Summer City Break: Lisbon

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0044Tiles, trams and tarts in Lisbon!

It’s hard not to get obsessed with all three while in this gorgeous city, certainly looking back and editing photos now all three featured heavily in front of our camera lens.

Lisbon was city number two on our summer holiday break after Mad Cool Festival and Madrid. Ben and I landed mid afternoon and made our way to the lofty Barrio Alto apartment that was to be ours for the next three nights. We found the apartment on Airbnb and booked it based on the glowing reviews received, here is the link if you’re planning a Lisbon break yourself – it will not disappoint!

Being right on dinner time when we settled ourselves in the apartment our host recommended, Noobai, a casual bar on the hilltop around the corner for dinner and drinks. A perfect place to soak in the view and start planning our Lisbon adventure.

Our friendly waiter was all too keen to help us plan too, advising that Belem, Sintra and Cascais can’t be missed. We made it to two out of three – we’ll have to go back to explore Cascais.

But first of course, a walking tour. We joined a Sandemans morning tour of Lisbon to find out a bit of the history of the city and wander the cobbled streets as the were just waking up for the day.

After the walking tour we went on to book a paid tour with Sandemans to Belem, a town just outside of Lisbon about 30 minutes on the train.

After a cooler morning, the sun soon came out baking hot and we were wondering why we hadn’t booked a beach holiday instead.

Dipping my toes in on the shores of the River Tagus in Belem was the closest I got to a swim in Lisbon.

20170711_Lisbon_Day5_0163Belem is home to the  Monument to the Discoveries above commemorating the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. A time of great exploration and the begining of globalisation.

Oh and it is the home of the Pastie de nata! Wow that is a pastry. We had our first (three) from the famous Pasteis de Belem and continued to have them for breakfast for the next two days.

Our apartment was overlooking a tram route and so we woke up to drink tea on the balcony and watch the trams pass up and down below us.

A tram couldn’t go by without us lining up a picture of it, along with all the other tourists. I’m sure we must give the locals a good laugh, I know I roll my eyes at the tourists snapping pictures of the buses on Oxford street now.

Our last day in Lisbon was spent visiting the palaces and castles of Sintra. We managed to visit Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I would have loved to see more but we left a little late after having to sort out train tickets to Porto in person. 20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0199I knew we couldn’t miss Pena Palace though, as the colours were so striking in photos I really wanted to see it in person. This is where my fascination with tiles really started, too. There are so many different textures and colours in this place.

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0148You can tell I had the camera most of the day as I have dragged Ben in to pose for me.

Late afternoon we trudged up to the Moorish Castle. My feet were hurting by then but the discomfort was worth it for the views.

Getting back from Sintra quite late we opted for an easy dinner at a restaurant just below our apartment called Santa Bica. Being about 10.30 we were starving, but the meal was worth the wait. I had a beautiful steak, but Ben was the winner of the night ordering their signature BBQ octopus. The softest most delicious piece of meat you can imagine. I say meat as it was so chunky its hard to think of it as fish.

Oh, the dessert here was very good, too. I think this was their signature dessert a condensed milk and biscuit-y sundae. Devine!

Little did we know we were in for even more food heaven, our next stop is Porto.

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Summer City Break: Madrid

20170708_Madrid_Day2_0022After three great days at Mad Cool Festival we had a few days to explore Madrid before heading on to Portugal for our next city stops.

We headed straight for the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral which faces the palace across the plaza. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_006120170709_Madrid_Day3_0072The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest royal palace in Europe with 2,800 rooms. We explored about 23 of them on the ticketed tour and that was a long trek!

It certainly felt huge. We spent most of the morning looking through the throne room, crown room and the Royal Armoury which is all worth seeing.

We then walked up to the Egyptian Temple of Debod. The temple was originally from Aswan in Egypt and had to be moved for the Aswan High Dam to be built as it would have flooded. It was gifted to Spain supposedly to thank Spanish archeologists who had helped to save monuments in Egypt. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_0185The temple sits in a big park so we stopped for a while to have a picnic and read our books in the sun. It was weird to see an Egyptian Temple in such a different setting, but nice to know it was gifted to Spain. There is an Egyptian obelisk in Paris that, according to our bike tour guide, the Egyptian government keeps asking to be returned.

We then met back up with Harry and Jodie at the rooftop bar of the San Anton market. We had a cocktail as the sun set but it was a bit too trendy for us so we decided to move on.

We ended up going on to Muniz, a tapas bar Harry and Jodie had found earlier. We spent the evening drinking beer and eating so many tapas while celebrating the birthday of the bartender. 20170709_21472120170709_214619Muniz was a little family run bar on Calle Calatrava in the tapas district. If you do find yourself around there, pop in for a local tapas experience.

After finishing up at Muniz we decided to try one of the ‘best’ tapas bars as recommended by The Guardian, El Tempranillo. We managed to squeeze in and order some Spanish wine which was served with delicious Iberian ham. This was a much fancier place than Muniz and had much more of an atmosphere. This bar is on Calle Cava Baja which seemed like a whole street of tapas places.

On our last day in Madrid we got up early and headed for Buen Retiro Park which was calling out to me as a huge green space on the city map. But before taking off on the Metro we stopped for a quintessential Madrid snap, in front of the Bear and the Strawberry tree in Sol plaza. 20170710_Madrid_Day4_0012We had a gorgeous morning for the park and wandered as long as our legs would take us, feeling righteous for getting up so early on holiday.

20170710_121249^^ practicing our selfies.

We were a bit obsessed with this ornate tiled seat, too. #poser

For our last meal in Madrid we met up with Harry and Jodie to have a giant omelette at La Buha. Ben had been recommended this place by a colleague before leaving and I got a bit obsessed with trying it.

There were about 10 options to try off the menu and we chose a caramelised onion and cheese omelette. It tasted amazing but being filled with potato and served with a side of bread, even four of us didn’t get through it.

With full bellies we said goodbye to our flatmates and headed out to the airport to fly to our next stop, Lisbon, Portugal. I’m glad we spent some time in Madrid, it’s not as flashy as Barcelona but definitely worth a weekend break, if only for the delicious tapas.

Madrid & MadCool Festival

20170708_222623It’s so nice looking over photos of  our summer holiday while rugged up in woolies and slippers. It’s making me so excited about what this year will bring for sure, I’m in full holiday planning mode. Bring on spring and summer!

But for now here is my recap of Madrid. We travelled here for the Mad Cool Festival in July 2017 with our flatmates Harry and Jodie. Madrid is not somewhere I ever planned on going, but I’m glad we did as it’s a great city and a great festival. Here is what we got up to..

Day 1

19756487_10154446159606222_4748958270739578986_nWe arrived to a storm in Madrid. As our taxi from the airport passed through the city, with windscreen wipers going hell for leather, we all looked at each other like ‘how it this going to go down?’ we had only planned for the sunny Spanish summer.

Although we ended up having huge rainstorms for all three days of the festival, the rain would always ease off around 6pm which is around the time the festival starts. Perfect! There was no Glastonbury style mud pits either as the festival is at a tennis complex all the ‘fields’ were actually fake grass over tarmac. No gumboots required!

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We started with so chilled out sounds from The Foals and the discovery that drinks at this festival were sold by the litre. Gulp! What is great though is that rather than using fresh cups for every drink they give you a lanyard to hold onto your cup and refill it at a discounted price. Such a good way for a festival to be.

We had a wander around, then Ben and I settled in for the night at the Foo Fighters who were headlining the main stage. Such a good show and great way to kick off the festival.

We regrouped after the Foos for a dance along to Kurt Vile and the Violators. Then hung around to see Catfish and the Bottlemen who were brilliant! I spent the rest of the summer listening to their albums. 20170707_021735

Deciding not to stay on for the closers Boys Noize we ventured out into the night. Although ended up wandering around for about an hour trying to figure out how to get a taxi then seeing the queue deciding to try our luck flagging one down just outside the festival area as taxis were on the way in. Dirty but it had to be done – we ended up doing it for all three nights of the festival.

This would be my only gripe about Mad Cool. They had buses you could book for the end of the event (at about 5am) but if you wanted to leave at a more reasonable hour (like 3am) taxi seemed to be the only option. A few more buses shuttling people to the city centre would have been helpful.

Day 2

After rain in the afternoon the sun came out hot!

Today we tried out all the little activities the advertisers put on including bull riding..

Trampolining!20170707_194056Today the headliners were Green Day and for me, they were the unexpected highlight of the festival. They put on such a good show and I forgot how many absolute tunes they have written throughout the years. Definitely see a Green day gig if you get the chance, even if you wouldn’t call yourself a fan.

Day 3

Today we discovered the Aperol tent and got free pairs of sweet orange sunglasses. I briefly switched to drinking an Aperol spritz then remembered that although I love the colour of the drink, I really don’t like the taste. I went back to Tinto de verano, my wine and lemonade combo I had been drinking all festival.

The Aperol tongue!

We chilled out in front of Wilco during the afternoon.

The headliners for the closing night were Kings of Leon. The put on a belter of a show but there is something I always find lacking in their live performances. They’re not super interactive and after Green Day the previous night they really didn’t measure up.

20170709_000546We closed out the night by seeing MIA. A big change from the mainly indie rock bands we had seen all weekend. She was fabulous! Owning the stage in a brilliant red suit!20170709_005936All in all great fun for our first European festival, and our first proper festival since Glastonbury.

We still had a few days in Madrid to explore before Ben and I moved on to Portugal. That’s coming next.

2017 Resolutions: How did I do?

20171210_Snowy_London_00152017 was a big year for me with lots of changes and lots of celebration!

It went by in a blur and it’s nice to spend some quieter time now to let it all soak in. The wintery weather makes it easier to stay inside and tend to some of that life admin too.

Unless it’s a snow day!

20171210_Snowy_London_0073We woke up to one of the best snow days I’ve experienced in London in my nearly 6 years here (wow!). We woke up on a Sunday morning mid-December to a blanket of snow just settling on the ground and it continued all morning. 20171210_Snowy_London_0090Ben and I couldn’t wait to rug up and get out there, Ben eager to capture the snowflakes with the camera, me just happy to pose and catch flakes on my tongue.

I feel like it was October this year before I really woke up to the fact that 2017 was nearly over. It has been a busy year. I did manage to complete some of my 2017 resolutions though. Here is how I did:

  • Read!

I set a goal to read 25 books this year to get me back into a reading routine after dropping the ball in 2016 when my commute changed. This turned out to be an exactly perfect pace for me and I read just over 25 books throughout the year in the end.

I really enjoyed using GoodReads too. It made me read more widely by picking up recommendations along the way and gave me a place to store all those want to read lists that would end up all over my life scrawled on paper, in books and in my phone. Love it.

I have increased my 2018 goal to 30 only because I want to watch TV and I know a goal like this will easily take me away from the box sets and into a book. Also with 72 books currently on my Want to Read shelf I’m not going to be short of inspiration.

Done it! You can read my write up here. Such a good challenge! My motivation to get out an exercise has been limited since this and I need to think about what my next exersize challenge will be to get me going for 2018.

  • Use what we have + only buy essentials
  • Save to buy a house

Kind of.. but there is always room to do more. I think we will be making actual monetary savings goals this year to help us step up the savings. We have a lot to pay for coming up including visas and hopefully citizenship for myself in the UK and maybe a wedding.

  • Learn to code in Visual Basic

I didn’t do this in the end. I started talking to my boss about getting on a course when I got back from my holiday in January, however I ended up being pulled into a Transformation project that eventually lead to a new job in 2017! Woohoo! I’m still interested in learning code, however will see where this new job will lead me in 2018 before taking it on.

  • Refresh my blog

This blog definitely took a back seat this year and I have struggled to feel purposeful about it. But I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t care and mainly just want it as a record for myself. So I will keep popping in with little life updates and travel photos and see how I go in 2018.

So, two and a half out of five for 2017 goals. How did you do?

I love this time of year for a bit of re-evaluation and goal setting so will check back in with some goals for 2018 soon. Lots to get stuck into this year I’m sure.

Happy New Year!20171210_Snowy_London_0116

Thanks to Ben for the snow photos.  You can follow him on Instagram @benjamin_e_parry or me @andieinspired

 

Getting Engaged

One more update on life events this summer, after my birthday and celebrating our 10 year anniversary, is that on Thursday, 30th August 2017, Ben and I got engaged!

So let me tell you the story, as it was lovely and romantic and so perfect for us. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day6_0128_v2We were in Cornwall, on a camping trip with Ben’s older brother Jake and his girlfriend Giorgia. We travel with them often and were having a great holiday exploring during the day, eating good food and finishing the night drinking around our campfire under the stars.

On this particular day we found ourselves at St Michael’s Mount. The island is accessed by a causeway across the beach that can only be used at low tide. Arriving at high tide, we caught a boat out in to the island and  spent the afternoon exploring the island. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day6_0074Coming back we took our shoes off and walked barefoot through the receding water along the cobbled causeway.  I had already decided this was a pretty cool place and the others seemed to think so, too. We all agreed to fish’n’chips on the beach for dinner.

We sat in our picnic chairs overlooking the island as the sunset in pink and orange over the town of Penzance in the distance. Once the causeway was fully exposed the boys went down to take photos in the last of the light, calling Giorgia and I down to get some couple shots.

They posed for a few pics, then Ben and I got in front of the camera although Ben was constantly running back to the tri-pod to reset the camera. After a couple of shots he suggested we do one posing with our backs to the camera, so I turned and stood with my back to the camera as he did the camera reset. As he ran back to me I went to take his hand and then realised he was down on one knee.

Jake took a film and on it all you can hear is me emitting a very guttural and shocked “Ooooohhhhhhhh” at this moment. Ben said lots of nice things and then asked me if I would marry him. EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I was crying by this point and he was a bit choked up himself. The ring box was opened upside down but eventually as the last of the light disappeared I was wearing a beautiful engagement ring and hugging the guy I love. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day7_0059Eventually we re-joined Jake and Giorgia for more hugs and (well planned) bubbles on the beach. It couldn’t have been a more perfect night under the stars.

So now we are engaged and talking about weddings. I’m excited about the next chapter in our lives and making more plans with my favourite guy.

Ben – thanks for making me feel so special on this night and always.

Photo credits: Ben took the one of St Michael’s Mount and me and my ring, Jake took the one of us together on the causeway.

 

27. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

Number 27 from my 27 list and our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. I’m so excited to tell you this story as it was so special for so many reasons. Ben and I are both total foodies and love trying out nice restaurants. Usually for our birthdays and anniversaries we book a fancy meal somewhere, it’s just not usually this fancy.

Ben and I both turned 30 this year, Ben in June and me two months later in August. A group of friends pitched in together to get us both a voucher for Umu restaurant as a gift. I had been talking about going to a fancy Japanese restaurant for years, so they were right on point with this present.

Umu restaurant in Mayfair has two Michelin stars and is led by chef Yoshinori Ishii. It’s a pretty big deal, and way far and above anything Ben and I would usually be able to afford, so we knew we had to use the voucher to mark a special occasion. It just so happens that our 10 year anniversary also coincides with our birthdays so as soon as I got the voucher I emailed Umu to see if we could possibly get a table for that evening. I wasn’t holding my breath as places like this in London can sometimes be booked out 6 months in advance, but happily on this occasion we got in with just 3 weeks notice for Friday the 18th, the exact date of our big anniversary.  Wow!

Firstly, we had to look the part. With blazers and bling at the ready we walked through the streets of Mayfair..

Ben’s jacket is his 30th birthday present from me and my earings are Ben’s 10 year anniversary present to me. 20170818_192931We were greeted and seated with a sweet sparking sake aperitif. We had the choice of two brands and one happened to be Dewazakura, made in Tendo, Yamagata, the town where we lived in Northern Honshu, Japan. Yamagata is a rural area known for producing rice, fruit and other produce. I used to walk through rice fields daily to get to my schools and when Ben was living over there with me, he actually got a job driving from farm to farm picking up cherries that were packed daily and taking them to the export depot.

The region is known for producing one of the highest grade rice in Japan, Tsuyahime literally meaning ‘lustrous princess’ and high-grade rice means high-grade sake. We were both so excited to be able to make such an instant connection to the restaurant and it started us reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had living in Tendo. Sparkling sake is delicious too, it’s made like champagne and tasted crisp and sweet. I’m on the look out to buy some more.

As we perused the menu I tuned in to the Japanese business men sitting beside us. They were speaking ridiculously formally to each other and my waning Japanese skills were not up to the task of eavesdropping on that convo.  There were a few other Japanese families, too and also a few westerners. It was humming but not busy. As you can see from the pictures, the lights were low.20170818_195730Umu is famous for kaiseke, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal usually with a number of different cooking techniques used. It turns out we were eating on the last day of the summer menu here. I’m glad we did because it was beautiful and fresh.

We also opted to go all in and do an alcohol pairing, I did wine and Ben chose a sake pairing.

So let me talk you through the menu..

We started with fresh salmon sashimi, cucumber and the most generous mound of truffle I have ever experienced. Then followed by lotus root soup. Hiding under that lotus are great chunks of lobster. Yum! Oh and we had a different drink to go with each, both fresh and light like the food.

We then got beautiful trays of paper-thin white fish sashimi and the fish of the day selection. The fish of the day selection featured lobster again, this time raw as sashimi, I’ve never had it like that before but I definitely wish I could have had more than one piece as it was that good. Ben and I lingered over the tuna chunks, too. One lean and one fatty piece, both the most tender we had ever experienced. I think this was my favourite course of the whole meal.

Next was the vegetable course. This was presented like a garden with miso sesame soil to be sprinkled on and a watering can dressing. Ben got a little too excited over the tiny radishes, bear in mind we are four drinks in by this point.  I think this was about the time when Ben came back from the bathroom (which were very swanky) saying “How does the concierge know to open the door for me?” Ah… she hears you stomping up the stairs…. 20170818_215857Next drink for Ben is warm sake served in crockery handmade by the chef himself.  Ben definitely got the more interesting vessels from the pairing.

The next course is the meat, Ben’s favourite. This course gets paired with a red wine so I’m struggling as I’m not a fan of red. I definitely wished I knew more about wine while having this meal as the waiting staff were diligently explaining each specially selected wine to me before each pairing and I was just smiling and nodding at all the words and references I didn’t understand.

This is the rice course, definitely needed to soak up the alcohol. You can see we’re quite squiffy by now. That’s Ben’s “act sober” gaze.

Dessert! I was so excited about my cherry shaved ice that I have only managed to snap a picture of the empty bowl. Oh and the amuse bouche! I was on a desert wine for this one and Ben is back on the sweet, sparkling sake. We have forgotten the flavours of the sweets now but I remember the chocolate being my favourite.

Last thing to do was to finish off all the drinks I had backed up and settle the bill. We were one of the last parties to leave at around 11.30pm. We spilled out into the night and sensibly made our way to the bus stop, the 390 bus was the only option home after that splurge.

A once in a lifetime experience to mark our 10 years together. Worth it in every way. Thank you to our lovely friends for making it happen and thank you to Ben for 10 awesome years together. Here’s to many more!

I turned 30!

20170916_142111Eeeek, I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted! How did that happen? This year is absolutely flying by with so much going on and so much change, but all good stuff. Now that the days are getting cooler and things are calming down a bit, I’m hoping to catch up and get some of the very exciting stories of my summer up onto the blog. Starting with the big birthday milestone!

I tuned 30 in August and nearly a month in, I feel like I have definitely done a lot of celebrating. I feel seriously fortunate to have so many awesome people in my life, thank you to all those who made my big birthday so special!

If you can’t spend weeks celebrating your 30th when can you? Here is what I got up to…21414668_10155674625242118_687928567844152297_oMy actual birthday was a Tuesday and pretty much business as usual; I made porridge for breakfast, worked, went to the usual meetings and played netball in the evening. I squeezed some special moments in too though. I opened pressies in the morning and Skyped my family, then got spoiled with gifts from my colleagues and had a nice lunch at work. I met Ben and friends for a quick bite of pizza after work before heading off to my netball game, although a little too full. We didn’t win the game but I have to let it slide, my pizza belly didn’t help.

Ben and I usually use our birthdays to take each other out for a fancy dinner, but this year with a few fancy dinners on the horizon for us we decided to go low-key and have an Italian meal around the corner from us on the Wednesday. After hectic days at work for both of us we relaxed over a bottle of wine and discussed how we would slowly reduce our meat consumption in the coming months (I’ll write more about this soon).

On Thursday I did my birthday shout at work with another colleague who was celebrating a couple of days after me. I was obsessed with having an American Birthday Cake from Costco after discovering it a few months earlier. So we got this sugary beast to share. I enjoyed it a lot! I would love to be able to make a cake like that.

Thursday night was spent with friends at a Thai restaurant Champor-Champor. Ben surprised me with a beautiful salted caramel & chocolate cake too. Two cakes in one day? I was in heaven.. and a sugar coma.

We then headed off to Cornwall for a week and I was again surprised with a little camp celebration. We popped champagne (thanks to my workmates) out of the chilly bin and had a lamington ice cream cake by the camp fire. This was also a pretty special holiday as Ben and I got engaged! More on that to come in another post. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day1_0131We also dined out on my birthday celebrations at Rick Stein’s Seafood Resturant with some complimentary after dinner treats. I wouldn’t let anyone dip their fingers in the chocolate sauce as how good is that lettering?

I booked this meal three months in advance as we’re all big fans of Rick Stein and I would highly recommend it. The seafood is, of course, on point – I had a monkfish ceviche to start and an Indonesian seafood curry which was so good I didn’t want it to end. The staff were really friendly too and well versed, everyone we spoke to wished me Happy Birthday.  All in all a really nice meal.

Just before the celebrations were over we slipped in a visit to the theatre as Ben got me tickets for my birthday. We saw Aladdin, the new West End musical, which was fantastic. The genie is amazing and it is so true to the Disney animation. I was singing “I can show you the world…” all the way home…20170908_220639

Finally, 3 weeks after my actual birthday we went out and celebrated with friends. I booked a rooftop bar called Skylight which looked relaxed and fun and had gorgeous views. Last September it had been super warm and summery and I had been banking on weather like that this year too, but you always fail when you try to predict the weather right? We were pretty cold up on the roof but Pimms kept us warm as did the many blankets we scrounged from around the bar. It was such a fun venue; they taught us how to play croquet too.

So, how does it feel to be 30? My only answer to this is “Great!”. Really, I’m excited about what my thirties has in store for me. I keep telling people that I think I suit getting older. I have always been an old soul, my age is just starting to catch up with me.  20170916_141943

The purple card at the start of this post was made by my talented friend Keryn, and this blue one comes from Ange & Paul – thanks guys.