Retreat from the Renovations

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And so we bought…. and moved… and are “all happy”.  But as I have previously mentioned, and as the estate agent clearly never would, buying a century old house and living in it while the renovation work is ongoing is no walk in the park.

Some days, chemical paint stripper perfumes the air like a Yankee Candle scented by someone with a weird sense of humour – and trust me, 100 years of gloss paint on woodwork and banisters requires quite a lot of the stuff! Suffice to say that no amount of scented candles can neutralise a chemical odour of this magnitude.

Other days, dust from an industrial sander creates a thin veneer on every conceivable surface, as a century’s worth of wear and grime is stripped away (I would like to say “lovingly” but frequent audible expletives from the man – hopefully still a friend – attached to the machine may attest to the contrary).

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And then we have the worst  – the mortar and dust that were remnants of the wall skimming. The walls look great now – but Oh My God that dust would stress the Dalai Lama!  It teases and taunts you, and then invariably has the last laugh as you wash it away for the 1000th time, only to leave and return to that lovely film of grey still all over the floor. You swore it was gone, you watched it dissolve in the boiling water but, like those annoying birthday candles that keep relighting, there it is again as soon as the moisture dries. However, as one of my wisest friends keeps reassuring me, progress is being made, and soon the worst will be behind us and our little bijou terrace will be suitable for occasional visitors.

But we are not there yet and so, in the short term, I decided to take a much needed trip home to recharge and escape the grime…..

And what a lovely trip it has been so far….

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People who have never been to Kerry really need to sort that one out because long walks on deserted beaches are the best cure I know for stress. I can assure you that there is no expensive therapy that will so physically and metaphorically blow away all traces of dust!! Some days I go to Banna Beach, well deserving its recent Trip Advisor accolade (No. 1 Irish Beach), and other days to the slightly more local and generally deserted Derrymore Strand. Here’s a few shots from the last two days.

And when fresh air and exercise have done their thing, there is family and friends to chat with and laugh with. Lots of home cooking and lazy afternoons, peppered with an occasional treat meal. Like, for example, a girlie dinner in Cellar 1, the restaurant of The Ross Hotel, was a perfect treat for the weary DIYer.

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I have featured The Ross on the blog before and it is one of those places with which I have never been disappointed. It is funky and modern without trying too hard. The restaurant has an ambitious yet compact menu that comes accompanied by the inoffensive and atmospheric background noise of a resident pianist. The bar is bustling, serving cocktails in fancy glasses to the well heeled. The vibe throughout is contemporary and youthful. It struck just the right chord for four female friends, who share amongst us decades of memories and a love of good food. We were not disappointed.

Starters sampled included a spicy Arancini, mussels in a red curry sauce, scallops and monkfish skewers. The menu is seafood heavy but there is a twist to every dish and there were no complaints about any of the offerings on this occasion.

For mains, we all toyed with the idea of surf and turf but only one of us went for it in the end – and I for one was guilty of a little food envy. The other carnivorous selection was an extremely attractive looking pork belly, while the two of us remaining opted for a prawn dish in an agave and tequila sauce. All four dishes were deemed successful… what more can you ask for?

Only half of the group had the stamina for dessert, the other half opting for a strong espresso to aid digestion, although we did all put a fork or two through the chosen sticky toffee puddings. A nice slow Hendricks with Elderflower tonic in the bar before the journey home rounded off the evening, reinforcing the notion that most loads can be lightened by a good natter, delicious food and great friends.

I am still on retreat in The Kingdom but the new smell in the old house is apparently fresh paint (surely a sign of progress). And although I am aware that when I return next week it is likely that there will be no operating kitchen sink or cooking facilities, and a whole other range of debris that will need to be disposed of, I will face it refreshed and re-energised. And, given that the aroma of a rack of lamb with stuffing is currently wafting from my mother’s oven, and over the next few days an afternoon playing with my adorable goddaughter and lots of walks and coffees still await, I am happy to be distracted for now.

Dingle in a Day

One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging.  And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.

Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation.  If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.

Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously  (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth.  The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.

I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.

I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..

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Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!

Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….

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I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….

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By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit).  It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.

Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.

Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“.  Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.

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So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.

What I ate on my Birthday

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While this week has been mainly about all things healthy, a couple of days ago it was my birthday, and so there was some pretty major deviation from that plan. However, as I will explain, it could have been worse!!

My birthday surprise was essentially a whole day of foodie treats… and I mean the whole day from dawn to dusk. So for those of you sensitive about gluttony, it may be time to click to a different post, or even a different blogger, because I amazed myself with my ability to keep eating. WP_20160319_12_59_05_Pro

The first stop on this culinary expedition was in my home town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, in a bustling town centre cafe and restaurant called The Roast House. Now this is not my first brunch here by any stretch, it is a place where I regularly catch up with some of my closest girlfriends, but I do think it was my favourite breakfast to date. Given that this place does a really great pancake dish, with fruit and cream, that is quite a statement. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast Bake (see healthyish) and I expected that it would be like a baked full Irish just without the meat. Turns out I had pictured it completely wrong and what a happy surprise that ended up being. What appeared was actually a type of potato hash; with summer vine tomatoes, fresh thyme, mushrooms & spinach all mixed through the delicious little potato cubes. The dish was topped with a free range egg with a runny yolk, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little french toast. It was so so tasty, the perfect savory (meat free and gluten free  – if like me you don’t eat the toast) breakfast dish. The Roast House take their coffee seriously, so as is the norm, the accompanying Americano was also an excellent blend – black, strong and just bitter enough – a great caffeine kick to start a long day.

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Allowing breakfast to digest there was time for a short walk and a longer drive, as we snaked west over the mountain to the coastal town of Dingle. Now if you are not familiar with Dingle, look it up and if you have never been to Dingle, go! I have been many times, although to be honest more often for booze and nightlife than lunch and shopping but I am starting to think that it is the latter that the town does best. Unfortunately, the day was miserable, otherwise this post would be full of some of the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, but I promise that will follow some day soon. This was a day that was all about the food. First we shopped for it and then we ate it. The shopping centered on two local gems – The Little Cheese Shop and Crinkle Stores. Both are stunning little artisan stores, showcasing local and other carefully sourced products. I could have bought so, so much more and I am sure over time I will.

I started with The Little Cheese Shop and it is exactly as it looks in your head – cozy, smelly, chockablock with Irish and European cheeses and all the culinary delights you would want to go with them. They are quick to offer a taste, the cheese is cut to your specification and expert advice is on hand. Good luck nipping in for cheddar and coming out with one wax paper parcel when you see the array of fresh bread, pesto, hummus, hand made chocolate and chutneys that sit side by side with more cheese than you can dream of finding time to taste. If it is not clear, this place is a gem on the West Kerry food scene. I left with some fresh buffalo mozzarella,  some soft goat’s cheese, some seaweed speckled cheddar (I think), delicious basil pesto and a generous portion of chunky hummus. I have been working them into my meals since.

Then to Crinkle Stores, when I got over my complete obsession with the fabulous tiles in this shop, it was time to browse the products. There is an exceptional salad bar and some quality coffee on offer, not to mention an exquisite cake display. The shelves are lined with artisan skincare products, Irish vinegar made with foraged ingredients like thyme, gorse and blackberry. Jams, chutneys, fancy cordials, herbal teas and numerous other delights. I added some Mountain Thyme Vinegar, a bar of Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Almond and a rhubarb and apple pop to my foodie haul and regretted that the day wasn’t better for a salad box by the sea. Again that will come another day.

And then, it was time for lunch. And yes we did at least keep it light(ish). We sheltered from the rain in a welcoming little cafe called Chowder, and ate predictably and sensibly, bowls of chowder. Well I did, my shellfish averse husband had an equally comforting steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup. What appeared was a really satisfying bowl of steaming chowder, thickened with local potato and containing the widest array of fish I have ever encountered in this very common Irish dish. There was the usual white and smoked fish, but how often do you get squid rings in your seafood chowder and the garnishing mussels were a great touch. I didn’t eat the bread (healthy!) but it was wholemeal and  homemade, served with real Irish butter.

Then to dessert – it was my birthday remember – and Dingle is home to Murphy’s Ice Cream – handmade here in the town. It comes in cones and cups, served with a smile by staff sporting farmers’ caps and happy to let you taste before you choose. I had a special called Dreamy Creamy Caramel that was full of the flavours of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate and whipped cream. Better than cake, definitely better than cake!! This product is not cheap but it is quality. Worth every penny, I promise.

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After lunch we again took a break from eating, visited my parents and my adorable godchild. Then we shopped a little more, completing my birthday present buying with a divine scented candle for the kitchen and a book called “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee”. Seriously, how could I not!!!!!

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And then I am embarrassed to admit (almost) that we went out to dinner. But it was not a dinner I would want to have missed. We went to Allo’s Bistro in the little market town of Listowel, where John B. Keane once observed local life with the eye of a poet and the wit of a rural publican. His smiling statue now welcomes you to a town that has retained its soul better than almost any small town I know. It houses a range of excellent independent boutiques, some interior shops that are perfect for the lazy browser and Woulfes, one of the best independent bookshops in the country. There are also more pubs than people and a delightful old-style hotel in the middle of town. Come for Writer’s Week to see Irish culture at its very best but there is also a food festival and a race week in this town’s packed social calendar.

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Now that I have done my bit for the Listowel Tourist Board, on to the food. Allo’s Bistro is as bistros should be, homely and welcoming, with cosy small tables and larger communal ones, wine served by the glass and specials on daily changing chalkboards. For obvious reasons we skipped straight to main courses and I opted for a smaller size portion (see healthy choice! – although it was still extremely generous) of prawn and coconut curry served with jasmine rice. The other dish for the table was a salmon fillet with Bearnaise (unusual I thought) that was well cooked and tasty, accompanied with al dente veg and buttery mashed potato. The curry was delicately spiced with a very generous amount of prawns and a mixture of spring onion, courgette and peppers adding a welcome crunch. Despite the day that had gone before, plates were left completely clear, the message to the chef not in any way encrypted.

I presume you are now imaging that we called for the bill, opened the top button on our jeans and shuffled for the car. Alas, I have something of an affliction to admit to. I cannot resist creme brulee and although I don’t see the need to pepper it with various fruit purees, I still cannot leave it unordered – EVER.  And so I devoured every morsel of a perfect passion-fruit creme brulee with a hazelnut biscuit. Had the jeans button popped before I got it open, it would have been worth every added inch to the waistline. It was yum!!!!!

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So home we went….to my in laws, who were putting us up for the night, and you won’t believe it but my very sweet mother-in-law had bought a cake!!!!! Now  of course I was full but what’s a girl to do, if some one buys you a fluffy sponge cake, filled with fresh cream and strawberry jam and sprinkled with icing sugar, and there’s a candle in it…there really are no options. You eat the cake. Don’t you?? Well of course I did.

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Now before there is an intervention, I promise I have eaten like a gourmet loving rabbit since. But more of that in the next post, where we will celebrate the humble salad. There is a good reason birthdays only come once a year….the world could not sacrifice any more jeans’ buttons. Have a great weekend. Til next time xoxo

 

Eating Out and Staying Healthy(ish)

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Two fine days in a row – that almost constitutes a great summer in Ireland. With so few such days, it is important not to let them go to waste. As today was my parents 44th wedding anniversary we were taking a scenic road trip for a lunch on the water, but I still didn’t want to blow several days of good work on the healthy living front.

In order to minimise damage and still allow for a little indulgence, I got up pretty early and breakfasted on fresh fruit and black coffee. Then I took the dog on a pretty long walk and drank lots of chilled water before we took to the road.

The destination was The Boathouse, a Nantucket inspired seafood bistro, set right on the water, on the grounds of Dromquinna Manor, Kenmare. The estate which also has a glamping site and a hotel in the old manor house is incredibly picturesque. The decor in the bistro itself is bright, fun and nautical. Think lots of blue and white, with sail boats for decoration and little lighthouses on the table. The menu, as you would expect for the location, is predominantly seafood, but there is a chicken dish, steak and a burger, enough to keep the most committed carnivore happy. Although, when you can smell the sea and the menu guarantees local produce, seafood really is your best option.

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Arriving early and looking for just a light lunch, two of our group of four opted for the pier landed fish and chips main course. It came served on a kind of wooden tray and contained a generous potion of beer battered white fish. This was accompanied by chunky chips, a lightly dressed salad (with some delicious beetroot) and a little ramekin of mushy peas. The other two of us stuck to a combination of sides and starters (combined to make mains). There was a scallop and black pudding dish, which was unusual in presentation and possibly a little small for the price point. Although I didn’t taste it, it did seem to go down very well though, adding to the range of well executed dishes. Finally, I had tiger prawn pil pil. This consisted of prawns in a garlic, chilli and chorizo oil, served in a little pot accompanied by very tempting (although I did resist it) crusty white bread. It was delicious, although without the heat that you sometimes get in this dish, and I loved it. The prawns were fresh, pretty generous in quantity and perfectly cooked. The oil they were cooked in was extremely flavoursome despite the mildness of the chilli. I had this with a very generous portion of crispy sweet potato fries – a healthy(ish) indulgence (or so I like to tell myself) and a side salad. Prawns, salad and sweet potatoes – a decent attempt at staying on track on a special occasion.

After lunch and a stunning drive over Moll’s Gap and through Killarney National Park, I took another walk, this time on the local beach. It was great fun although paddling turned to splashing and rolled up jeans got soaked. And not long after it was time for a supermarket haul and thoughts of supper. After toying with the idea of creamy goat’s cheese, I reluctantly left it aside, favouring instead the warm saltiness of pan-fried halloumi laid on top of a crunchy bowl of baby spinach, rocket, watercress, red pepper and spring onion. All of this was drizzled with a homemade honey and wholegrain mustard dressing and accompanied by an organic rice cake with a little hummus.  Crunchy, salty, tangy, sweet and above all nutritious. So that’s me for today….pretty healthy and pretty happy xoxo

 

Shopping and Spruced up Scrambled Eggs

Having not been through this airport for a couple of years, this week was my first time in the new look Stansted Airport duty free area. The shopping was great, the walk back from the cafe to find MAC and Urban Decay not so good. But I managed to retrace a path and purchased a few bits and bobs that I am excited about.

Firstly a new mascara. I have been wearing Benefit’s “They’re Real” for a year or so now but I get annoyed by how difficult it is to remove so it was definitely time for a change. After a little deliberation I chose this Mac bestseller ….. in extreme black.

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One of my favourite things to do, which has to make me very unpopular with hotel housekeeping staff, is to soak a clean white facecloth in very hot water and almost steam the make-up from my face. Of course this is less practical at home – where I am the housekeeping staff – and already a very reluctant employee. The solution? My second purchase, the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. The cleanser comes with a muslin cloth that can be used in the shower for a deep cleanse. I bought the starter pack which contains a 100ml bottle of cleanser and two cloths. I am very excited about this product.

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For quite a while now I have been looking for a bag that would carry my rather large laptop, but I didn’t want something that looked too like a traditional laptop bag. Perfect in terms of size and very affordable, a navy shopper from Accessorize caught my eye. I am hoping it will prove to be both stylish and practical for a normal work day.

And then for some reading material, I picked up Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Not a book I knew anything about but it caught my eye and I am hoping for an easy and inspirational summer read. I will post an update when I finish reading.

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So now that we are settled in back home, it is time to get back to some healthier ways and so I started by making a light lunch of Huevos Rancheros Scrambled Eggs from Donal Skehan’s, “Fresh”.

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The recipe involved making a simple cherry tomato and red onion salsa and some homemade Guacamole but was really simple to accomplish and made for a pretty delicious healthy lunch.

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That’s all for now…I have a dinner date with the girls to get ready for. Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you do, xoxo.

The Final London Travel Post

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So we are home by now from our week in London and although it was one of our shortest summer trips in years, it was a great week in one of our favourite cities. Since last I posted we spent a couple of hours on the Kings Road in Chelsea; wandering around, eating lunch and drinking coffee. The jewel in the crown of the whole street is the stunning Anthropologie store, which is just so beautifully designed and packed with wonderful fashion and home wares.

Burgers seem HUGE in London at the moment and even though I am not a huge fan of the meat patty, we were starving when we stumbled upon the welcoming BRGR.CO in Chelsea. I opted for one of their signature burgers, “The Hanger Steak Brgr”, cooked medium with added bacon and cheddar. My husband had a chicken fillet burger and we split an order of fries. It totally hit the spot for us and we left refuelled for a little more wandering around the area. Decent meat, good prices and friendly service – not a bad combination.

Having wandered around the Saatchi gallery, currently completely taken over by the Rolling Stones exhibition and chased down my Mac foundation from the other day, it was time for a little caffeine.

We just stumbled upon Gail’s Bakery – the most darling little café of the trip. It was like a coffee house straight out of Soho NYC, full of artisan breads and mouthwatering baked goods. They also sell really cute shoppers and cookbooks on site. It’s the perfect spot for coffee and a muffin.

The foodie was now happy so it was time to indulge the football fan a little and so there was a walk around Stamford Bridge before leaving the area for Westminster.

Real tourist London was something we had mostly avoided up to now but could we really go home without seeing Big Ben? We strolled around Westminster for a bit, took a few snaps, and visited another of London’s oldest pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I was particularly amused by the make-over some pedestrian lights had received for Pride 2016 – no longer is the little green man the only symbol on offer, a lovely simple celebration of diversity.

Then it was back to Camden to meet my husband’s fabulous cousin and her equally charming boyfriend. It was such an enjoyable few hours, sitting by the canal chatting about literally everything and anything. It was one of those evenings where conversation flows easily and you feel inspired by the passion of others, in this case two young students who have the kind of passion and idealism that most of us lose sight of over time. This was one of those chats that makes you want to be a better person, as we listened to them discuss their trips to Calais (entirely self-funded) to help out at the refugee camp there and her mentoring work in London with young children forced to seek asylum in the UK. These are people with the heart and intelligence to really make the world a better place, one small step at a time, and who put MAC cosmetics and fancy meals into a perspective that really they should always remain in.

And then, as though the evening hadn’t given us enough, they put the icing on the cake when  they shared with us their favourite kebab spot in North London – Woody Grill on the Camden Road. Slightly tipsy, we devoured delicious kebabs in this really friendly fast food spot before taking the train home to pack our bags for our flight home.

And that was pretty much the end of an epic week in London  – time remaining only for some airport shopping which I will fill you in on later xoxo

Carnaby Street and the Footsteps of the Ripper.

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Morning – woke up a little later than normal so going to keep the update on yesterday’s London explorations short and sweet. We started the day separately, history nerd husband at the Museum of London and caffeine addict wife at the corner of Carnaby Street with a camera, a credit card and a warm paper cup, ready for some aimless browsing.

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Now for those who don’t know London, Carnaby Street is a lovely pedestrian area just off Oxford Street, home to some very cool shops and restaurants. While busy, it is still a welcome break from the craziness of Oxford Street, my least favourite part of London. Now don’t let that put you off, it is definitely a minority view. And if shopping is your thing, then Oxford Street will make all your retail dreams come true. For me, it is just not what travel is about – I can shop Zara and H&M from my laptop or in the town I live in back home. I travel generally to see new things and to see them at a pretty calm pace. Oxford Street doesn’t do calm. I make two exceptions to this Oxford Street bashing – the flagship Topshop just opposite the tube and Selfridges. Carlsberg don’t make department stores but if they did…..

But anyway, it was off to Carnaby Street for me, starting with a stroll through the iconic Liberty building. It is a stunning, high-end department store, where I can afford to buy very little but can definitely see myself purchasing White Company candles, Nars cosmetics, handmade chocolate or beautiful stationary if I was living anywhere in the vicinity.

I then proceeded to MAC as I have been considering changing my foundation from the Benefit Oxygen Wow for a while, and, as I am almost at the end of the bottle, it seemed as good a time as any to take the plunge. After a really friendly consultation and some experimentation, I settled on Studio Fix Fluid and a little nude eye-shadow in Brulé Satin to replace Benefit’s Call My Buff. However, at the till it emerged that they were out of the foundation shade and so the girl instead gave me a sample to keep me going – I will pick up the real thing later today.

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After MAC I did a little browsing at the pretty dresses in Dahlia and debated a pair of New Balance in Office before deciding that my Ryanair luggage allowance may not allow them through (I am still debating though). Then I popped into Pixi and picked up a little bottle of their exfoliating Glow Tonic. I have read so much about this product, I am excited to try it. Perfect skin awaits!!!!!

Of course, after all this shopping I was starving, so I weighed up my options and settled on tapas at Pix-Bar. It’s a tiny candlelit place specialising in Pintxos. A selection of individual sized dishes is displayed on the bar. You simply take a plate, eat what you like, pop your skewer in a carafe and present it at the till to pay. I tried a Chorizo & Manchego Bocadillo, Serrano Ham & Quail Egg on Ciabatta, Diablo Meatballs and Honey-glazed Cod Fritters. The food was excellent and I loved that you don’t have to commit to one large dish but can try a whole selection. Bring a friend and try double the dishes.

After a browse through Brandy Melville, where I picked up a little comfy tee, and a half an hour in the aforementioned giant Topshop (I needed a replacement pair of white jeans and found a Leigh pair reduced to £20) I was pretty much shopped out and decided to head off to meet my husband for a late afternoon drink as we had an early dinner reservation. Although I did first try Ben’s Cookies – sold by weight and one of the most delicious things I have tasted.

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History was inescapable however as we walked in search of two of London’s oldest pubs, and I have to say both were worth the trek. The first was Cittie of York, an imposing old building that would have been the perfect site for some form of exclusive gentleman’s club. The second (which I completely forgot to picture) was one of the best finds of the entire trip. It was called Ye Olde Mitre and is hidden in a little alley off Ely Place. Hard to find places almost demand to be found and this place clearly is not the best kept secret. It was just after 4pm and the place was wedged with city bankers in suits, loosening their ties for a quick pint. Loved this place!

We had dinner at Pizza East, in the now very trendy Shoreditch area, and the pizza lived up to its hype. A light crisp crust, flavoursome tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and whole leaves of flavoursome basil. Pizza like the Italians make. Washed down with large, cold glasses of Moretti, it was a decent impression of a neighbourhood pizzeria in Rome, but with an industrial vibe that is more Brooklyn than Trastevere. Make sure to book in advance if you plan to eat at Pizza East.

After dinner, we headed for Aldgate and spent an hour or so wandering in the eerie footsteps of Jack the Ripper and reading the gruesome details of this famed murder spree in the alleyways of London’s East End. The guided tours come highly recommended but we opted to self-guide using a little book called “The Jack the Ripper Walk”. It cost just £2.99 and was comprehensive and very easy to follow.

Pretty cool end to a pretty cool day xo

 

 

Roman London and Retail Therapy

Separated for a few hours from my travel companion, who was off to meet some fellow historians at the British Library, a chilled out shopping morning seemed a perfect way to start the new day and the new week. Upper Street is high street heaven but I am more interested in what lies in the little alleys behind it – the independent bookshops, boutiques and concept stores that don’t populate every high street and shopping mall in the world. Therefore my destination was Islington’s Camden Passage. Famous for its antiques market, this area is an extremely cute collection of cafes, restaurants and independent shops – browser heaven.

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I started the day with a caffeine fix in The Coffee Works Project, reputed to have the best coffee in the area. It was packed mostly with what I assume to be students, self-employed workers and freelancers  – as many of the customers were typing feverishly away on their laptops. All very Carrie Bradshaw. There was also a healthy sprinkling of yummy mummies taking a break with a soy latte and the odd tourist checking if the coffee is really as good as they say. The verdict – it was a damn good cup of coffee.

Then for an hour of intensive window shopping in this little retail Utopia. Take a look for yourself….

Appetite well worked up, there was time for a quick lunch before heading to the British Library to catch up with my husband. I probably would have tried The Breakfast Club as I have read great things about it but even at 12.30pm there was already a queue and I didn’t have much time to spare. I did however spot the last remaining outdoor table at the neighbouring The Elk in the Woods. It turned out to be a good choice. I dined on a small plate of calamari with chorizo mayonnaise accompanied by a side of salt baked new potatoes and garlic aioli. It was light but tasty – the calamari perfectly cooked, the aioli particularly delicious. Accompanied by some ice water and a glass of house wine, sitting in the sun watching the world go by, it made for a very enjoyable lunch. Then off to the tube, although not before getting distracted by two cute little tees in Joy that I felt would work well with skinny jeans (one with heels and one with converse).

My hubby and I regrouped at the British Library, his lunchtime talk and general networking probably making his morning more productive than mine. But surely it couldn’t have been more enjoyable. And he doesn’t now own a little jersey tee with a cute bumblebee print!!!!

We headed for St. Paul’s and the old city  – the focus of the rest of our day. After a quick hello to the head of John Donne, we walked the square mile, visiting spots where evidence of the Roman city had been uncovered and marvelling at the way cities develop over time and yet some remnants of each century remain – the past almost effortlessly juxtaposing with the present. We took a break at the Dickens Inn on St. Katherine’s Dock, a beautiful old pub with exposed beams and wooden floors, quotes from Dickens’ classic works adorning the walls.  Our little tour ended at the stunningly preserved Leadenhall Market Place, the site of the original Roman forum and basilica of Londinium.

After quite a lot of walking we ate fairly forgettable french food in a little neighbourhood bistro, followed by overpriced drinks in a soulless chain bar, before heading to the Guildhall for the highlight of the day – an outdoor movie in the Guildhall Yard, over the site of London’s ancient Roman amphitheatre. There were a few technical hitches but it was a lovely evening. There was seats, burgers and hotdogs, beer and wine, popcorn and even an onsite archaeologist to explain the history of the site. Somebody forgot the movie but he admitted he was “a massive tool”, the movie was found and the show did go on. Gladiator on the site where actual gladiators would have been forced to perform! A great evening and if in London this summer do check out Pop Up Screens listings – just remember it gets cold, no matter how fine a day, so bring jumpers and jackets to wrap up in, then sit back and enjoy xo

 

Morning Markets and The Globe

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Sunday in London, still busy but without the chaotic feel of a weekday as those out and about have generally replaced professional pursuits with more leisurely ones. People sip coffee as they walk, read the paper over brunch and if they are on Columbia Road they buy flowers and maybe an odd antique teacup to hold their champagne!

And that is where we started our day – the short stroll down Columbia Road was a lot of fun, traders enthusiastically pedalling their wares to the tourists and locals bartering for and buying their blooms. Hydrangas seem to be winning on the popularity stakes but sunflowers and french lavender were performing well also. Behind the stalls were the cutest of independent stores selling everything from antiques to coffee and perfume to gardening tools. A cheap and cheerful start to a Sunday morning in London.

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From Columbia road, it is just a short stroll across to Brick Lane, another of London’s iconic street markets. It is probably really obvious by now that I love the London market scene, the diversity of the food, the multi-ethnic make-up, the forum for artisans and old school traders to vie for business. Walking up Brick Lane, we stopped to peer in the window of the Cereal Killer Cafe, something that is a bit too gimicky for me but I get why people love it. We then visited the really great Brick Lane bookshop, where my husband stocked up on some Jack the Ripper inspired reading material, before enjoying some Chinese food on the steps of the Sunday Up Market – a weekend event in an old warehouse.

For the afternoon, this literature nerd was super excited to be able to see the work of The Bard himself in its true spiritual home  – The Globe Theatre. We had groundling tickets for for Macbeth and it was both a great experience and an excellent performance.

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The interpretation was excellent and I felt the characterisation of the three weird sisters and the inclusion of a wordless Macbeth child really enhanced this version of the Scottish tragedy. All the acting was superb, not surprising from such an experienced cast, and the extremely hot Macduff made the sore feet of the second act a little more bearable.

You really can’t argue with £5 tickets to a production of such quality but it is a lot of standing so if you go wear your most comfortable shoes. And if it’s sunny, don’t forget the sunscreen!!

Leaving Southbank about 4pm, we strolled across the bridge towards the imposing grandeur of St. Pauls, before hopping on a red bus towards Covent Garden. We took a break in the Lamb and Flag, one of London’s most authentic old bars before weaving our way to Neal’s Yard. Several bloggers, who know London much better than I do, had mentioned the pizza from Homeslice and so we decided to give it a try. The place was packed and we had a 15 minute wait for a table but the 20″ pizza that followed – half Margarita, half salami and Parmesan – was  worth waiting for. Sitting outside with beer and pizza watching the world pass by was a really satisfying end to a pretty great day!

Hope your Sunday was as much fun as mine xo

 

 

Crazy and Crowded in Camden

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So London Day 3 got off to a lovely lazy start yesterday. Following a recommendation, we strolled in the sunshine for about five minutes to reach Sunday, a bustling neighbourhood cafe with a queue at the door for tables. Having waited about 15 minutes to be seated, we hungrily perused the modern and in parts healthy brunch menu. We then discarded the healthy and opted for french toast (although I did have a half portion) and a full English. Although I was very happy with my coffee there were a significant number of takers for the watermelon juice spiked with vodka. The vibe was laid back urban, the service was great and the food fresh and delicious. My travelling companion thought it was all very Made in Chelsea so all in all a cool, casual start to the day. So if you are in North London and in the market for brunch, I would definitely recommend Sunday on Hemingford Road.

After a leisurely start, it was time for the craziness of Camden Market.  Having visited multiple times it just never gets old for me. It is both vintage and modern, alternative and mainstream, and unique and cliched. I love the crowds and hate the crowds, love the quirkiness and find it to be dating quickly, love the uniqueness but feel it all exists elsewhere. Overall I love it…but mostly because it reminds me of when I was younger, it was cooler, I was new to London and it did what it still does..celebrates life with all its colours and emotions (no white cardboard here).

And of course there was food…the options are multiple but we chose Italian with fresh pasta. Not the more photogenic but it really was delicious. After Camden, we returned to Islington and did what all crazy child-free couples do on a Saturday night in one of the world’s major cities…we shopped, cooked, listened to music and had a couple of drinks on the balcony. In our defence…there is only so much excitement we can take in a day, we are not yet acclimatised.