Barcelona Day 1

I promised after asking for all of your Barcelona tips that I would share what we did on our Babymoon back in March.

We stayed for 4 nights at the RoomMate Emma for about £300 and I would definitely book again. The breakfast was amazing and the staff were lovely too. We were woken up one night by screaming European teens but that can happen anywhere and the reception sorted it straightaway. The room was clean and modern, the only thing lacking was an exterior window. We were offered a very cheap upgrade when we got there which we normally would have taken but figured we wouldn’t be in the room and it wasn’t worth it. In fact I wish we had, as we banked on staying out for evening drinks as we would do normally and felt obliged to because the room was a bit dark, but really given how tiring the sightseeing was, it would have been nice to have some downtime back at the hotel in a slightly nicer room. Don’t get me wrong though, it was still great, cheap or not.

So what did we do?


Our walking tour day 1 – Port Vell, Port Olympica, Barcelonetta, Parc Ciutadella and the beach. Click here to view an interactive version of the map.

Well, the answer is a lot of walking. Normally when we’re on a city break we do everything, but this time we didn’t want to go into museums, enjoying the sunshine instead, so we saw everything from the outside while walking. The first day was predicted to be the best weather, so we got the underground metro to Port Vell and wandered around looking at the boats and enjoying the weather.

We walked though Barceloneta which was cute in parts and quite run down in others so we kept going. It didn’t take us long to get to the beach so and we carried on all the way along until we reached Port Olympic, and then walked on to Parc Ciutadella. The fountains and space there was great. If we hadn’t been going to the beach later I would have parked myself on the grass there to read and enjoy the sun.

By then we were starving and headed onto El Born, where we ate a tapas lunch at one of the places on Placa des les Olles before heading back to the beach where we just lay on the sand for a couple of hours and read. Bliss!

Once we were ready for home, we headed in to the atmospheric gothic quarter and stopped in Placa Reial for a drink. I loved this square – there aren’t that many in Barcelona which are big enough to hold the sun into the evening, particularly in March but this one is so pretty and great for people watching.


I was so exhausted that night after walking so far that we ate at an Italian just down the road from our hotel and collapsed into bed early.

I’ll be back with Days 2 and 3 soon!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Barcelona Babymoon

Next week, Pete and I are off to Barcelona for a bit of a getaway. It’s not really a babymoon but I’m grateful we’re getting some time to ourselves as work plus incessant house worries and a serious lack of holidays was really starting to get to us. We didn’t think we could afford to book something for just us, (as well as the wedding we are going to in Italy in May) but I was determined that we should make the most of the last few months before we are a three. I scouted around for cheap deals and booked some EasyJet flights for £100 each and found a cool looking cheap hotel – Room Mate Emma. We’re both exhausted and just want to chill out, eat nice food, enjoy some sun (fingers crossed!) and walk around taking in the sights, and each other.

So before we go I need your recommendations readers, on things to do and see. All we have in mind so far is The Gaudi Park, (I have been before and seen La Sagrada Familia and the Picasso museum,) but I’d love to hear your restaurant recommendations, cool areas we should experience and relaxing things to do and see. Oh and I’d like to go down to the waterfront too.

Let me have it readers!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS, I’ll review the hotel and where I go afterwards, of course!

Family Lifestyle: Baby’s first trip abroad…

We’re not breaking from our usual columns this month as I figured you’d all be ready for a little break from the Christmas overload happening right now. Plus, at Christmas time when you’re getting together with family and spending time with your other half I naturally tend towards using the downtime to plan for the New Year – This post will come in very useful for all the mums out there…

Hello again, Findettes! Last month I talked about great family day trips with the National Trust, but this month I thought I would share Freddie’s first trip abroad and some of the travelling tips I learned along the way.

Earlier this month, my little family loaded up the pushchair and headed off on the Eurostar to Brussels. The main reason for going was to continue the tradition of having a pre-Christmas meal with my husband’s university friends, which this year was being hosted by our friend who lives and works there, but we decided to stay a few days and include a night in Bruges while we were in the country. There was a lot of good food and wine, laughter and reminiscing shared with fantastic company, as is always the way when this gang gets together (one of the highlights was playing the name game and discovering that one person had never heard heard of James Brown), but most importantly the trip was a family-friendly success.

Travelling

As I mentioned above, we travelled to Brussels on the Eurostar, which I would highly recommend as a method of travelling with a baby or small children. Not only are the seats bigger than aeroplane seats, but you don’t have to stay in them at any point, which was ideal when I was trying to get a very tired and upset Freddie to sleep not long after leaving London (although the train manager did tell me that sometimes they do ask that everyone stays inside the carriage during the Channel crossing, but that didn’t happen to us). There are baby changing facilities onboard, ‘family’ carriages with more tables and more luggage space and we didn’t have to reduce how much we brought – including being able to bring baby food and formula milk through security – or even collapse the pushchair. Much, much easier – and faster! – than flying.

We also took the train to Bruges in the middle of our trip, but had we not been staying in Brussels we could have continued using our Eurostar ticket as you can travel within Belgium within 24 hours for the same price. The Belgian trains were cheap, fast, clean, on time and the train station in Bruges is a short walk out of the city centre.

Food and accommodation

We stayed with our friends in their gorgeous city centre apartment in Brussels and the group rented a second apartment nearby through Airbnb. We then stayed for one night in the Ibis Bruges Centrum – watch out when booking because there’s also one at the station – which, as it had a bath, black-out curtains, supplied a travel cot and only cost €62, was absolutely fine for our purposes and is somewhere I would definitely stay in again.

As our time in Brussels was all about turkey and Christmas pudding, we didn’t eat out while we were there apart from sampling the best chips in Belgium (very, very good) on our tour of the city. But we made up for it in Bruges, the city of hot chocolate and beer…

After an average meal straight after arriving from the train in one of the closest restaurants to the hotel, which we probably would have forgotten about if it hadn’t involved Freddie devouring his first mussel and demanding more, we had more success the following day. Here are my top picks:

Miss Ellie cafe
We had an excellent breakfast here and found it to be really good value. It’s slightly off the main tourist route and near the shops, which is what made it a bit cheaper I think. Lovely coffee, melted chocolate for dunking your croissant in and high chairs available – what more could you want to set you up for a day of walking through the gorgeous streets of Bruges?

The Old Chocolate House
After a couple of hours of walking in the winter sunshine, Freddie was more than ready to have a break and a play and we popped into the first tea shop that caught our eye. It was a good choice. A high chair was brought to us instantly and the best (and largest) hot chocolate either of us had ever seen was delivered not long after. For €4 you get a HUGE mug of steaming hot milk, a (chocolate) bowl full of chocolate chips to whisk in and a home-made biscuit and chocolate on the side. You can choose the milk, dark or white classic option, add ginger or rum, marshmallows or cream and then buy the mug and chocolate in the shop below – brilliant. There’s also baby changing, which was much needed.

What we did
Bruges in a city made for wandering – there are beautiful canals, cute Christmas markets and stunning buildings you could stare at for days. For information on what to see, I recommend this post on the Mrs Makes blog as we didn’t actually much. Saying that, we are a family that love walking around new places and Bruges has is somewhere we would definitely return to with an older child as there is lots to see.

Although shopping with a baby who likes to grab at everything is not usually recommended, we like to buy one thing for our home whenever we go away and this being Freddie’s first time abroad, we couldn’t leave empty handed. Dille & Kamille is a beautiful kitchen/home shop that we fell in love with straight away. As well as picking up a mini whisk to add to the chocolate chips we bought in the Old Chocolate Shop and a new pair of sage green oven gloves for less than €12, we couldn’t resist buying Freddie a knitted stocking for his first Christmas.

Tips for travelling with a baby
I’m no expert on travelling with children, but we’ve done enough long journeys with Freddie in his first 7 months on the planet that I can offer some tips on how to make travelling with a baby that little less difficult.

  • Think about how you’re going to transport the baby… We have an Ergo baby carrier that all three of us love as it leaves your hands free and can be better when travelling, especially if you don’t know whether there will be a lift or you need to be able to move quickly. As Bruges is pretty much all cobbled streets, we only took the Ergo with us on that part of the trip and it turned out to be a great decision. However, we couldn’t have carried all of our baby paraphernalia on the train without the big bag at the bottom of the pushchair or the clip that hangs off the handle. It might be that if you’re doing a mixture of driving and walking, the best option is to take the car seat and pushchair base (don’t forget the adaptors if you need them!) to save space.

  • Take the minimum you can, but always have muslins and baby grows: Freddie only wears baby grows at night now, but we always take spares because they can be worn all day (and always look cute) and are really easy to layer-up if it gets cold.
  • A favourite blanket will help a strange bed feel familiar: We are lucky that Freddie is an amazing sleeper, but we didn’t want to take too many chances so brought his sleeping bag with us for some continuity.
  • Travel with other people: Freddie has been on the train a few times now, including one 3.5 hour trip just the two of us. Although it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, the fact that I couldn’t go to the toilet for the whole journey (tiny train toilet + baby + no friendly people in the carriage…) made it difficult and it’s much easier when there’s someone else there to help navigate unfamiliar places. Saying that, we decided not to travel to Belgium with our big group of friends as we knew we would be better off being able to move at our own pace, stopping off for play/coffee/nappy changing breaks whenever we needed to.
  • Make peace with the fact that travelling with children is expensive: You pay for convenience, whether that be an overpriced sandwich in a service station because you have to have a car break NOW and everyone is starving, tipping the waiter to apologise for the state of the table or jumping in a taxi to get to the hotel so that you don’t get stressed trying to find it.
  • Wine! Put the baby to bed, open a bottle and enjoy reaching your destination. That Belgian beer tasted even better after negotiating the Brussels metro system with a tired, hot, bored baby that we had to carry up 4 flights of stairs I can tell you!

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

Do tell us if you have any tips on travelling with a baby or from your first trip abroad with a little one?

Girl about town: (Working until) Midnight in Paris – Part 1


A few months ago I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend some time working in my firm’s Paris office. Erm, sorry, let me pinch myself whilst I just digest that.

You’re going to put me in a rooftop apartment in central Paris, send me to work in the most beautiful surroundings (on Place Vendome, next door to the Ritz,) and you’re going to pay me whilst I do it? Amazing! Where’s the catch?

Oh… I will be doing two jobs and working 13 hour days, every day, for the entire six weeks? Ahhh, there we go!

Needless to say, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time “about town” and I’m not going to lie I spent a lot of my spare time sleeping off my exhaustion. However, when I did get out, I wandered, ate, drank, observed, shopped, snapped and absorbed everything Paris had to offer with the hugest smile on my face and a skip in my step. After six weeks literally living la reve en Paris, I returned to rainy London (and my husband) last weekend and thought I’d share some of my favourite Parisian delights:

Brunch
I didn’t realise brunch was a “thing” in France. I went out there three days after landing back from the US, where brunch is the biggest “thing” and I was surprised to discover that they do it just as well. A colleague recommended the Marais area, specifically Rue de Bretagne, for brunch and made a few restaurant suggestions.

I picked the Grizzli Café, mainly because of the name, but also because of the description of a four course feast for a very reasonable price… “reasonable price” not being a phrase you hear often in Paris. It turned out to be a great decision – we started with fresh coffee and juice with a bread selection and pastries, followed by Eggs Benedict, a choice of salmon skewers or steak tartare and finished off with fromage blanc and fruit coulis. We got there just in time to get a seat, but it’s recommended that you book on Sundays as it gets busy! [For more details/pictures check out this post.]

Treats
I was undecided whether to tell you about the Laduree Salon du The or Angelina under this heading. I weighed it up and decided that it’d have to be both. The hot chocolate served at Angelina is infamous for a reason – it’s amazing. Thick, creamy and with just the right balance of bitter and sweet – it was totally worth queuing.

Although the sweet treats served here are as famed as the hot chocolate (in particular the Mont Blanc speciality,) I think the confections on offer at Laduree just edge it.

Of course there are the quintessential macarons (pistachio and orange blossom on this occasion), but in addition my mum and I tried the pistachio éclair and the rose raspberry Saint-Honoré which was almost too beautiful to eat. It consisted of a puff pastry base, topped with dinky cream puff pastry balls filled with light rose petal custard cream and raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant and raspberries. Of course there’s only one thing to drink with such pretty, delicate, pastel coloured confections – pink fizz.

Dinner
As I mentioned in a previous post, I like a restaurant with a difference, so when Mr G came out to visit me, I tasked him with finding a restaurant to fit the same brief. He did well and found La Gare not far from Trocadero.

As the name suggests, it’s an old train station that has been transformed in to a restaurant. You enter at ground level in to a funky bar (that serves a decent margarita whilst you wait for your table) and then head down a very grand staircase in to an enormous dining hall. At first glance I was worried that the size would make it feel over-crowded and like a canteen, but a clever layout and good interior design means that when you’re seated it feels much smaller and intimate. We went for a three course set menu and wines and fizz by the glass, all of which was delicious, and in a city notorious for its awful service, we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was!

Cocktails
At the other end of the size spectrum to La Gare is Jefrey’s. At about midnight one Saturday, my friend and I went in search of the Paris branch of the Experimental Cocktail Club (also very good and worth a visit). We were wandering down the road and saw the door to a teeny-tiny bar standing open. It was so small and well hidden we almost missed it, but after a double take and a quick confirmation that it was in fact a drinking establishment and not someone’s house, we took up residence at the bar and started working our way through the cocktail list.

Good cocktails are hard to find in Paris, but we were lucky enough to stumble across some of the best. Like I mentioned it was tiny, with only three stools at the bar, two small coffee tables and armchairs on the ground floor and a smattering of wing back chairs and banquette seating on a small mezzanine. If you turn up too late you just won’t get in, and the cocktails were so good it’s worth turning up early to bagsey your seat. The cocktail menu is inventive and the bar is stocked with weird and wonderful liquors from around the world, homemade infusions and syrups and fresh ingredients such as mint, fruit and spices. It evoked mental images of ye olde apothecary shoppe, and the painstaking care and attention with which the drinks are made only added to the feeling that the mixologists really are creating amazing potions! Add to the mix a great playlist full of new tunes and old classics (sadly not played on the vintage gramophone by the door) and an interesting menu full of tick boxes for DIY martinis and I think I found my favourite bar, ever.

I went back repeatedly.

I want to go back right now.

Come back next week for the Dancing, entertainment, shopping and sightseeing…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl About Town Gets Out of Town: Barcelona

This year the Mr and I have spent all of our annual leave on attending 10, yes, ten, weddings (two of which were/are aboard) and all the corresponding stag and hen weekends. As such we didn’t have much leave left for a “proper” holiday. Or, more importantly, any money with which to purchase one! This left us in a bit of a quandary as taking time out to go exploring around the world is kind of our thing. Also, with such busy lives (as we all have) often, a holiday is the only time you get to truly spend QT with each other… and catch up on your sleep debt! So what to do, what to do?

Well Mr G thought we could cope until 2014. I vehemently disagreed and set about finding a cheap and cheerful (but still up to Florence Findette standards!) mini-break that:

  1. Started and ended with convenient flights at civilised times from one of our closer airports (Stansted, City or Southend),
  2. Was close enough that we didn’t waste too long on the plane,
  3. Had enough to “do” to keep us out of mischief but also not so much that we felt guilty if we wanted to chill out and ignore all the culture and sights
  4. Would be achievable within Mr G’s set of rest days between shifts.

Tricky.

After a long process of elimination we finally settled on Barcelona when I found super-convenient flights with EasyJet from Southend, at the civilised time of 9.30am on a Monday morning.

I’d been before, and enjoyed it but I wasn’t as excited about it as everyone else seemed to be, so I’ve spent the last seven years wondering what I missed and wanting to return! Also, Mr G hadn’t had the pleasure so it was decided. Barcelona it was.

The Hotel

I found the Melia Sky hotel on Mr and Mrs Smith, did a quick search and found it at a lower rate on Expedia with the flights in a package so it actually came out as a bit of a bargain. Shop around people, shop around!

The hotel is cool, modern, clean, funky in style, full of nice quirky touches and, although I normally try to get out of the hotel when I’m away and discover new places, I found it actually quite a nice place to hang out.

NB: Be careful not to book the Melia Hotel! The Melia Sky is the one you want – it’s the one with the outdoor swimming pool. We made this mistake and had to hastily re-book. Be warned!

Highlights included the light and airy rooms with floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea, the swimming pool area on the 7th floor roof terrace, which had just enough of a “cool kids pool-party” vibe about it to keep it young and fun (but not so much that I couldn’t just chill out like a grown up and read my book*), the bespoke scent that was piped in to all the public areas (similar to Jo Malone wild fig and cassis I think) and a lobby/lounge/bar area with apothecary jars full of flumps, complete with flump tongs! You can take the girl out of Essex but…

It’s slightly out of the way from the busier parts of the city, in a residential area but it’s only a short walk from the Metro station so within ten minutes you can be in Port Olimpic or on Las Ramblas. My only criticism would be the price of breakfast (if not included in your package), but we took ourselves out wandering most mornings in search of food and so managed to save ourselves over €40 a day by eating in little cafes nearby.

Where to eat, drink and people watch…

On our first night we followed what felt like a thousand tour groups to Las Ramblas to look for something to eat. We thought it would be a bad idea, but we went with it anyway. After negotiating hordes and hordes of tourists fighting for jugs of cheap sangria, we eventually found somewhere to eat, just off the main strip in Placa Reial called Ocana we ordered waaaay too much tapas and some yummy pink mojitos (served in jam jars) and sat back to people-watch on the square. All of a sudden it dawned on me that was the exact place we’d spent our first night the last time I visited the city. I must have been drawn to it!

Thereafter we stayed out of the main city and ate at various places in Port Olimpic. Much like a book and it’s cover, you shouldn’t judge a bar or restaurant by its décor, but most of the time I’m drawn to the prettiest ones in the street. Along this strip you are spoilt for choice with gorgeous eateries and drinking establishments ranging from the super-modern full of white sofas, mirrored surfaces and candles to rustic al fresco parlours on wooden decking where you eat in amongst tubs of herbs and spices.

This strip is bustling with beautiful people, in beautiful bars, drinking beautiful cocktails along the beach-front promenade. I’d recommend Gallito and Bestial for food, and Opium for cocktails and lounging early on and then posing and dancing later in to the night. I also heard great things about Shoko and the rooftop bar of the W Hotel.

What we did…

Chilled! With a capital *chuh*.

We made a lame attempt at sightseeing by jumping on one of those open-topped tourist buses, briefly stopping by the Sagrada Familia and in Parc Guell, but we got sidetracked by the beach front bars full of squishy couches, extensive cocktail menus and the prospect of lazy sun-drenched people watching and gave up our tickets.

So that brings me to my next point: Who has some recommendations? Bars, restaurants, sights, getting away from the tourist traps… leave a comment and share your Catalonian secrets!

Victoria x

*ironically not a grown up book, but some awfully addictive YA fiction. Best we steer well clear of this topic eh Mahj and Becca? 😉

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl About Town gets Out of Town: Roma

This month I was going to write about a recent glamping excursion to Jollydays in Yorkshire, but I realised that Rebecca had already done that. So I racked my brains trying to think about something exciting from the past four weeks to tell you about. I’ve been to plenty of bars and restaurants, but none of them could have filled a whole post. Then I remembered that I was taking a work trip for an event in Rome. Granted, the places we visited were a bit out of my usual personal price range but they were great, so for a special weekend break I’d definitely recommend them. I’ll certainly be re-visiting the city with Mr G (and his credit card) in tow.

In a similar style to my Dublin piece I’ll open with one or two recommendations for eating, drinking, sleeping and exploring and then I’d love you guys to pitch in with some of your own!

Where I stayed
The event was for a rather large group of people, and we required conferencing space so that ruled out most of the city centre hotels, due to their age and size. The central hotels in Rome are much smaller and tend to have less on-site event space, so we stayed just outside of the city at the Rome Cavalieri. A grand hotel in a traditional style, full of super-sized art work, furniture you can’t sit on, relics, artefacts and sculptures that make you jump at every corner – especially in the dark after only a few hours of shut eye, and a flute or two of bubbly! My favourite pieces were glass cases in one of the lift lobbies that contained the actual Rudolf Nureyev costumes from a staging of Giselle. He was surprisingly tiny!

Because it’s out of town guests also benefit from a resort feel at the hotel, with an indoor pool (part of the impressive spa) and a large outdoor pool set in beautiful gardens, overlooked by a lovely patio area – perfect for al fresco cocktails before heading in to the city for dinner. The view from the rooms is also amazing, stretching right across the city to the famous Seven Hills.

We made use of this view, taking lunch and breakfast on the roof terrace and it really is breathtaking. There’s a reason that this hotel, and specifically the top floor, is home to La Pergola, Rome’s only three Michelin starred restaurant. Needless to say, the closest I got to dining in here was when I stood outside it, with some Haribo (that I had packed for those low-blood-sugar-stress-out-moments) peering through the gap in the doors.

Shuttle buses from the hotel operate free of charge and frequently in to the city centre, so despite being a little bit out of the action, you’re never far from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Before my big event kicked off, we had to stay in a smaller, city centre hotel as the Cavalieri was full to bursting with ATP tennis players. (Yes I did spend a vast proportion of my [very little] free time scouting the halls for them. And yes I did spy one, from afar). We stayed in a much more budget-friendly hotel closer to the city centre which was at the other end of the design scale entirely. Modern in style and compact in design, the Hotel Metropolis is walking distance to some of the city’s main sights and a great choice for a long weekend.

Where I drank
All over the place, and whenever I could, basically! I’m a big prosecco lover, and it was a very stressful weekend!

In terms of an actual recommendation, you can’t beat the Hotel de Russie, one of Rome’s most famous hotels, and it’s beautiful courtyard gardens for a swish drink, some posing and some people watching! Set between the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps it’s right in the heart of the action. The drinks aren’t cheap, but the setting, the service and the styling make for a special evening out,especially if you have something to celebrate. Also, if you fork out for a couple of drinks, you can save some cash and skip dinner with the amount of freebie snacks they bring out! We ordered some Italian cocktails and then gorged ourselves on fresh mozzarella and crudities, spicy meatballs, gigantic juicy green olives and small salty black ones, deep fried polenta and still-warm foccacia with oil.

The vibe is elegant, but with a funky air as the mixologists fling their shakers about to the sounds of a DJ, ensconced in a balcony high up on the wall, not too dissimilar to that famous one in Verona…

Where I ate
I tried to pick between three restaurants but I couldn’t pick a favourite, so I’ll recommend the three but I’ll keep it brief!

Something fancy: Casina Valadier is set in the Borghese Gardens, and is an old private residence, converted to a beautiful restaurant and event space. The décor, location and view are all so beautiful it made me want to fly all my friends and family out to renew my wedding vows. Speaking to some locals, it seems that Casina Valadier is something of an institution, and all “special” evenings out in the city start with aperitifs in the gardens, overlooking the cityscape. Take your camera!

Something traditional: Antica Pesa is a little bit out of the way, in one of the oldest parts of the city, Trastevere, set amongst old crumbling buildings, windy streets and cobbled paths, but it was worth the taxi ride. A lobby literally covered in photos of famous faces (James Bond through to Taxi Driver, via Sharon Stone and Will Smith – who both sent hand written notes) suggests it’s going to be a good night! The service was brilliant, the wine list was longer, bigger and heavier than the Bible (we took a recommendation!) and a menu full of traditional dishes and local ingredients all eaten in the courtyard, under the stars, made for a wonderful meal. What absolutely made my evening however, was when I chose a “traditional Roman picnic” as my starter and, expecting a plate of antipasti, was amazed when an artist’s case came out. I actually did I little squeal. I love an innovative serving suggestion!

Something modern: Molto, located in the upmarket Parioli area of the city, is contemporary and stylish. Pre-drinks on the decking outside with some nibbles (local parmigiano dipped in lavender honey. Swooooon), and then modern Italian cuisine in the trendy, black and white interior made for a perfect evening. There are wine bottles lining the walls at one end of the restaurant, a sleek bar at the other end, and slap bang in the middle, a big food station where they slice the cold meats, mash potatoes and plate up your pasta.

What I did
Of course there are the usual recommendations to visit the main tourist attractions, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Sistene Chapel, Colosseum, Vatican City, Pantheon, Borghese Gardens, the Roman Forum and the giant “Wedding Cake” (which my dad used to tell me about as a child – and was most disappointed to see when I finally visited Rome for the first time as a teenager!), the famous Piazzas Navona, del Popolo and della Repubblica and of course the famous streets of Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino and Via Veneto with their bars, restaurants, designer shops and cafes.

You can read about those in any guide book, and I suggest you pay them all a visit if you have time.

Having been to Rome before though, the best recommendation I was given for this trip was to visit Eataly. You may have heard about them as they are popping up all over the world, they are basically enormous food courts-come-marketplaces-come-cookery schools, you can park outside, pick up a basket (or a trolley, depending on how big your case is) and spend a good few hours shopping for fresh, local produce and traditional Italian foodstuffs, taste-testing your way around the various stalls and stations and then stopping for a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, and even book yourself in for a cookery lesson or some wine tasting. Located about 15 minutes from Fiumicino airport, you could stop by on your way home…

… and eat it all on the plane.

Ooops. 😉

So, ladies, do you have any Roman recommendations? (Ed’s note – I’d particularly love to hear any more hotel recommendations you have!)

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Recommended: Liverpool

As I was brought up by the sea, I have found that the older that I get, the more landlocked I feel, longing to see the sea. Often, weekend breaks (particularly where we live with the Peak District, Wales and Lake District all close by,) are focused on historic cities or rolling countryside, yet I prefer a town I can get dressed up for, culture to absorb and a coastal influence, so en route home to Southport for Easter, we spent a day and night in Liverpool. When I was growing up, Liverpool was where I would venture for decent shopping and many a family day out was spent at it’s Albert Docks, but so much has changed since then it’s worth another look now. Liverpool gets a terrible rap whether it’s for the accent or sweeping generalisations about the people which are outdated and (like so many other stereotypes) ignorant. I’m proud of the city and I hope my little round up will encourage you to consider visiting and enjoying it – there is something for everyone.

We started off at the newly built Malmaison Hotel. Overlooking the river, it’s in a regenerated area that previously hardly existed and perfectly located next door to the Liver Building for walking along the river front into central Liverpool. I’ve mentioned the great deals you can get in most Malmaison hotels and we took advantage of a Room, dinner and cocktails for two offer, for just £99 and you can park next door for 24 hours for £10.

The next morning, after a Mal breakfast feast we bundled up (Liverpool is ALWAYS cold, due to the bracing wind off the Mersey,) and headed off towards our first stop, the Albert Docks. In 2008 Liverpool was European Capital of Culture and has been vastly regenerated as a result. We walked past the new Museum of Liverpool in it’s incredible purpose built building (free to visit) towards the Albert Docks which house the Maritime Museum (focusing on the city’s naval history and strong links to the slave trade triangle between Africa, Liverpool and the Caribbean,) The Tate Liverpool and where we were headed, The Beatles Story. I’m not a huge Beatles fan, but Pete is and wanted to see it, plus from a cultural perspective it’s an interesting take on an era. Our tickets were £12.95 and we spent about 2 hours going around with the audio guide. It was a little repetitive in places but a must for a fan, I would say.

Other cultural attractions in the city include The World Museum (a more traditional museum with egyptian mummies, dinosaurs and a planetarium,) 2 cathedrals and performances at the Liverpool Empire and St Georges Hall.

For me Liverpool was always a shopping destination and the shopping area was very disparate from the Albert Docks. The creation of the new Liverpool One shopping centre and surrounding sleek glass arcades and streets now house shopping to rival Manchester and you can literally cross the road from the Albert Docks and be there straight away. There are also restaurants and an Odeon cinema. After a quick Pret lunch we headed into the shops for a bit of a spree and ended our day walking back along the river front to pick up the car and head back to Southport. You can also explore nearby Mathew Street for a boutique area and lots of musical references as it was originally the site of the famous Cavern club.

Our Liverpool adventure didn’t end in Southport however. On Easter Sunday we drove back to Crosby to walk on the beach and see Antony Gormley’s Another Place. A public art installation, it consists of 100 life sized iron men positioned along 3km of coastline and up to 1km out. As it is an estuary, your experience of the men varies according to whether the tide is in or out and many of them are partly or completely submerged at different times of the day, particularly when we visted at the spring high tide.

The men are strangely haunting and spooky, meant to represent ‘the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in another place.’ You’d be best driving here (probably 15 mins from central Liverpool or less, and there are directions, or public transport information here. We were lucky as it was sunny but wrap up whatever the weather to avoid freezing on the beach!

Have you ever visited Liverpool or have I encouraged you to plan a trip today? If you happen to be a Liverpool local and have any recommendations, for sightseeing or eating/drinking, do leave a comment below!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl About Town gets out of town: Seville

After a crazy summer of house buying and flat selling, homelessness, living in my in my parents’ study, moving house, about 25 weddings (actually only seven), decorating and renovating our new home, London2012 hysteria and seeing my husband once every three weeks (due to London2012 shifts) we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing, end-of-summer week somewhere nice and hot, not too pricey but luxurious enough to feel a bit self-indulgent. I didn’t want a city break – too much sightseeing required and sitting by a pool all day in the middle of a city, ready to be explored, just seemed wrong.

So, a cheap, nice, early-October beach break? Pretty simple, you’d think?

Wrong.

Everywhere close (a.k.a. cheap) enough couldn’t guarantee the sunshine that we were craving. Everywhere that could guarantee the sunshine, required a 14 hour flight and three times our budget just to get there. The only option that ticked all boxes, or so we thought, was Cyprus. Short flight, we could use budget airlines, good weather predicted, lovely hotels! Inexplicably, this option was more expensive than the Caribbean, Dubai and South East Asia all put together. And the flight times were bonkers.

Hmmm.

As the deadline drew nearer our list of options got shorter. And then we got burgled.

Aside from the feelings of anger, shock, violation, fear and sadness, I was LIVID that after all this time of waiting for our romantic beach break, we were now forking out hundreds of pounds for new doors, our excess insurance fee and a new alarm system, and so we were now unlikely to be going anywhere.

But, after all that extra stress on top of the list above, we refused to let it break us. We hadn’t spent more than a few hours in each other’s company for months and we needed to Chill. Out. So we started looking at cheap city breaks and discovered Seville: Scorching sunshine; a beautiful setting; great reviews from recent visitors; cheap flights from an airport less than 30 minutes away and at realistic times; and a Mr and Mrs Smith Hotel with short-notice availability at a reasonable price – PERFECT!

I did a bit of research in to the location and was pleased to find that although there was a lot of wandering to be done there were only a few major sights. I feel guilty chilling out reading my book by a pool when there is culture I’m missing out on. So there was enough to entertain us, but no so much that our chill time was compromised.

We arrived at the Hospes las Casas del Rey de Baeza about midday after a short 20 minute cab ride from the airport and, as our room wasn’t yet ready, we were given a welcome drink (ice cold sangria for him, juice for me) and a small tour of the hotel before settling in one of the central patios to read up on the location.

The hotel was rustic in style with rooms on three levels on open balconies/corridors around two central patios. On the ground floor, we found a cool, calm library and lounge complete with big scoochy (it counts as a word if you know what I mean – and I know you do!) leather sofas, and a garden room with wicker chairs over-looking a small garden area with a mesmerising water feature and lush green plants. I found myself sitting here day dreaming for about two hours on the last day.

Eventually we unpacked in our rather spacious room (not a great view, so let’s not dwell) and we decided to leave exploring until after sundown and to make the most of that big firey ball of warmth in the sky that we seemed to be missing in the UK over the summer months, and headed up to the roof terrace to read, snooze and unwind. The roof terrace was rather chic, and I felt like I was back in Santorini – everything was sleek, modern and white. Decking, sofas, funky lamps, potted cacti, sun loungers and a small, but perfect, pool all in amongst the Andalusian rooftops.

An un-manned bar in the corner was home to a stack of menus and a phone with a direct dial to the kitchen. We ordered some delicious-sounding salads and drinks and settled in for a warm, relaxing afternoon with a handful of fresh Seville oranges, plucked from the innumerable baskets, vases and bowls full to the brim of the sunshine fruit, found all over the hotel and grounds.

Later that evening we went out to explore, taking advice from the guys on reception for the best places for tapas, drinks and general hanging out. In the end, we got so lost wandering the cute, cobbly, windy, atmospheric streets that that I can’t even begin to tell you where we ate each night. My only advice would be TAKE A MAP and wear flat shoes! I’m normally map-averse for various reasons 1) I don’t like to draw attention to myself as a tourist. I know I don’t look like a local with my milky white skin, but I don’t want to look completely clueless and vulnerable, 2) part of the fun of a city, for me, is finding my way by chance, using landmarks to navigate, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching on my way and 3) if you’re looking at a map, you’re not looking at your surroundings, which is what exploring is all about.

Seville is not for the map-averse. After two laps of the same circuit, crossing the same square in the same direction twice, I caved and consulted the map. And that’s when I looked around and realised that every second person, regardless of nationality, was standing there with their own map looking perplexed, squinting at the tiny print and then the crumbling street signs and trying to find their way. It actually added an element of camaraderie to the trip.

Eventually we found somewhere to eat – the food was average and the service was worse, but the sangria was good, and the setting was beautiful, so who cares about soggy patatas bravas and oily chorizo!

The second day we skipped the hotel breakfast (which, although delicious and lovely, worked out about €50 each) grabbed some pastries and smoothies from a bakery not far from the hotel, ate our fill on a bench with some locals in a small square and then did some conventional sight-seeing, buying tickets for the Real Alcazar and staring in awe at the Moorish architecture of this ancient palace, sauntering down to the river and checking out the Bull Ring (but making sure to give them no money, instead a few pointed looks!) and a spot of much, MUCH better, tapas for lunch in the shadow of the huge Cathedral.

The third day we gave over to a mammoth lie in and more roof top pool lounging and delicious food snacking, and in the evening took a slightly different route in to the commercial shopping area to find the Metropol Parasol, peruse Zara and Mango (Sorry Mr G) and find a cocktail bar. We failed on the latter.


No matter where we looked, nowhere had any kind of drinks list: the options were sangria, vino tinto, vino blanco or refrescos. Even outlets that billed themselves as “Cocktail Bars” looked at me like I was crazy when I asked to see the cocktail list. I almost gave up hope until our last evening when we stumbled across a beautiful rooftop terrace bar overlooking the lit-up cathedral that, despite not having a menu either, offered me a few cocktail options from which to choose. At last! It was a shame that we found this bar on the last evening! For reference this restaurant also looked pretty great and had we been there an extra day we would definitely have gone back to eat there.

Overall I’d say that Seville is a stunning place to visit, great for relaxing, wandering, snacking and, most of all, relaxing. I expect I’ll head back in the not too distant future to use it as a base from which to visit Granada and the Alhambra as, from what I’ve heard Seville is a much lovelier place than Granada, if you’re willing to take the train or coach trip (a few hours, and not too pricey) between the two cities.

In short, my Seville suggestions…

1) Don’t bother packing heels. You won’t even take them out of your case.
2) Don’t expect haute cuisine, but equally, no meal cost us more than €30 (at most) for about eight tapas dishes, local wine and/or sangria and bread and olives. Local, tasty and affordable. What’s not to like?
3) Don’t expect great service – as a former waitress I ALWAYS tip generously, but in one place we left without leaving a tip at all to make a point about the so-bad-I-was-looking-for-hidden-cameras service!
4) Don’t make any hard and fast plans – you’ll get lost, find yourself stuck down dead ends, will wait ages for a drink/meal and so will likely miss any deadlines you set yourself. It’s best to embrace the Spanish way and take it easy.
5) Do make sure to explore and soak up the city’s vibe at all times of the day. Europe does it so much better than us – less focus on work and more focus on life in the work-life balance. Even the daily “commute” is a sociable experience with bars, cafes, street vendors and holes in the wall coming alive at a time when most Brits are in “heads-down-ignore-everyone” mode. Maybe it’s the sunshine that makes everyone happier?

6) Do follow the locals to their buzzy drinking spots – impromptu street drinking, music and dancing made for a great carnival atmosphere every night of the week!
7) Do partake in a spot of shopping in amongst the sight-seeing. Sorry boys!
8) Do salivate over the Flamenco-style wedding dresses on display in every second window. I’ve literally never seen so many wedding dress shops in one city. It’s a man’s nightmare. If he’s already engaged he’ll be asked endless questions about “do you like this, do you like that?”. If he’s not, he had better hurry up and put a ring on it! If he’s married, he’ll have to deflect questions about vow-renewal! (maybe this point is just me!)

So, Findettes, have any of you been to Seville? Are you planning to visit? Any top tips to add to my list?

I also have a favour to ask – I’m going to Dublin and Belfast in a few weeks to visit my cousin with my mum and my aunt. She’s a poor starving student (yeah right!) and has the pubs and bars side of things covered, so I’m looking to you ladies for some suggestions on upmarket, chic cocktail bars and restaurants one normally reserves for special occasions as I think, for her, this one is on her mum (shhhhh!)….

Until next month

Victoria

x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Style and the City: Paris

It’s turning into quite the travel Thursday but do not fear this is actually a (shhhh!) Fashion post. Read on for the full explanation!

This afternoon I’m hoping you can all help me to help a friend of Florence Finds out, Michelle from Pocketful of Dreams. Michelle is heading off to Paris very soon and recently asked the readers of her blog for tips on where to go, or what to see and do. Like all of us, she’s looking for those little known hideaways, cute shops, pretty patisseries and knock-out cool bars to sample a cocktail.


Moodboard by Pocketful of Dreams; Image credits: paris2london.tumblr.com, chictopia.com, thecherryblossomgirl.com

Of course, that’s exactly what we’re about here at Florence Finds so I said I’d help her out by posting her shout out and Michelle is going to return the favour by covering her fabulous travails on her return. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

In the meantime, I was inspired to help Michelle with her packing and (after you have left your comments!) please head on over to Pocketful of Dreams and have a look at the Parisian city break solutions I dreamed up for her…

Au revoir!

Rebecca
xo

Recommended: Malmaison Leeds

A little while ago, when I was heading over to Leeds for the PenDo extravaganza, I needed somewhere to stay. It’s surprising how many places in the UK are devoid of boutique hotels and when that is the case, or I simply haven’t got the time to do the researching leg work, I tend to turn to the Malmaison group for a reliably stylish retreat.

The Leeds Mal wasn’t the first I have stayed in. I spent a brilliant weekend away with a group of work friends a few years back in Edinburgh and have frequented the Birmingham Mal too. They’re always in a great location, and often a notable building, lending character which is always nice.

The Malmaison Leeds was in a brilliant location for my visit, just a couple of streets away from a few of the places we frequented and really close to the station too.

What I like about the Malmaison is the decor. I love that ‘hotel chic’ look and the moody dark look to the public spaces. The bar was buzzing when I came back after a day out with the girls and I found myself looking longingly towards the restaurant and their Brasserie French food when my tummy was rumbling before dinner!

The room was, no exaggeration, massive, with a huge bed and a really warm but stylish look. The bathrooms are stocked with one of my favourite touches, large-sized toiletries that you are encouraged to take away (and I did!) After a long day and an appropriately tiring night it was heaven to sink into the huge bed and slip into a deep sleep with a lie in in the morning thanks to the super heavy curtains.

It was a tough call after THAT bed, but the highlight was breakfast. Again the brasserie was buzzing and I settled into a corner with my copy of the morning paper and a selection from the continental breakfast. I am partial to an egg when I have time for breakfast, so I opted for the eggs benedict. From now I’d like all my butter to come wrapped up in little packages like this please. One lovely touch was the locally sourced ingredients, including yogurts from a West Yorkshire dairy farm. It’s always nice when a chain hotel goes the extra mile to keep things local.

I had such a great stay that I’ll definitely be considering a return trip if I’m in the vicinity or if I’m visiting another city. There are Malmaison hotels in Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Reading if you’re looking for a city break and you can often get rooms for bargain rates by booking ahead. I think the Friday Wine and Dine is a brilliant deal – Room, dinner and a bottle of wine for £99. Go on, treat yourself…

Have you stayed or eaten at the Malmaison? I’d love to hear your thoughts as ever…

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Disclaimer: Rebecca stayed for one night as a guest of the Leeds Malmaison, but if she wouldn’t recommend it to a friend, you wouldn’t be hearing about it here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...