Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Travel Diary: Falling For Paris (Literally)

These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I visited most places for 4 days, with the exception of Germany and some day trips. This is my way of taking you guys on my adventures through Europe, giving you guys my thoughts on each place and any tips I’ve picked up! 

Falling For Paris


My trip to Paris was pretty much almost a blur and to be quite honest, I barely did anything at all. You can thank my unstable ankle for that, as I rolled it whilst walking in the city (hence the title haha).When people say Paris is the city of love, they’re not wrong. The city itself has a very romantic vibe, mostly because of its beautiful buildings and monuments. That's really what I fell in love with, how picturesque the city is. There are definitely a million spots that are instagrammable. However, because of that I felt like it wasn't the best place to travel alone and wouldn't do it again unless I had someone with me.

I caught the EuroStar from London to Paris, a 2 hour train ride that made it easier to get right into the city. From there, I made my way to Hotel Vendome Saint-Germain. It’s a cute, modern place that was close to a number of train stations and walking distance to some tourist attractions. The Notre Dame Cathedral, Fontaine Saint-Michel and Shakespeare & Company Book store were all nearby! 

Address: 8 Rue d'Arras, 75005, Paris

What I Saw

The Lourve | Arc de Triomphe | Eiffel Tower
I went to three major tourist attractions, which really is somewhat of a poor effort. 

The Lourve is insanely big, and you can spend hours and hours in it. The main attraction is the one and only Mona Lisa, and that’s where you’ll find majority of the people.


If you really want a photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background, do not head to the actual site - unless you’re planning to climb it. Instead, find a park nearby to get it in its entirety. 

TIP: Definitely pre-book tickets to the places you want to head to. It makes it so much easier and skipping lines is a plus. You can also download the app “Duck The Line” to skip the queue at the Notre Dame Cathedral

Activities


Really, the only activity I did in Paris was sign up for the Paris Bar Crawl. The guide takes you to three different bars around Montmarte, with free shots at each and the last one lands you near the Moulin Rouge. I met some really friendly people and had an enjoyable night! The next day wasn’t so fun though.

Places To Shop


Paris is THE number one place to shop. Or France at least. It was a shame that I couldn’t get to all the places I wanted to go to. 

Le Grande Epicerie de Paris
Have you ever seen a luxury grocery food store, because this is it. I was on the hunt for some Foie Gras to bring home for my parents but really could’ve bought everything - from the cheese to the charcuterie. I settled for pastries instead, and the croissant was to die for.

Paris Lourve Duty-Free KAMS 1960 
It’s not as big as I thought it’d be, but they’re all about giving you good deals on top of claiming back VAT. I grabbed a couple of items for my mum, including some Lancome creams and a Chanel perfume and the amount was a whole lot cheaper than at home.

Other places I wanted to check out were: Nose, Fragonard Boutique, Parle Moi De Parfum and Galeries Lafeyette.

Where I Ate

I was very underwhelmed with food in Paris. But I also think I was daunted by not being able to comprehend the menu and the fact that I didn’t entirely enjoy the first meal I had. I do regret though, not eating all the pastries I could.

Le Relais de L’Entreconte
This is one of the more well known restaurants in Paris. People queue up as soon as it opens to grab a table. They’re famous for steaks and fries, with pepper sauce. I wouldn’t say I loved it but that’s because steak in Australia is already so good and I couldn’t stop comparing the two.

Foyer Mon Vietnam
Safe to say after the pub crawl I needed some comfort food, so I searched for a nearby Vietnamese restaurant and had Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio.

Matsumi 
Can you tell I gave up finding French foods? My friends took me to Matsumi, a sushi train restaurant, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Strada Cafe
The last morning I was there, I found this gem across the road and loved it! The place does brunch differently every week, and the day I was in they were offering a “hot dish” that had eggs, some kind of thick sauce and grounded concoction. The taste was so good, because there were so many elements and flavours. Definitely recommend trying it out!

Transportation 

Public Transport is easily accessible, with the option of bulk purchasing tickets beforehand. You can buy 10 tickets in one go, which is convenient. In Paris there are a number of public transport options including Metro, RER and the bus, which all use the same tickets. 

Uber is also readily available, and I had to rely on that quite a bit after rolling my ankle and couldn’t walk as much. Rides were quite cheap seeing as it isn’t as far to get from one place to another.

Have You Been To Paris? What Was Your Favourite Thing To Do Or See?


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Thursday, 14 June 2018

Travel Diary: London in Three Days

These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I visited most places for 4 days, with the exception of Germany and some day trips. This is my way of taking you guys on my adventures through Europe, giving you guys my thoughts on each place and any tips I’ve picked up! 

London in Three Days


I sped through London in three days and loved every moment of it! Out of all the cities, I’m fairly sure I did the most touristy things here. Navigating through the city was super easy and I didn’t have to rely on public transport too much. London really turned it up for me, being super sunny and warm, so I took full advantage of it and walked pretty much everywhere. 

Places I Visited




Hampstead Heath
I spent my first day lazing around at Hampstead Heath, just one of the many parks London has to offer. It’s insane how people swarm to parks, not just in the U.K but pretty much everywhere in Europe as soon as the sun comes out. I guess coming from a country like Australia where we sometimes do take advantage of the weather we get, it really shocked me how much people loved being outdoors as soon as it was nice and warm. My cousin, who’s just migrated over there, told me that London’s weather is never like how it was when I was there. I was getting 27-28 degrees days, which suited me plenty.

Tower of London and London Bridge
I did a quick walk around the Tower of London before deciding it wasn’t necessary to actually go inside. I will say I am a huge history buff and the Tudor era is one of my favourite periods in history to learn about. However, as a tourist, I’m not one to venture further than what I consider necessary. The tower was impressive to look at but I wasn’t very keen on spending almost $50AUD for a ticket into the place. Instead, I walked along the river and saw the bridge before crossing it.  



I did opt to take up the William Shakespeare Globe Tour, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. My tour guide was a very enthusiastic girl who made the whole tour really exciting and fun to listen to. Even better, they handed us free tickets to watch the Twelfth Night that was currently being performed. That was enjoyable for about 30 minutes until standing right underneath the sun became a bit too much. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral
I ended the day by walking over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and seeing how grand it was followed with doing a quick walk down Oxford St. 

King’s Cross Station (Platform 9 3/4)
I got there to the iconic Platform 9 3/4 platform for a photo at 9:30-10:00AM and there was already a line, so be sure to get there early or it’ll just get busier! Bless the girl in the line behind me who was alone as well - she took a killer photo. They have a person to help stage the photo and props available. 


Buckingham Palace and Harrod's
Then it was more sightseeing with Buckingham Palace my next stop. I actually didn’t realise that 11:00AM is when the guards change their posts and there were so many people. I was trying to side step someone to see what was happening but had a police officer tell me off for overstepping the boundaries. Oops. In all honesty, I got kind of bored so I began to walk to Harrod’s instead. Harrod’s is a huge department store with very fancy interior and exterior. I popped in to buy some Harrod’s tea and then went to the other side of the street to shop some more. 

Favourite Things I Did


Les Miserable
I bought tickets to Les Miserable one afternoon and it was by far my favourite thing I did in London. The musical was playing at Queens Theatre and was so magical. Hands down, Les Miserable has topped my list of favourite musicals - it is a must watch! 



Tottenham vs. Newcastle
Then it was a mad dash to Wembley Stadium to see Tottenham versus Newcastle, which was also super fun. I watched football, or as we Australians like to call it, soccer, when I was younger, but to actually be in the atmosphere and see what the crowd is like was incredible. 


What To Eat

Please, please do yourself a favour and head to one of the Dishoom restaurants in London. I went there for breakfast and was so sad that I was by myself because I couldn’t order everything on the menu! As soon as you take a bite from the dish you’re just overwhelmed with all the different spices and elements that come together to create an amazing taste. Really, I would go everyday just to make my way through all Dishoom has to offer.

If you’re a fan of food stalls/trucks take a stroll through Borough Market and try to decide what you want to eat the most. There are so many options it took me forever to decide! But I felt like the best choice was fish and chips considering I was in London after all. 


This Michelin star restaurant was well worth the money. There’s a set menu you can order, which includes entree, main and dessert and complimentary cocktail. Loved the entree and the dessert was amazing. There are a few options for mains and my cousin and I shared ours so we could taste both. 



I couldn't not eat brunch, and after heaps of research I hunted down Granger & Co for some acai. I also found out a fellow Aussie set up this place so I knew it would be good!

Quick Tips


Transport from the Airport to the City
I took the Underground, which was immensely cheaper than the Airport Express option, which the airport has so many signs for. Don’t be fooled! It’s different to the local trains that London has so read your signs carefully. The only thing is taking trains underground means there is no reception so make sure you’ve plotted your trip beforehand to know which stations to get off and if you need to transfer. 

Accessing Public Transport
Super easy! If you’re only there for a few days there’s no need to purchase an Opal card. Instead, you can just tap your debit/credit card at each station and on the bus and that’s it. I relied on Google Maps to know which trains and buses to take and it was pretty successful. It was also kind of exciting to be on a double decker bus - I know, super cheesy.

You could definitely say I had a very “English” experience, and ultimately I did fall in love with London. The weather really did help in my case but I loved that it reminded me of Melbourne but had much more history in its buildings, giving the city a more whimsical feel. 


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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Travel Diary: A Weekend In Tuscany

These are a series of posts covering my 5 weeks in Europe, and each country I see in bite sizes. Or as my best friend likes to say, “speed touristing.” I'm in most places for 3 to 4 days, with some exceptions and I wanted to bring you guys along! Follow me on my adventure to see what I love and don't love, and tips and tricks I might pick up on the way

A Weekend In Tuscany


Starting off in Italy was such a great way to immerse myself in European culture. Instead of heading to the more well-known areas, I opted to join my cousin and her friends on a girl’s weekend to Tuscany and Verona for 3 nights. We spent majority of our time in Tuscany, and did lunch stops in two places - Bologna and Sirmione.

Bologna

Bologna is, and I honestly don’t know why I didn’t believe this in the first place, famous for Bolognese. I know right? We stopped between our drive from the airport to our destination to have lunch whilst seeing what Bologna had to offer. It’s not a small town, but not as big as Verona either. There isn’t a whole lot to see but when we arrived there was a market with cheap clothing and the town square was lively. We were adamant on trying bolognese based pasta before leaving. The restaurant we ate at offered a variety of pastas famous within Bologna. Between the two that I tried - Tortellini Bolognese and Pappardelle Della Nona - the pappardelle actually won out. The pasta was thick and just the right texture, the sauce so flavoursome and fresh. It was my first taste of authentic Italian pasta and I was impressed.


Tuscany


Our main destination was Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort, located in Vicchio. The place sits high on a hill away from any other towns, offering some peace and quiet, perfect for an R&R session. There's also a pool available for nicer weather, just on the edge of the hill, overlooking a number of small towns. Alongside that are activities that can be undertaken, including cooking classes, spa session and truffle hunting when in season.


We decided on doing a Wine Tour (surprise, surprise), which gave us the option of visiting multiple wineries or just one. The resort organised transportation to and from the place and we set off to Frascole farm, a short drive from the resort to learn about wine production and try the variations that came from Tuscany. Frascole is located in Dicomano and the scenery was so lush and green. We were actually expecting the weather to be absolutely horrible, but it was warm and sunny thankfully. The owner of the winery was a lovely gentlemen, who is meticulous in his wine production and treats his different wines as his babies. During the tasting we were also given a light lunch of cheese, Italian meats and bread, which was amazing. It was a really pleasant afternoon and we felt so welcomed and comfortable by the end of it. There is an option to purchase the wines after tasting with a courier service if there’s no way to transport it home.

When we were at the Resort, the staff were super accommodating and friendly, catering to our needs - or in our case, endless amount of wine and prosecco orders. We took full advantage of the weekend to try wines after wines after wines, along with constant pizza and pasta dishes. The Resort had free all-you-can-eat breakfast, with fresh oranges and grapefruits that can be placed in a squeezer for juice. That was amazing!! Both mornings there were slight variations in meats, cheeses and pastries available. In the evening there is a 3 course dinner if you decide to dine in. I chose a Grilled Octopus starter, Spaghetti for the main and Tiramisu for dessert. The starter was beautiful but I wasn’t crazy about the main or dessert.


Sirmione


We left early Sunday morning to drive to Sirmione, a resort town south of Lake Gada. Sirmione was stunning. It’s really hard to express how pretty the place is unless you head there yourself. It is quite touristy, but doesn’t lose its cultural aspect. We were lucky enough to have really warm weather so we sat in the sun during lunch sipping on Aperol Spritz, whilst eating, yes, pasta and pizza. I’ve noticed Aperol Spritz is a huge thing in Italy, or at the very least in Sirmione and Verona. Back at home it’s just begun to pick up and pretty much only in Summer when the Australian Open is on. If you’re after blue skies and cute cobblestone alleyways, this is the place to be.

Verona


Verona was exactly what I imagined Europe to be like. It’s famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and they definitely take advantage of that by having a balcony, known as “Juliet’s Balcony,” for tourists to visit. It’s really just a balcony. The town square is bustling with market stalls selling trinkets and the vendors are all dressed up in historical costume. There’s quiet a bit to see so take a walk through the smaller streets, towards the lake and back around. During the warmer weather it’s no surprise to see cafe tables filled up outside as both tourist and locals sit around to chat and day drink. We had our last meal at a really cute restaurant, with tables set up in the alleyway and fairy lights, which admittedly caught our attention. We shared a number of starters and each had a pasta dish. The Pappardelle and Truffle pasta I had was nice, but I think I would’ve liked another element to the dish rather than just truffle. I know, stupid, considering I ordered it knowing it was just truffles. 

I’d have to say the weekend in Italy was amazing. I’m a little sad I’m not doing more of Italy after seeing a part of it, but would highly recommend Villa Campestri if you want to treat yourself whilst on holiday. It is a very quiet area though, and most of the guests are couples of smaller families who are looking to get away, so if you want big nights and crowds this isn’t the place. Verona was great as well, not too big but had a lot to offer. 

Travelling There

Driving to the Villa was roughly 3 hours from Verona airport. From the Resort to Sirmione was 2 and a half hours and Sirmione to Verona was only 45 minutes. We decided driving was the ideal option as there were 7 of us and hiring a minivan was more cost effective. Make sure you get insurance if you do hire, and be prepared to see some pretty crazy driving. The roads aren’t hard to navigate, but driving through the highway and using toll roads weren’t really cheap. There are multiple airports to fly into though, if you want to head to Tuscany, and accessible public transport. One of the girls flew to Piza and took a train to a station close to the Resort, calling ahead to make sure the Resort organised transportation from the train to the Resort for her. Average prices of food for the places we went to were roughly 10 euros for plate of pasta and alcohol was 4 to 5 euros. 


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Monday, 29 January 2018

'Shades of Magic' Is Truly A Magical Series

Series: Shades of Magic 
Author: V.E Scwhab
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. 

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Review


When I originally finished A Darker Shade of Magic I wasn’t 100% sure I was ready to commit to this series. It took me awhile to realise I actually liked it. But like it, I do. In fact this entire series has me smitten!!

V.E Scwhab has a way about with words, not in that she writes in beautiful, lyrical prose, but in the way she builds her world and characters. In a lot of fantasy novels I’ve read, the world gets bigger and bigger, expanding continuously as the series progresses. It does get a little harder to remember places and their names, and referring to the map constantly can be tiring. That’s probably why I love how Schwab has constructed the world, making it big enough to encompass plot progression, but not overly extravagant that it has to include 2 continents and a galaxy far away. Instead, she builds strong foundation for the 4 Londons, different in every way, with rich and very believable history.

Schwab’s strength in writing also translates to her characters. Each character is unique, carrying their own voice and back story, which makes it easy to connect. It’s very rare that I find every character memorable, but Schwab makes sure that each person she introduces has a purpose in the series. Whether it was a minor or major character, they all played a part in driving the plot. The thing I loved most though, was that Schwab created characters with depth. Sure, you have your decided villains vs. heroes, but I started noticing a lot of grey occurring. What I mean is that Schwab was trying to imply that there is no definitive line between good vs. bad, and you could see that each character had flaws that either made me realise not everyone is perfect and those who come across as “bad” can be empathised for.

Shades of Magic biggest strength though, is its continuous story line. True, each novel has a different problem that needs to be resolved, but there all interlinked and stem from the original situation that occurs in ADSoM. It was so easy to keep up with the plot and what was happening because, as a whole, the series had one purpose. I find a lot of fantasies tend to steer left and right with mini challenges for the characters before it ultimately becomes so different to what was originally introduced. SOM knew where it was heading and did it convincingly.

Schwab’s has produced a creative and gripping story, easy to fly through and really immerse yourself in the world and its characters. I grew attached to the characters and the world itself, wanting to experience it first hand. The series wrapped up satisfyingly, and A Conjuring of Light was probably my favourite read of the three.

Individual Ratings
A Darker Shade of Magic: 3.5/5
A Gathering of Shadows: 4/5
A Conjuring of Light: 4.5/5

Overall Series Rating


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Friday, 19 January 2018

A Year of Reading In 2017

I am well aware it’s already midway through January, but it doesn’t feel right to not post a recap of the previous year as the first post of 2018. 

In 2017, I didn’t set yearly resolutions as I usually do. Instead, I decided to implement steps to build towards habits and goals I want to achieve in the long run. I found that every year I tried to set New Years Resolutions, I didn’t plan the appropriate steps to achieve them and so they were left forgotten by April or May. 

What I wanted to focus on was how I felt whilst reading and blogging, amongst other things in my personal life. I mentioned in my 2017 goals video that I didn’t want reading and blogging to become a chore because I felt like I had to read the most books or feel like I’ve failed as a reader. Likewise, I didn’t want to overcommit to blogging and produce content I wasn't happy with just for the numbers. With that in mind, let’s jump into 2017 and how it panned out for me!


A Year of Reading





Book Count: 17 
Immensely lower than any of my other years, but what I wanted was to read memorable books that left an impression, which I can confidently say has been the case. Alongside that I did make a conscience effort to expand my reading genre and read books that were thought-provoking.

Favourites

Reviews


Overall, I'm pleasantly surprised with how satisfying majority of the reads I went through for 2017. Here's hoping 2018 is the same. I'm not too sure I'll write a full post on my goals for 2018 because I feel like that's kind of too late as well, but we'll see!

How Was 2017 For You? Let Me Know What Your Favourite Read Was!


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