A Weekend in London, UK [wintertime]

 

London's sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it
London’s sometimes a little bit hidden, go and look out for it. Photo taken by the Metropolitan Police on a foggy day.

hurrah we passed Valentines’s time and its lot of heart-shape Krispy creme and 50-stomething bearded men holding balloons (dear please please no), but fact is, London is rather romantic, ALL YEAR ROUND!! a couple of ideas for a long weekend

this article is a follow up on the summer version of this post

# 1 : Brunch, Afternoon High-Tea and GastroPub dinner – indulge with comfort food

When the weather goes chilly a cosy warm up is de rigueur, my favourite afternoon tea award goes to the Sketch : a very stylish, Michelin-star place, with a large collection of flavoured teas and lovely finger food….what else do you need?

Alternative options: recover from any hangover after a long and boozy night out with The breakfast club brunch, that now counts 5 locations, the Smith of Smithfield (and their Spitalfield sister that will reopen in March) , or the Hawksmoor full English breakfast where you can easily feed a young elephant .

There’s quite a few fabulous chimney warmed cosy gastro-pubs in London where you can watch the snowfall (or the rain poor but it sounds less glam), Time Out is always there to help.

Afternoon tea at the Sketch

#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
For guaranteed brownie points with a girl, you could check out what’s on at the Royal Albert hall or the  the Royal Opera; with a little bit of organisation and advance-booking you could bag a  top quality performance at relatively affordable prices. Tip: for best value, pick any of the amphitheatre seats, they all have quality views.

Alternative options: Jazz night & dinner at Rooney Scotts in Soho, ballet at the English National Opera, modern dance at the Sadler’s Well in Angel

Ice-skating in a  magical location is slightly cliché but still, a rather cool date, you’ll fall, laugh, and warm up with a hot-chocolate after-wile. From November to January, pre-book at the styli Sommerset house (central) , the classic Tower of London (East) or the west-based Natural History Museum, and avoid the crowds of the Winter Wonderland fair. 

London is simply beautiful by itself and in the winter, when sunset comes early you could take advantage of a dry day if any, to go walking around. From Sloane square to South Bank for example, watching the sunset on Embankment bridge.

#3 : No romantic weekend without some cuddling

My favourite cinema in the whole world goes to the Aubin, THE Shoreditch based maxi-hipster cuddly place. Faaaaaaaa-bulous Sundays.

Alternative options:  The Electric cinema  – get the front row double beds. Or for a different kind of cinema experience, pretty unique to London, you could check what’s on at the Future Cinema, even though I think they’re recently become way too steep.

 #4: Do things together will bring you closer

Fine, Sauna and Spa are a little bit cheesy as a romantic time for two, but yet it’s a marvellous. Always check out what’s on offers before you book. I recently tried those 2 and it was fantastic. at the Chelsea Club, ask for a  Japanese bath.  The St Pancras hotel spa has luxurious”journeys to …”, I don’t know if I came out of there “firm, purified, enlivened, from the nape of the neck to the tips of my toes” but  definitely came out of there with  numb  legs.

Why not learn something new? like how to make a cocktail, a.k.a. a socially acceptable way to have cocktails on a Saturday mid-afternoon. I have no problem with that. The London Cocktail club have a good beginner overview course, but that lacks a little bit of hand-on practise. Someone’s whispering to my ear that Harvey Nicholls’ bar actually has great master-classes.

#5: the WOW factor

London Royal Observatory

how could would it be to go Start gazing at the Royal Observatory, on the  meridian zero? get on their mailing list or keep checking the website for new event

For other good views of the city you can try the National Portrait gallery Restaurant with a view after, you could plan it following an exhibition, after the Thursdays / Fridays late opening.

and the 2nd part of the evening? I would favour a speakeasy type of place over a club. You two can chat over a delicious Manhattan (sorry! meant London dry gin!). The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar has basically invented London cocktails, with their signature over-the-top impeccable service; however my favourite remains the Calloh Callay at the heart of Shoreditch for their unbeatable friendly atmosphere (booking essential Thursday-Saturday).

Fresh winter run along regents canal with a friend!!!
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Where People run?!

tokyo running map

When visiting a city, I always try and include a long run in my planning. It’s a great way to have a good overview of an area, mingle with the locals, and capture the atmosphere: nothing like running in Manhattan along the Hudson river to capture the empowering NY vibe…

Planning a run in a new city may take a little bit of prep, and one doesn’t always have a local friend to guide them. Where do people run? how cool would it be to use the tracking apps at an aggregated level to actually visualise the answer to that question?

Those 2 blogs have done it for us, using data from Edmondo – I’m all excited and planning my next run in Tokyo now 🙂 happy geeking and running!!

http://barsukov.net/endomondo.html

http://flowingdata.com/2014/02/05/where-people-run/

Winter surf in Tanghazout, Morocco

As a touristy destination, Morocco almost has it all: sun pretty much all year round, surf, mountains, cultural cities, fantastic food, stable political background, cheap access from Europe  and no jet lag, no need for a visa…..la douceur de vivre in a bloody disorganised Mediterranean atmosphere. Oh well…we love it.

Taghazout is a fishermen village nested on the Atlantic coast near Agadir, a good couple of hours by car from Marrakech where one can get easier flight connections. The drive from Agadir foretells a wide upcoming change in the area. Currently, it is touristy, but still at human scale, for how much longer? Mohammed VI & the government put in place a development plan in 2010 and decided to boost the country’s tourism capacity and infrastructures by 2020. The industry currently represents over 7% of the country’s GDP and is the 2nd biggest sector for job creations. Tourist flows are mostly coming from France and the rest of Europe. The little village of Taghazout, can only get busier.

The village is a large main dusty street fitted with small grocery shops and restaurants, vagabond cats, and goats eating off the rubbish. My hosts recommend going eating outside of town, driving to Agadir as we’ll find “nothing suitable  here”. Well that wasn’t quite right. We we able to find welcoming quirky little places with fresh quality products, and in particular, Dar Josephine, on the main street, close the the pharmacy.

** And how about the surfing?

the winter swell is (really) big, it’s cheap and convenient to come from Europe and makes Anchor Point one of the most attractive winter spot in the region; together with its Spanish neighbour, 170km offshore, the Canaries Islands, roughly oriented the same way, exposed to the N-NW swells that churn the North Atlantic from October to March. But if the quality of surfing instruction in Lanzarote (when I say that I mean Surf School Lanzarote) was outstanding, however the standards are not quite the same in Morocco, and not better value either.

We had been warned, it’s big waves, for big independent guys, not improvers. We did find nice little schools run by Brits, but we struggled to find a real ISA recognised school. And indeed, the safety talk is mostly reduced to “Inch’Allah”, there are obviously no life guards in sight, and the coaching is rather limited to showing you a few pop-up on the sand….not exactly my definition of coaching!!

If you are just looking to have a blast and meet people, any of Surf Maroc or Surf Berbere camps will probably be exactly that; everyone is really chilled and laid back, in a very backpacking-y sort of atmosphere reminiscent of the hippy days of Tanghazout. Most schools will also offer day trips and after-surf yoga classes during the sunset hours (amazing….).

** A good book for the plane….

I asked quite a few friends, what should I be reading in the plane? I love exchanging good books recommendations with friends, it’s normally a great way to scratch a little bit beyond the surface; as invariably, people start with food recommendations when they talk about their country). Those 2 are standing out:

Partir (Leaving Tangier) –  by Tahar Ben Jelloun, written in French

For Bread alone – Mohamed Choukri, written in Arabic and translated to American English by Paul Bowles, and to French by Tahar Ben Jelloun.

** Travelling in my kitchen

berber tajine spice
ok I admit my tajine hasn’t bathed in water overnight yet….but the spices are sitting really pretty in my kitchen 🙂

2 dishes that I stole from Josephine, who’s been kind enough to show me her wonderful sauce and chit chat about flavours and smells. Lots of garlic, cumin and the  fabulous local aromatic oil are some of their secret ingredients.

Sweet’n healthy starter: carrots & beetroot salad: 

Ingredients:

– 2 ts orange blossom water
– 2 ts orange juice
– press half a lemon (2ts)- 1/2 ts paprika
– 1/2 ts cumin seeds or ground
– 1/2 ts cinnamon
– a pinch of salt

Instructions:

dice the beetroot (after cooking and peeling if required) and peel and grate the carrots, macerate with the vinaigrette and serve fresh, maybe with a mint leaf or a couple of pomegranate seeds as a decoration.

The 2nd one will be the Kefta & egg tajine; but I have to confess here, I have been rather lazy. The dish itself should be soaked in water overnight before use and I keep procrastinating this bit.

** and in my bathroom…

(following the earlier “moroccan pampering” article)

I came back with an over-packed suitcase in which I managed to cram non only a berber tajine but also some of the missing items in my pamper-pantry, and in particular, some argan- enriched black soap and ghassoul.

Black soap comes in a sort of jelly mushy dark brown paste. This one is enriched with Argan oil so a little bit lighter. Ideally in a hot steam room (or in my case, after an essential oil enriched bath) spread it on your body, warning, the smell isn’t exactly pleasant but be reassured, it doesnt stay as after a few minute you’ll scrub

** Other Inspirations:

djellabar marrakech
the Djellabar amazing decoration, I was about to steal a cushion!

– Films: Laïla Marrakhi’s first and controversial film “Marok” is a fresh high school romance but not only. I can’t wait to watch her most recent one “Rock the Casbah” (I’m waiting until the dvd as I doubt we’ll get to see it at the cinema in London…)

– music: and the the playlist I keep listening to Claude Challe – Djellabar

– 2 other point of views from a beginner surfer and his girlfriend: http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/moroccos-freezing-waves

and a more experienced surfer: http://www.surfermag.com/features/morocco-surf-expedition-dispatch-2/

– Organise your trip and check your visa etc:

http://taghazout.org/

http://www.moroccolondon.co.uk/index.php

tips from a Moroccan travelling magazine, in English: http://www.feetupmagazine.com/64-321

other bloggers went there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatheronhertravels/sets/72157633095942122

– other surf schools I was recommended (but have not tested though):

Yassine Ramdani: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Yassine-Ramdani-Surf-Rider-Camp/111130802254861?hc_location=timeline

and Denny Tolley from http://www.morocsurf.com/

my next time in Morocco? The more I read about it, the more I’m burning to discover Fes, the desert; I’d also like to spend a little bit more time in Marrakech and get to see Yves St Laurent’s gardens….and last but not least I”ll DEFINITELY carry more hand sanitiser in my hand bag.