A London Life… at Kew Gardens

kew gardensKew Gardens | Richmond, Surrey | Nearest Tube: Kew Gardens | Website

Apparently us English are pretty good at keeping a nice garden. Who’d have thought? As gorgeous as my grandmother’s back garden is, there’s no place more iconic in the UK than Kew Gardens. Tourists come from all over the globe to catch  a whiff of the roses, or a glimpse of the immense landscape. Heck, even bloggers come from all over London just to do photoshoots in the Palm House. In all honesty it’s easy to see why people love Kew, and it’s fair to say that I am right there with them. The gardens are beyond beautiful, and the grounds themselves are so vast you can spend a whole day there; with several picnics, of course.

So I decided to put together a little photo diary/travel guide, for those who are as fascinated by Kew as I am.

What’s so special about Kew Gardens?

  • First off, it doesn’t feel like London – It technically is still in London, but it’s south enough – hello, Richmond – that you lose the maddening crowds and chaos of Central.
  • The world’s most famous botanic garden – Kew is known far and wide for it’s gardens. It may seem like a tourist spot, but it doesn’t feel right to live in London – heck even the UK – without visiting at least once.
  • Historic architecture – Kew is full of magnificent buildings, including the iconic pagoda, and original Victorian glasshouses (that’s conservatories to me and you).
  • Iconic plants – Of course English roses are beautiful, but Kew has a vast array of plants, some of which you won’t find elsewhere. That includes the rare Amorphophallus titanium. Yup, the one that smells like dead people.
  • It’s not all plants – There’s also plenty of art on show (such as installations, sculptures and paintings), a gift shop, cafe, and some lovely walks.

You can visit Kew Gardens at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB
See more: A London Life series

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The Best Coffee in Barcelona – Caravelle | Travel Guide

Best Coffee in BarcelonaCaravelle | Coffee & Food | Website
Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 31, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

The Best Coffee in Barcelona?

For me, coffee is vital to any holiday. It perks me up when jet lag sets in, and it keeps me going through the multitude of activities I try to cram into each day. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the coffee in Barcelona, but thankfully I had a guide. The BCN Best Coffee guide to be exact. The app was created by a friend of mine, whom I trust dearly when it comes to coffee & food; so I knew I was in good hands.

After doing a bit of shopping in La Rambla, I checked out the app to see what coffee shops were close by. Luckily one of the cafes I had taken note of previously was less than 10mins away. That place was Caravelle.

Caravelle

Caravelle is based in central Barcelona, and offers up a variety of artisan coffee, craft beer, and food. We stopped by on a Monday – around midday – and found a free table. The interior is spacious, with tables and bar seating. It’s table service, so no need to go up to the bar. This area is utilised more in the evening, when they serve their own craft beer.

We ordered a cold brew, an iced latte (coz 30c weather), and the French Toast. I’d read that Caravelle’s brunches were pretty well known (and respected) in Barcelona. And apparently the French toast is a must-try. Truth be told I wanted the banana bread, but unfortunately it was sold out – so I assume it’s pretty awesome. Instead the server suggested I try the French toast. I didn’t need much convincing, and I took his word for it. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long to find out just how it was for myself.

This beast of a brunch is much taller and fatter than I’d expected. Soft toast is loaded with fresh seasonal fruit (strawberries, peaches and blackberries) and cream. Honestly I couldn’t finish this myself, and had to ask for a little help. The tart flavours of the berries mix perfectly with the soft, sweet peach and cream. You’d think a dish with this much bread would get a little dry, but the fruit sauce keeps everything moist.

Final Thoughts

Caravelle is an awesome cafe for coffee or brunch. The laid back atmosphere makes it an easy spot to meet with friends or family, or as a comfortable place to work from. I may have only had one dish, but I could tell that a lot of time and effort goes into their food. The coffee is definitely up there, but next time I’d like to try their flat white or an espresso, to get a better idea. As for service, everyone was friendly and laid back – my kinda place. Quite honestly the food and coffee here is superb, and it’s a must visit for any brunch fans…or lunch…or dinner…

Want to find the best coffee in Barcelona? Download BCN Best Coffee!
See more posts: Barcelona Travel Diary

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A Love Affair with Italian Leather Shoes | Style

italian leather shoesA Love Affair with Italian Leather Shoes | Sandals by Lorena Paggi*

My press trip to Italy last October was something I will never forget. Discovering Fermo and the amazing artisan shoemakers of the region was enlightening. Since my visit I’ve definitely gained a new found love for Italian leather shoes, and a variety of new designers.

Italian Leather Shoes: Lorena Paggi SS16

One of the designers I visited during my trip to Italy was Lorena Paggi. Producing Italian leather shoes, bags and accessories, I fell in love with a pair of their brogues, and that was that. The brand had certainly left an impression on me. So when their Spring/Summer 2016 collection popped up on my Facebook feed I immediately clicked through. Dusky pinks, chunky heels and minimalist looks to name a few. These are stylish sandals with a difference.

Where to find them…

This is the question I asked myself…Lorena Paggi…and every social network possible, after I saw these sandals. The dirty pink shade was so perfect, and so perfectly on trend. The style is very me – minimalist, comfortable, high quality and stylish. You couldn’t ask for better. Lorena Paggi luckily saw my pleas on social media, as I desperately tried to find out where I could buy their new sandals. I can’t wait to wear these in Barcelona at the end of the month. And hopefully in London, but I don’t want to jinx this gorgeous weather just yet.

Unfortunately Lorena Paggi shoes are not available in the UK…yet! However if you happen to be in Italy or Eastern Europe/Russia, you will definitely be in luck. Keep an eye on their InstagramFacebook and Twitter accounts for more info.

Read more: Italy Travel Diaries

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Discovering Japan | Osaka Travel Diary

osaka travelDiscovering Japan | Osaka Travel Diary

This year’s Japan trip included a few days in the land of takoyaki, comedians and awesome old ladies. Yes, Osaka was new ground for me. I’d visited the city ever so briefly 5 or so years ago, but had never fully discovered the city. I was eager to see if the people were as friendly as my friends claimed, and whether the food really was some of the best in Japan.

Osaka Travel: Where to Visit

I already had a few ideas of where I wanted to visit whilst we were in Osaka, but we also made some time to catch-up with friends. As someone who only experienced Osaka properly (and trust me, we went for it) this year, I feel like I can give you a few hints and tips on where to visit, and what to do:

  • Wander Around Osaka Castle – I’m not saying you should go inside and do the whole tourist thing. No. Check it out from the gardens (it’s beautiful), then spend your time eating ice cream – try matcha or kinako – and people watching. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the groups who hang out with their pets – on a good day this may include dogs in costumes, birds of prey and owls. Yep.
  • Go See The Running Man – Glico’s running man sign is a famous tourist spot for the Japanese when visiting Osaka. Situated in Dotonbori, the running man has been towering over Ebisubashi (ebisu bridge) since the 1930s. It’s a popular spot to take photos – whilst impersonating the sign – and there’s plenty of cool shops and food stalls to check out nearby.
  • Try Some Takoyaki at Wanaka – Takoyaki (battered balls filled with octopus) is the dish of Osaka. You’ll find this popular dish all across Japan, but it originally comes from Osaka. Wanaka is one of the best in Osaka with a variety of flavours, and prices ranging from £2-£4. Try the Ooiri Set for a taster.
  • Visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan – This walk around aquarium is one of the largest in the world, and includes a large variety of sea animals. The venue is laid out with 18 areas that represent various countries and regions across the world, with the corresponding sea life.
  • See Osaka from the Sky – Umeda Sky building may look like a rather impressive office tower, but it’s actually full of restaurants, arcades and a viewing platform. The view from the top is impressive, especially at night.

So there you have it, my Osaka Travel Diary. Feel free to leave your tips for others, and let me know your favourite things to do in Osaka.
See more posts: Japan Travel Diary

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Kyoto Shrines and Temples | Japan Travel Diary

kyoto shrines and templesKyoto Shrines and Temples | Japan Travel Diary

Before our trip to Japan we decided to purchase the JR Pass, so that we could travel around the country a little. Kyoto was definitely on our list of places to visit again, as on our first visit we hadn’t been able to appreciate the city as much as we would have liked to. Naturally I made a mental note of all the shrines and temples I wanted to visit, because when you’re in Kyoto that’s what you do…

What makes Kyoto Shrines and Temples special?

Kyoto’s shrines and temples are pretty special to me. There is a certain air of tranquility and calm surrounding Kyoto, and I think this even translates through to their tourist locations. There is so much beauty to take in around this region, and I don’t think I will ever bore of it.

Which Kyoto Shrines and Temples should you visit?

Check out some of my picks, several of which feature in the photos in this post:

  • Fushimi Inari – You may recognise this famous shrines red gates from movies such as Memoirs of a Geisha. Climb to the top of the mountain, and brag about it after.
  • Kiyomizu-dera – Featuring the famous ‘floating platform’ and a waterfall that supposedly grants wishes.
  • Kinkaku0ji/Rokuon-ji – The ‘Golden Pavilion’ is known worldwide for it’s beautiful golden exterior. Check out the amazing reflection in the nearby lake, and stroll through the garden.
  • Ryoan-ji – A must-see for any zen garden fans!
  • Saiho-ji – This is actually on my list of temples to visit. This natural beauty has a difficult entry procedure, but it sure looks like it’s worth it!

This is just a small list of temples and shrines to visit in Kyoto. However I would also recommend just wandering around Kyoto, because you will come across tons of smaller shrines/temples that are just as wonderful.

Check out the rest of my Japan Travel Diaries here.

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Floresta Doughnuts | Japan Travel Diary

floresta doughnutsFloresta Doughnuts | Stores across Japan | Website

You’ve probably seen them on social media. Cute, colourful doughnuts shaped like animals. This delightful doughnut store has been open since 2002. Ever since the first store opened in Nara, this company has stood out from other famous outlets. Say hello to Floresta Nature Doughnuts.

What makes Floresta Doughnuts so natural?

Floresta means forest in Portuguese. This natural theme flows through to their handmade (in-store) doughnuts, which are made with organic ingredients, and little to no additives. The store also tries to keep waste to a minimum, making sure their impact on the environment is as small as possible. In fact the company are so transparent about these things, that you can find the basic ingredients list for their doughnuts on their website. No preservatives are used, so every doughnut is made fresh, daily. The company – which was started by a husband and wife – strives to bring healthier, tasty options to people. A guilt-free doughnut, that you can feel comfortable giving to your children…or for yourself.

But how do they taste?

Very good indeed. You might think that being “natural” and aiming for a healthier doughnut would take away the indulgence. Nope! These are just as delicious as any other doughnut you’ll try, maybe even more so. Floresta still fry their doughnuts, but they don’t taste heavy or greasy. The doughnut itself is relatively light, and the glazes (I tried matcha, of course) make for a subtle sweet contrast.

Which doughnut should you go for?

I would suggest trying a couple – one of their classic ‘nature’ doughnuts, and one of their ‘animal doughnuts’. The nature doughnuts are plain, whereas the animal ones come with a glaze (and sometimes nuts). Prices start at 130円 (around £0.83). The doughnuts may be cheap, but the taste isn’t.

Floresta make their doughnuts fresh, on a daily basis. As they don’t use preservatives, they prefer to make small batches, so make sure you get to a store relatively early. You wouldn’t want to miss out! I would suggest stopping by one of their cafes and relaxing with a coffee. It’s the perfect spot to while away the time.

You can find out more about Floresta Doughnuts here (non-Japanese speakers can use the Google translate version).

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24 Hours in Tokyo | Japan Travel Diary

24 hours in tokyo24 Hours in Tokyo | Japan Travel Diary

Yes, the frequently asked question “What do I do with 24 hours in Tokyo?”. Ok let’s be realistic, unless you’re on a stopover, you’re unlikely to only have one day in this exciting city. However, it can be difficult to decide where to visit, what to eat etc. So when faced with the task I like to think of all the places I would visit if I only had a short period of time in a city.

24 Hours in Tokyo: Harajuku

As cliche as it is, it wouldn’t be worth stopping by Harajuku without a walk down Takeshita Dori (take the metro exit of the same name). Grab some cute stationary from Daiso, pick up some vintage designer goods in the back streets, try one of the famous crepes for breakfast, and just generally basque in the atmosphere. It’s fun and it’s fast.

For those who prefer something more chilled, Meiji Jingu is just behind the Omotesando Exit of Harajuku station. It’s one of the most famous shrines in Japan, and is well worth a visit. Located in a small woodland, it’s hard to tell whether you’re still in bustling Tokyo or not. If you hang around for a while, you may even see a traditional Japanese wedding taking place.

From Harajuku you can walk/hop on a train to…

24 Hours in Tokyo: Shibuya

Famous for it’s giant crossing, you really should try and get to high ground just to witness it. Even if that means stopping by Starbucks for one of their limited edition Japanese drinks. Afterwards, head to 109 for some retail therapy before checking out “Basketball St” and one of the various arcades. You must do purikura (Japanese photo booth)!

Stop by Nabe-zo for lunch, and all-you-can-eat Shabu Shabu (hotpot with thinly sliced meat). I’d suggest the sukiyaki and collagen soups. The staff here are helpful, and the meat is in abundance, so don’t be shy about asking for more. They’ll even replace your soups…if you can manage to finish them that is.

24 Hours in Tokyo: Asakusa

Asakusa is a haven for traditional Japan. Head through the large red gates of Senso-ji, and walk amongst the market stalls. Buy some Amazake (a sweet alcoholic drink made from rice), a side of Senbei (traditional rice crackers), and maybe a mask of your favourite childhood character. The souvenirs here are great for taking home to family. The shrine itself is beautiful, and the grounds ditto. Take your time here and find your inner Buddhist.

If you’re a stationary fan, make time to visit Kakimori for handmade, Japanese stationary. Afterwards, take a walk down Kappabashi-dori, a street famous for kitchenware and plastic food models. Pick up a bacon bookmark, or a pancake keychain etc.

Finally, go for dinner at Sometaro. This Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) restaurant has been around since the 1930s, and it hasn’t changed much since. The friendly staff speak English, and can offer an English menu also. They’ll even show you how to prepare this must-try dish yourself. Truth be told all of the fillings here are delicious, but pork and seafood are great go-tos.

Of course there’s plenty more to do in Tokyo! Keep an eye out for more Japan Travel Diaries soon.
I’d also suggest checking out Alice’s Tokyo Travel Guides and Park and Cube’s 3 Days in Tokyo.

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