2015 in Discoveries

Can you guys believe that 2015 is coming to an end? I feel this year has absolutely flown by and so much has happened and taken place, so much that I have yet had the opportunity to share with you all. I feel like this year has really shaped me as a person, from personal development and overcoming turbulent situations, to simply discovering things about myself through some experiences and adventures I have had. I wanted to share with you how I feel that instead of planning new year’s resolutions that may or may not come to be, reflecting in the year that has just passed is always an important ritual for me. It is an opportunity for me to really think about all the things that I am grateful for this year, grateful to have worked my hardest to be able to experience as much of the world as possible and to see that another little section of my complete person has been chiseled.

Travel

This is very exciting! As you all know I am a lover of all things travel! I had the opportunity to go back home to Macau which was lovely, but the highlight of Asia for me was discovering another corner of the Philippines that I did not know. I LOVED Cebu! It is honestly stunning and the cross of cultures is brilliant.

I also had the chance to go to France twice! And Paris really did take my breath away. I knew that it was beautiful, I mean there are thousands, millions, billions of photos of Paris roaming the internet, plastered across travel brochures and travel memorabilia, it is one of those cities with so much iconography everywhere that it is used for everything and anything used with travelling. Still, after knowing this and seeing these images everywhere, I was still in awe of how beautiful it was, and it really is the city of love. I was such a melt the entire time!

I discovered that I really actually enjoy staycations/weekend trips within your country. It is so important to explore and love the place you live and I LOVE England.

Finally, and although you won’t hear about this until 2016, I am going to Mozambique on the 27th of December! How exciting! A post will follow on how to travel from winter to summer, and what to pack, but the trip low down will come afterwards upon my return in January. This is really exciting! I have never been anywhere in Africa, and am so excited that the first country I will be visiting there has a rich cultural heritage and Portuguese influence.

Theatre

My theatrical highlight of 2015 has to be… Mamma Mia! I know I know, it’s like saying a blockbuster film should have won best script at the Oscars, HOWEVER, I was completely overjoyed at this musical, I loved every second of it. This was pre-blog so I never wrote a review of it, but I will give you a Throwback or Flashback one of these days for you to know what it was like.

I also loved Memphis, more than I can say! I know I criticised a few of the choices, but I am quite a critical person when it comes to things like this, I like to analyse and understand and that is why I question things. You can read my full review of this awesome musical here.

Activities

I have done some things this year that I really didn’t expect to be doing. From returning to pantomime as a spectator, to joining an amateur dramatics society and performing, to going to the Adnams Brewery to taste beer! It has been a year of adventures, but by far my favourite activity, which will be featured soon, was an indoor skydive! It was ridiculously cool, I loved every second of it and was so upset that my partner was not allowed to do it due an injury, but I will do it again with him one day. Keep your eyes peeled, this is coming to the blog very soon.

Hidden Treasures

Some true little gems have been discovered, from recently speaking about the wonderful everything of Mulled Wine – not mould, I have made that mistake quite a few times – to a huge discovery which was the little village of Lavenham. Lots of hidden little treasures that I had no idea I would love or even existed have occurred.

I absolutely fell in love with a restaurant in London, Covent Garden area, called Sarastro. That was one of my favourite discoveries, I booked it for my mother’s birthday surprise that my sister and I organised, but I ended up being mostly surprised myself. It is a theatre restaurant, and you will only really get what I mean by looking at it. Tables are sat in their own little theatre boxes, and the restaurant is famous for their performances during the week. Let me not forget the FOOD! Which is just absolutely incredible and delicious, the Turkish oriented menu, with flavoursome Mediterranean dishes is absolutely divine, so much choice and it is not as costly as expected!

Mostly, I think my favourite discovery of the year, was that I learnt I don’t have to sacrifice my career or my passion for travel to see the world. You can read all about this in one of my very early blog articles, ‘Travelling on a time limit’. I have found a very healthy balance and am really enjoying my trips and staycations, discovering England has been a huge thing for me and I really want to go to Jersey next year and maybe even Scotland. I won’t let anyone name my wanderlust ‘tourism’ because my desire to have a healthy life balance does not make me less of an explorer, it just makes me practical. I think it has been a huge learning curve for me, as it has been my first year in full time employment and I have learnt that actually this profession has opened a lot more doors for me rather than shutting away my life. I am currently in the process of requesting a sabbatical from work to see if I can travel for 3 months in 2017, and if that goes through I still have my job in hand for my return as well as enjoying the trip of a lifetime in South America, hopefully.

2015 has been an incredible year and a stepping stone for me. I can tell that this is a strong foundation for the way I want to build my life and I have so many more lessons to learn. I am already dying of excitement to discover 2016 and share it all with you guys. How was your 2015?

Paris holds the key to my heart

It is true what they say… Paris is the city of love!

Paris holds the key to your hear. And all of Paris plays a part. 
Just stroll two by two down what we call “la rue”
And soon all Paris will be singing to you!
Paris holds the key to l’amour! And not even Freud knows the cure.
There’s love in the air! At the Follies Begere!
The French have it down to an art! Paris hold the key to your heart!

I don’t know about you, but when I think about Paris I think about Disney’s Anastasia and the infamous Paris song. It screams romance and love, and everything us hopeless romantic girls wish for. A guy having an inner sing song about loving you and not knowing how to tell you, and I have totally convinced myself that my man was having an inner sing song for 4 days, even though we are far past the point of not knowing how we feel. We know. It’s been nearly 2 years. But dreaming has never hurt a soul!

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Paris was truly an experience, firstly it sang to me because some parts of it reminded me so much of Lisbon, one of my homes. Its buildings were very similar, everything seems to be on a hill, much like Lisbon, and to revolve around the embankment of the river, as a lot of capital cities are. Aside from the fact that it is bigger and spread across a larger perimeter, the little hidden alleyways where people can barely fit let alone cars, really made me feel at home in the Bairro Alto of Lisbon.

I have to say, however, what struck me most about Paris is that for me it truly was the city of love. I had the pleasure of being in this wonderful city with James, who is a seasoned Paris visitor. He organised the entire trip to make sure he catered to my tastes and his, and things we had in common. He had it down to a T! All the main sites plus a few added extras and time for us to wander and get lost as well.

From climbing the Eiffel Tower, to the incredible view from the Sacre Couer, everything about it felt like a dreamland. I have to say, my favourite view was from the top of the Notre Dame, 378 steps to the very top of the right hand tower, counted by James. I only felt it was a better view than that of the tower, because it included the tower in the view. Not seeing it feature in all your photos seems a bit odd.

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I adored the Luxembourg Gardens. We sat and ate sorbets and watched time go by, before walking past the Pantheon and earlier that day having discovered the Palais Garnier, used by the National Opera. James also took me to the Shakespeare Book Shop, a true testament of my arts and theatre background, as well as my literature fanaticism. I was there for almost an hour, jaw dropped looking at limited editions of books I had only dreamt of reading side by side with new books on all possible subject matters.

One of my favourite areas, was walking behind the Sacre Couer and discovering Montmartre. Watching street painters cover canvases in Parisian colours and quirky art galleries with some fantastic innovative modern art. We then walked down the hill to find the Moulin Rouge. We also had the pleasure of seeing artists along the Seine embankment, and enjoy a river cruise which only demonstrated how beautiful and clean this city is kept.

I have to say though, as a lover of all things art and literature, I am so pleased that my man took me to Pere Lachaise cemetery, where we found Oscar Wilde – my FAVOURITE playwright – Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Chopin and many others. Although some sections of the cemetery are really creepy, it felt very romantic to get lost between the tombs of some of the most romanticised names in art history.

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To add to the romance of it all, we were in the ideal little hotel in between the Louvre and the Pompidou, the shortest walk from everything and with 3 tube stations surrounding. Hotel du Cygne was stunning! Our room was at the very top, with a few exposed wooden beams, two windows one of them on the diagonal ceiling roof. Every evening they asked us if we wanted breakfast for the next day, and asked us where we had been. They were all so lovely and we felt like we were in our own little haven.

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In Paris I had the opportunity to fall in love with many things again, with art, theatre music and literature which take up a huge portion of my interest anyway. To revel in all the culture that inhabits the city and coats it in an air of wonderment, where every corner hold something new to discover. To fall deeply in love with getting lost and finding new things. But mostly, I had the opportunity to remind myself why I am in love with James in the first place.

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Having fallen in love with parts of me that are sometimes stifled by the mundane activities of life, James truly ignited something else back in me. I never smiled so much and swear that the week after we came back my face muscles were stuck in the same stupid smiley position for days. I fell in love again with a man who can take me to places he knows I will marvel at, and help me discover things I never knew I would like so much. To a man who knows his partner so well he planned a whole trip without any fear. The city of love! Loving Paris allows you to love yourself and mostly to love your true love too.

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I wish I could show you photos of all the amazing things we saw, and all the places I fell in love with but it is simply impossible! Here is a flavour of my Paris love affair, and my ever growing love for the planner and conductor of this whole city break.

Onto the next adventure!

Eat my way through France

Living in England you would think the first place I would choose to go is France, that does not seem the case! I have driven through France before, but never actually stayed there, and this year I was very lucky, I actually got to visit different parts of France twice.

As you might know from other posts, or reading my blog in general, I think a big part about travelling and immersing yourself in different cultures is to consume and savour the finest foods of each place you visit, in this case the fantastic flavours of France. So here are some of my favourite and top picks of places and meals.

NOTE: anything highlight red is a link to either the website of the restaurant, location of a particular place or recipes if they are food names.

Cannes

Le Cirque

11144496_10207125828882855_728927083864361216_nThe BEST Croque Monsieur in the world! Everyone will tell you, it is just a toasted sandwich. Okay, yes, yes it is, BUT this is the the best toasted sandwich I have ever had. First of all, it differed from the traditional one, as the restaurant chose to use thinly cut, beef carpaccio style beef instead of ham. And it was the best decision they have EVER made! Let me tell you a little something about this little place, it was my favourite one in Cannes. The food was affordable, the environment was beautiful, street performers singing in a square behind us, the service was impeccable and the menu was small but the selection was still enough to cover all palettes and cravings. The options were more than enough and this little corner cafe/restaurant will be a true success. I definitely recommend it and would love to return there. Plus the food my friends had looked just as delectable.

Croque Monsieur at Le Cirque
Croque Monsieur at Le Cirque

St Tropez

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Steak Tartare at Le Bailli

Brasserie Le Bailli

The Steak Tartare of a lifetime. I tried steak tartare for the first time when I was 18 going on 19 in Switzerland, it quickly became one of those dishes I would always try to eat when in a French restaurant. Let me tell you, I have eaten many a steak tartare, and in the Paris section of this blog you will read that my man tried one for the first time, but this one was the holy grail of STEAK TARTARE!

We all had some amazing food here, and the service was incredible! We also quickly quenched our desires for crepes! I would recommend this, and the scenery is stunning just out of the restaurants you see all the street artists painting the picturesque St Tropez and the yachts, all the yachts. The most glamorous cars passing by and going through the tiniest roads. It is a definite must.

Paris

Paris was my absolute dreamy nightmare of a food situation! Like all girls, my biggest wish in life is to eat what ever I want without growing a spare tyre in my waist. Never going to happen, so whenever I go abroad I simply forget that this is the case and focus on trying out every food I can in a short space of time. However, top tip to not pig out while travelling is to keep your body very well hydrated! I consume around 4 litres of water a day without a problem, and yes I pee a lot, but you get over that.

Bistrot de Victoires

Let’s talk about the manliest salad you have ever seen!

My man and I are huge foodies, and we actually googled the best place to get a Salade Landaise and here it was! It is by far the meatiest salad I have ever seen, I can legitimately say it is a plate of duck cooked in a variety of different ways, and a bit of lettuce in there to make it look prettier. TripAdvisor said this is the best restaurant for this recipe in the whole of Paris, and I cannot confirm nor deny this as we did not try it anywhere else, but I can say it was incredibly delicious! The meat was cooked to the perfect point, not bloody but still pink, the seasoning was lovely. It was just great.

We also had here braised duck with potatoes and a salad, which was equally as delicious. Again, I cannot fault the meat at all in this restaurant, it really was superb.

To make the whole affair even better, is the fact that the restaurant, even though located fairly close to a main road, was very quiet, the staff were extremely professional, but friendly and casual too and it was cheap as chips! It is so worth visiting it.

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Aux Trois Maillets

Steak Tartare is one of those french meals you either love or hate. The idea of eating raw meat scares a lot of people, just as much as sushi does with raw fish. However, I am a bit carnivorous sometimes, and beef is one of the healthiest meats to eat rare. The pinker the better, not bloody though, and steak tartare offers a PERFECT balance for those who love an alternative for your typical steak and chips.

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I was very proud of my man when he braved the raw meat and enjoyed his steak! Which I tried a bit of and it was absolutely delectable. Now I know that I have done two links to two different recipes of steak tartare, however, when I tried them I can guarantee mine did not look quite so pretty. I am awful and cutting vegetables finely, so here is an article on why you should NEVER cook steak tartare at home, don’t be lazy if you’re going to do it it takes some skill!

He also tried SNAILS! Now snails are a typical dish in Portugal but they cook them differently in France and they were lovely. Cooked with butter, garlic and pesto goodness, they tasted magnificent in all their chewiness. Would definitely advise everyone to try snails one day, it may not be your cup of tea but it is an experience.

I had some chicken with some fantastic creamy mushroom sauce, but nothing too extravagant, highlight was truly James’ steak. I would say though that the service in this restaurant left A LOT to wish for. I understand that it is nice to have a chilled out environment but waiting for 45 minutes for a waiter to blink in your direction is inexcusable. From the moment we asked for the bill to when it arrived was at least 20 minutes, and let me not even discuss the fact that the waitress wasted a perfectly good pint by pouring almost half the bottle on the table rather than the glass… and did not replace it. As good as the food was, I would not visit this restaurant again.

Bar Brasserie Chou Chou

20150831_203609In the final evening, we went for a bit of romance. We were all dressed up and got drawn to a restaurant that had a pianist and double bassist playing live music. Let me tell you this, the music was not a gimmick, no sir! Here we had the best French bread of the whole trip, and finally as a huge meat lover, I sank my teeth into the juiciest, lushest, most tender and perfectly cooked rump steak EVER! Even James was surprised at how well this rump steak was cooked, it was truly the most beautiful shade of pink and melt in your mouth texture.

With the same sauce and sides, my man had some duck, which was just as good! Truly an incredible restaurant, with great service, great ambience and not expensive at all. In the middle of a street filled with other restaurants but I still felt like I was somewhere special. The staff are all dressed in matching clothes, but are still friendly and jokey with customers and so pleasant. The music was just the cherry on top of a perfectly baked and iced cake.

It takes some Balls! 

Risotto, quinoa salad, beef and chicken balls at Balls, Paris
Risotto, quinoa salad, beef and chicken balls at Balls, Paris

On our final day in Paris, my darling took me to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery where the likes of Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf and Chopin have been buried amongst many others! Now if you have not been here, you will know that this is very far east and outside of the central Paris perimeter. So we decided to go for a little gastronomical adventure and James found a little slice of odd heaven in the form of a Balls Restaurant. EVERYTHING on this menu is served as balls in bowls.

It was FANTASTIC! It was such a hipster kind of place, very cheap, the risotto was to die for! The staff were very friendly and it made me feel like the coolest kid in the world to be there.

The Creme Brulee factor

To add a bit of credibility to my food research I decided to add a common factor to all my restaurant visits, THE CREME BRULEE FACTOR!

This was never a thing but it certainly is now. Creme Brulee to me is dictated by the perfectly crisp but not burnt, sweet sugar on top, with the gelatinous but soft melt in your mouth texture of the milk cream underneath.

So here are my three Creme Brulees:

1 was delectable, a bit too liquid in texture, but the balance of the crisp caramelised sugar and the softness of the flavour of the cream was perfect. I am .almost certain it had a bit of rum and vanilla too which made it truly irresistible.

2 was far too burnt but the texture underneath was SPOT ON I could not fault the texture. Yet something flavour wise was not quite there.

3 perfect balance of all things, texture, sugar was caramelised nicely until it got to the middle and it was definitely burnt. Nice creamy flavour, but something was missing…

Needless to say true love was love at first spoonful! Truly divine after such a fantastic meal, every other creme brulee paled in comparison! The Bistrot de Victoires is – coincidentally – victorious as the number 1 Creme Brulee in my creme brulee factor.

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In order from left to right… the WINNING Creme Brulee, Bistrot de Victoires, followed by Aux de trois Maillets in the middle and Brasserie Chou Chou in the far right. 

Do it at home!

I LOVE cooking and trying new recipes, so as you can see, I have added a few links on each recipe name to some of the best recipes I have tried when re-creating these dishes! Please try them and let me know how you got on. I hope you have had a chance to eat some fantastic foods in your travels.

Now tell me, my fellow bloggers and readers, travellers and foodies, is there actually anything more satisfying than putting all your hopes on a meal that you purchase in some restaurant abroad, and having it come back and be exactly what you wanted if not more? France was just THAT! My visits to all these different places in France left me well and truly tummy happy. I cannot say that any of the food I ate was bad, at all! I have my favourites of course, and meals that blew me away, but overall, everything about the food in the whole time that we were there was phenomenal. And the ICE CREAMS oh the ice creams. Now that I am back to my daily routine, my thighs are burning with exercise rather than walking miles to find some bookshop or cafe that serves everything in balls, but they are also not being fed to the same standard. It is always good to cleanse the palette after such a gastronomical experience, but I have to say, I was VERY GOOD! I did not explore the land of french cheeses, as a promise to myself to control my cheesy urges. On that note, I am already looking forward to my next foreign food adventure, bring on December!