#JanuaryJoy – Plan a trip

Last year was Pete’s 30th and as part of that I planned a weekend away at the end of January to The Drawing Room in the Elan Valley (just click the links to read more.) I’ve heard people say in the past that having something to look forward to in January helps you to get through the month and last year it was such a pick me up that we’ve decided to do the same again.

Even if you don’t go away in January, just looking for and planning a trip is fun and helps take your mind off the dreary weather. As we’re heading into mid January now and even I am feeling a trace of the blues, it’s definitely time to start planning and bring back the #JanuaryJoy!

Image credit

I was going to tell you about one of my recent trips today, but thought I would save that for February. Instead I’m going to share my travel plans for the year and who knows, I might be reflecting back on that in another 12 months. This New Year’s eve, Pete pulled out a dog-eared bit of paper he had found on which we had written our travel plans for 2012. We had listed the months and filled in all the things we already had planned, like friends weddings and then pencilled in a few trips we wanted to take. Our plans included the trip we took to The Drawing Room, Yosemite and Vegas, and skiing, all of which we managed. We were dreaming big and also listed trips to Mexico to see the ruins, a South Africa/Safari trip and a mini break in Madrid that didn’t get done. It was fun to look back and see what we did but I also felt a bit disappointed that we hadn’t planned those bigger trips.

So this year we have our annual ski-ing trip planned, and the getaway I mentioned at the end of the month. We have a family trip planned in Cornwall in August and the potential for a trip to Spain in May. That’s three weeks holiday gone already and I’m no closer to planning a life-list trip. Right now I’m all about the trips that children in future may make difficult (if only for the short term.) I’ve been enthralled by Africa on TV this last week and always wanted to see big cats up close, so this year’s goal is to plan a trip to Africa. I want to see South Africa, go on safari and explore what looks like a naturally stunning country. I’d love to hear any tips or recommendations you have?

So, what are your travel plans this year and are you planning any trips right now? Do you have a fail safe January pick-me-up?


PS If you are looking for a recommended weekend break closer to home…

Real Rooms: Bex’s Study ‘refresh’

This afternoon it’s an office make-over for a newly married couple, which cleverly combines the colour of the moment grey, with holiday ‘finds’ and subtle splashes of orange. I love how it has all come together and I’m looking forward to hearing what you all think of it!

Take it away Bex!

This room was a bit of a dumping ground for a long time since moving in here three years ago, even more so with all of the ‘wedding stuff’ we had to store (boxed vases being the bulkiest items). We never really used this room to its full potential, especially given its good size. It had always had a daybed for extra guests, (useful when both sets of parents came to stay) and a desk for Nik’s computer, bookcases for all his textbooks and notes while he was still a student and a wardrobe which contained overflow from my own, oops, and some fancy dress items! The room was then added to with coats, wellies, boxes of things waiting to be sorted, a very underused exercise bike (aren’t they all!) and all the other bits and bobs we unceremoniously shoved in there whenever we had to tidy up the rest of the flat if guests were coming. It also housed my collection of framed prints that I used to sell at craft & design fairs around Scotland but have recently had little time for. (These have been re-homed for sale in a local cafe.)

All of the above resulted in this ‘before’ monstrosity…

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

Surprisingly, the plan to tackle this room was something I decided on honeymoon, where I was inspired to re-decorate using some of our African souvenirs as a starting point. This spurred me on through the boring sorting and organising of all that stuff as I started to think of how we could make the room useful and look nice, somewhere we would actually like spending time. It actually became the perfect project to keep me busy after all the wedding frenzy of the months before!

We had a few items from our honeymoon which gave me the basis of what kind of style we wanted, including framing some of my own pictures taken on safari, so I started a Pinterest board for ideas and colour schemes (which inspired the grey walls/white furniture plan). We decided we wanted a modern room with white furniture to match the existing Hemnes Daybed and to set if all off against grey walls. We didn’t want to go too dark on the walls as the window is tucked into a corner and we didn’t want it to end up ‘dingy’. Moving the mirrored wardrobe helped to reflect some of the light back into the room rather than being wasted in the corner. We decided on a Valspar colour, Windswept, from B&Q. Since the room has been finished, I have also made a Pinterest board detailing some of the items in it and where they were from if you like the look of anything.

So here is the ‘after’ with our stripped back room…

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

I tried not to go for green accents again, as in most of our other rooms, so we decided to mix it up a bit more and we had a multi-coloured painting from the Masai market in Nairobi. We also purchased a Masai beaded necklace so I thought I would incorporate more orange into the room with some sunset pictures.

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

Luckily the orange colour worked well as most of the African safari pictures had an orange tint to them anyway. I really liked the thought of having them all black and white but decided to make it a bit different by leaving three of them in colour.

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

The frames were Neilson frames from Hobbycraft and were £17.99 each so it was pretty pricey all together but I’m really pleased with the overall result! Mounting and printing them ourselves saved money so it was approx £174 in total. I love the fact they look good but also remind us of our amazing time on safari on honeymoon.

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

The cushions were from M&S, The White Company (15% off thanks to FF!) and Slumber Slumber. Nik sold most of his old books and recycled his notes so we could downsize in the bookcase department. We replaced 3 bookcases just one from Ikea and filled the bottom shelves with cupboards to try to make it look less square and boxy, and to hide some of the uglier books. I took the old lime green file boxes my Mum had donated when she moved and painted them grey with left over wall paint.

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

The unusual string balls were bought by the side of the road in Nairobi and were the main inspiration for re-doing the room. Nik’s conditions when agreeing to buy three was that we had to know where we would put them and I convinced him on my ‘African honeymoon study’ idea. They’re supposed to be light-shades but I just removed the metal hangings from inside as I liked the way they were hung from the trees in bunches like this in Kenya.

All images courtesy of Bex Photo

I finally got round to framing our degrees and diplomas to keep them safe and out of the way. We didn’t want them to be too ‘in your face’ so we hung them high up along the ceiling. In retrospect I wish we had stuck the map a little lower but it’s difficult to judge when one of you is holding up a huge sheet of plastic to the wall.

The amazing map of the world wall sticker is also from notonthehighstreet.com and came with coloured dots to mark the places we’ve been. We now want to try and go to more places in the middle of the big black areas to make the dots more obvious and spread out – probably not the usual way to choose places to travel to but it could be fun! We’ve mostly stuck to the coast before due to our love of scuba diving but would love to try travelling in more different places in the future.

I hope you’ll agree it was quite a transformation! We now spend so much more time in there, I particularly love my new snug corner on the daybed where I can curl up under my knitted throw with a good book while Nik’s working on his computer.

I have been dying to share this with the Florence Findettes because I need a little help. We have decided to keep and display our large apothecary jars we used at our wedding but have no idea what, if anything, to put in them. Please help!

Great job Bex – I particularly love how you have managed to make all this things I always want to buy on holiday that then look out of place in cold grey england work so well together, particularly the safari photos and cohesive splashes of orange. The map is a great way to nod to the travel theme in a chic way and I love your certificates placed so high like that – genius idea!

Do leave Bex a comment if there’s something you like or if you want to ask her anything, I’m sure she’ll be around to help you out!


PS You can find Bex at her blog The Olive Dragonfly and on twitter @OliveDragonfly. You can also see more of Bex’s stunning photography on her photography website: Bex Photo.

Backpack to ballroom: Flexible Packing Tips

So Findettes, leading on from Amanda’s fashion dilemma last week, we’re back talking about holiday packing.  Many guide books will try to tell you that all you need for a trip which takes in more than one country is a pair of cargo pants which zip off into shorts and a black t-shirt.  This, unless you’re built like Angelina Jolie and you enjoy being called ‘that bird who looks like, whatsername, Lara Croft’, is not true.

However. If you’ve just booked the holiday of a lifetime, be it a cruise, a jaunt through Asia, a road trip across the USA or a round-the-world trip, you’re probably not exactly rolling in cash.  So how do you pack a capsule wardrobe on a budget? Well, it’s all about multi-functional separates, day-to-night items and accessories.

ASOS peplum printed jacket and shorts

Taking a matching top and skirt, or jacket and shorts – wear the printed items together for a more formal look and separately with plain tops and bottoms for sight-seeing.
If, like Amanda, your trip calls for both black tie and backpacker, save on space and funds by accessorising. A great way to do this is with ribbon – a couple of lengths of coloured ribbon gives you 2 extra belts for any dresses you take, and they can also be tied around the top of a skirt for a retro-glam look.  Experimenting with texture, like velvet ribbon, adds a luxe edge for less.  

Say you’d packed two maxis like the ones we featured last week, with the black jersey number simply tie the halterneck cords into a bow at the bust where it’s ruched and thread a wide, coloured ribbon through, et voila! A totally new dress.  When a dress comes with a self patterned belt, don’t be afraid to use said belt on another item of clothing. Swapping floral belts from two flowery dresses, for example, works really well.  Finally, if you’ve packed ribbons and you happen to have a pair of espadrilles, re-thread your shoes for a ballerina.

Rebecca’s Tip: Look for heavier ribbons that will hold their shape if you’re expecting them to double as straps and go for patterns or stripes for instant riviera chic. Try VW Rouleaux for a great selection also available online.

Experiment with cardigans and shrugs – get it right and you can totally make the dress a different piece. This lace bolero from MANGO would transform a strapless top or dress: match your colours and they’ll look like one item, contrast them and you can easily change your look.  

Remember Rebecca’s cosy?  It’s another hard working staple that’s perfect for dressing up or down when travelling.  Another great travelling companion is an over-sized scarf – although it doesn’t look it in the picture, this American Vintage scarf is suuuuuuuuuper long and wide… and in a silk blend it can be used as a pashmina, scarf, draped as a sarong or tied into a big floppy bow for a dressier look. 

Scarf – American Vintage at Liberty

Finally, and at risk of sounding like my Grandma, it’s amazing what a good quality slip can do. A nude slip, with a lace front, is great for smoothing lines and wearing underneath wrap dresses and tops for added glamour.  

Slip by Yummie Tummie on ASOS and blue lace slip, Topshop

The ASOS slip above, though pricey, comes with detachable straps and would work under pretty much any dress, and lends itself especially well to wrap-over dresses, as well as making a previously ‘beach-only’ kaftan opaque enough to wear as a top or dress.  The blue Topshop slip would be great worn with a flippy little skirt and a cardigan over the top of it.

So readers, do you have any fool-proof travel items? Something that you took away with you and wore to death? We’d love to hear about it!

Gemma C-S xxx

East London Calling…

This afternoon I’m hoping my readers will help me out, but not only me. Often when I write a post about something you guys chip in with brilliant suggestions and recommendations and today I’m relying on that. On this occasion it is purely selfish, as this weekend I’m heading off to London town for a weekend with Pete. We’ve been meaning to go for a while and I’m excited to be in London for once and not on business. Exciting though that often is, I never get to see the things I’ve earmarked, the shops I like or try the cool cafes and restaurants I rush past in a hurry. This weekend there will be serious lingering in coffee shops, mooching in boutiques, rummaging in markets and testing of cocktails. All in the name of research you understand.)

Image Credit: Andre Beato

And this is where you guys come in. I really need your help. I’ve got my hotel sorted (The Hoxton in Shoreditch, more on that coming soon) and now I need some places to go. My only must-do whilst in the big smoke is to visit Graham and Green, one of my favourite interiors destinations online and I’ve been desperate to see the actual shop for some years now. That will take us to either Regents Park or Notting Hill (I’m leaning towards the latter as I have always wanted to go,) but otherwise we’re pretty free to wander and explore.

The other reason I hope you’ll help out with your recommendations is that posts like this become a valuable resource for other readers, either searching for travel tips and stylish hang outs or inspiring trips away. The UK was one of the most popular destinations when you gave me your feedback on travel favourites here at Florence Finds and I’m hoping we can build that section up in the coming months.

So, spill the beans about your must visit areas or streets, foodie destinations, fascinating shops and favourite bars in the Shoreditch area, or around Graham and Green in Notting Hill.

Thanks guys! I’ll love you forever 🙂


Giveaway: Mr & Mrs Smith Italy Guide

Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the latest Italy travel guide from Mr and Mrs Smith. I’m a big fan of their concierge standard service and luxe edit of boutique boltholes, ranging from budget to blow-it prices.

I’m an even bigger fan of Italy and hope to visit later this year for one of our holidays (NY resolution #1: Travel more) so it made for enjoyable browsing.

The book however was another thing all together. In signature witty style and a touch of subversive naughtiness The Guide takes you through all the top destinations in Italy, of course also recommending a selection of Mr and Mrs Smith getaways for you to choose from at each stop on your travels.

The crowning glory however is the stunning photography featured throughout the book. I defy you not to want to book a get-away immediately after even the most cursory flick through its pages. Just leafing through made me desperate to get started on my travel plans and due to its size and weight it also makes a beautiful coffee table tome- the perfect reference point before you book or reminder of a special trip.

From Top: Villa Arcadio (Lake Garda) Ca Maria Adele (Venice) and Bellevue Syrene (Amalfi Coast).

And the best bit? Mr and Mrs Smith have kindly provided one of the new Italy Guides for one of you lucky things to win. And I’m not going to make you work too hard for it either…

Here’s what you have to do:
1. Head on over to Florence’s Facebook page and ‘like’ us (if you don’t already) to be eligible to enter.
2. Click through to Mr and Mrs Smith and leave a comment below telling us where your dream destination is in Italy.

The competition will be open until Sunday evening at midnight so get entering and if you’re not lucky enough to win you can purchase one here, they make a fabulous gift.

Buona Fortuna!


Amendment! I’ve been reliably informed this morning by Mr and Mrs Smith themselves that Blacksmith membership is now free to everyone, which means you can all get the exclusive extras that Mr and Mrs Smith bookings come with. Great news!

Destination Guide: Istanbul

Good afternoon readers! Today we’re welcoming Victoria back who is sharing her recent holiday to Istanbul. As soon as I heard she had visited Istanbul I asked Victoria to write about it for Florence Finds as I have long wanted to visit – it’s the location where Europe meets the Middle East and is said to create a unique blend of cultures. After reading Victoria’s review I think you’ll be hard pressed not add it to your must-visit list, and as I said earlier in the month, January is a perfect time to sit down, do some research and plan something, which is what I’ll be focusing on this week.

Take it away Victoria!

We decided to visit Istanbul as part of a grand family trip around Istanbul, Athens and Santorini. The recommendation was to spend at least five nights in Turkey’s largest city to allow enough time to explore all it has to offer, unfortunately with the schedule we were working to, we only had time for four nights, but we did pack quite a lot in.

To start with I’ll give you some quick facts, and a bit of background so you can get an idea of the scale and layout of the city and its colourful history, then take you through my personal recommendations on sleeping, eating, drinking, sightseeing and shopping.

The City
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and under its previous names of Byzantium and Constantinople, served as a capital of three ancient empires (the Roman, the Byzantine and the Latin Empires) and also a relatively recent Empire, in comparison (The Ottoman). However in October 1923 when the Republic of Turkey was established Ankara was proclaimed the state capital, leaving Istanbul to rake in a number of other superlatives in its descriptions including the third largest metropolitan area in Europe (after London and Moscow), the cultural, economic and financial centre of Turkey and, its most famous accolade, the only metropolis in the world to span two continents – Europe and Asia.

We stayed at the Klas hotel in the Old Town. I spent some time researching a few different options and came to this decision because of its proximity to the main areas, the price and the good reviews on Trip Advisor.

It’s situated about a ten minute walk from the Grand Bazaar and so we felt it was ideally located for sightseeing. The hotel itself was clean, tidy and reasonably modern. It wasn’t high-design by any means, but the roof terrace with tables, sunbeds, cushioned lounging area (complete with fake grass for that Big Brother Garden feel), cute little pool and a bar was perfect for a little bit of chill out time after pounding the streets of the city. The staff were friendly and helpful, the breakfast was fine, providing the usual Continental and American buffet items (just stay away from the orange “juice” – it’s actually concentrate, incorrectly labelled!) and there was free WiFi on each floor, which is always nice for your daily Florence Finds fix!

For the price we paid, the location, standards and service were great. I’d definitely recommend this hotel to friends and family.

On the first night we were tired and didn’t want to roam too far, so we wandered up the main road to the Grand Bazaar area and found Faros restaurant. It was on a side street with tables and banquettes in the open air. I was having a bit of a love affair with all-white décor at the time (you can imagine how much I loved Santorini, can’t you?) so it caught my eye with the white leather seats, white tables, chairs, candle holders and menus. It was also packed…. with a lot of non-tourists (including a local wedding party sitting a bit further up) – SCORE!

The cocktail menu was international (happy me!) but the food was most definitely local and we sampled a lovely few plates of assorted mezzes, and a few local main dishes, including one cooked in a pot over naked flames which the waiters bring to your table on a trolley, wrap in a cloth and hammer at it with a knife until it cracks and spills all over your plate. You can imagine that a few rounds of that with a flourish, a bit too far from the table (i.e. in the middle of the busy street) attracted a few tourists, but it all added to the atmosphere and the buzz.

We loved the buzz of that little street so much that we ate there on two more occasions at Mozaik and another restaurant I can’t remember the name of (and the characters in the picture of the sign are “un-Google-able” without a Turkish keyboard). Mozaik was another great experience though – again the waiter was fabulous, funny, helpful and great for some local banter. We accidentally bumped in to him a day later in a local nightspot, but I’ll come on to that shortly.

Other restaurants on this street include Sir Evi and Rumeli Café, both of which offer similar menus, service and prices.

Over in the new town (the above were all based in the Old Town) we spent a long leisurely lunch in the Flower Passage working our way through almost the entire list of fresh daily mezzes and some local wine. There’s a lot of history here and the surroundings are very impressive and although it’s quite a touristy area, still had an impressive number of locals stopping by for some food, drink and banter.

Of all that we visited I would say that Faros and Mozaik are the ones that stick in my mind the most.

On the first night, after our dinner, we ventured in to the maze of streets around the Grand Bazaar and found a little area full of locals drinking tea and sucking on shisha pipes. Seeing as it seemed to be the thing to do, we thought we’d  settle in. The guide books will tell you that no local will touch the coffee, nor the flavoured shisha tobacco, so we weren’t surprised to be greeted with blank faces when we ordered two Turkish coffees, two mint teas and a sickly sweet “cappuccino” flavoured shisha pipe. Eventually I convinced them that I actually liked the Turkish coffee (lots of advanced sign language involved here – you’ve all seen the Joey and trifle “mmmmmm” sketch in Friends, right?)

The second time we ventured in here for our “authentic” Istanbul nightlife we actually bumped in to our waiter from Mozaik as he’d just finished his shift. He informed us that it was where all the waiters and business owners meet up to discuss the day’s trade and catch up over a lassi and a shisha. I couldn’t tell you how to actually find this place, but wander the little streets behind the Grand Bazaar and somehow you’ll find it. We did… twice!

We also tried out the cocktail menu at the top of the Hilton Double Tree on the roof terrace as the final call to prayer went out. It was very quiet, and quite windy so had very little buzz or atmosphere, but, as with everywhere we went, the staff were so attentive we felt we should stay for a second – it would have been rude not to! At sunset, in a slightly warmer season I would think that this would be a great place to have a few sundowners.

My absolute favourite place to stop for drinks, however, would have to be a little square we found whilst following a walking tour from the Lonely Planet guide. It was full of arty types, students and old men playing backgammon on low level tables and stools in the shade of twisted trees, decrepit buildings, antique shops, vintage book stores and handmade jewellery stores. They served a lovely list of coffees (not just of the Turkish variety) and the famous “elastic” Turkish ice cream. Follow the walk directions through the Flower Passage, through to the “Fish Passage” and walk across the road and down a quiet back street with a big Embassy building (I think it was the British) on the right. It’s through a little archway on the left… you won’t be disappointed.

There is so much to see and do in the city centre that you forget how much is situated outside in the suburbs, along the Bosphorus and along the coast line of the Black Sea. From what I managed to see in my limited time I would recommend the following:
The Blue Mosque and opposite, the Hagia Sofia. Both are breathtaking in appearance and their history and would be a shame to miss them.

A walk around the New Town. We did this by following a walk from the Lonely Planet guide. It started in Taksim Square through a modern shopping area, where we enjoyed an impromptu feast of mezzes (see above), then on to some small backstreet areas (also mentioned above), ending up down at the Galata Tower.

I would definitely recommend that you spend some time on the Bosphorus taking in the views of the city on both the European and Asian sides. The Bosphorus Bridge, which allows you to cross from Europe in to Asia on foot, was pretty awesome. Sailing up and down on the river with a rather good audio guide and my little book made me realise quite how important this city was, and still is, in history.

One thing the guidebooks really gloss over is the Basilica Cisterns. They really were a hidden treasure and I’m so glad we found them. They were the water vaults for the buildings above the ground, for storing water in case of siege (or so I read) and generally to service the city. The columns that hold up the ceilings are all mismatched as they were plundered from various temples from across the Empire and so each one tells a story… except the Medusa one – you don’t hang around to hear her story!

I didn’t do much shopping whilst in the city and to be honest that’s strange for me. I think I was pacing myself, but I did do a little bit though – I couldn’t resist the Turkish delight! If shopping is on the agenda, I’d visit the old town for the “genuine fakes” that Turkish market stalls are famous for, and the usual tourist bits and bobs. But for international brands, I’d head to the main Promenade in the New Town. I didn’t see much by way of a bargain though, in relation to the big names.

The Grand Bazaar is obviously a famous sightseeing location but also a must-see for shoppers. However, if I’m honest it was a little bit disappointing. I was expecting something like Khan el Khalili in Cairo, which was really like stepping back in time, or on to the set of Aladdin! In reality the Grand Bazaar was a little bit like a slightly old fashioned shopping mall. If you know what you’re looking for though, and you’re ready with a list and your haggling skills, then get involved. My friend was there a month before me and got some amazing leather goods at some great prices.

We also visited the Spice Bazaar, which was a bit more along the lines of what I was expecting, but still a teensy but still a bit of a let-down. My travelling companions got a little tutorial in purchasing saffron, and I spent some time sampling the most amazing Turkish delight I’ve ever tasted: pomegranate with pistachio. Amazeballs! I intended to bring some samples home but it didn’t last the day, let alone the two weeks.

Would I go back?
All in all I really, really liked Istanbul. I don’t think it makes it in to my list of ‘Top Five Fave Cities’, but to be fair I think we only briefly scratched the surface. So it’s not a question of would I go back but that I most definitely have to go back.

Two things will stay with me forever though.

Number one – the views of the city. One of the most memorable views was from the bridge across from the Old to the New Town. Looking ahead to the Old Town, with all the fishermen lined up in front of you and the trams rushing by, you can see what looks like a line of seven massive mosques along the skyline (maybe those from the seven hills on which Istanbul is fabled to have been built?). You don’t feel like the New Town is particularly “new” until you look at the old and realise that when “new” means 500-600 years old, “Old” means positively ancient!

Number two, and for me the embodiment of the city, were the sounds and smells and just walking around soaking up the “feel”. Sitting on a roof top bar wrapped in a blanket, with the wind off the river stirring our hair, amidst the sweet smell and smoke of the shisa pipes, sipping a cosmopolitan as the final call to prayer went out, it was very atmospheric indeed.

History and modernity all mashed up – that is what Istanbul is to me.

Sir Evi
Flower Passage

Klas Hotel

Read Victorias other posts for Florence Finds here and find her at her blog Sugar Plum Slipper

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