Tag Archives: travel

uh ooooh…I’m in the Guardian!?

I love the newspaper and (too) often wander on their Travel page during lunch breaks…and today… they featured my Guatemala pics!! uh oooh, let’s say it, I’m pretty chuffed about that! Thanks!

the guardian

more pics to come on the blog soon!

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What are you looking forward to in 2015?!

I tend to be pretty sceptical about New Year “good” resolutions, you know, stuff that we say we do, and know we won’t. And hell, there’s enough of the “annual objectives” that Boss will announce at the morning meeting on the 5th…this blog is about the good stuff, so here are the top #5 things I’m looking forward to in 2015: namely travels, sporty challenges, baking and knitting home time, soaking up London’s cultural scene and last but not least, making time to attend dear one’s life events, weddings, births, birthdays and anniversaries…

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

1. Discovering two new countries per year (at least) is my aim…2014 most notable ones were an amazing wedding in Tokyo, Japan and an inspiring trip to Myanmar. 2015 will start with a romantic wedding in Guatemala…and let’s see where the wind takes us next but it could be a pretty frosted trip (hint!)…

scratch map

Note to self: best photo apps discovered this year were Pro HDR to replicate long exposure shot with a phone camera, and Hyperlapse, the fun, fast forward, lapse-like video app. 

2. Carry on running Europe…2014 was an honest running year, with a very scenic Venice marathon. My heart is more or less set on Vienna for 2015, and I’m hoping for (well errrr soon starting training for) a better time, maybe even a PB!

Note to self: remember to sign up for The Marathon du Medoc in February…looks like so much fun

3. Enjoying London. It’s all well to travel and be out and about all the time, but I feel like I should be spending more time at home. And hell there’s so much going on!!

BB Bakery RouteMap

In 2014 I became a proud V&A member and an Art Fund member so I have quite a few cultural items on the agenda, in particular but not only:

– Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at the Royal Academy of Arts (Jan 15)

Alexander Mc Queen: Savage beauty at the V&A (March 15) – Ok I almost got my V&A membership for this one. I’m not going to hide it, I’m excited. Plus is coincides with the London Fashion weekend

Inventing impressionism at the National Gallery (May 15)

Audrey Hepburn: portrait of an icon at the National Portrait Gallery

The world goes pop at the Tate Modern (Sept 15). They had a pop culture oriented one last year at the Barbican last year, but this looks interesting too

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts (Sept 15)

Note to self: beloved 40 winks people are organising talks in 2015 – must absolutely go

3. I was reading this article the other day, about how easy to embed a little fitness in your everyday life; while for someone who’s already quite fit, the marginal cost of getting fitter gets higher and higher.

Fair point, but I disagree with the way thtey go about it: there should be no need for boot camps and other weight loss gimmicks. It’s being active and having fun that really matters for me.

So for 2015, more activities, but above all more fun please!! A few months ago we started practising acro-rock and roll with Steve and it’s the best use of my Monday night – ever. It’s tough but real fun, cardio, fitness, couple bonding (and some awkwardness) it’s all there.

Note to self: try and go to Pole Dancing more regularly

4. Enjoy home, time together, friends, laughs with loved one. My gran taught me how to knit this Christmas and I can totally see this becoming my winter-warmer (keeps your knees toasty)

Note to self: travel like a Wooly Gangsta

knitting for christmas....

So I wish for 2015 to bring its lot of friendly dinners, weekends with my family and lovely time. In that respect, Christmas was the best reset break to start to 2015 on the right note!! Plus, on the planner we have 6 weddings to attend to in 4 different countries, a couple of big birthday parties, of which, my gran’s 90’s, and a big gathering 10yr anniversary, it’s going to be big (!!) ….

Note to self: hire dresses, since Christiana posted this review, it got me intrigued

Bring it on 2015, I’m ready!!

The flying princess…because we’re worth it

Ok I’m about to write what is possibly the girliest, most shallow article ever written in those columns…doesn’t matter I take responsibility for it. This summer has been quite packed in long and short flights and I have tried to come to some sort of systematisation of my skin and healthcare while travelling. I am very much the “last call” traveller so if there isn’t an easy routine, it means it will probably fall through the cracks. All the necessary items must also fit into the usual plastic bag and be easy to find / replace.

Step 0 – prep and pack

Opting for a neutral shade mani (unless you have a shellac) is probably a good idea to avoid some unsightly chipping. I have to confess that waiting rooms and airport lounges normally make my own prime time for a home made mani but I don’t think I can recommend doing that, the dry-time is usually at risk…

packing the following items (I leave them constantly unpacked, ready to grab):

disinfectant wipes or gel (I prefer the wipes because it normally “cheats” the liquid policy)
– make up removal wipes
– blusher / bronza with a little hand mirror preferably
– a pair of sunglasses
– a shawl or scarf, neutral colour
– a mini hair brush, or a foldable one with a mirror (plenty of options at boots)

in the security plastic bag:

– extra hydrating moisturiser (some even use overnight masks)
– your usual moisturiser, mini format, I use the Clinique dramatically different but loads of other brand also have good travel size formats (Clarins is my second favourite)
– mini water mist / home made rose water spray
– mini deodorant or individual wipes
eye puff cream (again I use the all about eyes one from Clinique)
lip balm (neutrogena. occitane, chapstick…whatever your usual best-friend is)
– BB or CC cream (Nivea and Clinique have great ones)
mini mascara and mini lipgloss
hand cream or a “do it all” cream like the Nivea essential
– hydrating eye drops

1. Get some water before you board

This is the one thing that you can not bring from home as it won’t go through security; and I find that even amazing airlines just do not give access to enough water, on long flights I can drink up to 2L. So it doesn’t matter that water seems to be as good as gold in airports, I always get one or two big bottles. No moisturiser will ever be as good as water. Get plenty of it.

2. Cleanse & Moisturise

Either before boarding if you have time to spare, or once in the plane, I remove all make up with a wipe (they don’t count as liquids in most airports), dry and moisturise. If I am travelling with my boss / prince charming / a client (tick the ones you care wearing make up for) just wear a moisturiser and / or a BB cream.

3. Refresh through out the flight

To refresh while traveling, use a mister of mineral water and add a dab of moisturiser. In my future life I also want to have a little spray bottle refilled with rose water. It’s still on my to-do list but it’d be a great thing to have.

– apply lip balm

apply hand-cream after washing your hands and keep them off your face and hair as much as you can during the flight

Avoid:

wearing mascara, it smudges with the eye mask, but take a mini one with you, to refresh when you land

long lasting lipstick, it dries up in a not-so-sexy manner

4. Before arrival, wake up call ritual

Take eye drops uni-doses so that it doesn’t take up too much space and in in desperate cases, ask the waitress for an ice-cube that you will wrap up in a washcloth.

If you are off to a meeting or any social event before you get access to any proper bathroom then you may also need to use deodorant wipes. I wash my face, apply a bit of anti-puff magic cream (mine is All About Eyes from Clinique), a light moisturiser and / or CC cream (should be both as the skin is really quite dehydrated after a longfflight)

A bit of blush or bronza, and that is as good as it gets.

 5. Cover up

I find that a big scarf serves as a pillow, warmer and also somehow makes the whole disheveled hair look more chic. Sometimes you just have to go with it!And of course, a pair of oversized sunglasses so that others will think you’re Miranda Kerr, not just a fatigued fellow traveler.

[Souvenirs and tokens of Travels from…] Guadeloupe

There’s always the stuff that you expect to bring back, that you almost go on a hunt for. And then there’s the small thing, the unexpected sweet, funny object, item of clothing that caught your attention…

From Guadeloupe of course we came back with some amazing degustation rum, traditionally made, 11yr of age…delicious
but it’s when buying it at the distillerie that I asked the lady what she was munching on, and she offered one of those amazing candied coconut…fragrance of coconut, dark cane sugar, local vanilla…mmm so naughty but so good.

rum reimonenq and candied coconut

candy coco coffee
coffee and digestive time pleasures…

In random order, I came back with, well, mostly food and drinks: Rhum, cane sugar that smells delicious, jams and preserves, graines a roussir to make chicken Colombo, very strong sunscreen and kite-surfing sunglasses….I would have looooooved to bring that baby frrrrrrrog in my suitcase but my other half stopped me, the horrible monster. Oh well, next time? 😉

IMG_8353
Colombo spices, banana and passion preserve, 11 yr aged rum and the very strong cane sugar…watching the kite surfing videos and contemplating the pouring rain out of the window…
tandakayou grenouille
can I take you home pleaaaaase?

Puzzling Tokyo in the Sakura season

Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled

the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!

  • For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
  •  it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
Tokyo loo flush
When going to the loo is an adventure!!!

 

  • it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.

When to go?

April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.

Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.

Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.

And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…

The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Japanese weddings

If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.

a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…

– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.

japanese wedding

– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…

– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear?  locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.

– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:

The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.

The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.

Sake casks – “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?

IMG_7120

To Read and Watch before you go

*1Q84 by  Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.Japanese writer Murakami attends ceremony in Jerusalem

Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks

*Lost in Translation

bill murray lost in translation 1536x960 wallpaper_www.wallpaperno.com_55

*Tokyobling’s Blog 
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets

Postcard English countryside, Bath, Oxford and the Costwolds villages

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.

Bath

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. 

Bath Film-The Duchess-RoyalCrescent
Keira Knightley is Georgianna Cavendish, in the Duchess

 

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. 

bath spa rooftop
The Spa rooftop pool, naturally warm

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.

Cotswolds Villages

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.downtown abbey bampton village

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.

 

for bicycle-riders, the Guardian published this useful little map, inspired by the escape route book: ” My favourite bike ride – the Cotswolds

Blenheim Palace

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.

sunny-blenheim-palace-1024x682

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.

Oxford

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

alice-in-wonderland-on-a-stained-glass-window-in-christ-church-colleges-great-hall

 

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.

map

 

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?

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.

Happy New Year

Our "galette des rois" French traditionally eat on Epiphany day

Happy New Year!!! 

What do you wish, hope and work toward in 2014? I just googled “top 10 2014 resolution” …erg, pretty appalling stuff: ranking at the top, the utterly depressing “loosing weight and living healthier” according to the great women you should know website, oh boy!

No. It’s rainy and cold out there, so let’s start 2014 with enjoyable perspectives at least. Here are a few notes and ideas I jotted down in my (random) preparation for this new cycle.

1. the UK travel hot list by the Guardian: going around Britain more is definitely on my to-do list for 2014 – even if I confess I may wait for a little bit more sunshine.

the mortorcycle diiary
2. the 20 best travel book of all time, selected by the Telegraph. Reading is the cheapest way to travel, escape, learn. I set myself a soft-objective of 25 books this year; starting with “For Bread Alone”, the first part of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography, translated to american by Paul Bowes. A tough journey.

3. the top 10 surf schools, by the National Geographic. Just back from Morocco for a short surfing break, I’m studying this religiously and hunting forums: the quality of surf coaching is clearly not the same all around the world, surfing and sport trips in general are the ones that require most preparation….

4. Clean up your Instagram! I was looking for some refreshed list of travel instagrams to follow, but didn’t find anything truly mind boggling so here is my own top 10:JR

  • JR: artist until he finds a real job. We hope he doesn’t.
  • José Lourenco  [@joselourenco]: Portuguese photographer and “visual artist” and has a very  witty original approach to instagram
  • Marygribouille: Normand graphic artist and illustrator, she posts daily lovely pieces or her life and fun illustrations
  • Nicole Warne’s blog feed, GaryPepperGirl: following models can sometimes be slightly over the top but she stays away from the main pitfalls of fashion bloggers and does travel a lot. Her boyfriend is also conveniently a fashion photographer, so thank lord we don’t get selfies in a mirror but beautiful coloured outfit in stunning locations.
  • Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist: Because he’s the reference street fashion photographer (ok, I can say that safely so long as Bill Cunningham doesn’t have an instagram account!)
  • Vogue International: the fashion forward reference
  • The National Geographic: for outstanding quality photos and comments
  • and-during-a-trip-to-london-for-an-nbc-interview-they-took-a-picture-with-the-famous-platform-9-at-kings-cross-station-kings-cross-installed-an-actual-9-sign-and-a-half-Murad Osmann globe trotting with his girlfriend and the model, Nataly Zakharova, in a very original “follow me” photography series
  • The Royal Opera House: A touch of beauty in a ruthless world. Not only this is one of the best operas in the world, but they do put some effort into their instagram feed and social media visibility in general, trying to make it appealing and endearing to the general public. It works, thanks!
  • The Russian ballet dancer, Maria Kochetkova. Her instagram feed is fun and sober, plus she does travel a lot with that cute hipster cool look

5. what’s the world like in 2014? The economist publishes their annual guide covering economy & politics, but not only. Check out the app or the paper magazine format. Well worth it. My n#1 source of information has also started releasing a “traveller’s briefing” app that I’m really excited about. Available only for a few countries for now (Brazil, Britain), but I’m sure they’ll keep adding to it.

6. The Time Out London cultural calendar is always a useful tool to keep at hand, in addition, the Art Fund has done  a little selection of great exhibitions coming up. But what to look forward to in 2014? Vogue asks us. My choice goes to a selection of fashion oriented exhibitions :

Kate-Moss-by-David-Bailey-for-Vogue-Paris-August-2013-18Dec13-David-Bailey-NPG_b_592x888

Hello, My name is Paul Smith is currently at the Design Museum; Isabella Blow’s Fashion Galore at the Sommerset House; from February, the National Portrait Gallery will focus on the work of photographer David Bailey in Stardust, featuring more than 250 images; The Glamour of Italian Fashion will open at the V&A in April; and The fashion world of Jean-Paul Gaultier will be the first major retrospective his past 35 year of creation at the Barbican starting in April amongst others.

I wish you a fantastic 2014, whether travelling around the world or in your kitchen but learning, discovering, talking, experiencing, venturing and adventuring, always.

Bake your way through the festive season

Coming from a bakers family, the only food I was truly missing in London was great bread, available daily and conveniently.
During the course of 2013, I started baking my own sourdough bread at home and I’m pretty proud of my regular no-knead loaf, super easy and hassle-free. (thanks loads to the guys from the E5 bakery for having set me up on the right direction!)

About a month ago I hosted my parents for a weekend at home and had baked Dan Lepard’s raisin and rye crown bread for breakfast; they liked it so much that mom set me on a mission to bake a good fruit loaf to toast her home made foie-gras on Christmas eve. I wanted something spicy and fruity that would keep a real sourdough bread texture and taste. Our foie gras being already layered with candied cranberry, I didn’t want to bake something overly sweet. Also, most recipes call in for the addition of nuts but mom though it would add a “crunchy” distraction and preferred a fruit-only loaf.

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After having tested a few options at home, I crossed the channel with my (4kg) Dutch oven and 2 types of sourdough starters; and off I was, in for a good backing lesson on the field. For a start, I just could NOT find the same flour as in London easily available. Bread is made of almost only flour and water, and ingredients are absolutely essential to the taste and texture. If the internet is global and gives is the impression we can follow any recipe from any and all blogs across the planet, reality sometimes makes a humble check-in. Products are not only different, but also, the water tastes different, the bacteria present in the air is different, the humidity is different, and my parents’ big countryside house is much cooler than our central London apartment, messing up all proofing times.

I ended up abandoning the idea of a rye bread for I couldn’t find the right supply on time for Christmas; and remixed several inspirations I took from my go-to baking blogs. I started with a test-run and made the raisin loaf from you can do it at home blog. Tasty enough! (under the dog’s surveillance) so I braced myself up, and started scratching my head in search for a fig adaptation.

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Ingredients:

– Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
– White flour 85% – 216gr – the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
– Whole wheat flour 15% – 38gr plus dusting
– Water 67% – 171gr
– Salt – 7gr
– Cinnamon – a teaspoon
– Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
–  Chopped dried figs 33% – 85gr

Directions:

Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds
Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
Let it autolyse for 15/30min.

Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.

Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.

In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.

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Surfing on a volcano in Lanzarote, Canarias (2!)

For me, Lanzarote was
the most beautiful place on earth …
… then I made it a point to
show Lanzarote to the world .

Cesare Manrique

I discovered Lanzarote last year and fell in love with the serenity and splendour of the place. I went back to Famara in October, for a week, with a camera this time. It hasn’t changed a bit.

 

Edit : I strongly recommend having dinner or at least a drink at Jameos del Agua, a volcano cave redesigned by Cesar Manrique, the Lanzarote-lover. They organise concerts some nights of the  week, the sound echoing in this magical place makes it a must-check!

 

Kite Surfing in Camber Sands, England

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

have fun, enjoy !!!

Perfect-issimo weekend on the Garda lake

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

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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,

L’ultimo bacio dato a Giulietta da Romeo by Francesco Hayez

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?)

Mi sono innamorata…

Mi sono innamorata...

Those dry biscuits are a torture: Cantuccini; they’re so delicious I could wake up at night to have one…Tuscans also have a version with chocolate chips to die for; then add Chianti Vin Santo (sweet desert wine) to the equation…mamma mia!

The photo was taken at the Ristorante il Chiasso on the Elba Island (Capoliveri)… definitely the best dinner / atmosphere of my last trip with  full on pasta al nero di sepia, pesce al forno and desert…yum

Se qualcuno ha la ricetta dei cantuccini al cioccolate…farmi sapere!

Italian crush

Just booked two week in Tuscany in June! after a time-consuming benchmarking exercise comparing different language schools in Firenze, Milano, Roma etc etc, I finally opted for Viareggio. For the  past few years, I have enjoyed participating in the LSE summer language classes, it’s a nice way to meet people and to get a serious kick-start to a new language. But this year, after having followed the Italian Cultural Institute weekend courses, I felt like I deserved a treat: a new language yes, but while enjoying the  sun, beach-runs, & local wines….that’s about as good as language-acquisition gets! 

I have a love & hate relationship with languages, as a teenager,  the first holidays I worked the whole summer to finance was a full time Spanish immersion in Barcelona; when I arrived in London, I signed up straight away for speech improvement classes; and generally, the more I travel and work surrounded by people coming from various horizons, the more I want to learn to speak to them in their native speech. But speaking languages is at the same time extremely gratifying and unbearably frustrating. As fluent as one will become, it’s a never-ending process, what’s worse: one has to constantly fight against their own memory, which is – perversely – trying to off-load and forget as much as it can…

a friend recently told me his 10 years-retired mum, despite her career as an English teacher, couldn’t speak to his American wife, for she has forgotten most of it! Can’t blame the Brits for hating languages….

 

http://www.alfredocassano.com/buyitaliangestures.html
http://www.alfredocassano.com/buyitaliangestures.html

PS: for Italian-as-a-second-language speakers, any easy good audio-books to recommend? (pls not Harry Potter)

Snowed under in NYC

magnoliacarrie 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!

spotted-pig-outside1 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,
XoXo

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

 

The Big Kettle

The Big Kettle

just back from – very snowy – NYC  (photos to come!). While strolling in the streets, my friend resolved 2 of my questions about NY; I thought I’d share that, in case it keeps you off sleep too. Always carry an architect in your back pocket when travelling!

why is NYC so steamy? when sleeping on the couch in my friend’s living room, I got awaken by a boiling pressure noise coming from the radiators and pipes; also when walking around the city one can notice smoky steam coming out of manholes…ok it makes nice atmospheric pics…but why?
that’s the “steam operation”; a quite clever system that reuses the steam from power plants in the north of the island and recycles it for heating and cooling in Manhattan.

– why are there big wooden barrels on top of buildings?
the answer is easier: no, office employees haven’t all found a way to get a permanent straw-access into a gigantic Budweiser barrel (they wish!). Simply, water sprinkles are a lot more common overseas.

so what’s your perfect weekend in NY like?

I’d like to launch a series of posts in the format of an “email from a friend”: collecting feedback  from everyone, great little places, tricks and tips… and actually test

and I’m off to the big Apple with my best friend for a long weekend early Feb. I can’t wait!!! great occasion to launch that series.

So what are your best reco’s?

Surfing on a volcano in Lanzarote

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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.

Famara is an amazing beach for surfing beginners, it’s a safe and high quality beaches, with consistent swell. We went in October and could use a short wetsuit
check the weather, tides and other info here

or here
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.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

helpful map

go rent a car cauz you’ll need it. They’re lovely people, and you’ll get an audio guide

get spoilt in a cosy B&B

do take your car and cross the island from one side to another, stopping in bodegas to test the wine.

please don’t think it’s a good idea to go for an ice-cream in Puerto del Carmen. It’s not, you’ll be disappointed.

Cultural Corner

Once back at home, watch Pedro Almodovar’s Abrasos Rotos (broken embraces). In Spanish please.

Pedro Almodovar seldom gets it wrong