Sunday, 31 May 2015

Let them eat cake - Marie Antoinette Style Tea


Afternoon tea is surely amongst the greatest inventions ever and definitely in my top ten reasons to love this city. From being an absolute afternoon tea novice when I moved to London, over the past five years I have consumed countless dainty fingers sandwiches and delicious cakes everywhere from The Ritz and Harrods to tiny budget tearooms, in a carb-fuelled quest to refine my palate and become a Mary Berry-style cake aficionado.
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Monday, 25 May 2015

Grape Expectations - World travel through wine?


A friend recently told me that London has a bigger collection of billionaires than any other city in the world and that a whole industry has been created to cater for the culinary tastes of the super-rich, from ultra-exclusive wine to early testing for a new frogspawn infused caviar.

The thought of paying for frogspawn infused caviar made me laugh out loud. But as I headed home, I got to thinking, what about those of us whose bank balance is a fraction of this size. Is it possible to eat and drink well whilst living in this ridiculously expensive city we call home when you are on a tight budget?

I honestly believe the answer is yes and have had so much fun discovering incredible places across the city which I can't wait to share with you in future blog posts. But I have had less luck finding those lovely, quirky but affordable places to drink (perhaps it's because I am just far too used to paying Irish prices).

As a result I was genuinely intrigued when my good friend and fellow blogger Marie managed to wrangle me an invite to the launch of Asda's new Wine Atlas range. Firstly, because as summer approaches I know that we will soon hit bbq season and I never know what wine to get (usually I spend ages looking through the options before just grabbing the same old bottle/whatever is on offer). Secondly because the event combined two of my favourite things, wine and travel, and involved the chance to hear from the editor of Wanderlust magazine (Wanderlust being one of my favourite travel publications - I basically cornered the poor lady and pumelled her for travel ideas). And last but not least, did I mention there was also a chance to sample over 150 other wines! (well it would have been rude not to at least try at least a glass or ten right??)




The focus of the event was of course the new Wine Atlas range, which in a nutshell is all about breaking out of your routine and experimenting with wines from obscure locations or grapes that most people won't have tried. Those clever little marketing people have added to the appeal by creating gorgeous labels based on old 1920's style travel posters rather than attaching considerably less alluring own-brand labels to the bottles.


I loved trying Hungarian and Romanian wines (who knew Eastern Europe was the place to go for wine) but for me the real test, given that I don't have an Asda store nearby, was whether there was a wine that I would go out of my way to buy.

Using this as my criteria there were two obvious stars of the show for me -

Wine Atlas Marsanne 2014, (£5,47)
From the south coast of France (but great value as its not from a famous region), there was general consensus that this little number is just gorgeous. Its a lovely mix of peach, apricot, lemon and spice. Super easy to drink but enough character to ensure that you won't get bored. This one is bound to fly off the shelves once people catch on, and rightly so.

Wine Atlas Saint Chinian 2013 (£5,47)
Again another French one this time from lesser know Languedoc region. This one is more of an aquired taste but I personally thought it was great. From the deep ruby colour I was sure it would be quite heavy but I found it quite the opposite, making it a perfect summer drink.


I headed home later that evening, incredibly merry, not just by all the wine I had consumed but also at the fact that the night had proved that it is possible to drink well on a budget. 

And if that isn't a reason to break open the frogspawn infused caviar and celebrate, I don't know what is? :)

For more information on the Wine Atlas Range click here.

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Friday, 22 May 2015

Festival Fever in London


Caffeine junkie, sci-fi geek, cocktail queen or literary buff - whatever your tastes, at some point, somewhere in London, there will be a festival/convention going on which suits you down to the ground. What's a girl to do when presented with this cultural smorgasbord? Grab a spoon and tuck right in of course!
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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Jurassic Park & the Giant Walrus

No this isn’t just some really obscure Cockney rhyming slang, London really is home to both a unique version of Spielberg’s prehistoric playground and a giant moustached, marine mammal.



The Giant Walrus is star of the show at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, which showcases the private collection of Frederick John Horniman, a wealthy Victorian tea-trader who was determined to bring the world to South London. His collection includes everything from the nightmarish spiders, old wine bottles dredged up from the Thames, Egyptian mummies, masks and shrines from distant lands and a Japanese monkey fish/mermaid (see image below).

(Courtsey of Horniman Museum Website)
The result is much less like the TV show 'Hoarder Next Door' than you might imagine. In fact, it's much more akin to something Albus Dumbeldore would have created – a brilliantly eclectic treasure trove of objects from someone who was clearly fascinated by the world and all its offerings.

The museum begins with Horniman’s taxidermy collection which is fascinating but unquestionably slightly macabre. After 30years of collecting Horniman’s family gave him an ultimatum that the collection had to go or they would – understandable when you imagine having a late night loo run and bumping into a stuffed vulture or rattle snake.

Some of my favourite items were from the anthropology section. Visiting this area was like getting a glimpse of hidden cultures and traditions from around the world.


Sanni Curing Masks from Sri Lanka - worn by dancers in healing ceremonies to expel evil spirits. The masks represent either the demon causing the disease or the sickness itself, such as a stroke, smallpox, or a toothache. (Courtsey of: Commons.wikimedia.org)
I could definitely spend several hours wondering around this museum. There is also a room full of musical instruments, an aquarium where you can spy sea creatures from around the world and watch tropical butterflies fly around a live rainforest display, as well as vast gardens to explore, making this the perfect spot to wile away a Sunday afternoon.

If after this visit you still have an appetite for more idiosyncrasies from Victorian times, you should definitely head to Crystal Palace Park.  

You’ll wonder when you have arrived why on earth I have just sent you to yet another green space, but bear with me. Head towards the lake at the south side of the park and you will be greeted with this sight……





Yep, that’s right….dinosaurs! You have literally wondered into the Victorian’s answer to Jurassic Park. I like to think that this place was an inspiration for Spielberg's classic creation (the original, not the truly terrible follow-ups). Just add a bit of CGI and you could practically re-enact your own version of the movie. 

Amusingly the models are riddled with inaccuracies, leading to the British Museum at the time to describe them as “gross delusions appealing to the curiosity of the less informed.” Hmmm…..I probably shouldn’t admit to thinking they are fantastic then??

For more information on Crystal Palace Dinosaur Court visit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_Palace_Dinosaurs


For more information on the Horniman Museum & Gardens visit - http://www.horniman.ac.uk/

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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Beautiful Barcelona


Call the doctor……scratch that, call my bank manager! I’ve got the travel bug and boy have I got it bad. But what do you do when the size of your bank balance doesn’t match the scale of your wanderlust? Traditionally for me it has meant religiously playing the lottery in order to fund that dream ‘round the world’ trip, whilst simultaneously entering every travel competition I can find (all I have won from this is constant torment through a steady stream of emails for amazing holidays in far-flung places that I can’t afford). However it was when I started responding to friends who were visiting one of the countries on my bucket list, by burying my face in my hands and crying “Why are you doing this to me??”, that I realised that drastic action was necessary. And so after scrambling together enough pennies, I will finally be making a long-awaited trip to Vietnam at the end of the year and am determined to visit one place on my travel bucket list every year from now on.

In the meantime, in an attempt to moderate the craziness resulting from my wanderlust I have discovered the wonders of the European city-break and through this have really started to appreciate how fantastically connected London is to the rest of the world. Regular sales on flights/trains out of London, making a cheeky weekend break in Europe a must-do when you need a change of scenery. In addition the benefit of living in a city which is ridiculously expensive is that wherever you travel (minus perhaps Tokyo, Monaco etc.), you will feel practically giddy at the prices of everything.
WARNING: The flip side to this is that when you return to London you will come crashing back to earth as soon as you hand over a £10 note for two drinks and receive no change!.

Anyway last week I took my own advice and headed off to sunny Barcelona. If you haven’t been already I recommend a visit. It has everything from beautiful sandy beaches and mountains, world-famous architecture, boutique shops and flea markets, a buzzing night life, and of course that lovely Mediterranean climate which automatically puts you in a great mood. Below are some photos from my visit and some of my top tips.




BARCELONA GUIDE

Getting around: Forget tourist buses or taxis and buy a T-10 card (a train and bus pass for 10 journeys which costs under 10euros and will get you everywhere you need to go including to/from the airport) – bargain!

Where to stay: We were lucky enough to have a friend with an apartment in central Barcelona so I can’t help too much on this one other than to suggest befriending someone who lives in Barcelona before your trip and charming them into letting you stay, or failing that Airbnb is always a good bet.

Where to eat:
For great tapas at a really reasonable cost head to Bitacora (Carrer Balboa). We were able to get 6 tapas dishes and a large Greek salad (perfect for lunch for all four of us) for 12euros each. We loved the food so much we ended up making a return visit during our trip.

Don’t miss La Malandrina (Carrer de l’Almirall Cervera) an Argentine grill joint that is an absolute gem. Order the sirloin steak and cream potatoes with a glass or two of red wine, and enjoy a fantastic meal for under 15euros.

Churros are a bit hit and miss across Barcelona so my advice is to pick well. Thankfully you can’t fail with La Granja 1872 (Carrer dels Banys Nous). You actually buy the churros from Xurreia a couple of doors down (a bakery who make them fresh and wrap them up in a little packet for you). La Granja staff are happy for you to bring your freshly made churros into the restaurant as long as you order a steaming cup of dark chocolate to dip them into. Ah heaven!


Don’t miss:
Casa Batllo – Gaudi’s architectural masterpiece! If you can’t afford the entrance fee just gazing at the outside of the building is a treat in itself. The roof looks like a dragon lying atop the building and a series of bones and skulls on the exterior are said to be from the dragon’s victims. The inside is just as enticing too, but remember to buy your ticket in advance so you can fast-track the queue





Park Guiel – Another fantastic Gaudi creation which feels like entering a weird and wonderful fairytale world. The photos below give some of a sense of it but I really recommend seeing it in person as it is difficult to capture in words.




The Magic Foundation – The Magic Fountain of Montjuic comes alive at night with a fantastic display of multicoloured jets of water, synchronised with music from everything from the Star Wars theme tune to operatic numbers.


Avoid like the plague:
Las Ramblas – Full to the brim with tourists, people trying to hawk you their wares, thieves eyeing up your bag, over-priced restaurants and bars. Imagine Leicester Square but even worse.

Buying dried meat on a stick from La Boqueria market. Learn from my experience and don’t be enticed by the 1euro price-tag. It is probably old enough to be fossilised and will taste like it too.

So next time you have a weekend free, take advantage of the fact that London is a gateway to Europe, grab that passport and head off to visit our wonderful neighbours across the water.  

What places are on your travel bucket list?

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