Curiosity Killed in Paris – encore!

I knew I should’ve taken the earlier train – it meant that I missed service on the breakfast menu at the increasingly popular Holybelly cafe and thus missed the savoury stack of pancakes that I’d been craving for a year!! (They were closed for refurbishment last time I visited in September.) And it meant I got in to Paris at lunch time so everyone will be queuing with me.

Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait and my alternative choice of meal, as recommended by one of the lovely girls there, was an experience and a joy. Two poached eggs, with that ridiculously amazing French bread that is crusty to the point of almost cracking teeth but is too temptingly delicious to leave be, plus salad and crispy bacon and the most wonderful baked beans I have ever had in my life. Quaffed down with a London Fog – earl grey tea with vanilla syrup and frothy milk.

Outside Holybelly


My delcious food, the pretty floor and Holybelly interior

Parisian metro

It was a seriously grey and miserable day

I’d decided to visit Paris again on a whim, as I knew hubby would be here for work and the tickets for £29 each way were released-instant decision made! I wanted to see if I could visit some of the places I didn’t on my last trip in September and pick up a few more bits from my favourite pharmacy. As the weather was so miserable I decided to spend the majority of the Friday shopping and spend Saturday doing the more touristy stuff.

My belly was full with deliciousness from Holybelly and my course was set: tackle City Pharma first, then try Sephora and Mac for some extra bits. I managed to pick up some clay masks from Argiletz, extra Nuxe goodies like the brilliant Reve de Miel lip balm and the oh-so-yummy smelling Huile Prodigieuse as well as lots of hand cream (I get through it so quickly!) and a mini Beauty Elixir spritz from Caudalie.

By the time I left (€50 lighter) it had started to rain and oh reader, Paris in the rain is not fun. I still needed to find my Mac bits and headed off on a wild goose chase to two separate stores but they had sold out of my exact shade. Oh well. The second store was very close to the Montparnasse tower and I briefly wondered whether I should head up for a touristy visit, but with the skies so overcast and gloomy I decided to save my €15 and promise to head back another time.

I had bought my usual carnet of metro tickets and hopped on a line taking me towards les grandes magasins making note of one of the more unsettling aspects of Paris since the attacks: when entering most shops you were asked to open your coat – to show you weren’t wearing an explosive vest, and bag – to show you didn’t have weapons.

By this point in the day I’d already walked 13km according to my tracker and I was feeling it. I headed to the hotel before the others for a freshen up before a much needed dinner.

Once reunited with hubby and his colleagues, we had a quick turnaround to visit one of my favourite chocolate and sweet shops – A la mere de famille situated just a 10/15 minute walk away from the hotel. I only wish I could give you smell-o-vision dear reader!

Shop exterior

Those floor tiles! Those huge labels!

Like an apothecary for sweet things!

This feast for the senses was founded before the revolution, in 1761 and maintains its old charm beautifully, from the counter filled with chocolates and jars with delectable treats to the beautiful floor tiles. There’s even a kiosk where the cashier sits! I learned that the French for marshmallow is not marshmallow with a French accent – *dies* – thankfully not me, that was hubby making me seriously embarrassed, but guimauves and I asked for one of each flavour of the huge fluffy sweets.

I also picked up a selection of macarons, not the fanciest of selections but delicious all the same. These are the plain almond biscuits without the colouring but with traditional fillings inside such as pine nut, almond, chocolate and salted caramel. My brain translated lack of colourants as basically good for you – if I’m wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Pic taken at hotel before they got squished in my bag/eaten in a breath. Marshmallows amd macarons!!

After a strange nights sleep (apparently I need a small monster of a cat to crush my legs or hear him purring on my chest to feel truly relaxed) it was time to set off and hit the tourist-y places. I was grateful for the early start to be able to get the metro down to the Louvre and be one of the first in to see the Mona Lisa before the crowds made me question life and the use of aggressive elbows.

A wonderful friend *waves to Nikki* sent me a note about the secret entrance to the Louvre. Secret? Well, not quite but I can’t tell you how much it cut down on waiting times. I HATE queuing and crowds and this basically avoided the worst of it. I hadn’t pre-purchased my ticket so I thought my best bet was to head to the underground entrance. Basically, get off at the Palais Royal Louvre stop and head for the Carousel shopping centre. This will bring you to the inverted pyramids. You can also access the Louvre via the Porte Richelieu if you have pre-paid tickets. I can’t say enough for being an early bird getting the worm here either, just a handful of people were waiting with me for the security checkpoint. 

The alternative entrance to the Louvre


This meant I could get to the ticket booth, pay my €15 and race to the Richelieu wing to see the lady with the enigmatic smile, without a million people joining me.

No, seriously. Look at all the emptiness I had! It was like a perfect dream scenario for me. I was tempted to dance on the stairs (no one would have seen me) in gleeful joy.  

Not a soul to be seen. Bliss!


The imperfect symmetry in this is making me twitchy

Just a handful of people were in this giant room waiting to see the Mona Lisa. I managed to get a moment admiring her by the barriers all by myself.  

The most famous woman in the world and her admirers.


After that I decided to explore the quiet museum a little more and make the most of the time I had to kill. I reckoned two hours at the Louvre would be more than enough for my back/legs/brain. I decided to visit the opulent apartments of Napoleon III and enjoy some alone time there. 

Entrance to the apartments


Dining room goals.


The Grand Salon. Very grand.

Once again I pretty much had the place to myself so did my usual “pretend you live here in the past” thing and let my imagination run wild.

Many moons ago I had read the brilliant La Reine Margot by Alexander Dumas which takes place in Paris and the Louvre around the reign of Charles IX and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. It is funny and gory and makes Game of Thrones look like Little House(s) on the Prairie. I imagined Marguerite running down this staircase chased by a crazed Catherine de Medici. 

Who have these steps greeted in times gone by?

Satisfied with my foray back in time I wandered around the rest of the museum.   

Very creepy, even in daylight!


The entrance to the Egyptian exhibits.


Claude Leveque’s UV light installation “The greatest show on earth part 2”

I thought this was a great use for the medieval moat and enjoyed walking around. I realised that some people were looking at me funny but put it down to a natural paranoia. Then I looked down at my top and realised why… 

my brightly coloured top was now neon and i was glowing in the dark!!

 My next stop was only a short walk away from the Louvre, at the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked through a cold and bleak Jardin des Tuileries admiring the many runners and strollers braving the freezing temperatures. 

I loved the concrete entrance to the oval rooms

 I had pre-booked a ticket using the handy fnac website to visit the large, permanent water lilies exhibition by Monet in the oval rooms, specially built for his large paintings.    

Gorgeous spaces, a shame about the people!

They were beautiful spaces, I just wish it had been a little quieter so I could’ve had a longer sit down on the central benches and admired the work. One of the rooms was filled with art students sketching away and other tourists taking so many selfies to the point of making me want to rip the cameras out of their hands. I genuinely don’t understand why they think a picture of them duck-facing in front of exquisite work, by one of the most talented artists in the world, is a thing. *mini rant over*

detail of the waterlilies

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the museum for more paintings by artists such as Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and more.  

The Eiffel Tower hides its head in the cloud


My next stop took me south/left of the river to the stunning Pantheon, sat on top of a hill in the fifth arrondissement. This huge building has been a church, science display and mausoleum in its many incarnations. 

Foucault’s Pendulum tells the time

It also houses the mesmerising Foucault pendulum a simple contraption that demonstrates that the Earth rotates. A brass-coated lead ball swings from a long wire secured in the ceiling of the dome and the plane of the pendulum’s swing rotates clockwise 11° per hour.   

Make sure to take a trip down to the crypt to visit the tombs of some of the greatest French writers and people in history including my pal Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.  

Voltaire’s tomb


My iPhone photography skills do this vast expanse no justice!


By this point, around 1-ish,  I was hungry again and being so close to my favourite spot I decided a brisk walk down the hill and across the river to Ile St Louis and the wonderful Cafe St Regis


I’ve written about this gorgeous little place before from my previous trip, but it’s worth saying again. There are many cafes and bistros in Paris but this one holds a special place in my heart for being an oasis of calm. Dining as a woman alone can sometimes feel intimidating or uncomfortable but I was welcomed with a warm smile as if they knew me as a regular visitor – I guess I practically am though!

So delicious!

I didn’t have to be back at Gare du Nord to meet hubby and his colleagues until 4 so I had some time still to kill. I settled in and ordered a hearty meal of Croque Madame which is Croque Monsieur (bread, ham and cheese, all grilled – so basically hammy pizza!) but with an egg. Utterly delicious.

As I felt so comfortable there and I was in the middle of Wet January I decided to order a little cocktail to wash all the food down. I chose a Sweet Home Alabama – Amaretto, Southern Comfort and Stolynichaya vodka. Let’s just say it was potent. *hic* I had to order crepes with Nutella to ensure I wouldn’t be too wobbly on my feet. That’s my excuse for stuffing my face and I’m sticking with it!  

Drinks that have three spirits but taste like fruit juice are dangerous!


All the Nutella!!


I rolled out of the cafe over an hour and a half later, satisfied and very cheery, pausing to stop and listen to the amazing pianist on the bridge connecting Ile St Louis to Ile de la Cite and briskly avoiding the crowds by Notre Dame. I thought I would kill time by heading to the lovely Cité metro station but I ended up being distracted by the spires of Sainte Chapelle. 

Checking the time I still had an hour until the meeting time and I really didn’t want to hang around Gare du Nord. There was still a bit of a queue for Sainte Chapelle but if you walk up, past the police at the gates, you’ll come to a non-description entrance with a National Monuments board for the Conciergerie. 

The stunning fairytale building that looks like a medieval chateau from the other side of the river – that’s the Conciergerie. It was once part of the Royal Palace complex, together with the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle and served as a prison. 

 This huge space (imagine the parties you could host!) greeted me as I walked down the steps into the lower hall, the Hall of the Men at Arms. I had NO IDEA this vastness existed and I was in it for a mere €8!

It was originally a massive dining hall for the many thousands of staff that serviced the palace complex. 

The gorgeous staircase to the kitchens that sady no longer exist!

 The Conciergerie gained infamy during the Revolution holding prisoners who would then be transported to the guillotines across the city. The most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette and they’ve preserved the chapel created in situ of her cell as well as a mock up of the cell itself. I found the different types of cells really interesting – you could pay for a private suite! – and the roll call of the many names of political prisoners was harrowing. 

A pretty stained glass panel in Marie Antoinette’s chapel

Just visible is a high water mark from a flood in 1910, about 3 metres high!

It was finally time to head to GdN and meet up with hubby and his colleagues. Although my time in Paris was pretty short I felt like I had managed to do as much as I possibly could within the time frame and still enjoy myself. I checked my tracker, I’d managed to walk nearly 20kms despite taking the metro nearly everywhere! I was exhausted but happy. I just needed one final item to pick up for the journey home – delicious demi baguettes. A bien tôt Paris!

Gare du Nord to take me back home


Curiosity Killed… In Brussels 

I’d barely looked up from my iPad, watching a Storyville documentary on an FBI informant whilst on the Eurostar, headphones on loud to drown out the rowdy lot sat ahead of us (they were on shots as the train departed at 8:04 a-fricking-m) and hadn’t realised we’d pulled in to Brussels’ Gare du Midi. It’s an underwhelming welcome to the city, but similar to the industrialised and graffitied entrance to Paris’ Gate du Nord.

The station is a little disorienting. With the increased security due to the Paris attacks, the multiple exits from the Eurostar platforms were blocked. Therefore we may have missed the informative illuminated signs that direct you to the Metro (yeah, right!) but instead found ourselves following a warren of paths to finally see the Metro signs and then see them disappear once we had turned the corner – personal pet peeve: signs that direct you and then disappear – what’s with that?!

We found the Metro hub and bought single journeys for €2.10 each as we knew we’d be walking most of the day instead of taking the metro. They have these odd validator things that eat your ticket, open the door then spit them out again – but don’t forget to wait for your ticket before walking through!! We could take line 3 or 4 (which is like a tram) to De Brouckere and then would have to change for Gare Central – slightly tricky as the signs for lines 1 or 5 disappeared. Again. All was well in the end as we realised we had to exit and re-enter sort of.

It was just a slight shock to see Army guys with ginormous guns on the metro – can you imagine the scene seeing them at Waterloo or something?! I thought I’d be fine seeing armed police or army guys on the streets, “…it’ll be perfectly safe…” I would say – yes but it’s actually quite unnatural and not being used to seeing my bobbies with automatic assault rifles hanging about their person, it’s disconcerting.

Our hotel was a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Metro exit on Rue de Colonies/Kolonienstraat and looked warm and welcoming. We were far too early to check in but could leave our bags as we went off to explore the city. With rumbling tummies we set off downhill towards the Grand Place/Gros Markt.

Grand Place looking towards the museum

The architecture in Brussels is completely different to anything I’ve seen before. I like its simplicity and it recalls all the old-fashioned chocolate box scenes of winter time and Christmas. The Grand Place is particularly pretty though due to the ornate spires of the town hall and the gilded accents on all the buildings within the square. The square had been prepped for Christmas with a beautiful nativity scene – with real sheep! – and a simply decorated Christmas tree. Walking around we spotted the famous swan and espied an open fire within a restaurant serving moules-frites.

It was a delight to warm up by the fire whilst having our meals

There’s some seriously huge mussels underneath that greenery!

Walking in to La Chaloupe d’Or we were warmly welcomed and sat ourselves near the fire. As was befitting our location, we opted for a large pot of moules and frites to share. So good. SO GOOD! A walk was needed afterwards so we decided to explore the rest of the old city, taking in the sights of the Christmas market ensconced around the Bours area. Personally, I feel once you have seen one Christmas market, you’ve seen them all. I didn’t think there was anything particularly special or Brussels specific to this one. There are always the same types of things being sold and I’m glad we didn’t just go for the market. Maybe it’s just me being bah humbug-y! However I do love the smells of roasting chestnuts and cinnamon spices and started to relax and singalong to the Christmas tunes playing over the speakers. Off we strolled to see some more sights within the old town walls, like the Manneken Pis.

The little boy peeing fountain is worth a minute of your time – maybe two if he’s wearing one of his many costumes – but I didn’t think it much of it!

The Manneken Pis is tiny!

The windows at many of the biscuit and chocolate shops were filled with delicious goodies, especially those in Maison Dondoy. This famous biscuit shop specialise in one of my ultimate weaknesses – speculoos biscuits.

Display at Maison Dondoy

I’d recommend a stroll through the Galleries Royales. They’re filled with chocolate shops and cafes as well as cute artisanal stores filled with lace and trinkets.

lots of beautiful leavers lace shops

The baroque pulpit inside the Cathedral

Our hotel was just up the hill and around the corner from the cathedral. For me, it didn’t have the connection with a higher power that I get from places like Sacre-Coeur, St Peter’s or Lincoln, but it was lovely especially with all the nativity scenes from the different communities within Brussels. It’s used for big state occasions like weddings and funerals and the Pope visited too.
Our room at 9 Hotel Centraal was lovely. I rather liked the exposed brick on the wall and the heeeuge mirror opposite. It was slightly weird having no nets to protect our privacy though. Especially with office workers just opposite!

I had sort of forgotten about the bad guys in the news recently until we headed up to our hotel room. Looking out the window I saw a police car with armed police stop a car with three men inside. I could see the driver place his hands on the steering wheel, the front passenger place his on the dashboard and the back passenger on the head rest in front. After a lengthy conversation involving documents and papers being handed back and forth, the police gave the all clear.

Stop! Police!

Here’s where the story would end normally. But these guys were a bit miffed at having been stopped. So they got out of the car and approached the police TO HAVE A GO AT THEM!! Maybe I’m a born follower, or just British, but there is no way in hell I’d approach police with massive guns and give them what for! To be fair though, I’ve never been profiled due to my race, potential religion or skin colour and speak from a position of privilege. I guess I’d be pretty peeved too.

After a very quick cat nap we decided to make the best of the winter sunshine and headed to the Royal Palace and Mont des Arts area for some pictures and then headed in search for more sustenance (hot chocolate and waffles!)

Palace views

The view from the top of Mont des Arts


The interior at Falstaff

We had passed by Falstaff earlier and thought it looked like a lovely stop off for some sweet treats. The interior is so pretty – art nouveau details in the window arches and glass ceilings and I wish I had a pair of glasses that could look through into the past to see it in its heyday. The food was fine and generous, but the atmosphere in such a visually rich place was a bit of a let down. It lacked the warmth and friendliness of my beloved Chaloupe and we left quickly after scoffing our waffles.

A little more strolling and shopping around (killed a few hours more and I started to relax into the Brussels vibe…and just like that, it would go weird. It’s the strangest little place and I think it likes being that way! In London, you might see a person begging with a dog beside them. In Brussels, you see them with bunnies. Yes, rabbits. Complete with hay and sticks of celery and carrots. One of the men got moved along by a huge contingent of army guys and just let his bunny wander in to the road and hide under the army truck. Much to my distress. Hubby dragged me away before I had a full on flap and made a scene of myself.

By this point, my tummy was calling for attention so we headed back to Grand Place for some dinner and were treated to the town hall lit up beautifully.


The prettiest town hall in the world!

Sporting full bellies we meandered our way back to the hotel, grateful to rest our weary heads after a l o o o o n g day. I was gutted to not have the energy to join the loud party in the bar next to the hotel, it sounded fun, but I needed my rest for the next day and the trip to Bruges!


The Cathedral at night.

Coming up in part two – In Bruges.

Taste of London – Christmas 2015 

Here’s a super quick post on my trip to the Christmas edition of Taste of London at Tobacco Docks. In my post about the Summer festival I mentioned that we had bought tickets to this winter version to get us in the Christmas mood. But did it? Reader, it did!

Taste Christmas is held at Tobacco Dock, a short walk from Shadwell tube and overground stations. Approaching on a cold, dark November evening I thought this would be a brilliant location for something terrifyingly spooky. There’s a pirate ship and everything!

Although it was pretty quiet when we first stepped through, it soon started to fill up. I’m not a fan of large crowds but without a throng of people, the venue lacked a certain something. The huge rooms seemed to be too big for the smaller stalls and it felt a little disjointed, but pack in a few thousand hungry Londoners and it somehow works – go figure.

I thought it would be the best time to head over to Taste of HBO, a dedicated pop-up for the TV network that produces some of my absolute favourite TV shows of all time and had a major focus on Game of Thrones.  

There was a gingerbread Winterfell!


For I am Khaleesi, Mother of Cats…

I couldn’t resist a go in the Iron Throne – I am very comfortable in positions of power! – and had to contain myself from eating the beautiful gingerbread Winterfell. 

We had arrived with a huge rumble in our tummies and thought it was probably best to get our food first then wander about when our friends came along later. Crowns bought and menu perused, I decided I needed to head to Kurobuta STAT! 

Kurobuta’s steamed pork belly buns

Just six crowns bought me BBQ pork belly in a steamed bun and spicy peanut soy, with a sticky sauce that was determined to run down my chin and induce furious licking of fingers. Utterly delicious.

I needed something sweet to top it off and had espied a trio of doughnuts from Maze Grill. Four crowns later I was inhaling the delicious cinnamon covered doughnuts and dipping them in the tangily sweet clementine curd. I was so busy stuffing them in my face I nearly forgot to photograph them – a mark of a great bite!! 

Hot fried doughnuts with clementine curd


Wandering around, surrounded by Christmas trees and mulled everything, I felt quite bah-humbuggy because I felt like I was being force fed Christmas. When I heard the beautiful carol singers in the main atrium something slowly switched. There’s something about music soothing my savage and beastly side and voices in unison are so powerful. I was the Grinch no more!

Carol singers by the tree


 It was time to do some purchasing and sampling, and oh boy did I sample. Whiskies and vodkas and gins, oh my! And proseccos and more whiskies and ciders and I’m surprised I wasn’t squiffy.  

My shopping horde

I started off small and chose some delicious and fiery mini choriço from Somerset Charcuterie. £5 got us 5 little choriço, perfect for chopping into pasta sauces, soups or omelettes.

Salami and choriço galore from Somerset Charcuterie


We picked up some spicy choriço

  I’ll be protected from vampires forevermore with the pungent aroma coming from my pantry cupboard! I couldn’t help but notice The Garlic Farm at the show, my nose alerted me instantly. 3 huge heads of garlic for £5 and they’re not just your average garlic, oh no.

Amazing garlicky goodness from the Isle of Wight


Vampires be gone! Black, oak smoked and regular garlic.

Delicious and ginormous puffy marshmallows of joy from Campbell & Love – just £5 and worth every penny. Like Christmas in a sweet treat.

Deliciously huge mulled spice marshmallows

Another addition to our drinks shelf is this amazingly smooth vodka from 55 Above. Just £14 for the smaller size, which is a good thing because it really packs a strong kick. As I prefer to drink my spirits neat I’ll be v e r y careful with my measures!

56% proof vodka has a smooth but powerful kick

I’d sampled this at the Mokhado stand at the summer Taste festival and loved it but forgot to head back to purchase – I couldn’t make the same mistake and made sure I left with a bottle for £7. I personally love the taste of almonds and marzipan and this is it in an oil. I’ll happily mop it up with some great bread on its own. 

Tastes like marzipan which makes it a winner in my book

I also picked up some of these awesome jus from Just Jus. £10 for 4 super flavoursome jus (basically a gravy, right?!?) and perfect for meat dishes… Which brings me to my final purchase from the show: a meat box from Field & Flower who offer a delivery service for their grass fed meat. I’ll review them in a separate post as we don’t receive it until December, ready for Christmas. 

Just Jus are just delicious!

  All in all, I really enjoyed myself and would definitely recommend attending either the summer or Christmas shows. See you at the next one!

Chef Tom Kerridge cooks in front of an enraptured crowd

Big fig love

If you’ve read my previous post on jams here then you may already know how much I love figs. No, seriously I really, really love them.  

And what’s not to love? Succulent, rich parcels of sweet and juicy flesh, figs symbolise the excesses, headiness and pleasures of summer.  I especially associate them with my childhood summer holidays in Portugal; grandma would have a huge bowl of them cooling in the fridge, delicious and refreshing in the heat. Invariably, I would eat them all – though not all in one sitting, not unless I wanted a very bad tummy ache and to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom.

Family members who had fig trees would be visited often. I have a memory of visiting a relative, I think a second cousin or someone related to my maternal side of the family and they had the biggest fig tree I’ve ever seen. My grandpa proceeded to ask if we could help them out with their abundance and we came back with a huge haul, picked fresh that day. Happy memories indeed. 

Nowadays I get my fig fix from my parents fig tree or one of hubby’s lovely colleagues whose fig tree goes into overdrive and for a while I start hassling him as soon as he’s through the front door, “Did you bring anything for me today?!” Like some kind of junkie needing their next hit!! Of course I could buy them in the shop, but the ones available are usually tiny, purple skinned ones that have flown thousands of miles from faraway hot lands and are never as good as the green skinned ones. Plus they cost an absolute fortune – I’ve seen them at £4 for four! – so it’s an addiction that needs to be kept in check. I guess because they’re so limited now I enjoy them even more. 

Not long ago, the last few drops of my absolute favourite perfume (Mark Jacobs Blush) ran out despite me nursing the bottle and only spritzing the teensiest amount on special occasions. It was my perfect scent. That beautiful jasmine combined with tuberose, freesia, honeysuckle and orange blossom. I always thought it smelled quite lily-ish on my skin with a lovely freshness. Light enough for day, but if I sprayed a little more liberally it was heady enough for night. It had been released eons ago and of course now discontinued. The search began for a perfect replacement.

Now, I’m realllllllllly funny (weird, not haha) about scents. I dislike it when people buy new perfumes for me that aren’t ones I already adore or have specifically asked for. Oh goodness, could I sound more ungrateful?! I don’t mean to, it’s just I find my sense of smell is super sensitive. Always has been. I can’t go to a petrol station unless all the car windows are wound up. I’ve experienced migraines and nausea at work when a boss decided to burn a rose scented candle. I can tell when someone is smoking cigarettes even if they’re 50 metres away. It’s a boon – my scent memory has brought me to tears upon entering a room, and a burden – especially when overpowering scents lead to major sinus headaches. Most importantly, perfumes are such a personal choice and what smells a certain way on one person can smell completely different on another.

A trip to SpaceNK for a top up of one of my favourite toners (Rodial’s Dragon Blood toning spritz made from the blood of actual dragons, sort of) led to a wander around the shop and a sniff of the beautiful Diptyque scents. I had mostly heard about Diptyque making beautifully scented candles but I’m not really a huge candle person. The ones I have at home are all gifts because I can’t bear the thought of spending £40+ on something I’m going to burn. That’s ridiculous to me. I may as well set fire to my money! (When did I turn into my mother?!?)

I set about sniffing different bottles, whilst Hubby sprayed tester strips for me to sniff and/or veto. By some miracle we found the perfect replacement. The gorgeous Do Son has a similar white floral and tuberose scent, but is more powerful. I was delighted to finally find a new perfume.

But then the magic happened – I smelled this: 

It made me smile. No, actually it made me laugh. I was happy. I was a happy, laughing loon, happily laughing and sniffing a bottle of Philosykos

You’re going to think I’m a sap but within ten seconds I had tears in my eyes. This delicious, fruity, sensual scent was a step back in time. It was a hot summer’s day stood in a grove of fig trees, with a plate of figs opened and ready to eat. It was happiness in a spray. 

I walked away from the store with my wrist to my nose, trying to defeat the urge to nibble at it. I didn’t realise that this amazing scent had been around since 1996. I mean, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?! Why had I never smelt this in my life before?! Not only could I eat my beloved figs, I could smell like one too!

I didn’t purchase then and there because it was going to be my birthday soon (this was back in middle of July) so could finally tell loved ones what I wanted for a gift. Hubby managed to get me the travel sized version (3 x 12ml) of both Philosykos and Do Son which was perfect as I wanted both – I’m a have-your-cake-and-eat-it kinda girl – and I’ve enveloped myself in figgy goodness ever since. If I’m feeling gloomy or blue I just spray Philosykos and feel instantly better. I don’t care if it’s more of a summer scent, I’ll still be in my happy, sunny, fig-induced haze in the depths of winter. If we’re close pals then you’re welcome to have a sniff of my neck if you need cheering up too. 

Please Diptyque, promise me you’ll never ever EVER discontinue this scent. It’s happiness in a bottle and I think everyone should have it.

What’s your absolute favourite scent?

Love, Catherine x

Curiosity killed… in Paris! Part deux

If you’re reading this before reading part one, do that and then settle yourself in.

I left our little tale at the Musee D’Orsay, the stunning museum of art and sculpture on the Left Bank of the Seine and headed off to another pantheon of culture, the Opera Garnier.  

I’ve photographed and walked past this beautiful building a bajillion (ok, maybe four) times before and always wanted to go inside. I had just seen an amazing model of the opera house at the Musee D’Orsay.

Cross section of the Opera Garnier – look at all those rooms!

Look at all the pulleys for the set changes, the depth and levels of the building itself and is that an ornate “green room” behind the stage for the artists to repose in?

I was lucky to find there were no queues and easily bought my ticket from the machine. Stepping through the darkened lobby I started to sing tunes in my head from Phantom of the Opera based on the novel by Gaston Leroux.

So pretty! Now where did that man with the white mask go…?

If you love beautifully ornate and opulent buildings then this place is a must visit. The auditorium was closed to the public as rehearsals were taking place for an upcoming production, but there were little viewing screens that you could look out of.


the grand staircase


beautiful lights on the staircase


some dude ruins the stunning grand foyer!


inside one of the interior cupolas


a gorgeous ballet costume on display


The afternoon was starting to pass quickly and I headed off to my next must-stop, the infamous City Pharma. A recent follower to the gospel of Caroline Hirons (wipes are for bums, not for your face!) there were a few things I was interested in getting. You can’t go more than a street without seeing a glowing green cross. French pharmacies are everywhere and rightly so, they are bastions of know-how in skin care and Parisian women are gorgeous. Based near St Germain des Pres on Rue du Four, I quickly found it by the amount of happy customers rushing out laden with plastic bags of product. It’s a happening spot. Arriving after four pm on a Friday it was HEAVING. Narrow aisles, filled with product, were almost impassable. Many pardon and excusez-moi were said. How many pharmacies do you know that you can’t open boxes, take photos or have security guards on every other aisle?

If you want a deal on your beauty basics, then you have to go. I was on a budget and could have spent a tonne more. (I mean, I actually put stuff back! What craziness is this?!)

This is what I bought:

Total spend of €27.77 and I reckon I saved about £17 on my purchases-definitely worth it! It’ll be my first stop whenever I go back, hopefully earlier in the day to avoid the hordes of women. Oh, and if one of the knowledgeable employees in white coats approaches and asks if you need help, then get them to help you. They know their stuff. I’ll write a separate post on how I get on with my beauty purchases.

My tummy was starting to rumble and hubby was nearly finished for the day at the trade show. We decided to rendezvous at one of our favourite cafes on Ile St Louis. The walk took me down Boulevard St Germain. I was reminded why I really like the buzz on that side of the river, it just feels more friendly. I took in some more sights and waited for my date.


I thank Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for knowing about this place 😉


spot the three couples

The first time I came to Cafe St Regis I was in serious need of a food pick-me-up and loved the atmosphere within its understated walls. There’s always a cross section of society seated at the tables…last time there was a nun drinking a beer. I love sitting somewhere and hearing different languages being spoken. The mix of locals and tourists keeps service prompt yet leisurely, we are on the continent after all. I recommend this place wholeheartedly!

always a cosy atmosphere


I was watching my sugar intake so instead of nutella, I had lemon and sugar!

You can’t go to France without having a crepe or two. Maybe three. Plus I started my nectar d’abricot addiction, oops! Satiated we made our way back to the hotel feeling happy but knackered. I looked at my health tracker and realised that I had walked 17kms, no wonder! A quick rest up and turnaround for a late dinner at a nearby restaurant brought the day to an exhausted end, ready for the visit to the trade show the following day. 

In the next post… A day at the biggest trade show I’ve ever seen – Maison et Objet.


The last day of August should have been a beautiful and sunny one, but it coincided with a Bank Holiday so of course it would be rainy and miserable!

After a much needed lie-in and a lazy start to the day, I needed to get out of the house. A quick trip to the shops provided the perfect excuse to tack on a country drive. I love those journeys that have no particular destination or purpose.

We found ourselves driving down the A25 from Guildford towards Dorking and the sign for Silent Pool popped up. An idea sparked… I’d seen a tweet from Raymond Blanc about Silent Pool Gin and thought that would be a nice way to brighten up the day. 

The beautiful location of Silent Pool


Silent Pool Distillery is based at the edge of Silent Pool, a spring-fed lake with  tragic folklore of a fair maiden drowned in its waters that reappears at midnight. Don’t let that put you off visiting though, as these waters are beautifully filtered and crystal clear, added to the 96% proof to temper it to a safe and more drinkable 43%. 

Where the magic happens!


Silent Pool water is added to the gin here

Arriving at the small and modern complex of barns, we met Derek who explained the process of producing the gin. Twenty four unique botanicals give the gin its beautiful flavour and this was evident in the wonderful aroma within the barn. Unfortunately we had missed a new batch being cooked up – imagine the smells then! – but were offered a snifter to taste before buying.  

Such a beautiful bottle

Hubby tried the Silent Pool Gin whereas I opted for the Albury Limited Gin Cordial; a crisp gin base with macerated strawberries. Utterly divine and maintained the actual taste of strawberries – none of that overly sweet artifice normally associated with strawberry flavoured drinks. It would be a perfect mixer e.g. with
prosecco, or drizzled over ice cream. 

Silent Pool gin is special and I’ll try my best to describe the taste – excuse me whilst I sip a little taster to remind myself, even if it is before lunch time!

On first sniff you get an overwhelming sense of freshness and zestiness provided by the citrus and kafir lime. Then you smell the high notes of lavender and honey. It’s not aggressive and doesn’t burn the nostril when you inhale. There’s warmth and spiciness as it travels across the tongue and leaves tastebuds tingling. I think it’s delicious by itself or with a few ice cubes. (I know. ME? Drinking neat gin?! Who’d have thought?!)

We couldn’t leave without purchasing a bottle. If you’re not local then you can still enjoy and buy a bottle (or two!) directly from them here.

Let me know if you’ve tried Silent Pool Gin or are tempted to!

Catherine x *hic*

Mango + Chia

If you’re like me and already thinking about breakfast tomorrow and want a change from the usual porridge or buttered slice of toast then let me tell you about my delicious bowl of yellow joy!  This could be the easiest thing in the world ever, made with just three ingredients: water, chia seeds and mango. You could add extra flavours, extra fruits…I mean seriously, the list is endless. All you have to do is make the chia gel and the rest is up to you. 

Measure out about 1 tbsp of chia seeds into a bowl and add 100 ml of water. Leave to one side for about 20 minutes. The chia seeds will work their magic and start to split slightly. If you look really closely, you’ll see they end up with a force-field of gelatinous goodness that sort of makes gem look like teeny tiny frogspawn. I know, I’m really selling this to you!    

Then it’s time to prepare your mango. I don’t know why these delicious fruits were designed with such a massive stone in the middle, it’s SO annoying (#firstworldproblems, eh?!) I find the easiest way to get as much of the flesh as possible is to cut off the fleshy cheeks from around the stone, then score them vertically and horizontally. Push under the skin and -hey presto- little cubes that you can slice off. Blitz the mango in your blitzer of choice – we have a Nutribullet that I LOVE – and mix with the chia gel. Give a stir and enjoy eating!  

This snack is delicious for breakfast but eat whenever (because you’re a rebel like that) you feel like having sunshine in a bowl that is also good for you, rich in fibre and the omegas that you should be eating.

FYI – I tried this with just strawberries and ended up with a very liquid drink, I think slightly more fibrous fruits may be best. 

Chia seeds are available from all good health stores and supermarkets too. 

Let me know how you like your chia!

Catherine x

Taste of London Food Festival 2015

Apologies for the lack of posts recently! It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of things happening, I just wanted to switch off and totally relax and encouraged hubby to do the same.

One of the fun things I was looking forward to was Taste of London. I had first visited two years ago when hubby was extremely lucky and won an Evening Standard competition that not only gave us VIP tickets to Taste, but also a meal out every month at some of the finest restaurants in London, truly an absolutely amazing experience!

Last year Taste fell when hubby was away for work, so I took one of my best friends along with me and we had such a blast. She was the perfect person to go with. I’m usually a reticent attendee and rarely go for samples, but my marvellous friend ensured we tried EVERYTHING! We left with ginormous bellies filled with delights from around the world!

Taste of London 2015 ran from 17th – 21st June and we visited on a Thursday after my friend, her boyfriend and hubby finished work, arriving just after 6 pm. You buy your tickets for either a lunch/afternoon or dinner/evening session. Luckily the sun was shining and we were treated to one of those balmy, warm London evenings. We walked right through, there were no queues and decided where we should start, but not before grabbing our crowns. 👑👑👑 No, not that kind. Crowns are the alternative currency at Taste. We purchased £20 worth, which meant we had 20 crowns. Not everyone accepts crowns, most will accept cash and some will accept card. Crowns are non refundable, so ensure you use them all up; with most dishes priced around 3 – 6 crowns that should be easy.

The sun sets on Taste of London

 We proceeded forth and started sampling some delicious wines. This was a terrible idea of course as I seem to have no tolerance to alcohol, having only really started drinking in the past two years. For the most part I still prefer to drink water and being someone who likes control I dislike the woozy, delayed-time feeling of being inebriated. I know my limits and have never drunk more than three alcoholic drinks in a sitting, EVER. This didn’t stop me paying a quick visit to the Sipsmith bar. They’re gin gurus, based relatively locally and have a beautiful distillery in Chiswick that you can book to visit. It’s definitely something I want to do. A word to the wise: if you like a Pimm’s you’ll LOVE Sipsmith’s Summer Cup. I tried a sample of it with lemonade and it tasted so much more flavorful than Pimm’s. Really fruity and refreshing. Definitely one to go on the shopping list. I’m gutted I didn’t get any there and then but didn’t want to walk around all evening with a bottle!

Thankfully the nibbles and samples were setting me to right within minutes and we continued our quest through the little corner of Regents Park. Now, I don’t know if it’s just me being weird, but it felt much smaller than in the previous two years. I’m sure some restaurants were missing, and some areas on the fringes felt sparse. The usual huge Thailand area was compressed into a small gathering of stalls and in it’s place were areas for food and wine theatres. Personally I felt this was a real shame as a lot of the suppliers that made our trip last year so delicious had disappeared.

The great draw to Taste, apart from all the samples, is that for a fraction of the price, you can eat food from Michelin starred restaurants and chefs for a fraction of the cost. Big names such as Roux at Parliament Square, Theo Randall at The Intercontinental, SushiSamba, Duck & Waffle and Roka all feature with mini versions of their famous dishes. I’d recommend braving the waiting lines for the big names if you’re a first time visitor.

There’s plenty of new wave burger options should you choose, but I reckon why use your limited time here for something you can get everyday? I’ve not been one of the people to embrace the burger trend, personally I think it’s bordering on ridiculous having so many layers to a burger than you can barely fit it in your mouth and have spill all over your plate. Plus I dislike most sauces and detest the smell of fried onions, so the plainer the better for me! As it was my third visit and I was craving seafood, we ended up getting two main dishes, both featuring octopus – I think I was getting in the holiday mood!

First dish from Jose Pizarro – Grilled octopus, creamy potato, pimentón and egg caviar for 5 crowns. Delicious and I’d never had egg caviar before. It’s basically the egg white boiled/poached, but I’d love to know how they actually make it. It added a lovely lightness to the dish to balance the warmth of the pimentón.

Grilled octopus, creamy potato, pimentón and egg caviar

Carving the Iberico ham

Second dish from Artusi – Octopus, potatoes, parsley for 6 crowns. This was special. It was homely and comforting and tasted like my mum’s best stew. Super simple, but nourishing, it took me to a happy place. I loved it, I really, seriously loved it.

Octopus, potatoes, parsley

I’d thought coconut water was pretty well established in London, but you would’ve thought it was brand new to the health drink market; it was EVERYWHERE! It became a running joke with our little group. There were also loads of weird tea drinks (which I’m not a great fan of) and quite honestly you can pour your foul matcha/soy/kombucha/not-worth-the-water-to-boil-it disgustingness down the drain. Give me a decent cuppa and I’ll be a happy bunny.

Thankfully I stumbled across the brilliant London Tea Company who had a refreshing pot of Peach & Rhubarb on the go – a lovely alternative to a juice drink on a summer’s day if left to brew overnight and kept in the fridge. They were ever so generous with their samples and I can’t wait to try the rest, especially the lemongrass!

selection of teas from The London Tea Company

I’d heard good things about beef jerky, but my interest was piqued when I saw a coconut meat alternative from Mighty Bee. I know, sounds really weird, but was absolutely delicious. Available in teriyaki and barbecue flavour, I picked up a teriyaki bag which made a perfect beach time snack. They also had some lovely coconut protein balls that were tasty rather than cloying like others available. Wish we had bought some of those too! I don’t like stepping on the health food bandwagon but when I finally tried some Chia and mango, I fell in love! It’s such a weird gelatinous consistency, but rather moreish. There were some brilliant offers at the Chia stand, and I’m truly sold.

Of course, it’s not all healthy stuff at Taste. Stopping by the Green & Blacks tent meant sampling a chocolate. OK, two chocolates. OK, totally honest, four chocolates. I mean five. Whoops. We observed someone making saltwater truffles, basically a glorious mess of melted chocolate and salinated water. The guy describing it made it sound super easy and complicated at the same time, but I’m sure there’s an easy way to do it. They were delicious, so I hope they’ll be worth it when I try!

making saltwater truffles

 Will we visit again? Most likely. It’s a fun evening out with friends and food and if the weather’s good then it’s great to sit by the bandstand and listen to the music as the sun sets over Regent’s Park. I’ve taken up the early bird ticket offer and looking forward to visiting the Winter version – info available here – which should help get me in the Christmas mood! (Oh god I said the C-word!!)

Sam Brookes performing at sunset

Just a small word of warning – if someone offers you beer ice cream JUST SAY NO. 😖

We’re jamming…

I have a massive sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all my teeth are sweet. I love sugar and sugar loves me – sort of. So it’s no surprise that I like to smother it all over a tasty scone/crumpet/croissant/slice of toast in its most delicious form as J A M.  fig & apricot In the past few years I have eschewed the usual strawberry for different fruits. My favourites of recent times have been fig, quince and apricot.

Figs may deserve a post all of their own, I SO adore this fruit. I have mistakenly gorged myself on one too many once or twice and felt the unpleasant side effects, who hasn’t?! The joy of having a full bowl of recently picked, cool from the fridge, beautifully ripe and juicy green figs is one of life’s simple pleasures. They’re nature’s succulent sweeties. Made into a jam so I can eat them at breakfast is a delight. Honey sweetness, a burnished gold colour, with a little crunch from the seeds. YUM. 

Where to buy: Jamie Oliver did a delicious fig jam, bought from one of his Recipease eateries, but I can’t seem to find a link to the product. My recent taste of it has been the Bonne Maman Fig Conserve, available from all good supermarkets. 

Quince is another beauty of a fruit, looking like an apple-y pear, golden yellow in colour and with a sweet scent. Near my Avó’s house in Portugal was a school that had quince trees dotted around the perimeter and I remember seeing branches heavy with strange fruit. I can only remember to have tasted quince in preserve form though, or rather as I know it, marmelada. 

“You mean marmalade, right?” WRONG. As a bilingual kid I couldn’t seem to get my head round the difference between the two. One is made from quince, the other from citrus fruits with bits in it. Nope, I don’t mean Paddington Bear’s favourite spread, I mean this: marmelada The above is known in English as a quince cheese and basically is a solid, sliceable form of quince jam/preserve. It’s delicate but has a very slight grainy texture, almost like a dryish pear. It gets its reddy-brown colour from being slowly cooked with sugar for a long time. It has ancient roots too, with a recipe found in a Roman cookbook.

I remember cutting thin slices from a tub and eating in between Rich Tea biscuits, or eating in papos secos but the sweet tart flavour is also delicious with some fresh cheese or a gorgeous hunk of bread. 

Where to buy: available in tubs from all good Portuguese deli shops. Check out Café Sintra in the Stockwell/Brixton area in South London.

Apricot jam is often overlooked. Sometimes it’s used as a base for sticking marzipan to cakes, so not seen to be as glamorous as its other fruity counterparts. Personally, I love the delicate taste and I like that it’s so versatile. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, for me it’s a lovely balance. 

Where to buy: on a recent long drive to the coast we stopped by the amazing Eggs to Apples in Hurst Green. This gorgeous little farm shop had beautiful fresh products that were either British or locally sourced (try the Cornish mussels and the carrot cake, both divine!) I picked up a Martha and Ed’s jar which was scrumptious. I love their ethos of making smaller batches, thus meaning a higher fruit content without need for additives or preservatives.  We recently picked up a Sunberry jar (a raspberry/blackberry cross) which is gorgeous. 

The holy grail of jams for me is tomato. “What?!?” I hear you say, “what madness is this?!” Tomato is a fruit, n’est pas? It is. The sweet yet tart flesh yields the most beautiful taste. Doçe de tomate takes me way, way back to my childhood and long summer holidays in Portugal that were filled with food and sunshine. Visits to grandparents and bringing back tomatoes the size of a small loaf, known colloquially as coração de boi or Ox heart tomatoes. These giants, grown in the quinta just a few yards away would usually be strange and misshapen, different to the grocers and supermarkets back home in London. Their colours ranged from rich reds to acidic yellows and everything in between. They were perfect for jam making especially as there was always an abundance whenever we visited. 

I can still hear the whistle of the pressure cooker in Avó’s kitchen. I can still see the pantry cupboard stocked with jars ready for my stay, for me to have with a papo seco roll for breakfast or an afternoon snack (no wonder I’d come back with such chubby cheeks!) and there’d be extra for me to bring back in my suitcase carefully wrapped in newspaper and clothes. 

Where to buy: sadly those halcyon days of being fed sweet treats by my grandma are gone and she’s not made jam for many, many years. I’ve been getting my tomato jam fix from jars bought at Lisbon airport carefully rationing them and saving for special occasions – I have a quarter of a jar left, it’s reaching a critical level!! I’ve not found any tomato jam for sale here yet, only the horrible chutneys that insist on adding chilli, peppers or other nastiness to my beloved jam. I’m guessing it may be on sale in a Portuguese deli shop and when I next visit one, I may need to clear their shelves. However, if anyone wants to either make me some from their large tomato crop, or pick some jars up next time you fly from a Portuguese airport I would be SO HAPPY and grateful!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of the above or have any suggestions for me to try in the comments below!

Catherine x