who was I was a huge fan of back in the day (and clearly still am!).

Im still envious of you Mr Self!

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Being the foodie that I am, I was gagging to try out a few more restaurants and what more of a perfect place then Ushuaia beach club (yes its not all about the music when you’re are here!). The hotel itself is famously known for some of the best club nights and pulling top international DJ’s. ANTs being one of the club nights on the Saturday was a favourite of mine. Purely because this is my type of dance music.

I had a friend staying at the Tower which is the other part of the hotel, next door. You know, the one with all the flowers running up the walls of the exterior. You can find a decent sized pool filled with bright colours and flamingoes, a bar and roof terrace serving quality cocktails and parts of the hotel decorated with ‘ants’ which I found bizarre but also ultra creative.

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The Beach club my friends, is fantastic. Filled with the beautiful people, (no doubt the people that are staying there) not only do you have those ‘views’ of the water, a resident DJ perched above the patrons and mouth watering food but if you happen to be there of an evening you will be able to hear the sets being played from the club area. Music and food? Perfect combo right. Be warned though, you may want to get up midway of your meal and have a little boogie while finishing that last bite. Hey, if you cant do it here then when can you?!

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First time around I was dying to dig into their sushi and mark my word, it did not disappoint one bit. They also have a Japanese restaurant called Minami which I was really hoping to try out but sadly just ran out of time. I know…..ME who worships any kind of Japanese on a daily basis…..this is just outrageous! 😉

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As my experience here for lunch was so on point I had to get a few of the crew back here for round two. Dinner consisted of:

The fanciest tuna tartare that existed

Fluffy raffoli pasta with truffle cheese (and lots of it!)

The most enourmous king prawns

Crusted sea bass with herb roasted vegetables which I had major food envy over. Have you seen this size of this dish?!

A selection of sorbets

A shot of  Hierbas ibicencas (thank you Luigi!) which is a traditional Spanish digestif

 

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While I was out on the island, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Raver of the year – Alex van Naher, Nick ‘the Kid’ Coles and DJ Decimel at the Tropicana Beach club. Even on holiday I seem to be working but since deciding to incorporate more of the music side of things, I wanted to make sure I had made the most of any opportunities while I was here.

The secluded beach bar and restaurant is located only metres from Blue Marlin (which has now become quite the household name and known for its glitzy glam crowds and the hefty drink pries that go with it). Tropicana was slightly more low key which was nice to have some time out from the madness.

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Later on into the evening we popped into @ night bar where Mel was gigging at and since it was one of the last nights out on the town I wanted to go all out in true Steph style. Sankey’s is a nightclub franchise with clubs in Manchester and New York City and which also happens to be a favourite of mine. That evening they had Steve Lawler and Hot Since 82 playing so this was already ‘in the bag’ decision wise. Whether I was coming with the troops or a lone ranger, I was not going to say no to a gig like this.

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The last time I was in Sankeys I had the rare chance of seeing Solomon live. These guys blew it out of the park and especially in a venue like this where it can get horribly overcrowded and hot; to be able to take your mind of the uncomfortable surroundings is absolutely superb.

Again a sweat box but for me its all about minimal and tech house music, so I wouldn’t care if I was dancing on a rubbish bin in the sahara desert. If the quality of the music is there, nothing else should matter 😉

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I may be biased about my opinion of Ibiza and go on about how much I adore it but all in all this holiday truly was a blast. The reality is, you barely sleep, you party hard at night and bask in the sun during the day. Its nonstop craziness which can be exhausting but you learn to appreciate some of the best music and dance clubs on the globe today.

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With the season coming to an end, I am already planning for 2016 and this time around I will make a point of spending more of it exploring the wondrous sights of the island. I would love to capture the sunset at Es Vedra, do some water sports, hire a boat and maybe treat myself to one night at the opulent Hotel Hacienda. It would also be a dream to check out Sublimotional, which is located in the Hard Rock Cafe and one of the most expensive restaurants in the world to dine at. Slightly over the top but we all deserve some luxury from time to time!

 

*Photo credit to Jon Self Photography

*Tanned up by Bella Bronze Tan

*Special thanks to Alex, Nick, Melissa & Luigi 

 

I left my heart in Berlin

Okay so its obvious that im a tad late on getting around to posting my Christmas break in Berlin and I could give you plenty of un-excusable reasons as to why. But I wont. 

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Berlin has been on the top of my list of cities to visit for quite sometime now. Either my friends have already been there on multiple occasions or ‘thinking’ about it going but not without a clue as to when that will be. Thats until my fellow Aussie mate, Emma asked me if I would like to join her for an orphans Christmas with a bunch of other Aussie girls and celebrate it a slightly different way on the 25th day of December. Of course I said yes and before you knew it, my flight was booked and I could hardly contain my standard travel excitement.

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I took a rather early flight with Easyjet on Christmas Eve and was pleasantly surprised how empty the flight was and the fact that we left 15 minutes before the departure time. The one thing I really a grateful for is living so close to Europe. Literally an hour and 25 minutes later and youve stepped foot into the land of beer and sausages. I was the first to arrive out of the five and was welcomed with open arms by a friendly chap called Enrico at the Riverside Lodge, just adjacent to the river and so im told, a very cool neighbourhood to hang out in.

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I was in charge of the grocery shop before it was about to shut on me, so I scurried over to the local supermarket to grab the supplies for our Christmas brunch and more importantly not forgetting the champers.  Once everyone had arrived and settled into our new home for the next 5 or so days I had worked up an appertite and was ready to go exploring to these talked up Christmas markets. Forgetting that it was in fact the night before Christmas, disappointingly the one in Alexandra Platz was closed when we arrived. So that could only mean one thing – dinner and drinks at probably one of the most tackiest restaurants I have ever stepped foot into. Did anyone say pink flamigo Las Vegas? The food, luckily was no where near as bad as the decor and I settled for my very first curry bratwurst followed by a soothing German beer to wash it down.

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Christmas day I clambered out of bed at a respectable hour of the morning to Skype my family back in Queensland. These damn time zones can be fairly tricky, especially when its 10 hours ahead. Ive said this before and I will say it again Skype really is an a amazing piece of technology and its times like these where I have to thank the developer for creating such a marvelous invention.

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We had organised to have brunch together and the thought of sitting around in my PJs, scoffing on fresh bread, sipping on the bubbles while bopping along to cheesy Christmas carols was some what pleasant after a horrendously busy nonstop month.

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Going for a stroll around Berlin seemed rather appropriate after the festive binge and the wall was a high priority on the list  of things to tick off on this trip. At this time of year the city is particularly cold, actually make that freezing! Wrapping yourself in layers is a must when your out and about in -7 temperatures! I was surprised when we got to the wall, just how many other people had the same idea on Christmas day. Random. Anyhoo the artwork is astonishing and seemed to go on forever. Its a airy, yet a truly fascinating experience being able to see it in full view.

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That evening I had reserved us a special fancy dinner at a restaurant called Volt. Still feeling rather stuffed from brunch we couldn’t say no to the lavish 6 course menu on offering. Followed by a couple of bottles of red, we were set for the evening. Im not going to go into too much detail as I normally would about my food but judging by everyones faces, I was feeling rather proud of myself in regards to my choice of location.

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As boxing day approached I was eager to get up at a reasonable hour and continue to explore around the streets of Neukölln. As it was the christmas holiday period, sadly a number of places were closed but this didn’t stop us from getting out and about. I stumbled across a tiny, dingy little bar that was calling my name and before you could say drink please, we were ordering straight up whiskeys, margaritas and meze plates. Something tells me this holiday is not going to be a quiet one.

That night we had planned to try our luck at Berghain, one of the best clubs in the world and also known as one of the hardest to get in. The funniest part about this, is only half of us managed to do that, leaving me and my three other friends cabbing it over to another wicked club called Renate. Let me tell you, this place is beyond wild. Filled with rooms, ladders, a bed, dance pole, wacky bar tenders and some of the best underground minimal techno ive ever heard. Im not going to proudly announce what time we left but I will tell you, come with an open mind and to party. HARD. The best thing about Berlin is that you don’t have to make an effort. Really. Getting dressed up all fancy is just not cool in their regard. Go comfy, embrace the music and just let go! 

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With a beyond disgusting hangover to wake up to that afternoon (no not morning) this hardcore blonde struggled to get out of bed until we all agreed that feeling sorry for ourselves was a waste of our holiday and time.  I had been strongly advised to check out a burger bar like no other. Berlin Burger International. Its about the size of my bedroom with some comedian waiters adding plenty of entertainment value. The size of these burgers is monstrous. Obsurd! How I managed to eat all of it is a mystery but I did reach a point afterwards where I nearly fell off the stool from a food coma. Not the day for this! Back to a bed for another few hours then back up again for dinner. Eat, sleep, repeat. This time around we choose a Vietnamese restaurant up the road which was another fantastic recommendation. Local knowledge is certainly helpful when travelling.

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On our last day we thought it might be a good idea to get in some culture, rather than more boozing. Oops. Although it did sound rather tempting to head to another bar, since there are so many to try. No Steph, no!

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We did one of these free walking tours which after experiencing in Prague I was pretty impressed by the concept of it all. Not so impressing was the day we had pick to do it.  One of the coldest and I was a little unprepared for this. I swear I could not feel my feet for about 2 hours. This is not recommended when it is close to -8 and everything is starting to freeze.

Being Christmas in Germany means plenty of markets, in fact dozens. Most are pretty much the same, filled with all things german – beer, sausage etc etc but worth checking out.

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After finishing up at the Brandenburg gate and watching the gorgeous sunset, we headed over to a restaurant called Nocti Vagus also known as dinner in the dark. This is something I have always wanted to experience and I was a little excited to get my first taste of what it was like eating in the pitch black. One of the options was to have the ‘surprise’ menu which of course had to be done. Its really hard to describe what actually happens when you enter darkness. You have your own visually impaired waiter who asks you to pop your hand on his shoulder and directs you slowly to your table. There is a lot of touching going on. No not with the waiter! It completely takes you out of your comfort zones and really makes you appreciate having your vision. We had to pour our wine which was hilarious and scary at the same time. Your eyes take a while to adjust and you may feel slightly freaked out by all the voices in the room. They say that your hearing and taste senses are dramatically heightened. They were not wrong. None of us guessed the meat in the main meal right and by the end of it we were eating with our fingers. This is one of the greatest eating experiences I have ever had and I now have the upmost respect for blind people.

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Last stop of the night was the Neue Heimat market. Located in a dodgy industrial area, filled with old shipping containers and abandoned warehouses, this is undoubtably the reason why Berlin is just super cool. Entrance is only a few euros and its filled with street food fans, mulled wine, an ice skating rink, a drinking hall with wine bars, dance floor and unreal house tunes.

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If all of this doesn’t sound unreal enough for you then picture looking out the window and seeing the snow falling like you wouldn’t believe! After calling it a night it was time to be a kid again and have my last chance to play amongst the fluffy white snow flakes. I was not ready to get back on a plane to London but duty calls and so does a thing called work. *Sigh*

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Theres no denying my love for this city. To the point where if I was younger and spoke German, I would have no problem in saying that I could easily live there. The food is of a high standard. Its affordable, rich in history and the nightlife/music scene is sublime. Berlin has left such an impression that I am coming back for more. Im very much looking forward to more crazy antics in November. Good times 🙂

A Cornish Weekend Escape

The first things that comes to mind when I think of the Cornwall Coast are its attractive beaches, highly reputable seafood, enchanting villages and breathtaking scenery. 

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After many years of ‘talking about it’ I decided to tag along with four other fabulous ladies for a relaxing road trip to the deep South. I must admit, I haven’t done a road trip in many years and with the UK offering stunning country landscapes I thought it was about time I started to experience what this beautiful part of the world has to offer and without the stress of airline travel. After my Australia trip I was quite happy not seeing the back of an airport. 

 

As it was Easter weekend we did however have to deal with unsightly holiday maker traffic. Special thanks to all of those who reminded me about this almost five thousand times – I got the point. After picking up our people mover at Budget over at Heathrow airport, we embarked on our 5 or so hour drive along the M4 towards Bristol, only encountering minor bouts of stand still traffic but nothing to get your knickers in a twist over. Along the way we made a pitt stop aka lunch at a charming English pub called the Kings Arms in a pocket sized town of Tedburn Saint Mary’s. Feeling rather thirsty and hungry from doing nothing, we ordered a bottle of wine and I had the fishcakes of the day. For me, this trip was all about getting my hands on as much of the seafood as possible, thus meaning a visit to at least one of Rick Stein’s famous eateries.  

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Arriving in Newquay early evening and after settling in to our home for the next few days, I had old mate Rickie on the brain and was keen to take a short drive over to Padstow to find out why this celebrity chef was so popular with the locals and the rest of the world alike. The drive to Padstow is beyond stunning. On the way, we were lucky enough to capture the most magical sunset with views of the attractive coastline one side and rolling green landscapes the other. It was at this point when I realised how much I missed being near the glistening water and sounds of the ocean…..

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Padstow is a fishing village; a seafood odyssey, situated on the North coast of Cornwall. Steins Fish & Chips is right on the Port and when we arrived I had to get my skates on before we were too late to make it through the door. Thankfully the run from the car pack paid off and the waitress allowed us to come in right on the dot of 8pm. Bear in mind that this is when it was about to close but when you are an avid foodie like myself, refusal or the word no is not an option. The menu is non-glamourous but when it comes to fish and chips it doesn’t have to be this way. I choose the grilled Mackarel and chips. Outstanding as expected – simple flavours yet unbelievable fresh and satisfying. One happy camper 🙂

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The next morning, the plan was to head down to St Ives and Penzance which is located at lower west part of Cornwall. St Ives was full of art galleries, cafes, antique shops and one particular bakery called the Penganna which claims it has the best Cornish pasties going. Of course, this madam had to try one of these bad boys for herself. Not because I just ‘had’ too but it would be considered slightly obscene if I wasn’t willing to partake in eating such a renowned delicacy. The size of the pasty is bloody huge and even for someone like me who has a largely above-normal appetite, struggled to finish it all off. Although very comforting to cup in your hands when it is freezing cold might I add. 

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Over to Penzance and still feeling silly full it was decided that a long stroll along the water and through the cobbled streeted town, was much needed. This village in particular is known for its vintage flare with cake and clothing shops galore. One local tells us that we can find the finest cornish ‘cream’ ice cream not that far from the centre of town so without thinking about how full our bellies were still feeling, we continued on to Jelbert’s, hoping to squeeze in at least one small scope of what is described as ‘the best’ around town. 

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Late afternoon we made our way back to Newquay but one particular sign caught all of our attention along the way so after hurtling the breaks on we took a sharp right turn into a place called the Cornish Cider farm. I mean how could you not, especially when it involves tasting. Hello.  

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Once we arrived back in Newquay the mission was to find a decent restaurant (which seemed quite a challenge at the time) followed be a sophisticated evening of wine and cheese back at our humble abode. After driving around the windy streets we stumbled across a magnificent hotel over looking the harbour which happened to have a restaurant attached to it called the Harbour Fish & Grill. Sadly there were no available tables for us which I was not surprised about however the staff were kind enough to accommodate us in the lounge bar next door, which I thought was equally as nice, if not better! With our own terrace and glorious views of the boats and beyond, the only thing missing was a fresh bowl of creamy white wine Mussels drizzled in garlic. Ten guesses as to what I ordered! 

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The following day being Easter Sunday was all about smashing as many chocolate eggs as possible. Only kidding, we actually had to make our way back to the South East but before this, I had to call in to the beautiful town of Totnes to catch up with a school friend. If you haven’t been to Devon before, you wouldn’t have had the chance to experience the beauty of the willowing lanes and their epic cream tea. Since the girls hadn’t yet experienced any of this yet, now was the golden opportunity to do so, at a magical nursery tucked far far away from the rest of what seemed like, civilisation. The Hill House garden and tea rooms was picturesque and almost like being in a fairy tale. I cannot tell you how stunning it really was and pleasantly quiet. Absolute bliss!

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As we got closer to London, the realisation that they mini getaway was slowly drawing to a close and I was starting to think about food once again. We stopped off at the Retreat restaurant and wine bar, a rustic and cosy place located in Ilminister and only a few minutes off the A303. A much needed glass of red followed by a Sunday beef roast and all trimmings was undoubtably the greatest way of ending a wonderful girly weekend. 

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Some useful sites 

www.rickstein.com

www.visitcornwall.com

 

 

 

“They’re taking me to Marrakech”

 

Morocco. Truth be told, is a place on the map that I am particularly unfamiliar with.

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Dozen of friends who have had the pleasure of visiting the region, told me their colourful stories about Marrakech and that I had to pay a visit while living in the UK. I asked my flatmate if she wanted to join me for some ‘winter sun’ at the end of the October – a perfect time to get that last bit of sunshine before the cold season starts to kick in.

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5 days of sunshine, swimming in resort pools, eating local cuisine and getting amongst the culture of the city seemed all the right mixes for a decent little escape.

On this trip we decided to book two hotels which actually is a brilliant idea when you think about it. There are so many resorts in Marrakech to choose from and some pretty flash ones I might add.  So if you’re wanting to get the most out of the city then this would be the right way to go. For those wanting to be more traditional than a Riad might be something that tickles your fancy.

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We were lucky enough to experience some very hot weather when we arrived. I am normally used to temperatures of up to 40 degrees but since it has been a while I was glad we would be staying in a resort with a generous size pool to cool down with.

As we had arrived bang on lunchtime after an amusing taxi ride to the hotel, we were starving and ready for our first meal of the holiday. The resort had a few restaurants, one with a buffet type lunch which met my standards. I had been warned about the food and how ill you can get if its been washed with their water, which was lingering at the back of mind particularly because I am super fussy when it comes to preparation of food and cleanliness. As you can see I managed to tuck into a few too many naughty treats but as they say, when your on holiday you can eat as much as you like!

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After loads of swimming, a few G&T’s and quality time with the sun we were keen to go and explore the crazy streets of the Medina and try our luck at finding a relatively nice place to have some dinner. The locals can be slightly ‘over friendly’ and we were warned off this kind of behaviour however I do believe in good instincts when it comes to people so when were approached in the street and shown a place that only a local would know about,  I was willing to take a risk of being lead down the dark alley way (not as bad it seems).  Call me stupid, crazy, irresponsible. Life is all about taking a risk and im really glad we did as were led to one of the most spectacular roof top restaurants I have ever been to my life.

Setting the scene – you had beautifully designed rugs, gorgeous covered furnishings filled with oodles of cushions, candles set upon miniature tables,  a humongous teepee styled roof and most importantly, peace and quiet from the madness of the Medina. Sensational on all levels.

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The food at this place was the icing on the cake. Far too much as per usual. I loved all the little tagine pots filled with specialty condiments, vegetables and different spices. Jammy.

Our new local tour guide even swinged by the restaurant afterwards and offered to take us to the new city for some Shisha… I mean lets face it, a puff of the flavoured tobacco has to be done. Add to that a live Arab band equipped with a violinist and you are set for the evening. 

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The following day we walked to Jardin Majorelle an enclosed enchanting garden in a busy part of town. Filled with exotic plants and fountains there is also a memorial for the late Yves Saint Laurent who discovered the garden along with Jardin back in 1966. When it comes to nature and pretty flowers I have the habit of taking maybe a few too many photos so this time around I’ve only put a select amount up for your viewing pleasure.

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 Walking around the city during the day is hard going. The heat is very dry and don’t make the mistake of not packing a hat with you because you’ll end up using  a scarf as a sun protector just like I resorted in doing. After 2 very long hours I started to feel that irritable state of mind kicking in and I knew it was time to head back to the hotel for a dip amongst the H2O. Thoughts of a shading myself on a sun lounger with a cool beverage in hand seemed a little to dreamy at this point.

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 I was thrilled about the idea of riding a camel. Call me a tourist, I really don’t care, I was doing it. Arranged through the hotel, we were taken on a minibus about half an hours drive out of the city which seemed like I was almost in the middle of the desert. Goodo. I could also now see why we had done this in the earlier part of the morning, talk about baking hot! We were made (and I say made) to wear these ultra stylish outfits, kitted with the right head-gear. Totally appropriate for a camel ride I must say. My camel which I named George was very well-behaved as we trekked across a well-worn in path for about an hour and a half. The handlers were a bunch of nice chaps who barely spoke much english but still managed the odd banter along the way.

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Finishing off with some Moroccan mint tea and biscuits I can safely say my body was ready for that pool again.

Ooohh I have to say the tea is just fabulous but the amount of sugar that is included is debatable.  Without coming off as being rude I was happy to drink the tea on offer but if you prefer to opt out of the massive sugar hit then just ask them to make it without. Im sweet enough as it is 🙂 

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Our next hotel was located slightly further from the last one which meant only one thing. Haggling with the taxi drivers. When you come to a place like this expect to haggle ALOT and never back down on a price. They will try to rip you off any way that they can. These people are professionals so don’t be fooled or down played by any of it.

After we arrived I was mega pleased with the facilities and the gorgeous interior of the whole entire building was up-lifting. A step up from the last place, with less amount of families and pulling a younger crowd of people. Did I mention how quiet it was? A lovely sized pool greeted us with open arms, loaded with lounges and a pool bar. Get me in there already….

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The rooms were a just as nice with tasteful and traditional decor. The stress of haggling all seemed well worth it for the wonderful surroundings we had in full view for the next 3 days.  

Four things are coming to mind at this point. Wine – food – tan – swim. COME AT ME

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Later into the evening we had booked into another roof top restaurant called Kechmara in Guéliz. Recommended by a friend to check out, extra points to them for including the live music set, bang on 8pm when we arrived. Live jazz on a roof terrace – I can’t really think of anything better than this.  

The night air was balmy, a good crowd of peeps were getting onto the rhythm of the soulful sounds of the saxophone and a table full of food meant that I was not moving of from my chair ever. Just kidding I needed to pee haha.

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My travelling buddy suggested we go for a late night cocktail and what better place than the luxurious five star Four Seasons hotel.  You could only hear a pin drop as we entered the lobby area and with no one in sight, we had the place to ourselves.

Frozen Margarita in hand, a breath-taking view with a tranquil setting = bliss.

 

 

 

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*Crochet hand-made foot wraps made by Pretty Little Homemade*

 

Saturday morning I woke up feeling somewhat groggy and I what your thinking – heavy night on the booze yes? Not quite. A not so funny tummy kept me up all night and today was the day were heading into the hectic Djamaa El Fna market square in the Old Town. Not the day for it! Even though I was struggling to eat one piece of bread I was determined to show face or grim and bear it if I had too. I can’t even begin to describe to you what its like here. Perhaps madness would be a good start. Filled with alleyways that seem to go on and on with bucket loads of outlets selling anything from shoes, jewellery, handbags, teapots and vintage pieces to last you a lifetime. This is also a place for all sorts of performers to take stage and as I learnt after taking one picture, handing over the cash. I don’t think I was ever going to be prepared for the chaotic vibe that this places brings but feeling under the weather was not helping me out at all. After a few hours of being constantly harassed and pushed into just about every shop I had reached the point of my patience and called it a day.

……..Dont get me wrong this part of town is buzzing with excitement and a must to see with your own eyes. Just be mindful of pick pockets, don’t make too much eye contact, be ready to bargain with these guys and most of all, embrace all of it!

 

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Just to be slightly different we opted for a horse and cart ride back to the hotel. This is also a fantastic way of seeing the city rather than in taxi weaving in and out of the traffic at an idiotic pace.

 

Taking advantage of a resort with a spa meant we could enjoy an afternoon pamper session. A much-needed facial followed by a power nap made all the difference and I was ready for our next engagement – dinner and drinks at Jad Mahal.

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We had the best seats in the house with front row to some brilliant live acts. In fact more live music than I have seen in this whole entire year (terrible I know).  From the angelic sounds of the violin and the powerful melodies of the acoustic guitarists, who would have thought that a bunch of flamboyant belly dancers with tea party sets on their heads would have completed the evening.

So much energy in the room, I was most impressed with the entertainment value here. For once it override the food. Now there’s a first!

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Sadly we didn’t have the opportunity to make a debut at Pasha nightclub – which happened to be conveniently located next door to where we were staying (I promise I didn’t plan for this at all). Closed for a private function I believe it may have been a sign to just call it a night. It had been a big day anyway and lets face it, I needed my beauty sleep.

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Feeling my normal perky self again on the last day, there was only one thing on my mind that I had to do before we left. Get some henna tattoo and hold a snake. Actually not the snake bit… but we will get to this later.

The Bahia Palace was also on our to do list so after a morning swim and one last baking session in the glorious sun, we headed back into the intensity of the old town for some more culture activities. 

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Getting back to the snakes….

So I may have made the mistake of taking a picture. Why didn’t anybody warn me about this 🙂 Within seconds I had three men asking me for money and of course me being so nice I gave them leftover coins that I had. They then allowed me to take another picture and within one blink of an eye, both Charlotte and I had a snake wrapped around our necks. To be honest, I wasnt freaked at all by this. I was more scared of the people handling these reptiles. Or should I say the ‘snake charmers’. I had two cobras within a metre of me and a snake around my neck. Things were getting real… then  just as I thought I could walk away scot-free, they asked me for more money (about £20). Crafty little buggers. After starting a small debate over how much they were ripping me off, I just ended up walking away in the end. Such a rebel. 

 

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There were plenty of Henna tattoo artists around the Market Square with lots of pretty and intricate designs to choose from.  For a bit of background info, it is also known as hina, the henna tree, the mignonette tree, and the Egyptian privet is a flowering plant and the sole species of the Lawsonia genus.  Henna was once used as a cosmetic purpose in these regions and remains an important custom with bridal nights. You leave it to dry for about an hour, the colour will darken within a few days. Of course she had to add some glitter for extra measure.

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 ‘Another roof terrace. Some more mint tea. Cafe Chez ZaZa – Old Town Medina’ 

 

 

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Islamic call for prayer on the roof top of Medina old city…

 

 

Such a vibrant city oozing with so much character, rich in history and an all round interesting part of the world to visit.

Marrakech its been a blast, thanks for having me!!

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Cote d’Azure – The beautiful blue coast….

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This trip was all about ‘me time’ and some serious ‘timeout’. The general thing to do when you go on holiday is to take friends or a partner with you, which don’t get me wrong is usually what I would normally do BUT I have to tell you, it really does have its plus’s going abroad on your own.

 

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I couldn’t think of a more fitting place for this than the charismatic South of France.

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Staying in Nice on the popular stretch of ocean front, filled with palm trees galore is the Promenade Des Anglais which was just the right spot for me to access just about everything I needed to by foot. I really miss walking along the beach everyday and something I now realise I took for granted. Regardless to the fact that it was full of pebbles rather than the golden sands I am used to, there is just something about the calming effect that the water has on you.

 

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When I touched down, the outside temperature was impressively warm, baby blue skies were all around me and I had a very short journey before I was at my apartment for the next 5 days. I decided on this trip to go with the idea of an apartment so I had the option of having a kitchen if I felt up to cooking. Lunch was the first thing on my mind and the closest private beach was Miami so I headed over there for my first french experience for the day. Nice is full of loads of beach bars with their own secluded area, most serve food and you can hire a deck chair and umbrella if you are wanting to catch some rays.  I spent the rest of the  afternoon and into the evening walking along the Promenade, while grabbing a glass of fine french wine, a sneaky bit of people watching at a local bar and watching the gorgeous back drop of the sun setting.

Starting to feel chilled already….

 

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                                                     *Cute polka dot Bandeau by Appleby Ave* 

 

 

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Saturday I had no desire to rise out of bed early. Certainly was not on any time commitments that’s for sure but as I pulled the blinds back and opened the glass doors to be graced by the magnificent sun, I had a quick change of heart and scooted to the shower to get ready for the day.

 

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I had been recommended by a friend to visit a Villa about 15 minutes by train from the main station called Villa Ephrussi De Rothschild located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The villa was designed by a French architect called Aaron Messiah, and constructed between 1905 and 1912 by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. When i first arrived at the Villa my first thoughts were how extraordinary the colour of the facade was – flamingo pink which inspires from her love of the animal. I really couldn’t wait to explore the 9 gardens surrounding it and my gosh every inch of the property really took my breath away.  The beauty was mind-blowing and such peaceful settings that I almost started to feel myself get somewhat emotional! There is no way of describing just how beautiful it really is unless you are there so allow yourself at least three hours to take it all in because there is nothing quite like this place if im completely honest.

 

 

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I had brief food stop for some lunch in the on site restaurant which offered a two course deal with a glass of red wine and an amazing view of the bay from my window. The property itself is tastefully decorated with gorgeous pieces of furniture which would have been a mint back in those days I imagine.  The balcony upstairs looking out to the breathtaking views of the fountains and the two bays is just something else. There is also a ‘water’ show about every 20 minutes which is also fascinating to watch with some classical music being played in the background. If I had to choose a place to get married, this would be it hands down.

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Since ive gone on about this place way too much already I decided to put up a short video just so you can get a rough idea on what I am yammering on about.  Trust me it is just beyond stunning!!

 Link below via You Tube – 

 

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After such a wonderful day I grabbed a loaf of fresh bread and headed en route to the apartment for a decent wine & cheese session. Well deserved I feel.

 

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Sunday morning I decided to play proper tourist and booked in a full day tour with Viator. I have used this company in the past while travelling and have never been disappointed with the service they provide. The groups are also very small (up to 8) and today was my lucky day as there was only me and two other people. Pretty much my own privately guided tour right? The tour is called the Provence countryside small day tour and starts at 9am with a hotel pick up. Sue was our lovely guide for the day and I loved her friendly natured personality and outstanding knowledge of the Riviera. Our first stop was Cannes which we all probably familiar with this and the film festival in which it hosts once a year.  A very small once fishing village is now lined with glitzy hotels, fashion houses and plenty of foreigners. Of course I had to take a picture on the red carpet outside the auditorium. It was simply be rude not too.

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Following this was the picturesque scenic drive through windy roads and secluded villages. The occasional photo stops along the way to enjoy natures beauty at its best. Look I even met a friend (below)

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We visited Grasse – better known as the worlds capital for perfume and home to some of the most delicate flowers.  Lined with 17th & 18th century buildings, I had the pleasure of checking out the Fragonard factory and learning about how it all began in the perfume industry and what it takes to be a ‘nose’ which I hear there are only about 50 in the world at present. Just quietly, I don’t think I will be quitting my day job….

 

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While taking in some of the best views of the Mediterranean coastline, we ended up at medieval town of Gourdon, perched high in the Alps-Maritimes it only has a population of about 500. With only an hour to kill I had a quick-lunch at Les Grands Hommes which ended up as a scoffing fest and me nearly running off without my favourite scarf (disaster).  

 

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The next and last stop was a delightful village called Saint Paul de Vence. I was in absolutely awe of the narrow cobbled maze of streets, ancient fountains and gateways. I allowed myself to get lost and explore everything it had to offer.  Truly an inspiring place if you have the creative touch. Its bursting with funky art galleries and is known for attracting famous artists, painters, writers, poets who I believe some now take residency here.  The village really captured my heart and I would be more than willing to come back here again to try some of the local cuisine at the multiple number of restaurants they have.

 

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Mondays agenda had Monte Carlo written all over it. Ever since my early 20’s this has been the city I have wanted visit the most in Europe. You could also say that I am a mad car racing fan and Formula 1 may have a small part to play in this regard.

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I put on my glad rags and caught the trusty train which is only about 25 minutes + a 10 minute walk from the station. The base of all the action is located seaside front and centre of the world famous Place du Casino and surrounding that is the Cafe de paris hotel and the ‘be seen’ cafe on adjacent sides.  Luxurious sports cars lined the streets with locals dolled up in their best attire.  There is certainly no shortage of money in this town and flashing your cash seems to be the way to go around here. I did have to try out Cafe de Paris just to see what all the fuss was about and after waiting 20 minutes to be served I had the chance to people watch while enjoying a glass of over the top expensive champagne and cake. Probably not the best idea I had before lunch time but hey when your on holiday it simply has to be done.

 

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I had been researching a few weeks before the trip of where I could go for lunch and my word there is no shortage of Michelin star restaurants so take your pick. After much thinking I had to go with Le Vistamar at the prestigious Hermitage Hotel. Talk about posh nosh! The biggest pull was the outside terrace and with the weather being so incredible I knew I had picked the perfect place with some of the best views of the harbour and more importantly the F1 track. This hotel reminds me of the elegant Claridges in London. Pure opulence, class and service with that 5 star quality.

I had the best seat in the house (well I believe I did). Out in the sunshine, crisp white table clothes lined the terrace, with only the finest of cutlery & china. I was totally out of my league here; but I really didn’t care. I ordered a glass of Laurent Perrier bubbles along with a starter & main course of mushroom cream soup and roasted hake fish. French food at its finest.  Dessert had to be replaced with a nice cup of tea and delicate sized pastries as I couldn’t stomach any more food for the day. I forget how rich their food actually can be and literally couldn’t move from my chair for a good half an hour.  Time to watch the world go by and appreciate the fact that I am blessed to have such a wonderful life 🙂

 

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On my last day I only had until midday to kill some time and with the clouds coming over for the first time in 4 days, I took one last walk along the promenade, soaking up the last bit of warmth and a view which I would no longer be seeing for at least the next 6 months. Sadface. 

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So there you go, a little vacation on your own is actually worth it. Without meaning to be as selfish as it sounds, I had the option of doing whatever I wanted and on my terms.  For the first time in months I feel relaxed and managed to get a good amount of sleep, plenty of vigorous exercise while enjoying the fantastic food, plenty of carbs, sunshine and most importantly my own company. What more could a girl possibly ask for!? I would certainly come back to the French Rivera. Maybe on one of those ridiculously amazing yachts…. or I could just keep dreaming. #Oneday 🙂 

 

 

 

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