My sister’s London favourites

Hi,

Last weekend I had the visit of my sister in London – I love her visits which give me the opportunity to go back to some places I like & (re)discover other nice places.

The weather got much colder (we lost almost 10 degrees in a couple of days, whereas last week it felt like summer) – so we did a couple of stopovers during our walks in London to warm up in some cosy shops/eateries.

Here are a couple of places/things we enjoyed:

1. Abeno – I already mentioned this place in a previous post, and this place convinced my sister with the nice food cooked in front of us. My favourite place for Japanese food in London.

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2. Camellia’s Tea house  in Carnaby Street – great place for cream tea (the best scones in London according to my sis) and an impressive range of green teas in a cosy décor.

3. Tatty Devine – another place I discovered with my sis, really cute jewellery. I fell for this “juicy” lime wedge to bring some color to my dark shirts.

Lime

4. East London Design Store – lots of cute things in this shop in Hackney, unfortunately last time I visited this was closed!

5. Orla Kiely and its lovely flower print. Beautiful furniture (although very expensive)

6. Sass & Belle another place for cute things in Covent Garden – I really like their collections of badgers & fox items.

Badger7. the exhibition “Ancient Lives” at the British Museum (£10): really impressive to see these mummies, and the exhibition is quite interactive. Really nice to go after you have walked around the ancient Egyptian collection.

8. Covent Garden Antique’s market (on Mondays) – covered market with lots of different objects (of different times): heirlooms, coins, clothes, jewellery, cameras…at very variable prices.

9. Irregular Shop on Camden high street – if you like excentric shoes, this is the place! Definitely not something I would choose to walk with, but also some cute accessories (I love the earrings!) Closed to Camden Lock Market.

earrings

10. Gill Wing Shop in Islington – the paradise for any cook! Good collection of coffee equipment (French press, caffetiere, filters…)

11. Pop Boutique in Soho – again, some vintage stuff, mainly fashion but you can also find fun accessories of from the 60s/70s.

12. Chinese Backery (Gerrard Str.) – and their cute cream-filled fish-shaped pastries. Also a great selection of bread rolls – identic to the ones I had eaten in Beijing. My sister loved the soft rice cake. Usually I go to Chinatown for some Asian supplies or when my boyfriend needs a haircut, so I can grab a 报纸 (baozhi) – so it was nice to break my habits!

IMG_3451[1]13. Paperchase – my sister and I love the nice stationery items we can find here in the UK (don’t feel like we have such nice supplies in France). the current “mercato” collection is really fun (especially the watermelons-shaped pockets) I could spend hours browsing through wish cards – I really like the fact that Brits stick to cards for holidays.

14. Spitafields Market  – nice gift shops, small eateries, good place to walk around to escape the rainy weather.

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Easter break

Hi,

This year I took an exceptional break abroad over the Easter period – which is quite unusual to me as it tends to me more a family time for me.
I am lucky enough to have a friend – who is also a great travel companion 🙂 so this was a 1st time adventure for the two us travelling together!
We had quite a few discussions about where to go: where to find sun, nice food, nice sights…and preferably not too remote from our cities (London/Paris). Also, having deciding only 2 months before Easter, lots of option were already not affordable.
Looking for some sun and good hospitality, we finally decided to spend the Easter week in Turkey.
There are countless nice places to visit in Turkey – it is really hard to choose as many sites are quite distant from each other, so we focused on the Aegean shore. We wanted to avoid the crowd, but we couldn’t miss Istanbul – which I had heard so many times of.
The plan was Istanbul for a couple of days, before flying to Izmir, then driving to Çeşme peninsula, and finishing our stay with Ephesus/Selçuk.
RoadMap
First, I have to say I was quite shocked at the airfare proposed by Turkish airlines  (ok, it’s Easter – but seriously more than £400 for a return ticket? you can fly to NYC with that!) It was finally cheaper to take the train to Paris and fly from Orly airport to Istanbul with Pegasus airlines (Turkish budget airlines – average comfort & some delays on local flights the price is unbeatable)
First impressions before departure were not that great – as we’ve been asked awkward questions at the passport check:
French officer: “you’re travelling alone?”
me: “no Sir, I’m with travelling with a friend of mine”
French officer: “Really? where is she? I don’t see anyone with you. hmmm that’s weird to go to Turkey alone – what are you planning to do there?”
Well-done! This is how you make people feel welcome in another country! Feels like you’re travelling to a country at war! (especially when you see how many tourists fly to Turkey every year)
At our arrival in Turkey, we haven’t been exactly welcomed by greetings or flowers…no no no …instead, we had to wait 45 minutes before we could get into our pre-booked shuttle (ok, waiting is acceptable, but at least it’s nice to keep your clients informed beforehand?). Then it was the beginning of a loooooong journey! What I hadn’t realised is, the Sabiha Gokcen Airport (where most of budget flights land/depart) is located on the Asian side of the the Bosphorus, whereas we stayed in the exact opposite direction (on the the European side). The ride last at least 1:30 (I cannot believe there were traffic jam at 1am) It took us more than 2.5 hours to get from the airport to our B&B.
Best option in Istanbul is to choose a “pansyion” – which offers reasonable price for a decent room & breakfast (and Turkish breakfast is rather hearty so you have fuel for the entire morning)
Sultanahmet is probably the area where you will find most of the hotel/b&b offers because of the proximity with touristic point of interest (Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque…). the modern art museum of Istanbul (Istanbul Modern) was also quite interesting as there lots of video displays, which gave insight on tradition in Turkey.

 

It was also nice to take a ferry trip to the Asian side (Kadıköy) and enjoy of more “laid back” atmosphere, completely different from the buzzing old town. You can mingle with students who go out for coffees. By the way, despite coffee having a reputation of “national drink” (with soo many places advertising for “Turkish coffee”), Turks seem to be definitely tea people (very infused & sweetened black tea, without milk).
Funniest experience in Istanbul was to to go a local hammam – and find myself stupid as the “scrubwoman” (whose job is to rub your skin with a glove before soaping & shampooing you) was trying to explain me that I had to get wet.
Travelling around Turkey is fairly cheap. A normal “Turkish” meal should cost no more than TRL10 if you are outside touristic areas. You can trust small eateries – the only thing that looked a bit “filthy” were the mussels (directly from the Bosphorus! yum!) sold in the street. The normal price for a glass of tea TRL1.5 in Istanbul. But the good thing is most B&B provide a kettle (which is a blessing for the huge tea-drinker that I am!) If you consider to bring some food back, consider to visit supermarkets (Migros is the main retailer, Şok market is more discount). This is where we went to buy some tea, cooking spices, sweets…you will probably find better value for money than at the Grand Bazaar.

 

Besides this, most touristic places (Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya…) entrance costs TRL30. 
Disappointment came from our transit in airports where great part of the staff had close to zero English skills and tend to get annoyed/rude when asked something (the “this-is-not-my-problem” type of attitude if you see what I mean…). On the other side, you cannot cross any “point of interest” without being hassled by some guys who insist to bring you in their cafés/shop.
Worst, you can park somewhere (with no indication that you have to pay for a fee) until some guy approaches to extort  10TRL of “parking fee” aka “otopark”). This happened in Ephesus – and left us a bitter taste – despite the interest of the site. Luckily there were cute cats to pet across the ruins <3.  
After this “otopark extortion” experience (which luckily, was at the end of our trip) I have been under the impression that a lot of people see foreigners as a cash machine (o.k. this happens in quite a few countries like Morocco, but at least you could expect real hospitality) The same day, we were warmly recommended to visit the small village of Şirince (60o inhabitants, which is famous for its wine) => TOURIST TRAP! This looks like a total artificial uninteresting village (o.k. it might interesting if you lived in a remote island without contact to civilization…) where you will find basic products (olive oil, honey, wine) with a price premium. 
Luckily, there were places where we could avoid the crowd, admire beautiful sceneries, and have more relaxing time. I really enjoyed the Aegan cost with its turquoise sandy beaches in Çeşme. Alaçatı and its Greek-alike architecture. Sunset in Kuşadası.

 

L.

x

Weekend in Rome

Hi!

I’m back from Rome. For a winter getaway, Rome is just the perfect city.

Mild weather (we could sip our coffee outside), not too crowded, and also good deals in clothes shops 🙂

Last xmas I had found good hotel prices at Hotel Ariston, nearby Termini Stazione. Definitely not the most appealing area of the city (but totally safe), but central and the room we stayed was surprisingly big! Very cosy and clean (with girly toiletry kit 😉

As we stayed only for a short weekend, we only discovered the city by walking. However the metro is a good option to save some energy (but not necessarily time as you will probably have to walk from the station to a particular sight)

When it comes to eating, trattoria are a good choice for lunch. Just choose what you want and you will have a panino freshly prepared in front of you!

Also, if you book a hotel that doesn’t include breakfast – don’t bother paying a €10 extra fee for hotel breakfast – especially as in most caffés you can get a coffee+a pastry for ca. €2.

At dinner, I was surprised that a reservation was needed in most of the restaurants we pushed the door (and it was 8pm, which is not late by Italian standards).

No museums for us this time, as we couldn’t afford to queue for hours in front of the Vatican (having made no reservation beforehand)

Annecy & ski resort

Crisp air in the French Alps.

Crystal-clear water of the lake.

Winter sun.

Fresh snow.

Farm cheese with view on cows.

Sledging like a 5-year-old.

Old town with adorable bookshop

Lovely town in France.

Getaway in Portugal

Hi,

To finish the year with some travel pictures – I wanted to share my experience in Portugal where I have been in November this year:

Map PT

As a one-week getaway, we decided to go to Porto first, then to take the train to spend a couple of days in Lisbon.

Trains in Portugal are quite cheap, clean and the connection Porto-Lisbon last 3 hours (for a single trip in 1st class, approx. €35)

Going to Portugal in November is great as you can avoid the crowd and the weather is overall great (altough you might have a couple of showers). We could enjoy the beach in Porto (Praia de Matosinhos), meeting surfers, people walking their dogs (I was amazed to see that many dog owners in Portugal)

Porto is a city that has a nice atmosphere, with lots of street art and nice eateries.

When it comes to eating in Portugal – it is H E A V E N to me: cheap, simple & super fresh. Even at the train station where you could expect expensive and not that great food, you can find delicious & generously filled breads.

Arriving in Lisbon, you can definitely feel that you are in a capital city – but still with some dolce vita:

The small street where we got lost reminded a bit of Southern Italy.

Again, lots of nice eating there: We found a lovely place in Bairro Alto “Vintage Gourmet” that offers nice foods and has also a nice selection of gins:

Lisbon is also famous for its great night life – although in November the city is quieter.

We also went to Cascais where we could still sunbath: there is not that much to be seen there, but it is a very pleasant place to be to watch the people go by and enjoy a sunny day:

Milan & Como lake

What a nice thing to enjoy the sun for a weekend! Especially as I spent the last 4 months under the British sky (since my stay in Morocco last January)

This weekend in Italy was the opportunity for a friend & I to spend sometime together before her wedding this summer. We deliberately skipped the visits to the museums and preferred enjoy the sun and walking around the city. Having some Italian background, I used to go to Italy regularly as a kid with my parents to visit our relatives living there, but I never went to Lombardy.

I loved hanging out in the Navigli area – where locals like to stop for an aperitivo: for €10 (sometimes less) you have a drink (a cocktail, a beer or whatever you choose) and unlimited access to a yummy buffet. I am generally very skeptical when it comes to “all you can eat” stuff but in this case the food is amazing: cold salads, ham, cheese, olives, gnocchi in creamy sauce, fruits, cakes. Most places that offer aperitivo (or “happy hours” as they call it ~ I still haven’t understand the difference) have a very rich buffet. It’s a great thing to try as you can pick different things from Italian cuisine (I personally didn’t discover anything but I always enjoy the Italian food). What is great about Italy, is you don’t need to pay a ridiculous amount to find tasty/quality food (unlike in London where good bread or olive oil is almost unaffordable)

Despite the fact that I’m not a shopping/fashion enthusiast, I was positively surprised by the shops of Milan: I really like the fact that apart luxury shops in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II you can find affordable shops with amazing fashion: not as eccentric as London, not as classic as Paris.I found the most amazing shoe shop nearby the San Lorenzo columns: Lolita Milano. You cannot miss it as it is packed with ballerinas with all the all the colors you could wish! The shoes are made of leather & made in Italy 🙂 Ca. €30-40 for a pair – perfect for shoe-addict!

Milan is a very pleasant discover as the historic centre is quite small. The underground is cheap (€1.5 for a 1-ride ticket), clean and efficient.

On our second day, my friend and I decided to go on a day trip to the Lake Como: the train ticket is pretty cheap you can get a return for less than €10. From Milan central station, the best option is to take the Malpensa Xpress to Saronno and change for another train to Como.

Como is fairly small but lovely for a day – the small street reminded me of Aix-en-Provence, South of France. The confusing thing was how to find a boat cruise as all the tourists rushed to take the boat on a pier but this looked like a water-taxi to take from point A to point B and not a cruise to show you around. We finally found a really interesting deal on the pier: €5 for a 30 minute cruise! The boat as fairly small but we just wanted to have a look on the lake and see the numerous villas (such as the Villa d’Este) Unfortunately, no George Clooney this day 😦

 

 

London staycation Part II – Kew Gardens

Hi,

Since I’ve been living in London for a year and a half now, one of the places I wanted to visit for a while was the royal botanical gardens: Kew Gardens (the fact that I used to commute through Kew probably helped sticking this idea to my mind).

In February I took the opportunity of having friends visiting me to discover this place. Winter might not be the best moment to explore the gardens (which are huge! I think in one day we saw maybe 1/4 of the site) however, the highlight of the month was the “orchids parad” so we decided it was worth going.

The good thing about visiting Kew Gardens during the winter is that you can always warm up in the greenhouses, which are designed and heated to reproduce the specific climate conditions where the species can flourish. For the orchids, the environment needs to be quite warm and humid at the same time (which gave us a break from the freezing wind blowing this day!)

The other greenhouse we visited was the home of the palm trees – so prepare for the heat wave! You can climb to a balcony to admire the plants from above. There is also an underground section dedicated to the life under the sea.

Visiting greenhouses was very nice, however the humid/warm atmosphere can be a little “suffocating” at some point…

Outside the greenhouses, I couldn’t miss the Great Pagoda – the tallest Chinese reconstructed building in the Europe.

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Here is a short video of introduction if you want to know more about it:

As we were freezing outside, we were looking forward to have a bite in the restaurant – unfortunately it is closed during the winter (only the cafeteria nearby the main entrance is opened) If you choose to visit this place right now, bring your warmest clothes/gloves/hats as the wind can be quite strong in the gardens. If you are cold, you can always grab some coffees or have a look at the nice selection of accessories of the shop.