Tapas, Siesta, Repeat: Weekend in Madrid

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I’ve been rushed off my feet since starting my new job a few weeks ago, so I’ve been absent on keeping up with my blog posts…again. However, I’ve had an excuse to write again following our latest trip away – this time Madrid was our destination of choice. The month of May in France is peppered with bank holidays and luckily for us, this year they have mostly fallen on Mondays, making it the perfect excuse to get away.

First thing’s first, while French food can never be replaced in my heart, the food we had in Madrid was incredible. My hardest decision on a daily basis is choosing what to eat, so tapas is ideal – why choose when you can have a small taste of everything? Following my boyfriend’s colleague’s advice (who lives in Madrid) we tried many great places, my favourite of which was Juana la Loca, in La Latina district. They specialise in truffle dishes; their black truffle seabass was the most amazing tapas I had during my trip and their famous tortilla de patatas was also divine. Tying for a close second was Mercado de la Reina in the Gran Vía area, which offers an amazing value-for-money set menu (with the best-seasoned steak I’d ever tasted) and the slightly-more expensive, Laredo in El Retiro district with glammed-up and delicious tapas combinations.

Between meals we spent the remainder of our time working up an appetite by seeing the sights. Madrid is a very “walkable” city; due to the concentration of the city centre, everything is within walking distance. We stayed at the NH Nacional Hotel which turned out to be a stroke of good luck, being only a short walk away from the centre, whilst overlooking the greenery of El Retiro park. We spent our first afternoon lazily exploring the park, lying in the sun, sitting by the lake and even watching a school of dancers practice their routines on the bandstand.

The tranquillity of this spot couldn’t be further away than the Plaza Mayor and surrounding areas, which bustles with activity and tourists. After a quick peek at the Mercado de San Miguel, we headed to the Parque del Oeste to check out the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod. As we were meandering back down the hill, we had a great view over the city. Yet it wasn’t until that evening that we saw the most splendid view of Madrid. We headed to Círculos de Bellas Artes for rooftop apéro drinks; the queue may look daunting, but don’t let this dishearten you, as it moves very quickly. Plus, at just 4€ entry, it is a lot cheaper than some hotel terraces nearby. The result is a gorgeous panoramic view over the Gran Vía which, as the sun is beginning to descend, makes it a really magical spot.

If breath-taking views are your thing, I recommend taking a day trip to Toledo, a mere 30 minute train ride away. My boyfriend managed to capture the perfect shot of the scenery as we strolled over the bridge. This day was the hottest yet and the town being very hilly, I was glad I had ditched the jeans in favour of a lighter outfit. Toledo is very picturesque having kept a lot of its traditional, medieval structures. We had a spot of lunch at the Mercado de San Agustín, which was a lot less crazy than the food market in Madrid. Although not as “traditional”, it is a good alternative if you’re looking to break away from the crowds, like us.

On our final day, we had just enough time to stop by the Museo El Prado to glimpse some masterpieces as well as grab some last-minute tapas. Having an extra day made all the difference, as there is so much to see and do in Madrid and we could take things at a much calmer and relaxed pace than our previous trips. We managed to tick everything on our wishlist (including an evening flamenco show) and this paired with the laidback Spanish take on life, made this feel less like a weekend getaway and more like an actual holiday break.

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Swan Lake: The Dancer’s Dream

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I have always loved dancing, but as I mentioned in my bio, it’s usually when I think nobody is watching. But this wasn’t always the case. For 10 years I attended ballet, tap and modern jazz dance lessons up to three times a week. I was a regular on the stage, whether it be performing in the annual pantomime, dance school shows or competing at dance festivals. Although I gave up the dance classes once I started high school, today I still dream about having the confidence to go up on stage and perform again.

This weekend I was transported back to my childhood as me and my boyfriend decided to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. He loves classical music and so this paired with my love of dancing, this seemed like the perfect fit. We booked our tickets very last-minute and so were limited in our choice of seating. The only tickets remaining that seated us together were front and centre, only ten seats up from the stage, costing 75 euros each. We initially hesitated over the cost of course, but after reasoning this was not your everyday experience, we snapped the seats up. And we were so glad that we did.

Anastasia had been my favourite animated film as a kid (no joke, I dragged my mum to the cinema three times in the space of two weeks to watch it!) Remembering the beautiful sparkling blue dress she wore to see the Russian Ballet perform at Paris, I rapidly start mentally going through my wardrobe wondering what I was going to wear. After a little googling, I found that ballet-going attire is a little more relaxed these days, and so went for a smart casual look instead. On arrival, some people were dressed in jeans and trainers, whilst some had donned evening gowns and heels, so I felt perfectly dressed and not out of place.

It always surprises me that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was originally considered a disaster after it’s premiere in 1877, as the show was an out-of-this-world experience. So much of the music is instantly-recognisable and it was so beautifully played. I was particularly impressed by the scene when Odile performs 32 fouettés in a row – a ballet move whipping your leg around the back of your supporting leg to twirl you back to the centre position – as well as the female dancers seemingly being permanently en pointe. I only tried pointe shoes briefly before retiring from my dancing days, but it is no joke. It was easy to see why the dancers were breathing heavily on the wings, while recuperating before their next piece. I’m always admirative of dancers and the physical fitness they must hold, all the while retaining their elegance and grace.

I truly recommend Swan Lake to anyone that has the chance, ballet newbies and experts alike. We were glad to have spent a bit more money for the fantastic seats – to be able to see the orchestra and the dancers up close, examining their every move was amazing. And while I might not have had my Anastasia moment on the steps of the Opéra, this will surely be an experience I’ll never forget.

Re-visiting my roots in the homeland

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I love surprises. Whether it be picking out a special present or planning out a spontaneous trip, you can always expect me to be game. Last weekend I did just that, as we made an unexpected visit back to the UK to surprise my brother for his 18th birthday. We were heading for the end of the M62, the home of the iconic Humber Bridge, towards my hometown; Hull.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Hull, you should know that it has always been the butt of jokes in the UK. Having been once named the worst place to live in the UK, Hull natives such as myself would often find themselves poking fun at the city they called home once they left the Yorkshire region. In the same way that you complain about your siblings, but you come to their defence the second somebody else criticises them, only born-and-bred Hull-dwellers were permitted to get away with such self-deprecation. From the very moment you call Hull your home, a somewhat love-hate relationship with the city is formed.

You should know at this point that Hull was once a thriving port city, peaking in prosperity just before World War I thanks to its importance in trade and fishing businesses. Being situated on the coast, looking out onto the North Sea, Hull was ideally placed to support these growing industries. However, after catastrophic air-raid damage in World War II (Hull being the heaviest bombed city outside of London due to its docklands and factories) and, later in the 20th Century, the deterioration of the fishing trade, resulted in widespread job losses, poverty and general economic decline. Growing up, there was a feeling that Hull, was a forgotten city, its inhabitants abandoned, left to their own devices. As the Hull poet Philip Larkin once said “I like it because its so far from everywhere else. On the way to nowhere, as somebody put it. Its in the middle of the lonely country, and beyond the lonely country there is only the sea.”

Many would agree that the city’s sporting victories began to put Hull back on the national map in the mid-2000s, with Hull’s ascent to the Premier Football League in 2008, as well as the success of the city’s two Rugby League rivals in the Super League. This tied in with several renovation projects, transforming the face of the city centre, brought a breath of fresh air and renewed hope into the once run-down city.

While I had seen these renovations with my own eyes, nothing had prepared me for the surprise of Hull being named as European City of Culture 2017. As we stopped off for some lunch in town on the weekend, we passed through a newly-paved and pedestrianised Queen Victoria Square to the Weeping Window exhibition – a collection of the ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate those who lost their lives in World War I. Inspired, I looked into other City of Culture events on offer. If I get a chance to catch a flight back in the upcoming year, I’ve bookmarked a variety of events, depending on the mood:

  • If music is your thing: Radio 1’s Big Weekend is being hosted in Hull this year with the likes of Katy Perry, Little Mix and King’s of Leon set to storm the stage. The North Atlantic Flux caught my eye too as during my uni days, I was a fan of Icelandic group Sigur Rós, so this would surely not disappoint.
  • If art is your thing: Again I couldn’t decide between these two events. The first, Washed Up Car-go is set to provide hard-hitting truths about pollution and consumerism, by filling cars in an ordinary car park with beach debris. The second is the Hullywood Icons exhibition – recreating famous Hollywood scenes with people and scenery from the Hull area.
  • If eating and drinking is your thing: The Yum! Festival of Food and Drink will feature over 50 stalls celebrating Yorkshire, British and World-inspired dishes, entertainment and live music in August. What’s not to love?
  • If anything else is your thing: The possibilities are endless. From carnival to ballet performances and opera, there is so much to see. Their website is updated on a regular basis as they add more events to their line-up.

Given Hull’s history, people scoffed when the honour of City of Culture was bestowed to Hull, just a mere decade on from being named the worst place to live in the UK. However, even since my last visit home for Christmas, the city has undergone a radical facelift, with numerous renovations, installations put into place and – dare I say it – a real variety of cultural activities on offer. But these renovations and events go further than just simple aesthetics; there is a sense of rejuvenation, bringing hope and restoring pride to its inhabitants, wearing their badges (or their sports shirts) with their heads held high, shouting at the top of their lungs “We. Are. Hull.”

Living in France: An Expat’s Guidebook

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I’ve been a bit absent from my blog recently. This is in partly due to preparing to move in with my boyfriend at the end of the month. We’ve finally fixed the place up with a splash of paint, some done-up vintage furniture and a hell-of-a-lot of cleaning. I was originally waiting to find my next job before moving in. However, being unemployed has actually been a blessing in disguise due to the sheer amount of paperwork, contacting and re-contacting companies and organisations that comes hand in hand with changing apartments.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this move is a walk in the park compared to when I first moved to Paris over three years ago. I was reminiscing with a couple of my expat friends, Lauren W and Lauren B, and inspired by my recent moving dramas, decided there are a few things you should be prepared for before taking the leap into the land of baguettes, cheese and wine connaisseurs.

  • You’ll learn the true meaning of bureaucracy: Be prepared for a stack of paperwork. Since the French administrative system hasn’t yet made it into the digital era, most contact should be sent by post. And on this note, don’t expect this to suffice. My motto is it’s not a done deed in France until you have received written confirmation – signed, stamped, dated, handed over in person after presenting your passport… the list is endless. Let me tell you that the day you receive your carte vitale, allowing you to access French healthcare, will be even greater than the birth of your first-born.
  • You’ll become an expert at planning in advance: The French are sticklers for the rules and the art of dining is no exception. Whether this be strict lunch service times between 12 and 2 or supermarket opening hours, be prepared to plan your meals in advance. The latter is not so much of an issue in Paris these days, except larger supermarkets, you should be able to find a local small shop open to grab those things you forgot in the week. This was however a massive culture shock when, on my first week in Angers during my Erasmus year, we had to head into town for a McDonald’s to not die from starvation, after finding every supermarket was closed on a Sunday.
  • You’ll grow accustomed to chasing down waiting staff for a drink: Speaking of restaurants, you’ll soon learn that if you want to order a drink, you better be ready to hunt down that waiter who you know has seen you and is resolutely ignoring your attempts to get his attention. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, with spots that offer great customer service. If you find one, keep it a closely guarded secret, as it is unfortunately a rarity on the Parisian dining out scene.
  • Your sense of style and appropriate attire will dramatically change: For me this was a positive change, as I inwardly cringe at some of the outfits I used to wear back in the UK. Going out in France is a much more casual affair than a night out clubbing in Newcastle. Less is more as far as style goes in France, so you shouldn’t have too much skin on show, unless you want to be cat-called in the street. My go-to is a good pair of skinny jeans, heeled boots and my beige trench coat – a stark contrast to my 18-year-old self who wouldn’t be caught dead with a coat, tights and anything other than 6-inch heels on a night out.
  • You’ll turn into a self-diagnosing hypochondriac: With a pharmacy on every street corner and doctors prescribing antibiotics and medication at the drop of a hat, it’d be hard not to. The French healthcare system is amazing once you have obtained the elusive carte vitale (see above) and the doctors are very rigorous. However, I’ve learnt to take medical advice for non-threatening ailments with a pinch of salt; for a simple cold I know I can still do without a trip to the doctor for a prescription for a million different tablets.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this way of life is just something that you will adapt to, given time. Born and bred Frenchies will not think twice about sending a million letters, forms and documents just to achieve a simple task, as they are used to this way of life. If you take that chance and emigrate here, you too will adapt and normalise these parts of everyday life.

It will become so engrained in you, that when you return home or holiday in another country, you will experience, as Lauren B described it, a reverse culture shock – you’ll find yourself irritated by the waiter who pops up every five minutes with a fake smile plastered over their face, or find it preposterous that you should have to wait months to get an appointment with anybody other than your regular GP. In spite of the inconveniences or surprises that you may experience upon arrival in France, these will seem like minor bumps in the road with time, as you get used to the French way of life. Believe me when I say, it is all worth it to be living in such a wonderful, beautiful place and quite frankly, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.

A busy break to Budapest – Part 2

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Only we could end up at a Michelin Star restaurant without knowing it. My boyfriend and I arrived in Budapest on Friday evening and, being accustomed to the Parisian dining out scene, we thought we could show up to restaurants without reservations and wait for a table, as is our usual weekend struggle. Turns out not all cities work this way. Being a Brit, I should have remembered my roots; actually when I arrived in Paris I was astounded and frustrated by the amount of restaurants that did not accept reservations. Somewhere along the 4 years of living in this city, I realised, I had accepted this as par for the course when eating out.

My usual routine of travelling abroad involves scouting the local restaurant scene, researching online and chatting to my friends who had previously visited to recommend some spots. True to form, we arrived with a shortlist of five or so restaurants renowned for goulash, strudel and other typically Hungarian dishes. After being turned down for a table in several places, we even asked if we could book ahead for the next night – fully booked. I began to despair, starting to believe that KFC was going to be our only option for the weekend.

And so when we arrived at Borkonyha Winekitchen, either the waiter could see our visible desperation or we simply had a stroke of luck. They had a table free – at 10pm. Two hours and a few drinks later, we returned for our booking.

After being seated the friendly waiter asked if we would be interested in their tasting menu accompanied by wine. Perhaps the drinks from earlier had gone to my head or I was hungrier than I realised, but I thought we were onto an absolute bargain with the 20,000 Ft. price tag! Turns out my conversion maths was not up-to-speed; my boyfriend told me the euro equivalent with a smile as the waiter walked away. Despite the higher-than-anticipated bill at the end for me it was worth every cent.

We started with leg of rabbit, served with asparagus tips and cauliflower puree. I’m not usually a fan of cauliflower, but the seasoning made this dish so delicious. This was swiftly followed by a tasty cabbage and bacon ragout topped with confit de canard. It was so delicious, we mopped up every last drop with some bread from our three-bread variety basket, including a very moreish black bread.

We washed down the rest of our Hungarian white wine – seriously, don’t knock it till you try it – with our fish dish; a grilled crumble-topped sea bream served with green beans and my first taste of caviar. Another first was soon to follow with our next plate; tenderloin of deer accompanied by a crumble, rosemary beetroot and jus. We finished off the remainder of our red wine with a sweet treat; a variety of chocolate truffles, paired with orange sorbet and a slice of bloody orange cake.

At this point I was texting my friend Lauren who had recommended the spot to me, when she mentioned that it was in fact a Michelin Étoile restaurant. While I was surprised that we had managed to even secure a spot at this place on a busy Friday evening, I was not shocked by her revelation; the food had been amazing and was quite possibly the fanciest and most indulgent meal I will ever eat. So if you’re in Budapest, I would highly recommend this restaurant – just don’t take the chances I did and be sure to book in advance!

 

A busy break to Budapest: part 1

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“You can’t do Budapest in a weekend,” many of my friends and family told me as I mentioned our planned mini-break “Five days is probably minimum to get everything done.” If I could afford to take a week out, of course we would have planned a longer break together! Yet, being restricted by my boyfriend’s available holiday days and me wanting to be available for any upcoming job interviews, we knew we had to plan carefully if we wanted to make the most out of our busy whistle-stop tour of Budapest.

After a spot of Saturday lunch at the First Strudel House of Pest, we started out on a walking tour I had drafted the day before, making sure we would check off all the main sights on our list within just a few hours of daylight. On our way down to the river, we stumbled across a war memorial in Szabadság Square that is proving to be very controversial amongst the citizens of Hungary. The monument depicts the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by a German imperial Eagle, which -so its critics say- is an attempt to absolve the Hungarian state and its citizens from their active participation in sending 450,000 Jewish people to their deaths under Nazi occupation.

In front of this memorial lies a scattering of flowers, personal objects and photographs amongst some barbed wire. This is the protest from the citizens of Hungary who claim that, by depicting Hungary as an innocent angel being corrupted by evil, the state is attempting to re-write history, choosing to forget the extent to which they willingly complied and collaborated with the Nazi regime. Post-war remembrance and guilt, has always been a fascinating subject to me and was even the subject of one of my university essays on the history of France, and so, this site of protest is a must for any secret history nerds like myself.

After admiring the architecture of the magnificent red-roofed Parliament Building we continued along our riverside stroll, stopping at the Shoes on the Danube Bank – a very different memorial than we had seen earlier in the day. The memorial commemorates the many people, mostly Jews, who were killed on these banks during World War II; after being ordered to remove their shoes on the bank of the river, these people were shot and left to fall to their deaths. The sculpture is a very real reminder of the people who died here through representing the shoes that were left behind on the bank, as the river washed their bodies away.

The next stop of our walking tour was to cross the river on the iconic, albeit very windy Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The Danube may be the longest river in Europe, but while battling the wind on the bridge, it felt like we were crossing the widest river not only in Europe, but in the world. Needless to say, we were relieved to step into the still, sunny surroundings of the Buda side of the river. By this point, my boyfriend had started to complain about his feet hurting, so I agreed to a slight compromise – we would take the funicular up to the top of Buda Castle, taking a slower-paced stroll back down. He agreed begrudgingly. Yet, once we arrived at the summit and took in the magnificent panoramic view of the city, there were smiles all round. Of course, this may have partly been because he knew the torture of my guided walking tour was soon to end – with a trip to one of the city’s famous thermal baths.

We had several popular baths to choose from, but finally opted for the Rudas Thermal Baths, as recommended by our Airbnb host. Upon arrival, there were several options to choose from, but we didn’t hesitate to opt for their “wellness” session including access to several thermal baths as well as the panoramic view from their rooftop pool. It is a very surreal feeling when you step outside to temperatures of 5°C in nothing but your bikini or your swimming trunks (thank God this was not one of the naturist baths). And yet, once your shoulders are safely dipped below the surface of the water, there is no more natural and blissful feeling in the world, soothing your muscles post-14km-hike, all the while with a smug grin on our faces; we had proved to our family and friends that you can do Budapest in a weekend, with just a little determination, some meticulous planning and a very patient companion.

A weekend of wine without the hangover

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When you think of Paris, images of fresh baguettes, cheese and red wine come to mind. And you’re not wrong. There is, however, a more cosmopolitan side to Paris. Every weekend brings the opportunity to discover a new restaurant, a new cuisine, a new concept. This weekend, by complete chance, we dined at not one, but two relatively unknown restaurants offering the promise of beautiful-tasting natural wine, without the added side effect of a hangover the next morning.

Our first stop on the wine tour was Brutos, a French-Brazilian fusion restaurant in the 11th. Brutos has only been open for a month, so we were pleasantly surprised to get a reservation for four on a Friday evening without any problems. We started by sharing some parmesan fritters with some delicious natural white wine to work up an appetite. This was swiftly followed by some tasty beignets de morue and cervelle de veau (sometimes it’s best not to translate before eating).

They serve rare cuts of meat that you won’t find in a traditional brasserie and sothey don’t ask how you would like your meat cooked. Every dish is cooked to perfection, in the best way according to each cut of meat, to bring you the most flavour. My boyfriend and I both went for a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, served with houmous and farofa – a Brazilian fried flour side dish. This was accompanied by a red wine so pale and light, you may be forgiven for thinking we were drinking rosé instead. We finished with a bottle of orange wine (yes, it really does exist!) along with cooked apples served with crumble and dulce de leche.

After spending the next day DIY-ing in my boyfriend’s new apartment, we headed to Merguez & Pastrami around the corner from his place in the 9th. We had spotted the place a few weeks ago, thanks to it’s New-York-esque decor and so we were grateful to grab a spot at the bar on a busy Saturday evening. We started with the restaurant’s namesake of merguez sausages, alongside some veal meatballs served with a spicy dipping sauce and a selection of sesame-seed bagels and challah brioche – a pleasant change from your traditional Parisian bread basket. We both chose a schnitzel-topped tagliatelle dish in a garlic and parsley sauce for our main, washed down with a glass of naturel red wine from the Loire valley.

Natural wine is becoming more and more à la mode in Parisian restaurants and so, despite a higher-than-usual price tag, your head will thank you for it come Sunday. Besides the natural wine selection both of these spots offered, it was something of a rarity to the Parisian eating-out scene that made me want to return to these spots again; the friendly, welcoming and attentive staff. The dining-out experience in Paris can often be spoilt by rude waiting staff that you have to chase just to take your drinks order, something that shocked me when I arrived in this city. Let’s hope that this new “concept” of friendly service is here to stay so we finally feel that we get what we paid for.

Dreaming of some Southern Sunshine

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OK, I admit it. I kind of cheated on this one. I’ve been dying to write another post, but with a week filled with job interviews and tasks, as well as catching a cold, I haven’t found time to do much stuff besides sleeping; you and me both know that’s not worth a ‘gram. So under a grey sky and snow looming in Paris, I decided to take full advantage of #flashbackfriday to reminisce on my break to southern Italy in November.

Our trip got off to a very stressful start. We made the mistake of taking an Uber Pool to the airport and so arrived just as check-in was closing for our flight. In the run-up to our break, my weather app had promised sunny days and unheard of temperatures for late November. However, as our luck would have it, when we landed in Naples, the rain was pouring down on the city. Trying not to let this dampen our spirits, we headed into the historic centre for some pizza. After believing we were in a disarrayed queue for a good 20 minutes, we realised we had to give the waiter our name for a table. My boyfriend and I were starting to believe we had been cursed with all the bad luck we were having.

This all changed when the food arrived. As we were in the home of the pizza, it would have been rude not to head to Sorbillo – one of the most famed pizzerias in the city. We both chose the speck, mushroom and mozzarella pizza and a glass of red wine. Now, I don’t know what the French had been serving me all these years with mozzarella di bufala as this was out of this world. I’d never tasted anything so good! Feeling much more relaxed than a few hours beforehand, we spent the rest of the day walking around the historic centre of Naples. We were slightly disappointed by Naples as each beautiful building was ruined by scrawls of graffiti. Despite this, we managed to eat ourselves into a food-induced coma with the variety of complimentary apéro snacks and copious amount of pasta on offer in their bars and restaurants.

The next day, as the sun came out, we decided to explore further afield. After grabbing an early lunch (we had learnt our lesson from the day before) with a pizza in one of the oldest pizzerias in Naples, Da Michele, we took a train to Pompeii to visit the ruins of the ancient city engulfed by volcanic ash in the 79 AD eruption of neighbouring Mount Vesuvius. Before visiting, I’d only seen a few photographs of the people who lived here buried in volcanic ash, so I was taken aback by the size of this city, the level of preservation that exists here and the sight of the volcano, looking deceivingly peaceful in the distance.

Earlier in Naples, we had taken a ride with a chatty taxi driver who advised us to visit Sorrento, as he said it was the most beautiful spot in southern Italy. And so, after grabbing some well-deserved gelato, we hopped on another train to see what all the fuss was about.

Our luck had definitely shifted as we arrived on the opening night of their famed Christmas illuminations. Sorrento was a different world – there was an authentic and picturesque feeling to the city, which was the polar opposite of the graffitied streets we’d strolled around in Naples. After we’d worked up an appetite admiring the colourful architecture, we decided on Da Gigino; a cute restaurant hidden in a side street. We started with some parma ham and mozzarella di bufala (of course) followed by the best carbonara I had ever tasted and a mushroom risotto, all finished off with lambrusco, an Italian sparkling red wine. I would return to this romantic spot in a heartbeat, so if you’re in Sorrento, be sure to check this place out.

We had an early afternoon flight back to Paris the following day, so after enjoying breakfast on the rooftop terrace and a cheeky final pizza, we headed to the airport, not wanting to risk a repeat of our taxi fiasco a few days earlier. The surreal view of the volcano in the distance as we were preparing for take-off on the runway was the perfect ending to our weekend exploring the delights of Southern Italy. With this on my mind, I plan to spend the remainder of my Friday planning out our next mini-adventure at the end of the month to Budapest. It’s a hard life I lead, am I right?!

The Fairytale of the Department Store

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Window shopping is my go-to rainy afternoon activity. The world of Parisian department stores is ideal in this respect – filled to the brim with designer items I covet but could never afford, it is the perfect escape from reality.

I remember when I visited New York at the tender age of 17; I was wowed by seeing designer shops with my own eyes, featuring names I’d only even seen in glossy magazines when researching my GCSE Textile coursework. It seemed so fantastic, so fabulous to see these luxurious products in real life, imagining the kind of lifestyle led by the people who had the chance to own such items. I still get this fluttering feeling when I step into one of the many iconic department stores in Paris. It may sound cheesy, but it feels like I’m stepping into a fairytale; glimpsing at another world and the people who inhabit it.

Le Bon Marché in Paris’ chic 7th arrondissement is no exception to this rule. It is considered to be the world’s first department store and so is the pride of Parisians. From the get-go you will be dazzled by bright lights, iconic architecture and some of the most famous names in the fashion business.

After an hour or so of dragging my boyfriend around the luxury departments, we headed across to the world-famous La Grande Epicerie. This spot is a foodie’s fantasy with its selection of gourmet groceries, chefs preparing dishes in front of your eyes and countless aisles of food and drink imported from around the globe. From the wall of (mineral) waters to the endless variety of spices stocked on their shelves, it is a treat for all of your senses. .

Being an Brit living abroad, many people will often ask you what do you miss about the UK? Amongst the Frenchies, the Brits have a renowned reputation for having the worst food, so it is to their surprise that my answer always revolves around something food-related..(and my family of course – sorry Mum!)

Therefore, after hunting down some truffle salt and popping corn to satisfy my craving for some DIY popcorn, I headed to the UK aisle to grab a few essentials. Despite filling my basket with some home-comfort delights, I had to draw the line at paying 3,60€ for a tin of Heinz baked beans. Although it is all too easy for me to get swept away in this dream-like world, nothing will bring you crashing back down to earth like an over-inflated tin of baked beans. Yes, it has been imported from the UK. Yes, you cannot beat a tin of their tomatoey goodness. But no, I just could not justify spending this much on my staple student meal that, had I been in the UK, would have cost me a mere 70p.

Sure, one day when I’m rich and famous I won’t bat an eyelid about popping into Le Bon Marché for my new Chanel clutch, some expensive foundation and a tin of the most expensive beaked beans to reminisce on my student days… For now this remains a pipe-dream, staying well and truly on the shelf.

The Parisian Puzzle: Where to brunch?

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The art of brunching is a Parisian weekend staple. In provence, it is sometimes a struggle to find a quaint café to nurse your hangover or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee and some form of eggs due to many places being closed on a Sunday. In Paris, however, the choices are unlimited – whether you’re plutôt œuf poché or œuf au plat, everyone has their go-to brunch spot.

My personal favourite is Hardware Société around the corner from Sacré-Cœur. Being lazy is what weekends are all about, so this Australian-French café, being a mere 10 minutes walk from my place in Montmartre, is fast becoming my weekend tradition. Each weekend their Instagram account tempts you with their savoury and sweet specials, along with a variety of amazing dishes served by the friendliest staff you will come across in Paris – a real gem in my eyes.

Despite this being my golden spot, it is necessary to leave your comfort zone from time to time. I enlisted the help of my friends Lauren and Beya to share their favourite brunch spots whatever the occasion:

Where to brunch in Paris...

  • With a group of friends:  Pas de Loup in the 11th is one of the only places I know that accepts reservations – I have loved every single dish I have ever tried here so go wild, the world is your oyster. (Side note: their truffle popcorn is truly the bomb)
  • With your significant other: Lauren’s go-to is Buvette Gastrothèque in the 9th. Their signature dish is their croque monsieur, but Lauren swears by their scrambled eggs dish served with ham
  • When you’re hungover: To soak up your hangover, Beya recommends Animal Kitchen in the 10th, famous for their burgers and Beya’s personal favourite – nachos
  • When you’re on a budget: For a classic but inexpensive brunch, head to one of the various addresses of Pain Quotidien across the city with a mix of tartines and pastries
  • When you have a special occasion: On the pricey side, but as their buffet brunch comes with a glass of champagne you can dine in style at Peninsula in the 16th; perhaps not week-in week-out, unless you win the lottery overnight

The best brunch spots in Paris will inevitably continue to grow and change; always have your ear to the ground to be in-the-know about the new must-try resto .. Or if you’re out-of-the-loop like myself, have the best girl friends (who would, if finding the new “it” spot was an olympic sport, take gold, no questions asked).