Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: Vincci Seleccion La Plantacion del Sur, Costa Adeje, Tenerife

Not gonna lie: we had a really hard time finding the right hotel for our stay in Tenerife. Most places were booked out already by the time we'd decided to go and those that were left ... weren't really our style. Despite combing review sites and blogs for recommendations, I could only seem to find mega-resort complexes with old-fashioned curtains, chintzy duvets, and tired, peeling wallpaper. No thanks.

We finally settled on Vincci Seleccion's La Plantacion del Sur (part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection), located in Costa Adeje on the southern coast of Tenerife. Perched high above the shoreline, it offered beautiful views of the ocean and I crushed so hard on its stunning selection of pools, as well as the spa. We were, after all, looking for total relaxation and I knew we wanted a place we could stick around in all day, if we felt like it.

When we arrived to the hotel at 10 p.m., slightly dishevelled and weary from the flight, we were greeted with enthusiasm (and a glass of prosecco!) by hotel staff. Our gorgeous room was approximately the size of the entire flat we'd previously rented in Islington - I couldn't quite believe it.

And when I woke up the first morning, I eagerly pushed back the curtains to take in the sunrise from one of our two balconies, which quickly developed into this view:

It was glorious. The palm trees alone made me swoon, but the blue sky, plus the view of the ocean (and those adorable cacti!) were almost too much for me to take in.

During the day, we'd eagerly gulp down our breakfasts before grabbing our books and magazines from the room to lounge on a Bali bed by the pool for hours on end, often dozing off mid-page. I loved that the hotel had a strict no-reservations-allowed policy for the beds and sun loungers - I wish more hotels would enforce this rule! What's more annoying than the people who race to the "best spots" and throw their towel or book on a chair before disappearing for 3 hours? You know who you are.

Despite this rule, we never had any issues finding the perfect place to read and sunbathe - with six pools available for guests to enjoy (three of which I never even dipped a toe into), La Plantacion del Sur is not short of prime sun-worshipping space.

When the sky finally clouded over for a few hours on our last day, we retreated to the spa, where I shrieked and uttered a few swear words after lowering myself into this icy plunge pool ...

... before warming up in the adjacent sauna and steam room. There's something so wonderful and meditative about sitting quietly in a sauna; I always feel so cleansed and refreshed when I emerge!

The spa's outdoor heated hydrotherapy pool was also a treat. It was relatively quiet during our stay, so we had most of the space to ourselves. I swam up to the edge of the pool and, for a second, felt like I was on a set from Game of Thrones!

I was just so impressed with how well-kept the hotel was, despite its size. The only sign of neglect was the water-cooler in the gym, which seemed to be out of order after our workout (and a bit of a contributing factor to John's subsequent heatstroke and dehydration, poor thing!). Staff were always on-hand to help and were so, so friendly - a lovely contrast to a recent disappointing stay we had at another SLH hotel.

If you're thinking of heading to Tenerife soon, I'd highly recommend staying at La Plantacion del Sur - it's beautiful, peaceful, and serves as the perfect escape from whatever worries/stress you're holding onto.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Winter Sun, Zero Jet Lag: Tenerife

I don't know what it's like in your part of the world right now, but in London, there's a point in February where I just can't take any more grey skies. Any more black opaque tights, pulled on for the billionth time in the dark. Any more cold.

So, we escaped to wherever John's British Airways points could take us, which happened to be Costa Adeje in Tenerife, where palm trees are a-plenty (my obsession) and the sun was guaranteed to smile down on us for more than just a skimpy hour or two per day.

We didn't want to sightsee; we weren't looking for "foodie" hotspots. We were just there to relax. And when I say, "relax", I mean - relax. 

There is something magical about not budging from your horizontal position on a Bali bed by one of six pools at the hotel, retreating from this position only to crawl into the bed of your hotel room that's approximately the size of your previously rented flat in London and leaving all the balcony doors open as you nap.

It's about recovery.

A fellow blogger asked if I had tickets to the top of the volcano. (Nope.)

Another asked for recommendations on my return. (None.)

Oh - but I did find second dream home, on my dream street:

And I had one of the best pina coladas of my life:

I returned to the UK with a feeling that can only be described as being roused from the deepest of savanas in a yoga class ... sleepy and mellow, but also re-energized and refreshed. I was so relaxed, I forgot every single thing I'd previously stressed out about: filling out my landing card before reaching Heathrow (oops), people bumping into me during rush hour on the tube ... I even partially forgot how to find my way to the tube in the morning on my usual commute.

Before we went to Tenerife, I'd forgotten what it was like to not have a routine. I'd missed feeling the heat of the sun on my skin; squinting into the sky while crossing my arms across my forehead for shade. I loved hearing nothing but the occasional, quiet chatter of sunbathers near us and the trickle of water flowing from the fountain into the pool nearby. I loved leaving our perch to take a sunset stroll along the beach with John, when the shoreline had emptied; sandcastles abandoned and the light casting a warm, pink glow on everything it touched.

Best of all, there was no jet lag to contend with. Our late mornings and afternoon naps were dictated by our desire to indulge, rather than by a necessity due to sleep deprivation.

It was bliss.

Have you ever been on a holiday or a vacation where you did absolutely nothing, simply because you needed it?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Holiday! (Celebrate!)

Can I ask you a question?

You know that song, 'Holiday' by Madonna? Is she talking about a holiday, like, a vacation, or a holiday, like, Christmas? This made me and John pause for thought in the middle of our packing-dance-party last night (it's our - well, my - tradition to put that song on at the loudest volume possible, the night before we leave for any break) after he asked, in all sincerety, "But does she actually mean holiday? Because you Americans don't call it that, do you? You say, VAH-CAY-SHUN!"

It had us both stumped. "If we took a [President's Day] holiday / Took some time to celebrate," just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? But then she sings, "One day to come together" and, you know, "one day" implies something more akin to Christmas than a week-long trip to Barbados.

I'm so confused. I also might need to change my pre-holiday theme tune.

In any case, we're going on a holiday. Like, a vacation. Just a long weekend to get some winter sun (it was a semi-spontaneous kind of thing).

Head over to Instagram to say "hi", follow along, and find out where we're heading to: I'm at @angloyankophile.

Peace out! (And let me know your thoughts on the Madonna song below - thanks.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Can We All Just Be a Little Nicer To Each Other?

I hate 'Commuter Me'. 'Real Me' is polite. Friendly. Considerate.

Commuter Me is not.

Commuter Me does not let others get on the train first. Commuter Me walks quickly, sighing at people who are in her way. Commuter Me gets all huffy when a newspaper invades her personal space. Commuter Me has zero compassion for others.

But Commuter Me was on the Victoria Line the other day, travelling into Central London when she witnessed a fellow commuter get right up in the face of another commuter and shout at him, before proceeding to barge his way through the rest of the carriage, purposely knocking into people (who said nothing) and angrily shouting at others on the platform.

It was unpleasant, it was aggressive, and it was very, very unkind.

I tried to catch the eye of the shaken Other Commuter, who just looked down at his shoes while everyone stared straight ahead. No one offered him a sympathetic smile; no one even showed their disapproval at the Raging Commuter.

I was once in the same position as the Other Commuter: I was on a bus from Islington to Bloomsbury, when a man barrelled his way through the crowded bus before shouting that I wasn't moving (there was literally nowhere to move to). So he physically knocked right through me, while I shouted, "F*cking asshole!" after him (not my finest moment, I'll admit). Of course, instead of throwing a sympathetic look or two my way, my fellow commuters looked at me like I'd grown two heads. But I'll never forget what happened next: a woman standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder and asked in a concerned voice, "Hey. Are you okay? That was weird. So f*cking weird." And her empathy made all the difference.

I looked at Other Commuter and all the feelings I felt that day on the bus came rushing back to me: anger, humiliation, and shame. So, when my stop arrived, I waited to see if he would get off too. When he didn't, I made a snap decision to get back on the tube and walked over to him quickly. I touched his arm.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"I'm fine, thanks," he said, a bit surprised.

"That was horrible," I said. "You didn't deserve that. I just wanted to let you know," I added, before walking away.

"Thanks a lot - I appreciate it," he replied, smiling.

I felt bad that I didn't/couldn't intervene at the time - and I know that this is such a contentious subject. It's difficult to put yourself in danger in order to defend a stranger (and judging from Raging Commuter's physical and verbal aggression, the situation might have had the potential to become violent). But I knew that I could do some damage control.

I thought about Commuter Me's own behavior every morning and vowed to change it - which is easier said than done. It's hard not to push back when people are pushing into you. It's hard not to instinctively jump on the train when everyone's rushing to cram onto the same carriage.

But I noticed that the more people I let in front of me, the less I rushed, the more compassion I tried to extend ... the same was afforded to me. Not just on the tube: this morning, when trying to sort out an appointment mix-up at the doctor's office, a fellow patient - jiggling a baby on her hip - approached me and said, "I couldn't help overhearing - but if you wanted to swap appointments with me so that you get seen sooner, I don't mind! Just let me know." I couldn't believe it. Who's that nice?

Well, us. We all have the potential to be just a little nicer to each other. Certain situations can bring out the worst in us (hello, Central Line at rush hour!). But the kindness is there. And that's what I need to remember; it's what I need to unlock.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lately: 4 Great (Casual!) Places to Eat in London

Hello! Happy Friday. I can't believe another week has flown by! After an unusually mild January, it's now cold. As I write this, I'm wrapped up in a cashmere sweater from COS that I stole from John's closet (shh!) and I'm wishing it had thumbholes. Not sure he'd be thrilled if I fashioned those myself.

Anyway, this past week has been full of some delicious foodie adventures, beginning with brunch at Wood Street Coffee last Saturday, which - despite the name - is actually a stone's throw from Blackhorse Road station. I didn't realize that John had a hangover from the night before (he was home by 8! He seemed merry! But not overly so! He even cooked dinner!) and I dragged him out of bed for lunch at Wood Street Coffee as soon as they opened (9:30 a.m.). Enthusiastic, much?

The brioche French toast and smashed avocado on sourdough made our early start absolutely worth it though, and I love the space! There's a fermentarium, where you can sign up to make your own kimchee! There's a woodworking workshop next door! There's a market outside! And it all seems to just ... work.

At some point last week, it was World Nutella Day (apparently), so Udita and I met at My Old Dutch for pancakes and - oh boy - did we get pancakes!

I went a little bit crazy with my banana, Nutella, ice cream, AND chocolate sauce (which I proceeded not to touch for the entire meal) topping, while she went half and half with a savoury kid's pancake of cheese and mushroom (which basically tasted like pizza, without the tomato sauce) and Nutella and banana. These XXL crepes/pancakes were pretty darn good, I've got to admit.

I've been taking advantage of Udita's current close proximity to my office (she's finishing up her PhD thesis at UCL) by meeting her for lunch. We had a delicious salad and sandwich at Holborn Grind the other day.

I could seriously have that bulgar wheat and pasta salad for lunch every other day. It was so tasty, and I love beetroot! We sat on barstools and alternated between people-watching and talking about random things we'd been saving up to tell each other.

Finally, I tried the new(ish) udon bar, Ichiryu, that just opened on New Oxford Street. From the same company responsible for the successful Shoryu ramen bars in London, Ichiryu specializes in udon (which is made daily on premises!) - a type of thick, Japanese noodle served with a variety of toppings and in a delicious, clear broth. I personally prefer it to ramen, and it's been one of my favorites since I was a child.

I don't usually go for tempura, but I tried the prawn tempura anyway and it was so good: crispy, light, and not at all oily. I was also tempted by the sukiyaki beef, but I'll try that next time. The broth was the perfect cure to the cold weather outside. Plus, it was so tasty, I scooped up every last spoonful!

Have you tried any of the places in this post? Or have you found somewhere new that you've loved this week? Let me know!

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!
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