Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beautiful Ceramics @ Nom Living, Columbia Road

Last weekend, John and I went to Columbia Road Flower Market and found these beautiful ceramic mugs at Nom Living - one of my favorite homeware shops in London. Crafted by artisans in Vietnam and Cambodia, these mugs are made using a specialist mixed clay, which gives them their wonderful marbled effect. No two mugs are the same.

We immediately gravitated towards these mugs when we saw them in store, along with the accompanying teapot (which we didn't end up getting). I've wanted to replace our mis-matched mugs for ages, but didn't find any that really called my name - until I walked into Nom Living that afternoon.

I love how unique and pretty these are - I can imagine serving them to guests and using them ourselves as well.

If you haven't been to Nom Living before, I'd highly recommend a visit. Their little dipping bowls double as terrific trinket dishes (I keep one in every room because I have a tendency to remove all my jewelry at the end of the day in whatever room I happen to be standing in!) and the serving dishes are really gorgeous pieces to have in your home.

Nom Living is at 102 Columbia Road, London, E2 7QB.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Planning a Trip to Burgundy or Bordeaux? 5 Websites You Need to Know

John and I are off to Bordeaux in April and I can't wait. I'm looking forward to exploring a new city, looking like a tourist, and hanging out poolside at the beautiful Les Source de Caudalie, where we'll be staying for a few days. And wine. Lots and lots of wine. (Well, maybe not so much for me, given my rather unfortunate alcohol intolerance! But definitely a bit.)

As you know, I loathe planning travel. But for some reason, I threw myself head first into helping John plan this trip and I'm really, really looking forward to it. When I told my dad that we were going to Bordeaux, he was so envious! I felt bad. I told him that we'd go and scope it out first before taking him back! He also asked if we thought about going to Burgundy, which is another great option for a vacation, so I ended up researching both.

Here are five websites I used when looking for places to stay and visit in Bordeaux and Burgundy:

The Burgundy Shop

When I told a friend of mine that we were debating a stay in either Bordeaux or Burgundy, she directed me to The Burgundy Shop's site, which turned out to be an inspiring what-to-do and where-to-stay guide to Burgundy. It's got a fantastic introduction to the history of Burgundy, plus information about their own guided wine tours and links to a crazy-gorgeous luxury holiday rental that would be perfect for a family stay. It's a fun little site to explore (with a glass of, erm, Burgundy in hand) and I loved the little section on vine art too.

Bordeaux Tourism Board

Confession: I've never consulted a tourism board website before visiting a destination. Am I the only one? But Bordeaux's Tourism Board reached out to me on Twitter when I tweeted about our plans to visit Bordeaux and directed me to a few helpful pages on their website. It's one of the most well-organized and easy-to-navigate tourist board websites I've come across and I'll definitely be consulting it frequently in the weeks leading up to our trip.

Condé Nast Traveller

Aside from interiors magazines, I'm also addicted to Condé Nast Traveller. The weirdest thing is that it's my favorite thing to read when I'm on vacation! I don't know why! I'm already on vacation - why do I need to see more beautiful places to visit? There's something that's just so relaxing about flipping through the pages though, and finding even more to be inspired by. If I'm looking for restaurants or things to do in a particular area, I consult the Condé Nast Traveller website. It was super helpful for suggestions in both Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Small Luxury Hotels of the World

I'm awful. I always sneak a peek at the hotels on this site before I book anything and it's where John and I found Les Sources de Caudalie for our upcoming trip. We've stayed in other SLH hotels before (most recently this one in Bruges) and I've always been (mostly) impressed by the quality and standard of these hotels. A lot of them make my wanderlust wishlist, for sure!


This one's a bit of a cheat, but hear me out: I've never wanted to use Airbnb more than when I was planning our trip to Bordeaux. Think dramatic floor to ceiling windows opening out to the most incredible balconies in the city center; impressive spiral staircases; impeccable taste in furniture and interior design. That's what the Airbnb options are like in Bordeaux, so it's no surprise that a lot of people I asked for recommendations told me to check out Airbnb in the first instance.

So, there you have it: five super helpful (and fun!) sites to trawl if you're thinking of jetting off to explore the vineyards of France.

Have you ever been to Bordeaux or Burgundy (I know one or two of you have!)? What did you think? How did you plan your trip? Please, please, please let me have your recommendations!

This post was sponsored by The Burgundy Shop. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Home Hack: The Best Budget Art Frames (From £2 - Yes, Really!)

Before the ink had even dried on the contracts for our house, I'd already placed my orders for several art prints for our walls. Years of living under unreasonable landlords' thumbs meant that we either stared at bare walls or panicked at using even 3M Command Hooks (I highly, highly recommend those btw, if you're living in rented accommodation and your landlord/landlady has a strict no-nails-in-the-walls rule!) to hang the few pieces of art we did have.

The prints arrived and I loved them, but the task of finding the right frames for each print became quite the chore. Bespoke frames were pricey (these cost us around £300 to frame - gulp!), and I was picky about the color/size.

But after a little research (i.e. hours upon hours spent online) and in-store browsing, I found some surprisingly affordable frames that delivered both on quality and price.

My most surprising find? The brushed chrome frames above from Wilko, of all places, which cost ... wait for it ... £2 each! I was so skeptical about the quality, but they are really beautiful and work wonderfully well with our watercolor whale triptych.

The other place I love for frames is everybody's favorite, IKEA. Their Ribba frames start at around £7, I think. Last time I was there, I grabbed them in every size and color! They're great to have on hand, even if you don't have anything to fill the frames just yet.

They fit a variety of prints and come with mat board, which looks super polished and professional.

If you're looking for frames that are a little more bespoke in color or size, John Lewis is also a good bet, although they're slightly pricier than the ones I'm listing here.

A third favorite of mine is Habitat - during their sales (which seem to happen all the time, so it's worth waiting for!).

Their wooden frames (the ones pictured above are in their 'Leven' range of frames) have plenty of depth and look fantastic on our wall. They're not the easiest to hang (I'm confused about the hooks on the back, which are loose and don't seem to bear any weight), but the ones I bought cost £20 each in the sale, which I think is reasonable for the size and quality.

Finally, T.K. Maxx is always a good bet for frames, if you're willing to hunt and if you don't have something specific in mind. I've picked up a few for £5 or less.

Are you a fan of having art on your walls? Have you found some great deals on frames? I'd love to know (and am always looking for more!).

Also: where to find beautiful, affordable art prints.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Travel Talk: Why It's 100% Okay to "Look Like a Tourist"

Last Saturday, I took my camera out with me on a jaunt around Walthamstow. It was sunny, the sky was beautiful, and I thought I'd see some nice things to photograph. "Hey!" my neighbor yelled to me as I returned from my morning out. "You look like a tourist with your camera!" he shouted with a grin. "I am!" I shot back, laughing. "I'm a tourist of Walthamstow!" I smiled as I shut my front door.

But it made me think: since when did the word "tourist" get such a bad rap? When "tourist" meant stopping at the bottom of the escalator to look for signs; when "tourist" meant blocking large portions of the sidewalk to gawp at something ahead; when "tourist" meant brandishing a selfie-stick in the National Portrait Gallery - that's when.

Recently, I've noticed an emphasis on being a "traveller" rather than a "tourist". But who am I kidding? When I travel, I'm a tourist. I'm a guest in a country. More often than not, I don't know the language, except for a very mispronounced, "Hello!", "Please", "Thank you" and the ever-so-important "Toilet". In fact, the definition for a tourist (according to the online dictionary) is "a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure." There you go.

There's this obsession with "blending in with the locals" (how often have you heard that phrase, right?). And I get it. I try not to draw attention to myself when I'm being a tourist. I wear what I'd normally wear at home (unless the country's customs dictate otherwise, of course) and carry the same bag I'd carry at home. None of this "travel bag" or "travel shoes" business. But no matter how hard I try, I'll never fully "blend in". I intrinsically look different, sound different, act differently.

I'll never forget the time I was walking through Midtown Manhattan in New York, and a guy tried to sell me tickets to the Empire State Building. I was wearing the same clothes as everyone else on the street, yet he singled me out for some reason. "Do I look like a tourist?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, without any hesitation. I remember feeling a little mortified, then shrugging it off. So what?

If being a "traveller" means speaking softly rather than loudly, observing cultural traditions and customs, visiting local haunts as well as famous landmarks, well then, sure, I'm a traveller. But can't tourists do those things too?

Since when did it become so wrong to crane your neck up at the sight of the Eiffel Tower and stop to appreciate it for more than 2 minutes? Or take photos of XXL olives at the Mercado in Madrid? Or squeal at the sight of baby monkeys jumping from tree to tree in Sri Lanka (but not too loudly because, as I learned, that scares the sh*t out of them)? Listen: I can't remember a time that I've walked across Waterloo bridge without taking a photo of Southbank. And I've lived in London for nearly 10 years.

Heck, I wasn't joking when I told my neighbor that I was a tourist of Walthamstow - sure, I live there, but I don't know it all that well yet. I'm still in the process of discovery. And that's what I think tourism is. Discovery. Discovering.

Why is that such a bad thing?

I'm off to be a tourist in Bordeaux in a few months' time. I'll be snapping photos, speaking broken French (only to be saved by John's flawless French language skills, thank goodness!), and pointing at ... things. Lots of things.

Tourists, ftw.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Travel Link-Up: I Love ... Breakfast Abroad

Everything's more exciting when you're travelling abroad. The different sights, smells, sounds - my brain goes into overload trying to process it all. But there's one thing that gets me really excited about waking up in the morning in a new country: breakfast. It's not that difficult, considering I already get excited about breakfast in the U.S. and U.K.!

In honor of National Breakfast Week last week (yup, that's a thing, apparently), here are five of my favorite breakfasts abroad:

Brioche con Gelato, Sicily

Because ice cream for breakfast. Pistachio and dark chocolate ice cream melting into a soft, slightly warm brioche bun, to be exact. The lovely, cold stickiness dripped over my fingers and left me looking like a 3-year-old discovering a chocolate bar for the first time, but oh my goodness - it's was a revelation.

Bun Rieu (Crab Soup Noodles), Hanoi, Vietnam

We walked past the unnamed, unmarked stall twice. Three times, in fact. At 7 a.m., there was a lone woman sitting on a small, plastic pink stool, stirring a fragrant broth in a large pot. We approached timidly and she gestured towards a seat in the tiny room lined with a few other plastic stools. "What happens now?" I whispered to John. "I don't know," he whispered back. Two minutes later, office workers trickled in, briefcases in hand and ties tucked out of the way. Two minutes after that, police officers sauntered up, pulling out plastic stools and settling themselves in. Two minutes after that, the most wonderful bowl of deliciousness appeared before me. We copied what others did beside us, adding all the unidentifiable sauces and a handful of shredded lettuce on top. Two bowls cost us £1.20. Maybe less, I can't remember.

Egg Hoppers, Sri Lanka

A year before Hoppers opened in London serving this traditional Sri Lankan fare and instantly achieving sell-out status, John and I were introduced to hoppers for the first time in Thalpe, Sri Lanka. The description confused us (pancakes? But with an egg?), but we were eager to try this traditional dish, served with chilli and coconut sambal, milk curry, and fish curry (my mouth is watering just recalling this breakfast!). It was nothing like we had expected, but the heat from the chilli and the delightfully wafer-thin hopper tickled our tastebuds, as the waves lapped against the beach outside our suite. This, we decided, was heaven.

Pastries, France

These are worth waking up at early for. Fresh out of the oven and accompanied by a strong cafe au lait, pastries just taste better in France.

Kaya Toast and Kopi, Singapore

I grew up eating thick, buttered slices of kaya toast whenever I visited my grandma in Hong Kong, so revisiting this childhood favorite was a highlight of my trip to Singapore. In Singapore, it's served with kopi (coffee) and two soft-boiled eggs for dipping.

What's the best breakfast you've had when travelling abroad? I'd love to know!

This post was part of this month's Travel Link-Up series, hosted by Emma, Angie, Jessi and Kaelene - head over to their blogs to read more posts about travel-related loves!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Expat Talk: Sometimes, You Just Need a Little TLC

I hate it when John travels for work. Hate. It. You'd think I wouldn't mind, since 2.5 years of our relationship were spent over two different continents. But I do. I mind.

Last week, he was in Geneva and Zurich. This week, he's in the U.S. Next week, he's ... I can't actually remember (and I don't know how he does).

Don't get me wrong: European travel is fine. We FaceTime at bedtime, fall asleep while talking, and wake each other up with mutual duvet rustling. And sometimes, I even tag along.

The U.S. travel is a killer. When he's in New York or Boston, the 5-hour time difference doesn't bother me that much, but when he's on the West Coast (which is, ironically, where I'm from), the 8-hour time difference is noticeable. Very.

So what did I do? Called my mother-in-law. Asked her to stay with me for a while. And she did.

Not only did she stay over: she had piping hot, home-cooked meals ready for me as soon as I walked in the door from work, made me cups of tea in the morning, de-scaled my kettle (what is it with parents and de-scaling kettles? My parents do it every time they come over!), stayed up watching crappy TV shows with me, and cleaned everything while I was at work. I'd creep past the guest room in the morning, trying not to make a sound, only to hear her chirp, "Good morning!"

It was so nice to be looked after - especially when I still felt residual sadness over my parents leaving after Christmas. My mother-in-law's visit reminded me that, even as an adult, sometimes you just need a little TLC. And that it's okay to ask for it when you need it.

It also reminded that I hit the jackpot when it comes to mother-in-laws! So thankful.

Do you visit your parents or in-laws when you're in need of some TLC?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Cult of Pizzeria Pappagone, Finsbury Park

For all the years my brother-in-law Tom and his partner, Cristy, have lived in Finsbury Park, the name "Pappagone" has been bandied around in nearly every conversation we've had about their weekend/weeknight plans. And now that they're parents to our adorable 2-year-old niece, Dorothy, the force of this North London pizzeria has never been stronger. Photos of her laughing as spaghetti dangles from her outstretched hands and tomato sauce sweetly decorating her cheeks frequently appear on the Tumblr devoted to her adorable antics.

So, I knew that Pappagone was a well-loved restaurant. What I didn't realize, however, was that it is - in fact - an institution of Italian family-style dining. After celebrating Dorothy's 2nd birthday there this weekend, it only took two photos uploaded to Instagram and Twitter and bam! The comments came flooding in from followers: "I was just there with my entire family yesterday! You missed us by a day!" and, "Pappagone is the BEST Italian restaurant in London, in my opinion!" and also, "I've been wanting to go for ages! How was it?"

I can see why it's so popular - it's loved by Arsenal football fans en route to match day and families out for Sunday lunch alike. Once filled, the cavernous space becomes jubilant and convivial, and the XXL pizza oven provides much entertainment for little ones (my niece included!).

Also: the portions are generous. I underestimated the serving size of the bruschetta (despite my Tom's forewarning) and placed an extra order for foccacia as well, which was a fantastic accompaniment to the two bottles of Montepulciano on table.

Before long, my linguine alle vongole arrived, the pasta perfectly al dente and the sweetness of the clams wonderfully juxtaposed against the white wine, garlic, and chilli. Bellisimo.

Okay, so before I get too carried away with my Eat/Pray/Love style Italian (awful, awful movie, btw, but so good when you're sick and sniffling on the couch!), the lowdown on Pappagone is: friendly service ("They greet you like an old friend!" my brother-in-law likes to say), delicious Italian food, at very reasonable prices.

Get over there - now.

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