Category Archives: Travel

Sunshine in Portugal

Last Wednesday I said goodbye to London for a week in the sun. After debating whether to go to Lisbon or Porto a few weeks ago we decided that we’d actually quite like to crash on a beach for a week so we chose the Algarve, on the Southern coast of Portugal, instead.

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I last went to Portugal as a child and I certainly don’t remember it being as wonderful as it is! We stayed in Praia da Rocha, a lovely little beach resort on the Western side of the Algarve. It’s close to the historic town of Silves and the Monchique mountains, but Praia da Rocha is lovely enough in its own right to warrant a visit.

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We did very little during our time there. Each day we’d take a long stroll on the beach, climbing through openings in the rock to get to a new patch of sand. We also walked to one of two lighthouses a couple of times to stretch our legs and get a few Instagram-worthy snaps.

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There are lots of lookout points in Praia da Rocha that are perfect for standing around and watching the sun go down. This pretty church was definitely my favourite to walk around.

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I don’t know what it was about spending so much time on a beach that made me act like a child, but whatever it was led to me drinking far too much iced tea. I’m sure I’ll be whipping up a batch or two of this spiked bourbon iced tea in the coming weeks…

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If I wasn’t walking on the beach or hunting down my next fix of iced tea I was reading. I managed to plough my way through six books in six days which was magical. It’s been months since I read with such fervour and it feels great to be back on the wagon.

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Evenings were spent playing cards, drinking cocktails and eating fresh fish and vegetables in little beach side restaurants. Utterly delightful all round.

5 dishes you have to eat in Rome

tartufo food to eat in rome

One of the best things about going on holiday is the opportunity to try new food, whether that’s eating all the Pho in Thailand or all the frites in Belgium.

On our recent trip to Rome it was a little harder to find dishes we hadn’t eaten before. Italian food is a staple part of the British diet, and although Spaghetti Bolognese and a Margherita pizza almost certainly tastes better in Italy, we were keen to try as many Roman dishes as possible.

What to eat in Rome

Roman artichokes

They say the only food you can live off exclusively is the avocado, which is a real shame because if I had to eat only one dish for the rest of my life the deep fried artichokes I had in Rome would be a serious contender.

The best artichokes I ate in Rome were from a little restaurant in what was the Jewish ghetto. After all, where better to eat carciofi alla giudia than where the dish was invented centuries ago? The fried artichokes were heavily salted and absolutely delicious. Worth the Ryanair fare alone if we’re being honest.

Tartufo

Large enough for two to share, the Tartufo at Tre Scalini is the richest, most decadent thing you’ll eat in Rome – and that’s saying something.

The famed Tartufo was created in 1946 uses 13 varieties of Swiss chocolate. If that’s not rich enough for you, it’s topped with whipped cream and a wafer too. It’s mightily expensive (in fact two coffees and a Tartufo cost more than lunch with wine earlier that day) but if you want something chocolatey this is the place to visit. Plus Tre Scalini is in Piazza Navona so you can tick Bernini’s fountain off the list too…

Aperol Spritz

After a wander through the streets of Rome nothing is quite as refreshing before dinner as an Aperol Spritz. Best enjoyed seated outside a small bar for ample people watching opportunities.

This cocktail isn’t exclusive to Rome although nothing says La Dolce Vita meets the 21st century quite like Aperol and Prosecco topped up with soda.

Pizza Bianca

Pizza is pizza, right? Wrong. Not all pizza is created even, and Pizza Bianca is up there with the greats. Think a foccacia style base sold by the square and crisp on the outside.

I’m sure every Roman has a best Pizza Bianca place, but I bought a great slice from an always busy hole in the wall joint in Trastevere called I Suppli.

Cacio e Pepe

Fresh homemade pasta. Tons of Parmesan. Plenty of black pepper.

The simplest dishes are nearly always the best and Cacio e Pepe would be my go to dish if I lived in Rome. I won’t even attempt to make this at home as it relies on fresh al dente pasta to make it remotely edible.

I had this on our first night in Rome in a little restaurant in Trastevere. It took everything I had not to go back every night just to eat it all again.

These are my favourite foods to eat in Rome – what are yours?

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Cologne Christmas Markets

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After an amazing few days in Rome (full post coming soon) I’m so excited to visit Cologne with my mum in a few days time. We’ve been talking about visiting the German Christmas markets for many years and this year it’s finally happening!

We chose Cologne for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are seven Christmas markets dotted around the city (seven!) which should keep us entertained. Secondly, the cathedral is meant to be incredible – and we love a good cathedral. Thirdly, my brother went over the summer and said it’s a city worth visiting.

Another bonus of choosing Cologne was the fact we could take the train there. We’re both train travel fans and after visiting Bruges and Ghent by Eurostar in the last 18 months I’d always choose a train over a plane.

We’re in Cologne for three nights which gives us plenty of time to see the sights, enjoy some quality mother and daughter time and stock up on Christmas gifts, decorations and gluhwein at the markets.

We’re planning on wandering lots and just seeing where our feet take us, but if you’ve been to the markets before I’d love to know your top tips! Similarly if you’ve visited Cologne before please do share any places to visit you loved as well as the usual restaurants, cafes and bars.

Image: Ghent in the summertime

Ancient Rome

ancient rome colosseum

I feel like I’ve been in love with the idea of Italy my entire life which is why I’m so excited to visit Rome later this month!

How excited? Excited enough to create an itinerary. I’m never usually that organised on holiday but when there’s so much to see and do I thought a little structure might be good.

Ancient Rome really fascinates me so we’ll be visiting as many ancient sites as possible. The Vatican, Colosseum, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are on the must-visit list
but I already feel like we need to book another trip to see the rest.

We’re also hoping to spend a considerable amount of time relaxing in the evenings with an Aperol Spritz, deep fried artichokes and as much pizza and pasta our bodies can handle.

We’ve booked a small hotel in Trastevere to stay in which looks close enough to the sites to reach by foot. It’s also in the heart of Rome’s nightlife so we’re hoping to find a few good bars and restaurants to crash enjoy at night.

Have you ever been to Rome? If you have any recommendations for tours, bars or restaurants please let me know!

Tune Hotel Canary Wharf review

I spent some time working in Canary Wharf a few years ago. I hated it. I’ve always found it cold, corporate and a capitalist dream. Which is why when I was contacted about reviewing the new Tune Hotel in Canary Wharf I was tempted to say no.

But who says no to a staycation? Not me, so last week we packed an overnight bag and headed off for a night away in Canary Wharf.

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Tune Hotel Canary Wharf review

There are Tune Hotels located all over the world with five in London and plenty in Asia and Australasia. Their concept is to offer a great night’s sleep at a great price, which means there’s a basic room price and a menu of extras you can add depending on your needs. The idea is that you pay for what you need and then add on extras only if you need them.

The hotel is a ten minute walk from Canary Wharf station, round the corner from lots of restaurants and bars and across the road from the Museum of London Docklands. Canary Wharf is surprisingly pretty at night by the river and we loved this church!

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Tune Hotel Canary Wharf is incredibly modern and minimal. The reception area is bright and the staff that helped us were fantastic. Reception is manned 24/7 and the reception staff were cheerful and helpful. Check-in took all of one minute and check-out took even less.

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Everything is digital at the Tune Hotel. There’s a control panel for adjusting room temperature and for changing the light – we had a lot of fun playing around with the lighting…

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After playing around with the lights we popped out for dinner nearby. As we were on the full amenities package (towels, toiletries, television, Wi-Fi) I had the worlds longest shower when we came back. The shower was amazing. I literally stayed in there for thirty minutes slowly warming up from the cold Canary Wharf breeze!

tune hotel canary wharf toiletries

The next morning we checked out which involved handing back our key. Quick, simple and perfect if you’ve got to head off to a meeting or work. We stopped for coffee at Taylor Street Baristas before getting on the tube to work which definitely beat Starbucks.

The Tune Hotel Canary Wharf is a fantastic place to say if you need accommodation in the area. I’d definitely stay in another hotel in the chain again in an European city. The hotel is reasonably priced, exceptionally clean and the shower was amazing – my only requirements for hotels in a city as I hate spending time inside unless I’m sleeping!

I was a guest of Tune Hotels. All opinions are, as usual, my own.

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The best piece of advice for nervous flyers

advice for nervous flyers plane

My friend Katie has been scared of flying for years. I’ve held her hand (and her sick bag) on many flights and tried to be as good a friend as possible. In recent years she’s got a lot better and handles flights like a trouper.

Before I headed off to California I told her how scared I was about flying. I’m okay until we are up in the air and then I freak out. She recommended I settle my nerves with Rescue Remedy and gave me this great piece of advice:

When you’re on a plane and think something bad is about to happen, imagine you’re seeing your mum for the first time after your holiday and picture telling her about all the amazing things you did.

Obviously you can substitute your mum for your dad, partner or your best friend, but for me this worked perfectly. I love seeing my mum after a trip and telling her about all the places I visited, and visualising this happy reunion moment where I’m safe and sound after a flight really worked for me.

Do you have any advice for nervous flyers?

P.S. What your airplane seat says about you

Clarion Alley street art in Mission, San Francisco

We’d heard through friends that Mission District was the place to be in San Francisco. I’m always apprehensive when people recommend trendy areas to visit as they often don’t live up to expectations, but Mission District really is a fun place to visit.

There are some good vintage shops, loads of great bars and plenty of places to eat, but I’ll recap all of those in my San Francisco guide. Instead today I wanted to share some of the street art in San Francisco that caught my eye.

There’s a lot of street art in the Mission District, but the photos below were all taken of Clarion Alley street art. Clarion Alley is a small street in San Francisco between Mission and Valencia streets and 17th and 18th streets. We stumbled across it by chance so it was only afterwards that we realised it is an official mural project.

The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) was created in October 1992 and is an artists’ collective. They’ve supported the creation of 700 murals since originally turning a ‘blighted’ space to one full of colour. It was the vibrancy of the murals that really drew me in and it was clear that every mark had been made with purpose.

Clarion Alley street art

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“These hearts are dedicated to some members of the S.F. community who died. If your name’s here, you’re dead. :)”

Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

clarion alley street art this city is not for sale

There’s a sentence on the CAMP website that resonates with me: ‘a city that is rapidly changing to cater to the one-percent at every level’. They’re talking about San Francisco but it’s a sentiment I share about London, and a reality addressed in this mural.

(I really want to show this to Boris. In a city where a bridge over the Thames will be privatised and locals can no longer afford a place to live, why isn’t anyone doing something to save our city from being sold?)

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I liked the colours and loved the sentiment.

happymonk poetry san francisco

I know this isn’t street art, but I saw it on a lamppost on Valencia Street and it reminded me of all the nice things that are important in the world.

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To say I was overcome with emotion by the street art and poetry in Mission sounds rather dramatic, but I can’t think of a better word than overcome. Actually, perhaps ‘quietly’ overcome sums it up better; a range of emotions washed over me and I was left with a desire to act.

I was standing there thinking how great it would be if London had poems on lampposts too, poems that reminded everyone daily what’s important in life. And then I realised that if it wasn’t happening already then it was time I started to do something to change my city, rather than sitting here moaning about it all the time.

She says, sitting here moaning about it two months later.

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Downtown LA Guide

Los Angeles was the first stop on our California road trip, and if I’m honest, the bit I hadn’t even thought about. I’d done loads of research for San Francisco and Big Sur, but barely looked into what to do in LA.

We ended up staying in Downtown LA by luck. Although Downtown LA was fine, it’s probably not the best place to stay when you only have two days in the city. Essentially it all depends what you want from your trip, so just make sure you research everything beforehand. Nothing is nearby in LA so you really do want to find a base location that’s close to some of the things you want to do.

Downtown LA guide

hollywood sign downtown la

Where to stay in Downtown LA

We only had two days to explore the city, so after landing at LAX in the afternoon we got a cab straight to our downtown hotel to dump our suitcases and freshen up. We got a great deal at Hotel Luxe, a hotel I’d recommend if you just need a base in the area. The rooms are large, clean and the showers are amazing. Plus you can see the Hollywood Sign from your room if you’re into that kind of thing.

If you’re looking for a hotel you can hang out in try the Standard up the road instead – although expect to pay a lot more. The Westin Bonaventure is the stuff of modernist dreams, but it caters more to the business traveller than the average tourist. Plus you can always just pay it a visit for free…

westin bonaventure

Where to visit in Downtown LA

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel
The Westin Bonaventure is a must. As long as you don’t get too geeky about it they don’t mind letting you in for a look around. Take a couple of the escalators on the outside of the building for great views over LA.

Los Angeles Convention Centre
If you can, try and get down to Los Angeles Convention Centre on a Naturalization Ceremony day. On our way to the metro we stumbled across many people leaving the building after the ceremony, posing proudly for photos with their certificate and mini American flag. It was a privilege to see what citizenship meant for them and an emotional moment of our trip.

grand union market

Where to eat in Downtown LA

Grand Union Market
A visit to Grand Union market is a must. Purchase punnets of berries for a dollar each (a dollar! That’s 62p!) and then head to Eggslut for brunch.

eggslut grand union market

Eggslut
According to a local DJ we got chatting to, Eggslut is the most popular spot for brunch in LA at the moment. Queues are often an hour long so we were pretty lucky to get a seat at the bar immediately. My friend Shula loved the coddled eggs but for me it was all about the Fairfax – scrambled eggs made with cream cheese in a brioche bun with sriracha mayo. The best thing about LA? So. Much. Sriracha.

kitchen table downtown la

kitchen table

Kitchen Table
On our first night we settled on this healthy restaurant after a walk around some of Downtown LA. Four hours after landing in the city we headed here to stock up on salad and detox after a day of heavy plane food. We toasted the start of our trip with a beauty booster shot (bee pollen etc, we felt ever so LA) and I demolished my chicken and avocado salad in true LA fashion.

press brothers juicery grand union market

Where to drink in Downtown LA

Press Brothers Juicery
It’s all about the juice in LA, and we loved the range on offer at Grand Union market. The guy behind the counter was super patient with us, giving us samples of everything before I settled on the green Balance Juice with apple, cucumber, celery, kale, parsley, lemon and ginger which tasted a lot better than it looked.

The Standard
For something a little harder the bar at the Standard is probably the place to be seen in Downtown LA. However after a long flight and busy days we were in bed both nights by 10pm!

There are more things to do in Downtown Los Angeles but we wanted to see as much of the city as possible, so we spent the rest of our time in galleries, at food markets, on the bus (a lot of time on the bus) and in Venice / Santa Monica. All totally doable in two days.

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Sunday Selection: San Francisco

golden gate bridge san francisco

San Francisco… worthy of way more than a few rambled thoughts, so instead I present a list of internet goodness about the city for you to consume…

Image: unsplash