13 April 2015

Côte d'Azur, France

From the moment I arrived in Nice, France and set foot on the pebbly beach this Easter gone I knew I had found a little slice of paradise.

London's gloomy grey clouds were banished from my thoughts as I stretched out in the warm French Côte d'Azur sunshine and fixed my eyes on the blue horizon line...

SEE: disks of gold through my eyelids, pink, blue and more blue. Sail boats glide by, seagulls circle above.

SMELL: salt, salt, salt...

HEAR: the light crash of waves a few steps from where I lie, the excited screams of children playing on the seashore, an easyJet flight zooms overhead delivering another plane full of happy holiday goers to this sparkling destination.

TOUCH: hot sunlight burning through my jeans, smooth seaside pebbles dig into my back - but I'm enjoying the heat of the sun too much to move.

TASTE: Easter chocolate, beer, water with a dash of lemon, salt.

Chilling on the beach - Cote d'Azur, Nice, Francerelaxing on the warm pebbly shores of Nice, France

Beautiful blue Cote d'Azur, Nice, Franceblue, glorious blue

The important stuff: Nice, France is just a quick 1 hour and 40 minute flight from London, and the gateway to gorgeous Côte d'Azur (aka French Riviera). Visit in the shoulder months - April, May, September and October for smaller crowds and you'll still be rewarded with glorious sunshine. It may be a bit too cold for swimming though!

31 March 2015

Columbia Road Flower Market, London

Every Sunday morning Columbia Road in London transforms into a living, breathing sanctuary of flowers, music and coffee. It's a magical place for many long-time Londoners who like to spend their Sunday mornings slowly moving through the flower-hungry crowds in search of a splash of colour and sweetness to brighten up their London living rooms for the week ahead...

Columbia Road Flower Market - London

SEE - buckets of red, pink and peach roses, cactus, ferns, posies, tulips and more. Stands overflowing with sweet-smelling peonies, a blur of colour in every direction. Cherry blossoms are the flavour of the day with people everywhere hugging their dark stems and delicate pick flowers...

SMELL - the air is laced with the smell of fresh cut grass intertwined with the sweetness. Bursts of lavender punch through delicate rose...

TASTE - the lingering bitterness of coffee and flower fragrance in the air...

HEAR - excited chatter as people do their best to bargain, cheerful flower sellers compete with each other to shout out their best deal, children hum and the notes of soulful folk music wind through the crowds...

TOUCH - flower petals brush my cheek as I meander my way through the market, burying my nose in as many bunches of flowers that I dare...

Columbia Road Flower Market - London

Columbia Road Flower Market - London

The important stuff...
  • Columbia Road Flower Market and nearby boutique shops are open every Sunday from 8am to about 3pm
  • Arrive early to get the pick of the bunch
  • Arrive late to get the best deals
  • Bring cash
  • Columbia Road is in East End London, close to Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Spitalfields - so you can really make a day of it with all the trendy East Londoners!
  • My favourite way to arrive is via Liverpool Street station (about a 20 minute walk). Along the way take a stroll down Boundary Passage and Old Nichol Street and pause at Albion for brunch. The bread, eggs and pastries are amazing!

26 March 2015

how to travel light

There is a art to travelling light. 

It's something that we all struggle with now and then, and over the years I've seen many travellers on planes, trains, boats and buses that seem to be lugging around way more stuff than they actually need. 

These days I can pack for a long weekend in under 10 minutes. And I strive to keep my luggage (preferably just a backpack) no heavier than about 6kgs. This makes getting around and exploring a lot easier. Some of the things I leave at home include make-up, shampoo, heels, sparkly 'just in case' changes of clothes and weighty reading material. If I happen to forget anything essential I buy it when I get there.

Here are my ten travel essentials...

1. A tote bag. It folds up neatly, weighs next to nothing and is very handy for carrying my daily shopping when away such as wine, cheese and morning pastries! 

2. Eye mask. Self explanatory really - perfect for those dodgy curtains in your hotel room, and the offensive interior lights of your budget airline.

Travel essentials: emotional baggage tote
emotional baggage tote
{image via The School of Life}

eye-mask, a travellers best friend
eye-mask, a travellers best friend

3. Scarf. This item has multi purpose - it can keep you warm in cool climates and cool in hot ones. A scarf is also perfect for covering up when entering religious sights.

4. One pair of comfortable walking shoes. You wear these onto your flight. No need to pack any other shoes.

travel essentials:  the travel scarf!
 the travel scarf!
{image via Go Chic or Go Home}

take comfy walking shoes on holiday
wear your comfy walking onto your flight
{image via La Cool & Chic}

5. Something warm. For those days when the weather turns sour. Depending on the time of year you might want to take more than one warm layer, but for Spring, Summer and Autumn I make do with just one when heading away for a long weekend.

6. Something cool. For those awesome travel days when the sun makes an appearance!

something warm and snugly...
something warm and snugly...
{image via Dara Muscat}

Travel essentials:  cool t-shirt
 cool t-shirt
{image via From Up North}

7. Something waterproof. I have a lightweight jacket that folds up small and is perfect for travel. Alternatively I suggest a small, compact umbrella.

8. Something with SPF. So important. Always look after your skin!

rain in New York
rain in New York
{image via Sugarfox}

SPF and staying sun smart while travelling
SPF and staying sun smart while travelling
{image via Pure Home and Body}

9. A camera/phone and charger. For capturing all your cool holiday moments.

10. Credit card. Last but not least. I travel cash free until I get to my chosen destination, and then withdraw cash from the first ATM I see. Generally the exchange rate is just as good, if not better than the official desks at the airport.

travel camera :)
travel camera :)

That's it. All of the above plus your underwear, comb (much smaller than a hairbrush) and jeans should easily fit into a backpack. No worries! Travel ahoy! 

Don't forget your passport.

23 March 2015

that time we went to Sofia, Bulgaria

A few years ago while on a skiing holiday in Borovets, Bulgaria hubby and I did the unthinkable. We gave up a day on the slopes, found a willing taxi driver and left the safety of our all-inclusive resort (much to our friends and tour guides disgust) for a day of unplanned adventure in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria...

Lake Iskar in winter - Bulgaria
Lake Iskar in winter - Bulgaria

Along the freezing cold, slippery fifty-five minute drive that really should have taken about seventy-five minutes (yep, our taxi driver was a bit of a speedster!) we passed by Lake Iskar - Bulgaria's largest inland lake. The water shone like glass in the crisp air and glittery sunlight.

our ride to and from Sofia - parked up while I snapped photos of beautiful Lake Iskar - Bulgaria
our ride to and from Sofia - parked up while I snapped photos of beautiful Lake Iskar - Bulgaria

We arrived in Sofia slightly traumatised by the drive and were surprised to find a very quiet city considering Sofia has a population of 1.3 million. It was a few days before New Years eve, and it seemed like most locals were staying warm indoors.

outside St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria
outside St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria

First up we visited the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

To this day it is the most memorable cathedral I've ever visited. Mostly because it scared the socks off me! It was very dark inside, and right in the centre was a ginormous painting of God pointing his finger down at you. It was honestly terrifying, and I can only imagine all the children who have been brought to this cathedral over the years and been told sternly by their parents 'God is watching'.

exiting an underground walkway - Sofia, Bulgaria
exiting an underground walkway - Sofia, Bulgaria

Over the course of the day we walked from one end of the central city to the other, admiring/gaping at the architecture and statues, and hopelessly looking for somewhere where we might find a bite to eat. We did have success in this late in the day, coming across a crowded little restaurant that had live piano music. It was warm - and we were happy!

a lion guards the Court House in the afternoon sun - Sofia, Bulgaria
a lion guards the Court House in the afternoon sun - Sofia, Bulgaria

wandering down Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia
wandering down Vitosha Boulevard, normally one of the busiest streets in Sofia...
it felt a bit like a ghost town

looking back down Vitosha Boulevard as the sun set - Sofia, Bulgaria
looking back down Vitosha Boulevard as the sun set - Sofia, Bulgaria

We amused ourselves by pulling faces in shop windows. There was no one around to see but us...

reflections - Sofia, Bulgaria
reflections - Sofia, Bulgaria

Our last stop for the day before heading back to the slopes was the famous Soviet Army Monument - one of the last remaining Soviet monuments still standing in Europe. 

The Soviet Army Monument was dedicated to the Red Army after it 'liberated' Bulgaria in the late 1870s. In recent years the monument has been the subject of vandalism several times - which is a indicator of how many feel about it today.

Soviet Army Monument - Sofia, Bulgaria
Soviet Army Monument - Sofia, Bulgaria

I could have spent longer here and taken a few more close up photos - but as I was snapping this last one our taxi driver was yelling at me to hurry up. We found out soon after that his headlights weren't working and he was keen to complete our snowy trip back to the ski fields before darkness fell.

21 March 2015

total eclipse of the heart - 2nd wedding anniversary

Yesterday at 9:30am London GMT time the UK experienced what news reporters were hailing as a 'once-in-a-generation event'. The sun and moon aligned in a partial eclipse.

The BBC were live streaming reports and online news channels were talking about nothing else, however sadly in London there was nothing to see but grey cloud. A group of my colleagues and I snuck outside the office to take a look at the sky and were greeted with a sheet of grey as far as they eye could see. It got a tiny bit darker momentarily, but nothing to write home about.

A more memorable event this week was my second wedding anniversary. I can't quite believe it's been two years already since hubby and I tied the knot back in New Zealand. (And it's been two years since we were last home in New Zealand!)

revisiting our vows - 2nd wedding anniversary

While most sensible people were making a toast to St Paddy and most likely drinking their local Irish bar dry of Guinness (my favourite beer by the way), we were enjoying an amazing New Zealand themed meal and bubbles at one of London's best kiwi restaurants Kopapa.

The traditional 2nd anniversary gift is cotton, and both of us managed to pull some great surprises out of the bag including Egyptian cotton pillow cases with our wedding invitation and honeymoon haiku poems printed on the front in a dreamy sleep-inducing typeface.

framed wedding vows

As an extra surprise I made up for skipping the anniversary pressie last year (paper) and had our wedding vows printed and framed. Now we are reminded daily of the promises we made to each other!

Hope you're having a sleepy, romantic weekend, and if you're in London today ignoring the grey skies like me.
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