Across the Pond in London

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After living in London for four years, I find it terribly difficult to make a shortlist of things to do and see when in London, as there is SO MUCH! London is an enormous city, rich with culture and diversified by distinct neighborhoods that offer their own world and local markets, cafes, pubs and particular energy. Below are some shortlisted recommendations when visiting London for a just a few days – hope you love it!

Stay: 
I would stay in Notting Hill (for a classic London experience) or Shoreditch (east, more hipster/artsy vibe)

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See/do: if limited for time, must-see neighborhoods are Shoreditch, Notting Hill, Covent Garden and Soho

 Shoreditch: to explore the area, start at Spitalfields market, really great, nice boutiques around there as well, along the square and Brushfield St. Take Commercial St to Hanbury St to walk to Brick Lane, where you can enjoy the full stretch, tons of vintage stores, vinyl, the art murals and street musicians, etc. Go all the way the end of Brick Lane, and go left to explore Redchurch St and Old Nichol St, as they're two streets with beautiful stores. Dishoom Shoreditch (see food) is also in this area. Walk even further, and go to the Columbia Rd Flower Market (market is only open on Sundays)

Covent Garden + Soho: Covent Garden is in in the West End (known as the theatre district - if you can see a show, you should!) There are often street performers and live music. It’s comprised of a massive square/covered area with lots of boutiques and restaurants. After exploring Covent Garden, make your way up north to the colourful alley of Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, and then over west to Soho which is super eclectic and lively. Carnaby St, Oxford and Regent St are a must (although very crowded). Be sure to visit Liberty, a gorgeous department store

Notting Hill: get off at Notting Hill Gate and continue the walk up north on Portobello Road. At the cross road with Westbourne Grove, turn right to enjoy the lineup of beautiful boutiques (stores like Diptique, Sezane, Aesop, etc). Afterwards, take Portobello back all the way up, under the bridge to Golborne Road. Turn right to enjoy lots of nice stores and furniture stores. Lisboa Patisserie is often filled with locals, as they offer the Portuguese speciality, pastel del nata.

Suggested walk to see other landmark spots: London eye/Westminster bridge: if you go to Borough Market, afterwards you can walk along the Thames, towards Bedale st, and cathedral st by the big ship, and follow the path along the Thames. Keep walking (good 45 min walk) and end up past the London Eye, and Westminster bridge to see Big Ben. can then keep walking to st James park and Hyde park, behind.

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Fav parks:

  • Hyde Park

  • St James’s Park

  • Richmond Park

  • Hampstead Heath

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 Bars / pubs

  • Shard - touristy, but def worth it. beautiful views of the city. Go for a cocktail at sunset

  • Churchill Arms – an iconic and really charming /cozy pub in Notting Hill that serves Thai food.

  • Commercial Tavern – beautiful pub with several floors in Spitalfields/Shoreditch

  • The Yorkshire Grey – charming and classic English pub in Fitzrovia with a fireplace

  • The Dove – waterside pub along the Thames, great pub food and charming with wooden ceilings and fireplaces

Coffee:

Brunch:

  • The Good Egg - amazing brunch, but it's quite up north 

  • Farm Girl Cafe Farm Girl Cafe - healthy brunch in center of notting hill.

  • Electric Diner -  next to / part of the Electric Cinema. Big comfy booths. One of the very few spots that takes reservations

  • Egg Break - in notting hill, such a good menu 

  • Beany Green - there's multiple throughout the city. Their Darcie & May location is on a boat on the grand union canal! They take bookings too

  • Granger & Co - Australian brunch in heart of notting hill 


Afternoon tea is a classic experience that is lovely to do. All the hotels offer them – a fav bring the Firmdale line up, like the Charlotte St Hotel and the Covent Garden Hotel. They can be a tad pricey but worth it! An alternative is to go to Muriel's Kitchen in Soho for afternoon tea.

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Markets:

  • Borough Market by London bridge - huge outdoor food market with really good food from all over, speciality breads, etc. note - they are closed on Sundays. If you go here, it's worth walking to Bermondsey St, it's a charming street with lots of cafes and museums)

  • Maltby Street Market - outdoor food market. Close by Tower Bridge (note: market is only open on Saturdays)

  • Portobello Market – as noted above. Saturday is the main day with Friday being busy as well

  • Spitalfields Market – open 7 days a week – tons of different stalls featuring clothing, food, etc

  • Columbia Rd Flower Market – only open on Sundays  

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Dinner: London is well known for its Indian and it's soooo good!!!

  • Punjab - family run, really good traditional Indian restaurant in Covent Garden. Tends to be a wait but it moves fast enough

  • Dishoom - really good indian and beautiful décor. Their Shoreditch location is my favourite. You can book for brunch, or dinner. Expect to wait (a lot), so I would go early, get drinks and then stay for dinner

  • Memories of India - family run, good authentic indian fare in Kensington. Nothing special but just good food

  • GoPals – another great Indian spot in Soho

  • Darjeeling Express – fabulous menu and cozy spot in Kingly Court, in Soho. Currently massive wait for bookings as the restaurant is featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table

  • Tsiakkos & Characol – Great little Greek spot, super cozy and family run. Only £25 for full meze. incredible value and it's delicious. North of Notting hill 

  • Poppies: in Shoreditch for traditional fish and chips 

  • Bonnie Gull - seafood restaurant, location in Soho 

  • Blanchette - french small plates in Soho, beautiful interior and cozy 

  • Yauatcha - dim sum (soho)

  • St John – innovative british fare 

  • Bancone - great pasta in covent garden, currently the rave. 

 

Paris Eats

There are few things I love more than French cuisine. It should come as no surprise that I’ve enjoyed some of my most memorable meals in Paris. I’m happy to share with you my shortlist of treasured spots – bon appétit!

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Cafés & Bakeries: 

Le Moulin de La Vierge – beautiful and delicious pastries + viennoiseries. Limited outdoor seating – I’ve only been to their location in Victoires, which I love as it’s in a sweet square

Du Pain et Des Idées – amazing bread and pastries. Their pistachio pain aux raisins is to die for

Polâine – renowed for their bread and viennoiseries. Several locations

Dupain – another excellent boulangerie – in the Marais

L'éclair de Genie – gourmet éclairs – several locations 

Le Loir dans la Théière – great spot in the Marais for an afternoon tea (great selection!) and cake – they have a variety that are baked fresh daily, but their most popular is their famed tarte au citron meringuée (lemon meringue pie). I wrote a blog entry about this here. Their tarte tatin is really very good too.

A La Mere de Famille – my favorite chocolates. They have several locations and the boutiques are all exquisite

Coffee / Cafes: O CoffeeshopTelescopeCaféothèque, Radiodays, Fragments, Boot Café, Coutume, Ten Belles, for more sophisticated experience, I'd opt for Carette (by Trocadero – view o the Eiffel Tower) or Cafe Kitsune (by Palais Royal)

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 Brunch

Buvette – beautiful and cozy restaurant, they have 1 in NYC too and now Tokyo as well. Delicious food - their waffle with bacon and egg is the perfect mix of sweet and savory

Le Dome du Marais – place to go if you want to splurge on a pricier brunch, as the interior is really special. You go here for the atmosphere, but not necessarily for the food.

Others that are fab that I love:
– Season
–  Holybelly
–  Paperboy Paris
– Cafe Mericourt
–  Marlon
– Café Oberkampf
Cafe Charlot

 

Wine Bars / l'apero: I’d go to one of these before dinner for some wine and shared charcuterie or cheese plate, or alternatively can be a lighter meal

Le Baron Rouge – wine bar and charcuterie (in the 12th)

Le Barav: wine bar and charcuterie (in the 3rd)

Others: La Cave de Gaston Leroux and Sauvage

Cocktail Bars:

Moonshiner – speak easy. Great Gatsby feel, awesome cocktails. they made a really good Sidecar!

The Little Red Door – literally has a small red door, cool décor and super friendly bartenders, which is also right next door to Candeleria, so ideal if you want to try both. Their cocktail menu is made from various artists and how they translated/perceived the drink, it's pretty unique. 

Candeleria – at the front is their kitchen/tacos, which you pass through to get to the bar in the back

Le Perchoir – rooftop bar with superb views of Paris and great cocktails

Others: Bar Hemingway and Caveau de la Huchette 

 
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Lunch

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Brezih Café: Brittany style crepes (galettes) and cider  

Café Marcel: French bistro with a warm, charming interior and good French fare

Cafe de l'industrie - excellent, classic French food in a charming bistro. Perfect for lunch after exploring the area - lots of sweet boutiques in the area.

L'As du Fallafel - the best falafel in the Marais, very causal, and is open on Sunday (when a lot of the city is closed)

Dinner:

Aux Deux Amis – one my favs. very local spot, gets busy. small plates and really good wine list. reasonable and really good/authentic. In Oberkampf neighbourhood, so quite artsy/hip. 

Le Servan: Owned and run by two sisters, this restaurant is known for its seasonal and innovative menu (closed Saturdays and Sundays!)

Au Passage – super french, great wine list. small plates, try the pigeon and burrata. closed Sundays and Mondays

Chez Janou – good food, classic french bistro, fun place. Best, best chocolate mousse in the world – served in a big sharing bowl (it's all you can eat…) I've had the duck and escargot tagliatelle- both are good!

Frenchie's wine bar - tapas style and a really good wine list. Food like rillettes, foie gras, burrata, lamb.

Buvette - also listed within brunch, but I equally love Buvette for dinner. They have a great variety of small plates and excellent wine list

Ober Mama - has become very popular. gorgeous italian eatery, good pizzas, etc.

 
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Pizza Chic is a delicious italian pizza eatery  

Pizza Rossi – not fussy, you don’t go here for ambiance but if you want authentic (and affordable), delicious wood oven pizza

more €€€ but amazing include: Pierre Sang - does a tasting menu and Allard

Others suggestions: Septime, Vivant, Deviant (bar), le 404 (Moroccan), Frenchie, (see above for Frenchie wine bar), Verjus (tasting menu), Petrelle (most beautiful interior), Le Timbre, Chez Bartolo (Italian), Rue du Dragon, Carbon, Le Villaret, Claude Colliot (vegetarian 4 course meal or meat/seafood course)

A Weekend in Paris

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I’m often asked for recommendations of things to do, see, eat and where to stay when visiting Paris for just a few days. The sample itinerary I’ve put together below is based on places that I personally love and return to time and time again. It is based on having three full days, aiming to give you a good overview of the city.

Friday: see this map I’ve prepped in Google Maps
– Breakfast at one of the suggested breakfast places – list here.
– Louvre (Museum Option 1)
– Musee D’Orsay (Museum Option 2)
– Pont des Arts (scenic bridge crossing the Seine)
– Polaine  - for a snack. They are renowned for their bread!
– Saint Germain (explore the area at large, visiting streets like Rue du Four and Boulevard St Germain, world famous cafes Deux Magots and Café de Flore)
– Lunch at Chez Marcel
– Luxembourg Gardens
– Latin Quarter
– St Michel fountain
– Shakespere and Co
– Visit the Eiffel Tower at night and cross over to Trocadero to see the view from across (go back by metro or uber)
– Dinner suggestion: Le Servan or Aux Deux Amis and Le Perchoir (rooftop bar) for a cocktail

Saturday
– Montmartre & Sacre Coeur. There are windy, beautiful streets leading up to Sacre Coeur (this is the path I would suggest you take to make sure you see special spots. The top of Montmartre is like a little village where artists during the Belle Epoque lived. You’ll walk through the Place du Tertre, the square with artists painting and see La maison Rose which is often photographed.
– Reference this map for the latter half of the itinerary
– Brunch at Buvette
– Muse Gustave Moreau (Museum Option 1)
– A la mere de famille – oldest chocolate shop on Paris. Pick up some delicious chocolates
– Passage des Panoramas (Passageway 1)
– Galerie Vivienne (Passageway 2)
– Le Moulin de la Vierge – a beautiful square with one of my favourite bakeries. Get a treat or sandwich if hungry, you can also sit down and be served outside if you want to rest your feet, ideal for a coffee and pastry
Passage du Grand Cerf (Passageway 3)
– Le Palais Royal (can sit down for a coffee at Café Kitsune)
– Tuileries Garden
– Musee de l’Orangerie (Museum Option 2)
– Dinner suggestion: Frenchie’s / Frenchies wine bar

Sunday: see this map I’ve prepped in Google Maps
– Start the day off with a pastry at Du Pain et des Idees (pistachio pain aux raisins) or Dupain
– Merci concept store
– Marche Des Enfants Rouge – have a snack here
– Walk along the heart of the Marais via Rue des Rosiers and Rue Vieille du Temple
– Lunch: if you like falafel, a *very* popular option is L’as du Fallafel in the Marais. There is always a long queue – you can get takeaway and eat your falafel as you wander in the Maris. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to sit down, Breizh Café is a lovely and traditional crepe restaurant specializing in authentic Brittany crepes and cider where I’ll go to get my crepe fix.
– Place des Vosges (get a coffee at iconic Carette)
– European House of Photography (Museum/art gallery option for photography lovers)
– Hotel de Ville
– Marche aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux
– St Chapelle  (Option 1)
– Notre Dame (Option 2)
– Dinner suggestion: Chez Janou and drinks at Little Red Door, Candelaria and/or Moonshiner

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If it’s not your fist time in Paris, or perhaps you have more time to visit, I have summarised some more of my tips and ‘must-do’s’

See/Visit Landmark classics:
Paris offers so many magnificent landmarks and museums to visit. Limiting it to just a weekend is torture, so I’m also including a fuller list if your schedule should allow. If I had to limit it to 3 landmarks, I would choose Montmartre, St.Chapelle and Musee d’Orsay

Museums:
Understandably, people want to see the Louvre, but here are some other museums that warrant a visit:
– Musee d’Orsay: was a former train station, the inside is exquisite and has a beautiful impressionist collection such as Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’herbe, and Cezane’s unfinished portrait of Gustave Geffroy). Location: the 7th (left bank) 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007
– Musee de L’Orangerie: where you can see Monet’s water lilies murals. Location: the 1st (within the Tuileries Gardens)
– Maison européenne de la photographie - gallery for photography lovers. I used to have a membership here and loved going often. Exhibitions change. Location: the 4th (5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004)
– Musee National Gustave Moreau: Moreau was a French Symbolist painter. The museum was actually his house and now inhabits all his paintings. The house is beautifully decorated, making this a great spot for those equally appreciative of architecture as paintings. Location: the 9th (14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld, 75009)
– Marmottan Monet Museum: a mini chateau museum with a beautiful collection of Monet’s work. Location: 16th (2 Rue Louis Boilly, 75016)
– Maison de Victor Hugo: it is surreal visiting this literary legend’s former home. Location: the 4th (6 Place des Vosges, 75004)

Passageways:
On a rainy day, exploring Paris’s exquisite arcades/covered passageways will keep you occupied. They feature various antique shops, charming boutiques, restaurants and cafes. There are nearly 20 of them, but these are my favorites:
– Galerie Vivienne: 4 rue des Petits-Champs, Paris, 75002
– Passage des Panoramas: 11 boulevard Montmartre, Paris, 75002
– Passage du Grand Cerf: 145 rue Saint-Denis, Paris, 75002
– Passage Verdeau: 6 rue de la Grange-Batelière, Paris, 75003

Markets:
– Marche des Enfants Rouge – food stalls in the Marais with a range of innovative food. Oldest covered market in paris. Open Tues-Sat 8.30am – 7.30pm and Sunday 8:30-2pm
– Marche de Puces: massive flea market (11am-5pm on Mondays, 9am – 6pm Saturday + Sunday) 

Parks:
– Be sure to visit Tuileries, Luxembourg (on summer days, hunt for a spare chair and enjoy a good book), and parc Monceau (I used to run in this park when I lived in the 17th – it’s a lively park, with a carousel and often busy with children and their nannies!)

Shopping:
– Champs Elysées is very popular and you might to visit (the Arc du Triomphre is remarkable), but you’ll find much better shopping in my opnion at the Galeries (a beautiful department store) and also in the Marais –– you’ll come across plenty of beautiful boutiques while wandering.
– For a taste of french haute couture and window shopping in trendy places (faire du lèche-vitrines as they say in France), you should go to Place Vendome and Rue de la Paix which is near the Opera, or Rue St.Honoré which is near the Jardin des Tuileries and is beautiful. 
– Merci: concept shop with a used bookstore and lovely cafe adjacent 
– My favorite French clothing brands include: Sezane, Sandro, Art du Basic (everything is black or white. Go here for great tailoring and beautiful basics), A.P.C, Cos and Tabio for my socks and tights (this brand is actually Japanese and they have stores in Tokyo and London but I love their French store in the Marais)
– Vintage/second-hand: Troc en stock – fav second hand store where I’ve found beautiful agnès b leather loafers. When I was a student I was patient enough to browse through the mass of vintage goods at the Kilo shops – you pay by the kilo and can find some nice things. Free’P’Star is another vintage store – I still use a leather purse I found there nearly 10 years ago.

Stay:
– For first time visitors, I recommend staying in an airbnb in the Marais or St Germain is also very beautiful – it’s a more sophisticated/wealthy area. If you want to go the hotel route, it all depends on budget as there are many exquisite hotels, but I’ve heard great things about the Hoxton from friends.

Manger Workshop

As a lover of good food and photography, you can imagine my delight when Mimi Thorisson announced a cooking and photography workshop. I had been following Mimi and her husband, Oddur, on Instagram for quite some time. Their photos are beautiful. Meals that leave me hungry, wine from their local region of Bordeaux, plentiful vegetables from their garden, and their beautiful children evoke memories from my own childhood, spent in Normandy with my French grandmother. Memories that are sacred to me. Sunday mornings were spent at the marché, first, to buy the chicken from the local farmer, and then a basket full of potatoes, still covered in dirt. On the walk home, we would visit the boulangerie to pick up a fresh baguette, often still warm, and when I would longingly look at the rows of delicious éclairs and tartes aux framboises, Mamie would always give me a smile and nod, adding a tray of mini pâtisseries to our order. Once home and the groceries were put away, I would roll up my sleeves, eager to help. Yesterday's newspaper spread across the kitchen table (it made for easy clean-up), I would peel the potatoes until the scraps created rising heaps and my hands grew tired. Sitting on my stool, I then waited for my next task. Some people will claim that these Sunday meals tasted so good because they're associated with emotion, and perhaps they're right. But I will argue only to an extent, because I still deem my grandma as the best darn cook.

With these memories close to heart, months later, I found myself in Saint Yzans-de-Médoc, chez Mimi and Oddur's for three days of cooking and photography. Pigeon, cherry clafoutis, soufflé, chou farci and endive tartets, rolled to look like roses, were just a few of the recipes we made from scratch, all from Mimi's latest cookbook. All the photos were taken at their home, which is even more beautiful in person. Hard to imagine, I know. When I left Bordeaux, I felt re-inspired to cook. Not just for me, but for my friends and family, and as Mamie did and in her spirit, for generations to come. Bon appétit. 

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Cuba

Welcome to our Cuban adventure! My two college girlfriends and I ventured to Cuba for a week and experienced a trip unlike any I’ve been on before. Our guidebook fittingly described Cuba as “Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.”

We strongly resonated with this essence and the various contradictions that soon became apparent. Incredibly beautiful landscapes, immaculately preserved cars and a richness of tobacco, coffee and sugarcane, in contrast with stark poverty, virtually no wifi and extremely limited produce (we ate more cheese sandwiches than we care to remember). A sort of time capsule, we felt as though we were living well before our time and realized how much we take for granted back home, certainly a humbling experience.

We started our trip in Havana, then went west to Viñales (area known for its rich tobacco), before traveling south-east to Trinidad, where we hiked and swam in the Caribbean. Cubans are exceptionally kind, good-natured and optimistic, despite the sombre economic struggles. We soon learned that our tour guides and bartenders alike were well educated – prosecutors, doctors and software engineers, but they opted for a career in tourism, as it was lucrative in comparison to the meagre $20CUC they earned a month from the government. Hit with a sense of guilt, we tipped heavily and even more so after learning that tobacco and coffee farmers are entitled to only 10% of their produce. The remaining 90% is owned and sold by the government (Japan buys the bulk of Cuban coffee).

Despite not being a trip that I would classify as relaxing due to the various challenges (the guide book makes reference to Cuba being an exhilarating roller-coaster ride), we enjoyed two days at the beautiful, white sanded beaches in Trinidad and sipped on $3CUC mojitos. Since coming home, I came to the realisation that I’m glad we got to experience Cuba as it is now, preserved in its authenticity before it starts to really cater to tourists.

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Gasparee Caves in Trinidad

Gasparee Caves in Trinidad

Park Guanayara

Park Guanayara

Our airbnb in Trinidad

Our airbnb in Trinidad

staircase at our casa paticular in Havana

staircase at our casa paticular in Havana

Tobacco farm in Viñales

Tobacco farm in Viñales

Viñales

Viñales

Coffee plant

Coffee plant

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