Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Travel | 72 hours in Paris: Places to eat and drink, cafes and bars

When the man you love suggests taking you to Paris for your birthday, the only possible response is 'oui'.

During our summer weekend in Barcelona we discussed the relative merits of Barca vs Paris, arguing over the food, rating the climate, pondering the architecture. We came away swayed by the Spanish city, wondering if it had indeed stolen the top spot from the city of lights. There was only one way to find out...

After staying in that silly St Pancras clock tower apartment, we hopped on the Eurostar and were at the Gare du Nord by lunchtime. A few stops round on the metro took us to Rue Sebastapol, to our Airbnb apartment where we dropped off our bags before heading out into the unseasonably warm Parisian afternoon. Afternoon activities were pretty standard: a croque monsieur for lunch followed by stroll along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower as the sun was setting.

Rather than writing this as if it were a school diary, here are a few of the places we enjoyed food and drink. Look out for another post rounding up our art and shopping experiences.


Our apartment was two streets away from Rue Montorgueil, famously THE foodie street of Paris. Each day we took a stroll down the road on our way to somewhere else, but each day it took an age due to the incredible shops, cafes and bars that line it.

Stohrer is one of the oldest, most famous Parisian patisseries and is sensory overload - the sugary scent as you walk through the dark, creaky door, the dazzling colours of the iced cakes and pastries.

We bought a couple of brioches sucrés (my go-to French pastry) and a little box of delights - religieuses in chocolate and coffee - tied up with ribbon. These are choux delights stacked up, full of crème pâtissière and drizzled in toothachingly sweet icing. (The religieuse is said to be the cake that inspired Wes Anderson to create Mendl's famous courtesan au chocolat in The Grand Budapest Hotel.)

For baked goods of a very different kind, head to Du pain et des idees in the 10e, which is a hipster hot spot right now.

Also on the Rue Montorgueil is Bistro Les Petits Carreaux, a traditional Parisian neighbourhood bar and restaurant but one famous across the city and beyond for its sauteed potatoes. This is where we ate on our first night in Paris - roast chicken for me and steak for Mike, both with pommes sautées, salad and sauce. It was a pretty perfect French meal.

While wandering in the Marais one day, we stumbled across Breizh, a creperie recommended by Jorge (our Airbnb host). I wasn't entirely convinced that a crepe is ever what I want to eat for lunch, but it turns out I was entirely wrong. These crepes are incredible - buckwheat flour simply bound with egg, milk and butter but topped with the tastiest combinations, like bacon, egg and potato, or goats cheese, walnuts and rocket. Crepes and cider are traditionally paired, so we drank a couple of Kir Breton aperitifs which made our afternoon all warm and fuzzy.

Midway through our trip, we met up with a friend I used to work with in Bristol who's lived in Paris for the past seven years. He suggested we meet for dinner at Soya, a vegetarian restaurant up near the Republique. It just goes to show how things have changed (or how long it's been since I've visited Paris) but this restaurant was so good! Previous attempts to eat at vegetarian restaurants in Paris have not been especially tasty, shall we say. Here, we ate spicy tagine washed down with craft beers.

My pal suggested we try Candelaria, a secret bar and taqueria in the 3e that's currently winning awards all over the place. If you fancy it, persevere. We followed the map to where we thought it should be and were foxed by being able to see in the windows of the bar at the back but not being able to work out how the heck to get inside. Turns out you go through the tiny taqueria through the white door at the back, and then you'll find yourself in Margarita heaven. But first, a little something to eat - it's more than worth waiting for a stool at the bar or around the table at the front. Order delicious guacamole and chips, tacos and beans - authentic Mexican street food made and served in the smallest of kitchens by a super speedy chef who passes dishes to the sole barman, whose acerbic English-with-a-French-accent-but-actually-Mexican chatter drives the brilliant atmosphere here. Then through that door to the bar for drinks afterwards.


More places to drink in Paris! Did you know there's a champagne bar at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Yup. As well as shopping and ice skating, the elegant monument has all manner of restaurants. But take the creaky lift right to the top - and I mean right. to. the. TOP - and you'll be windswept and squiffy on bubbles. Proper tourist nonsense, but irresistibly so.

For a classic Paris experience of a more laid back variety, head to the Places des Vosges on the edge of the Marais where you'll find Cafe Hugo. This lovely bar is just what we needed after getting some bad news from home. Giant goblets of gin to drink and salted popcorn snacks helped ease away the lines from our foreheads, while the beautiful interior and classic exterior (we sat neither in nor out - under one of those patio heaters on the deck) reminded us where we were and brought us back to the moment.

And if you're in the 10e, right by that famous Amelie canal is Le Comptoir General. Like Candelaria, this is a doorbell bar, set back off the street and hidden away. Secret bars always suggest small to me - cramped cubby holes or little nooks - but this bar is anything but. I think the building is an old hospital but could be wrong. It's definitely industrial or institutional in some way, and is vast. If faded glamour is your thing then Le Comptoir General will be right up your rue. It's like drinking in Grey Gardens. Or a reclamation yard. Or one of those weird dream sequences in a sixties film.  

Come back soon for my Parisian art and shopping tips!

Read more:

A weekend in Barcelona

The best Airbnb apartment in London

More Airbnb stays

More travel posts


Monday, 25 January 2016

5 helpful hints for your dream family holiday

I saw a remarkable statistic that 2015 was the hottest year on record in the world, breaking the record set by the previous year for the third time in a row. It seemingly lends a lot of credence to the widely-accepted theory of global warming. Perhaps it’s all true, but, for me, this January has felt absolutely freezing. Whatever your stance on climate change, I think we can all agree that the cold weather at the moment has us dreaming of warmer places with beaches, pools and a forecast of nothing but sunshine!

I’m already excitedly planning our trip for this summer, and, based on my experiences, I thought I’d share some advice on making sure your family holiday is every bit as perfect as you imagined…

1) Give the kids a ‘prep’ talk
Especially if you have some real young’uns in your family, it’s well worth making sure they have a good idea of what to expect. Maybe sit them around the computer to give them a glimpse of the sights they can expect to see, the food they can expect to eat and the culture they can expect to experience at the destination. Not only will it get them prepared and excited about what is to come, but it will likely also get them more invested in learning new things as soon as they arrive.

2) Be clever with financing
Package holidays often offer decent payment plans to cover the cost of holidays, but if yours is an extra special treat that needs you to spread the cost in terms of financing, it may well be worth looking into a holiday loan. Check out some price comparison sites, and you’ll quickly see that there are plenty of good-value loans available, which will take the financial pressure off you so that your family can genuinely relax and enjoy the experience.

3) Keep something in reserve
Obviously you’ll want to get the kids excited by telling them all the fun stuff that’s in store. But why not keep a surprise or two up your sleeve? Imagine the look on their faces when, on the day, you take them to a water park you ‘thought you’d already told them about’. It will thrill them no end, and add to your already swelling credit in the bank.

4) Plan, but don’t over-plan
You certainly want to make sure you extend the activities beyond just the comfort zone of the resort you are staying on. It’s important to get the kids trying new things and getting a taste for local culture. But it’s also worth leaving a bit of room for them to take the lead. What do they fancy doing on a particular day? What restaurant do they want to eat at? Are there some new friends they’ve made who they want to play with instead? It’s not about ceding control – merely empowering them so they feel a bit more grown up.

5) No pool, no deal
It’s not a holiday without a pool, is it? It probably goes without saying, but pick your accommodation very carefully. What do the reviews say about suitability for kids? And for what age? Even if it requires shelling out an extra quid or two, comfortable surroundings are so important, and can really set the tone for the holiday from the word go. Maybe a villa is a better choice than a hotel, with shared spaces and a kitchen to knock together some food on demand? Have a think about it before clicking ‘Confirm’.

Hopefully these five little hints will help you out. If I had to offer a sixth bit of advice for those with young kids, it would be to remember that this is also a holiday for you and your special someone too, and an important time to get some much-needed R&R in for the year ahead. Be sure to take care of number one too, and not let the kids rule the roost entirely.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Interiors: Home tour - bedrooms and bathroom

Just time for one last interiors post for this house before we up sticks and move on. This isn't the first time I've said how much this house has meant to me but it may well be the last. Its white walls and understated period features have made for a modestly stylish home, yet none of this is my work! I just moved my stuff in and everything seemed to flow...

The three of us have loved living here - from its perfect location by the water to the friends-for-life neighbours we've been lucky enough to get to know. If only it were a little bigger.

And so, in a couple of weeks, we'll be heading to a new home - still on the waterfront but a bigger property, one in which all seven of us can feel at home. It's a bit of an eighties disaster, which means major projects ahead. But that also means more interiors posts to come, so that's a win for me.

Goodbye little house, we're going to miss you.

My bedroom:  wicker basketpatterned bedspread / watermelon bedlinen / floral pillowcases - vintage Toast icon / green lampridiculous shoes

And I promised you an update on the Leesa mattress review - well, we love it! There's not a great deal more to add. After a week or two of a new plastic smell, the mattress relaxed into the bed frame and fits like a charm. Every night is comfortable, and having a super kingsize bed is pretty much my dream come true. If you're thinking of getting a new bed/mattress, I'd say go for it ;)

Bathroom: most things are vintage nick nacks / hammam towel - these are just the BEST and this Bristol shop is the place to go / soap / plant/pot/crochet baskets

Landing: lampshade

Kids room: Smile print / rosettes / printer's tray / awesome Zoo-ology book


More interiors posts

Dining room tour

Living room tour

How to make a rented house feel like home


Friday, 22 January 2016

The best Airbnb apartment in London: St Pancras Clock Tower

The best airbnb in London! St Pancras clock tower apartment

Personal question: do you have a motto by which you live your life?

Increasingly, ours revolves around living life to the full and going large. Carpe diem might suffice, but I think I prefer f*** it. That's not to say I'm in the throes of a midlife crisis (I've only just entered my late thirties, after all), but I'm not getting any younger and I think it unlikely I'll be on my death bed, muttering about how we could've saved a buck or two on that silly Airbnb place in 2015.

It is, of course, quite possible to stay in a private room in a hostel or a cheap chain hotel in greater London for upwards of £60 or so. Or, one can throw caution into the wind and decide to spend a bit more on the best Airbnb apartment in London. Well, it WAS my birthday.

The best airbnb in London! St Pancras clock tower apartment

Look at this place. IT IS IN THE CLOCK TOWER - YES, THE CLOCK TOWER - AT ST PANCRAS STATION! Top right in the pic above, behind that clock face.

You see my point, I hope.

It really is quite spectacular. The clock is now digitally operated so the mechanism is not visible, but the room in which the man (whose sole occupation was to wind clocks) would work has been transformed into an unusual, brick room used for events, meals and recitals (there's a grand piano, n'est pas, but there have never been any bells).

The best airbnb in London! St Pancras clock tower apartmentAlso on the entrance floor is the kitchen, utility room etc. Downstairs, there is the master suite with bedroom, living area and bathroom, and a guest suite - essentially its own private studio flat.

The best airbnb in London! St Pancras clock tower apartmentThe best airbnb in London! St Pancras clock tower apartment

It's all the height of luxury - underfloor heating, beautiful kitchens and bathrooms, roomfuls of books, stylish neutral interiors - and wouldn't look out of place in a 5-star hotel.

So why stay here instead of a hotel?

Aside from the ludicrous nature of the location (perfect if, like us, you're heading to Paris on the Eurostar), Airbnb apartments are just ace. I've stayed in four now and I just love the personal nature - meeting the owners, staying in a real home, enjoying the personality and charm and quirks of both the home and the homeowner, feeling like a guest rather than a customer.

Have you Airbnb-ed before? Any recommendations?

If not, and you'd like to try, follow this link for money off your first Airbnb booking.

Want to read more? Here's a review of my first London Airbnb trip and my Copenhagen Airbnb trip.

Coming soon: 72 hours in Paris!

Monday, 11 January 2016

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon/Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

Before Christmas I headed east for a couple of days in London. Much as I love the capital, it's not always practical to go up for one event. But there are times when the stars align and a few events take place over a day or two, meaning it's impossible NOT to go.

Press shows are always so interesting - seeing what the big shops have in store for us a season or two ahead is fascinating although somewhat disorientating, as you end up faced with bikinis and flip flops when bundled up in scarves and gloves.

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

The first was the Monsoon and Accessorize, whose show featured beachwear but also beautiful occasion wear, jewellery and really cute Japanese-style bags, all of which left me with a hankering for summer.

And there was an on-site piercer! I had a helix piercing - one up near the top outer edge of the ear - which was an unexpected but kinda cool turn of events.

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

From here, Lori and I headed to the OXO Tower for afternoon tea with a twist. We met up with Team Pinterest and had the most brilliant selection of cakes and cocktails. And from there we watched the sun set over the Thames.

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

Later, a stop at Paperchase for a Christmas tree styling comp and glimpses at the new ranges. Those paper fans were my absolute favourites, and I love what the Paperchase design team did with the Beatrix Potter characters.

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

The following day I went to the Tefal Cook4Me morning and then headed back across London for the Habitat press day, where I met up with my pal Kat for a cuppa and a look around the new products.

My favourites? These colourful wicker baskets, cushions, rugs and bowls.

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

SS16 fashion/interiors press shows: Monsoon, Accessorize, Paperchase and Habitat

Phew! A happy few days that made me look forward to the seasons ahead.

And now that it is 2016, we haven’t got long to wait, have we?


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Interiors: Home tour - the dining room and kitchen

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas
dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

dining room kitchen home tour interiors ideas

Back in September, I showed you around my living room and promised more rooms to come. Four months isn't that long to wait, is it?

Although the kitchen is my favourite room in any house, this one is a little small to even properly photograph. Instead, you'll have to make do with nick-nack pics.

The dining room is where we spend most of our time, sitting as it does twixt kitchen and living room. As always, it's a battle to keep the inevitable dumping ground of a dining table clear. But it's a light and bright space with period bits and bobs here and there but neutral enough to feel like I've made it mine.

All those butterflies? They've been with me for a while now, but never all in one place as a big display. I rather like them like this.

Sources: Atelier Stella vase - so cute with peonies for hair! / pink wire fruit bowl from Tiger (I think I have a thing for pink and yellow, don't you?) / yellow table lamp - similar here / beautiful white pendant lamp / wooden serving bowl / sheepskin draped over chair / geometric rug / white dining chairs / giant colander - super bargain! (I am a sucker for anything oversized or teeny weeny) / salt and pepper grinders / octopus butter dish - similar / rose chafer beetles from Tiger (why, oh why aren't they online?!) / herb pots - a variety from IKEA / gorgeous Japanese ceramic striped beakers / Instagram-able jam (instajam?)

All other items - vintage.

Many of the pieces in my home (as in so many others) are from IKEA. I'm thrilled to have been chosen to take part in a brilliant new initiative called LiveLAGOM. Lagom is a Swedish word meaning to live with what you have, within your means, or 'just enough'.

For this project, we're being gifted £500 worth of IKEA products to helps us live more sustainably and I have chosen to spend the majority on kitchenware. At the moment, the amount of waste we produce is pretty shocking and I'd like to address that this year, preserving food we have too much of and making better use of leftovers - come in IKEA preserving jars. We'll also be giving growing a go with a few starter kits of windowsill plants, plus there are a couple of items that help to make a rented house feel like home.

More soon!

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