Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Last of the Summer Sun: Tuscany, Italy

Last week, I was lucky enough to go on holiday with four of my favourite people. We'd chosen to go somewhere where we could chill in the sunshine but also pop off for the occasional day trip, all whilst eating good food. So, perhaps it wasn't all that surprising when we settled on a little villa just out side the Tuscan village of Sieci.

Our villa was situated on top of one of the rolling hills Tuscany is famed for. Since we hadn't the foresight to hire a car, we had an entertaining (frustrating) time dragging our cases up the long country road to our home for the week. Thankfully, the trip was worth it!

For the most part, our days passed blissfully by the pool, catching up on all the reading we'd failed to do throughout the rest of the year and floating around on the must-have accessories of 2017...

Occasionally, we'd potter down to the nearby village (eyes out for the wild boar!) to stock up on essentials such as wine, cheese and parma ham.

Demi took the role of resident chef, cooking us up spectacular meals each evening while we drank wine and bickered over whose turn it was to do the washing up.

Since Florence was only a short train ride away, we ventured into the city to explore the beautiful streets and visit some old favourite spots.

Of course, stopping by the spectacular Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

One particularly good discovery was the rooftop bar at the Westin Excelsior which gave us unrivalled  views over the city and tasty cocktails. We enjoyed our first visit so much, we returned a couple of days later for round two! Just look how far we could see over the rooftops of Florence!

Whilst in Florence, we took an afternoon course to learn how to make pizza and gelato. We learned about the different flours Italians use in their cooking, how to stretch our pizza dough properly and the exact differences between gelato and ice cream. The course was really fun and interactive, made all the better by the tasting session held at the end where we got to eat our hand made pizzas and sample the gelato, all washed down with a generous glass of wine.

On our last day, we escaped the city's heat by looking around the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall. Famed for once having been the seat of Medici power in Florence and later, the home of the provisional government, each room of the building is decadently decorated with elaborate paintings, likening the residents to various old Roman gods and goddesses.

Tuscany is a magical area of Italy. The countryside, with its vineyards and olive groves, is simply beautiful and Florence is a spectacular city. I already can't wait to return.

Monday, 14 August 2017

From Selfie to Self-Expression at the Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery on the King's Road is often home to some of the quirkier exhibitions in London. Not so long ago, it hosted the Rolling Stones and the icon Chanel exhibitions, before that, a rather 'out there' pop art show. Now, we're in the final weeks of 'From Selfie to Self-Expression' which aims to demonstrate our changing relationship with art.

The exhibition starts with some instantly recognisable self-portraits from greats such as Van Gogh and Picasso, all displayed on screens, allowing you to 'like' your favourites. These very first 'selfies' show that immortalising yourself in print is by no means a new concept - it's something we've been fascinated with for hundreds of years.

As you move through the exhibition, you are confronted with a host of more modern images, giving you a glimpse into the picture-taker's life and how they views themselves. Some, perhaps more vapid than others (Kim Kardashian's mirror shots spring to mind, especially compared with Nan Goldin's shot taken one month after being badly battered).

I loved the video series put together by Juno Calypso, which showed her in the honeymoon suite of a hotel, surrounded by mirrors and very much on her own.

There is even one room where every inch of the walls is plastered in projections of selfie-videos of every day people.

The exhibition is wonderfully interactive. Like this pom-pom picture which mirrors the outline of its viewer!

Or these two, which bring you right into the art pieces.

I really enjoyed wandering around the exhibition - some of the shots were familiar, some thought provoking and others just down-right entertaining. Although some people may argue that taking a selfie is not 'art' in itself, it's interesting to be reminded that self-expression is just a button click away.

The exhibition runs until September 6th and is free - worth a quick pop by if you're in the area! 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Portugal: Sucolento and the City

Whilst in Lisbon, Jossi and I found the best little local restaurant ever. But more on that in a moment. Firstly, a little more about what we got up to in the city its self, starting from the hotel!

So, I have already mentioned we were staying in a rather nice hotel, up a rather large hill. Because of said hill, Joss and I had a plan to attempt to not walk up and down it too much - head out nice and early in the morning, see what we wanted to see and then make it back to the pool side to catch the afternoon rays.

Well, of course 'holiday time' kicked in, along with routinely eating too much for breakfast, so our start times steadily got later and later, and I could be found more often like this:

That said, we still managed to get out and about to see what the city had to offer.

Lisbon is a lovely city to walk around. The buildings are all brightly coloured, their facades covered in beautifully painted tiles called 'azulejo' and there are places to stop for a bite to eat or a drink everywhere. Trams rattle precariously through the streets while pedestrians weave in and out of the narrow side streets. In the evenings, 'Fado' bands pop up everywhere from restaurants to public parks, playing live music accompanied by guitars late into the night.The city is very much alive.

This beautiful building is the train station, can you believe?!

Oh, there are bakeries everywhere....!

One of the main sights to see in the center of the city is the São Jorge Moorish castle which commands the city from one of the seven hilltops.

The castle dates from Portugal's medieval period and is mostly just an impressive network of fortified walls and battlements now. However, it's fun to walk around and get a feel for the history of the town.

If you're lucky, you may even get up and close to this fine fellow!

The castle is surrounded by narrow streets, perfect for getting lost in. We found an incredible little ice cream place called Gelataria Portuguesa where I had some pear ice cream which was just amazing - so flavoursome and fresh! Not only that, it was very inexpensive too which is always a nice bonus. 

Whilst we were out in Lisbon, we had number of recommendations from friends who insisted  (multiple times, through various forms of communication) that we should visit the Time Out Market.

Now, I am a fervent disciple of Time Out. In London, if Time Out suggests you should go somewhere, I will make the booking. If, on the rare occasion I get somewhere before Time Out reports on it, I am flooded with a overwhelming sense of smug validation. Yes Katie, you are indeed a trendy and up to date person. You may be heading into your mid-twenties, but you're far from your box yet! 

The idea behind the Time Out Market is to take the best of a city, from street food to Michelin stared restaurants and put them all under one roof.

The result is a cavernous warehouse filled with food stalls and communal eating tables. We perused the stalls, finally settling on one (after having picked up a couple of nibbles from other stalls) and ordering our meals.

Then, armed with our trays, we headed to the tables, finally finding a spot opposite a trio of German siblings who were enthusiastically tucking in to each other's plates.

This was the joy of the market place - there is so much to try you can't possibly eat it all, but you can definitely attempt to. Divide and conquer is the way forwards! Not only that, but communal eating spaces meant we ended up deep in (hilarious) conversation with our German neighbors, bonding over the deliciousness in front of us! All in all, the Time Out Market was an incredibly enjoyable experience.

But! The market was nothing compared to Sucolento.

We heard about Sucolento through Trip Adviser and quickly booked ourselves in for dinner.

Thank God we did.

Sucolento turned out to be our favouite place to eat we found all trip.

The little restaurant is tucked away down a narrow street somewhat off the beaten track. Small and family run, there is evidently a bit of a fight for tables. On arriving, we accidentally stated the wrong time for our reservation and were met with mistrust - did we dare think we could sneak in so easily?!

However, we ironed this out and were shown to our table, where we proceeded to order a selection from the menu. I went for the 'Rosbife' and we ordered some chicken tacos to share, along with a bottle of wine.

The food honestly blew us away. It was relatively simple and wholly delicious. Not only that, when one thing wasn't available on the menu, we were brought a little taster of another dish to try instead by the bemused restaurant owner.

By the end of the evening, we were totally in love. The food was great and we had managed to win over the staff who we were chatting away happily with by the end of the meal.

We tried desperately to book in for another dinner, but Sucolento was totally booked up until we left! So in the end, we settled for a lunch time reservation and on our last day in Lisbon we returned and were enthusiastically met with a 'you're late!'. I ended up ordering the same again (which was just fantastic) but then regretted my choice when I saw the incredible open top sandwiches emerging from the kitchen. Everything just looked so great.

I couldn't recommend Sucolento enough. The food was fantastic, the staff were fabulous (definitely had their own charm and were evidently very enthusiastic about the restaurant) and the menu inexpensive. Despite being (very obviously) tourists, by the end of two short meals, I felt almost as if we'd been accepted into the family. All in all, a truly brilliant experience.

Lisbon was a city of surprises. I arrived not really knowing what to expect and left with a list of things I cannot wait to return to do! If that's not a mark of a great place to visit, I don't know what is!

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