Monday, 19 November 2012

It's a (navy) blue Christmas

Every year I get something new to wear for Christmas. It's become something of a tradition. Either I ask Santa kindly for a new dress (something I have tried on and approved of course!), or I frantically scour the shops the week before, hoping to get a bargain in the sale. Inevitably, the latter tactic is usually less than successful and results in me wearing something I've already bought.

This year, I am seemingly super prepared, having bought all my Christmas presents bar one, and so that leaves more time to ensure I look my best on Christmas day. It's not like my family are competitive about who looks best on the day or anything. Not at all.

For Christmas day, I'm thinking the navy blue silk blouse (£42.99, Mango), with some very pale yellow waist pleat trousers (£79, Cos). I'll probably wear it with my nude pink pointy toed shoes from French Connection from the SS12 collection.

For Boxing day, I'd like a dress, but nothing too clingy. There needs to be room for all that Christmas buffet after all. This tunic style dress (£135, Whistles), fits the bill perfectly. Worn with slightly sheer black tights and my beige studded ankle boots, it will look casual, but with a dressier edge.

I've ordered the blouse but yet to take the plunge on the Whistles dress. £135 seems quite a lot of money for what is essentially a simple dress. I know I'll wear it lots, but just need to get over that mental barrier.

I've also realised that my outfit choices have some kind of sub-conscious nautical theme. In fact my other option for Boxing day, at a more palatable £34.99, is also navy and white!

All I want for Christmas is... homeware

I cannot wait for the day I can furnish my own house. In the mean time, here are some updates that I'd love to see in my rented flat.

1. Grid Throw, £80
2. Coloured Enamel Tumblers, £5 each
3. Coco Bowls, £10 each
4. Spine Drop Pendant, £230
5. Table lamp, £26
6. Bird Nestles Cushion, £75

All I want for Christmas is... jewellery

Who doesn't love receiving jewellery? I already have a growing collection, but surely Christmas is the ideal time to help it grow some more?
I'm torn between big, bold costume jewellery (H&M and Zara have some great high street alternatives) and delicate, teeny-weeny pendants (Etsy has, literally, thousands of options).
Here are my top picks..

Marrakech, Mountains, tagines and table tennis

This blog was supposed to be a joint endeavour, a way for my boyfriend and I to have some kind of outlet outside of work. As you can probably tell that hasn't happened!

Even though I enjoy writing, having a blog is harder than I expected. It's a commitment and can weigh heavily on you at times. I also don't really take photos, and so getting in to the mindset of taking them all the time is a bit of a drag. I hate being one of those people who photographs their food before they eat it or spends time composing photos to look like they're having fun, when actually they're not - they are posing for a photograph. Unless you have paparazzi stalking you and catching those 'natural' moments that so many bloggers love to share, you have to continually interrupt your day to capture those pictures. Without photos, blog posts are dull and people tend to skip them (at least, I do), so luckily, although Harry may be a lousy blogger, he loves photography, and enabled me to do a great post on our latest trip..

Last weekend, we went to Marrakech for four days for some sun and relaxation. My first tip would be: do not go to Marrakech for sun in November. The weather forecasts may look inviting, but we actually had a mixture of rain and cloud, with a sprinkling of sun thrown in. At night it was actually really cold too. However, I can thoroughly recommend going for some relaxation and adventure.

Quick PR - we stayed at Kasbah Igoudar which was fabulous. It's about 45km outside of Marrakech, so more suitable if you plan on visiting the Atlas Mountains (or, if the weather is nice, for total relaxation as their pool area is lovely), but the people are really friendly, the rooms are comfortable and food, cooked by a local Berber is really tasty. We travelled with Voyage Prive, which gave us a great deal on accommodation and easyjet flights.

Here's a few snapshots of our visit.

Much colder than it looks - see the snow in the background

Final day, after becoming table tennis champions
The hotel and grounds were beautiful. The Kasbah, although new, has been built in the traditional style and has rooms coming off a central courtyard, like a Riad. In Summer. the roof can be opened. We spent a lot of our time in the snug, where the kind hotel employees built us a fire and served us dinner. Dinner was mostly tagines, but also a delicious pastilla, which is a sweet-savoury pigeon pie. Delicious. Word of warning - alcohol is comparatively expensive to food and everything else in Morocco, at around £16 a bottle. It's also not widely available due to Muslim law, so stock up in duty free if you plan on having wine with dinner. 
We also played a lot of table tennis, winning some Moroccan tea (very sweet mint tea) after beating the other couples. A very proud moment!

Marrakech, and indeed any where you visit, is a shoppers delight. Not only will the locals do their best to persuade you to buy anything and everything, you'll probably want a fair bit of it too. Generally aim  to pay about 60% of the price in the souks. While we were there, we bought a shisha pipe, a small trinket box made from coral, a bracelet, a reflexology session (inadvertent purchase), some nuts and some fruit. If I'd had more money and luggage allowance, I'd have loved a tagine and a traditional rug.

At the Royal Palace

Lunch at Tangier
There's plenty to do in the centre of Marrakech; we only visited for one day but would have liked longer. The Royal Palace is definitely worth a visit, and at 10 Dhs (less than £1) for entry, it's definitely worth it. I would also recommend visiting a local hammam (only for the brave!) and la Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful garden designed by Yves St Laurent and full of some unusual plants. We had lunch at Tangier, a traditional restaurant specialising in.. tagines! The honey and almond chicken was sweet and moist, and the couscous with caramelised onions and chicken was also delicious. If it's warmer, it's worth eating in the main square, the Djemaa el fna, which has lots of food stalls where you can eat with locals. Be warned though, sheep's head is highly regarded here!

Cycling on the road to nowhere

Abandoned village
The Kasbah had bikes available to use for free, so we spent a morning cycling around. We had no idea where we were heading, and followed a pretty remote road for an hour or so, passing plenty of donkeys, shepherds and sheep. We ended up at an abandoned village which was pretty cool. By this time, the sun had also decided to come out and play so it was a pleasant morning that resulted in sunburnt faces.

Finally, I cannot recommend a trip to the Atlas Mountains enough. I would love to go back and spend a few days there hiking and exploring, and you can even ski there. The highest mountain, Mount Toubkal, is over 4,000m.

Climbing up a waterfall

Berber village in the Mountains
We had a day trip to the Mountains, and a local guide took us on a two hour walk which involved scrambling up a waterfall and visiting a few Berber villages. We then had a traditional meal of tagine (of course) in a Berber house, followed by the requisite Moroccan tea. The place we visited was called Imlil, and was about 90 minutes drive from Kasbah Igoudar (~ 2 hours from Marrakech). The drive itself was spectacular, with views for miles. Imlil is a relatively big village and had a thriving back-packing scene, with plenty of walkers. Ironically, there were more restaurants / bars / shops in the 'remote' mountains than near our hotel!

So all in all it was a great trip. The culture is really like no other, and although you will inevitably get fleeced by the locals, that's all part of the fun. It was my second visit, and I'm so glad I made it to the Mountains this time, it was my favourite part of the trip and one I am keen to repeat. So if you need a walking partner Dad, let me know!

I love Berlin

Yes I know I've been absent. In my defence, I have been on two trips, been super busy at work arranging a secondment and been ill (still am ill s).
Anyway I will share some of my photos from my recent visit to my oldest (as in most long-standing) friend in Berlin. It was an amazing weekend and left me feeling incredibly jealous; not only is Berlin a really cool, cultured city, everything is also SUPER cheap!

This can be confirmed by my latest obsession, Expatistan. Expatistan compares the cost of living in different cities and tells you how they compare. Berlin is apparently 41% cheaper than London, with food, transportation and entertainment being streets ahead. Come on London, time to up your game.

Anyway, on with Berlin. Street art is massive in Berlin. There is graffiti everywhere. But not cuss words and scrawl, actual art. Even what remains of the Berlin Wall has been turned into and outdoor celebration of street art, named the East Side Gallery.

Start of the East Side Gallery
Even if you're not into art I would say it's worth a go. This section of the wall stretches for over a kilometre and is a nice walk on a sunny day. The other side of the wall, which faces the river, is also a gallery, albeit the 'unofficial' one. I didn't get chance to see that, so definitely one for next time.

The Kiss
 This is apparently the most famous part of the gallery, and I'm a shameless, sheep-like tourist for photographing it like everyone else. It was painted by a Russian artist in 1990, and is of the Soviet leader Leonard Brezhnev kissing the East German president Erich Honnecker. Full story is here.

Parrot postbox
I photographed this purely because I loved it. A parrot postbox! I'm not sure if the parrot was some kind of graffiti that inspired the post box or vice versa, but either way, where can I get one?
Becca, posing after much persuasion

Huge sculpture that came to life when you put a coin in

The locals didn't seem too impressed with me..
The last few photos were taken near a shopping area, which I believe was called Potsdamer Platz Arcades, although I could be wrong. The shopping in Berlin was in general quite good. There were lots of predictable European brands (H&M, Zara, Mango...) but some smaller local shops too, which were mostly found on side streets. Timeout has a great feature on shopping if you are planning on taking advantage of the excellent exchange rate and highly competitive prices.

Another thing I loved about Berlin was the cafe culture.

I had my first mulled wine (Gluhwein) of the year, along with the darkest, richest chocolate torte and a carrot cake. The carrot cake wasn't quite as good, but still a beast of a slice and with great icing. These were both from Anna Blume, the ideal people watching destination, situated on a cross roads. And although it was raining and cold, they have patio heaters, an outdoor canopy and blankets on the back of every chair for when you're really cold.

A Vietnamese cafe, enjoying some jasmine tea
I also visited a couple of markets over the weekend. I think Berlin is most famous for its flea markets, which sell everything from second hand clothing, to records, food, paintings and furniture. A lot of the stalls look like someone just pitched up with whatever they found down the back of their sofa, but there are also some excellent handmade goods to be had, from native American jewellery, to art. 

 I bought this limited edition print of a water buffalo for only 20 euros, from an artist called Palefroi. It's probably a good job I had to pay with cash else I could have come away with a lot more!

Flower market
Finally, one of the best things about Berlin, is the weird 'Berlin-isms'. Such as the Berlin bear:

And the Ampelmann, basically the 'green man' you get a traffic lights. East and West Berlin used to have different figures, and so the one that got chosen is a bit of a national obsession. There's a whole shop dedicated to him where you can buy signs, socks, sponges, luggage tags (like me), clothing, sweets... it's really quite mad.

Now I will leave you with some food recommendations courtesy of Timeout. I can definitely vouch for The Bird, possibly one of the best burger places I have ever been too, and it seems, so have all my friends who have previously visited Berlin.

I'm sure you can tell I absolutely fell in love with the city. It's very green and spacious, and so vibrant. Apparently the clubbing scene is one of the best in Europe, so even though I am not much of a clubber, that's definitely something to try next time I'm there.