Travel personalities – a journey that discovers a lack of depth…

My travel personality has a terrible case of itchy (and dirty in this picture) feet...

My travel personality has a terrible case of itchy (and dirty in this picture) feet…

When I went to India everyone told me I’d go on a spiritual journey, that I’d somehow find myself and get a new-found appreciation for or rejection of my pampered wanna-be-boho life, that I’d find a new path blah blah blah… When you spend half your life as a nomad, everyone you meet seems to think you’re on a journey to find something. Your mum thinks you’ve gone out to discover a new religion, join a cult then somehow end up in the Bangkok Hilton because you fell in with the wrong crowd (or even worse, met a hot guy with dreads playing his guitar on the beach…).

The holy cow that nearly stomped poor sick me down in the poo out of shot...

The holy cow that nearly stomped poor sick me down in the poo out of shot…

But there were a few things I learned on that journey around India all those years ago (little has changed since, despite getting a mortgage and having two babies~):

  1. I’m not on the road to find something. I just enjoy change. Change is like an old merino wool sweater you bought from Glassons a few years ago that fits great under everything – really comfortable and unlikely to be given up for some time.
  2. India is not the place you go backpacking for weeks on end and still expect that your clothes to be snug at the end of that time…
  3. India is where you learn the extreme limits of your comfort zone (mine are intense heat, swarms of bugs in overnight trains, dirty streets when one’s uniform includes flip flops and losing six kilos over as many days while staying in the cheapest hostel on earth~)
  4. I’m just not a spiritual person. I’m not out there to find a new path of life or find the meaning of it but do appreciate people’s beliefs for what they are – those beliefs are what makes the world the incredible place it is – I only wish I had that depth about me to believe in something the way most of the world does in their different ways.

I went to India expecting it to profoundly change me like everyone said it would, but it didn’t. For me, India was what it was: there was dirt and extreme poverty, stray monkeys and dogs almost everywhere one looked but in those same moments were bright colours, big smiles, the most beautiful fabrics imaginable, spice bazaars, friendly faces and amazing sounds. While I don’t find all of that acceptable, especially the poverty part, little of that hit me on a deeper level like people said it would. When my friend was yogying in our ashram, I was taking antibiotics for one of the nasty bugs I’d picked up (see lost weight further up the post) and trying/failing desperately to get my appetite and strength back by going back to bed after the yoga instructor laughed when I could barely do Downward Dog. It taught me that I’m excruciatingly inflexible in muscle, but perhaps kind of flexible in what I find myself able to accept in regards to the world around me.

This is a cat - because cats meeting random cats on the road is  awesome.

This is a cat – because cats meeting random cats on the road is awesome.

My travel personality hasn’t changed much over the years since Incredible India. I’m an extreme planner in both my travels and daily life (love the spreadsheets!), I like to know roughly what I’ll be eating dinner tonight and exactly where I’ll be staying for the next few months whether on the road or on the bus to work. But I also adore the new. I’m an appalling map reader (husband and I nearly broke up after I’d let him go round a Mexican roundabout eight times before he pointed out that I had the map upside down) and will be until the end of time, but I’m ok with getting lost on the road – someone will eventually point you in the right direction and you might discover something cool in the process. My travel personality is A-OK with going in the wrong direction on a train when I’m travelling but in my daily life I’m never more than a minute late to meet anyone without a profound apology.

My travel personality is so much more laid back than my day-job personality which I think comes across as pedantic, time obsessed and if I can be frank here, a bit catty…

Whether in travel mode or not, freedom is probably my reason for being...

Whether in travel mode or not, freedom is probably my reason for being…

My travel personality comes across as having a deep sense of curiosity which leads me to try new dishes everywhere I go. Take me to a Malaysian night market or a seaside Italian restaurant and I’m yours forever. I’m also really annoying as I like to be the boss and talk way too much – if you don’t believe it then ask especially anyone who has had to travel with me for more than a day or two – again, it’s remarkable that Mr Man and I are still married.

So my travel personality? Probably just downright scatty, a bit like Miss Piggy with an incurable case of wanderlust. Thoroughly enjoys a good train ride and would rather stay in a bed & breakfast than a five-star hotel so one can talk the ear off the owner and hear their life story whether they want to give it or not. Completely and utterly lacks depth but loves the world.

What’s yours?

This post was part of Kelly, Emma, Rebecca and Catherine’s travel link-up. Do feel free to participate by joining the link-up on one of their pages – they’re a really great group of bloggers new and old! 

My travel personality forgets her fear of heights until it's way too late...

My travel personality forgets her fear of heights until it’s way too late…

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Filed under Travel, Travel link-up

The Bull’s Head – Chislehurst

Gin cocktail - not a bad way to begin an afternoon...

Gin cocktail – not a bad way to begin an afternoon…

There is something wonderfully bucolic about a weekend afternoon tea at the Bull’s Head.

Rolling south out of London’s deserted Cannon Street station at midday on a Saturday, you soon arrive at a small and typically Victorian station – again, barely a person to see.

Then walking up a hill, for about a mile, you cross a cricket pitch with a village match in the first few overs, across the wild-grassed village green, through a gated churchyard and onto the pub – all red brick and hanging wisteria.

If I were to add the Red Arrows also fly directly overhead in perfect formation, you’d be unlikely to believe any of this is true. But it is…all of it.

Chislehurst seems an anomaly – a perfectly picturesque countryside village, but still technically in London – it’s in zone 5 and the buses are familiarly big and red. In commuter terms, this must be heaven.

The pub front

The pub front

And in village terms, having a good boozer is a must. The Bull’s Head is certainly a good pub, but so much more. It’s a restaurant, a hotel, and it has a ballroom! And beyond the restaurant in a brand-new and exceedingly stylish conservatory-style extension, is a very English tearoom.

Shown to a table flanked by two wingback chairs in the corner of the room, we were about to enjoy a cracking afternoon tea.

Now, an afternoon tea review would normally dive straight in and tell you how good the sandwiches and scones were, and while that is absolutely true here (a little more later), that’s not this place’s real stand-out quality.

The best thing about the Bull’s Head is that they absolutely and completely ‘get it’.

Tea

Tea

‘Getting it’ can be a difficult thing to describe and explain – probably as tricky as it is to achieve – but I see it as the adding-up of all the little things which other places manage to overlook.

Here, table cutlery and crockery was added and taken away based on the order. As soon as we opted for a glass of Champagne and a gin cocktail to begin, it was suggested the pot of tea waited until we were onto the scones – most other places would just bring them together, leading to stewed tea.

Plates were refreshed between the savouries and sweets, and we were attended to by just one server through the entire sitting.

A lot of effort has gone into creating the perfect atmosphere and everything was achieved with a smile and a sense of nothing being a problem whatsoever.

It would be extremely remiss of me at this point not to elaborate on the alcohol – with two choices on offer we went for one of each – a very dry Cockburn & Campbell Champagne (the decadent tea) and a gin ‘floradora’ cocktail, a refreshing mix of gin and ginger ale served with frozen cucumber and raspberries (the unusual tea). While the Champagne came in a single glass, the cocktail was a full teapot from which we were able to pour five full cups.

So now to the food. You’ll be pleased to hear this was no disappointment either, with a spread which doesn’t venture into the exceptional and high-end that you’d expect at a top London hotel, but definitely sits towards the top of the next rung down.

The sandwiches were the stars – plenteous in number and with bread barely able to contain the generous fillings. Ham and mustard, cheese and pickle, smoked salmon, coronation chicken, and egg mayonnaise were fresh, light and seen-off in no time at all.

Cake stand

Cake stand

(Cue a change of plates and the pot of Bull’s Head own breakfast blend leaf tea).

Plain and fruit scones were accompanied by a thick whipped cream and a choice of strawberry or morello cherry jam. Still warm to the touch, a light crumb meant they separated easily without the use of a knife, and, like the sandwiches before them were dispatched hastily!

The sweet plate was a case of carefully choosing an order as it was clear we’d be needing a doggy bag to take some away with us. We managed to see off the macarons, mini chocolate and praline cakes and the delicate lemon sponge.

CAKES

CAKES

And the price? Well, I think this would have to count as the most competitively valued tea I’ve ever enjoyed. £15 for the afternoon tea, upped to just £20 for the gin version and £23 for the Champagne. In the heart of London a restaurateur or hotelier would think nothing of charging £35-45.

Satisfied and really quite full, we did the only reasonable thing and left to go through to the bar for more drinks. And then it was home, back through the churchyard, over the village green, past the cricketers, down the hill and on a deserted train back to the metropolis – relaxed, renewed…and slightly tipsy.

LLC is moving house this week - any chance we can steal these lights as a house-warming gift?

LLC is moving house this week – any chance we can steal these lights as a house-warming gift?

A Most Traditional Afternoon Tea – £15

A choice of teas, selection of finger sandwiches, fruit and plain scones served with clotted cream and fruit jams, and a selection of cakes, delicacies and delights.

A Most Unusual Afternoon Tea – £20

With Hendrick’s Gin Floradora Teacup Cocktail

A Most Decadent Champagne Afternoon Tea – £23

With a glass of Cockburn & Campbell Champagne

Basic cream tea or coffee & cake – £6.95

The Bull’s Head Royal Parade, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 6NR

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, Tea

Beach Babylon and its insanely good flat whites prepares us for a visit to Weta Workshop

The ravishingly retro Beach Babylon that does impeccable flat whites...

The ravishingly retro Beach Babylon that does impeccable flat whites…

When we weren’t doing life/finding a job admin, Mr Man and I spent our first month playing tourist in this city. From April 25 to May 25 we went all over the place while the kids settled into kindy.

This mostly meant brunch then catching up with paperwork for the rest of the day (you fill out a surprisingly large amount of forms when you move countries) but occasionally we’d take the day off and forget about pen and paper and just enjoy ourselves.

One of those days was a particularly vile day in terms of the weather. We could have used it to do said paperwork but Wellington is one of those unpredictable cities and for all we knew the gales and sideways rain could have gone on for months on end (it didn’t).

Decor

Decor

We dropped the kids off and went to Beach Babylon, a place that is meant to be visited on a bright sunny day so you can look at the lovely Oriental Bay just outside. We ended up having a wonderful morning there consuming a few too many flat whites (Mr Man had 3 in the end) and a really tasty brunch.

Beach Babylon is really hip. The decor is retro, the clientèle are cool people who wouldn’t look out of place in LA and the location with a beautiful view to the city and the bay is brilliant. However, where they excel is their coffee. I’ve had some incredible coffees in this city, even the one in my work building has yet to let me down, but the barista at Beach Babylon is probably the best in Wellington. I fell slightly in love with him and I’m certain Mr Man did just a little bit too.

Salmon and toast - tasted way better than my photo taking can show...

Salmon and toast – tasted way better than my photo taking can show…

Mr Man's 'famous rosti' - again, his picture taking does not show the greatness that this dish was...

Mr Man’s ‘famous rosti’ – again, his picture taking does not show the greatness that this dish was…

We had a yummy brunch there, me going for a simple salmon on toast but Mr Man having their ‘Famous Rosti’ with poached eggs on ham… him again sitting in silence occasionally making a food happy slightly dozy smile.

Flat white perfection

Flat white perfection – can you understand why we fell in love with the barista now?

Hoping this insanity weather was just a passing shower we kept ordering more and more caffeinated drinks until we decided to go and do an indoors activity… after chatting away to the barista who also mentioned that they love kids at Beach Babylon (“bring them back for dinner on Sunday nights, they eat free!”) we decided to visit Weta Workshop, home of the Orcs. Beach Babylon, your magical flat whites will have our loyalty for years to come.

Me standing up to a troll

Me standing up to a troll

Weta is awesome and well worth a visit to its Miramar headquarters. They’re the artists behind Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Tin-Tin and even Avatar. We weren’t allowed to take photos on the tour as it is an actual workshop with real people doing real work so the photos are from their gift shop but we enjoyed learning all about how things like the guns in District 9 and the tonnes of chain mail used in Lord of the Rings were made along with the amazing story from how they went from a couple of artists mucking around in their garage to the world’s leading movie technology and design providers.

Weta's beginnings

Weta’s beginnings

What having a toddler and a six month old who doesn't sleep has done to me...

What having a toddler and a six month old who doesn’t sleep has done to me…

Next on the list, maybe a Lord of the Rings tour? There are some pretty spectacular locations from the film in the Wellington region alone, but if we can start the day with another visit to Beach Babylon we’ll be happy as can be.

Beach Babylon can be found at 232 Oriental Parade, Weta Workshop (and its shop front Weta Cave) can be found at 1 Weka Street, Miramar. 

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Filed under Brunch, Coffee, Travel, Wellington

GLC visits La Pâtisserie des Rêves

A box of goodness? One would say so.

A box of goodness? One would say so.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?

Well, yes, of course…but it also doesn’t hurt to be stunningly beautiful too.

And in the small world of perfect pastries, La Pâtisserie des Rêves seems to have it absolutely nailed.

This is a small shop on Marylebone High Street that I’ve occasionally walked passed and pressed my nose up against the window of, in a Charlie Bucket-esque fashion.

So to receive and email saying ‘come and try our fraisier’…well, I wasn’t going to say no.

Press image of their ice cream - looks good!

Press image of their ice cream – looks good!

La Pâtisserie des Rêves’ most striking feature is its mass of counter-weighted glass domes, encasing the cakes and looking almost sci-fi in the process.

Walking in I quickly clapped eyes on my fraisier and it was soon being boxed-up, ready to take away.

While we waited for the grand presentation of the cake box, there was time for a quick ice cream – perfect for 11.30am on a cold a drizzly Sunday morning. The vanilla packed quite a punch whilst the praline (made from the constituent parts of a Paris-Brest – see below) was intensely rich and creamy. The raspberry sorbet was garish in colour yet perfectly under-sweet in its delivery.

Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest

Despite a lot of internet searching, I can’t seem to find a definitive answer to what a fraisier should be, but in basic terms it is a delicate and dainty genoise sponge topped with crème pâtissière and strawberries.

Unboxing my Frasier and seeing it up close for the first time, it was clear La Pâtisserie des Rêves’ version is so much more – filled with sticky rhubarb compote and topped with a crunchy crumble layer.

This is one of those visually deceptive cakes which appears as if it will leave you in a food coma, but in reality can be polished-off in no time and leave you wanting more.

I did want more…so it’s lucky that also in the box was a Paris-Brest chaser! This hexagon of choux and praline cream is the sophisticated and well-educated cake version of a Fererro Rocher. Like its fraisier friend, it lasted no time at all.

La Pâtisserie des Rêves is a place to go for a treat and I definitely recommend it as such.

Fraisier

Fraisier

And beyond the eat-it-right-away cake selection, it also seems a fantastic place to buy high-end sweet gifts.

Absolutely worth a visit!

43 Marylebone High Street, W1

or

13 Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7

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Filed under Cake, Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, London cafes, The West End

Lovely Loretta

Lovely Loretta

Lovely Loretta

For some reason I’ve always been “an organiser”. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m just really bossy or that I’m a pushover, probably a bit of both, but I quite enjoy getting a group of people together, especially if it involves food. This can be really annoying for a lot of people, and for that I apologise, but out of being “the organiser” I’ve discovered some pretty cool things. As the person who organises people, one can’t be seen to go to the same old places over and over again…

Loretta is one of those things. I’m so glad that beautiful restaurant has come into my life but I know it will end up on the list of places one returns to over and over again (warning Ed and Melissa, when you and your respective others visit, it will be one of our first stops!).

I was about to book old favourite Floriditas for brunch with a group of recently returned expat businesswomen when one of the ladies suggested Floridita’s sister restaurant, Loretta.

Loretta opened up a year ago to mass acclaim from all those who tried it. I can see why. Before booking I made sure I subjected it to Mr Man’s palate in case I chose the wrong restaurant for brunch with a bunch of strangers. It was so good that I immediately booked a table for those ladies and dreamed about the time I’d get to go back.

Mr Man and I visited with this little man who faked being sick so he could join us:

Mr Man Jr tagging along on our brunch date

Mr Man Jr tagging along on our brunch date

We had an incredible brunch that was so unique it knocked NOPI off the top of my favourite brunch places that don’t solely focus on eggs list. That is a big feat.

Loretta is almost perfect. It is worthy of its great reputation, oh so very worthy.

Yet it’s not pretentious in the slightest.

Menu

Menu

With the risk of sounding like half-arsed version of GLC here, their bowls of breakfast rice are like a big squishy morning hug (ok, that totally didn’t work! Bleurgh!), but seriously, they’re delicious and perfect on a cold winter’s day. The flavours mingle together without apology. The orange one in particular is strong so worth saving half for the doggy bag later after it has mingled for even longer.

My orange and lemon rice. So wonderful.

My orange and lemon rice. So wonderful.

Their coffee is up there with Wellington’s best but they also have a great little tea selection (including Japanese Genmaicha) and an extensive juice menu.

The decor is warm and leaves you wanting to stay there all day with a book as long as they continue to bring over their comfort food from the gods in the kitchen.

One could say she liked Loretta, a lot. And it got the seal of approval not only from fussy Mr Man but also the group of business women I took a few weeks later. Phew.

Loretta can be found at 181 Cuba Street, Wellington 

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Filed under Brunch, Travel, Wellington

LLC moves to New Zealand: the boring visa stuff…

Beautiful and lovely New Zealand - the effort for us to move there has been immense.

Beautiful and lovely New Zealand – the effort for us to move there has been immense.

Over the past six months or so, seeing the struggle we went through to get the family here, several bloggers suggested I do a post on the nuts and bolts of moving a multi-national family from the UK to New Zealand. This is the first in a series of really boring posts. Stop now if you’re here to read about cake (though I will admit, a lot of it was consumed out of stress in the process of sorting this out).

Here's some BB Bakery tarts to keep you happy.

Here’s some BB Bakery tarts to keep you happy.

To start with – I have two British children. They were the easy ones to sort out. I made sure as soon as they were born that they got New Zealand citizenship by descent and applied for Kiwi passports at the same time. I will tell you now – the New Zealand High Commission in London is probably your most efficient and friendly set of government representatives you will ever come across. BLC’s was all processed within eight weeks of her being born, Mr Man Jr’s within three (it was December, Christmas meant things were really quiet and he actually had a passport the day after they confirmed with me that he was officially a NZ citizen). The entire process cost us around £150 per child and if you want to know more about how to do this, just head to the High Commission’s website.

Mr Man on the other hand was a massively long and at times challenging process. This isn’t because of NZ’s tough rules on immigration (though they are strict) – it is because he was actually born in another country than the UK and that in itself required getting further checks that we weren’t aware of until the High Commission told us what was needed.

He started his application in July – getting the required medical, chest x-ray, police certificates (his and mine) etc – then taking it in to TT Visa Services who are based in Westminster (all applications go through them, they’re not private immigration advisers). The internet forums told us to expect the process to take 9-12 weeks, in reality, the process actually took six months due to the issue I touched on above. I will say this though, the guy who case managed (processed) his visa was excellent at keeping us informed on what was happening and what the next steps were. We were able to get Mr Man’s passport and all the documents we sent in back at the end of January. We were also lucky that because we’ve lived together for so long (six years) Mr Man was able to skip the partnership residency visa he initially applied for and was issued with permanent residency straight away. The cost for his visa was around £900.

My advice would be to give yourselves six months if you are applying for a work/residency visa in New Zealand. Do not book flights until you have this in your hands. If you are the partner of the visa applicant and are a New Zealand Citizen, you will also have a lot of paperwork to complete including getting a police certificate and outlining everywhere you’ve lived/travelled for the past seven years. You can find more details on NZ work and residency visas here.

I think I always took being a Kiwi for granted and that getting Mr Man into NZ would be super easy. It really wasn’t. I would say that New Zealand is as strict on immigration control as the UK is, possibly even stricter; the UK just costs a lot and makes you reapply for stuff a lot before you can finally get that permanent residency and citizenship. I will also state that NZ is more concerned about character and health requirements than your financial situation which nearly became a barrier for me to live in the UK during the times I re-applied for my UK visa.

Getting his residency in our hands, we then set about selling our flat and moving our stuff. Those were entire beasts in themselves… Now, where’s the gin?

Ahh, there's the gin...

Ahh, there’s the gin…

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Filed under Life in general, Moving continents

Eva Street

Eva Street - the cutest and probably tastiest alleyway I've come across for some time...

Eva Street – the cutest and probably tastiest alleyway I’ve come across for some time…

One of the things I was most excited about returning to Wellington was the independent foodie scene. There are a lot of small establishments making a unique but big splash in this city. One street in particular seems to be where its at…

Eva Street contains the following awesome places:

I’ve tried all but Leeds Street Bakery and have been wowed each time. While I ADORE the coffee and baked goods this city contains, it is also really cool to go somewhere that isn’t just coffee and Afghan biscuits. I like the random flavours the Wellington Chocolate Factory concocts and that you can smell it long before you see it. I love that Fix and Fogg has the most delicious peanut butter ever created (the chilli one is outstanding but their dark chocolate peanut butter, which is on my toast while I’m writing this, has won my heart) and that Six Barrel Soda is probably the most refreshing cafe in town. They all seem to work together too which is super nice, for example, Wellington Chocolate Factory made this chocolate bar with Fix & Fogg peanut butter and raspberries, so so so good!).

Wellington Chocolate Factory

Wellington Chocolate Factory

Six Barrel Soda seems to have every type of soda imaginable on its menu. Mr Man and I went for combinations based on their lemon/lime flavour, him going for a heavy hit of ginger and me getting more bitters included. We were very close to ordering more if not for our car being at the other end of town and running at the wrong end of the meter.

The fabulous Six Barrel Soda Co.

The fabulous Six Barrel Soda Co.

The fabulous Six Barrel Soda Co.

Six Barrel Soda Co.

Just a tiny amount of the bottles they have stacked up and ready to go to local Wellingtonians

Just a tiny amount of the bottles they have stacked up and ready to go to local Wellingtonians

I forgot to photograph it out of sheer hunger one day but Pizza Pomodoro is run by this lovely Italian man and his pizzas are just divine – they brought back big time memories of Naples and their super soft go back for more dough…

You could easily have a foodie crawl down this tiny side street and have to roll yourself out at the end but you wouldn’t break the bank at the same time. Nice work Wellington.

Plus, they have cool cat graffiti...

Plus, they have cool cat graffiti…

Eva Street can be found between Ghuznee and Dixon Streets, parallel to Taranaki & Cuba. 

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Filed under Cheap Eats, Food, Travel, Wellington