Christmas Spirit

London, as usual, has hit the ball out of the park in terms of every street being filled with decorations, lights and trees. Even the normally scungy back alleyways are sprinkled with a little Christmas lovin’ this time of year, which is so lovely to see. You can’t escape twinkly lights and Christmas vibes in this place and it’s the best!

I’ve enjoyed a few Christmas markets and had my fair share of Christmas themed coffees at Starbucks, not to mention the hilarious and oddly competitive ‘Christmas Desk Decorating Competition’ my office held a few days ago. But with a recent bout of homesickness, (my first taste of it since we moved here a year and a half ago! Homesickness sucks!!) combined with the recent horrific events in my home city, Sydney, it’s not quite as easy as it normally is to enjoy this period of the year this time around when so far away from our loved ones and friends. We recently pulled our few little bits and pieces of decorations from home out of ‘storage’ (nb: our wardrobe…) and have placed them around the house, plus we have a lovely friend coming over for Christmas dinner with us, so hopefully the spirit will be reignited any moment now!

In honour of one week to go, here’s a little video of me, my sister and my godsister/life-long friend and musical soulmate Laura, singing Oh Holy Night a couple of years back.

Nothing gets me in Christmas spirit quite like harmonising to my all-time favourite carol sung by two of my fave people:

24!

Last month I turned 24. I think I’ve finally crossed that threshold and become a fully fledged member of adult society. In celebration of this achievement (?!) Blake treated me like a queen for the week, of which I was very appreciative. I had a veeeeery easy week domestically speaking with all duties like dish washing, clothes washing and more stripped from me. More Mindy Project for me! Hoorah!

On my actual birthday we celebrated with an eggs benny breakfast in our pyjamas whilst unwrapping some lovely gifts from my family and from Blake… Daniel Radcliffe pun mug and Kate Spade goodies eat your heart out! At work I was presented with a Berliner donut from my German pal Jenny, who clearly appreciates a good pun, as well as a bottle of Prosecco. A fantastic ‘Queen of Awesomeness’ mug and a few cards that also weirdly referenced being a Queen (I’m not quite sure what that means or says about me… I’m choosing to think of it as a bizarre coincidence…) and of course a classic office Tesco chocolate cake, because an office birthday isn’t complete without one.

The real treat of the day was sneaking out of work a little early to meet Blake for a surprise adventure. We walked through Soho, into the West End and found ourselves a table at Jamie’s Diner.

London tip: Although Jamie’s Italian is a pretty fancy place to eat in Sydney, it’s more of a chain in London. There are lots of Jamie’s restaurants around, and a large variety of Italian, Diners and more. This means the experience isn’t quite as special as it is in Sydney, but it is just as delicious.

 diner

Blake had the Reuben sandwich and I had the beef burger, which was great, but Shake Shack reigns supreme. We finished it off with a Camden ale and a Strawberry/Vanilla cocktail.

Then came the main event… The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Gielud theatre. I read the book years ago and have raved about it to anyone and everyone who’ll listen from the day I turned the last page. When we moved to London I exclaimed, probably too many times, how badly I wanted to see the theatrical adaptation, but we just hadn’t been able to prioritise seeing a show for the last 6 months due to all our travelling which was eating up any spare penny we had.

curiousincident

I can’t recommend this fantastic show highly enough. The way they bring the story to you in a very real, physical way is astonishing. The actors really put themselves through it in this show, especially Christopher’s character. I wondered how they would be able to convey Christopher and the way his intricate mind works without literally being able to see it through his eyes (which you do through the book in that it is written from his perspective, harder to translate that on stage!) and they’ve totally nailed it. It is beautiful, interesting and touching all at once and I loved it.

We continued the birthday festivity into the weekend with avocado and feta cheese on toast (my second favourite), and a good old house spring clean. When your house is as messy as ours was after a month away and three weeks back without time to clean it, cleaning it was genuinely a treat.

Borough Markets

I’ve written about the Borough Markets here before, but to be honest, this place deserved twenty posts. It is my favourite London activity. It might be my favourite life activity. I’m calling it. It’s the best.

<< Blake practising his blue steel/me practising my headshot photography >>

Picture a stunning, Art Deco warehouse with crisp cool London air bustling through, completely packed with people, with hundreds (?) of shops and stalls selling the most incredible selection of produce. Organic meats and vegetables with the largest range of exotic mushrooms I have ever seen – and all of it exceptional British and European produce. The oils! Insanely good olive oils, truffle oil, chilli and garlic oil… Wheels of French cheese bigger than your head… Mulled wine, champagne, oysters, fresh paella, the famous salt beef sandwiches, burgers.  And the baked goods! Incredible breads and freshly baked pastries and treats. Have I sold you yet?! It really is the best of the best – Jamie Oliver does his shopping here!

We hung out with a cute dog named Monty, shared a consolation prize of a cheese and olive bread stick. It was a consolation prize because Bread Ahead sold out of the last three famous donuts right in front of my very eyes. It was devastating…   Following the devastation we bought supplies for a dinner feast, sampled some oysters and I enjoyed a cup of mulled wine which was the perfect antidote to a cold London night.

For dinner Blake concocted a feast of spinach and garlic venison pasta. I’m not usually a venison fan but I loved it with this dish. B bought venison sausages and broke them down into mince to create these little pockets of deliciousness.

We shared a bottle of Tobin’s wine brought back from sunny QLD and started watching Robin William and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage on Netflix before I promptly fell asleep halfway through like a good 84 24 year old.


Sunday was pancakes with ice cream and maple syrup for breakfast (my third-favourite!) and a wander through the Columbia Road Flower Markets. Although it was drizzling with rain, it didn’t stop the eccentric English sales people yelling out to passers by… [please read the following sentence in your best cockney accent] ‘GET YOUR PETUNIA BULBS HERE!’ ‘A POUND A BAG OF DAFFS!’ ‘THREE FOR TWO ORCHIDS! IT DON’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THA’, DO IT!’ – it’s always a lot of fun to do some serious people-watching here, if you can brave the crowds. Even on a rainy day, personal space is a struggle here.

I picked up this miscellaneous bunch of lovely red guys to go with my beautiful red and orange roses currently gracing our kitchen table. We strolled through the surrounding back alleys and I wished we had a lot more money to burn on gorgeous antiques and endless bouquets of flowers.

For lunch we visited the famous ‘Brick Lane Beigel’ shop which is open 24 hours a day and is a far more classy midnight option than the classic Hornsby station kebab. It almost always has a queue leading down the street. A hot, salt beef bagel with mustard was absolutely what we needed at that point in the day. At £3.75 (so…  almost 7 Australian dollars!) a pop it’s not the cheapest bagel in the world, but I truly believe it might be one of the most delicious… I can see why the line to enter stretches at any hour of the day. We ate our bagels whilst exploring the Brick Lane markets and with tummies full headed back to the tube station.

And so ends a wonderful birthday week in which we ate lots of delicious things and visited THREE different markets. If anyone has any more other great London market recommendations I’d love to hear them… I’m keen to get back to the Broadway markets near London Fields at some point, but other than that, I’d love suggestions! London, where are the rest of your fabulous markets?

Australia

Warning: This post is a long one. Three weeks in our home country summarised into one post? Make yourself a cup of tea why don’t you… :)

IMG_6811
Upon waking up in Australia for the first time in a little while, I was immediately struck by the sounds of the birds chirping and tweeting and flittering around so loudly that it kept me awake for the entirety of the sunrise. The sounds of nature and birds was something that seemed strikingly foreign to me. Of course I can now sleep soundly through ambulances and sirens streaming past our bedroom window in London, and don’t even register the London traffic as it churns every morning from at the crack of dawn anymore, but those birds on a lazy Brisbane Saturday morning were almost startling.

We had landed at something crazy like 2:30am that morning in Brisbane and C had kindly picked us up from the airport. We didn’t do much (I believe there was a sneaky cheeseburger involved…) at such an insane hour of the morning but we had a chat, met her puppy dog Pudding and quickly fell asleep after a mammoth few days in transit. The flights itself were fine, long, but fine. I devoured two books, this one which I loved, and this one which I also loved but am yet to properly recollect my thoughts on! I love flying. The little meals in their individual wrappings (sorry, environment, I recycle and generally avoid plastic to make up for my one love of plastic in those damn plane meals…), the movies on demand, even the fact that it’s basically impossible to get any sleep on them, knowing that there will be a solid 20+ hours in which I can’t check emails or answer FB messages. But I didn’t love how long that journey was. Next time, we’ve vowed to stop over overnight… and I recommend this to anyone making the trek from Australia to the UK or vice versa. If you want to be able to function when you land (which we wanted to!), a stopover is a really great idea. Lesson officially learned.

Our first Australian adventure involved surprising Blake’s lovely mum who had no idea we were even in the country let alone hiding in B’s sister’s (Courtney!) bedroom whilst they and chatted and Courtney kept up the ruse of ‘a morning tea with friends’! Ha! Surprise!!!!!!! It was a total hoot and very well played.

family

We spent an afternoon in the sunshine drinking tea and eating delicious sandwiches and cake, relaxing and taking it easy with a little fluffball named Pudding, before heading out to a French dinner nearby.

pudding

pudding2

pudding3

The next day included some family visits for Blake whilst I attempted to get some sleep in recovery from only 1 hour sleep the night before (yeah, cheers, birds… Sure I was waxing poetic after a few hours’ sleep but the following night after only getting 1 I was not feeling quite so romantic towards their endless tweeting… the birds were the last thing I wanted to hear!). We then drove out to visit B’s dear friends and meet their gorgeous little baby, and then rushed off to Brisbane airport to catch our flight to Sydney. Because clearly we hadn’t had enough of airports or flights. If there is one thing we seem to be good at, its jam-packing way too much into our lives. But hey, we get stuff done.

Sydney is ‘my’ place, really. Blake and I lived in Sydney together for over a year before moving to the UK, it is where we met, and he had lived in Sydney for several years before we met, too. But Sydney is where I grew up and where I’d lived my entire life, so it was very cool for me pulling in, flying over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and seeing my home city from above for the first time in a little while. In my time away from Sydney I’ve found myself missing things that I never really had much to do with whilst I lived there – the harbour, for example… All I’ve wanted to do for a year and a half now is sit by the harbour and watch the boats and the waves. Also, meat pies! I don’t even like meat pies! But it’s all I’ve been craving lately. The prospect of both meat pies and Sydney harbour at arm’s reach was almost too much to handle.

We met my sisters at Central Station and had dinner at my favourite dumpling house, affectionately known as ‘Angry Dumplings’ (because they serve dumplings and are usually angry), before my dad met us for a quick hello and a lift to our house-sitting location for the week. And so it began.

Our time in Australia was mixed. Blake was filming (he is an actor) for two full weeks and working very hard pumping out all those lines we had been memorising. I was catching up with family and friends. It wasn’t a chance for us to go out and explore but rather to see familiar faces and spend quality time with loved ones. Consequently, I don’t have the most elaborate portfolio of photos. In fact, I took very few photos much to my dismay when loading up my SD card… but on reflection, maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it meant we were spending the time truly enjoying good company and soaking everything up in its entirety without thinking of stopping and snapping a shot.

Highlights of the time in Sydney (warning, most of these involve food) included:

    • A delicious roast lunch and playing a Finnish bowling game in the garden with my parents, siblings, Blake and Ash
    • Going to Target (I HAVE MISSED YOU SO MUCH TARGET! There is nowhere easy, convenient and probably in every suburb in London to get average quality goods at average prices! It’s either way up or way down the spectrum over here so you’re forced to either spend ten billion pounds on something or spend two pounds and it will break within a week!)
    • Eating Oporto, three times. I’m already regretting not making a fourth trip.
    • Seeing my old work colleagues who are the loveliest bunch of people and spending a couple of days on set – working!
    • Dinner at Pappa Rich’s Malaysian restaurant with a dear friend
    • Dumplings (take 2!) and gelato with my sisters
      siblings
    • Drinks at El Loco with my beloved school friends
    • Tea and discussing home-grown vegetables, fertility and wedding dresses with my lovely Elissa
    • An incredible brunch and NARS discussion at Café Mint and tea at the White Rabbit Gallery with the fabulous Flo and Linda
    • Korean BBQ dinner with my brother Freddie and Blake
    • Drinks at the local RSL club with fam/friends
    • An amazing German schnitzel dinner with MORE fam/friends
    • Incredible vegan brekkie a la my friend Kate who is a goddess in the kitchen (check out her fantastic blog here ‘Brunchfast Club’ here)
    • Playing in the park and doing painting with my little friend Grace
    • Having my ring resized so that I can actually wear it on the correct finger!
    • ..And a fabulous Engagement party/Yum Cha event that was held amidst all this! More on that to come…
    • Pastizzis and Messina Gelato with ma sis Adelaide
    • Ramen with my mum (unfortunately some dodgy gyozas made her sick but I survived my ramen experience and it was delicious)
    • Getting a shellac that didn’t cost seventy five million pounds
    • Encasa Spanish dinner (AAAAAAAAAAAH FLY ME THERE IMMEDIATELY!) with my parents
    • Having a bath. Baths are my favourite.
    • Hanging with the most ridiculous and glorious dog in the world Poppy

      poppita

    • Learning and recording this cover of Chandelier with my lovely Godsister Laura and Biological Sister Adelaide on their work lunchbreak

  • Spending time in my parents’ garden which is a magical wonderland of greenness. To have this kind of land in central London would necessitate winning a lot of money in the lottery and even then it wouldn’t look like this. Living in Australia is pretty good.

Not-highlights included:

  • The fact that Blake’s filming was devoured by a ruthless storm that blew half the roof off on the studio and meant they lost a lot of time
  • Not having nearly enough time to see everyone I wanted to see and our time being eaten away before our very eyes
  • Having to get used to the new transport system in Sydney that doesn’t quite seem to be foolproof yet. Opal system, you are flawed.
  • Did I mention not being able to see everyone I wanted to see? Because that was really rough and made it hard to leave with lots of unfinished social business.

All of the above and more went down in a mammoth 14 days. Because we are total lunatics, we then flew to Brisbane to spend 6 days there before flying home. The time in Brisbane was equally crazy. We somehow kept managing to book up every second of every day with people and food. It was lovely and so special to see friends and family again but it completely exhausting. In a wonderful way!

Highlights of Brisbane (Part 2) included:

  • A beautiful ceremony in remembrance of our friend Brett who had passed away a few weeks beforehand. We had the honour of meeting Brett’s brother who flew to Brisbane for the occasion and surprised us! It was of course very sad but so lovely to hear so many people speak who loved Brett. We all said a word or two and laughed and cried together.
  • A fantastic BBQ near Southbank with Blake’s mates in which we met this guy (because it wouldn’t be an Australian BBQ without a lizard of some kind)

    blakesbuddy

  • Heading to the gorgeous Stanthorpe (about 3 hours drive from Brisbane) to see his dad and stepmum for ‘fake Christmas’, complete with crackers, hats and a Christmas tree plucked from the property!

    photographer

  • Watching a particularly stunning sunset over the land

    sunset

  • Staying out until 1am taking photos of stars and drinking red wine with Blake and his bestie Peter
  • An incredible seafood buffet feast with Courtney, and spending 10 mins standing on the beach (REAL SAND!) together chatting about life
  • Peter’s 30th celebrations on Southbank
  • A picnic in Wynnum after battling some treacherous winds with Blake’s mum, sister and of course… Pudding! Followed by a wander through the mangroves

    family2

  • Coffee, tim tams and a super delicious lunch in Garden City with B’s fam featuring the fabulous AD!

    Not-highlights included:
  • This snake that casually slithered next to us. Classic Australia!

  • Sunburn. Turns out England has ruined my resilience to the sun!

And before we knew it we were back at our little flat in London, preparing to go to work… THE NEXT DAY. I think I’m still recovering from attempting to do that.

Australia, I love you for your clean air, your tweeting birds, your bizarre wildlife, your wide open streets with plenty of parking spaces, your room for movement and your sense of freedom, the smell of nature in the air instead of pollution and rubbish, your excellent Asian food (get on it, London, get ON that train!), your weather, and mostly for all the people we love there.

See you again sometime!  We miss you already. First stop, Oporto (Sisters, can you please send me some Oporto chilli sauce for Christmas? Kthxbai!)!

x x

September Re-Cap

September was intense. Several things imploded right in our faces and some very sad news really shook us. On top of that, we also had no money as everything was being scrimped and saved to get us through an impending few weeks of going unpaid. We had to use almost all of our holiday allowance for our trip to Australia, and in my case, I didn’t actually have enough for the whole trip. But, spending almost no money every day during the week meant we treated ourselves every weekend with a little bit of ‘reckless’ (note: not reckless at all.. Do you call a piece of cheesecake reckless? In September, we did…) spending here and there to keep things bright and give us a break from the daily slog which had become working hard all day, learning lines at night, and usually spending the weekend learning lines too.

…Behold, a terrible segway to a montage of our month in a mixture of iPhone and poorly focused Canon shots!

* A lunch at the very cool Pizza East in Kentish Town followed by gelato from Ruby Violet with my cute friend Gemma. I consider myself to be a bit of a London pizza afficionado and I gotta tell ya, Pizza East is rocking it.

Pizza East

* Sharing an average cheesecake at our local cafe in Primrose Hill. It was gelatinous and not very good but it was our one spend for the weekend so we pretended to like it.


* A delicious Indian feast with my lovely friend Ash - more on her in another post as we have lots of foodie adventures lined up for the next few months – in the famous Brick Lane or London’s Indian quarter and eating delicious Indian sweets. I’m still not quite sure what they were but they were super delicious. Life goal: To try all of those amazing looking morsels in the window there… So colourful!

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* A night in Birmingham to see my absolute all-time favourite singer/songwriter, James Taylor, a few days before we left for Aus…

<< Poor lighting, but too excited to care >>

JamesTaylor

<< I am forever indebted to the nice security guard man who literally pushed me through the crowd to help me get closer than I was in this picture to the big J.T. Because for a moment there I was panicking that this was as good as it was going to get… NOT SO! >>

jamestaylorsigning

<< OH HI JAMES TAYLOR! >>

JamesTaylorSignature

And, what’s this? He signed my T-Shirt (which I then gave to my dad as an early Christmas present)… Definitely in the top 10 moments in life category. I listen to James Taylor pretty much nonstop. Having a shower? James Taylor will be playing. Grumpy and half asleep on a Monday morning on the tube to work? James Taylor will be playing. Enjoying a home-cooked meal and sharing a bottle of wine on a Saturday night? James Taylor will probably be playing. Or at least I will have one of his songs in my head. In fact, early in our relationship Blake whipped out the big guns and surprised me on a flight from Sydney to Cairns by arranging for my favourite James Taylor Song (How Sweet it Is to be Loved By You) to be played on the Qantas Love Songs Radio Station for the month, complete with a message for me…. #swoon.

So to not only be seeing Mr. Taylor in the flesh, to be able to speak to him briefly and to have him sign my shirt, I could barely contain my excitement. Best. Moment. Ever.

Birmingham itself was an experience. We were pretty tired the following morning so had a slow journey into town to check out the famous shopping centre, which is pretty cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect of Birmingham. It reminded me of a British version of Edinburgh. Lots of cobblestones, beautiful buildings, and then… this thing!

Which on the inside, was equally as impressive, and looked like this….

Selfridges

And so ends perhaps the messiest blog post of all time. To be honest, it really does sum up our month, though!

PS…….. I’ve been nominated for a UK blog award, in two categories, the ‘Lifestyle’ category and the ‘Young Person’s’ Category. Hooray! I’d love anyone who reads this and feels my blog worthy of an award to send a vote my way:

To vote for me in the ‘Young Person Recognition’ category, please click here!

To vote for me in the ‘Lifestyle’ category, please click here!

Madrid, Part 3 (with a bit of an irrelevant ramble up the top)

HI! I still exist, despite having been very much off the social-media-radar for a little while. Turns out going to work the day after 36 hours in transit does not induce the best feelings in the world nor does it provide motivation for doing much other than sleeping… But we survived a full week back at work after what felt like just stepping off the plane and being back at our desks. I am finally getting back into the swing of things! Work has taken all of my energy, so personal life goals achieved this week have extended from ‘doing a load of washing’ and ‘buying a glass slide for the guitar I have borrowed from my friend down the road even though I have no idea how to use glass slides’, as well as ‘reading the 400-and-something bloglovin updates that were waiting patiently for me to log in again’.

But I digress… Onto more exciting things… Like an overdue recap of Madrid Part 3!

Madrid

For years my favourite restaurant was a very popular Spanish restaurant in Haymarket, Sydney, called ‘Encasa’… In fact writing ‘my favourite restaurant was’ in the past tense almost breaks my heart. I think this has to go down as my forever favourite restaurant.  I think I spent both my 16th and 17th birthdays there with my friends (because I was obviously a very cool 17 year old), I’ve used it as a great first date location, pre-theatre snacks, as well as many family dinners. Basically, any excuse to go to Encasa I will take. So. To say I was excited about experiencing real Spanish food in Spain is a huge understatement.

Madrid did not disappoint in the way of tapas. We shared an amazing patatas bravas, chorizos, pinchos morunos and of course croquetas galore – the croquetas were definitely a favourite, and something I had never had in my Australian tapas experiences. However, despite how much I just raved about loving tapas, that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

The surprise culinary highlight in Madrid for us was a trip to the oldest restaurant in the world. What? Did I just type ‘the oldest restaurant in the world’? Yes, yes I did. It’s incredible. Still standing having been built in 1725, Restaurante de Botin is a bit of a Madrid-ian hotspot for a good reason. The ovens they use today are the original ovens… Which to put into a comprehensible context for someone like me, means that people have been eating food from the same ovens since before Captain Cook even came to Australia so it’s a pretty long time ago. If sharing in an oven that is older than something you study in year 3 history class is not a reason to go there then I don’t know what is.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous, winding wooden staircases, stylish and rustic and old-fashioned all at once. It was packed, so take heed that you absolutely need to make a booking if you want to eat here, had such a vibrant atmosphere as waiters in meticulous aprons and suits flitted about taking orders and serving the hugest most amazing dishes of suckling pig I have ever seen. Being their specialty, we couldn’t turn it down and the three of us each ordered our own serve of suckling pig which turned out to be way too much food. Once again (this seems to be a running theme in my life?) I was too hungry to take photos, but I can assure you, it was really delicious. Please google image search ‘restaurante Botin’ immediately, you will not be disappointed. Am I disappointed in my lack of photos of the entire experience? Absolutely. Of course, the only thing to do after stuffing yourself with tender juicy pork is obviously to continue the feast back at your hotel with a variety of flavoured ice creams and great conversation. So eat ice cream and converse we did!

The following morning we sadly farewell-ed our wonderful host and spent the morning being miserable about saying goodbye, our misery intensifying further when we also couldn’t find a good place for churros. The Museo del Prado sorted us out though, you can’t stay grumpy at life for long when you’re confronted with a collection of some of the greatest art of all time. The Prado was one of the most incredible galleries I have ever experienced. We were on a bit of a time-limit so could only spend an hour there, but managed to squeeze in a whole bundle of sensational works, the highlight for me being Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights which I could easily have spent all day staring at.

Madrid

Goya

We’d love to go back to the Prado some day and spend a full day there – to do it properly and with the attention it deserves, you would literally need 8 hours there exploring. One day!

Our last stop in Madrid was to the famous Mercado de San Miguel, a hub of gastronomy and a big Madrid highlight for me.  We well and truly spent the last of our Euros in the aisles, trying everything from an assortment of tapas, olives and meats to oysters and desserts. The markets themselves are impressive but the food is a whole other level of amazing. The markets reminded me of a less cold and rainy version of the Borough Markets in London, but with the same, excited pulse of people happy to be snacking away and buying beautiful fresh produce.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San MIguel

Mercado de San Miguel

<< We had several of these, wanting to try different varieties, and they were like a party in your mouth I tell you. >>

<< We also had a few of these guys which varied in deliciousness. Not really knowing what we were in for, there was a pleasant surprise or two, although I think they had been sitting out for awhile and perhaps weren’t the freshest. But let’s blame that on the 34 degree heat… >>

The Mercado de San Miguel is a must-do for anyone heading to Madrid. Whether you’re a food-lover or not, it’s a great place to spend time checking out the food, taking refuge from the sun and soaking in the Spanish culture. We stocked up on a few treats and headed to the Parque del Retiro to share them. You could probably walk, but given our impending flight we jumped in a cab, excited to enjoy our picnic overlooking this majestic situation.

Had it not been so hot we would have used our time here to really see as much of the popular park as we could, but we opted this time to sit in the shade and do some people watching for awhile whilst enjoying our ridiculously expensive but super delicious Iberico ham and other bits and pieces.

iberico ham

Deliciousness

<<I promise he isn’t pregnant here. Unless you consider our passports to be children in which case, he was pregnant with 4 >>

And with that we found our way to the airport, jumped on a plane, and landed in freezing cold and stormy weather after three blissful days speaking Spanish, eating beautiful good and doing a lot of chatting and laughing with our dear friend. Did I mention we are the luckiest people in the universe? We can’t think our host and his family enough for getting us there, treating us to such a wonderful experience and allowing me to finally spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country after years of labouring over Spanish textbooks and a period of refusing to watch any movie that wasn’t dubbed/subtitled in Spanish. Let’s just say I can sing a fairly significant repertoire of Disney songs in Spanish now…

Madrid hasn’t heard the last of us… We will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. Madrid goes down as one of my favourite places ever, for sure por cierto (see what I did there?) ;)

Update

Hello everyone!

I’m writing from the sunny, windy shores of Sydney, Australia, where Blake and I are currently experiencing a few jam-packed weeks of seeing family and friend, filming (in Blake’s case) and sorting out our Aussie driving licenses, bank cards etc that are all set to expire whilst we’re back in London…

I never mentioned it here as we were surprising Blake’s lovely mum with our arrival, she had no idea we were coming! So I had to keep it a total secret even though in reality this trip has been a huge piece of our lives for the last few months whilst we saved our pennies and made lots of plans.

After very successfully surprising Blake’s mum on our first day back in our home country, we then flew to Sydney so that Blake could film. There was also an engagement party thrown in the midst of the trip so we have been very busy and have barely had a moment to breathe let alone blog! I have a long list of wonderful people that we simply won’t get a chance to catch up with whilst we’re here which is pretty heartbreaking knowing it has been about a year and a half since we were last here and will be a little while before we are back again, but I know there will be more opportunities in the future.

So for now, please excuse me whilst I enjoy the last few days with my family and a few more in Brisbane with Blake’s, before we jet back to London and in the 30 hours in transit prepare ourselves to hit work again the day after we land… yeesh…

SydneyOperaHouse

Jemima xx

Madrid… Part 2!

Aranjuez

One day I promise I’ll go somewhere cool and manage to post about it in one part. We just squeeze so much in, plus I take about three million photos of everything, so narrowing it down is impossible! I’m sure you know the feeling…

Which brings me to a miniature post on…

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez! One of the (many) benefit(s) of being with Blake is his ability to find bizarre and often unpopular things to do which end up being completely amazing and so much cooler than the normal tourist trail. He did not let me down in terms of Obscure-Adventures in his decision to book us a train out to Aranjuez to visit the Royal Palace. It takes about an hour each way on the train, so we totally understand why it isn’t the hottest tourist destination in Madrid, but boy it was one I’d recommend to anyone travelling to Madrid, even if just for three days like us.

Aranjuez^^ Hashtag no filter, hashtag amazing, etc! ^^

Although Madrid is filled with palaces, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez is one of the few that still operates as a residence for the royal family, which makes it feel pretty special wandering through the halls. The beauty of this majestic place is highlighted by the fact that there were hardly any other people there, so we were literally tiptoeing through the King’s humble abode like we weren’t supposed to be there, or something! It was a lot of fun, and of course absolutely stunning and lavish on the inside. Room upon room upon room of beautiful furniture, carpets, walls and such vibrant and bright colours which was a nice surprise. We got an audio guide (recommended by Blake if you don’t speak Spanish, recommended by me if your Spanish has a few missing words, royal jargon is not something I ever specifically learnt I must say) and spent a good two hours meandering through the halls.

The surrounding area is beautiful  too – there seems to be a vastness to Aranjuez. Maybe it was just the weather but it felt quite arid and dry, but in a pleasant way. I couldn’t get over the wide open spaces and long, empty corridors that seemed to fill the town. Living in a studio apartment, catching the tube to work and generally existing in London you are constantly battling for a metre of space to yourself. You queue for everything, all the time, no matter what, and forget about it if you can’t handle crowds because as I learnt pretty quickly, you’re in one constantly. Aranjeuz is the opposite.

It also helps that the sun bounces off every surface and the beautiful pinks of the architecture in the area are contrasted perfectly with what happened to be a stunning clear blue sky. I tell you, we have someone out there looking over us weather-wise when we travel. Cheers whoever you are, we love you!

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

Aranjuez

We spent a good ten minutes debating whether or not to have lunch in Aranjuez but decided against it, knowing that we probably needed to have some TAPAS {yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!} considering we were in Madrid and a sandwich just wasn’t going to cut it thank you very much. So we jumped back on the train and back into central Madrid and we were so hungry that I didn’t even take any photos of our incredible tapas lunch.
Also, this is the kind of incredible view you get on the train trip back. Even if you don’t make it to Aranjuez, jump on a train and see some of Spain’s landscape. Completely amazing. True story, a lot of Western films were made in Spain. It really looks like Mexican dessert! It’s fantastic. I’ll be the first to admit it, these are not the best quality photographs you’ll see today, but gives you something of an idea of what you can expect to see on the journey out to Aranjuez.

So there we have Madrid part 2… Part 3 will bring you a decadent selection of photos from our experience at the Spanish food markets, a trip to the Prado and a picnic lunch spent people-watching in the Retiro park. But for now, I’m off to Birmingham to go and see James Taylor sing and I’m pretty happy about that too….!!!! :) :) :)

Madrid – Part 1

Hello – apologies for the radio silence, it has been a huge few weeks over here after very sad news about one of Blake’s best friends and someone who was also very dear to my heart who recently passed away. It has been hard few weeks, grieving for our dear friend and dealing with such a loss from so far away. We have been trying to share our best and funniest stories and memories of Brett, praying for him and his family and keeping him and his spirit in our thoughts as always. He was a good man and his passing is certainly being felt amongst his friends and family. I’ve got a post planned to talk about the wonderful, genuine man that he was, as well as a little bit of information about the illness that he suffered from that needs to be spoken about more, but I need a few weeks to work on that one…

So for now, I’ll keep things lighter and share Part One of a recent last-minute adventure we took to Madrid for the August long-weekend, because basically we are the luckiest humans on the planet!!!! Landing in Madrid was yet another reminder of what a brilliant idea it was to move over here. London to Madrid in 2 hours? Yes please!

Spain

One of our beloved family-friends from Australia is currently in Madrid rehearsing the cast and band of the Spanish production of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. We were planning to pop over and visit him at some stage whilst he was there but weren’t sure when we would be able to make it happen. To our great surprise and excitement, our friends very generously offered to fly us over as an engagement present (again, are we not the luckiest people on the planet?!) and we got to spend the weekend chatting and laughing, exploring Madrid and catching up.

Considering I have spent many an hour in the classroom learning Spanish, I was also pretty pumped to spend some time in a Spanish-speaking country, although I was a little scared I had lost a lot of vocab after a couple of years of no longer studying it… I brushed up the days leading up to our departure and thankfully although I was a little rusty at first I got back into it pretty quickly and managed to more or less freely converse with everyone we came into contact with across the three days.

Our first stop after landing was at the Nuevo Teatro Alcalá, to meet our friend and watch his Priscilla rehearsals for a couple of hours. It was bizarre walking into a rehearsal room with everyone speaking and singing in Spanish, with huge kookaburra props being wheleed in and out, references to Darwin and Uluru… Spain and Australia juxtaposed in a pretty crazy way! After rehearsal Blake and I waited for a little while in an empty room with a piano and a score… I was in heaven. Sadly my piano skills have not stood the test of time, but I clunked my way through a couple of songs before we departed for the afternoon.

After a bit of a grocery shop (did you know it is really hard to find cordial in Madrid? Fun fact.), we headed to his apartment and hung out there catching up on our respective lives and hearing about his take on Spain so far. After a little while Blake and I walked across to the National Library of Spain to have a wander and get a feel for the city.

Madrid

Madrid

We came across a series of incredible series of sculptures and monuments. The sun was blazing hot, 31+ degrees, and there wasn’t much escape from the heat out here so we flitted around and took some photos before seeking refuge in the nearby library.

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Madrid

Our immediate impressions of Madrid were that it felt like a cross between Rome and London, with the best bits of both and without the worst bits! The streets are wide and ornately decorated but they feel safe, free of clutter and chaos. It is well-kept and space is nicely manicured, yet it doesn’t feel clinical or boring at all. There is interesting architecture between beautiful old Spanish buildings, lots of greenery and trees and it feels old and important. It’s quite a majestic city, but not in your face at all… We felt entirely comfortable walking around without a map and not really sure of where we were most of the time.

Madrid

Madrid

We were pretty tired from a 5am departure and a big day so spent the evening chatting and catching up with family, dining from the local sushi place…. mmmmm good sushi… A strange London thing we’ve noticed is that it’s quite hard to find delicious sushi. Who knew, Madrid trumps London for sushi.

The next morning Blake and I headed out early into central Madrid in search of authentic churros before jumping on a train out to the edge of the city to visit a royal palace. The metro system in Madrid is almost exactly the same as the tube, and we were amazed at the lack of people and ability to get a seat. Another plus for Madrid!

Beautiful alleyways are plentiful in Madrid, often with second hand book stalls, little old ladies selling knick knacks and people taking photos. Blake navigated us towards the famous Chocolatería San Ginés where we enjoyed incredible churros, chocolate and coffee. And Blake bought a postcard (?!).

Chocolateria Madrid

Churros

I bring you poor quality iPhone photos of aforementioned churros…

churros

churros

After churros-ing to our hearts content we headed out to the fantastic Aranjuez, but that’s a story for the next blog post…

An afternoon at Brighton Pier

Brighton

On a sunny but also very windy day not too long ago, we ventured to Brighton on the south coast of England to check out this beach and pier combo we’ve heard so much about. It was windy. Did I mention it was windy? ‘Cos it was windy. Beach-umbrellas-being-blown-down, hair-getting-stuck-in-lip-gloss, small-children/skinny-people-being-flung-several-metres-across-the-pavement kind of windy. We were determined to enjoy ourselves regardless, so enjoy ourselves we did. …Kind of!

I’m sure there are plenty of great things to do and see in Brighton, I have several trusted friends who love going there and do so regularly. They spoke of gorgeous little alleyways, vintage shops and other cute things, but we didn’t experience any of that in our few hours spent traversing the windy, windy streets. Now either everyone is lying to me, or we just didn’t do Brighton correctly, and I’m going to go with the latter.

We spent the first hour or so walking along the shore and I was immediately struck by the beach experience being very different to the beach experience I’m accustomed to!

I’m not a beach person by any means. Give me a swimming pool or still water and I’m the happiest lady on the planet, I could swim for hours and hours and not get sick of it, but the beach is a whole other thing. And that thing is not my thing. Regardless, I do love a good shoes off walk along the beach, dipping toes in the water and other stereotypes. This isn’t super possible in Brighton, partly because the beach is made of big rocks which are kind of painful to walk along barefoot, and partly because the water there is generally always freezing cold. In fact, the whole time we were there, we didn’t see a single person swimming. Let me remind you that it was the middle of summer! Madness.

Brighton

^^ See? No one in the water! Bizarre! ^^


We wandered along the pebbles, had a soft serve ice cream, chatted and looked for the perfect lunch spot whilst shielding ourselves from the slightly terrifying force of the wind…

IMG_

We settled on a great little fish and chips shop for lunch and overate, in the style of Blake-Courtney-And-Jemima, then waddled back over to the pier to experience what we were expecting to be the highlight of the day…

Brighton PierBrighton Pier

The pier was a bit of a strange experience for us. You can enter via what seems like a soul sucking, time sucking arcade casino that was a pretty unpleasant way to be introduced to the situation. Maybe it was our moods that day, maybe it was the treacherous wind, who knows, but we weren’t really feeling Brighton Pier. I can imagine it’s lots of fun for kids, but the magic seemed to have been somewhat lost on us.

Brighton Pier
Sorry Brighton, I feel like you were wasted on us! I’m sure you’re way cooler than we thought at the time, if you go about it the right way! I’d like to go back some day and spend more time there. Perhaps find the little alleyways we heard about, some markets, who knows what Brighton has in store. But I’ve gotta say… Australia, your beaches are looking pretty good right now…

Brighton, we will be back! In better moods next time I promise!

A wee trip to Scotland

On the back of our Italian adventure we visited Scotland to drop off Gran for the next few weeks, to see Blake and Courtney’s family and to spend a little time amongst the Scots, because, why not! In the true style of us, people who seem to attract chaos and peril in general, we were dangerously close to missing our flight from Venice. Having stayed up until very late the previous evening excitedly chatting to Courtney and alerting a small handful of family members about our engagement, we were completely exhausted and the added stress of an almost-missed flight was not great. That ride to the airport and manic sprint once we arrived is something of a haze now… But we drowned our sorrows in airport hotdogs and all was right again.

We were greeted at the airport by family I had only ever heard about second-hand and immediately knew they were basically the nicest people in history, so it was nice to know we’d be spending the next few days with them!

B and I had been to Edinburgh previously, but during Fringe-Fest season which is certainly not the most authentic Scottish experience… Roads closed, streets literally overflowing with the thousands of people who come to see shows, it’s intense and kind of overwhelming so we immediately breathed a sigh of relief at the quiet streets and peacefulness that oozes through Scotland. Edinburgh is gorgeous, and one day I hope to go there when I’m not completely exhausted so that I can really, truly enjoy it. Edinburgh is a great place. Edinburgh is like a quieter version of the most beautiful streets in London, and it’s also cheaper which is a bonus.

One one overcast (but still beautiful!) afternoon the three of us had brekkie in Edinburgh, also managed to fit in high tea at Jenner’s, did some Primark shopping including a strawberry shower cap and saw this very interesting, highly recommended Australian film at the Edinburgh Intl Film Festival, and got stupidly lost and almost killed on probably the busiest highway in Edinburgh. No worries. This is us in the depths of despair not sure how to get ourselves out of a mess. The smiles are deceiving people…

primarkhat

Needless to say we survived the ordeal, but the lesson I took away is that Courtney trumps Blake when it comes to google maps in future ;) {NB this will definitely cause an argument, hehehe}

Blake and I were staying in a separate hotel due to lack of bed space with family, so the following morning after surviving the highway situation and a giant hotel breakfast of black pudding, eggs, beans, bacon and more {yowzaz!} the two of us set out on a little adventure to a nearby attraction, Almond Valley , set within the beautiful countryside of Livingstone. If ever there was a time where I thought ‘This would be a great place to bring future kids!’, it was at Almond Valley. What a brilliant set up! There was a little train (which of course we rode…), a fake-mine, interactive activities, beautiful old stone buildings with all sorts of things to explore inside, donkeys, the whole shebang. I enjoyed it as an adult but boy oh boy the bairns of Livingstone must surely go mental for this place.

I may be proud of myself for totally getting a handle on understanding thick Scottish accents without even a squint, but names like this are beyond me. So cool!

Scottish Oil
After learning way more than I expected to about mining (?!) we met up with family again and headed to Glasgow for the afternoon where we had lunch, wandered around, and Courtney and I managed to squeeze in a shellac mani thank you very much. After all, if one is going to wear a sparkly engagement ring, one must have lovely nails for the inevitable ‘let’s see your ring! let’s see your ring!’ questions.

After a fantastic dinner with these folk, we had another early night as we were all still recovering from a huge few weeks of Italian gallivanting.

The next way we headed to Loch Lomond, the inspiration for this little ditty. It was a beautiful drive through true Scottish countryside, I didn’t take any photos because I was half asleep (me being tired/sleepy seems to be a running theme in today’s post! Turns out Italy is tiring!) but I can assure you, it’s something everyone should see. Loch Lomond itself is beautiful too. We ate sandwiches on some benches, wandered through some cute markets and admired the view for awhile. There’s something about standing in front of a Scottish loch that pictures and words really don’t do justice. It’s pretty magical.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

A slow drive back called for some castle-viewing, small-town-stopping including a visit to an all year Christmas shop, and finally a delicious dinner with friends which I did not photograph, in fact I didn’t pull the camera out very much at all in our brief Scottish trip… I will once more blame exhaustion.

The trip was not so much about doing things as it was spending time with family, and for Blake to see the places he has grown up hearing about. What an amazing thing for Blake and Courtney to be able to experience together, with their family and with me tagging along too… Thanks guys! Scotland, we will be back. Maybe even for Christmas!

Venice… Part 2… The proposal!

The next portion of Venice is now something of a blur, but in the very best way.

In some kind of sorcery, the sun came out that afternoon after having bucketed down for hours earlier. Blake and I set out for the evening to have dinner and a wander around just the two of us, in the newly gleaming sun. There seemed to be a peace in Venice that afternoon, not everyone had emerged yet after the torrential rain earlier in the day and it seemed quiet, like there was a secret being kept. We stopped for drinks at a little wine bar sitting against the Grand Canal, watching the token Gondolieri taking couples, tour groups and families out for gondola rides whilst sipping on a Spritz (me!) and a beer (not me!) and shoo-ing away pigeons which seemed more plentiful than people. We chatted and laughed, enjoyed the view before selecting a Gondolieri and Gondolier for a tour of the smaller canals, the back-alleys of Venice.

Venice

It felt like a dream slowly paddling through the water. We passed some incredible sights, aptly pointed out by our guide, as Marco Polo’s home, Cassanova’s home, the oldest building in Venice, and more. The water was still and you could hear faint chatter and laughter every now and then when passing an open window, but other than that there was a sense of still and quiet.

Blake started to say some lovely things to me, which was not exactly out of character but it seemed like a slightly odd moment to be launching into professing his love when there was so much history around us. Feeling a little awkward, I tried to change the subject and pointed out a nice building I could see (…it was nice okay!!! #spoiledthemoment), but Blake was not having any of it and dismissed my observation with a firm nod, before continuing with his lilting prose. Suddenly it hit me… Is he… Where is this going…….… so I sat back and listened and took in every word he said. Before I knew it he pulled out a beautiful ring and asked me to marry him. Many happy tears ensued! After sharing a few words back and forth and putting on the most beautiful ring I have ever seen, I sunk into his arms and we embraced for the rest of the gondola ride… which seemed to go way too quickly. We disembarked, thanked our gondolieri (who I don’t think had realised what had happened as he looked mighty confused), and stumbled off hand in hand, not sure what to do next.

<< Engaged! Weeeeeee!>>

Of course within a minute of wandering we came across this glorious shirt, perhaps a forewarning?

<< HILARIOUS joke, Universe. >>

Unsure what to do next in our roles as fiancees, we kind of just wandered for a little while smiling and being excited about stuff. I stopped for gelato, because what else does one do when one promises one’s self to another for all eternity, and the gelato was delicious so it worked out nicely.

We had a drink in an adorable little alleyway, took more pictures and spent a lot of time smiling and googly-eye-ing each other like gigantic dweebs.

All google-d out, we took it upon ourselves to find a restaurant that a friend had recommended, but decided to do so with minimal help from a map so it really involved about two hours of aimless wandering and chatting, and was really good fun, and we found ourselves at St Mark’s square which was a bit of a bonus.

St Mark's Square

<< Blake did this really nice thing when we were standing looking at the square, I turned facing away from it and hugged him, his eyes suddenly lit up, he covered my eyes with his hands and spun me around and revealed St Mark’s lit up…. Like he had just done it for me…! Such good timing, whoever times the lighting of the square – it was craaaaaazy romantic>>

In our excited/happy stupor we eventually made it to La Mascareta where we shared an incredible carpaccio plate, and two mains (one of which was delicious, one of which was not) as well as a bottle of wine and lots more smiling.

In yet another twist of fate as we walked back towards the water bus at St Mark’s, we happened upon a beautiful hotel from which we could hear jazz playing and an Italian voice crooning into the night. Having had one of our first and most memorable dates at a jazz club (and many more since), we couldn’t turn it down. What we wandered into was honestly one of the most ridiculous and incredible hours of my life. The hotel was stunning – ornate, embellished, everything seemed to be dripping in class, and as we walked into the cocktail bar and sat near the piano, our new fave Italian jazz singer Tiziano Zanella of course started singing ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are’. Two sidecars and many jazz standards later we walked away with his albums and even huger smiles on our faces than before.

With one final taxi trip back in the crisp, 1am Venetian air, we journeyed back to the apartment to get ready to share our news with our families. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Venice… Part 1!

Hello blog! I’m alive! I’m going to have to start strapping myself to our desk in order to get these posts out, because it’s now coming up to TWO MONTHS since we left for Italy and I’m only just on Venice. Luckily, we are currently saving like crazy for an impeding investment that I can’t talk about yet but it is really awesome and will be worth all the weekends we’re walking around instead of catching the tube, and spending only 4 pounds per meal for the both of us… The point is, not being able to spend much money means more time spent at home writing posts! So not all bad.

So! Venice!

Venice

Although our journey from Rome to Venice was slightly traumatic as per Blake’s post a few weeks back, we it was nice to be greeted by gorgeous weather and the fact that Venice is a fascinating and stunning place. It probably sounds ridiculous, but I had never really considered that Venice literally has no roads… There are no cars… ‘Of course you fool! It’s Venice!’ I hear you say, but I honestly thought there must be SOME roads somewhere… not so. The place is definitely built on water. So there you go.

Venice has a beauty to it that is unlike the beauty of Rome. It is gritty and sometimes  a little rundown, with many buildings along the main canal with a visible layer of mould creeping up from the water. When normally mould would make me run screaming, it somehow adds to the beauty and the uniqueness of Venice. It takes a little getting used to in terms of getting around and figuring out the layout, it also doesn’t help that a lot of the areas look fairly similar so if, like me, you landmark yourself by the general look of a place, you’ll definitely get lost in Venice. Again, that’s part of the beauty of it.

Venice

We stayed in Cannaregio, about a 5 minute walk from the Grand canal strip, and a 15-20 minute water taxi journey into the main tourist areas (seen above!). Generally this was a great idea, as we had access to some great restaurants and cafes that weren’t priced for tourists and weren’t packed with people, either. We did have one dud, which involved me fighting with our waiter over a badly cooked lobster and a sneaky double-price on our bill, but that’s another story.

Once again, we were graced with fabulous weather so Courtz and I got to wear our sun hats… Needless to say since returning to the UK, my sunhat has not spent any time in the sun.

VeniceVenice Rialto Bridge

It was incredible boating up and down, watching people go about their days on the water and checking out the incredible buildings, often with mosaics and gorgeous tiling lining the walls.

Venice

Courtney, Blake and I went to the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace, which has an insanely long and luxurious history that is way too long for me to go into. But basically, it was gorgeous, and everyone should go there. We arrived at around 4pm and had a couple of hours before it closed, but there were very few people around and it felt like quite an intimate experience, which was nice after the hectic nature of Rome.

Some photos!

Venice

VeniceVeniceVenice

<< FYI, this is what most of the main squares in Cannaregio look like, so don’t use them as a point of reference. >>

VeniceVenice<< So many adorable gondolas!>>

IMG_Venice
Our next full day was slightly more miserable weather (aka it was pouring with rain for most of the day) but we didn’t let it stop us and started with a trip to St Mark’s Basilica which of course was amazing, and of course I didn’t take a single photo. We spent a bit of time boating up and down again, which is an experience in itself.

Venice

After a few slices of pizza at a local pizzeria we headed to the Palazzo Mocenigo, one of the highlight events of our trip. This incredible collection includes hundreds of historical costumes and fabrics, as well as a very impressive perfume collection. Normally this wouldn’t be my style but it was laid out beautifully and really evoked life as a Venetian in the Victorian era.

<< The building was filled with these magnificent glass chandeliers which I am convinced I will one day have in my life >>

Blake then took the below series of photos of the costumed mannequins that completely terrify me yet I also love, so, here you go.

And with that, we parted ways for the evening, dropping Courtney back at Cannaregio and getting changed just in time for the sun to come out, and Blake and I  headed out on what was to be a very special evening…

Rome… Part 3!

Trastevere

We were lucky enough to be in Rome whilst Pope Francis was in town (he is often away over the Summer) so couldn’t pass up an opportunity to head back to the Vatican on our last full day in Rome and see Il Papa in action. The weather continued to be glorious but also very, very warm, but we braved the crowds and the sun and stood in St. Peter’s square waiting for his arrival and for the blessing to commence.

St Peter's square

No matter what you believe, there is something so deeply sacred and humbling about standing amongst a crowd of people, a true mixture of life from tourists to locals selling paraphenalia to nuns and religious groups from all parts of the world. It was a blast and a very exciting moment to see him appear in the window very far away, but there nonetheless. Of course we couldn’t really understand much of what was being said but it’s safe to say we all enjoyed a spiritual moment standing there together.

Pope Francis

^^ You can barely see him, but he’s there, I promise! ^^

We recovered in a nearby cafe with gelato, coffee and paninis before heading out on our next adventure, to the Colosseum and Forum.

Rome tip:  Buy your Forum/Colosseum tickets and print in advance if you can, as once again it saves you from a huge line which in the July sun can be unpleasant. We were once enough able to walk straight in and were verrrrrrry pleased about it.

Colosseum

Obviously, Il Colosseo is a mindblowing place. It’s very easy to sit and imagine gladiator fights and lions roaming, which is precisely what we did for a good 30 minutes. You can book guided tours which allow you to roam through the section at the base, otherwise you can just walk around the outside. If you’re a Colosseum fanatic I’d recommend the guided tour but doing our own thing was perfect for us to take our own pace and sit and rest for a little while in one of the world’s most iconic buildings and an incredible piece of history.

IMG_3474

il colosseo

coliseum_montage

Il Colosseo

We headed back outside to grab some lunch, which we foolishly did from a vendor right outside the entrance. Rule Number 1 of Rome is never, ever settle for the touristey food. After we had paid almost 30 euros for three panini and three bottles of coke, we took it up a nearby staircase and ate overlooking the Colosseum to our right and the Forum to our left. Not a bad view, but definitely don’t rate the very average panini.

Next stop, the Roman Forum!
Roman forum

Roman forum

^^ This had to be the highlight of Rome for me. I mean look at it! Absolutely amazing.^^

Roman Forum
We were still quite hot and conscious of the heat not slowing up anytime soon, so took it fairly easy meandering through and finding our own path within the many options to explore Il Foro. This seemed like a really special experience, as there weren’t nearly as many people as there were in the Colosseum, and it felt like you had it to yourself in a strange way.

Roman forum

Roman forum

For dinner we took a taxi to Trastevere, where I had heard some great restaurants were to be found, and we went to another brilliant recommendation from a friend-of-a-friend.

Rome Tip: Go to Trastevere. Just do it. Trastevere is beautiful. It’s lively and fun but feels intimate and perhaps more authentically ‘Italian’ than some other areas in central Rome. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars, lots to do and see and great shopping. I honestly could have spent hours wandering through the cobblestone streets here.

Trastevere

^^ Look at that window-to-window clothes line! Too good. ^^

We ate at La Scala in Trastevere, which  turned out to be the source of one of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten in my life…. But it just so happens that it was Blake’s meal, not mine… Sorry Blake! All of our dishes were fantastic, but Blake’s hit the ball out of the park. Unfortunately this happens regularly, B seems to have a knack for ordering delicious things and then Courtney and I get food envy and end up eating most of his. Does this happen to anyone else..?! Surely. Courtney had the spaghetti carbonara, I had fresh pasta from Apulia with bacon, asparagus and sheep milk cheese, and the winner of the day was the gnocchi with black truffle and smoked provola cheese which I am still dreaming about today…

^^ Argh… That truffle! That smoked provola cheese! Be still my heart… ^^

After dinner we took a wander through more of Trastevere, Courtney bought some beautiful glass jewellery before we all squeezed ourselves back into a cab and jumped into bed.

Trastevere

Rome… Part 2

^^ Those pinks and reds everywhere, I tell ya, we are doing something wrong London/Sydney ^^

On our second full day in Rome, we awoke to  Gran feeling a little less exuberant. We thought it best to have a house-call doctor come to the apartment and give us their opinion on what we didn’t know at the time was a fractured rib. Task one for the day was putting my terrible Italian to the test… Somehow I successfully navigated the conversation to arrange him to come over, which he did after a few hours during which time we tidied up, chatted with Gran and picked up some groceries from our local supermarket. The doctor wanted Gran to have some scans done, so the group decision was that Blake would accompany her to a local medical centre to have her checked out. Courtney and I were sent off with everyone’s blessings to continue with the original plans for the day (as we had already booked our four tickets!).

So, we jumped in a taxi and made our way into central Rome to where we thought we were meeting the tour group (the Trevi Fountation) – not so, upon arriving at Trevi we realised it was actually a different fountain… the name of which is of course currently escaping me… but luckily weren’t too far away. It was already scorching hot, and we were definitely happy to stumble upon our fancy, airconditioned tour bus ready to drive us around on a Dark Rome tour of some of Rome’s Catacombs and the Basilica San Clemente.  Normally tour groups aren’t really my jam, I much prefer the idea of doing my own thing and having the freedom to wander as we please, but in this instance it was perfect for the day and perfect for us as we could just sit back, relax and learn all about what we were about to see. The tour guides were lovely and total brainiacs when it came to Roman history and general knowledge. At 60 Euros a head it was a little pricier than what we were used to spending on the trip, it really was worth it.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos within the catacombs, crypts or basilica because photography is not allowed in sacred places, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful (unlike some people in our tour group who I am still shaking my head at). But let me give you my word that the Catacombs are well worth a visit. Rome is incredible in that it is literally layer upon layer upon layer. The roads are crazy and the public transport is no where near as sophisticated as it could be, purely because it is too difficult to excavate land due to who knows what lying beneath our feet. The Catacombs are a perfect example of this, as you can wander through underground streets and houses of Rome that once saw the light of day, but have literally been buried by other buildings over time. If there ever was a time to use my favourite word that I learnt in year 11 English, it would be whilst in Rome. Palimpsest. Boom.

After finishing up our tour in the incredible Capuchin crypt which really has to be seen to be believed, we met Blake at a nearby cafe to digest both our respective days, and some fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwiches. Did I mention espressos? Because we had plenty of those. Next up we decided to take a wander through central Rome to the Vittoriano monument that Blake had spotted previously.

Sitting at this monument was one of those incredible travelling moments that you just wish you could relive every day after coming back. I’m not even sure what it was about it that drew me in but since returning I’ve thought about these fifteen minutes we spent there daily. The building itself is amazing of course, completely over the top to the point that it’s even a little garish, yet that’s what makes it so completely amazing. The sun was just starting to set and casting an incredible warm red onto everything the light touched. Courtney and I chatted and laughed whilst Blake and I alternated taking a bunch of photos…

^^ I feel like this one captures these two perfectly… :) ^^

Next up called for a general wander in the direction of dinner because it had been almost a full 24 hours since we had last consumed pizza/pasta of any kind and that is just not on.

Upon recommendation from my lovely grandparents, we strategically walked through Piazza Navona at dusk, as people had easels out and were painting out in the square. There was some pretty incredible stuff going on artistically, and it was lovely to stand for a moment and take the place in. There are plenty of restaurants in the area which I’m sure are delicious but are definitely overpriced. In terms of food in Piazza Navona, the key is absolutely to just find a little side alley branching off and walk for a few minutes until you’re out of the tourist hub, where the real deal begins.


Walking through the alleyways surrounding Piazza Navona was like walking through a movie. The cobblestone streets, the higglety pigglety signs, doors and windows lining the buildings and the noise of laughter and chatter as people ate and toasted glasses of wine together. Yet another Awesome Travelling Moment that I’ll look back on fondly.

For dinner we totally struck gold and took the advice of a friend of a friend who had recommended ‘La Focaccia‘ restaurant on Via della Pace. This place was amazing. Your typical badly-lit indoor Italian kitchen but truly amazing food. We shared a carpaccio and ‘fritti’ (a Roman classic) and also had our own separate pasta dishes and I wish we had gone back here because it was really that delicious. It was extremely well-priced, great service, a fantastic atmosphere and I can’t recommend checking it out highly enough. It is not fancy or pretentious by any means, and was described to us as a go-to, which is exactly what it was. Reliable and delicious. This was my second favourite meal in Rome (the best meal was the following day and I CAN’T WAIT TO DISCUSS IT).

Everything was fresh and perfectly cooked. Two interesting food things we noticed on the trip.. Al dente really means al dente. We now cook pasta/spaghetti for a shorter time than we ever did before because the texture was quite different to the texture you’d get at any good restaurant over here. Also, red wine is often served cold! There you go.

And to round off a wonderful, delicious second day in Rome, here’s some pics of our food. Why not.
^^ Carpaccio ^^

^^ I fritti (Fried/crumbed vegetables)… SO GOOD! ^^

Rome… Part 1

Alright. Let’s do this thing. I bring to you my attempt at recounting a massive, beautiful, stressful, interesting, delicious and wonderful trip to Rome and Venice. We succeeded in our main goal, to see amazing things, and also in our second goal, to eat a whooooole lot of food (specifically gelato and canolli, of which Italy is plentiful!). My recap will probably be 4 parts because there were that many photos taken and there is that much to talk about. Keeping things concise is not my forte so how on earth am I going to condense eight days gallivanting through Italy?! Nevertheless, I’ll try.

Landing in Rome was a pretty exciting moment. I’ve spent years learning various combinations of Spanish, French and Italian. Yet, I hadn’t actually been to a country (other than a brief stint in Disneyland, Paris, which probably doesn’t count..) where using those languages was a necessity. Being a massive language nerd who is a little too interested in  etymology and grammatical tenses I was beyond keen to get to use my, admittedly fairly limited, Italian skills on a day to day basis. They were challenged immediately upon setting foot in Italy when we quickly realised that it was actually pretty important to have someone in the group who could speak/understand some Italian in Italy without seeming like massive tourists. Which of course we were. I’m happy to say my Italian actually helped us through a few dubious situations throughout the trip (except for the time in the hospital where I didn’t know how to say ‘I have something stuck in my eye’ and so they assumed I had conjunctivitis, prescribed me with a cream and tried to send me on my way… Turns out miming is the way to go in those situations!).

Anyway.

The weather was stunning from the moment we set foot in Rome. A breeze, dimly lit, pink sky, palm trees (?), too good for words. We were greeted by a driver who was lovely but also clearly had a death-wish and I spent the entire drive hanging onto the door handles and hyperventilating because it turns out guys, that in Italy people drive like maniacs. Nonetheless, we made it in one piece, settled in and were quickly hungry enough to wander around Aurelia for dinner. I should preface this series of posts with a mention of the vast number of photos you’re about to see of the tops of buildings juxtaposed against the sky. I couldn’t get over the warm pinks, oranges and yellows of all the buildings – and I mean all of them – and how incredible it looked against what happened to be amazing weather and a crisp blue sky… the whole time. You just don’t get colours like that in London.

We chose a little pizza place just down the road, Ristorante Pizzeria dal Sardo, a tiny and very basic kitchen-style restaurant which was exactly what we needed after a day of travelling. I was prepared for eating a lot of fabulous pizza and pasta in Italy but this place just completely exploded my expectations. The four of us table shared bruschetta, Blake and I shared a pizza with anchovies and cheese and a basic gnocchi and it all seemed too good to be true. Perfect pizza bases, cheese, fresh everything, all very simple and perfectly cooked. Italy, one million points to you.

gnocchi
pizza
Sadly, on our wander home, poor Gran took her fall and things from that point weren’t quite as carefree… but as Blake explained, everything was fine in the end. So I’m just going to focus on the positives from here on in!
As part of our apartment deal, we had breakfast every morning at the little coffee bar across the road. I wish I had the name, but I don’t… We were given a cornetto (a pastry/croissant) each every morning and a drink. Obviously espresso was the way to go and I am still dreaming of those things and trying to recreate it over here without success. Sorry London, generally you have my heart, but your coffee has nothing on Italy’s. A cornetto and coffee was the perfect start to a huge day at the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican Museums
I can’t recommend highly enough booking tickets to the Vatican Museums in advance. When we arrived for our allotted time, there was a huge queue of people wrapping around the external walls, all waiting in the heat and sun, when we just strolled right in without a care in the world.

Also worth noting is that around the Vatican you will be harrassed every 5 metres by a guy trying to sell you something. Hats, weird jelly ball things that splat all over the ground and make noises, wooden baskets (?), anything and everything. Don’t buy into it people. Unless your beloved H&M hat breaks due to being stuffed into suitcases and your resilience to the sun has been eroded from a year living in the UK so you need to buy a hat. Then it’s fine.

The museums themselves are incredible. You can do it in as little as 30 minutes but we opted to take our time and take in as much as possible, so spent around 2 hours exploring the many rooms and admiring piece upon piece of history.

vatican museum

vatican museum
Vatican museums
You can’t take a step without seeing something incredible here. The ceilings are ornately decorated, tapestries hang from wall to wall, even the tiles you walk on have a long and fascinating history.
vatican museum
vatican museum
vatican museum
vatican museum
Lunch at the Vatican Museum cafe was fairly average. I would actually recommending holding off on eating there if you can, as just outside the walls of the Vatican are gazillions of beautiful little pizzerias and pasticcerias. The museum’s pizza was… average at best. But provided us with the necessary sustenance to move onto Phase 2 of the day… St Peter’s Square!

St Peter’s Basilica
This definitely needs to go on the list of ‘Most Moving Moments of Life’, wandering into this magnificent building. Historically speaking it is of course a sacred and monumental place and you could just feel a sense of reverence no matter what you believe. The architecture is incredible and it is decorated so beautifully that it can become overwhelming. The afternoon light was hitting the stained glass in such a way that beams of light like I have never seen before were hitting the gold inside, then bouncing onto another surface. It was incredible. Of course it was filled with people but it actually doesn’t detract too much from the experience. I could have spent an entire day in here. Try to get here either very early or in the late afternoon to avoid queues. We were lucky enough to be able to wander straight in.
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
Climbing the dome (‘cupola’)
We took the lift up to the highest point within the basilica to take a look down. At this point Blake and I continued upwards via a very long, steep, winding staircase that I don’t recommend if you are at all claustrophobic, but was really rewarding making it up those 320 steps and reaching the top.
The views at the top of St Peter’s are nothing short of extraordinary. We had been standing in St Peter’s Square only an hour earlier which suddenly was so small below us…
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Square
After admiring the view we traipsed back down the stairs and met up with C and Gran, recovering on a stunning rooftop with the dome perched just behind us whilst we had a big drink of water after all those stairs. It was one of my favourite moments of the trip, actually. Italy tip: There are water fountains all over the place with cold, fresh, delicious water. It’s a good idea to fill up water bottles rather than constantly buying new ones as the water really is great (and clean).
St Peter's Basilica
After another glance inside St Peter’s on our way out, we slowly wandered out of the Vatican and made our way back to Aurelia to settle in and find somewhere for dinner. But not without posting a Vatican postcard from the Vatican post boxes, and in my case taking more pictures of more corners of buildings juxtaposed against the sky because I really couldn’t get over those colours!
Vatican post
Swiss guards

Swiss guards!

After such a mammoth day we were all pretty tired so caught up with ourselves back at the apartment for a moment, before Blake, Courtney and I ventured out to Ristorante Le Vele for dinner… which ended up being a little pricey, but truly amazing. We sat in the seafood side of the restaurant (there is a pizzeria on one side and a slightly fancier seafood restaurant on the other). I wish I had taken photos of our meals but alas, we were ravenous and ate them really quickly but they were AMAZING. If we go back to Rome I’d like to eat there again.

Day one in Rome, you rocked.