Paris in the Autumntime (Veggie Friendly)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Another Saturday morning with no lie-in, but it's ok - we're off to Paris! My friend P has been working in the city and I couldn't not visit.
Eurostar essentials - speeding through France and Gone Girl on my Kindle.
Getting pale for the winter.
Arriving in a sunny Paris at 10am was so worth the early start - the Centre Pompidou in the sunshine.
Hotel de Ville. (It's a town hall, not a hotel. But I knew you knew that).
Street Art.
The lake behind the Pompidou.

I met my friend P for brunch at Bob's Kitchen - from the outside it is totally miss-able, not even a name above the door! I would have walked past it if P hadn't been inside calling my name. Bob's is well worth seeking out (two minutes from Arts et Metiers metro stop) for its famous for its LA-style cold pressed juices and delicious vegan food. We shared the fukomaki and I had a macha cookie - so good! The prices are really reasonable for Paris and they do take-out, too. I wish I had been feeling hungrier as the bagels and veggie stews looked so good! Bob's definitely doesn't feel very Parisien but its a little piece of LA freshness in the city and definitely worth a visit.

After brunch we headed towards Place Vendome as we'd heard there was an "interesting" sculpture there - sadly it had been deflated by vandals, quelle horreur!
After a wander we headed to our hotel at Porte de Versaille for some spa and pool time - bliss! My school friend C lives in Paris so we headed out for a night on the town planning on stopping by her house party. I felt a bit bad about taking P along to a party where she wouldn't know anyone until we realised that my friend C lives with one of her school friends - its a crazy small world!

Dinner was at Cafe Ginger, a teeny tiny vegan restaurant by Bastille. There is no menu as only two options are offered each day and they change daily. This was such a good meal - everything tasted so fresh and so healthy. P and I both had the enpanadas - South American pastries filled with roasted vegetables and vegan cheese. These came with the trendiest salads ever (quinoa and kale on the same plate - so 2014!). I normally skip dessert or eat it while feeling guilty but the desserts at Cafe Ginger just had to be tried and are all vegan and free from nasties - P had the raw mango cheese cake and I had the spiced chocolate. Cafe Ginger is very different to Bob's despite them both being vegan - Bob's has a much more Californian vibe with bench seating and minimal decor while Ginger is a proper restaurant but definitely one with a vegan hippie vibe!

Bastille at night.
After a post-party lie-in, Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. Breakfast at our hotel was a bit pricey so we hopped across the road and sat at a pavement cafe eating croissants in the sun.
Back to the pool for swimming - well, I mainly floated on my back and looked out the skylight, trying to fix in my mind what "blue sky" looks like.

Everything is shut in Paris on a Sunday - but not the Marais, traditionally a Jewish area but now home to cute boutique shops, tiny cafes and the best falafal ever. Really (no, really, I sampled probably every falafal stall at Glastonbury this year so think I'm qualified to say that). I visited L'as Du Falafal last October and remembered how amazing it was - P and I made it to the tiny cafe at around 4pm, thinking we'd missed the lunchtime rush but there was still a massive queue. Starving after a hard morning at the hotel spa we waited as the line crept slowly forwards - finally we were at the front and it was so worth it. Really, it's a good thing I don't live in Paris as I would literally turn into a ball of falafal as I'd be here every day (apart from Saturday when it is shut).

Looking for other things to do in Paris? Past visits here and here and here. Non-vegan food here and here, and the cat cafe here (cats to make friends with not to eat).

Lunch At Langan's

Sunday, 19 October 2014

September is an exciting month for my family - Daddy Lipstick and I have our birthday's and it's mummy and daddy's wedding anniversary (32 years this year!). I disappeared to China for most of the month so we didn't get around to celebrating until last weekend - oops! 

The Wolseley is our usual "celebratory meal" venue of choice but feeling like a change I booked us a table just around the corner at Langan's. The menu is traditional British brasserie food, nothing mind-blowingly new but the restaurant is London institution for a reason - everything was well-presented, tasted amazing and the service was spot on. We'll probably be back! The setting is less grand than the Wolseley but I loved the art adorned walls and references to the owners (Michael Caine and Peter Langan). The restaurant is relaxed but definitely a celebratory sort of place with most of the tables occupied by families lunching and chatting.

Daddy Lipstick snapped some outfit photos of me before we left - it was a surprisingly sunny day in the end and we walked off lunch with a wander through the busy streets of Mayfair and Soho, places that I usually avoid on weekends but in the autumn sunshine it was lovely to have a wander, pointing out my favourite haunts to my parents while we walked and chatted and making the most of not wearing coats and carrying umbrellas!

Oh Hai, Mummy Lipstick!
Crochet jumper, ASOS (similar); Pencil skirt, Spitalfields Market (similar), Denim jacket, Henry Holland (similar), Bag, Mulberry; Shoes, c/o Duo
I had the burger which came with red onion rings. Optional cheese or bacon can be added but I had it plain, medium rare - one of the nicest burgers I've had for a while! Mummy Lipstick and I shared a portion of fries as we wanted dessert too - definitely a wise move as the portion was huge!
Mummy Lipstick tucking in in the background!
For dessert it wasn't hard choosing when there was something on the menu named "chocolate platter". Our waiter suggested that this was a good dessert to share. Mummy Lipstick and I ordered one each - what's a celebration without your own dessert? Dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate cheese cake and milk chocolate ice cream - yum!
Have you visited Langan's?

Beijing Part 2 + China Tips

Thursday, 16 October 2014

My last post on my China trip and my final days in Beijing. Thursday promised good weather so I requested a trip to the zoo - like any good just-turned-27-year-old would. The main draw of Beijing Zoo is obviously the giant pandas. If you're an animal-lover, be warned that Chinese zoos are maybe not as animal-friendly as the ones back home and the zoo visitors are not at all respectful of the animals - the amount of people I saw banging on the glass of the enclosures was infuriating. However, the zoo was not as bad as I had feared it might be and it was pretty cool to see a panda.

Hello, Panda.

After the zoo we hopped back on the metro towards the Forbidden City. Last entry to the Forbidden City is at 4 or 5pm and having spent an hour eating a late lunch there wasn't time to actually go inside but the view from Jingshan Park was amazing and definitely gives an idea of the scale of it (and lunch was so good that I was happy to forgo culture for food). The Forbidden City leads onto Tianamen Square, probably one of the most famous squares in the world a definitely the largest. Tianamen was not at all how I expected (I'm not really sure what I expected...the stage set from ChimericaI?)- it's huge but oddly empty and feels slightly unwelcoming despite the crowds.

People people people everywhere but the park was a nice walk.

Beijing Hot Pot was definitely worth tackling my fears of i) raw meat and ii) cooking for.

Misty misty Forbidden City.
Tianamen Square.
Can't take a blogger anywhere. Wearing clothes which I bought in the Middle East, which were too skimpy to actually wear in the Middle East and then which never saw the light of day in England. Yay.
Friday was my last full day in Beijing, fighting off the end-of-holiday blues and ignoring P's iPhone forecast which showed rain in favour of mine which did not, we headed to the summer palace (after a very late breakfast of bibimbap). The summer palace is beautiful despite the smog and it was nice wandering between the buildings until torrential rain struck! Luckily it didn't last long and the Summer Palace conveniently seemed to be designed to provide a covered walkway almost all the way out. In the afternoon we tried to visit the Drum and Bell Towers but they were closed ahead of a national festival. Still, another guidebook "top sight" ticked off and they are in a lively neighbourhood full of restaurants and cafes on huatong lanes. Beijing's last supper was at a Yunanese restaurant where pineapple was on the menu!

Beef bibimbap.

Summer Palace.

Pineapple love. The summer palace was built by the Empress Cixi - no, I can't remember how that was pronounced.
Glowing lake, pre-downpour.
Tea time.
Pineapple rice.
Chicken, prawns and spicy yum.

China Tips

1. Visa

If you're traveling from the UK you'll definitely need a visa. A tourist visa is pretty easy to apply for - just make sure you apply around a month before your trip and after you have booked flights and accommodation as you'll need to show proof of these. The visa is valid for 90 days once its granted so don't apply too early or it will have expired before you go.

2. Flights

As always, Skyscanner is your friend. Flying with a stopover is cheaper but several airlines fly direct from London airports - prices vary a lot so book early.

3. Trains

I traveled by train from Beijing to Shanghai - so much less hassle than internal flights. Chinese trains are super efficient and high speed. I booked first class tickets which came with free biscuits (a perk I was not aware of when booking). Some journeys are via sleeper train and there are a range of options from very basic to proper beds. I found this website so helpful for advice (and will be booking-marking it for future holidays) and booked my tickets on this website as non-Chinese residents are unable to buy advance tickets. 

4. Guidebooks

Get one! I love Lonely Planet guides for giving a good mix of things to do and practical advice as well as being quiet budget friendly. I bought a pocket guide for Shanghai which was so useful for the maps as I didn't want to be using my iPhone and racking up a massive bill (see Internet below). If you're staying at a hotel ask for a card with the hotel's name in Chinese to show to taxi drivers to get you home safely. Lots of guide books have phrase guides in but use at your peril (thank you = Xièxiè...?). Time Out do Beijing and Shanghai magazines and websites which I found helpful for restaurant recommendations.

5. The Internet

The great firewall applies in China and a lot of social media is blocked. My iPhone did work as a phone but I didn't turn on the 3G due to countless tourist horror stories of extortionate roaming charges. If you want to update your Facebook status / brag about your travels / let mummy know that you're still alive then you'll need to download a VPN - I used this one which was good but only connected to it when I was on wifi. I actually enjoyed the enforced lack of communication - it was nice to explore the cities without being fixated on Instagramming a view or Whatsapps-ing friends back home.

6. Culture etc.

Do not assume that "everyone will speak English". They won't unless you're in a high end hotel or restaurant. A lot of restaurants have picture menus or plastic models of food so point away! On restaurants...master using chopsticks or meal times won't be a lot of fun. China is much more smoker-friendly than the UK, I had a bit of a shock the first time I saw someone smoking inside a cafe in Shanghai - I feel old that I can still remember smoking in pubs back home...

Be prepared to see people spitting in the street - its not seen as rude or disgusting. As for toilets, in older parts of town treat them as you would loos at a festival (tissues and hand sanitizer are you best friends). If you are not a fan of "traditional toilets" then pop into hotels or shopping centres but sometimes there may not be other options... Be very, very careful when crossing the road - traffic is crazy and the line between road and pavement is sometimes less clear.

China is such a different place to anywhere else I've visited - it's busy and hectic and not a chill out holiday but its so different to the UK (without being a massive culture shock to a city dweller) that I still felt like I'd had a break. There's culture, history, shopping (oh yes), amazing food and you can almost feel the pace of change - go now before more McDonalds and Starbucks start springing up everywhere.  

Have you visited China?

Competition - Win Foodies Festival Tickets

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Christmas is coming (well, M&S has mince pies in stock so this post doesn't really feel that unseasonably early) and the Foodies Festival is holding a three day Christmas event at the Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane (one of my favourite weekend haunts) to celebrate.

I have three pairs of tickets to give away - the winner can attend on either the 28th, 29th or 30th of November and it's sure to get you in the Christmas spirit, give you some inspiration on what to cook on the big day or just be a fun day of eating and drinking! If you're still suffering from Bake Off withdrawal there are cake and bake workshops or if cheese is more your thing there's a Cheese Village to explore.

To enter just fill out the form below leaving your email address and / or your Twitter handle so that I can contact you if you win. I'll be popping along on the 30th and will definitely be at the Ski Bar because that sounds like my sort of Christmas spirit.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Beijing & The Great Wall

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Back to my China adventure today. After leaving Shanghai bright and early on Monday morning and spending five hours on a super-fast train (the first class ticket being well worth it for the free biscuits) I was in Beijing.

Beijing has a very different feel to Shanghai - its bigger and flatter and I don't know if it was the polluted smog, the lack of a Pearl Tower-esque landmark, the number of G&Ts consumed or the fact that my friend P speaks Mandarin which took away any effort on my part of getting around but I never really felt like I got my bearings in Beijing. It's a huge, sprawling city with numbered ring roads forming concentric circles. Taxis are super cheap and the Metro is fast and efficient but speaking Chinese definitely felt like far more of an essential (or at least something which made life far, far easier) here than it did in Shanghai.

My first day in Beijing was a wet one - typical! After a not-so-Chinese lunch of burritos (required after an evening of gin and KTV...) we headed to the Lama Temple and then to 798 Art District. The temple was beautiful, even in the rain. I love the smell of incense and wandering around the temple buildings was a lovely calming escape from the hectic city. The 798 District is a definitely must-see for art lovers, there are so many galleries to explore - some of which are free to get into - and art works adorn the streets of the district. The galleries tend to close around 6ish - everything in China shuts so early which does not mix well with late nights! Art fans should visit early in the day to have enough time to see everything.
The largest statute carved from a single piece of wood - it's in the Guiness Book of Records!

Breton stripes!
On day two the rain had stopped and despite waking up to a very smoggy "non-view" of the city, a nice day was promised. Before my trip to Beijing I hadn't been too fussed about seeing The Great Wall but I'm so glad I did - it really is amazing and the trip out the city is well worth it to see something so iconic. Also, it's the thing that I guarantee everyone will ask you about if you tell them you visited Beijing! Skipping the very touristy Badaling (which can be reached by train) we opted for Mutianyu - hoping that it promised an authentic-ish experience without it being too treacherous. If you (or a friend) cannot speak Mandarin then I'd definitely recommend taking the train to Badaling or going on an organised bus trip as despite Mutianyu being set up for visitors to the wall it was a bit of a nightmare to get to (a public bus for an hour, followed by a slightly terrifying mini-van ride). Don't be put off by being greeted with Burger King - once you are through the car park area, and have taken another bus ride to a second car park (this one with a Subway) there's a cable car to take you up to the wall. Yes, it's all a bit of a hassle but its worth it once you're there!This part of the wall was well-maintained and nice for a leisurely walk - there are areas where you can do more serious hiking but I am not in any way a serious hiker.

The view! And the sheer 50m drop...

Ski-lift down, an ever more terrifying experience when not on skis... Not that having a "how are we going to get off this thing" panic halfway down spoiled the view.

Pineapple-ing. Always.
Perfect end to a hard days' walking - gin and kitty time!
What have you been un-fussed about visiting and then loved?