A Perfect Parisian Weekend: Day 1

After spending too long in one place without adventuring, I start to get cabin fever. I become antsy and begin to check flights and destinations. This is even more accurate now I don’t work weekends or Bank Holidays anymore. When Alessio and I had a rare shared weekend together, there was no question. We were spending three days in Paris.

Being a bank holiday, the prices had shot up for flights and the Eurostar, but we managed to find a Eurolines bus for around £100. Thanks to an error, our journey may work out cheaper. You see once we boarded the bus on the Friday night, it took over an hour to actually leave because the door wouldn’t shut. As a student, I supplemented my retail salary by writing strongly worded emails to National Express (a sister company of Eurolines) and getting my transport fares back. 

Our bus stopped at the Port of Dover, and I realised this was Alessio’s first time crossing the channel.

I’ll pause the blog for a minute to describe a reverie. I dreamt a few weeks ago that Alessio, a good friend of mine and I were crossing a border to catch a plane and they had brought with them a few joints. They realised they couldn’t cross the border with them, so they hid the joints behind vegetables in the supermarket, like you might do the last pack of muffins so no one else can take them. But the police found the joints and arrested my friend, Alessio and eventually me, because I knew they were carrying joints.

Now. Back to the blog. Like a genius, Alessio had brought with him some herbal relief and only alerted me to this fact when we arrived at the Calais border.

“They have advanced security now.” I noted.

He stuffed it down the side of the chair. A nightmare come true.

We passed customs unarrested, but then the gendarmerie boarded the bus and Alessio slipped it into his mouth like a true mule.

Both our friend, who I was texting, and I remarked that the substance would be better forced up a different orifice.

“No.” He replied.

After the first and last crime of our trip, we boarded the ferry to Calais and watched the sunrise over the white cliffs. In no time, it was back to the bus where I fell straight to sleep, waking up to the scorching Paris sun five hours later.


Our hotel was in the luxurious Kléber district, situated a stones throw away from both the Arc du Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We headed to the Eiffel Tower first, oohing and aahing mostly at the absurd queues to visit the top, before grabbing a huge, crispy baguette and venturing onwards to St. Germain.


I don’t recall ever visiting St. Germain before, an ultimately very touristic area but still charming.


 It was a nice place to stroll around before making a move towards the Latin Quarter and Parc du Luxembourg.

Parc du Luxembourg was especially very nice and peaceful, with the surrounding wine shops keeping Alessio very happy.


Next on the list was Ile de Cité. Famous for Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle. Notre Dame is beautiful, and great for pretending you’re Count Frollo, but Sainte Chapelle is breathtaking.


We queued for 20 minutes, and at the door had to pay €10 rather than €18 because we couldn’t prove I was under 25. Alessio was already in a mood because he had decided the cashier was una stronza, and upon entering Sainte Chapelle we did a little deflated “…oh.” It didn’t look like the pictures at all. Where were the high ceilings? The majestic stained glass? 


Ale was the first to say it.

“It’s a bit…shit. I knew it.”

“Yeah.” I said, sadly. “We might as well go up those stairs and get our money’s worth.”

“I’m going to stay here for ten hours to get my money’s worth.” Alessio replied, stomping up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, we shut up.

“Aaaaaaaaaah.”

There it was. An actual thing of beauty.


 

We headed outside where Alessio attempted to decipher the biblical stories depicted on the stones. The creation story, the story of “Adamo ed Eva”, The Ten Commandments and more Biblical stories to delight the former Altar Boy turned rebel.

We took a guidebook to decipher the stained glass but with my non-Christian upbringing and Alessio’s excommunication, we really struggled


“Ok. Now let’s head for some sin.” 

Le Pigalle.

Debauchery, sex, the Moulin Rouge… the only thing Alessio remembered from his schoolboy visit to Paris.


From Le Pigalle, you can walk to Montmartre. Now, I know it’s touristy. I know it’s very “done”. But I love it. Like Portobello Road in London, Coney Island in New York, or fresh white bread, everyone knows it’s there, everyone’s done it, but I will always have a space in my heart for it.


Montmartre hangs on a massive hill, with small kooky shops selling tourist tat or overpriced disappointing restaurants all the way up.


At the very top of the hill is Sacre Coeur, a church from which the view – on a quiet day, is astounding. Weaving our way back through the tourists and far enough down the hill for the food to be reasonably priced and reasonably edible, we found a small restaurant where we could eat dessert al fresco. Yes, only dessert. We’re in France.



 Alessio’s bottle of wine took him the better part of an hour to sink, so we were there for a while before heading back to the hotel a woman named “Lola” tried to entice us into a strip club. 

She cornered us outside a Tabac store in the Pigalle, offering us “couples fun”. Being polite and very British, I nodded and politely accepted a business card.

“No, just come and SEE INSIDE!” She insisted.

Where was the strength of character and refusal I had so strongly in Asia? We meekly tagged along behind her and looked around the rather non-descript nightclub. There were only a few giveaways, such as the poles and velour curtains around the private show areas.

“For couples too! Not just men.”

“Let us eat some dinner first, and we’ll think about it!”
“We have crêpes here!”

“Lola, they mean real food.” Her colleague replied.

We ducked out the door, trying to look inconspicuous to the passersby and determined to find real food.

Instead we took the metro to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile to see the Arc de Triomphe, took a quick stroll down a small section of the Champs Elysées and then took to bed for the night, our legs throbbing and my eyes resisting any attempt to stay awake.

Daytrips from London: East Sussex Coast

Why have a celebration dinner when you could have a celebration day trip? I always promised to go big or go home.

In April, after months of fruitless searching, I managed to convince someone to hire me in a job that is not retail, quite unbelievably. To celebrate, we decided to take ourselves off to the coast for the day, selecting Camber Sands for its golden coastline and proximity to Rye, Sussex – a little chocolate box village in the south that I had wanted to visit for many years.

The train from Kings Cross was just a little under two hours with a stop off in Ashford, Essex. A return cost us £36.

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Rye, upon arrival, looks like any small UK town but once you climb the small hill leading from the station, the beautiful “chocolate box” village reveals itself. Its pretty cobbled streets and independent stores and cafés feel magical, like something out of Harry Potter. 

There is also a beautiful street clearly named after my family…


We took coffee and scones, and then headed for the bus with the view to visit Dungeness beach and then Camber Sands.

This is where our genius failed. Unlike in London where stops are read out, we saw one bus stop for Dungeness but thought it might go another bus stop a bit closer. It did not. It went further and further up the Kent coast, heading onwards… to Dover.

At this point we sprang out and waited for a bus going the opposite way. An elderly lady informed us she had been waiting for forty five minutes and had already missed her doctor’s appointment. We’re not in London anymore where a wait of anything more than two minutes is proof of TfL’s incapability. When the lady began to head home, that was our cue to also begin walking to … somewhere, by foot.  We figured that if we managed it in Asia, we could manage it down the East England coast.

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Everywhere began to get farther and farther away, but we found beaches to walk down and parks to play in.

The first beach was on St. Mary’s Bay. There was something oddly very brutalist and communist-era about it, and not the best way to prove to an Italian that England has nice coastline. The coastal air was a pleasant change from the stuffy, sticky city pollution and that had to count for something, right?

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Another thing we really liked was that everyone we passed was so charming and polite. They let us pet their tiny dogs, and were friendly enough to say hello and have a nice day, whereas in London that kind of behaviour would have you knifed.

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The park was not too far out of Littlestone, and I am slowly learning that parks have come a long long way since my childhood years of hurtling down a metal slide and getting friction burn on my ass. Nearby this park were adorable little colourful beach huts that made for a great photo op.

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Whilst playing in this park, we saw the exact bus we needed to take to get to Dungeness, but faced with a choice between running for the bus or having another go on the slide, we chose the slide.


It worked out well in the end because we found a little sandy beach to walk along, where families ate picnics and people were playing kites.

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Finally, we arrived at an inn where we could eat fish and chips and see Dungeness from a short distance. The portion of fish and chips was enormous, especially for bellies that are used to London portions.

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Having learned our lesson, we were on time to catch the buses back to Rye, where we took a slow stroll around the town as the sun set.

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We didn’t do what I had earmarked for us to do at all. We saw neither of the beaches we had planned, but we saw most of the East Sussex and Kent coast anyway. It showed me that my plans may change, but this isn’t a bad thing when we get to see beautiful parts of the country anyway.

Here are some more pictures from our visit!

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Rye High Street

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Rye High Street

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Rye

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St. Mary’s Bay

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Coast Drive, Lydd-On-Sea

#LondonCalling: Greenwich

In between the extended UK winter which has seen far more rainy May days than I’d appreciate, we have been lucky enough to sneak some warm and sunny days. On those days, it always seems a waste to spend it inside our flat.

One of those days came to us in early April, so Alessio and I joined our darling friend Deborah at Greenwich Park. We had been trying to go since the previous summer but we never quite made time for the journey from North to South. Finally, we found ourselves weaving through Canary Wharf on the DLR, with me lecturing the two Italians on how to say Greenwich.

“It’s not pronounced Green Witch. I know it’s confusing but that’s just the English language in general.”

Cutty Sark – or Cutty Shark as some may prefer – is a good station to get off for the parks, the river and the market.

We stepped out of the DLR station and saw the town around us.

“Are we still in London?”

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Greenwich is adorable. It has the same little-village feel as Hampstead and Primrose Hill, with many pubs and indie shops to make up for the endless Costas and betting shops on other high streets. Alessio and Deborah were hungry, so we headed to Greenwich Market.

Everyone I have met who has been to Greenwich has ignored the market. It’s a  gem! There is variety in the cuisines, and if you’re short on cash you can fill up on a selection of samples. The churrería is my personal favourite, and there is a juice stand to fulfil my juice necessity since returning from Asia. Food isn’t very extortionate – both Alessio and Deborah got huge turkish wraps for a decent price.

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After fuelling ourselves, we decided to take on Greenwich Hill. It’s a gentle incline, but nearer the top there’s a winding hill which could leave you out of breath. The view is, however, absolutely worth it.

The spring blossoms were out and it’s a great place for a picnic, or in our case a photography class which got interrupted by the most ignorant of insects – the wasp. Minutes after discussing our hatred of insects, an awful wasp began spoiling our fun. Not one to mess around, Deborah heard the buzzing and ran half way across the park with her bag. I mean, is it even springtime yet until that happens?

By that point, we no longer felt safe. We had a look in the free parts of the museum, then back down the hill for ice creams from the market. We quickly viewed the Cutty Sark, before ending our visit by watching the other side of the city across the river, musing on how easy it would be to poison all London.

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Greenwich is that fabled part of London most people are always desperate to check out, alongside Holland Park and Richmond Park. I have officially been to all three now, and they are all worth it. How can people call London shit when so much beauty is on our doorstep?

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Giving Milan a Second Chance

Twice I had visited Milan, and unlike the breathtaking Venice or the charming Bologna, I always came back underwhelmed. Milan was absolutely my “there’s nothing there” city.
Despite this, I wanted to go back for two reasons. I had never been to the Navigli district (or so I thought) and I wanted to eat Spuntino pizza.

On our last day in Italy, I had some free time to visit Milan alone. Alessio warned me to “be careful” but I insisted I was a strong London lass and I could handle myself…

Until the train pulled into a station en route and a burly man walked right up to my window and stared at me. When I looked away, he began to actually write on the window with his finger to me! That’s it, I’m going to get kidnapped here.

At Milan Porto Garibaldi I strutted off the train with confidence so everyone would see I was clearly a local, until I got onto the metro and had no idea what to do or how much to pay. A little bit of guesswork and I figured out Porto Genova was the stop I needed to visit Navigli – a stop I had already visited when I was in Milan for fashion week.

Navigli was beautiful. Small streets led off the main avenue, split by a large canal. The picturesque buildings sold gelati and there were tables with chequered cloths in front of little pizzerias. With the warm springtime sun, it felt so…Italian


I walked aimlessly until I found some very handsome national guardsmen to watch for a while. On the opposite side of the canal, I spotted a Spuntino pizza chain. I had wanted to try the little novelty pizza slices for a year, and the setting was the perfect place to take a lunch and reassure my boyfriend I was fine.


After lunch, I headed to the Duomo. I had already been there a year and a half earlier with Alessio, but now I could shamelessly join the selfie-takers. I didn’t do a lot in this area because I spent so long in Navigli, and to save on money I planned to walk back to Milano Centrale.


It was a bit of a task as my phone battery was rapidly dying, but I found a bit of time to stop at Brera and take a few pictures.

Near Repubblica station, a man approached me to ask me “una domanda“. My linguist mind went blank and it took a minute to realise he wanted to ask me something. “siii… siiiii” 

“Parlez-vous Francais?”

“God no… Inglese.”

“Sei bel-LIIISSIMA”

He continued in Italian, asking where I am from. I told him I am from London, and he asked what I’m doing in Italy. My alarm bells were going off, but the absolute twat inside me told me it’s a great chance to practice without Alessio being there to help me translate. And then he asked me to go for a coffee. Fuck, how do you say “my phone is dying and I need to catch a train?” at any case, my protestations were met with “why?! Do you have a boyfriend?” and “but it’s five minutes!”

In my desperation, I took out my ticket to prove I had to go, and along with it came a ten euro note I had stuffed in my pocket. Without any shame at all, and in perfect English he said 

“Okay, can I have some money?”

The nerve! And when I said I had to go, he continued to ask for a coffee and to play music on his music for me. 

I walked away in the end, but this is absolutely why I would be a useless solo traveller. “Perfect chance to practice Italian” un cazzo!

By that point I was just glad to finally get to Milano Centrale. My stress didn’t end there because I couldn’t find a single train heading to Gallarate. I had to figure out which trains were heading north and which ones were heading south and finally one popped up heading to Gallarate.
The day was definitely eventful, but I finally found a place in my heart for the glamorous Milano.

Updates!

I’m so sorry that this blog has been a bit quiet! Being back in London meant that I became a bit caught up with the daily grind, but I’ve not only travelled to Italy and the South English coast but I have been managing to explore the beauties London has to offer, as well as continuing to create some posts on my amazing travels in Asia. I’m hoping to get more regular in writing this now things are settling a bit! 

A Mini Food Tour of Vietnam

Vietnamese food is blowing all the way up. It first came onto my “must try” radar a few years ago, but when I began scheduling Vietnam into my trip, the cuisine was an enormous contributing factor to my excitement.

In Ho Chi Minh City I created a long list of dishes I wanted to try, which expanded as I found new local dishes. Unless I converted the entire trip into a dedicated food tour, it would have been impossible to try everything. But with Alessio’s help, I crossed off a lot of things!

Bun Thit Nuong

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Bun Thit Nuong was my first meal in Vietnam. We ate in a snazzy cafe called Mc2 where the food was reasonably priced. Bun thit nuong is amazing. A leafy salad speckled with peanuts, and slices of pork sit on a bed of vermicelli noodles and crisp beansprouts. A great dish, and definite favourite.

Banh Mi

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So I knew I wouldn’t like banh mi – or banh my as it is spelt in North Vietnam. I’m not a huge sandwich eater, and when I do go for sandwiches I like very very simple ones. Banh mi has too much going on for my preferences, but Alessio tried it. He didn’t like it, in fact. There was a particular flavour he couldn’t get on with, and we both attributed it to the pate. Since everyone loves banh mi, I suggested he try another later.

He tried it again in Hanoi, where the doner kebab banh my are ubiquitous. He loves a doner kebab, so this was sure to be a winner, right? Almost. He liked it more than the last, but he still complained about a certain flavour.

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Later, when I was eating the claypot pork below, Alessio complained that it wasn’t very nice and had the flavour of the banh mi. I had been happily scooping out the herbs but gave him a taster of the dish with a lot of herbs. I realised the flavour he hated was one I reviled equally. Coriander.

I think he may have enjoyed another without the coriander (cilantro), but by this point his patience for giving banh mi the banhifit of the doubt had worn out.

Shrimp com tam

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“But it’s just normal rice!” Alessio wailed, when I rejoiced in finally finding a stall that sold the dish.

“No!” I snapped. “Can’t you see the grains are smaller!”

Finding com tam rice was a big deal for me, because the idea of “broken rice” sounded so cool. Com tam is rice made from normal grains that have broken. It’s popular and cheaper for locals to buy and eat. The texture was similar to cous cous, and I really enjoyed it. The only issue was that the stall I chose only had a small selection of accompanying meats, and since I could only safely identify the shrimps as not being beef, that’s what I ate. The shrimps were too tiny to deshell, so it did feel a bit like eating insects! I would love to try the dish again but with a different meat.

Pho Ga

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Pho is probably the most famous Vietnamese dish, so of course it made its way onto the list. The most well known type and widely available contains beef, which I don’t eat, but we found some pho ga which I tried. 

Although I expected not to like noodle soups a lot, this was pretty nice!

Caramel clay pot pork

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The favourite dish. 

Thit kho to dau was listed on my food bucket list as “Caramel pork soup in claypot” but the dish I tried wasn’t really a soup, more just caramel pork in a claypot.

We took the meal at Mamma’s Gourmet Cooking School in Hoi An. It was truly phenomenal and probably the best Asian dish of the entire trip. The dish took a while to come, as all good meals tend to do, but when it arrived it was beautifully laid out, with pretty utensils, salad, rice and rice paper.

It was great, with complex flavours and sweet, tender pork. I can’t recommend the dish or the restaurant enough!

Cao Lau

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Cao Lau is a Hoi An specialty. Thick noodles, thinly sliced pork almost like char siu, and salad leaves in a dark broth. I tried it in a restaurant I seemed to always be attracted to and wasn’t at all disappointed! Hoi An is the only place you can try it, and it’s directly linked with folk tales about the wells in the city so it really is special!

We had a few other dishes off the bucket list too, but also we didn’t get to try everything we wanted to. Xoi ga, hu tieu and bun bo hué have firmly been pinned on the “for next time” list. 

What I really liked about Vietnamese food was that it was really fun to explore and try. Different cities and regions had different speciality dishes and finding them was a treasure hunt.

The flavour profiles are mostly familiar if you’ve been travelling in South East Asia for a while – expect ginger, lemongrass, honey, and unfortunately coriander alongside many others. The combinations are complex and versatile across dishes and regions. Influences come from its neighbours such as China, as well as its colonial history with France.

Exploring Vietnamese food was one of my favourite parts of being in Vietnam!

Milan in two days? Well, alright then!

How has it happened that a week after returning from South East Asia, I’m heading back to Italy?


I vowed I was going to give that country a break! They were tired of me and I was tired of il bel paese. You heard right. I was tired of authentic pizza, perfectly cooked pizza, fried sugary pasticceria and dramatic hand gestures. That’s a lie, but I needed a break from Italy after visiting four times in two years. 

Yet here I am, one year later, heading back.

I can’t complain. My in-laws are paying for the flights and putting me up, and I can’t wait to go to Spontini and stock up on Mulino Bianco biscuits. I can’t wait to see people, say hi to Nonna Bedogni and a friend who lived with us in London for a bit.

Being back from travelling is a tough adjustment. My life has mostly been applying for jobs and blogging and it’s been grinding me down a little. I’m excited to have a change of scenery.


I’ll be spending one day in Milano and the rest in the suburbs – probably alone. What are your favourite things to do and places to eat in Milan?

Hanoi in 8 Pictures

1. Traffic around the Long Bien

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2. A city railway

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3. A man grooms himself on the street

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4. The colourful market

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5. Piles and piles of fruit and vegetables

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6. Flower sellers on cycles

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7. Citrus

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8. Hanoi evening traffic

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Sa Pa in 13 Pictures

1. Morning in Sa Pa Town

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2. Sa Pa rice paddies in low season

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3. Misty Sa Pa landscapes

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4. An adventurous child from the local tribes climbs a wall

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5. Trekking with a baby in tow

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6. Sa Pa’s rolling hills

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7. A house of cards

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8. A hemp weaving lesson

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9. Making gifts for the trekkers

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10. A seventy five year old woman, still trekking and climbing

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11. Local women guiding a tour

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12. A bored girl

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13. Best friends

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Hoi An Yellow

In each city I visited, I noticed overwhelming colour schemes and design styles. I was drawn to photograph them and note the differences in each city.

No city had as significantly striking a colour as Hoi An. Yellow  was in the detail and the minutae of the city. It covered the walls and the flowers bloomed in yellow.

With a lighthearted gaze, Hoi An Yellow captures the colour of the ancient city.

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