You can hear the rain pounding on the window and if you’re anything like me, your next thought is: when do I get to see the sun again? I could tell you to jet-off to Hawaii for the weekend, it would spare me a post but eyyy… maybe next year.
Oooh Norwegians… they’re lovely, blond, tall, spend their free-time running uphill and their holidays in wood cabins, they don’t drink, don’t smoke, they have the best-managed oil fund in the world, split kids nursing between father and mother in a more balanced way than anywhere else in the world, and to sum it all…they’re even one of the happiest people in the world…right, let’s stop, this is getting frustrating.
I love travelling of course, collecting experiences, memories, but also organising those memories in the form of this blog, photos, and other small tokens of travels.
Bringing back home small objects (and lots of food) is a way for me to extend the travel experience: last week we had fresh mozzarella for dinner, and it felt like we still had one little toe over there in Amalfi. And the rose water I use to soothe my eyes every morning is truly a piece of Morocco in a bottle.
I often forget though, that we live in a global world where (pretty much) anything can be bought in London. So last night when coming back home from Helsinki, Finland, after a fabulous sunny weekend, and proudly parading a lovely Marimekko wodden bangle, I felt pretty dumb to realise a Marimekko shop opened at the box park…literally a minute away from home!
ahhh cherished souvenirs, and shallow aspirations to have a unique collections of accessories…boooh silly me!!!
Less than 2h away from London, this itinerary is the promise of a romantic countryside weekend, in SO British fashion; Prince Charles’ secluded lifestyle, glorious British architecture and scenic bike rides, on your doorstep. “Visit England ” is an advertisement you’re likely to have encountered if you commute in London; a serious push has recently been given to tourism in England and I can only emphasise their message after a picturesque weekend on the road navigating between Alice in Wonderland’s manor house, tea with Mr Darcy and magic tricks in New College cloister – I’ll break the suspense, I have not succeeded in changing my friends into a ferret – yet.
The May Day bank holiday weekend provided us with the perfect occasion, 3 / 4 days is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city. Be ready to step into a tale, you may find yourself taking notes or sketching houses!
It’s not one to plan on a shoestring though, England remains expensive and the cosy feeling of those places calls for boutique hotels and nice B&B. I would recommend renting a convertible car, packing fluffy jumpers and fine lingerie and heading out for a romantic escape.
Rudloe Hall Hotel, 15min away from Bath
overlooking Bath countriside
If Bath has that strangely familiar feeling to it, it must be due to the amount of costume movies filmed there! Actually it’s quite fun to follow the tourism office’s movie map around town.
The city was built by the Romans around three natural hot mineral springs, that were the basis for the infamous therms. Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site was bestowed in recognition of its magnificent Georgian architecture.
The spa is a new built but the rooftop swimming pool nicely overlooks the old town and its green surrounding. The water springs out at 44 degrees and is then cooled down to 33, for comfort. We happily bubbled in for a good part of the afternoon until twilight. They accept no booking on Saturdays and I was told the queue can get a bit long (although we only waited for 15min), also last thing, take your flip flops.
I was longing for the high Tea in Jane Austen’s tea room but how disappointed was I when I got declined access for I had not booked…grrr. Next time.
We followed the Lonely Planet recommendation and went for dinner to The Circus and were not disappointed – book in advance, it’s busy.
Whether you want to walk, cycle or ride across this string of charming villages, it’s an ideal countryside postcard-perfect day amongst lambs, strolling from one charming pub to the next inviting inn.
Downton Abbey fans can hop by Bampton, I hear the Manor is even available for visit on certain days of the year but that should be planned well in advance.
Or followers of the Royals can move towards Tetbury, pay respect to Charles & Camilla‘s cottage in Highgrove.
My favourite village of all was probably Upper and Lower Slaughter with its mellow-stone manor houses from another time, undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields by a peaceful and unspoilt village, away from main roads…fab.
Sone gem hotels can be found along the way such as the Lord of the Manor with its Michelin-star restaurant…to celebrate an occasion or just stop for a beer.
By now you must be sick of me saying “it’s such a fantastic place”, reminding me of films, books and oozing of royalty and history figures but really..but look at that. Churchill wasn’t born there for no reason.
Our visit was short and the enchanting gardens are huge! The good news is that day passes are convertible into annual passes for free so I’ll probably be back on sunny weekends this summer.
I don’t think I need to introduce Oxford. It actually seem I was the only Londoner left to visit the student-packed city. With over 22 thousands students from over a hundred different countries, split over 38 colleges….a quarter of its population are students!
We stayed at the Four Pillars and although I have nothing bad to say about it at all, but there’s such a large choice of nice and quirky accommodations in Oxford … way too enticing:
the refurbished cells of the Malmaison prison, ok the gardens are beautiful but personally I didn’t quite get the attraction though.
during the holidays, one can rent a dorm room and pretend they’re Harry Potter for the night (careful some can actually get expensive!)
but probably the gem boutique hotel is the Old parsonage, I realised how cute it was when dining at the Gee’s, their bar & restaurant
Ok I won’t go on and on about fantastic secluded college courtyards, but if it was to do again, I’d go for the Mad Hatter high tea in Christ Church College, sitting in the Great Hall next to the dedicated stained glass window must be just unbelievable…and yum. (only available on certain Tuesdays….)
Films & books
The Duchess – or Keira Knighley in the role of the 18th Century socialite, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, partly filmed in Bath and the surroundings. Sadly still modern.
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austin’s first book. I got my hand on a nice and free audiobook version but really I was after a version read by local actors, that would screams Oxfordshire, let me know!! (like this version of Alice in Wonderland for example)
I used a the new version of google map to plan my trip that I then amended once back; click on the thumbnail below to use it.
and now tell me, is it just me who feels like the Countess of Dowager is going to come out of one of those little churches anytime?
How to recognise an Italian ski resort and differentiate it from its neighbours from France or Switzerland at first glance?
First things first, look at women’s blow-dry. If ladies look like they’re coming straight out of the hairdresser no matter how much snow and wind there is through out the day: no doubt, you’re in Italy.
Last summer when coming back from 2 weeks in Tuscany I was stunned by how pretty, and above all stylish, Italian grand mothers were (see the article “fashion lessons learnt from Italian grannies“). Guess what? it applies on the slopes more than ever.
Second clue? are people throwing their skis and poles on the floor nonchalantly, creating an ocean of eclectic boards, Prada shoes, Gucci goggles, gloves and so forth outside of bars and restaurants? if yes, you’re in Italy. (note: if they’re meticulously organised, you’re in Switzerland)
Extra clue: if people around you can telephone while skiing AND gesticulating….where else? Italian skills will never cease to amaze travellers….
Can’t get bored of London but knowing that I can spend a weekend on a white sand beach less than 2h away from it is also rather appealing!
if kite surfing was invented by the French (apparently in the 80’s and on water skis!!)…Camber Sands is definitely a beautiful English south coast kite surfing spot, a short ride from home.
What’s the weather like? check the winds and weather conditions here. Anything below 10/15 knots won’t be enough.
I don’t have my equipment / I’m a beginner, what do I do? several options to hire and take classes but those guys are the only one with a base on the beach. Personally, I found the best value in the private tuition shared in 2 people.
How do I get there? from London, it’s either a 1.30h train and cab ride; or more social, rent a car with a few friends for about £20/person.
I don’t care about kiteboarding, is it worth the trip? yes if you’re bored of Brighton and want to wrest with a sea gull for a fish & chips at the cute (but not exceptionally affable) Mermaid Inn or closer to the beach we also found very fresh fish at the beach bistro
London can be quite romantic. Those of us who have the privilege to live here sometimes forget…. a foreign friend of mine recently asked me for help organizing a romantic weekend for two…a few ideas below
My top 5 things to do on a summery weekend in London with your special someone:
# 1: Brunch, Pimm’s o’clock and al-fresco dinners – beware, British food included!
On a sunny Sunday afternoon for a jug of Pimm’s, The Dicken’s inn on St Katherine’s docks is my favourite place. It’s got a nice terrace and you could include a stopover in your stroll along the marina and the Thames hand in hand…West side of London, the Ship Inn is also a good alternative place to sip along the river, but less easy to reach by common transport.
Feeling trendier? Put on your hipster shirt and over-sized shades, go have a lunch at the boundary rooftop. Don’t be afraid, there is a little bit of queuing on sunny days to do but it’s worth it. On Sundays only, the nearby Flower Market is open until about 4pm; then carry on to Brick Lane (ladies -if you have something for vintage items, this is paradise land) you could keep on partying until late.
Another sunny afternoon “so British” option is to throw a little garden party and high tea at the castle, as you do… The Orangerie of Kensington Palace opens in the summer for a flurry of scones and clotted cream in the park. Princess Diana enjoyed it, you will too!
#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
Summer days bring plenty of music festivals, sport and cultural event with them : Wimbledon in July, British Summer Music Festival, LoveBox, Shoreditch Festivals, BBC Proms…I would recommend checking the Time Out website for the list of current event, it’s the easiest to navigate through.
The Somerset house is a spectacular 18th century building on the Thames bank, it host 51 fountains in the summer, outdoor cinema session, a gorgeous art gallery with a large impressionism private collection (The Courtauld Gallerie)
Another nice outdoor cinema session would be the rooftop at the Queen of Hoxton
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre , stand up tickets are cheap and even the seated one are not quite comfortable but you will get a top quality performance in the exact replica of the original theatre which is frankly unique. You can bring your own nibbles or finish with diner at the Swan next door with a stunning view on the Millenium bridge and St Paul’s (ask for a window table)
#3: markets and parks
London has more green space than any other capital, let’s enjoy it!
The Kew Gardens are the Royal Botanic Gardens; no, England is not only the home of perfectly mown green lawn!
tip from a reader (thanks!): go to the Kew garden by ferry boat,starting from Westminster peer, it takes about 1h -ish, depending on the tide. A must on a sunny day
Explore the summer roundhouse beach in Camden. It’s the closest thing to a city beach. You could also hop on a train and go kite surfing in Camber Sands or strolling on the Brigton peer but that’s off topic.
#4: do stuff together will bring you closer…they say
Go doing things together, go running and enjoy London – proven that it’ll make your couple last longer. Why not try?
Go jogging: any park is good, try and finish with the run by Parliament hill or Primrose (easier) for a nice view, cross Waterloo bridge; or my absolute favourite, finish your run with a coffee at the Towpath or at the Pavilion café.
For non runners, you could also take Barclays bikes or get on a boat on the canal and finish with a walk in Camden.
Swimming outdoor in lidos: London fields lido has the advantage of being in a park where barbecues are authorised and next to the lovely Broadway market. Tooting bec is a second lovely option but a bit further.
More ideas? why don’t you discover London’s monuments or night life through a lens and participate in a photo walking course? there are plenty on sales on Groupon or Time Out generally. For sports fan, London is a great place to enjoy cricket, rugby and football matches
#5: the WOW factor
We had a discussion with friends about good first date places for Londoners, and those places definitely don’t make it to our top-first-date list; but if you’re a tourist, are planning to propose, or for a splash it out factor, you could book a capsule in the London Eye (This advice shouldn’t apply to Londoners in any circumstance, please), or a table at the vertigo, or sushi samba if you’ve been planning your trip for a good 3 month in advance (or you could just show up at the bar without booking, just avoid Friday / Saturday night crowds).
For other good views of the city you could check out the recently open Oblix at the Shard, I haven’t tasted it yet but was told the food is decent.
Finally? Go party! put those sky-high heels and mini skirt to use and head out to the Kensington Roof Garden; don’t be surprised, clubs in London close at 3am but I would recommend going a bit earlier that what you may be used to (aim for 1030pm / 11pm). Enjoy.
something to (re-)read before leaving? Harry Potter, yes it’s modern pop culture, and it really puts me in the mood for exploring the “secret” London (I’m still looking for Diagon alley, I’ll let you know when I get there)
a film to watch before leaving? yes, in the context of that post, it has to be Notting Hill, but no, that doesn’t give you a free pass to make silly pictures at my tube stop in the evening (just joking…or maybe not)
in your headphones? it’s a romantic post so I’m going to say Adele, but also The Beatles and Ed Sheeran (cauz he’s got cute freckles). Britain’s pop music is the best, not to be confused with Britain’s cuisine.
all of the above on a map:
More resources: with those 3, you should have it covered
Day dreaming on a Monday morning is nothing unusual but today particularly…just back from a perfect-issimo romantic weekend around the Garda lake.
It started with a perfect kite surf session on the Garda lake; the refreshing mountain water was very welcome as city temperatures reached 37+! check out the kite schools and offers there, beginners should hire the full equipment and take lessons but more advanced and independent surfers can just get a “lift” with one of the school to access the kite zone.
A friend also recommended staying at the Reamol Hotel, which I may try next time but it seems quite demanded in high season. As I always have a special endearment toward agriturismo places in Italy (basically B&B lofted in olive fields or vineyards), I opted for the
Borgo di Calmasino held by a lovely Italian family, an oasis nested in the middle of vineyards.
The day carried on with a perfect sunset and aperitivo on the beach, and al fresco sea-food based dinner at Giuly, where they didn’t have oysters forks (yes i’m picky) but they did let us drive safely home and finish our lovely bottle of wine at home – thanks folks.
Verona was truly hot and sweaty but the picturesque city made up for it. As opposed to the tourist-packed Venice, the crowd is kind of flocked around Juliet’s breast under the balcony and therefore relatively easily avoided. We met up with local friends for a gelato on Piazza San Zeno, on of the city’s saint, facing the Basilicata, in which crypt, according to the legend,
Romeo and Juliet were married (!!). We stayed a throw-stone away, at charming (and AC’ed, thanks god!) B&B San Zenetto (they also take bookings on airbnb). So I slipped on my 2-inches red soles (try that in 37 degrees, balancing on cobblestones…) and off we headed to the open-air roman arena. Even after having done my due-diligence, read the history of the arena, reviews, the full libretto of the very bloody Il Trovatore (well done me as there’s no subtitles)… it IS a mind blowing, and mmm, yes : pitch-perfect evening…(did I say that already?)
The weekend schedule has been a bit reviewed due to the Nemo-snow storm; but it does make some room for a girly nail painting afternoon, sipping coffee and eating magnolia bakery peanut butter cookies indoor and lamenting on Carrie B’s conundrum (dateable men in NYC are either taken or gay for those who’re not familiar).
On Friday, no cab were running, except for the snow ploughs, shame as I really wanted to go to Brooklyn and check out on the surf bar…but it will be for next time!
The alternative plan wasn’t actually bad at all as we sought comfort at the Spotted Pig, the most adorable snow shelter one can think of, and chatted around a cocktail and a burger. I know it’s not a hidden gem, it’s #24 on the zagat, but yet, I loved the gastro-pub ambiance, the snowed christmas trees outside and the decorative little pig-lamps!
Two other gems worth mentioning, still in the same area as we stayed in the West village most of the time:
please don’t look at the website of the Piccola cuccina restaurant before you go as it’s kindda ruining it all: it’s great authentic food (very rare in NYC), and above all the owner has a cracking Sicilian accent; don’t expect a stylish place, go with Italian friends who talk loudly, it’s more fun.
in a typical NY style, café Cluny is a nice little place, but French by name only. That being said the “French” toast with maple syrup makes a great brunch!
until next time,
I love new york, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because i belong to it.- Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
Park Avenue, heavy fog, strong wind, my foldable umbrella gave up quite quickly
Sky whitening and people rushing home to catch the train early on Friday afternoon. The national library is amazing, I do recommend to pop in (also because there is free wifi, can be useful if you’re bored of Starbucks stops
On stressful days like this, I dream of being able to take a coffee break on Famara beach, Canarias.
It’s the end of the world. Don’t go to party, not point. We were alone, watching the sun rise and falling asleep right after the sun had set (and the bottle of local vino), exhausted and ocean-washed. Alone to the point when we wondered : where are the locals gone!?
We asked the (many) Brits we found, why they had decided to live in Canarias: the answer was invariably, “because it’s sunny, and we benefit from steady surf conditions all year round”. It would be a good enough reason; but the volcano-island in the Atlantic ocean, has much more to offer; great wine, cheese, sun, and above all : peace.
Go get your surf board, it’s one of the best spot in the world
The first things that surprised us was that the island is small, but you’ll definitely need a car, no public transport there. Also, that the weather is ever changing. The land is swept by the wind, for the greatest pleasure of surfers, but making the shining sun turn into a bone soaking shower in 3min.
but for more experienced surfers (or for those who, like us, will enjoy watching some serious action live), go to La Santa. It’s 10min driving from Famara, and the most famous surf spot of the island.
The world divides in 2 categories: coffee addicts and tea maniacs. Turkey ticks both (and many other addictions)
I first discovered Turkish coffee when I was a student in Madrid, my friend would brew some at the beginning of revision session; the little ceremonial was a good way to get us started. Boil it in the little cooper pot, with sugar, repeat 3 times – his grandma’s tip. It’s and acquired taste; as the coffee powder isn’t filtered, it can be rather dusty if one drinks hastily.
Turkish coffee requires a bit of time, some friends to share it with, and preferably a nice view on the Bosphorus (fancy option).
When a Turkish man go to his in-laws-to-be, asking for permission to marry the beloved one, she should prepare some coffee and serve it to her dad when he approves the union. Now I don’t know if I have particularly cheeky friends, or if everyone else does this, but she purposely put salt instead of sugar before serving, for the father has no other option but to drink the cup at that moment!!
Oh well, they did get married (I will have to write a post on that absolutely fantastic wedding indeed), and as far as I know they’re still in good terms with they in-law, thanks for asking!
ps: check the rumeli hisari area for brunches overlooking the bosphorus, we were recommended Nar or Lokma Cafe but there’s really quite a few options. I think it would make a fantastic jogging area but didn’t have the leisure to try (for this time!)
(and if you order burritos to then post poor reviews on tripadvisor, please make your way out of this blog)