Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nutella Heaven in Flatiron

So, I have grossly neglected my blog recently but a quiet weekend to myself has given me time to get back to it. 

I love Eataly, I used to work in the area and would pop in for lunch most weeks. They have the most amazing produce and its a genuinely enjoyable shopping experience with knowledgable staff and quality foods. So when I heard that Eataly was opening a Nutella bar, I was counting down the days until the opening.

This is any self respecting nutella fan's dream. So, as expected, there was a fairly sizable queue of fellow nutella enthusiasts. With nutella jar upon nutella jar stacked up to the ceiling, I definitely felt as if I had gone to nutella heaven. 

Prices are a little inflated I would say, even for New York, and stock was limited as they were struggling to keep up with demand. I decided to try the Crostatina con nutella.

Realistically this place is great but more for the novelty. Nutella is good on anything and the crostatina was good- but I can't really give it any more praise than that. 

There are also lots of nutella related products (recipe books etc.) so well worth a visit if you are looking for a nutella related gift for anyone!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

City Bakery- Union Square

City Bakery has been on my to do list ever since I heard that it does the best hot chocolate in town. Now that we are entering spring and summer I knew that I had to try this out before the summer heat hits and hot chocolate becomes less tempting. 

Now, City Bakery may have built their reputation based on their hot chocolate but they also have a fantastic array of baked goods and salads. 

The decor- the main service counter dominates the room with little tables hugging the walls. It has quite an earthy feel with its wooden floors and metal structure. Inviting and spacious, it is a great place to hang out. 

I opted for one of their massive chocolate chip cookies (I will admit I had to share it in the end) and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is not massive but really is the perfect amount! Thick, rich and super chocolatey, this is for real hot chocolate enthusiasts. I normally like marshmallows on my hot chocolate but had been told to avoid this here and don't feel that I missed out on anything by opting for a marshmallow free treat.

Overall, this may not be the cheapest of places but a great stop off when you have a craving for something sweet!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Passing Through Madrid

"Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night." - Ernest Hemingway 

Although I have never lived in Madrid, I have spent a few summers on the outskirts and when I lived further afield (Extremadura) I would still have to pass through the capital on my way home. 

As such, I have visited Madrid more times than I can count. It may not be my favorite Spanish city but it is the thriving centre of the country and great for a weekend away. 

There is something very authentic and quaint about the winding streets of Madrid, many parts feel almost provincial. This bustling city feels lived in and well loved.  

Of course the Gran Via is more reminiscent of New York and its other large city counterparts. Great for shopping but certainly very touristy. 

My favorite thing to do in Madrid is to take the teleferico out to Casa del Campo. The views are breathtaking and it is a good relief from the intense summer heat. Taking you out to the spanish countryside with stunning views of both rural landscape and city, this cable car is also seriously interesting and educational. With stunning views of the Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace, a voice over the speakerphone gives you historical and cultural information throughout the ride. For roughly 5/6 euros return ticket, it's not only a different way to view Madrid, its also great value!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Basque Bakery in Soho

My family home is in the South West of France, deep in the Basque CountrySo when I stumbled across a basque restaurant in Manhattan, I just had to go in for a taste of home. With two locations, one in San Sebastian and one in New York, this authentic restaurant is staffed by Spaniards and serves traditional basque food. 

I love gateau basque (traditional basque desert made with almond flour and pastry cream) but have to say I wasn't taken with their version of it. Heavy pastry and filling that wasn't quite light enough- bit stodgy. 

But their thick spanish hot chocolate was fantastic. I also tried a peach pocket and a freshly squeezed orange juice. 

This quirky little cafe/restaurant is perfect for a spring afternoon, its doors open up onto the street and the indoor plants climbing up the walls blur the line between indoors and outdoors.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

London vs NYC

I originally intended for this to be a comparison between the US and the UK, having lived in a several places in both countries. However it then dawned on me that these are pretty big and culturally diverse countries. Comparing the two would be widely inaccurate so I decided to narrow it down to just NYC and London.
I should also probably admit that I am somewhat (ok, fairly) biased towards NYC. Not only am I currently living in the Big Apple but I have never fallen in love with London in the same way. Quite frankly, my heart belongs to New York. I would also note that I am specifically referring to Manhattan. 
With this being said, London may not be for me but I do recognize it is a fantastic city. And there are of course things that I miss. So here goes my London vs NYC list.

      1. Food
Ok so this has to be a tie. The UK has a reputation for having awful food and whilst I do see where this comes from (pot noodles and awful greasy spoons, I’m looking at you), the UK is home to a huge number of Michelin starred restaurants. NYC is a melting pot of a million cuisines, famous for its pizza and pastrami and bagels, there is always somewhere new to try, some pop up restaurant, some incredible and mind boggling fusion. But London is equally a melting pot of various cuisines, from China Town to Little Portugal, you can find everything and anything under the sun. And boy do I miss British chocolate. 
      2. Drinking
London takes this. Purely based on the pub scene. Yes the swanky NYC bars are fantastic, but you can find equally swanky bars in London. A good British pub? You have to go to London for that. Next!
3. People
NYC you got it. Londoners are renowned for being a tad moody. Cold, distant and reserved, Londoners are not a fun and friendly bunch to strangers and the general public (of course they are lovely to their family/friends/acquaintances, but on the streets you will not catch them cracking a smile). I find New Yorkers to be a genuinely friendly, down to earth and approachable bunch.
     4. Weather
Now I have yet to experience an NYC summer so I appreciate that voting NYC at this point is most likely extremely na├»ve of me. But so far, I am not missing the continual London drizzle. I am enjoying the sun on both warm and cold days. Granted, I am likely to change my tune when the oppressive summer heat and humidity hits. Watch this space. 
     5. Layout
London is obviously a much older city with a rich heritage and stunning buildings. However, I found the sheer scale of London to be pretty overwhelming. I never quite managed to get my bearings and certainly not as quickly as I did in NYC. Maybe it’s the grid system. Maybe it is the fact that I live and work in Manhattan and that I don’t venture off the island all that often, but I seem to have made sense of NYC faster.
6. Public Transport
It had to be said, NYC is just generally more convenient a city than London. Nothing embodies this more than the subway system. It is open 24/7. London's underground kills me. Aside from the fact that it is extortionately expensive, ridiculously overcrowded, consistently late/delayed/not working.... the underground shuts down around midnight. This baffles me. Say goodbye to drinking past 10.30pm. Taxis are unbearably expensive and the night bus is terrifying. NYC seems to have understood that a city that never sleeps needs 24/7 subway service. And you know what? Taxis are so affordable that if you can't bothered (and you're not going too far), hop in a cab! Sorted. 
So I give the win to: NYC. 
However, this is not to say London is without its many merits. London, I'll tell you what: I miss your good British TV, cadbury chocolate, pubs and sunny afternoons on the common. But no I do not miss your weather. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post: Interrailing Around Europe

Annie has kindly offered to write about her time spent traveling Europe a few summers ago. 

"In the summer of 2011, I went inter-railing in Europe and got to visit some cities I had always wanted to go to. It was only two of us who took the trip which was great because it meant we could truly suit ourselves. The first destination was actually my hometown of Paris so we stayed at my parents' apartment and planned the entire trip from there. As I grew up in Paris and he had visited the city many times we didn't feel the need to do tourist activities, apart from of course Disneyland

After Paris we headed to Amsterdam which was a city I had always dreamed of visiting and I was not disappointed. My favorite part of Amsterdam was how condensed the city was and how easy it is to get around. I really enjoyed visiting the Anne Frank Huis Museum, eating pancakes and the culture of the city. The people of Amsterdam are incredibly open minded and friendly and it really is a place I would love to go back and visit again sometime. We then headed to Berlin, here we spent most of our time visiting World War 2 related locations. 

Berlin was not my favorite place we visited as I felt like it wasn't the easiest city to get around so we wasted a lot of time getting lost! 

The third place we visited was Prague which was a really beautiful place and the weather was great. Prague is a great place to walk around because it is generally very pretty and there are plenty of interesting shops and building to visit, notably the clock tower. 

After Prague, we went to Italy. We went to three cities: Venice, Florence and Rome. I had visited Florence before and it's the best place in the world for a romantic stroll and a nice refreshing ice cream. Italy is one of my favorite places in the world (namely because Italian food is my absolute favorite) so I loved visiting Rome as well but Venice really was a dream come true for me. I got to go on a gondola, eat the most amazing pizza I have ever tasted and walking around the city at night really is magical.

Overall the highlights of my trip were Amsterdam and Venice because those were two places I was really eager to visit and I completely fell in love with the layout of both cities. I love the idea of strolling along the canals at night and taking a little boat trip down the street if I feel like it. 

Inter-railing was a fantastic way to visit Europe, we managed to see so many amazing places in a short space of time and traveling by train gave you a real sense of distance and freedom."


Monday, March 31, 2014

Charlotte in South Africa

Charlotte has just got back from an amazing trip in South Africa where she volunteered at African Dawn (Wildlife Sanctuary, Rehabilitation Centre and Endangered Cat Breeding Centre). She kindly agreed to write a guest post for me about some of the incredible experiences she had.


One of the highlights of my trip was the hand in trunk walk at the Elephant sanctuary. We had a two hour drive from Eastern Cape- East to Eastern Cape- West, leaving African Dawn at 5am to drive to Plettenberg Bay. I personally thought the drive was great, the scenery and sunrise was fantastic (everyone else in the taxi was sleeping so they didn’t see much...).

After paying the fee, our guide met us and guided us to the elephant sanctuary and talked about African elephants- behavior, appearance and what they eat. He then briefly introduced us to 4 elephants, one male and three females called Jabu, meaning happy (18 years old), Tandy meaning love (17 years old) and Marula (my elephant 19 years old).  

After meeting the elephants we got to choose the one we wanted to walk, I went for the leader Marula- the largest female who was known for being very cheeky and walking quickly. She likes to shove you into bushes but still holds onto you no matter what with her trunk. After dealing with her shoving me into bushes we stopped in the shaded, forested area. The keepers talked about each elephant, their individual personalities and showed some examples of the animals expressing natural behavior and doing tricks. We then interacted and stroked each elephant and the keepers taught us about the their senses, body and behavior. They made us stroke their faces, horns, feet, belly, ears and tail. On the way back we fed the elephants apples, once they finished eating they walked off holding onto the tail of the elephant in front of them (which I thought was very cute).

We then went to a room outside and our guide explained the elephants’ anatomy, how they give birth, what baby elephants do to survive and how they sleep. This was really interesting and a great way to end the day. The staff were incredible, extremely knowledgeable and friendly.

After walking the elephants you will have very dirty hands from their trunks. Marula and Jaboo both had part of their trunks missing; poor treatment from previous owners had resulted in having to remove the tips of their trunks.

SWIMMING WITH SEALS- Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape

Swimming with seals at Plettenberg Bay was incredible. We had to wear a lovely wetsuit that made us look like penguins, very flattering (ahem), flippers and snorkel. The speed boat took 15 minutes to get to a cliff side where there were hundreds of seals (including very scary male seals that were fighting and falling off the rocks). We jumped into the water and all the baby seals came towards us. They would come very close and nibble our flippers. One baby seal kept playing picaboo with me, it would pop up from under the water and squirt some sea water in my face, shake its head from side to side then dive back under water. But it is worth noting that mother seals are very protective and easily threatened, one particular seal would bark loudly at me if her baby came too close.

We swam with them for 45 minutes which was an amazing experience as seals are very friendly, interactive and quite cheeky!

BUNGEE JUMPING- Bloukrans bridge 216 m (709 feet) Highest bridge jump in the world

My thought process here was: 'Hey its the worlds highest commercial bungee bridge in the whole world, sure I'll jump off it'. And I didn’t give it much more thought than that until we arrived at the location... and the sheer height hit me.

We filled out the forms, paid, got weighed and strapped into a full body harness. A few people decided that it was not for them and would prefer to just watch. We walked along the 451 meter long bridge to the center, where we were greeted by three members of staff dancing around to the music playing in the background. Given that I cannot dive, the staff told me that they would push me off. I watched a few people go first and then before I knew it, it was my turn. The staff helped me hobble over to the edge (with my toes hanging off the bridge) and said to look at the camera and smile then on 3 jump- in my video you see me look up at the camera and say 'Wait what am I doing again? What am I doing ? OH MY GOD!' and half jump/shoved off, arms flailing everywhere and screaming my head off. Elegant and composed as always. 

My thoughts before jumping were: 'If Pocahontas can jump off a cliff; then why cant I jump off a bridge where I’m attached to ropes?'. The feeling you get as you're jumping at the start is very scary as you feel helpless trying to cling onto something but then the sound of the wind blowing past you feels amazing and the views were stunning (even though it was very blurry). The rebound was surprisingly not that bad, it just made me feel a bit confused as I was spinning around. Jumping off was scary but not as bad as just hanging at the bottom waiting to be picked up. Hanging by a rope, you feel like your ankles are slipping out and all the blood rushes to your head and fingers. At this point I was panicking because you’re just hanging there swaying back and forth for a while, the only thing keeping me calm was the sound of the river below me. Eventually, one of the staff came down to bring me back up. He attached me to his harness and pulled us up. 

Bungee jumping was the best thing I have ever done and I am so glad that I did it in South Africa. Next, skydiving! I think it has turned me into an adrenaline junkie. 

I already miss South Africa so much, the people were just lovely, very lively and so welcoming. I cannot wait to go back!

- Charlotte