Sunday, 31 March 2013

{All In A Day's Work}

This summer, to sandwich together a family reunion in Oregon, I'm making a trip to New York & San Francisco. I've been to NY before and instantly fell in love, so I can't wait to explore some slightly off the beaten track places this time. San Fran has always been on my to-do list, & luckily my flights allowed a couple days there. I don't know anyone there but I won't let this stop me - sometimes flying solo makes it an even bigger adventure. To practice, I spent a day up in London by myself (ok, that's a slight lie, I also met up for tea with a friend... & beers with other friends). I realised the beauty of being alone is that you can do exactly what you want. I was able to cram in a lot in my day out:

Borough Market, London Bridge Station:

Borough Market, a sprawling expanse of food & drink stalls, is always the first place we take visitors on a day in London. In the summer, my favourite thing to do is grab something delicious (the curries cooked in huge paella dishes are worth a try, but my favourite is the raclette stall) & a beverage to wash it all down (there's a great fresh fruit juice stall, or prosecco if you're feeling fancy), and sit outside in the sun watching people go by. Last year we also picked up some gigantic chocolate brownies & headed up Primrose Hill to see the best views of London.

Don't let the dog-food appearance put you off, the vietnamese curry is delicious! 
Of course, no trip to London would be complete without a cupcake & a cuppa. I had the marbled Easter egg cupcake from Hummingbird, while I caught up with an old friend.


Selfridges, Bond Street Station:

Unbelievably, this was my first time visiting the shopping mecca that is Selfridges. I've been hooked on the television series Mr. Selfridge, about the businessman from Chicago who set up the first Americanised department store in London. One of the best part of the show is watching the beautifully French (and sexy) Monsieur Leclair set up the window displays. Since its opening, Selfridges has prided itself on having the most creative, innovative & fun windows in London. I certainly wasn't disappointed on my visit.

These amazing, carnival-esque displays are thanks to the Shoe Carnival, which is on until the 21st April. The ferris-wheel spins, the hot air balloons rise & there are even bumper cars driven by shoes! There are carnival-themed events going on in-store, mostly at the weekends, including a photo booth & candy floss. I had to drag myself away from the actual shoes!

The Light Show, Waterloo Station

The Light Show has been selling out everyday since it opened, so I knew there had to be something worth seeing. It's a two story exhibition of light, including special viewing rooms & more interactive exhibits. I'm definitely not a culture-vulture - I can't last 5 minutes in an art gallery - but The Light Show has something for everyone. Hipsters & children alike were gawping at the installations. Sure, there were still some pieces that I really didn't get (but still pretended to), but for the most part I was as open mouthed as the rest of them. Photographs were strictly forbidden but I snuck a few cheeky I-phone snaps, so please excuse the quality:

This is definitely an 'you had to be there' type show, but some of my favourite features included a room with a light projection shrouded in a light mist. If you stand inside the light beam, it feels like there is a solid layer around you. A lesser favourite was one room with geometric shapes being projected all over the walls, moving at fast-pace and morphing as they went. It felt too much like a familiar hangover experience & I made a swift exit!

The Light Show is the only place where I struggled as a solo creature. Everyone was chattering away about the exhibits, laughing when they had to put special protective shoe-covers on for one room, and playing around with light beams & shadows. One feature was a tardis-looking box that you can step into (1 or 2 at a time) to see an endless reflection of the box, minus your own body. It was designed, in part, as an experiment into people's own reactions at being stared at by outsiders while they experience the interior. I didn't really fancy trying that on my own!
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Thursday, 28 March 2013

{Eat, Drink, Do Barcelona}

Eat: Marmalade, 4-6 Carrer Riera Alta

Set in the heart of alternative El Raval, the waiters at Marmalade shake up the best cocktails in town without robbing you of all your pocket money. On the weekends, head down for hungover brunch - I recommend the forest fruit french toast and a Bellini, to dine in style. I also have it on great authority that their Bloody Marys are the best in Barca. 

One slightly groggy morning-after I ordered the Very Berry Banana Smoothie, which is the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing. It was imperative that we sampled the lunchtime burgers, which are to die for. Afterwards, you can burn off all that cream and alcohol with a wander around the nearby vintage shops on Carrer Riera Baixa.

Drink: El Bosc de les Fades, 5 Pje de la Banca

Step inside this bar, literally translated as Bar of the Fairies, and enter a woodland kingdom which could have been stolen straight out of any Tolkien film set. Huge trees shoot up from the floor, with lanterns & candles adding minimal light to the dimly lit-bar. Perch on wooden stalls or sit at a table under a wrought-iron chandelier, all set around a great waterfall in the middle of the room.

There's definitely an eery feel to the place, easily overcome with the help of a few Cosmos. You'll have to excuse the quality of the photo below, but almost pitch-black plus over-generous barmen does not make a great photographer! Hopefully you get an idea of the ambience in this magical bar. 

Located in a little alleyway next to the Wax Museum, just off Las Ramblas, this charming bar is definitely worth hunting down.

Do: La Boqueria, 91 Rambla 

The market of La Boqueria will overwhelm all of your senses. If you pick the wrong time of day you'll end up hustlin' & bustlin' with a wash of tourists, locals and pickpockets. However, if you get it right, you can wile away a good hour wandering the colourful stalls. Exotic fruits, delicious mojitos (I had to test) & other juices, and every type of nut imaginable. My least favourite area is the meat and fish stalls, but despite my squeamishness we bought some of the most delicious sausage and local ham.

The vendors are brisk but welcoming, and clearly know their stuff. They are always happy for you to taste their delicacies (within reason!), and you could probably create a whole meal just from nibbling at the samples. I always fall for something though, usually a fruit which doesn't even exist in England.

Last time I visited Barcelona the market was the last stop, to stock up on supplies for our overnight train journey to Paris. As I left, I decided La Boqueria is the perfect symbol for Barcelona; a little hectic and brash, with the ever-present danger of pick-pockets, but if you know how to play it right it's an exotic melange of delicacies that will always leave you wanting more.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

{Out With The Old...}

Since I'm home for Easter, I decided that the essays and coursework could be put on hold while I try and gather some much-needed pennies for the summer. I've got a trip to NY and San Fran that needs funding, plus a Latitude festival ticket just a late-night click away. With this in mind, I gathered together all the clothes that I may love, but don't technically need right now. On the way, I worked out that I own something like 60/70 dresses - hey, no judging, at least i'm trying to address my ASOS addiction! After amassing all our wares, my fellow festival lover Meg came round for a little photoshoot. In between copious cups of tea and a long catch-up, she braved the freezing outdoors to model both our clothes for ASOS Marketplace. Check out her collection here and mine right here. I also put some stuff on Ebay here, after Meg froze into a statue. 

I know I should be saving any profits for a rainy day summer, but a girl can always dream...

Click on the numbers below for the links.

01. Creme de la Creme Print, £20.
02. Japanese Kimono, £68.
03. Raspberry Nike Blazers, £70.
04. Handmade Leather Camera Bag, £84.
05. Herschel Sports Holdall, £85.
06. Liberty Print Suitcase, £65.
07. Beaded French Connection Dress, £220.

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

{Eat, Drink, Do Montpellier}

Eat: Aux 2 Fondues, 5 Faubourg de la Saunerie

While studying in Montpellier last year, I had the good fortune to sample many of the gastronomic delights. A good number are worth writing home about, notably Bleu Thé for the best crepes in town or Ma Première Cantine in the middle of the ambient Place Jean-Jaurès. However, Aux 2 Fondues is definitely a unique, slightly tongue-in-cheek, experience. You pay €18.90 for the whole shebang, and leave feeling tipsy & almost uncomfortably full - so you certainly get your money's worth!

I've always started with the 'cocktail maison', pictured above, but you can also get a glass of pastis or a soft drink to accompany the little snacks provided. The apéro is irrelevant though; it's ALL about the main course. The fondue pots are warmed up in front of you, while the waiters lay down platter after platter of bread, raw meat and chips (served separately!). You can also go for a cheese fondue, but I personally believe it's all about the meat.

While the food is artery-clogging good, the gem in the restaurant's crown is that the is wine served in baby bottles. A surreal, hilarious experience which is a great ice-breaker and/or prop for photographs! For dessert, if you don't feel like coughing up an extra €2.90 for a fruit & chocolate fondue, then you are presented with two balls of ice-cream and a banana arranged in a compromising stance!

I came here once with a friend and we were so taken with the whole experience that our whole group of pals (including Italians, Belgians and Norwegians) returned for our last supper together. Aux 2 Fondues provided the backdrop for a truly memorable night - which I seem to recall ended in tequila shots and a return to bed about around 7am.

Drink: Al Andalus, 8 Rue Vanneau

For litre-pitchers of wine head to elephant-themed pub Rebuffy, while beer-lovers can make a start on the 300+ types of beer at Black Sheep. My bottom will be firmly seated in Al Andalus, Mojito in hand.

In exchange for or €5 and a fairly long wait, you are treated to a pint-sized Mojito - and the barmen certainly don't skimp on mint, lime or sugar. Or rum for that matter! These bad boys pack a punch. The atmosphere is great, with music blaring and tapas served throughout the night. The whole place is decked out in Andalusian splendour, with strange lamp-shades and chairs all over the place. 


Many a great evening was spent at the Spanish bar (we failed to learn the official name until it was too late). If rum isn't your thing, there are plenty of other thrifty juices - including hefty jugs of sangria.

Do: FISE, Rive Du Lez

Every summer, just south of the city centre, Montpellier plays host to thousands of skaters, bikers, and wake-boarders. FISE is a festival/competition which takes place in sunny May each year; this year it's running from the 7th - 13th. It's a pretty big deal for the extreme sportsmen amongst us, with participants coming from as far as the US and Australia. For the slightly more faint at heart, it's a great opportunity to soak up the sun on the river's edge, whilst gawping as bikers take the plunge from great heights.

Last summer I had the great fortune to be living five minutes walk from the river. My apartment became a base camp from which we would set off for the day, fully armed with provisions. The basic plan was as follows; amass as many baguettes & cheese as we could carry, fill a bucket with ice and beers, set up camp on our own little piece of concrete in the sun.


We were promised great views by day or night, and FISE certainly didn't let us down. If the sun ever got too much, we'd quickly board a tram and retreat to the beach with our beer bucket, for some much-needed (!) rest & relaxation.

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