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Girls and the city

Fashion icon, Audrey Hepburn once said: “Paris is always a good idea”.  I couldn’t agree more, Paris, like New York is a city I never tire of as there are always new things to discover.

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Paris is chic personified, the city and fashion go together like strawberries and cream.  It is the home of Chanel and Dior as well as the birth place of Karl Lagerfeld, John-Paul Gaultier, not to mention some fabulous accessory brands, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Cartier.  The allure of  French fashion for me began as a teenager when I discovered Kookai, a label founded in Paris in 1983.  Unfortunately Kookai no longer exists in England so you can imagine my joy on my recent visit to Paris on seeing the store.  Naturally I had to go in and purchase.

In September I spent a very enjoyable long weekend in Paris with two of my closest friends from school.  We started the trip as we meant to go on with prosecco on the Eurostar while reminiscing about French lessons at school and visits to La Serronerie, the house near Normandy that the school owned.  I always adored the French language, despite it not coming naturally to me and so studied it right through to A Level.  I actually surprised myself on this trip at how much came back to me.  When travelling it’s important to be comfortable so I wore a black pleated midi skirt from Asos with a t-shirt embroidered with the Paris skyline from Topshop.

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I first visited Paris aged about 13 with my Mum (see picture below) when her best friend lived on the outskirts and it was love at first sight.  I have returned many times since then, as well as introducing others to its wonderful charm.

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Anyone who reads my blog will know that Sex and the City is an obsession for me and therefore first on my list for this trip was to explore the sights of those 2004 epic finale episodes, guided by the website Set in Paris.  It made perfect sense that Carrie Bradshaw should visit the French capital as fictionally, she is one of the biggest fashionistas and as she puts it so eloquently, is “a person looking for love”.   My outfit for this occasion was carefully planned, a black cord pinafore dress over a mustard long-sleeved top, both from New Look, set off with a beautiful Victoria Beckham for Target silk scarf and Carrie Bradshaw herself would have been proud of the amount of ground I covered in my patent Oasis heels.

In these finale episodes, we first see Carrie in Paris as she arrives at Hotel Plaza Athenee and the hotel is even grander in the flesh than it looked on the screen.  The weather was wet, just as it was for most of Carrie’s trip but the hotel is simply striking in any weather with its beautiful balconies, adorned with red flowers and the Eiffel Tower just a stones throw away.

The hotel is on the most fashionable street in Paris, Avenue Montaigne which is home to all the haute culture brands.  Indeed the Dior store where Carrie slips over is on this street.

When Carrie finds herself alone in Paris again, vowing to “do French things and be very parisien” she visits Cador patisserie, where she shares cake with a large dog.  Cador is unfortunately no longer and instead there is Cojean – an organic cafe.

Kong, the restaurant where Carrie meets Aleksandr Petrovsky’s ex-wife and gets an insight into what he is really like is still there although we didn’t go inside.

There is no better people to explore a city like Paris with than your girlfriends and that is what Carrie is missing in Paris.  This hits home for her when she spies four girls having lunch in l’Avenue.

The last time we see Carrie and Aleksandr happy is when they are strolling through place du dauphine after Carrie has bumped into her French fan base.

When Aleksandr feels nervous about the opening of his light exhibition, Carrie ditches her dinner with her fans to attend the museum with him.

Carrie goes to Paris with a new man for a new life but returns with an ‘old’ man to her old life which is quite ironic but of course gave many fans the ending they craved of Carrie and Big finally getting it together for good.  We see Carrie hear the long awaiting declaration from Big on pont des arts “Carrie you’re the one”.

So that was my Sex and the City tour of Paris but of course we did plenty of the sights too.  We stayed in Montmartre which is one of my favourite parts of Paris.  Known as the art district, it has a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere than other areas of Paris.  The main square (place du tertre) has a carnival atmosphere with artists painting and sketching and selling their work.

Overlooking the main square, on the highest point of the city, is the beautiful white stone basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  This gives visitors a great view over the whole of Paris.  The building is awe-inspiring whether seen by night or day.  If the steps up are too much of a challenge, there is a small funicular that takes you to the top for a small fee.  The inside is just as beautiful with its stunning painted ceilings and carvings.

Having done the cultural bit, the shops in this area are well worth exploring, particularly the macaron stores.  A quirky find is the shop Belle du Jour which specialises in traditional, vintage perfume bottles.

On a couple of evenings we enjoyed dinner at L’ete en Pente Douce where delicious food can be enjoyed on the pavement terrace soaking up the Montmartre ambiance.  On the walk back to the hotel, we were tempted into a small creperie for a sweet treat on more than one occasion!

On one of the days while there, the rain became torrential and so we opted to duck out of the showers in some of the wonderful shops along the Champs-Elysees.  We walked the full length of the street to where it meets the Arc de Triomphe.  My friend had a fantastic make-over by the Urban Decay stand in Sephora and we queued for macarons in Laduree.  Laduree is a beautiful and regal store where you can eat in or simply buy some of the luxury sweet treats which the brand has been making since 1862.

I had never seen the famous painting, the Mona Lisa and so we paid to go in Louvre museum simply to see it.  The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world and the glass pyramid in the main courtyard of the museum is a work of art in itself.  The Mona Lisa however was somewhat of a disappointment.  It is much much smaller than one imagines and you have to fight your way through throngs of people in order to get a look at it behind glass.

On this day I wore a checked pleat mini skirt from Oasis with a Boohoo slogan t-shirt and a long grey cardigan from Oasis.  I finished the outfit with my red patent bow pumps which I bought in Milan.

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No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  We visited at night when it is spectacularly lit and went right to the top, which while blustery and cold was worth it for the views and the champagne at the champagne bar.  When we came down, I indulged the child in me and had a ride on the traditional Victorian carousel.  It was a magical evening.

Our final day came round all too soon and we decided to begin with a boat trip along the Seine.  On this day I wore a Breton t-shirt dress from New Look, clinched in at the waist with a red belt, also from New Look which nicely tied in the red mac from Marks and Spencer.  We visited Notre Dame with its impressive stained glass windows and finished up with lunch at a cafe on the left bank which is linked to the Shakespeare and Company book store.  The book store sells English language books and is part shop and part library.  Many writers write here amongst the books, in exchange for helping in the shop.  It really is an Aladdin’s cave and a bohemian heaven, somewhere I would love to sit and write myself.  It totally inspired me and I’d love to come back.

Paris should be on every fashionistas bucket list and is a perfect break for friends or couples.  I will certainly be returning to one of the greatest fashion capitals of the world.  As Honore de Balzac, a French novelist and playwright said “Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant”.

 

 

Greetings from the picture postcard island

As I sat in the midday sun with no water, no money and no phone, I started to really wonder whether I would ever find Mum and how the hell I was going to get back to the hotel without the car keys.  Suddenly riding the donkey up from Fira old port while Mum got the cable car, didn’t feel like my brightest idea.  We had arranged to meet where the donkey ride ended but as I assumed (wrongly) the cable car to have been much quicker, when she wasn’t there when I arrived, I decided to go to the emergency meeting point, the cable car station.  After numerous cars had emptied out with no sign, I was starting to panic slightly, given I had left my bag with her.  Eventually a very worn out and slightly annoyed Mum appeared!  Some weeks after returning, I felt quite ashamed to have taken this donkey ride at all when I saw a Facebook post on how the poor animals are treated on the island.  I had naively assumed that animals were cared for as in the UK and taking the donkey/mule ride was no different to riding a horse.  I now know however that these animals are forced to carry far more weight than they are able, given little rest or water and wear poorly fitting saddles which rub and injure them.  I was left disgusted with myself, so please if you visit Fira, either walk up from the old port or take the cable car, don’t make the mistake I did.

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The capital city of Fira is perched on the western edge of the island and we sat sipping frappes overlooking the stunning caldera below, which was created when a volcano erupted some thousands of years ago, leaving this special kind of crater.  Cruise ships were aplenty.  The winding steep streets host an abundance a lovely quaint shops, selling all manner of souvenirs.  From Fira, we drove on, in our hired Fiat 500 convertible, to Oia which is clearly how Santorini got a reputation as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  Had we not have visited Oia, I would have been very underwhelmed by Santorini, given the way people had built it up before we went.  We strolled through the maze of narrow cobbled streets there, the warm air filled with scents of the perfume boutiques, mixed with garlic from the tavernas, and were led up to a venetian castle with 360 degree views of the village including one of the most photographed windmills.  The village embodies the iconic greek architecture of white buildings with blue roofs.  I never knew so many shades of blue existed before coming to Santorini.

 

The second day of the car hire, we drove out to the village of Pyrgos.  This is the highest point of Santorini and again has the typical winding streets and steps up the hillside which we embarked on after fuelling ourselves with a yummy breakfast in a cafe at the base of the village.  The climb is certainly worth the effort for the wonderful views of the island from the top and if you tire in the heat along the way, you can always pause in one of the many beautiful gift shops selling paintings, greek eyes and the like.  We sat in the cafe near the castle sipping a well-earned fresh orange juice before making our way back down.  We drove on to Megalohori, one of the most picturesque villages, surrounded by vineyards due to the fertility of the soil.  Here we enjoyed an exquisite lunch in a tree-shaded taverna in the main square, before exploring the streets and churches.  The bell towers are definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed as well as being able to step back in time and visit an ancient cave house.  We drove back through Exo Gonia which has one of only two churches on the island with a tiled roof, Agios Charalambos, before arriving back at our hotel in Kamari.  I was quite impressed we had managed to find our way to so many different parts of the 28 square mile island over the two days, given when I asked for a sat nav at the car hire place, she had looked at me blank and when I then clarified, calling it a navigation system, she offered me a paper map!  I also had to contend with Mum’s map reading, at one point she claimed the airport wasn’t on the map, despite the size of the area, and the fact that Greeks clearly don’t consider road signs as a necessity!

An organised trip offered respite from the anxiety of driving in a strange country and allowed us to visit the Monastery of Profitis Ilias where I purchased honey, made by the monks.  Emporeio village provided some more beautiful, postcard worthy shots and after a coffee break by the sea, we headed onto Akrotiri where we got to see one of Mum’s great loves, a lighthouse before enjoying a traditional Greek lunch in a clifftop taverna with breath-taking views and a cat who was happy balancing on narrow ledges, hoping for a titbit.

The rest of the trip was pretty much spent by the hotel pool or on the beautiful beaches of Kamari, devouring novels, in my case Marian Keyes latest offering – ‘The Break’, and sipping Aperol spritz.  By night, we frequented some of the many beautiful restaurants, mainly those that lined the beach and sampled the delicious Greek food and hospitality, often while watching the owners cats and dogs frolicking – I even sang karaoke one evening.  I know it’s a hard life!  We ventured on a boat trip to nearby Perissa, with its black sand beach for lunch one day which was an experience in itself.  The boat ride was fairly choppy and I watched a girl opposite me turn greener and greener before she vomited in a plastic bag which later spilled out on the deck!  The captain’s dog clearly had his sea legs though!

You can’t go to Santorini and not witness one of the beautiful sunsets over the caldera and we enjoyed this from a front row perspective, in a wooden sailing boat, organised by the tour company, while sipping prosecco.  The trip also offered the chance to swim in the thermal springs and bathe in the mineral rich mud but unfortunately my lack of swimming skills meant I couldn’t.  We did enjoy dinner on the island of Thirassia though, where I tried the island delicacy of fava – a type of bean puree.

Santorini is a beautiful island there is no doubt which probably explains the estimated two million visitors per year and countless wedding ceremonies.  Relaxing on the beaches with waves gently lapping the shore, the sun makes the water look as though it has been sprinkled in glitter.  You don’t have to walk far to see a magnificent church and it is rich in history both cultural and geographical, with the last volcanic eruption being as recent as 1950 and earthquake 1956.  I did feel a little disappointed due to the hype that preceded my visit however, as you are led to believe that the whole island is stunning, particularly by people’s use of Instagram filters.  Don’t get me wrong, it does have spots that are truly postcard perfect but if you stayed exclusively in Kamari or Perissa for example, you would see little of this, so a car is a must.  Having been to a number of Greek islands, Santorini is not unique in its beauty or hospitality and the beaches here are inferior to some of the islands, due to the volcanic nature.  Another great, relaxing and enjoyable summer break though with my best friend, my Mum.  I did of course miss my wonderful hubby – absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.  Have you visited Santorini?  If not, hopefully this account has inspired you to add it to your bucket list.

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Dress called ‘Santorini’ from Oasis

 

‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’

The city of Paris has always been synonymous with romantic short breaks but next time you want a couples get away, why not consider Verona?

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T-shirt Oasis and shorts (just seen) also Oasis

 

To the North of Italy, Verona sits on the Adige River somewhere between Milan and Venice.  Those who paid attention in English literature, will know that Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It is no doubt on the back of this play that Verona became a tourist magnet, further aided by the successful 2010 film Letters to Juliet, staring Amanda Seyfried.  Both certainly played a part in my selection of a city to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.

The flight was a swift two hours from Gatwick and a bus takes you from the airport to the city’s central station for a bargain €6 per person.  We stayed four nights at Hotel Giulietta e Romeo, which of course I picked out based on the name, but as luck would have it, it did turn out to be a wise choice. Rooms at the hotel were clean and staff friendly and the breakfast was a good continental offering.  Located a mere stones throw from the Arena, it couldn’t have been better located.  Watch out for gladiators wanting their picture with you outside the arena and don’t bother paying to go in as the best views are from the outside being that the inside is now a modern concert venue.

The main attraction of the city is Juliet’s house and balcony.  As you walk into the courtyard entrance, the walls are covered with names and messages, to the point that you can’t distinguish one from the next.  The focus of the courtyard is a brass statue of Juliet.  Legend has it that rubbing her right breast will bring you luck in love.  The queue to go up on the balcony was far less than I thought but that could have been in part as it was a weekday and perhaps also the admission charge to the house puts some visitors off.  We added to the numerous padlocks bearing initials in the courtyard.  Visitors can write to Juliet either by the traditional method of pen and paper or by email.  Just like in the film, Juliet’s secretaries do actually reply.  If you are still hungry for more monuments to the great play, head to the tomb of Juliet.  I warn you though, there really is little to see aside from a quote from the play and an empty stone tomb.

Verona has much more to offer than this fictional history, but before exploring that, we soaked up the Italian lifestyle and sunshine, stopping for an Aperol Spritz and some pizza in one of the many cafes that border Piazza Erbe.  This is a great square to relax and watch the Italian hustle and bustle.  A market takes up much of the centre square and a wonderful array of colours and smells tease your senses, from beautifully decorated opera masks to fresh fruit and pizzas.  For a bird’s eye view, head up the torre dei lamberti.  To get to the tower you will pass under an arch from which a whale rib has been suspended since the early 1700s.  No one knows how it got there and the myth is that it will fall on the first truthful person who walks beneath it.  It might not have fallen on me, but as I walked through the arch, my wedge shoes caused me to stumble and fall spectacularly!  Style over function once again!

Some beautiful bridges take you across the River Adige, the most beautiful being part of the Castelvecchio, a wonderful example of gothic architecture.  A walk over Ponte Pietra and a trip up on the cable car to the Castel San Pietro is worth it, just for the view which was just as well as the castle itself, was closed for renovation when we went.  While we were up there, the weather took a turn for the worst and we took shelter in Re Teodorico, a bar half way down the hillside.  Thank goodness it was there, as when the rain came down, it really came down.  It was like someone had turned a tap on full blast.  There was lightning as well as thunder that shook the window panes.  It even started to rain in the bar!  I was only really worried about my LK Bennett satin espadrilles, so thankfully it did stop after about an hour and we made our way back down to the town, with me tip toeing around puddles.  Also on this side of the river is the Roman theatre and archaeological museum.  The theatre is quite a marvel, set in the hillside and more great views of the city below are on offer.  The archaeological museum on the other hand was not for us – you’ve seen one pot, you’ve seen them all!

Verona is ideally situated for a trip out to the Italian lakes.  We visited Lake Garda and went on a terrifying boat ride across to Sirmione.  Sirmione used to be a peninsula but is now an island.  You are welcomed to the island by a beautiful medieval castle that overlooks the lake.  Here we sampled the best gelato I have ever eaten.  It was so creamy and sweet and the choice of flavours was monumental.  I went for coffee, chocolate and tirimusi.

In order to really understand Italy’s love affair with food, we enrolled on a four-hour cooking class while in the city.  Here we learnt the art of tirimusi and how to make tagliatelle by a very talented chef who has written a fair few cook books – sadly they have yet to be translated.  Following our efforts, we sat and ate the food we had made, washed down with complementary wine.

No visit to any city is complete without visiting a couple of churches and Verona has plenty,  I would highly recommend Duomo Cattedrale, a vision of white marble and Church Santa Anastasia, a thirteenth century church, which while nothing special outside, has a stunning interior.

Before leaving the city, I of course made time to shop, and was happy to discover Mauro Leone – an Italian homemade footwear chain, which I first came across in Milan last year.  Much to my husband’s frustration, I came away with two beautiful pairs of shoes to add to my expanding collection.

 

Italy is a country made for me – sunny, home of beautiful footwear, the origin of the Fiat 500 and the best food in the world, not to mention the home of the aperitif – what’s not to love?  Having done Rome, Milan and now Verona, I am hoping to persuade my husband to come on further explorations of the country despite his insistence at having seen enough.  Some of Italian’s passion did rub off on him in terms of my anniversary gifts.  Flowers and fruit are the traditional gifts for four years of marriage.  He bought me a beautiful flower charm in Pandora, along with a heart engraved with ‘I love Italia’ and a new bracelet.  During our walk around the city he picked me a wild red rose and later at dinner in Bistrot Mamma Mia in the Piazza Bra, he bought me a rose from a seller touting their business around all the local establishments.

The best meal we had by far was on our final night at L’Orologio on Corso Porta Nuova.  The service and the food was second to none, I particularly enjoyed my favourite starter, caprese salad.

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Dress Miss Selfridge

One of the lesser visited cities of Italy, Verona is not one to be missed – add it to your bucket list now!  If it’s romance you are looking for, this city has an abundance of it, given it was the setting for the greatest love story of all time, and no one can deny the passion Italians have for style and of course for food, as our guide said “an Italian knows good food”.

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Top Ted Baker, skirt Oasis and shoes Converse

Channeling Captain Corelli

Upon arriving at the Apostolata Spa hotel in Skala, Kefalonia, I had never felt more homesick. To say it was not a good start to the holiday, would be an understatement! The room was tired, the bathroom wasn’t clean and the balcony only overlooked the sea if you looked at a 90 degree angle over it!  I don’t want you to take this as a bad review of the hotel though, as the staff were fantastic and took us via golf buggy the following morning, to a room that couldn’t have been more different. From then onwards, thoughts of home diminished and I began to enjoy the usual Greek hospitality.

The town of Skala was about an hours walk from the hotel but there was a regular bus service. In the town there were the usual array of souvenir shops, along with tavernas and a lovely sandy-ish beach.  The old part of town also has the remains of a Roman villa.

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A game of chess overlooking Skala beach

 

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Frill t-shirt, River Island, shorts, Oasis and Havaianas flip flops.  Cat eye sunglasses Accessorize

Some 16 years ago as a hedonistic 18 year old, my friend and I had visited Zakynthos, another of the Ionian Islands and on a boat trip, the guide had pointed out Kefalonia. From then on I always hoped I would get to visit the island, that was the setting of the 2001 film, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and now finally I had now made it there, for a relaxing week with my best friend, my Mum.

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Enjoying my first trip abroad without parents – this was taken behind the bar in our favourite place, Ghetto in Laganas, Zakynthos.

The pool at the hotel was so inviting and the first day was spent working on a tan on a lounger by it and swimming in the water that twinkled, like diamonds in the sun’s rays. One of the things I love about a package holiday to the sun is the permission it gives you to lay about doing nothing.  This year I decided to try out the slider trend for pool footwear rather than my usual flip flops and I can confirm that I will be sticking to the old faithful in future, as despite looking nice, they are really hard to keep on especially when your feet are wet.

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Hotel pool by night

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Best bargain beach bag from Iceland!

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Sliders from Bershka

I do like to mix it up and ensure I enjoy some culture so the following day we hired a car.  The car was a bit of a wreck that struggled to get out of third gear and driving on the island was quite an eye opener. They tell you to stay off unmade roads but that proves difficult when a proper road suddenly peters out into a dirt track! The mountain roads were also very steep and winding and when driving through Skala, I came face to face with a cow running down the road! Thank god for iphone’s or we would probably still be driving around the island as the map the hire company gave us was about as much use as a chocolate tea pot!

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Our first stop was the port town of Poros. We refreshed ourselves with a cool drink in one of the tavernas, overlooking the harbour and watched the boats before heading down to a small beach for some relaxation.

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After refuelling at a very cute little petrol station, where an attendant dispenses the fuel, we headed on to a beach I had read about, Kaminia. This was a beautiful quiet beach and we relaxed here for a while and I got into the book of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as having never read it, this seemed like an appropriate occasion to do so.

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Lunchtime found us in the pretty village of Kateleios and I enjoyed a traditional Greek salad and moussaka at a local taverna.

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Sisson monastery was our next stop. Unfortunately it was closed when we arrived. We then went on a walk in search of views which was probably a bad idea, given how hot the day had become.

The final stop of the day was the Ayii Theodori lighthouse. My Mum loves lighthouses so this was a must have. It was very different to what I would typically picture as a lighthouse but equally as beautiful. It was built in 1829 originally but had to be reconstructed along with much of the island following the 1953 earthquake.

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I always try and go on a couple of the organised tours and we had a wonderful day out on the ‘Discover Kefalonia’ tour. We had a brief photo stop in Sami before heading on to the Melissani caves. The temperature dropped somewhat as we boarded a small rowing boat to go into the caves. We had a great guide who sang ‘Just one Cornetto’ as he rowed us around.

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Flamingo t-shirt – Oasis, denim skirt – FatFace

The necessity of any sun holiday for me, is a boat trip which was a large part of this excursion. The boat took us around the north-eastern coast of Kefalonia up to the village of Fiskardo – the only town on the island that wasn’t destroyed in the 1953 earthquake. On the way we passed the beach where in the Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Penelope Cruz jumps off the board walk for a swim and also stopped at a little pebbley cove. The afternoon was spent in Assos. On the return journey we had a beautiful photo stop at Mytos beach, which when looking down on it appears to be a white sandy beach but is in fact pebbles. This beach was made famous by Hollywood in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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Approaching Fiskardo

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Old ruined houses in Assos

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Mytos Beach

Prior to going to Scotland in May, I had my hair dyed rose gold. While it looked lovely, after a couple of washes it just looked like my usual blonde highlights. I brought with me on this trip a wash in, wash out pastel pink hair dye by L’oreal and absolutely loved the results.

 

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The professional job

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The DIY job

That afternoon we went on our second organized trip to a vineyard by the monastery of Saint Gerasimos.  Saint Gerasimos is the patron saint of Kefalonia and it is believed that he can heal the sick.  I very much enjoyed the wine tasting and needless to say I didn’t spit it out.  I purchased a couple of bottles to take home.

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Saint Gerasimos Monastery

The coach then headed on to the capital, Argostoli.  We then had free time to either shop or turtle watch.  We spent too long shopping on the beautiful marble street and sadly missed the turtles that others in the party saw but I had seen them before in Zakynthos.

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Shop til you drop in Argostoli.  Top – Oasis, white jeans and silver mules – New Look, bag – Biba with bunny charm from Asos

There was plenty of time for pampering whilst we were away. We went to a morning stretch class, part of which involved concentrating on our breathing. This was extremely relaxing, particularly given our surroundings; the sea was lapping gently and the morning sun was cooled by a light breeze. Of course it would have been rude to come to a spa hotel and not use the facilities, so we both indulged in a back, neck and head massage which was so relaxing, I dropped off to sleep. I also had a pedicure done.

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Food in Greece is always delicious and one of the best meals we had was at a restaurant called Nautilus. The restaurant is designed to look like a boat and over looks the sea. The staff here were fantastic, with one even boning my sea bream for me!

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Dressed for Nautilus in Topshop floral maxi dress, Asos silver clutch and New Look flat mules

In Argostoli, I had to try the Kefalonian meat pie, a traditional delicacy which I have since cooked at home reasonably successfully.

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As part of our all inclusive package we were entitled to one evening in the a la carte restaurant at the hotel which was delicious and allowed for beautiful views over the bay.

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At the a la carte restaurant, I am wearing dress – Zara and red pumps from Milan.

On our final night we followed a recommendation to go to a restaurant in Skala called Sunrise and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

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Getting in on the corset belt trend from In the Style – t-shirt dress –  New Look, denim shoes – Aldo, silver bag – Asos

I couldn’t leave the island without bringing a little part of it with me including some olive oil and various herbs, to help me cook up some Greek flavours in the kitchen.

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I must admit that the book of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin did beat me – despite the excellent story the book is not quite the easy beach read I enjoy.  I was not disappointed by the island the book is set on however and whilst not the best of the Greek islands in my opinion, Mum and I had a fabulous holiday as always.

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Sun sets on another great holiday

All Aboard the Maple Leaf

Canada is synonymous with maple syrup (Quebec is responsible for 75% of the world’s output), bears and Mountie’s – that was about all I knew of Canada but it was another place to tick off my travel bucket list so I decided it was time to learn more.

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After the horrendous flight out to the States and the hustle and bustle of New York City (in my opinion the greatest city in the world outside London) my husband and I were pleased to join the Amtrak train for a 12 hour relaxing trip which would whisk us through up- state New York and into Canada. Some of the scenery on the journey was breath taking and I had plenty of time to ponder my trusty Lonely Planet guide on what was the longest train journey I have ever done, not that it felt like it. The stop at the Canadian border was a little chaotic with them first suggesting passports would be checked on the train only to then detrain us and our luggage to go through the check!

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Upon arrival at Toronto we were surprised at the grandeur of The Fairmont Royal York hotel we were staying in, across the road from Union Station. The hotel was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is steeped in art deco opulence being that it opened in 1929 and has often been the hotel of choice for Queen Elizabeth II. We only ventured a few steps from the hotel to grab dinner, still tired from our long journey. Here I sampled a Canadian sundae which had maple leaf biscuits in it.

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The following morning after refuelling with a Starbucks (a life saver for lattes in any foreign country) we joined a coach trip out to Niagara. The first stop was right up my street with a visit to a vineyard and a wine tasting. Needless to say I purchased a bottle to take home.

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Sporting the seasons off the shoulder trend with a red Oasis top

When we approached the falls – nothing could have prepared me for such a spectacular sight. Pictures really do not do justice to what in my opinion should be included in the seven wonders of the natural world. Victoria Park offers fantastic views of the falls and apart from the visual experience there is the audial one of the power of the water cascading down.  More than a million bathtubs of water plummet downward every second according to the Lonely Planet Guide.

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Following lunch overlooking the falls we joined the Hornblower boat trip, formally known as the Maid of the Mist tour. This is an experience like no other. It is a chance to view the falls up close whilst feeling the mist or spray and hearing the mighty roar.

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The tour finished with a stop in Niagara on the lake village. This is such a quant 19th century village that really is what you think of when you imagine an American or Canadian village. The boutiques are wooden and painted in pastel colours. The highlight was the Christmas shop! We also found a jewellery shop where my husband treated me to a Pandora maple leaf charm exclusive to Canada.

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Once back in Toronto, we rounded off our day with a trip to the Rogers Centre Baseball stadium to see the Toronto Blue Jays. Neither of us really understood the complexities of the game but it was great to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of what is an integral part of North American culture.

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Canada, although part of the continent of North America is in some ways very European being that it has had a long history of both France and England ruling it. To this day, although now independent – our Queen is still their head of state. Montreal is the only officially bilingual city; speaking both French and English. The landscape and the people of what is the second largest country in the world is truly diverse and by visiting only the Eastern side I fear we may have missed out on some of the beauty the country has to offer.  Toronto itself is the most multiculturally diverse city in the world with over 140 languages spoken.  It is said that over half of the people that call Toronto home were born outside Canada.

Had we had longer in Toronto, I would have liked to go up the famous CN Tower in the glass lifts but sadly it was time to move on; we did however get to admire the 1970’s structure illuminated by the nightly light show.

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Souvenirs of Toronto

Our next stop was Ottawa – Canada’s capital. One of the main attractions here is the Rideau Canal with a series of 8 historic functioning locks. The banks are flanked by the parliament building and Chateau – Laurier – a hotel which is a national historic site.

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The following morning we observed the changing of the guard ceremony outside parliament. The ceremony echoes that of England’s changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

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We refuelled at Zak’s Diner, a typical 1950’s American diner, where I enjoyed pancakes and maple syrup and a coffee milkshake.

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Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot more to do in Ottawa and the weather also took a turn for the worse. We spent our final day here riding the open top tourist bus and getting soaked. We did jump off the bus at the Canadian Mint which was an interesting insight into how coins are made as well as getting to feel the weight of a gold bar.  We also visited the Notre Dame Cathedral-Basilica which is the oldest church in Ottawa, built in 1841.

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I was taken by a local delicacy here called the Beavertail which was served in the Byward market. The name comes from the shape of the sweet treat which is a fried dough pastry topped with any number of delights – I had a cinnamon and apple one.

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Back on an Amtrak service, we headed to Quebec City. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me, along with Niagara. Not having really practiced my French since A Level, I was looking forward to being surrounded by it; after all it is such a beautiful, romantic sounding language. We stayed at Hotel Clarendon, one of the oldest hotels, built in 1870 and right in the hub of the old town. A few short steps from the hotel the Rue du Tresor can be found. This is a short, narrow street which has been commandeered by local artists to showcase and sell their work, giving the air of Monmartre in Paris.

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There is plenty here to while away a good few days with the most famous site being Le Chateau Frontenac which is in fact a luxury hotel originally built in 1893 by the Canadian Railway.

The funicular, across from Le Chateau Frontenac, is a must and transports you to the beautiful cobbled streets and squares of the lower town where murals, statues, street artists and amazing boutiques can be found.

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Denim pinafore – Oasis, shoes converse, bag Biba, necklace Andrea Garland

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For another angle on the city, outside the city walls, we ascended the Observatoire de la Capitale for views at 221m up.  You can see all the green roofs which started off copper, like the one on the historic armoury building which is being rebuilt following a fire in 2008.  We also admired parliament building Hotel du Parlement which was mid renovation.  The front lawn has statues honouring women obtaining the right to vote.

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Unfortunately the weather let us down again and we ended up on a walking tour of La Citadelle in the teaming rain.  This fort was built over a century, starting with the French in 1750 and finished in 1850 by the British.  The fort serves as a base for the Canada’s Royal 22s and was intended to serve as a defence to an American invasion which of course never happened.

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We finished the day with a meal and a bottle of wine, in a restaurant that had an accordion player to entertain you whilst you ate.

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Following the floral trend from spring/summer 2016 with a midi skirt from Oasis – top and shoes also Oasis, clutch bag Aldo

Following a visit to Basilica Notre-Dame de Quebec which is one of the continents first cathedrals, I wanted to make the most of the romance of the place, so I persuaded my husband to part with a somewhat large chunk of our cash for a horse and carriage ride around the city which was stunning and we finished up the day eating at the Auberge du Tresor 1640 restaurant, thus named after the year the building was constructed – the oldest building in Quebec City with a hard to miss bright red roof.

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The final leg of our tour, took us to Montreal. We arrived late afternoon and our stomachs were requiring some attention. An Indian restaurant called Gandhi which was listed in the guide book caught our eye. We decided to walk it from hotel but picked the most dodgiest route possible which meant our initial impressions of Montreal were not the best. The meal however was spectacular and after we wandered back to the hotel via a much nicer route; taking in the Basilique Notre Dame which was beautifully lit and passing a number of projections on the walls which is a project depicting the history of Montreal in advance of the 375 year anniversary next year.

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Feeling a little tired of city sites we decided we wanted to get out to Mont Tremblant and the Laurentian Mountains to see some of the breath taking Canadian landscapes you see in photos. It appeared from a quick search online that to do the trip in a day there was only one bus a day out there that departed at 0730. Foolishly thinking this couldn’t be true, we set off on foot for the long walk to the bus station, arriving around lunch time only to find that the internet had of course been correct and there was only that early bus to Mont Tremblant if you intended to do the trip in a day. Feeling hot and sweaty from the long walk, we were desperate to not write the day off and the Lonely Planet guide mentioned the town of St-Jerome as the gateway to the Laurentians. That was a place we could visit in a day so we purchased a ticket and waited in the nearby picturesque park of La Fontaine, soaking up the sun before joining the bus.

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Nautical style top M&S, shorts Oasis

The book mentioned a beautiful cathedral to visit with a beautiful stained-glass window. On arrival late afternoon we discovered said cathedral closed an hour earlier than the book had said.

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Disappointed, we wandered about only to find ourselves among the local down and outs. This was my first bad experience in many years of Lonely Planet guides. We parked ourselves in a bar and just drunk until the bus returned to pick us up. Never have we been so glad to see a bus!

Shattered from the day we got the metro back to our hotel rather than walking back from the bus station, changed and then enjoyed a meal and a few cosmos in a restaurant near to the hotel.

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Mod style dress M&S

The final day was unbearably hot and we were up early hoping to see a few more sites and then cram in the obligatory last minute shopping.

We headed out to the Olympic park, built when Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976. The funicular that takes you to the top of the 165m Tour de Montreal is well worth doing if only giving you the chance to say you have been up the world’s largest inclined structure.

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I couldn’t leave Montreal without going inside its most famous sight – Basilique Notre-Dame.  It was built in 1829 and has a stunning alter and a midnight blue ceiling covered in stars.  Celine Dion was married here in 1994.

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We walked back to the hotel to check out via Place Jacques Cartier which in the centre of old Montreal is a square full of activity with stalls, entertainers, cafes and bars. Nelson’s column stands at the north end of the square.

All that was left to do before heading back to the airport was some shopping.  I was amazed that even my husband caught the shopping bug. We got some great deals in North  Face and I couldn’t resist an eye shadow from Sephora.

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Before we knew it we were on the flight home. It was a whirlwind of a trip that once again we tried to cram too much into.   On reflection I think we should have either spent more time away or had more time in New York and Toronto and then a few days in Quebec. I hope one day I will get to do the Rocky Mountaineer train trip and experience Vancouver and some of the picture postcard views of Canada away from the big cities.

A New York State of Mind

New York is a city that I, like many before me, fell in love with it from the moment I first arrived.

My fourth visit to the city that never sleeps, at one point felt like it was never going to happen.  Generally one leaves Heathrow airport with the feeling that better advantage could have been taken of the shopping.  I can however vouch that seven and a half hours is more than enough time to explore every nook and cranny as well as being responsible for my credit card getting rather a battering.  Even my husband who is usually reluctant to part with more than £15 for a shirt, treated himself to a blue checked one from Pink.

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A free Pimms, a couple of glasses of champagne and many purchases later – we finally boarded the plane.  We arrived at JFK in the early hours and finally rocked up at my Mums friend’s house on Long Island just in time for an early breakfast.  The garden and my Mum’s friend’s hangover suggested her granddaughters graduation party the previous evening had gone off with a bang; what a shame we missed it – damn you American Airlines!

Not about to waste anymore time – sleep was abandoned for, would you believe, more shopping at Deer Park outlet mall.  I couldn’t resist this Coach bag.  Coach was founded in 1941 and began as a workshop in a Manhattan loft.  I loved the bags long before their first flagship store was opened in London in 2011 and what a year to purchase one, as this year marks Coach’s 75th anniversary.

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My husband must have had some sort of lobotomy on the flight over as he even purchased a number of labelled shirts!  Following the shopping, refreshments were sort at, get this, a drive through Starbucks!

Leaving my Mum to catch up with her friend, my husband and I met some friends for a drink on one of Long Island’s many beaches.  Later we finished our first day at a typical American diner.

The following morning, my Mum, my husband and I all boarded the train heading for Manhattan.

Being a die-hard Sex and the City fan; I was desperate to visit Carrie’s apartment on Perry Street.  On a previous trip to New York, I had done the Sex and the City movie tour with a friend, but Carrie’s apartment is omitted from the tour due to complaints by residents.

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T-shirt limited edition for the new release of the Jungle Book, by Kenzo, skirt Asos, shoes Oasis, bag Biba, rabbit bag charm Asos and sunglasses Gucci.

After posing for the all important Instagram picture outside the apartment, we walked to the High Line garden.  This is an urban regeneration project completed in 2014 which has made a raised linear park out of a disused rail line which served the industrial Meatpacking District and Chelsea.  We did it because it was listed as one of the top sites in my guide-book and was one we hadn’t seen on previous trips.  I don’t think we had been missing much!  It was rather a let down and appeared as though it had been neglected of late.

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It was a baking hot day so we paused for refreshments at the Bus Stop Cafe in Greenwich Village.  I indulged in American pancakes.

Everyone was then dragged by me on a pilgrimage to the Manolo Blahnik store, which, eventually, I had to admit defeat on after Google maps sent us on some what of a wild goose chase.  I’m sure my credit card was breathing a sigh of relief!

The subway took us down to Tribeca district and we went up One World Trade Centre which stands close to the site of the original twin towers that were.  It is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere with the observatory standing at 1254 feet.  What a fabulous view of the city and well worth a visit.

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Afterwards we reflected on the horror of 9/11, the terrorist attack of 2001, as we looked at the many names of the victims around two waterfalls which stand on the sites of the original north and south towers.

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Dinner was in another diner and then we saw Mum back on her train to Long Island from Penn station.

My husband and I walked from our hotel near Madison Square Gardens down to the East River.  It was raining on and off but that didn’t put off the hoards of people going to see the 40th Macy’s Independence Day fireworks display.  I got into the party spirit with a celebratory headband.

American’s celebrate 4th July as Independence Day as it is the anniversary of their independence from the UK which was obtained in 1776; not to be confused with what Nigel Farage dubbed our Independence Day on 23rd June with the Brexit vote. Incidentally everyone we met was keen to discuss Brexit and how we felt about it.

The fireworks were absolutely amazing and despite the number of people, it was a great party atmosphere.  Even the Empire State Building was lit up in red white and blue.

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We retired to a bar where I had a Cosmo – after all what else would I order in New York City?!  A cab then took us back to our hotel.

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I left the city that’s ‘so good they named it twice’, wanting more.  I would have loved to have experienced the boating lake in Central Park had we had the time as well as exploring the shops of 5th Avenue.  Perhaps next time I’ll visit during Thanksgiving. It certainly is a city I will never tire of.

Look out for part two of my holiday blog where we join the Maple Leaf train.

Las niñas hacen de Barcelona

May Day Bank Holiday arrived and it was time for my girly holiday with one of my closest friends. The last time I went away with friends was in 2009 so this break was well overdue. Every girl needs quality time with her BFF.

After enjoying the full Spanish splendour of Paella and Sangria in a cute restaurant in the Olympic area, the casualty of the first evening was not me but my red suede sandals from M&S. Having only ever worn them to the party and not fully comprehending the length of the walk between the transport hubs and the restaurant; by the time I boarded the metro my toe was bleeding profusely – much to the shock of an innocent passenger. The shoes were not salvageable. I knew I shouldn’t have listened to my husband when he told me only to pack one pair of going out shoes! Of course this did give me an excuse to go shoe shopping – not that I really need one!

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Love this mod style dress from M&S would you believe, as were the fated shoes!

The espadrille is of course Spain’s claim to fame in shoe terms. The shoe which originated in the Pyrenees dates back centuries with some suggesting they go as far back as the 14th century. The defining characteristic is the jute rope sole and the name originates from esparto, a tough, wiry Mediterranean grass used in making rope. Yves Saint Laurent popularised the wedge espadrille after meeting Castaner a Spanish manufacturer of espadrilles at a trade fair in Paris in 1970.

Whilst in Barcelona, I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity of visiting the first Castaner store which opened in 1994 and was aptly named Christina. Although the Castaner brand originated back in 1927, it only really began to flourish as fashion footwear in the 60’s when colour was added to the shoe. The meeting with Yves Saint Laurent no doubt also helped bring the brand to the forefront of fashion. The Castaner family still heads the company and its Mediterranean roots remain at its core. I purchased a stunning pair of navy wedge espadrilles.

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Naturally I went to Barcelona for reasons other than footwear but couldn’t visit without experiencing a true Spanish brand whose craftsmanship has stood the test of time.

We only had two full days in the city and like many other European cities; it is a city of contrasts with a vast amount to see. We joined the hop on, hop off open top tourist bus for the first day in order to get a general feel for all the city has to offer.

The Barrio Gotico gothic quarter is steeped in history and was built around an old Roman town. It is here that the wonders of medieval architecture can be enjoyed, not least with La Catedral. Sadly we couldn’t find the cloisters where geese roam free as it appeared to be closed off for maintenance.

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That evening having already sampled the paella – we opted for another Spanish culinary favourite; tapas.

The second day consisted of a jam packed itinerary. We wandered along Las Ramblas – the most famous street in Barcelona. The street stretches from Plaza Catalunya to Port Vell Harbour and the Christopher Columbus statue. The trees that line the pedestrianised part of the street provide a canopy from the Mediterranean sun whilst you explore the stalls selling everything from souvenirs to flowers to art work and take in the living statues.

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Making the most of the denim revival in a New Look dress

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A visit to La Sargarda Famillia was a must. The church designed by Gaudi is still being built today but the elegance and grandeur of the place can not be lost on even those most lacking in architectural appreciation. The foundation stone was laid in 1882 with Gaudi becoming involved a year later and current estimates suggest it may be complete in 2026 to celebrate 100 years since the death of Gaudi. The project is funded by tickets sold for the attraction and private donations. The sunlight streams through the many beautiful stained glass windows and bounces around the ornate web of angled columns thus creating a similar effect as when light seeps through a canopy of trees.  Lots of Gaudi’s work drew inspiration from nature.

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The next stop was Park Guell – another piece of lasting Gaudi heritage and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. Originally this was bought by a count to become an exclusive village of houses with landscaped gardens and he hired Gaudi but commercially it flopped and in 1922 the city bought the area to make it a public park which now gets an estimated 4 million visitors a year. It is a truly enchanting place. There are beautiful mosaic tiled areas and gate houses that resemble gingerbread houses. A much photographed mosaic lizard is a defining attraction of the park.

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Finally we rested our tired legs and got the cable car up Mountjuic, thought to once have been a pre Roman settlement, for some beautiful views of the entire city.

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Our final night was spent in Placa Reial, a pretty square just off of Las Ramblas with many restaurants and night spots set around a central fountain which is lit by unusual lamp posts which are Gaudi’s first known works in the city. We were entertained by the original Spanish art of Flamenco. Flamenco was first mentioned in literature in 1774. A flamenco show is extremely passionate and quite exciting to watch; some what of an assault on the senses. There is a guitar player and the dancers wear shoes like tap shoes. The women are dressed in beautiful dresses.

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Our final morning was passed with breakfast on the golden sands of Barcelona’s coast. It is easy to think of Barcelona as a city break and forget that it is also on the coast; giving you the best of both worlds.  I highly recommend Barcelona for a city break with a difference.

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Wearing a T-Shirt bought in Mango whilst away – a brand with Spanish origins