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Athens, Greece is probably best known for its ancient sites like the Acropolis and for being a starting point for any number of island hopping excursions. But there’s another more current and vibrant reason to pay this age old city a visit – it’s home to one of Europe’s most active street art scenes.
Here’s a quick look at just a few of the main reasons that the city is such a hub for amazing urban art.
So, a couple of weeks back I had a very agreeable Friday night dinner for two at Belgraves hotel’s Pont Street restaurant. And now – thanks to a team up with online restaurant discovery guide, Zomato – I’m offering the chance to enjoy the same delicious experience to one lucky reader. Check it out!
At the helm of the Pont Street kitchen is Sophie Michell. Currently Britain’s youngest female executive chef, Sophie finds culinary inspiration from her time living in the Mediterranean and adventures cooking her way across California and Australia. With a passion for market fresh and seasonal ingredients, her signature dishes include miso glazed lamb chops with sesame grilled aubergine and cucumber pickle, yuzu and jalapeño seabass ceviche, house-made clam and bottarga spaghetti, lobster and sorrel brioche rolls, and roasted Label Anglais chicken with confit garlic mash.
To be in with a chance win dinner for two at Pont Street , simply tweet the following:
Good luck. Please take a moment to read the terms and conditions before tweeting!
I’ll pick one winner at random on Friday 10 October at 11.30am BST. The winner will receive one voucher worth £100 redeemable at Pont Street. The voucher will be valid until 30 November 2014. To be eligible to win, you need to have an address in the UK where the voucher can be posted.
Pont Street is located at the Belgraves hotel, 20 Chesham Place, SW1X 8HQ.
Zomato was created to help people find and connect with great places to eat around them. Find out more at zomato.com.
The Koster Islands are situated off Sweden’s western mainland just south of Norway. It’s a beautiful part of the world – a rugged and ‘out there’ archipelago where wilderness and cultivation blend in such a way as to suggest that humans and nature actually can get along. Summer’s the main time folks visit this tranquil area, but I was there at the onset of autumn for the start of the lobster season. Lured by the prospect of catching (and eating!) the regionally renowned “black gold of the sea” lobsters for myself from one of the cleanest of nutritionally rich fjords in Scandinavia, I tagged along on a Lobster Safari “activity and dining experience” offered by the lovely little Hotel Koster on the island of Sydkoster.
Hotel Koster’s Lobster Safari gives its guests the chance to have a go at the centuries old tradition of lobster trapping. Check it out:
… Be part of the unique experience at sea when the traps are emptied and the lobster catch is brought in … Together with our licensed skipper Johan in our boat Pavona (for larger parties we use many of the other local fishermen as our partners) the Lobster Safari takes about three hours to complete and is an option that everyone that visits Koster can really feel the local spirit when taking part. Feel the saltiness from the sea, as the waves of autumn light reflex and shape the Bohuslän rocks and cliffs stepping up from the sea.
Yep, I did this early morning seafaring safari and savoured every second of it. I baited and cast some traps into the sea and pulled up a few traps too (some even containing the “black gold” I’d hoped to catch). It was splendid being in a boat at dawn in such a pretty place: breathing the fresh air, feeling a crisp breeze kiss my cheeks, taking photos of the sunrise and the stunning scenery.
Once back on land, the lobsters caught were soon in the pot and a short boil later presented to the table for a sumptuous and well earned feast. My Koster catch was definitely the freshest lobster I’d ever eaten – and as delicious as any I can recollect tasting.
Of course, if you just want to enjoy lobster but leave all the dirty work to the professionals, the hotel has a special five course lobster menu available throughout the season (which stretches through winter into early spring). Meals are served in a candlelit dining room with huge wood fireplace. During my visit, the candles were lit and the fire roaring at every meal – even for my super early breakfast before heading out to the boat. All the food coming out of the hotel’s kitchen was yummy. Same could be said of the drinks as well. Hotel Koster impressed my palate with a more than decent wine list, a smartly stocked bar and an excellent assortment of craft beers. I especially loved my bottle of Czech style Pilsner, Eskilstuna Stolt Lager.
Lobster or not, I found the hotel to be a fine place to spend a few days. My seaside suite was a bit on the utilitarian side but was impeccably clean and very spacious with a full kitchen, comfy bed, and great shower. If the look of my room was so-so, the picturesque view of the sea from its windows was not. No complaints – I’d be pleased to rest my head there again. For even more awesome sea views to take in, the hotel’s outdoor hot tub perched on a small cliff and just a few short steps from my room was the perfect setting for a soothing post safari dip.
Hotel Koster is located about a two minute walk from Ekenäs harbour where the ferry lands (to get to Sydkoster island you’ll need to come by ferry or arrange some other boat to take you). The scenic ferry ride takes about 50 minutes from the mainland town of Strömstad … which is about a two hours drive from Göteborg Landvetter Airport … which is a mere hour and a half flight from London. All in all, this made for a very beautiful journey. I was fine spending the travel time getting but would have relished the chance to stay longer, check out Gothenburg and some other spots along the route. Next time!
Find out more about Hotel Koster at hotelkoster.se.
Special thanks to the West Sweden Tourist Board for all the info and help with my fun itinerary!
Cheers to Stefan von Bothmer of Sydkoster’s gorgeous Kosters Trädgårdar for the island cycling tour and crash course in Koster history!
In May, I wrote about how much I enjoyed my experience booking a session with Urban Massage, an on-demand mobile massage service delivering five star treatments to customers at their home, hotel or office within 60 minutes of booking, currently operating in Zones 1 to 4 of London. I’ve just come across a bit of info that’s worth bringing the service up again as Urban Massage is running a Refer a Friend competition with the prize of a year’s supply of massages (aka (12 x 60 minute treatments across 12 months). Sounds good, yeah? Just be fast getting the word out to your buddies because the comp ends this Friday the 3rd of October.
That’s right. Just share your unique Urban Massage referral code with your friends and if they subsequently create an account with Urban Massage, you’ll be entered into the competition. And the great news is that for every new friend that opens an account, you’ll be entered into the prize draw.
But wait! There’s more. When someone books a massage treatment using your unique Urban Massage referral code, you will be awarded £10 in free credit that can be redeemed against your next massage booking. Urban Massage will also give your friend £10 off their first booking.
Here’s what you need to do to be in with a chance to win the year’s worth of massages:
- Visit My Account on the Urban Massage website by clicking here;
- Complete the sign up form;
- Click on the ‘Refer’ tab on the ‘My Account’ page;
- Share your unique referral code via the URL or social media buttons.
If you’re an existing customer, log into your Urban Massage account here and proceed with points 3 and 4 above.
The winner will be contacted directly by Urban Massage and announced on its blog.
Four flights and three countries in under a week – that’s how my calendar’s shaping up for the last bit of this month.
So, in addition to all the stuff I’m packing in my suitcase, I’m going to bring the following time tested observations along with me.
We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown. – Dr Buzz Aldrin
So, I’m just back from a week abroad during which time I hit two very different destinations: the remote and rural Koster Islands of West Sweden and America’s epicentre of political power, Washington DC. More about my visits to both places are soon to come. In the meanwhile though, the chance to share the new The Explorer campaign from The North Face seemed like a fun way to talk about one particular aspect of these past several days as a whole.
Something that both legs of my trip had in common was that bringing along my backpack really came in handy. That’s usually the case no matter where I’m going – whether it’s just a quick visit to the shop for some groceries or across the globe for a story. As ever, my Surge II bag from The North Face proved the ultimate carry on for my flights: not too big, not too small and with easy access to specific stuff I had stowed away but wanted to get at now and again.
Bobbling along in the wee hours of the morning in a small fishing boat on a “lobster safari” expedition, my Surge was there to keep my camera safe from the elements.
Checking into DC’s premiere luxury boutique hotel, The Hay-Adams, for a few days of scoping the city’s dining scene, that same low key black backpack didn’t look too out of place and helped me blend well enough with all the suits in the lobby with their business-y accoutrements.
The Explorer campaign with its inspirational narration by astronaut Buzz Aldrin seems to suggest that with the right gear goals can be reached and moments of profound wonder can be experienced. No, I can’t claim even a small fraction of the accomplishments Buzz Aldrin has achieved in his life, but I believe that I (and everybody else in the world) have the same drive “to see, to explore” that got Aldrin to the moon and back. Tapping into such passion and determination invariably leads to a richer, more fulfilling life. I reckon having a good backpack slung across my shoulder to carry the essentials helps me get to where I’m going to.
Published in association with The North Face. Opinions are my own.
Before making my rez for Friday night din-din at the Belgraves hotel’s Pont Street restaurant, I skimmed the web for a few reviews. Ouch! I’m not sure whether what I came across was egregiously snarky or if Pont St subsequently got its act together, but my experience was way better than those I read about online.
Despite the cringe accompanying my perusal about Pont St, I was curious to see if sleb chef Sophie Michell could pull off a successful go in the wake of Mark Hix (who used to have a resto here). I reckon she has.
I very much enjoyed my starter dish of salt and pepper squid with kaffir lime, lemongrass and sweet and saffron aioli (£9.50) – not sure it was necessarily benefited by the saffron though. My main of lobster trofie with a bisque sauce and bone marrow (£25.50) was a treat as well. Dessert – a plate of “doughnut balls” filled with salted caramel and served with a (slightly too melted) small vanilla milkshake on the side (£6.50) – satisfied.
I dined with Kemey (we both found the restaurant a smart choice for a quiet date night) and was impressed with the yummy stuff on her side of the table. A side of truffle mash (£4.50) was particularly moreish. We enjoyed a glass of Cote du Rhone (sorry forget the label but it cost about £8 for a glass) each which went down a charm with most of what we ate (I should have gone with something else for my robustly flavoured main, but that’s my bad and I wasn’t up for more than one glass of wine to be honest).
Portion size was right, service was on the ball, the dining space was pleasant and comfortable (the hotel’s upstairs bar where Kemey and I met up was an especially plush setting to do just that), prices were reasonable considering the address.
Pont Street is located at the Belgraves hotel, 20 Chesham Place, SW1X 8HQ. Find out more at pontst.com.
Coming from London, where the cost of living is high and the local currency is strong, I usually find when I travel that my money gets considerably more mileage than when at home. That wasn’t the case in Switzerland though, where prices (and standards) are generally higher than what you might expect across the rest of Europe.
During a recent (and very fun) city break in Basel, I discovered that with minimal effort and a bit of thrift that an amazing time could be had without breaking the bank. Here are some tips on making the most of a visit to Basel (without paying the most for it).
Good Stuff and lots of it! Here’s the low down on some fine things to see, sip or savour – all of which I’ve recently come across and thought were worth sharing with you. Enjoy.
I had a blast during the recent Giovanni Rana pasta making class (previously previewed here) at this popular Italian brand’s Regent’s Place restaurant (17-19 Triton Street, NW1 3BF). Yes, the actual man himself, Signore Rana, was on hand for the occasion (and gave an approving “ottimo” to the tortellini and ravioli I made) along with his lovely daughter in law Antonella. The lunch that followed was delish. I loved my plate of cappelletti and was super impressed with the wine list). The restaurant is well worth keeping in mind if you’re in the Warren Street/Euston Road area. I certainly intend to visit again.
Danish cheese makers, Castello, has launched a pop-up “cheese concept store” in Shoreditch after successful stints in New York, The Hague and Copenhagen. Located at 132 Commercial Street, E1 6NQ and running until Friday 24 October, the shop has more than 30 varieties of cheese (some otherwise not available in the UK) to taste and buy alongside a range of accessories, wine, beer, and cider. There’s a fresh deli counter too and a calendar full of tastings, Q&A sessions and more. I enjoyed nibbling my way through the shop – really liked the Creamy White and Extra Creamy Danish Blue.
After having to miss last year’s Great Sherry Tasting, I was glad I was able to wrangle a bit of free time for the 2014 event (held again at The Westbury). I was even more chuffed that I got to sit in on a “Cream Dream” tasting led by Beltran Domecq, president of the DO Jerez Consejo Regulador (wow). “Exploring the quality and diversity of sweeter sherries” further established that fact that I’ve expensive taste! I loved two sherries in particular from the session: Tradicion’s Cream VOS 20 Year Old and Gonzalez Byass’ Matusalem VORS 30 Year Old. Both have a rich nose, balanced taste and strong, lasting finish.
Yutaka brand’s yuzu seasoning adds zest to a range of dishes and drinks. I’ve really enjoyed having a bottle at hand in my kitchen for concocting new recipes or just bringing some zing to otherwise humdrum meals. Look for it at Sainsbury’s priced at £2.99 for a 100ml bottle.
Someone working on the PR side of things for insurance and investment management group, Legal & General, emailed me recently to see if I’d like to take part in L&G’s “What would you say to your younger self?” campaign and blog some advice to my younger self. I said sure – which led to thinking about all sorts of stuff … namely that, despite a bumpy road and all sorts of messes, if what I’ve done over the years has led me to where I am today then so be it. Life is good.
I’m 42 years old. So there’s an amble bit of ‘younger self’ behind me. Certainly, four decades of living has amounted to plenty of mistakes big and small. I screw things up less often than I used to, but I’m still capable of pulling a doozy now and again. I’ve seen my share of setbacks as well as lots of surprises. As a kid back in Georgia, I never would have guessed I’d end up living in London, for example. And blogs didn’t even exist when I was growing up.
Still I must admit I’m generally happy with my ‘station’ in life. I reckon to a large degree the ups and downs of life (especially the downs) all shaped the person I’ve become and directed me toward my current situation. More than anything, the mistakes, disappointments and surprises are what’s led to me being me … and to having a wonderful girlfriend, living in an amazing city, regularly doing in large part what I want to do for a living, travelling the world … and so on. I don’t know if I’m lucky or just have a positive attitude, but life has turned out alright for me.
So .. if there were some magic mirror or time machine or whatever device to allow me to impart advice to my younger self, I’d probably not tell him much more than to just hang in there and trust his (my) gut.
Victoria Miro gallery has opened a new Pumpkins exhibition of works by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Comprising of two elements – a new body of paintings and large scale mosaic pumpkins which will be on show only until 4 October plus major new series of bronze sculptures will be on display in the gallery’s outdoor water garden until 20 December. I got a gander of it all last night at the private view – and wow! If you can take the time simply to mill about Kusama’s bold and pleasing sculptures and to have a close up peek at meticulous efforts of her paintings and mosaics, you will be glad to have done so.
From my perspective, the show comes across as an attempt to set an apt tone for autumn and the few fun months which lay ahead (from mid September until New Years, I’ve always found London to be as happening a place to be as anywhere – especially with respect to art) as it is a testament to the decades of consistent work by Kusama. Since her youth, the artist has felt a deep affinity for pumpkins with their “charming and winsome form” and “generous unpretentiousness”. I like that … a lot … and reckon charm and generous unpretentiousness is something art lovers in general and the London gallery scene specifically should certainly welcome as we roll toward the end of 2014.
Victoria Miro is located at 16 Wharf Road, N1 7RW. The full Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkins exhibition runs until 4 October with the artist’s new series of bronze sculptures remaining on view at the gallery until 20 December. Find out more at victoria-miro.com.
From the 16th of September, passengers of public transport in London can use their contactless payment cards to pay for travel on buses, tram, DLR, London Overground, most local National Rail services and the Tube.
For some time now, London Buses have accepted contactless payment and now the rest of the vast Transport for London (TfL) network is to offer the option.
Recently renovated and reopened under new ownership, The Victoria brings a taste of farm-to-table dining and hopeful community spirit to Mile End. I had lunch here about a week and a half ago and really enjoyed it. Here’s quick look at a few of this pub’s many highlights.
I’ll keep this review short ‘n sweet. There’s lots to love about this pub:
A grownups only dining area (don’t worry family folk, this is an addition to plenty of kid friendly seating areas); a downstairs speakeasy; a fine selection of beer (I appreciated my bartender recommended pint of York Brewery’s Yorkshire Terrier); good food (I approve the crave-worthy Messy Hog Burger and an assortment of “British tapas”); and (believe it or not) fantastic coffee compliments of its very own in-pub cafe, The Gentlemen Baristas.
The pub is part of the Yummy Pub Co portfolio and receives much of its meat, produce and ingredients from sister outlet and farm-to-table pub, The Grove Ferry Pantry Pub & Inn in Upstreet, Kent. But from what I could tell during my lunch, The Vic’s doing an impressive job on its own with chickens on the roof laying fresh eggs, and an assortment of veggies, fruits and herbs being grown to soon to used in its kitchen.
Mile End, here’s an all rounder to claim as your local. I’m definitely intending to keep an eye on all the goings on at this smartly updated watering hole.
The Victoria is located at 110 Grove Road, E3 5TH. Visit the pub online at thevicmileend.co.uk.
The XE currency app enables travelers to “convert every currency on-the-go” by offering “live proprietary exchange rates and historical charts” to make calculating prices and exchange rates fast and hassle free. The app has seen more than 25 million downloads since its release, including my own. I use this app all time.
As an expat (American living in London) doing freelance work, I get paid in dollars, pounds or euros depending on the gig. XE’s app and website helps me keep accurate track of the money I make. And when I’m traveling in a country where I’m unfamiliar with the local currency, XE is one of my most regularly viewed apps.
A mid August weekend in Madrid did Kemey and I both a world of good and turned out to be a fantastic way to celebrate her birthday in style. Being there for the Fiestas de la Paloma ensured the city was just that much turned on and revved up for fun. But I reckon anytime of year is an excellent time to explore this spirited Spanish city.
To help you better browse the posts I’ve published about our amazing weekend in Madrid, here’s a list with links to all of them:
- Did Madrid
- Top Tapas
- Flamenco Soul
- Lunch at Botin, the Oldest Restaurant in the World
- Did Madrid: Too Hot? Not!
- Did Madrid: Más Favor!
So, Kemey and I ‘did’ Madrid in mid August. And in our rev up for the trip we got a lot of “it’ll be too hot!” and “nobody’ll be there!” Was it hot? Oh sure, but it was a dry heat. And the nights (when this vibrant city really comes to life) were absolutely lovely. Obviously, I wouldn’t have wanted to be digging ditches in the noonday sun, but sightseeing, bar hopping, shuffling through museums … all that stuff … these were all wonderful. The flamenco got a bit sweaty to be honest – but it was a good sweat. As for all the Madrileños leaving town, it didn’t seem like that to us. We were in town for the Fiestas de la Paloma (part of Kemey’s planning – I can take no credit). As one of Europe’s biggest street parties, lots of people reckon it’s the most important festival in Madrid, if not the whole of Spain. We had a blast wriggling our wee hours way through the neighbourhood of La Latin – nexus of the celebrations – and being part of the festivities.
I thought it was important to address the ‘visiting cities in august’ issue with respect to our recent experience in Madrid. I’ve certainly found myself in the past arriving in summer dead zones where everything but tourist attractions were closed as well as the converse of being somewhere at the height of a season to realise everybody else in the world had the same bright idea of going there and jamming up an otherwise chilled out place to create a less than ideal destination whatever one’s pursuits. But the Madrid we visited a few week’s back was as awesome as we had hoped it would be.
Maybe this was because of the Paloma festival? Maybe so many locals have been feeling the effects of economic doom and gloom that they had a staycation this year? Maybe Madrid’s such a big and happening city that an out of towner simply wouldn’t notice any difference? Maybe lots of visitors for abroad filled whatever void might have been left by a locals’ exodus to the beach? I don’t know. I had only been to Madrid once before, about a decade ago around Christmastime. During this last trip, the city seemed much more alive than my first time, but not necessarily overrun by too many tourists or anything like that.
The mood at The Roof at the Hotel ME Madrid was one of pleasure as usual in any case. Kemey claimed to have had her best meal of the year there. And I must confess I adored every last bite of my over the top Kobe beef and foie gras hamburger! Just as over the top was the view from The Roof with pretty Plaza de Santa Ana just below and the vast spread of Madrid spanning outward from this popular little square.
Anyway, while I’m fessing up to the weekend’s indulgences …
More amazing activities on our own admittedly touristic trail of this scenic city included mandatory stops at the Prado (I couldnt’ get enough of this museum’s amazing collection) and the Reina Sofia Museum, if only for the chance to see Picasso’s stirring Guernica up close for ourselves. Our afternoon zoom through town with Madrid Segway was an embarrassingly good time. I had no idea how much ridiculous fun riding a Segway could be.
One indulgence to brag about was our fabulous hotel. We could not have been more pleased with the comfort, service, and location of five star Hotel Hospes Madrid. I’d love to stay there again and have no qualms recommending it to anybody looking for a quality place to stay.
One more post in my my Did Madrid miniseries to follow soon!