Lisbon through a Lense

Lisbon, oh how I love thee! On my first trip to Lisbon a couple of weeks ago I fell in love with this Portuguese city and its eye-catching tiles and flaky custard tarts. It’s a city that puts its history and culture right out there. Wandering its streets and alleys shows you unexpected surprises at every corner, be it a gorgeously tiled building, a fabulous little bar or the most beautiful views over the city and the water. I just couldn’t get enough of it!

one minute a funicular track, then a road, then a path… the ever-changing face of a city that doesn’t waste its space

for the love of the tiles!

old tired buildings fill the streets with charm and beauty
the beautiful roof tops of Lisboa

 

You cannot escape the water in Lisbon, life is drawn to it. Be it bars by the water side, boats sailing up and down or the views when you turn around from a climb up a hill

 

Did I mention the food? I still salivate at the thought of it, all that fresh fish, the beautiful wines and oh the pasteis de nata. The people of Lisbon know how to put on a meal. We didn’t stop eating the whole time we were there, from the moment we arrived a delicious imaginative seafood lunch, to copious amounts of port and cheese, and the cured meat! Divine!

Port tasting of course!
the colourful tins of seafood were just the best bar snack and great souvenir to reminisce about holidays
Pasteis de Nata!!
so many beautiful meats and cheeses from around Portugal

 

Lisbon is a city with so much to offer. I could have happily stayed there all week rather than just 3 days. There is so much to explore in and around the city. It truly is a capital of an empire! I hope these snaps inspire you to explore the city…. and the world!!

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A local dinner in Paris

I was very recently introduced to a company called VizEat. Having never heard of it I of course had to have a nosy around the internet and see what its about.

Vizeat is a simple concept, eat local with local people! It gives you the chance to get under the skin of a city by meeting the local people, sharing a meal and chatting.

I think this is a great idea! As someone who avoids tourist trap restaurants when abroad and tries to eat as local as possible, this is certainly an interesting way of having a meal and learning more about a city.  So I decided to give Vizeat a go on a recent trip to Paris, a city I know well, but always up for something new!

On a grey Saturday evening in Paris, as we emerged from the Metro the sun began to shine on the Seine, an omen I am sure, and as we promenaded down the river to the address we had been given we felt as if we were seeing a little bit of Paris we would never have wandered around.

We were welcomed open armed by Philippe and Dzianis, and their lovely dog! First to arrive we sat down to a large table set for 12. We were to be a grand international group of Brits, Canadians, Americans, French and Taiwanese. As the guests arrived we gathered around the table and the wine soon started flowing, it was so relaxed.

Dinner started with beautifully baked camembert with fresh salad and bread, I could have quite happily munched my way through the cheese, but no the main course was soon upon us. Three delicious home made quiches – a traditional Lorraine, a four cheese quiche and a tuna. Each were very different but beautiful. I love quiche so I was in heaven. Dessert was perfect for the hot and humid evening – a cold and refreshing melon soup.

The evening was delightful, conversation flowing around the table hearing about the groups travels in Paris and further afield, swapping tips and discussing future travel plans. This was a great way to wile away an evening in Paris, try something new and meet new people. The hosts couldn’t have been more welcoming and truly made us feel at home.

Would I try VizEat again in another city –  certainly! I would have to make sure that there were a group of people there as one on one could be a bit intimidating but it was such fun.

Good Cyclists, Bad Cyclists

Now I have only been cycling to work for a couple of months, but already I am finding myself more and more frustrated with other cyclists rather than cars. Yes you get the annoying drivers that decide to drive right up your behind to try to make you move or those that do not indicate and then shouting occurs, but as long as you play by the road rules it’s not actually that scary. What really scares me are other cyclists…. the attitude of some of them, and then today a girl cycling on the wrong side of the road and just huffed at me when I said something!

I know I should stick with ‘my people’ but when you are surrounded by middle-aged men in lycra who think the riverside path is the Tour de France its pretty scary. Only the other day I saw two cyclists on the floor in a heap after they clearly had a collision going around a corner.

Since when did people also stop using their bells! Blind corners people!!

There are many out there that think cyclists can do no wrong and its the cars that are dangerous.. However, who is to blame when some cyclists think its ok to go through a red light and nearly hit pedestrians as they cross? I am not the only person who has conflicted thoughts on the cycling world.

There are increasingly more and more cyclists out there on the roads but unfortunately the roads themselves haven’t changed. They are still narrow and few have cycle lanes, but more and more people are jostling for space on them.  The other problem is there is very little repercussion for a dangerous or stupid cyclist unlike drivers so they just do not care.

Now I do not drive but I do know the rules of the road and so should other cyclists. It’s great that people cycle, and I am not trying to discourage that but for those of us who just want to get to work quickly and safely we should be able to without having to put up with cyclists who think the road is just for them. There are plenty of guides online about how to cycle, the good old highway code or the British Cycling website, plus many local councils run courses, some for free. I believe that cycle magazines and British cycling should be doing more than they currently are to encourage safe cycling. Yes there will always be that idiot of a driver out there but if you are cycling safely then you are going to minimise the damage. Trying to overtake or running red lights gives all cyclists a bad name!

I do not want to seem negative towards my fellow cyclists but I need to speak my mind on this one. There are so many cyclists out there now from commuters to fair weather cyclists and everyone needs to be using the same rule book otherwise it leads to crashes, injuries and if you are not wearing a helmet much worse, especially if that dangerous cycling is happening around cars on a road. It also discourages other people taking to their bikes as they are put off by bad attitudes of some cyclists.

For now I will keep my wits about me and stay safe on those roads, trying to avoid both the dangerous drivers and cyclists! I really should only have to worry about cars!

Art in Beijing

I was recently introduced to District 798 in Beijing, a small hideaway paradise for art lovers or anyone wanting to escape the madness of tourist Beijing.

Established in 2002 it comprises of 50 year old, decommissioned military factory buildings boasting a unique architectural style. It began with artists and cultural organisations dividing up, renting out and remaking the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, artists studios, design companies, restaurants and bars.

The area over the last few years according to the districts website, has evolved into a “cultural concept of interest to the arts community and normal folk alike”. I am sure this is true to some degree but while I was there it was not the buzzing art hub that I had imagined it to be. Before leaving London I had read up about it and hoped to visit, expecting a Soho or Shoreditch type place, something that had the arty feel of the Village in New York, or that gritty urban art feel you get when you walk around Berlin. It was none of these things! If District 798 was in any other country, this would be the ‘hip’ place to be and full of people. I got the feeling that this was a place struggling to survive to push itself on a community perhaps not quite ready for modern and conceptual art.

As I walked around in the sunshine I had expected buzzing streets of both Chinese and tourists but it was quite. A few people lingered in bars and restaurants but for a city the size of Beijing where every street has people milling about the District was quiet, too quiet. It was sad.

I asked our guided about the district but she was quite disinterested in the place, in fact she seemed quite annoyed that she was there and not doing sightseeing somewhere she had a script for. She was a young girl, early 20’s and uninterested in art. She expressed an opinion that the closed shops/ galleries were due to the fact people didn’t come here and rents were too high, that people couldn’t make enough money to stay there. If the young people of Beijing were not coming here then who were? Our host had a different opinion, she being in her late 30’s and has travelled was so excited to show it to us, to show the expansion of Chinese art and culture.

For me the visit highlighted a great deal about Beijing and its people, and art within the city. For westerners District 798 is something familiar, an interesting insight into Chinese art and culture, but for the people of Beijing it is something unfamiliar, something the every person is yet to discover.

District 798 is definitely worth a visit for anyone heading to Beijing. It is a fascinating part of the city, showing off its history, architecture and art, plus it has some cool bars and restaurants. Hopefully over time the District will develop as its artists hope and will become a stage for artists new and old to display their work to the world.

A is for Arlo’s

Steak, it’s a simple meal, but one that can be either mediocre or excellent.  London is full of steak places ranging from the mediocre to mouth wateringly excellent and of course the price tags can range just like the quality. When you find a good quality steak at a great price you cannot but shout about it.

On a recent trip to Balham to meet the sister we decided to go to the new steak restaurant that has just opened, Arlo’s. Its bright interior and simple decor  is inviting, its menu even more so. It’s a short menu but with a great selection. They offer the more unusual steak cuts, bavette, picancha and deckle, they are what owner Tom McNeile calls the ‘butchers cuts’. These lesser known cuts offer great flavour but at a cheaper price to the traditional fillet or ribeye.

On sitting you instantly feel at home, the friendly staff are more than happy to recommend something and never do you feel rushed. You could quite happily while a way an evening with your steak and a bottle of red either upstairs at a table or downstairs in a booth.

There are so many streak restaurants in London and the good ones tend to charge for it, which is fine if you are offering good quality meat but sometimes you want a great piece of meat for a great price because sometimes on a Tuesday you want to go out for dinner and not have to worry about  how you are paying for food the rest of the week. Arlo’s does that. It offers a great meal at a very reasonable price. Throughout our evening there the restaurant filled and buzzed. Arlo’s has an opportunity to become a Balham institution as I do not see how any one could dislike a good priced streak in a friendly atmosphere, plus it has those luscious milkshakes.

Arlo’s is definitely a place to try if you are in Balham, or I would even say, make the journey down there. I know I will be returning again…. and again! I have lots of friends to introduce to its bavette!

Eating my way around Athens

Having spent far too much of my life studying Ancient Greece and the eponymous capital Athens I can say I was just a bit excited about my recent long weekend to the Greek capital. Arriving in the dark, we took in the bright lights and buzzing streets on the drive from the airport to the city centre and then as tiredness was starting to take over we got to the centre and there she was, lite up and glowing, the star of the show, the Acropolis. I couldn’t believe it I was finally here. I was going to wander the streets of the Agora, climb the up to the top of the Acropolis and see the stage that hosted so many amazing plays! Excited may not be the word!

However, I will not bore you with an onslaught of pictures of marble and ruins but I want to tell you about the other star of the city – its food! Greeks are known as a people who love food and love hospitality. There is such a melange of foods and tastes that fill their cuisine due to their interaction with so many different people and cultures over the millennia that its hard to escape.

In order to really get under the skin of Athenian food we booked onto a food tour with Athens Walking Tours. Led by the fabulous owner Despina we were about to be introduced to the crazy world of Athenian and Greek food. Throughout the tour Despina unloaded her food knowledge onto us, giving us little insights in to Greek behaviour and life. Having spent a good 24 hours in to the city prior to the walk tour I kept noticing how much coffee the Greeks drink, its crazy, any time of the day siting in a cafe drinking their coffee be it hot or iced! Despina confirmed that the Greeks are coffee addicts, many skipping breakfast and just having coffee! No wonder they eat so late at night, they are buzzed with caffeine. Throughout the tour we saw insights into Athenian cuisine and the day to day rituals of food, from the meat and fish marking buzzing with activity, to the calls of the fruit and vegetable sellers ( good to know this isn’t just a British thing). We navigated ourselves through the winding streets of the ancient city stopping and tasting as we went at local sellers, filling our bags with herbs and spices, olives and oils – basically my weekly shop! This was such a great way to explore Athens and escape the crowns of the tourist centre. We got to see how life is for the normal Athenian going about their daily chores, some fabulous architecture and some even more fabulous characters.

Even if food isn’t a massive part of your life, doing a food tour gives you a great insight into the city, you see things you wouldn’t normally see from the sightseeing coach. If you are every in Athens I highly recommend giving Despina a call or email and see what exciting walking tours she has in woodwork.

 

The Price of Fashion

There was a story this week that again highlighted the wages of those who make our clothes and the shocking comparison compared to the price that they are sold at. It’s a story that keeps being told but from what I can tell nothing is being done. The recent revelations that Beyonce’s Ivy Park range for Topshop are only paying the Sri Lankan seamstress £4.30 a day is just one of many that have come out in recent years. Every few months a new revelation comes out about the price of fast fashion and everyone says how shocking it is, but does it actually make anyone stop going into H&M or Topshop to buy the latest item that they must have?

Now do not get me wrong, I love shopping, I love clothes, I love that something as simple as t-shirt or a dress can completely change your mood or identity for the day. Clothes have an incredible ability of telling a story or creating a character. I do however like to think that I am someone who thinks before I buy. I dislike the whole fast fashion thing, buying clothes wearing them for a month or so and then they never see the light of day again! I am a hoarder of old clothes, I get attached to things, they have a story –  like the scarf that I have had for 10 years, it has been travelling with me for all that time, its been around my neck, over my head while riding a camel, used as a makeshift pillow on an overnight train in Uzbekistan, even a picnic blanket on a beach – I love it. Yes its got some loose threads, a little hole in it but it’s still doing its job and looks great. I moved house 6 months a go and my sister was aghast at some of the items I was packing, one of which, a summer top I got in Topshop 12 years ago – yes 12 years ago! Ok, its pretty threadbare and its one of those things I only whip out when in very hot countries but it’s still wearable, I like it, so why not! It’s what I do, I get attached. I take my time when buying things, I have to give myself a reason to buy it otherwise I would be living with a very large credit card bill.

Yes, on occasion I do impulse buy usually for something shiny and completely in appropriate like my gorgeous gold pumps that destroy my feet every time I wear them. I still have them, they sit in my wardrobe unused but so pretty. However, it is the fast fashion, the people leaving Primark with huge bags crammed with items that will only get worn once or twice before they hit the bottom of the wardrobe, the bin or the local charity shop. It’s this mentality of buying cheap clothes because they are cheap so you can just wear it once and not think about it.

Something needs to change. But what? and How?

There is all this talk of buying fair trade brands, buying from up and coming fashion designers selling their wares like on website Birdsong, but how practical is this? I would love to be able to say I only buy fair trade clothes, that they are made by fairly paid workers, or from local designers but in reality this just isn’t an affordable plan. If you look at a brand like People Tree, they offer Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. Their clothes are lovely, I only wish I could afford to shop with them all the time, however I just cannot justify £40 for a grey t-shirt when I could get the same item from H&M for £10-12. Yes it’s not fair trade and the person who made it was paid very badly but living in London, paying the extortionate rent I do, I have limited free money. This is the story for many people. I am sure like me, many people would like to go into a shop buy a t-shirt or dress knowing that what they were buying wasn’t made in a sweatshop where people are loosing fingers, and other ailments from the job they are doing.

I am sure many people would say, stop moaning, buy less clothing,  and save up for those fair trade items. Yes I could, but I do not actually shop that often. I save up for a couple of months so that I can go and buy a couple of nice items but even then always buying fair trade isn’t an affordable or accessible option. If it’s not an option for me then it’s certainly not going to be an option for those on lower wages or living on the poverty line, those people who have to shop in Primark because they have no other option.

I cannot offer a solution here, but do feel it should be something we talk about more rather than just when a story breaks about the latest celebrity clothing line. This is a much bigger discussion as well – the governments of those countries that are running the factories – China, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, to name a few, need to lead this discussion. They need to be championing their people. It’s obviously a pie in the sky dream, hoping these developing countries could step forward together and say no! We want fair wages, set those wages and make the fashion industry pay attention.  Also fashion here in the western world needs to face up to this, cut a few pounds off the profit, set an example. If you end up charging another £1 or two for something at the end of the day people are still going to buy it especially if they can say ‘ yes its fair trade’ it makes people feel good. Hell, we live in a world where people will pay £5 for an artisan loaf of bread, they can spend a couple more pounds on a t-shirt!

I do not want to be a preacher, I am as bad as the next person. Like I said I cannot offer a solution, I certainly do not know what it is, but I would like the world to talk about it more.  I am certainly going to try harder and think about what I am buying and where it has come from, I hope you will as well dear reader.