Wanderer

My European Top Spots.

It’s nearly April… I’ve been wondering where to spend my summer. While I’m looking at spreading my wings as far as Thailand or America (I know, completely different ideas there!) this year, I think I’ve definitely scattered my heart across different cities of Europe, including good old England. Then again… I tend to say that about pretty much every city and country I visit, so no doubt as I wander further afield, that list will just grow longer and longer.

I love the diversity of Europe; the array of cultures and languages and delicacies, the contrast of stark differences and intermingled traditions from border to border. There are some cities that I just find myself going back to again and again, and it never gets old – there are always new cafes serving coffee even more delicious than the last, more landmarks that I haven’t found the time to visit yet and beautiful little streets that are deserted but for myself and the occasional knowing local.

This wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to order my unruly top 10:

1. Paris. For years Rome held this top spot, but France’s capital has rather snuck up on me over the years – every time I go I love it more and more, even if I’m literally just passing through on a train, and somehow, it overtook Rome. Yes, the people can at times be a little snooty, but most of the time the snooty-ness that I have witnessed against tourists is purely because they are not meeting Paris’ standards – arriving in Paris in dirty clothes and Birkenstock with a tatty rucksack on your back is not going to make you the darling of the city. It’s quite like trying to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a ball. Everyone makes an effort in Paris, even if it is in that je ne sais quoi, ‘I just fell out of bed’ Parisian sense. They’re experts at putting in a lot of effort in looking effortless. Try to blend in, and that snooty-ness will disappear. Or so I find. 

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2. Rome. See, my ex-top spot has not slipped far. I love history. I love art, architecture, literature and the renaissance, all of which can be found on every corner of Rome. I feel comfortable walking around the city without getting lost – I can act as tour guide to fellow travellers. There’s no better feeling than realising that you know a foreign city. It’s not just a place that I have visited a few times anymore. I’ve always been and will continue to be lured to Rome for its history, its art, its food and its coffee. Yes, yes, yes and a very big yes from me on those fronts!

My one pet peeve when in Rome? Arrogant, metrosexual Roman guys who still live with their mothers well into their thirties. They linger around Trevi Fountain in droves. Huge, huge pet peeve of mine.

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3. Prague. When I first visited Prague, I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s just not a place that I have looked into too much before I arrived at  Hlavni Nadrazi station. Until then my Pinterest (what came before Pinterest? Good old fashioned cut-and-paste scrapbooks?) had been full of photographs of Paris, Rome, Athens, The Great Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Buddhist Temples. I’d always planned to visit Prague, but somehow looking at what it was like never occurred to me. The beauty of the place blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of East and West European; some streets could easily pass for France or Italy – or even England, when suddenly you’re surrounded by Eastern European architecture, Czech music ringing through your ears and people drinking brands I can’t even pronounce.

Also, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

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4. Venice. Yes, it’s quite a pricey city, but then I’ve found that I can still keep my budget low – Venice is not a city teaming with museums and must-see sites with expensive ticket fares like other touristic cities. I’m also not big on souvenirs, which could prove to be super pricey if I were. Venice is the city I head to if I want to see Italy, without the hustle and bustle of Rome or Milan or – to some extent – Florence. I tend to avoid the few busy spots of the city – St Mark’s Square and Ponte di Rialto. Two or three streets from these Venetian hot-spots, and you’ll find deserted streets, a woman beating sheets over her balcony perhaps, the occasional cat, but otherwise you’re entirely alone. No cars, no noise. It’s wonderful.

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5. Florence. Yes, Paris may be my number one city, but Italy is clearly my number one country. Florence is a nice balance of everything I love about Italy. It’s not as mad as Rome, or as busy and metropolitan as Milan, and while it has that same peace as Venice, it’s gifted in sprinkles rather than spades. It is quintessential Italy in the country’s best region: Tuscany – I love taking day trips from Florence to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.

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6. Lisbon. I tend to yo-yo between Porto and Lisbon when choosing my favourite Portuguese city, but right now, I’d choose Lisbon. It’s true what they say – ‘Porto works and Lisbon plays’. Things are much more relaxed in the south, and people seem to mysteriously work less and yet are richer. I do have one issue with Lisbon – its treacherously slippering paving stones.

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Seriously, I had to buy a new pair of shoes just because wearing my sandals or ballet flats was about as effective as wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers. Otherwise you pretty much have to choose between risking your life by walking in the road, or risking your life because every step could end in a broken neck.

Still, Lisbon is beautiful, not majorly touristic and yet not entirely isolated to the lone traveller who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – like me. Actually, that’s a lie. I can say thank you. I think thank you is the most important phrase to learn in every language. Even more so than hello.

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7. Budapest. Another city that I had little knowledge of – like Prague. I knew it to be cheap, but that’s about it. Yes, it is cheap, though as tourism grows, so do those prices. The architecture is sophisticated, the people are sophisticated – but for a few old men who linger on park benches whistling at passing women. So many people have apologized for ‘the habits of the older generation’ – honestly, it’s fine. Clearly they have never passed a building site in the UK. The famous thermal baths are wonderful. I recommend visiting the bath houses during winter – it’s instantly even better when you’re lounging in the steaming water watching the snow fall outside.

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8. Barcelona. I’m not a fan of gaudy Gaudi, but of course, his architecture makes Barcelona what it is. I find it amazing how we all flock to see a building that is not due to be finished until 2026. I mean, of course, La Sagrada Familia. However, one place where I feel Gaudi’s unique style does work within the city is Park Güell – also the spot of my favourite (yet discovered) view in Barcelona. In Park Güell you will find pianists, violinists and musicians of instruments so exotic that I don’t even know what they are. They claim a spot and play beautiful classical pieces to entertain tourists and locals alike. It’s quirky and amazing.

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9. Vienna. A haven for museum-geeks like me, my favourite being the Sisi museum; a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s cleaner than Paris and Rome. It’s more efficiently run than England, but it’s not as frustratingly perfect as a few cities I have been to; so perfect that they no longer feel real. Also, the people who live there are unbelievably lovely.

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10. Off the beaten track. Finally, while I could go on and on about this city and that city, for me, one of the best parts of Europe is the little villages whose names I never learnt before I moved on to the next. I love the lakes, beaches, rivers and hills. I’m a country girl as well as a city girl, and I love rambling around woodland and climbing hills to see the view at sunset. So if you’re going to Europe, don’t just stick to the ‘must see cities’.

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Vanity Feed

Catwalk to CW Crown

The bucket barrel deep, stinking pit of historical inaccuracies aside, I love The CW’s new show, Reign. It swings from giggly and girly to snarky and bitchy in the same way as shows like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. Most of all though, I love it for the fashion. Costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack is a genius at combining regal-chic with boho and modern touches. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a chance to browse though Reign’s wardrobe department.

Why aren't you watching Reign?

Caitlin Stasey, Celina Sinden, Anna Popplewell and Adelaide Kane on the set of Reign!

Gorgeous hair accessories & styles: As inspired by CW's Reign

When "Reign's" costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack began working on the show, the idea was to create, "something slightly different to the costume dramas we had seen so far, especially because of the demographic of The CW, and bring in the element of contemporary fashion."

Really liked this dress...  #Reign

Morgana's Huntress costume for her first Masque where she meets Alasdair

All images above found via Pinterest.

Their use of accessories is also amazing, and I now have a bit of an obsession with chain and floral head wear.

Reign: Interview with Debra Moreland Reign. this shoooow and the gowns in this shoooow. obsessed.

Gorgeous hair accessories & styles: As inspired by CW's Reign

A lot of designer names such as Alexander McQueen have been popping up in the show, and having just watched the latest episode before catching up on the catwalk reports, I couldn’t help but wonder what pieces would likely be popping up in season two (which has been confirmed – yay!)

Looks most likely to appear in Reign S2:

Alexander McQueen

Marchesa

Melinda Looi

Naeem Khan

Jenny Packham

 Carolina Herrera

Erin Featherstone

Alongside items from Free People, custom items by the amazing fashion team and customised vintage couture, of course.

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Wanderer

My Favourite Jazz bar in Paris

Firstly, I’m sorry for a quiet few weeks, I’ve been cut off from the internet since May, and I haven’t been able to easily get out of the house to seek internet until this week because my foot has been in a cast! But its fine now, internet is back, my foot is free, I can walk (well, limp) again!

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Image from here

Anyway… I’ve been to many Jazz bars in Paris, I love them, I’d much rather go and dance in a jazz bar with a glass of wine than go out clubbing! Lame as that may make me, its true. There is one bar that I only discovered a few months ago when I spent a few weeks in France with a friend, and I think I honestly fell in love.

Caveau de la Hutchette. Just south of Notre Dame and so very central in Paris, its tucked away down a quiet cobble street lined with dozens of equally quaint-looking bars of various sorts, each crying out to be explored (one day!) It was the history that caught my attention; tucked away in 500-year-old cellars, the bar was once a prison, a make-shift courthouse, an execution chamber, and a secret meeting place for the Templars and the Rosicrucians, It’s been a drinking house since 1789. You walk in and the whole place just reeks of history!

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Image from here.

Live jazz bands play every night, and there is plenty of room to get a jiggle on (and trust me, if you’re a woman/group of women alone, you will not be allowed to merely sit and enjoy the music, you will be coerced into dancing!)

I’ve never danced in my life, but I can honestly say this was one of the best nights of my life.

Now for the boring stuff: money. Entry is €12 Sunday-Thursday, €14 Friday & Saturday, and €10 for students. Drinks start at $5, if you want champagne, you’re looking at splashing out $90, but its so worth it! If you’re travelling on a budget, its easy enough to just pay entry fee and nothing more for the rest of the night; you don’t really get much chance to sit and drink anyway and I found that my glass of red pretty much went to waste! It was delicious, but the moment I sat down, I was up dancing moments later!

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Wanderer

Quirky Corners of the World: Cheval’s Palais Ideal

Photograph from Facteur Cheval

Wow. Just wow.

Photograph from Tangle’s Bones

This is the masterpiece of Ferdinand Cheval, a rural postman from a town just south of Lyon. He had no artistic or architectural background, he was just really, really talented! Apparently his idea began when he tripped over an unusually shaped pebble, and from there he began collecting small stones on his postal route, starting with filling his pockets, then baskets, and finally a wheelbarrow. Starting in April 1879, he spent the next 33 years building his amazing palace by hand, often at night by oil lamp.

His had hoped to be buried inside his palace, but when his wish was denied, he decided to build himself an equally extravagant mausoleum, and he was laid to rest there in 1924, aged 88.

Photograph from Wikipedia

This is definitely somewhere that I have to see for myself. The detail is incredible, and I love the dramatically different sources of inspiration. He claimed that the tutelary spirits of the place were Julius Caesar, Archimedes and Vercingétorix. Among the various detailed monuments scattered across the palace, there is a Hindu temple, a Swiss cottage, the Maison Carrée in Algiers, an Arab mosque, and Egyptian tomb, Oriental pagodas and a Medieval castle. The three giants have faces reminiscent of the Easter Island heads.

I have to go there this summer and see it for myself.

Information on visiting the Palais Ideal can be found here.

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After a week in Paris, we headed south to visit an old friend of mine who I met in Derby – of all places – via Couchsurfing. We skipped along from Bordeaux to Montepellier, with a day in Avignon.

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For me, I can’t visit Paris without heading south for a few days. Yes, there is less to do in Bordeaux and Montpellier compared to the long list of Parisian sites, but while in Paris is rained – at times – the sun seems to be perpetually shining on the south. Paris is great for using all of your energy on trundling around museums, exploring streets full of antique shops, and strutting around in your best Parisian wardrobe, and then once you can’t possibly bring yourself to look at another painting or teeter down another piss-puddle and dog-poo riddled Parisian pavement (yes, it’s a gross reality rather than just a stereotype… why do I still love Paris?), grab your bikini, hop on a train and within a few hours, you’re sunbathing on a beach or a park.

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I love the Mediterranean influences in the south of France, from the style of architecture to the colour of stone used to pave their streets and build their walls.. Everything is more colourful in Bordeaux and Montpellier, the people are friendlier… sometimes a little too friendly. A homeless guy tried to kiss me… which was quite unpleasant. On the lips – not a typical french cheek-to-cheek greeting. Though from the smell of him I wouldn’t really have appreciated that ether, in all honestly. Is that mean to say? But generally, people know boundaries.

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And of course, we had to take advantage of my friend’s balcony for a few spontaneous, au naturel photo shoots.

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Can I go back yet, please?

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Wanderer

French Adventures: South

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France!

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Me and my lovely friend Jessica spent the first two weeks of this month in France, travelling by train from Paris to Bordeaux, Montpellier and Avignon. Quite frankly I wish I was still there, not only because of the better weather, food, and because back here my uni deadlines and the realities of being a grown up are slapping me in the face again, but also because, while we arrived back in Derby at 4am last Saturday (20th), by midday on Sunday, I found myself sitting in A&E with a broken foot…..

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Of all the times to break my foot, now is not a good one! I have my two final uni deadlines, arrangements for our two uni exhibitions, the end of my TEFL course and figuring out my post-uni plans (as in, my move out date is 30th June… possessions need to be sold/stored… flight ticket needs to be bought for 1st July), all on crutches… fun.

Still, the cast is off on 30th May, just in time for the Derby exhibition! Timing!

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As for France… what is there to say, besides that as ever, it was beautiful, and I miss it already. I have come back with a really dark tan, and therefore England seems more dull and grey than ever before. While I am glad to finally give my feet a rest (I couldn’t begin to guess how many miles me and Jess walked in terrible, blister-inducing shoes over those two weeks), I especially miss walking around Paris, bra-less and shoe-less, with tourists trying to be helpful by pointing out that we were not wearing our shoes but in fact, have you noticed… you’re carrying them…….? Oh really?!

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For anyone visiting Paris, I strongly recommend Oops Hostel by Les Gobelins metro stop, and La Manufacture Restaurant, which is just a few doors away. Amazing food.. and amazing chocolat chaud!

Jess being a beautiful model, we of course had a few personal shoots while we were travelling, and I am currently editing those… I may post a preview soon.

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For now.. a few travel snaps.

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Wanderer

French Adventures: Paris

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Wanderer

Joie de Vivre… Part Five!

Barcelona
 
Barcelona is a funny sort of place. It’s just everything all at once: it’s beautiful and yet ugly, everyone is friendly and yet… not so friendly, the food looks great but then it doesn’t actually taste particularly great, and, what I found strangest of all, it has a way of being full of life and equally just… dead. It simultaneously puts me in one of my happy, ‘desperate to absorb every ounce of energy, emotiona and passion that this city has to offer me’ traveller moods and yet make me eager to pack up and move onto the next city.. bore me even. I couldn’t quite get my head around Barcelona.
Still… there were a few little spots that completely captured my heart. I loved sitting in the little park behind Sagrada Familia just as the sun was setting:
I loved it because despite being right in the heart of the city, it was just so quiet and still.
I also love Park Guell. It’s so incredibly beautiful! I loved that there was music everywhere; you walk around one corner and stumble across someone playing the violin, you walk further down that path and just as the sound of the violin has faded, you find someone playing the piano, walk further still and there’s someone playing an instrument that I don’t even recognize!
I love how every inch of the park has been carefully thought out and designed and yet it manages to look wild as well. The whole park is just art. I could live there, I could build myself on of my floaty, drapey fabric tents and live right there among the flowers – I could decorate my tent with flowers and blend right in!
Bordeaux
 
Every single photograph that I took while in Bordeaux was, in my opinion, perfect; the lighting, the colours, just everything. It was just perfect, and I have added it to my ‘to live in’ list, which is getting so long that I think I’ll have to start working my way through it the moment I finish university! After all, it’s only going to keep on growing longer the more I travel! It already looks something like this from this trip alone!
  1. Rome
  2. Venice
  3. Florence
  4. Cinque Terre (I think either Riomaggiore, or, because it’s amazing for cliff diving, Manarola)
  5. Prague
  6. Zurich
  7. Paris
  8. Bordeaux
  9. Montpellier
  10. Porto
It was quite tricky getting to Bordeaux from Barcelona, what with cancelled trains etc. The original plan was to go from Paris to Bordeaux, to Montpellier, then to Barcelona.. but as I’d had to spend an extra day in Paris, I decided to skip Bordeaux… only to then decide while in Barcelona that no, I really want to see Bordeaux now, and so I turned around!
Still, with two connecting trains, I was also able to spend a few hours in Toulouse and Narbonne, both of which I would have missed out on otherwise:
When I finally arrived in Bordeaux, it was past midnight. Until about 10 or 11pm I’d had no idea where I would be staying that night, and people kept looking at my strangely as I sat in Toulouse and laughed because I again imagined how much my friends back in Derby would be panicking if in that situation, and yet I felt completely relaxed.
Luckily, a photographer friend of mine, Jonathan, and his girlfriend Pauline were kind enough to let me sleep at Jonathan’s home for the night, and Pauline was even lovely enough to show me around the city the next day. Thank you again!
 
We ate the most amazing meal of my life and a quaint little restaurant, with local wine of course, we laughed at the broken machinery of France and just at everything really, and I think this was actually one of the best days of my whole trip. I’m completely in love with Bordeaux.
Also, I wouldn’t have visited Bordeaux at all had one of my friends not recommended it to me when I first mentioned this little adventure of mine months and months ago, so thank you for that 😉
I especially love this photograph (if i say so myself!):
I definitely need to hurry up and get back to Bordeaux ASAP! Firstly because I wasn’t lucky enough to see the lovely Oce while I was there, so I need to go back and see her, secondly because I’d like to see Jonathan and Pauline again, thirdly because I need to taste more of the amazing food and wine, and finally, simply because I am in love.
I also need to visit Toulouse properly, for more than a few hours. At least I already have someone to host me there (or at least I will once he himself flies home from Derby), and no doubt I’ll be flying over to visit soon enough.
I’m itching to use my passport again already.

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