Barcelona: Day 4

There’s nothing more exciting than room service.
Whoever invented room service should promptly receive a medal and deservedly, a massive hug.

Imagine them pitching the idea. You mean I can lounge in bed as you roll a cart of food into my room for me to consume in the comfort of my fluffy bath robe?
This is sort of what I imagine being Queen to be like.

As temporary King & Queen of The W Barcelona, we greedily gorged on eggs, tomatoes, toast, jams, fresh fruit and yogurts whilst taking in stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. P1010495 P1010501 P1010503 IMG_1143 IMG_1146After an indulgent morning, we slipped on swimsuits and scurried down to the beach to get in a little last minute relaxation before spending the day tracking down Barcelona’s stunning architecture by the revered Antoni Gaudí. IMG_1147Over the past few days, we had seen people flying by on electric scooters, racing each other up and down the beach. As the day was incredibly hot, and we had quite a lot of ground to cover, we decided this would be the perfect way to get around. As we were traveling father afield than the beach, we were given electric bicycles. You still pedal, but the bike gives an automatic boost, taking away most of the effort.
IMG_1331We set off on our new set of wheels, racing each other through herds of tourists and around leisurely couples on a stroll, getting used to our rides. We soon found that they were occasionally unpredictable, giving sudden bursts of energy, zooming us forward unsuspectingly. Mine happened to have to no bell, which resulted in me frantically calling out DING DING every once and awhile.
P1010509We rode up through busy streets, pedalling furiously up hills as cars and buses whooshed past. I was constantly distracted by beautiful buildings and interesting sites, making him increasingly nervous as I rode in and out of traffic. But, I was on a mission, leading us towards the towering spikes piercing the skyline in the distance. 
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We finally arrived at Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s magnum opus. Antoni Guadí was a Spanish Catalan architect whose works, littered mostly around Barcelona, attract admiration from all over the world. His creations were largely influenced by architecture, nature and religion. After being commissioned in 1882, Gaudí soon took over the construction of this church with engineering style and design unlike any church in the world. His plans were so vast and extensive, that by the time of his death, only a quarter of the project was completed. P1010517 We sadly didn’t enter the building, but I obviously recommend a visit as it is truly unlike anything you’ll ever see.
We mounted our trusty bikes and continued uphill towards Park Güell. Huffing and puffing as we reached the top, having ridden for an hour in the blazing sun, we were more than ready for a rest. P1010519 Park Güell is a garden complex filled with architectural structures created and designed by Gaudí. There are unrestricted gardens with beautiful stone structures and stunning views, which anyone can access. But, the monumental zone with his mosaic and architectural creations is ticketed, only allowing a certain number of people per time slot. I was devastated to find that the time slot was full, so we were unable to reach the other buildings. But, the gardens and views themselves are absolutely stunning and we wandered round the peaceful pathways. P1010525 P1010526 P1010542 P1010547 P1010556 P1010562 This pink coloured building was where Gaudí and his family lived for 20 years. It has now been turned into the Gaudí-House Museum which you can visit to see some of his original works. P1010571 P1010572 P1010582 P1010586 P1010587 P1010588 IMG_1159 IMG_1161 Having explored as much of the park as we could, we returned to our bikes for an enjoyable downhill journey. We raced through traffic until arriving at Casa Batlló. P1010591 P1010594 The building was bought in 1900 by Josep Batlló, a wealthy textile industrialist. The building itself was undesirable to buyers because of its design, but the family decided to purchase it for its centralised location. In 1904, the family wanted to find someone to redesign the house, making it unlike any other in its creativity and appearance. Seeing the innovation used in Parc Güell, they decided Antoni Gaudí would be the one for the job. P1010596 The building is absolutely stunning, with a skeletal appearance, but be sure to book tickets ahead as there was a two hour wait to enter. P1010599Before leaving, we noticed the building next door, which is also beautifully designed. A door was open, so I snuck inside for a peak. P1010608 There were beautiful tiles, stain glass panels and the most amazing light fixtures. P1010613 We continued down La Rambla through swarms of tourists before make a quick stop at La Boqueria, my foodie heaven that I told you you about the other day. We sat in the shade and snacked on mushrooms and mussels escabeche. This traditional Spanish tapas is a thing of beauty. Perfectly cooked, canned mussels float around in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pimentón.  P1010616 We then returned our electric rides and crawled back to the W, absolutely exhausted. After a little lounging by the window, watching illuminated boats sail by on the black water, we went for a stroll in the warm, night air. We went into a restaurant packed with locals for a late night meal. As you can see, there are no pictures of its interior, no descriptions of what we ate and certainly no food porn. The food was not good, to say the least. I picked at my plate and settled with the idea of having churros con chocolate for dinner, a Spanish treat that I had been desperate to find the entire trip. We left in search of my much lusted after treat, with no such luck. IMG_1167Tired, but fulfilled from our day’s adventures, we returned to the big glass wave for some much deserved sleep.

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Barcelona: Day 2

We awoke to glorious and much needed sunshine. Ready to stretch our legs, we wandered out to explore more of the stunning Spanish streets. P1010032 P1010040 P1010041 P1010044 P1010045 There must of been some sort of festival going on, because several streets were decorated with papier-mâché structures, streaming ribbons and had loud music playing. P1010050 P1010051Having skipped breakfast, we settled on a Spanish style brunch.
P1010054A buttery, soft croissant with ham and cheese was a delicious start. P1010056Followed by Spanish peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese.
P1010057I was told by our lovely server that I had to try the typical Catalan dish of Fideuà, which is made of fine noodles with tomato and seafood.P1010060We managed to finish off with even more carbs. Pan con tomate is typically served before or with each meal as Spain’s answer to bruschetta. It consists of soft, toasted bread with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt and smushed up insides of ripe tomatoes. We also tried a Spanish tortilla, stuffed with potatoes and peppers, but this was unfortunately a little overcooked, resulting in quite an aggressively thick brick of starch.P1010064As usual, the tapas left me full and happy, and we spent awhile people watching, soaking up the blazing sunshine before our long day of adventures ahead. We headed to our apartment to change and take note from our darling renters. Eduardo & Imma are the loveliest couple and they rent out their lofts and apartments to visitors from all over the world. The places are cosy and really nicely decorated with anything you could possibly need, including a kitchen and washing machine. They sat down with us drawing countless maps, told us where to go, what to see and gave excellent advice. One of the best being, when dining out, ask for the menu of the day, el menú del día. For around €10 you can have tomato bread, a starter, such as a soup or salad, a main course of whatever the special is, a dessert and a drink. If you’re visiting Barcelona, I couldn’t recommend staying with them enough. They’ll even drop you to and from the airport. If you want to find out more, look them and their lovely flats up here.
P1010067With instructions to purchase a T10 travel card, we took the metro to Las Ramblas. We walked down Rambla de Catalunya, a long street filled with designer shops and local restaurants until we came to Plaça de Catalunya. P1010072 P1010074 P1010075 How adorable is this store? Again, I wasn’t allowed photos, but snuck some for you anyways. P1010080 You take a medicine bottle and fill it with candy, because everyone knows those are happy pills! P1010081 P1010089 After Plaça de Catalunya, we came to La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s most famous tourist attractions. It’s essentially a long, outdoor shopping parade lined with trees. This was absolutely packed with people and only seemed to get more and more crowded. There were tourists ambling along, shopping for trinkets and dining in tourist traps. The street itself is beautiful, but the sheer volume of people with the addition of the heat and vendors selling these plastic mouth pieces that make strange, piercing screech sounds all became a bit much. P1010093 P1010096 P1010099 P1010101 I could not have been more happy to then come across La Boqueria. P1010103 We darted through the crowds and under the beautifully shining stain glass sign guarding the entrance to Barcelona’s best food market. P1010105P1010107 Imagine Borough Market, London’s best food market, flooded with Spanish delights and delicacies. I was in absolute heaven. P1010108P1010106P1010110 P1010111 P1010112Hotter than this pretty piggy, we got fresh fruit smoothies to cool off whilst checking out the offerings. I went for a kiwi banana mixture, which looked a little more radioactive than expected. This helped prevent my salivating over all the amazing ingredients on offer.
P1010113 P1010115 P1010116Within the rows of market stalls are several little pop up tapas bars. Sadly, these were completely crammed with tourists and locals alike, with a wall of hungry diners waiting to squeeze in to be next.
P1010117P1010123 We continued instead to peruse the endless amounts of food. P1010124P1010120How cute are these marzipan creations?
P1010125 P1010126 For some reason I’m particularly fond of the cauliflower. P1010127 Which are your favourites?P1010128 There were massive, ripe tomatoes. P1010131Rows of dried chillies. 
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Dates the size of my thumb.
P1010139And this. Now if you didn’t know it was tripe, you’d have to admit it looks pretty cool.
P1010142Oh, and the seafood selection was unbelievable. 
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Beautiful boiled octopus. P1010151 Glistening piles of salt cod. P1010155 Amazingly fresh fish of all shapes and sizes. P1010156 P1010157P1010167 P1010159 Wriggling lobsters and bunches of oysters. P1010161 P1010162And how cool do these look? I initially thought they were eel, but I think they’re silver scabbards. Those that aren’t a fan of their dinner looking back at them, scroll very quickly over the next few pictures. P1010163 P1010164 Those that don’t mind getting a little friendly with a fish, how cool looking are these?P1010166 P1010170 Then I found them.
Churros de miel. P1010171Little bite sized pieces of fried dough filled with a beautiful center of sweet honey. Texturally amazing and flavourfully orgasmic. I gobbled these up and days later went back for more, consuming an entire bag to myself. P1010174 We eventually gave up the endless viewing of food porn and left the market. P1010147Farther down La Rambla lies Plaça Reial, a hidden little oasis of palm trees, bars and hotels surrounding a fountain.

P1010175 P1010177 P1010180Attracted by the gleaming sign of theatre lights like greedy little mosquitos, we headed for Ocaña. Pronounced: Oh-than-ya.

P1010215P1010181 We lazily lounged in the shade, watching the goings ons of the plaça including an incredible performance of acrobatic street performers. P1010187Deciding his cerveza looked a little lonely, my date decided an Ibérico wrapped veal burger topped with foie gras was in order.
P1010201Can you blame him?

When I returned from a little venture around the restaurant, I took what is decidedly my favourite image from the entire trip. I just love the way the shadows of the lights are lined up on the pillars. There’s something sort of hauntingly beautiful about it, don’t ya think?
P1010213Are you still with me? We’ve got a bit more to explore. Grab a snack and we’ll keep going. We returned to our explorations in the golden sunlight of the afternoon.
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And I soon discovered a lion. Immediately wanting to mount it for a picture, I scurried up to the beast. Much bigger up close and surprisingly slippy, I tried to navigate my mount whilst in a little black dress. With the swarming crowds and lengthy drop to the concrete floor, I retired my efforts and instead posed next to Leonardo. My date, who initially dismissed my photo idea, had a sudden change of heart. He hoisted himself onto one of the fully standing lions, and to my bitter envy, now has an awesome photo of him atop a massive lion.P1010223 We reached La Barceloneta, a section of intertwining neighbourhoods with lovely alleyways, trendy bars and cool shops. This one in particular had origami bugs lining all the glass windows and cool toys, furniture and products inside.  P1010239 P1010240 P1010242 P1010243 P1010245 Another shop was selling 3D printed versions of yourself! You go in, and the unsure looking fella in the background makes a mini me, of you! Very odd, but such a cool idea. P1010253 P1010255 I spotted this elderly man reading a book in the warm shade of his balcony, ignoring the difficulties of life. And later came across this very mellow little square with friends chatting quietly over drinks, men perched on walls and clouds of certain illegal substances hovering in the air. The man in blue was strumming the guitar and loudly singing a beautiful Spanish serenade. We were only there momentarily as we passed through the square, but it was a beautiful bubble of utter peace and calm. P1010262 We explored more weird shops with more weird things. P1010276 P1010277P1010279 P1010280Passed through a cathedral.P1010281 P1010282 P1010283

And spotted this dog, begging in a brightly coloured alleyway. P1010288The evening ended the way all Spanish evenings should. P1010301 With paella. Pronounced: pah-eh-yah.P1010305 We sat by the beach in a buzzing restaurant, with waiters dancing around each other, balancing heavy, steel pans of cooking rice overhead. The cool, salty air mixed perfectly with each bite of fresh seafood and saffron rice. P1010306The perfect end to a thoroughly exhausting, but amazing day filled with delicious food and beautiful sights.

Barcelona: Day 1

Remember when we were discussing surprises?
I was telling you all about how difficult it was to surprise me, how I absolutely love being surprised, yet can’t help but fiercely play detective in efforts to put the clues together. However, had the amazing surprise of dining at the top of my beloved building earlier this month. Well, I was soon stumped again and left seriously doubting my Sherlock skills.

I was told we were going away for the Bank Holiday weekend and persisted relentlessly for clues until I was given five countries: France, Portugal, Turkey, Spain or Denmark. One by one, with deductive reasoning and a cleverly laid trail of breadcrumbs, which I foolishly lapped up, I cracked the case. We were going to Turkey. I was so pleased with how clever I had been, that I considered purchasing a shiny badge and maybe even a hat for the trip. I packed my bags at midnight with an early flight and settled in for another night of insomnia, this time riddled with excitement. But then, it was decided the surprise would be revealed. With the grin of a five year old completing a magic trick to an audience of knowing adults, I opened the tickets. This was immediately followed by a gasp, a look of disbelief and my shouting BARCELONA?! 

We left at the crack of dawn and sparing you the predictable travel details, we arrived in a moody, overcast Barcelona. After arriving at our place, we threw all our things in the room and quickly changed into something a little more comfortable for the incredibly muggy weather before setting out for a casual wander. P1000818Instantly distracted by delicious looking pastry shops, I decided the need for tapas was imminent. Those of you unfamiliar with tapas, wait, you’re unfamiliar with tapas? Let me sit down. That is just wrong. Inhumane, really. Tapas, and I don’t say this lightly, are the best. Their literal translation defines them as different snacks and appetisers ordered to share. This is my absolute ideal way of dining. I know you may think I eat a lot, okay I do eat a lot, but I love nothing more than little bites of lots of different things. And if these things happen to be amazing Spanish dishes, well then I may just consider never leaving.
P1000823 We soon stumbled upon Obarazal. A tapas bar in the front, lined with stone faced men gossiping over their cervezas, leading to a bigger restaurant in the back. P1000825 The bar was filled with a colourful array of traditional Spanish tapas, such as seafood salad, meats, cheeses, artichokes, tomatoes and more. Big legs of Jamón Ibérico hung overhead, dripping fat into their precisely placed cones. We took a seat ready for a feast and in true Spanish form, we were ignored whilst staff lazily danced around each other, making espressos, wiping glasses, chatting away. P1000830I eventually put on my best smile and flagged someone down. Shocking my Spanish skills into action, I began ordering plates to try, asking for recommendations and enquiring as to which dishes were his favourite. P1000840 We settled on delicious, spicy albóndigas with a tomato sauce. P1000843 Unattractive, but tasty Croquetas de bacalao or salt cod croquettes. P1000844A plate of Spanish gold, jamón Ibérico. P1000845And a bunch of baby octopus, grilled on the plancha and simply dressed with garlic, olive oil, salt, lemon and parsley. P1000847 Which made me very, very happy. P1000849 P1000855 Having gotten distracted so soon and now stuffed to the gills with tapas, we continued on our wander down to the marina. On the way, we discovered some of Barcelona’s infamous graffiti. P1000856 P1000857 P1000858 P1000859 P1000860 And some skate boarders trying to film their latest tricks before the sky opened up. P1000861 P1000863 We made it down to the marina and the sky grew ever more ominous, but the rain continued to hold off, making the air thick and salty as we neared the ocean. P1000872 P1000885 P1000891P1000898

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In a little square nearby, a market of cool odds and ends were being sold. Everything from old cameras, to vintage jewels, to obsidian elephants, to rusted horse shoes and more. I kept being told off for taking pictures, so only managed to sneak a few for you.
P1000903P1000904P1000905This box is my absolute dream. If it weren’t for the baggage weight limit, I would’ve scooped up this entire collection of keys. I have a weird fondness for unusual keys as I like imagining what types of doors they open and what lies beyond them. Or maybe they open a chest filled with old photos, or letters or treasure. 
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We continued to explore the city, admiring sights, artwork, architecture and design. P1000909P1000937P1000943P1000945P1000948We arrived at the beach, watching cyclists being blown down the boardwalk and trees swaying in the wind. We decided to head back through the towering buildings in search of shelter and obviously, more food. P1000950We soon discovered Enrique Tomas, a jamóneria with walls of Ibérico ham. I could go on and on telling you about this beautiful cured meat. How the big, black pigs live in oak studded pastures, gobbling up acorns whilst being caressed by mountain air. How you can tell the difference between Ibérian and Serrano ham by the ‘pata negra’, or black hoof, which is left on during the curing process. And how this delicacy is hung to cure for at least 12 months and often more than 2 years. Instead I’ll tell you that we ate some, and it was glorious. London meat lovers will be excited to hear, they will soon be making their way to our city streets. Stay tuned to their website to find out when and where.P1000962P1000963P1000965We left with our bounty, scurrying down streets and ambling down alleyways until coming to this beautiful plaça. P1000985

Tucked in the corner was the darling Bastaix. So darling in fact, we decided we needed to stay awhile. P1000983

Which resulted in, you guessed it, more tapas.P1000998P1010001These Ibérico wrapped prawns were increible. P1010004Followed by a delicate, but beautiful plate of ceviche with mango. P1010006We nibbled until the sun went down and eventually decided to make a move in search of something sweet. Before we left however, I took one of my favourite pictures of the trip. There’s another one that I can’t wait to share with you, which is definitely a firm favourite, but this one seems pretty special, as well. There’s something about the way the little boy is stood there at the bottom looking up at this towering piece of metal holding a flame and I can only begin to imagine what grand, incomprehensible thoughts he’s pondering. P1010012Intoxicated by the thick, Spanish night air and a few too many tapas, I followed a ‘feeling’ I had about a particular passageway and have never been more pleased by my intuition. At the end of the street was a beacon of pastry. Bubó stood gleaming, its doors opening to a world of all things patisserie and sugar.
P1010020P1010021Including an impressive macaron case, of which we ordered one of each and greedily consumed until giggling and sugar high.P1010027I’d like to tell you that the evening ended shortly after, with us tucked up in bed, resting away the pains of travel in preparation for a long day ahead. Instead however, the weather had other ideas. We began our long and much needed walk back to our home away from home. With another half hour of walking to go, drops began to fall from the sky. This was amusing in our sugar infused state and somewhat welcome as the temperature finally began to cool. But as we continued walking, the sky opened up and water began bucketing down from above. The kind of rain that you expect to stop momentarily, because there’s no way that the sheer force of downpour could be sustainable. And yet, it went on and on and on until we took shelter in a glass box which led to an underground parking structure. After half an hour, I made it my mission to hail down a taxi. Standing on the side of the road, I waived my arms wildly at any car with a green light. After another half hour, completely soaked through, our saviour finally pulled over and rescued us from the rain.

The Country House Montali: Day 2

The first thing you notice having lived in a buzzy, bustling city for years once out in the remote Umbrian hills is the silence.

It’s the kind that leaves you alone with your thoughts and forces you to pay attention to smaller worlds living around you, such as those of the hundreds of different insects, creeping through the olive grove. It made me become incredibly conscious of sound and the peace that silence is capable of instilling.
Even though I have one of those minds that never stops talking.

We woke up early and tiptoed down the gravel path through the olive grove to breakfast. IMG_3415

A beautiful spread of fresh melon and fig jam, bread and butter, warm, apricot jam filled croissants and chocolate apple pastry decorated the table.

The Country House Montali

After picking through the pastries, a bowl of muesli with toasted oats, coconut, melon and apple was served. It was the perfect fuel for the long day ahead.The Country House MontaliWe hitched a ride with Alberto who was off to collect more guests at the airport.
We flew down the gravel roads leaving a trail of dust behind us. Our nerves slightly eased by Alberto’s endless arsenal of jokes as we overtook 18-wheeler trucks and little old ladies more concentrated on sharing the correct way to make pasta than the road.

We were left in the centre of Perugia and told to follow the escalators.
In the middle of this medieval city, the last thing you’d expect to find is a series of escalators.
But, there they were, and up we went.

The Country House MontaliWe headed towards the main strada, Corso Pietro Vannucci and ambled along as the sleepy, medieval town began to wake.

The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAt the end of the strada lies Piazza IV Novembre. In the piazza is the Fontana Maggiore, a beautiful fountain built in the 13th century. The star of the piazza, however, is the divine Duomo towering over the square.  The Country House MontaliThe Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, also known as the Cathedral of Perguia, holds stunning intricacies present across many of Italy’s cathedrals. Endless detail in marble work, gilded frames and stain glass windows are truly breathtaking. Regardless of the building’s significance, it truly is an awe-inspiring masterpiece.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliWe left the cathedral and began to wander aimlessly around the town.
Up a road, down an alley and through beautifully constructed buildings, we came to the top and looked out over city. The Country House MontaliThe Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliStunning views of rolling hills and terracotta tiles stretched as far as the eye could see. The Country House MontaliAfter a little more wandering and discovering, we headed back down towards the city centre.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAs you can imagine, my favourite thing about Italy is admittedly the food. I spotted a delicatessen and popped in to see what was on sale.

Just look at the size of these grapes!
They were like mini plums and had such a beautiful colour. The Country House Montali I’m positive their packaged Mozzarella di Buffala is nothing compared to that sold at home and desperately wanted to buy boxes of it to sneak into my suitcase.
But, I figured this wouldn’t go over too well in customs and moved onto the meat. The Country House MontaliBeautiful prosciuttos, salamis and homemade sausages lined the meat counter, taunting me. The Country House Montali We left the delicatessen and found a little market selling rows of leather bags, clothes and antiques. More impressive than anything being sold, was the breathtaking view beyond the stalls. IMG_3606The Country House Montali And, this little guy!
Just look at that little face.
He was free to a good home and again, I mentally negotiated the chances of slipping through customs with “special goods” in my bag.
I decided to give it a miss.
The Country House MontaliSufficiently starving having been surrounded by people snacking on piadinis and pastas, we popped into a literal hole in the wall for something to eat. The tiny store sold slices for about a Euro and was filled with business men, tourists and students alike, all wanting a warm snack.

I went for a classic Pizza Margherita topped with fresh Mozzarella inspired by my craving from earlier. It was simple and delicious. The perfect mid-afternoon snack.

The Country House MontaliIn my opinion, no Italian meal is complete without creamy, sweet gelato.
We sought out Grom, a locally loved gelateria and I ordered my favourites: chocolate, stracciatella and pistachio.
The Country House MontaliThis was followed by another leisurely stroll down random passageways, killing time before our taxi was arranged to collect us.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAfter being collected and dropped back to our temporary home at The Country House Montali, we had just enough time to shower, throw on a dress and scamper through the grove to arrive in time for dinner.

Our lovely hosts greeted us and showed us to the same table we sat at each night.

To start another delicious evening of food, we were served a quinoa & cherry tomato cocktail with pepper cream and bites of Mozzarella di Bufala.

The Country House MontaliNext, a little mixed vegetable roulade with a saffron sauce. Rotolo di CrespelleTo finish the savoury dishes, a Brazilian inspired potato stuffed pastry filled with tender aubergine. This was served with fresh pesto and cauliflower foam.

The Country House MontaliFor dessert, a beauifully presented tower of almond crunches layered with fresh pistachio cream and wild berries. I can assure you this tasted as delicious as it looked.

The Country House MontaliA delicious ending to another day in Perugia.

The Country House Montali: Day 1

So, this used to be a little something called a lifestyle blog. Call it passion, obsession or go ahead and throw out the word greed, but this has slowly spiralled out of control down the rabbit hole of food porn. Albeit a delicious hole, it is a hole of lies. As often goes with the love of food, I am constantly consumed by wanderlust.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen I did a little traveling last month and have wondered where I was or what I was doing, so I’ve decided to share it with you.

As we pull in below the clouds, the rolling hills and symmetrical rows of trees instantly reveal the essence of the Italian countryside. Having grown up visiting Tuscany and Veneto, Perugia felt familiar in the way memories from a once visited place cling to the back of your mind, but still maintain enough of a foreign element to feel like an adventure.

We left the slow chaos that only an Italian airport could manage to function with and crawled into our taxi. We drove away from busy streets filled with drivers indicating left, but veering right, old men bickering using one hand for their phone and the other waving about in the air, and wannabe Formula 1 racers speeding past slower cars into oncoming traffic to overtake on single lane roads.

After following several hidden signs and turning onto various unmarked roads, we asked the driver what the beautiful building perched on top of the mountain far off in the distance was. It was our destination, The Country House Montali, which sat at a seemingly unattainable height atop a forest-covered mountain with no visible path leading to it.

The road was made of gravel and wound up steep, perilous cliffs with any signs of modern civilisation disappearing below us. Eventually, each turn led to the assumption that we must finally be there, this must be it. But, we continued to climb to the very top, 500km above everything else before we saw it. A beautifully painted sign at the gates welcomed us to The Country House Montali, allowing a sigh of relief marking the end of our journey.

The Country House Montali

Leo, a longhaired dachshund barked incessantly, grumpily welcoming his new guests who only pass inspection once loving pats are given out. Although he thinks he runs the place, The Country House Montali is actually owned by the lovely Alberto & Malu who opened the hotel 25 years ago. The hotel is completely vegetarian and is comprised of a main house with the dining room and kitchen, a games room complete with a billiards table and past the stunning pool and through the olive grove are the hotel’s guest rooms.

The Country House Montali

Before being shown to our room, like all classic Italian hospitality, we were fed. Our cases were left by the door and we sat outside under a shaded canopy with Leo standing guard against the property’s many wild cats. Most of which he has undoubtedly marked as plotting, miscreants carrying out some sort of evil plan.

The Country House Montali

We grazed on freshly baked bread before a beautiful dish of warm, cheesy faro with fresh vegetables arrived. It was such a simple dish, but was so full of flavour and ended up being the perfect introduction to our vegetarian journey.

The Country House MontaliThis was then followed by a delicious coconut tapioca topped with fresh whipped cream.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

As the chefs were busy making dishes for the hotel’s next cookbook, we were lucky enough to sample a few extra treats, including warm biscotti with almond, chocolate and orange zest. The Country House Montali

Having taken my fill of delicious food, I ran straight to the room, stripped into a bikini and headed for the pool. As autumn falls upon London, the California in me has begun to panic. Flashbacks of snow pouring from the sky and London’s “longest winter in 50 years” have me shivering already. A dose of Italian sun was exactly what I needed to at least attempt to tide me over until the sun next decides to shine over the gloomy city I’d soon return to.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

Feeling the sun soak into my bones, I felt a smile spread across my face.
And then, I felt something else.
Something furry rubbing against my arm and then cuddling against my face.
One of Leo’s rivals, a grey tabby I decided to name Picolo for his stubby, little legs, perched himself at the head of the sunbed and waited for some loving.

The Country House MontaliHe purred away, grabbing onto my hand whenever I pulled away from stroking him. Finally deciding he had received enough affection, he took off into the olive grove chasing one of the black cats. The Country House Montali

Not being able to sit still for any longer, I decided I needed an adventure. We walked out to find a medieval castle I had spotted on our way up the mountain.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliOnce we arrived, we discovered Castello di Montali is now private property with a beautiful home built inside the walls. We ventured round, marveling the architecture rich with history, framed by a stunning view of the scenery below.

The Country House MontaliWe came to the castle’s gate with a ferocious barking guard dog, who quieted down after a few stokes and tummy rubs.

The Country House MontaliAt the end of the property, we stood and looked out over miles of land with trees, lakes and mountains in the distance.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliHaving done enough exploring, we headed back as the sun set to get showered and ready for dinner, which begins promptly at 8pm each night.

The Country House Montali

There is no menu at The Country House Montali.
A series of four courses is presented each night and you are only expected to give everything a taste. This didn’t prove to be a problem as course after course never failed to please. Colourful, inventive, beautifully decorated plates arrived one after the other with all the attention and care from staff expected in a five star restaurant.

The Country House Montali

To start, pear and melon crudités with a balsamic reduction, slices of Piedmontese cheese, Prosecco jelly and a strawberry-grape jelly.

The Country House Montali

Next, homemade cannelloni of ricotta with salsa di pomodoro and lemon zest.

The Country House Montali

Then, puff pastry filled with spicy potato on pumpkin coulis served with sweet & sour shallots.

The Country House Montali

Last, but certainly not least, chocolate lava cake with fresh fig ice cream.

The Country House Montali Just look at that! The Country House Montali

We were the kind of full that makes you feel warm, tingly and happy inside. This is what I fondly refer to as food drunk. After some fresh mint tea and endless conversation, it was time for bed. We had been up and travelling since four in the morning and the 8.30am breakfast meant I was going to need at least a few hours sleep before the full day ahead.

THE PIG – in The New Forest

Recently I was invited on an adventure.
A train ride away from bustling streets and pushy Londoners, through rolling fields spotted with sheep, we eventually arrived in Brockenhurst.

Waiting for the group of bloggers and I were two Land Rover Defenders, each prominently marked with a golden pig. A short escort in the pig-mobiles down winding country lanes, past rolling New Forest ponies in fields and we had finally arrived at our destination.

A beautiful property with a great billowing tree welcomed us. The grand estate having once belonged to the Queen Mother’s Uncle was nothing less than breathtaking.

THE PIGTHE PIGWe entered the hotel, welcomed by gracious hosts handing out glasses of bubbling Prosecco to sip on our tour of the grounds.

Chef James Golding showed us through the darling, comfortable sitting rooms and out onto the rest of the property. Everything about The PIG exudes sustainability. The rustic wood oven blazing on the patio was created from a crumbling wall at the back of the hotel. To help with forest conservation, they fuel the oven with trees that have already died or have fallen in storms. I was incredibly impressed by each detail that has been taken into consideration for the sake of an ecological purpose.

THE PIG

He then excitedly led us to his very own smoke house with a gleam in his eye. Inside they smoke all their own products and even trade smoked salmon at the local Oak Mill in return for the smoke house’s fuel of Oak tree sawdust. THE PIGWe could smell the earthy smoke before Chef Golding even opened the door. Inside the little smoke filled room, pork belly was hanging to become a delicious dish on the menu and lavender was being smoked for an experimental cocktail. THE PIG THE PIGWe were then shown around the gardens where they grow ingredients that are put straight into their dishes. Chef Golding told us that during spring and summer months, most of their menu is comprised of ingredients that have been grown or raised on site.

THE PIG As we walked through the growth tunnels, he snapped off leaves, herbs and vegetables for us to smell and taste. The rocket was so peppery and fresh, I would’ve happily sat down and had my appetiser from the earth. THE PIG THE PIGTHE PIGWe then followed the rosemary and daffodil lined path past the converted stables which are now beautiful guest rooms of the hotel. Through a small gate was the rest of the vegetable garden. Here gardener Olli tends to the vegetables and ensures they grow properly to eventually become part of one of The PIG’s plates. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGAs we wandering past the daunting (charming) scarecrow, we came upon the tomato tunnel. Six different types of tomato are grown attached to strings to ensure the stalks grow vertically, which prevents any tomatoes from rotting in the soil. THE PIGA curious wall of flaps revealed hidden sea kale. A delicious, crunchy vegetable that tasted like a sweeter version of celery is grown in the dark to ensure its light white colouring. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTucked into the back of the garden was a beautiful sage coloured greenhouse. Inside was an incredible assortment of herbs all in little, individual pots and trays. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

Tucked in the corner was a beautiful kaffir lime tree which gave off the most incredible verbena lime smell that filled the little glass house. These limes are used to make simple syrups and liqueurs for cocktails served in the restaurant.

THE PIGBehind the greenhouse was a cage where the darling looking quails lived. These quails produce fresh eggs each morning which become part of delicious dishes on the menu. 
THE PIGA tranquil spa treatment room is set off in the distance, which can only be reached by the bridge over the carp fish pond. I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful journey to receive a massage, although I don’t think I’d want to head back out into the elements covered in oil wrapped up in a robe. With the relaxed state of mind, I’d probably manage to end up going for a swim with the fish. THE PIGWe played with the piggies who came running like dogs ready for dinner. All ears flopping and noses oinking up to the gate for some love and affection. THE PIGTo our enjoyment, we watched Olli chase some chickens to show us their collection of six different breeds before he gave up and settled for a display of eggs. By now we had thoroughly worked up an appetite and decided to head up for lunch. THE PIGWe went past the Wellie lined hallway, available for those going on a foraging trip with The PIG’s very own forager, and into the breathtaking dining room. THE PIGThe room was so serene with doors open onto the patio, fresh herbs placed around tables and sunlight pouring in from the roof. It really was a nature haven perfect for digging into fresh ingredients from the grounds. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

We pored over the delicious looking menu, each excited to taste what Chef Golding would create from the many ingredients we had just seen growing organically.THE PIGA selection of cocktails were passed around the table with Kaffir lime syrup or home infused bog myrtle vodka.THE PIGTHE PIGThen came the piggy bits.
A selection of tasters from the menu made for sharing and sampling.
First to try, the most delectable scotch eggs with perfectly cooked quails eggs nestled inside tender pork.
THE PIGThen, crispy smoked pork belly, which had been marinated in spiced honey. This was absolutely divine and incredibly moreish. There was also long strips of crackling served with fresh applesauce, which everyone happily crunched whilst chatting about our adventure through the garden. THE PIGOur starters then arrived. I shared a delicious artichoke salad with greens from the garden. The artichokes were served warm and were perfectly tender and sweet, contrasting nicely with the fresh bites of lettuce and sharp cheese. THE PIGThen a sample of smoked salmon which had previously been smoked just outside in the smoke house. The salmon was delicious. Smokey flavours paired with a sweet honey mustard sauce and topped with the acidity of the lemon made for a delightful mouthful. The fish was garnished with edible flowers and paired with a pile of fresh leaves and pickled cucumber. THE PIGAnother diner had the most amazing smoked meat platter garnished with pickled radishes and soft quail eggs. Isn’t that beautiful? THE PIGThen came the main event.
The Bath Chap.
For the faint of heart and veggies out there, look away now!
There was only one left in the kitchen and I happened to be the one lucky enough to get it.
The waiter checked with me to ensure I was aware of just what Bath Chap consists of. I can only imagine the surprise on many a diner’s face when, well, a face arrives.

Although it appeared to be rather intimidating, behind the layer of crackling was delicious meat. It went well with the tangy applesauce and had a lovely salad of fresh greens and butternut squash to accompany it. It was incredibly different to anything I’ve ever had, but I’m always one for trying something new.

THE PIGAfter sampling all the delicious food, I was ready to go roll around in the mud like the stuffed piggy I had become. 
THE PIGThe grounds of The PIG in The New Forest are incredibly peaceful and comforting, leaving you with a sense of tranquility far removed from fast paced city life. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to escape the city for a weekend away or a week of pure bliss. If you’d like to book a room, of course you’d like to book a room, click here.

If you’re in the area and fancy a piggy bite, I can’t recommend stopping for lunch enough. Make sure you book in advance as the dining room is always packed with piggies. To book a table, click here.

If you’re in Hampshire and fancy staying in the wall – yes I said in the wall – you have the option of the lovely PIG in the wall hotel as well. And for those wanting to stick your piggies in the sand, a PIG in the beach location is opening in Dorset later this year.

I can’t wait to book a peaceful, piggy visit back to The PIG! Oink!

Welcome to London

It’s tourist-time and the Brits are all a-buzz with Olympic excitement. That is, those that haven’t fled the country in search of peaceful beaches and days filled with sunshine. So, you’re coming to London with all the excitement of a four year old on Christmas, but have done zero planning and have only been told by helpful friends and family to ensure you eat some Fish and Chips.

Fear not, I’m here to help!
First of all, we need to get some before travel organisation sorted. You’ve come to the right place as I happen to be the packing master. I always manage to perfectly smush everything into my case and have yet to forget an essential item.

What to Pack
A couple days before packing, make a little list of all the things you think you’ll need or must not forget. It seems silly, but things can get a bit hectic the morning you leave for the airport and there’s nothing worse than stirring from your tired daze on the way to catch your flight to a sinking feeling in your gut as you picture your passport sitting by the door at home. A checklist is just a super simple way to ensure you’ve got all the goods with you.


Clothes

This may be the city of fog and rain, but this time of year is hot and humid. Combine humidity with faulty air-conditioning on a packed unground train, and you have yourself a disastrous, sweaty concoction.
Bring light clothes, shorts, jeans, tshirts, tank tops, dresses, a cardigan or light jacket, and a rain coat just in case the weather changes. (it always changes)

Besides your passport, nothing is more important than comfortable walking shoes! If you’re coming to London, you will be doing a lot of walking. There’s nothing that puts an immediate damper on a sunny day of exploring like a blister. Personally, if i’m going to be sightseeing or walking around all day, there is nothing i’d rather wear than some workout clothes and running shoes. But, the Brits find this very odd. Here, work out clothes are for working out, period. If you’re happy to be spotted as a tourist from a mile away and want to just be comfortable, wear whatever you want. But please, no jeans and running shoes. Please.

If you plan on going to posh restaurants, afternoon tea, or clubbing, I’d suggest bringing a few nice dresses and one pair of black or nude pumps that go with everything. Men must have formal shoes and a nice shirt to get into a nightclub, no T-shirts or sneakers allowed.

Toiletries and Necessities
This seems obvious, but I have a few tips to travel light when it comes to toiletries.

I happen to have a strange obsession with travel size products. I don’t know what it is about a mini tube of toothpaste or mini bottles of shampoo that drives me crazy, but I love them. However, these wee gems are incredibly overpriced.
Here’s my tip: go to your grocery or drug store and purchase empty mini travel bottles. There are usually different sizes and containers designed for different consistencies of products. Fill up your containers with your favourite products, and put a little sticker labelling the contents.

A good toiletry bag is incredibly helpful for organised packing. If you’re in the US, I’d recommend Target or Sephora for the best travel bags. If you’re packing something that would be disastrous if a leak were to occur, put it in its own ziploc baggie before placing it with the other toiletries.

Bring sunscreen.
I know it may be overcast or raining most of the time, but even when the sun is no where to be seen, you are being exposed to UV rays. You should always use face moisturiser with at least SPF 15 and should cover the rest of your skin with protection to avoid becoming a tourist lobster.

Bring or buy a little hand held fan.
When you’re trapped on the underground in sweltering heat, smushed up against people with no regards for your personal space whatsoever, the only thing to help you through to the next stop is a little breeze blowing against your face.

Bring a secure bag.
A backpack isn’t ideal unless you have someone travelling with you that can keep an eye on it, or a way to keep the zippers secure. Big open purses are perfect for thieves to slip their hands in and steal your wallet, passport, phone, etc. London is reasonably safe, but thieves do operate in most touristy areas.

The most obvious of them all: bring or buy an umbrella. If you’re wondering why, you’ll soon find out.

Don’t panic if you forget an essential, you can pop into our drug store Boots whilst you’re here for any toiletries you need.

London Travel
The most important item for travelling around London is the Oyster Card.
This little card allows you to travel all around London by tube and bus. There are a number of options with this card and anyone behind the counter at the station will be happy to help, but i’m sure all stations will be packed for the Olympics so i’ll you give my advice.

I suggest buying an Oyster Card with a weekly travel pass for £25. The card itself is £5, so your total for one week would be £30, for two weeks, £50. You then select which zones you will be travelling in. If you’re in central London, zones 1 and 2 should cover it. You can top up your card with an extra £10 in case you travel out of the zones you have selected so it can be automatically deducted from your card. This card covers unlimited travel between buses and tubes so instead of paying every time you hop on and off, it’s one set price. Any questions can be answered on the TFL website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

What to see/What do do
We could be here all day if I were to tell you all the magnificent things to see and do in London. If you’ve never been, i’d suggest you do all the touristy sightseeing because it really is amazing. I’ll make a brief list of ideas of what to do, see, and eat. You can also check out my London page here for ideas.

See/Do
Take a picture with Big Ben and walk around Parliament Square, obviously
Ride the London Eye and walk by the river on South Bank
Take a River bus from London Eye Millennium to Greenwich
For a different view, visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb alllll the stairs to the top
Photo opps at Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus…
Walk through or have a picnic in Hyde Park and St. James Park
For shopping or to wander: Harrods, Selfridges, Oxford Street, & King’s Road
Go to the Theatre for a show or musical
Wander around Covent Garden & Neal’s Yard Wander around Soho
Wander around Leicester Square (pronounced Lester no Li-ches-ter you Yanks)
Go see Portobello Road and wander around Notting Hill
Free museums! V&A, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Museum, etc.
Go clubbing in Mayfair
Alright, I think you’ll be plenty busy with all of that.

Eat
I could literally do this all day, but i’ll just put some of my favourites for taking visitors.  Afternoon Tea: one of my favourites is Sketch or the famous Savoy
Borough Market: Foodie Heaven. You must go here!
Visit Camden Town and go to the Food Market on a Sunday: whilst in Camden, pop into Chin Chin Laboratorists for the most amazing liquid nitrogen ice cream
Go to Brick Lane on a Sunday and visit the Food Market
Harrods and Selfridges Food Hall
My favourite Italian lunch: Princi
Fresh, Healthy lunch: Ottolenghi Best Breakfast: Modern Pantry
Best Fish & Chips: The Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden
Best burgers: MEATliquor
Best Sushi: YashinRoka, and Nobu are pricey but phenomenal – Tsunami is more reasonable
Best Lebanese: Maroush is incredible and has locations all over London
Beautiful Afternoon in Richmond Park with lunch at Petersham Nurseries
Gorgeous desserts, the best macarons, and some good dim sum: Yautcha

If you’re starving whilst out and about and need something quick, pop into a Pret for a fresh, reasonably healthy sandwich. These are just as prevalent as Starbucks and should not be hard to find.

Alright, I think that’s a good starting point and i’m sure you already have plenty ideas of what to do. If you have any ideas or suggestions that i’ve missed, feel free to leave a comment.
I hope you have a memorable trip to London and that this post has been helpful! Take lots of pictures and have fun!

Paris

One of my best Christmas gifts this year was a quick trip to Paris.
The trip coordinated with my best friend’s family EuroTrip so that we would get to spend a couple days with them in when they reached their last leg in Paris.

We stayed in the gorgeous, modern boutique Hotel L’Adresse in the 8th Arrondissement. It has black and white interior with a signature scent and contemporary fixtures. The hotel is tiny but incredibly romantic and you can book here.

My favourite thing to do in Paris is to wander the streets aimlessly with nowhere to be. Actually, that isn’t true. My favourite thing to do in Paris is to eat. Second to that, there’s nothing like discovering little shops with the latest fashion trends, hidden markets with local specialties, and flower shops bursting with colourful, fresh bouquets.

We walked the streets of Paris, popping into art galleries and stores before beginning heading to Poilâne, Paris’ legendary bakery. The bread is available in their two shops in London and at select specialist stores, but it isn’t the same. Besides, I was looking to snap a picture of the famous, fully functional bread chandelier.

We could smell the shop before we could see it. The windows were lined with fresh loaves of sourdough marked with Poilâne’s signature P. As Christmas had just passed, other loaves were decorated with winter scenes made from bread. After nibbling on fresh bread samples, I selected a miniature loaf of sourdough to take with me for later. The bread is phenomenal and the shop has an incredible history which you can read here. 

More wandering led us to my next food item on the list, Pierre Hermé Macarons. A long line snaked out of the shop as it always does. The macarons are also available in London, but again, it’s not the same. As we waited in the shops, I drooled over the pastries and cakes. One in particular caught my eye, La Cerise Sur Le Gâteau, or The Cherry on the Cake. This stunning cake is made of Dacquoise Biscuit with Hazelnuts, Wafters of Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Ganache, and Milk Chocolate Chantilly. I wan’t this cake. Although, I don’t know if I could destroy it’s perfect exterior. On second thought, i’m sure i’d forgive myself. We selected a six macarons to take with us and set out to explore more.

We continued walking into the night, passing the sights and snapping away. It was quite cold and I was beginning to get hunger pangs, so we stopped at a hidden steak restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. We shared a beautifully cooked Thick Rump Steak with Béarnaise, Pomme Frittes, and a luscious Mushroom Risotto with Truffle.

We chatted into the night as the restaurant packed with locals. Happy and full, we took a cab ride home. Did you know, that if an accident occurs on the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, your insurance doesn’t cover it?

Once we had snuggled up in the room, we shared our Pierre Hermé macarons with tea and flicked through the day’s pictures. We planned our next day around food, as I so often do, and went to bed.

The next morning began with a nippy walk to Marche d’Aligre, one of the most famous Parisian food markets. It consists of an indoor market, Beauvau-Saint-Antoine, and an outdoor market in the place d’Aligre. Food markets are typical part of the Parisian way of life, and happen to be one of my favourite things, ever.

We drifted around the market, watching locals exchange with stall holders and mothers stock up on supplies. As we were meeting Lauren (best friend) and Marty (other mother) at the train station, we bought a huge hunk of Brie and a fresh baguette to take with us. As we were leaving the market, a man was selling an entire box of figs for €5 as he was packing up. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

We headed to Gare De L’est Train Station, happy as could be with my newly purchased market snack. As we were early, we found a table to eat whilst we waited for their train to arrive. Bite after bite of the fresh, fluffy baguette smothered in creamy Brie with ripe fig spread over the top. I was in heaven.

We greeted them at the platform, and took a cab back to their hotel. After they settled into the Concorde Lafayette, we went back out on the town. We walked around the Louvre and through Jardin des Tuileries to one of my favourite stores, Colette. Colette is a concept shop with an eclectic, trendy mix of luxury goods and fashionable garments. I definitely recommend a visit, even if you’re there only for, as the french say, léche vitrines – which literally translates to window licking.

After more window licking, we stumbled upon the most amazing chocolate shop with a Willy Wonka-esque chocolate wall fountain, Jean Paul Hévin. The shop had bowls of chocolate, macaron towers, and a killer pump made solely from chocolate. We left with with a box of the most incredible macarons to have after dinner. Sadly, they got a little mushed on the journey.

 We stopped for dinner and chatted about their EuroTrip so far. Look how decadent my French Onion Soup was! It was much needed after the long, cold day and I ate every bite. Considering the French are particularly opposed to ketchup, I found their rather American serving bottles to be quite amusing. For dessert, a decadent Crepe with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce, and a Banana.

We walked down the Champs Elysees and around the Eiffel Tower. As it began to rain, we went back to the Concorde Lafayette and marvelled over the views from their Panoramic Bar. We lounged, listening to the Parisian singer serenade the guests before heading downstairs for some tea. We sampled the macarons and chatted late until the night before saying goodbye and heading back to our hotel.

Sad to be leaving on our early Eurostar trip back to London, only one thing could cheer me up.

Au Revoir Paris xx

Dubai

I’ve just returned from a very last minute, 5 day getaway to Dubai. It is such a whirlwind of extravagance that I don’t know where to start. I landed late and besides meeting up with my gorgeous friend Michelle, I only really had time to spend the first night to staring out my window in wonder at all the towering, newly constructed buildings surrounding a manmade lake of clear water.

In the morning, we laid by the pool and had breakfast before getting ready. We then went to the Dubai Mall, which of course, is the world’s largest. This place made the American superstore look like a small shopfront. We had lunch on the terrace facing the Burj Khalifa lake at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. After spending the rest of the day of wandering around in what seemed like a city, we had worked up an appetite. We changed quickly at the hotel and took a cab out to Atlantis.

Atlantis hotel is positioned at the tip of the Palm Jumeirah, a cluster of manmade islands in the shape of a palm, which houses some of the world’s top hotels and most expensive residences. Inside the Atlantis is one of the most spectacular aquariums, which is reminiscent of the lost city itself. Even more spectacular than the aquarium is Dave Chihuly’s glass sculpture in the lobby of the hotel. I can’t help but stare in fascination wondering how the complex piece was created.

We had a spectacular meal at Nobu, with Sushi, Yellowfin Sashimi, Rock Shrimp Tempura, Wagyu Beef, and of course Nobu’s famous Black Cod. We then indulged on a Flourless Chocolate Fondant with Nobu Beer Ice Cream and Passion Fruit & Coconut Ice Cream. Sorry for the lack of Nobu photos, most were taken with my iPhone and didn’t come out. But, at least I posted the desserts!

The next day, we had an early breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt before heading to Abu Dhabi. We briefly wandered around and had a delicious Za’atar and Halloumi wrap for lunch. Before heading back to Dubai, I insisted the cab driver take us past Ferrari World and the Formula 1 track. I’m definitely looking forward to the opening of Ferrari World and hope to return when it does.

When we returned to Dubai, we went to the most amazing local market. This was by far one of my favourite parts of the trip. It was as if we had entered a different world, leaving all the tacky extravagance behind. A local world of poverty, bordering some of the most lavishly wealthy in the world. However, first sight of the market was incredibly disturbing. A row of dead, bloody sharks lined up on a platform at the mouth of the market was heart stopping. I decided against including these photos because it really is sickening. Inside the market was a maze of fresh fruit, spices, and pounds of dates. I walked along unashamedly accepting all offers of date samples. We then headed deeper into the market which eventually leads to little local shops selling hookah pipes and more spices.

As darkness fell, we headed home to get ready for our dinner reservations at The Observatory. The Observatory is located on the 52nd floor of the Marriott Hotel and offers incredible views of the palm and downtown Dubai. It has low-lighting and a modern interior, but we weren’t there for the interior design.  I must say I admired the innovation of the chef, but not everything was to my liking. Overall, we enjoyed our meal with our well-lit view of downtown Dubai.

Here’s what we had:
– Seared Scottish Scallops with Microsalad, Pumpkin Sauce, and a Chocolate Ribbon
Portobello Mushrooms filled with Garlic, Goat’s Cheese, and Sun Blushed Tomato
– Asparagus Risotto
– Home Smoked Salmon enhanced with Soy-apricot Sauce and Wasabi Ice Cream
– Seared Tuna encrusted with Pink Peppercorns and served with Microsalad, Apricot, and Sweet Chili Sauce

Dessert:
– Trio of Chocolate with Granduija Soup, Maracabo Chocolate Brownie, White Chocolate Mousse, Date Scented Camel Milk Ice Cream, and Pink Pepper Caramel
– Milk Rice Pudding with Truffle, Candied Mushrooms, and Pine Nut Milk in Coca-Cola Jelly
– Electric Ice Cream of Date Scented Camel Milk with Rose Mouse Wrapped in Rose Water Parcels

Each evening at around midnight, we’d spend about an hour messing around in the hotel’s rather large gym in an attempt to make a dent in the day’s calorie consumption. The next morning was spent lounging by the pool. We then headed to the magnificent, sail shaped, 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab. Architectually, the exterior is phenomenal, one of a kind. But, and it is a definite but, the interior is absolutely, appallingly tacky. Rainbow fountains, mismatched carpets, and strange robotic panels seemed shockingly Vegas for this world renowned hotel.

Aside from the navy and forest green, cruise ship like interior, the views from the Sky Bar were unlike any other. We were seated in the middle of the dining room at a booth facing outwards towards miles of crystal clear ocean. On either side, all of Dubai was visible. We chatted away listening to the beautiful pianist playing Disney songs on her glass, grand piano. We then began our Sky Tea, and I think it would only be fitting for me to describe this as the world’s best afternoon tea.

It began with a miniature Beef Wellington, what an incredible beginning. Two bites of the best Beef Wellington i’ve ever tasted. Then we were served Vegetable Samosas with a spicy dipping sauce. Then came the Sky Tea. A massive, sail shaped stand was placed before us, and my little foodie heart skipped a beat. On the bottom plate, a selection of pastries, second, a fruit cake, carrot cake, biscuits, and shot glass of creme brûlée, third, a selection of savoury pastries and breads with delectable fillings, and on top, delicate tea sandwiches each on a different flavoured bread. The spread and presentation were amazing and we happily munched for hours. Nearing the end of our tower conquering, a waiter appeared with a platter of all the sandwiches we had just devoured. We naughtily took seconds of our favourites, feeling a bit like bears storing up for winter. As our stomachs neared their bursting point, we decided to stop and save room for the scones. The scones! Warm, freshly baked scones with the most gorgeous spreads i’ve ever been served to accompany this after tea treat. Strawberry mousse, clotted cream, passionfruit jam, and strawberry jam with rose petals, each more delicious than the last.  We sat back, sipping our tea, gazing out at the silky blue water, completely content. And then he appeared, again. The sight of the silver platter of tiny treats was almost overwhelming. Being the greedy little monster that I am, I took a strawberry, dipped in chocolate with a gold flake garnish, and decided that it was the last bite of food I would consume for the rest of my life. Or at least, until dinner.

After being driven off the Burj Al Arab’s island by a golf kart, we wandered around the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It was built to resemble a traditional Arabic marketplace, but is rather touristy. We bought a few gifts before heading to the Dubai Mall to get boxes of macarons and Patchi chocolates to bring back to London with us. We then went to the hotel to relax before getting ready for dinner. That’s right, more food.

Verre is Gordon Ramsay’s Dubai restaurant with a modern, Eurpean inspired menu. The restaurant was almost empty, besides a few couples and a family with a screaming baby, my favourite. Once the family left, I was much happier and able to focus on our incredible meal. The service was impeccable, if not a tad robotic. It didn’t matter because the food was all delicious.

Here’s what we had:
– Rolls with Olive and Garlic Butter
– Beef Tart Appetizer
– Vine Tomato Minestrone with Basil Pesto
– Ahi Tuna
– Ravioli of Scottish Lobster and Salmon, with Tomato Chutney Glazed Lettuce, and Lobster Vinaigrette
– Pan Fried, Line Caught Halibut, Seared Scallops, Coriander Linguini, Roasted Asparagus, and Lemongrass Veloute

Dessert:
– 3 Cheeses with Paired Fruit
– Chilled Valrhona Chocolate Fondant and Pear Sorbet
– Chocolate, Passionfruit Chocolate, Turkish Delight

I can only describe my trip to Dubai as extravagant, decadent, and memorable. I have a feeling this won’t be my last trip to this manmade, world record breaking, lavish emirate.

Venice

My very typically Italian Nonno needed to do some business in Veneto, Italy and was planning a weekend trip. Absolutely enamored with Italy, my Nonna and I quickly offered to accompany him on his trip in case he needed some entertainment or someone to share dinner with. We presented our case and after successfully winning him over, immediately began to book and plan.

I spent my childhood summers visiting my grandparents in London, and often we made trips to the Tuscan seaside. There is no where in the world I feel more at peace than in Italy. I’ll try to keep my infatuation controlled while I detail our quick trip, but you’ve been warned, I really am obsessed.

There is something mystical about Venice. As you float down passageways, surrounded by history, trying to conceptualize a city resting entirely on water, everything seems completely surreal. Each building an architectural masterpiece, completely different from its neighbors, yet molds together to form a perfect, intricate puzzle.

 
This strange structure hangs above what was originally the only umbrella shop in Venice.

Food in Venice can be incredibly expensive, taking advantage of the packs of tourists that invade the city year round. I would suggest you find a local bacaro (wine bar) that serves cicheti, which are like little italian tapas. This is my favorite way to eat by far, as it ensures you are able to sample various local specialities. There are beautiful seafood dishes and the artichoke is phenomenal.
Venice is a place that everyone should visit in their lifetime. There’s no way the city could leave a bad taste in your mouth, even if the piazza is flooded or the wind whips down the alleys, its truly breathtaking and like nothing you’ve ever seen.