Friday, 17 July 2015

A weekend of walking in the Yorkshire Dales

Earlier this summer I spent a very wholesome weekend walking in the Yorkshire Dales with my dad and youngest brother.

Optimistically we had set out with the intention to complete The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, a gruelling 25 mile slog encompassing the three highest peaks in the dales (Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough) which must be completed within twelve hours.

However, while London was warm and sunny when I left (and returned) the weather in Yorkshire was a bit more temperamental, with heavy rain on the Friday night continuing into Saturday morning and spoiling our hopes of an early start.

We decided to wait for the rain to die down and to set off later in the day for a slightly shorter, more scenic route instead - after a visit to the Wensleydale Creamery to try some of the famous local cheese (fuel for later on!)

There was a fantastic array of different Wensleydale cheeses to try, with exotic combinations including mango, pineapple and blueberry, along with the classic cranberry and apricot varieties. Unfortunately we came at the wrong time for the dairy tour, but made up for it with tea and fantastic scones in the cafe, and left loaded with cheesy souvenirs to take home.

By 11am the lashing rain had shifted into a light drizzle, so we parked up near Pen-y-ghent and set off. In general the first three hours were great. The walk to the top of Pen-y-ghent wasn't too challenging and we were rewarded with beautiful views of the hills and dales. As time went on, the hike because more and more difficult. The elements that had been fun to start with (steep ascents and descents; clambering over rocks and down roughly hewn stone staircases) became exhausting as the hours went by, and we became increasingly glad we hadn't attempted the full challenge!

The route we followed was a lot further than originally estimated (by my dad counting the squares on the map) and we didn't make it back to our starting point to collect the car, giving up and staggering back to our hostel instead. The final stretch had some of the best scenery: we passed by Malham Tarn, a creepy, sinister lake (see the photo below!), and Malham Cove, an impressive rock formation (with some even more impressive rock climbers scaling the cliff face).

Malham Tarn...spooky!

After our long day of walking, we rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved pub dinner at The Lister Arms, a lovely, very traditional English Inn on the village green. We stuffed ourselves with enormous plates of fish and chips and some much needed glasses of wine and local ale.

After dinner we hobbled round the corner to the Malham Youth Hostel (where we spent both nights). This was a friendly and comfortable spot, with a cosy living area, lots of board games, and a very hearty breakfast spread. There was a conspicuous absence of youths - instead the main clientele seemed to be incredibly fit hikers and fell runners in their 50s and 60s (our stay coincided with the Malham Trail Challenge which made our exertions look like a gentle stroll in comparison!)

You know you're a Londoner when you start getting excited by all the sheep!

My dad and I set the alarm for 5am to go and collect the car (we had to leave by 10am the next morning as I had a train booked and my brother had a rugby game - which he was somehow able to play in despite the blisters!). We had another three hours of walking, which doesn't sound too bad - but with the steep hills and rough terrain (not to mention our aching feet) it was a real challenge. Having said that, it was very pretty watching the sun rise and mists slowly clearing.

Limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove

In conclusion - would I go back to the Yorkshire Dales? Definitely - the incredible scenery, picturesque villages, quaint cafes, and excellent pubs all provide a strong reason for another visit. Would I go back and do an eight hour walk, followed by three more hours early the next morning? Definitely not! I thought - having run half marathons, and generally being in pretty good shape - that the distance wouldn't pose a challenge, but it was one of the hardest things I've done - definitely more challenging than an 100-mile cycle or 13.1-mile run.

In the future, I'll be sticking to a maximum of two hours per day walking - a nice wander through the countryside to work up an appetite, a big pub lunch, and a little walk afterwards to help digest!

Monday, 22 June 2015

New York - City Guide

I'm lucky enough to go to NY four or five times a year with work, which has given me an amazing opportunity to see the city across the different seasons (ranging from -17C and blizzards in January, to blue skies and cherry blossoms in Spring, and tarmac-melting heat in August...) And while I'm a die-hard London girl, there are definitely parts of New York that I've grown to love as much, if not more, than my home town.

Sunset over Queensboro Bridge

My first experiences weren't the best - I made the mistake of staying in Midtown both times (once - even worse - near Times Square) and experienced the crowd-thronged side-walks and traffic-choked grid system that are the city at its worst. By my fourth trip, I had got the hang of it - booking boutique hotels in laid-back Chelsea, West Village and Tribeca and relying on local recommendations to uncover some seriously good places to eat.

Sunrise from my 46th floor office in Midtown


Until recently, my favourite brunch spot in NYC was Good, a lovely restaurant in Greenwich Village. The buttermilk pancakes with orange butter and toasted almonds are fantastic, and the Cazuela baked eggs - a decadent dish combining leeks, gruyere, crisy bacon, parmesan croutons and copious amounts of cream - is definitely worth the calories (which is saying something!)

However, on my last trip, this was overtaken by the amazing meal I had at the Tipsy Parson, a quirky West Chelsea restaurant specialising in rib-sticking Southern comfort food. My boyfriend and I shared the BBQ pulled pork with fried eggs and corn spoonbread (an amazing cornmeal concoction, halfway between a souffle and a pudding), fried chicken and waffles (maple syrup and chicken make a surprisingly good pairing), and the cheese and bacon grits, which were incredible. I've never really understood the appeal of grits - the versions I've tried previously have tasted a lot like buttery porridge - but these totally converted me. A rich cornmeal pudding topped with a thick crust of melted cheese and crumbles of cripsy bacon. Not the healthiest of sides, but definitely one of the tastiest!

Tucking into chicken and waffles at The Tipsy Parson

Aside from those two favourites, here are a few of my other best-loved brunch spots:

Bubby's for enormous fluffy pancakes with wild blueberry sauce. Follow with a walk on the High Line or along the Tribeca waterfront, depending which branch you go to.

Beauty and Essex for tapas-style brunch dishes to share in Lower East Side (the brunch pizetta, kale and apple salad, and vanilla beignets were my favourites). If you're in the mood for something a little special, they have a champagne brunch from 1pm til 6pm every Sunday.

Closer to Central Park (and if you're feeling a little flash) - Norma's at Le Parker Meridien is the perfect location for a glamorous girly brunch. The rock lobster and asparagus omelette (with a side order of hollandaise for dipping) is delicious and Norma's eggs benedict is served on pancakes (enough said). Best of all, you can book in advance, so no queueing.

Me enjoying brunch in Brooklyn

Highly recommended by friends and on my must-try list are:

ABC Kitchen - with an aspirational browse in the homestore next door
Egg - I've actually heard mixed reviews on this one - and damnit, I don't want to queue! - but despite giving up on my last two attempted visits, I do really love eggs, and biscuits, so hopefully some day I'll get to eat here!
Root & Bone - Southern comfort food in Alphabet City. Because I still haven't tried shrimp and grits.
Buttermilk Channel - Carroll Gardens is one of my favourite areas in Brooklyn, so I don't need much of an excuse to go back. And this place is supposed to be great (pecan pie french toast, hello!)


I try and stay in a different hotel each time (and where possible, avoid chains in favour of cosy boutiques). Here are a few of my favourites so far:

The Tribeca Grand. This hotel is seriously cool and perfectly placed for exploring the famous Tribeca culinary scene. I'd love to go back sometime for the Sunday brunch buffet (with live jazz).

The Jade Hotel - a lovely boutique on the edge of Greenwich Village with an excellent restaurant (The Grape and Vine - try the seared scallops with avocado mousse!)

The Dream Downtown - unfortunately I went in winter, so wasn't able to take advantage of the outdoor pool of this Chelsea establishment. The rooftop lounge-bar was buzzing though, and the lobby was full of glamorous model-types in short-short skirts and sky high heels every day of the week. Definitely a place to stay if you want to explore the NYC nightlife.

The High Line Hotel - a beautiful building overlooking the High Line (more on this below). The rooms are gorgeous, with huge windows and original features. There's a great little coffee shop in the courtyard outside, and free bike hire too.

The High Line Hotel

The Mandarin Oriental - on the expensive side, but perfect for a treat (I used my airmiles to take my Mum for Mother's Day weekend and we had a fantastic stay). Just minutes from Central Park, with stunning views and a "secret" burger joint which is supposed to be one of the best in New York. (Norma's at Le Meridien also makes my list of best brunch spots)

For my next trip, I'm booked into The Standard, High Line in Meatpacking. I've eaten there before and am very excited to finally stay (and to check out the views from the rooftop bar, Le Bain, over a few cocktails!)



The High Line! I make sure to walk along the High Line every time I go to New York - the views are amazing and the foliage and flower beds change dramatically across the seasons. Wake up early on the weekend and get it almost to yourself for an amazing, traffic-free run (it tends to fill up with tour groups from 9am onwards, so set your alarm!)

Crocuses on the tracks in early spring

Lush foliage in June

Autumn colours on an early morning run in November

Chelsea Market - lots of nice shops to wander around and plenty of places to eat - the lobster rolls from The Lobster Place always look very tempting, though I haven't tried them yet! Chelsea Market often hosts samples sales so keep an eye out!

Central Park reservoir - this must be one of the most perfect running spots in Manhattan - springtime is especially beautiful, with hundreds of cherry blossom trees lining the water. On a still day the surface of the lake is like a mirror, reflecting back stunning views of the city skyline

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Met is perfect for escaping the cold in winter - you'll definitely need a few visits to see everything though. The Ancient Near Eastern Art exhibit is my favourite

Morningside Heights - I feel like this part of Manhattan is somewhat neglected by tourists, but the area around Columbia and Riverside Park is really worth a visit and is a lovely place for a walk on a sunny day (minus the crowds)

Hudson River Park - another of my favourite running routes, this is the place to go for breath-taking sunsets (and to watch people walk their enormous, surely-too-big-for-Manhattan-apartment dogs - I've never seen so many Great Danes!)

Sunset over the Hudson

Korean nail salons - for $10 manicures and excellent value pedicures, foot rubs, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Another great way to escape the weather outside in winter and high summer. Joy Nails is my go-to.


Williamsburg - I'm lucky to have a friend who lives here, so I head over every time I'm in New York. From super-cool bars, brunch spots and coffee shops, to flea markets and vintage stores, Williamsburg has plenty to keep you entertained. On Saturdays, head to Smorgasburg for one of the best food markets I've been to (try the tacos, fried chicken, and salted caramel ice-cream sandwiches, or branch out with some of the more exotic ethnic offerings)

Prospect Park - designed by the same landscape architects as Central Park, but far less busy. Pick up a Citi Bike and go for a cycle, or have a picnic in the sun. Nearby Park Slope is also worth exploring

Smorgasburg in Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights - a recent discovery for me, this is the part of New York I feel has the most similar vibe to Islington, where I live in London. With wide, tree-lined streets, and rows of elegant brownstones, the neighbourhood is low-rise and spacious, and a lot calmer than Manhattan. On Sundays, the Brooklyn Bridge Park plays host to Smorgasburg (see above - it's amazing). Nearby Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill are equally nice, the perfect balance of Brooklyn cool and family-friendly suburbia.

Brownstones in Brooklyn Heights


I have to admit I haven't spent much time in Queens, and I definitely need to do some more exploring. On my to-do list is Greek food in Astoria and dim sum in FlushingMoma PS1 is also supposed to be great and I definitely want to go to an exhibition there sometime soon!

Sunset view from Penthouse 808

One thing I have done, which was pretty incredible, was watching the sunset from Penthouse 808 after playing in a company softball game in Queensbridge Park (in which embarrassingly I didn't hit the ball once). A truly fantastic spot for drinks, and the Asian fusion bar snacks were also very good!

So! That was my NYC City Guide. And to finish off the post, here is a Thanksgiving turkey I made last year :)

I came over all American and threw a big Thanksgiving dinner back in London - here is my beautiful first-ever turkey - so proud!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Foodie Mini-Break Guide: Venice

As a birthday treat, my boyfriend took me to Venice for the weekend. I've heard so many amazing things about Venice that I thought it couldn't possibly live up to the hype, but it really was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Winter is low season and we had the city almost to ourselves, swapping the smell and crowding of the summer season for atmospheric morning mists and crisp clear days.

Venice isn't well regarded for its food, and apparently it can be hard to avoid the tourist traps, so we did a bit of research before we went.The preparation paid off and we were rewarded with two fantastic meals.

Our lunch at Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisto, a little bistro in the Dorsoduro neighbourhood, was my favourite meal of the trip. We squeezed into a table for two by the bar and worked our way through a basket of delicious Italian bread while we browsed the menu. To start, we decided on grilled squid and fresh pasta with Gorgonzola, both of which were exceptionally good. The squid was tender and sweet, with a perfect hint of char, while the home-made pasta in the cheesy sauce was deliciously decadent. For our main course, we both opted for cod served with fennel - the fish was butter-soft and perfectly complemented by the liquorice notes of the fennel. My boyfriend found room for dessert, a slice of dense, rich chocolate torte, while I focused on finishing off the carafe of excellent red wine recommended by the waiter (unfortunately I can't remember the name!)
[No food photos, I'm afraid - I didn't want to be the most touristy tourist ever!]

For dinner, we went to Osteria Alla Testiere, a small seafood restaurant in the Castello area. You definitely need to book in advance if you want to eat here, as it is very popular and only seats 30 people or so, in two nightly sittings. The 7.30pm sitting seemed to consist largely of tourists, while the second sitting seemed to be more local (we were slow to finish, so were still eating at the change-over). While we did find our meal to be slightly overpriced, we weren't disappointed with the food - an abundance of rich, Venetian seafood dishes, including grilled razorclams, tuna ravioli, prawns in a tangy sweet and sour sauce, cuttlefish with black ink and polenta (a bit rich, but very interesting) and gnochetti served with baby calamari in an unusual (but tasty) fishy-cinnamon glaze.

We stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca, a smaller island with more of a local feel. It was a bit of a pain having to get the vaporetto back and forth from the main island, but definitely worth it for the beautiful waterfront and laid-back vibes. The hotel was lovely - situated in a beautiful converted factory building - and we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a room with an incredible waterside view.

In the mornings we skipped the hotel buffet in favour of wandering along the waterfront for breakfast in one of the many cafes. While the locals clustered around the bar drinking expresso, we grabbed a table and snacked on traditional Venetian pizzette and fantastic milky cappuccinos. Yum!

The only downside to an otherwise perfect trip was getting too and from the airport (we flew to Trevisio, which is around 40 mins drive away) - the coach takes a 2 hour lunch break so we had to get a taxi back (at Sunday prices), which cost an astonishing 100 Euros! It would definitely be better to fly to San Marco - you might pay more for your flight, but you'll probably save it back in taxi fares!

This was an amazing trip (and an incredibly lovely birthday treat) and has inspired us to return to Italy again soon - we're now planning a weekend in Rome in the Summer for more gourmet adventures. :)
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