Plant-based

This blog has always been about adventures, not just the travelling kind, but those that make you experience something new. We have always been very open-minded when it comes to trying new things. Despite being happy omnivores last year and content vegetarians earlier this year, we watched something that changed our perspectives on eating animals and their products forever… We watched the talked about documentary ‘What the Health’ on Netflix, and despite it being a very bias view (verging on propaganda), it really did have an unexpected and hard-hitting impact on us both. Even if some of the information in it was partially true then we had to make a change.

So pretty much the next day we removed any dietary animal products from our home and became vegans; (however we always said if our bodies did not respond well to the change then we would revert back). Our main driver for changing our diet was for health reasons: if plant-based food could reduce our chances of getting diseases, even just by a tiny bit, then surely it was worth doing! However, the more we read and the more documentaries we watched, the more we found that we were doing this for more than just health reasons: we were now being driven by ethical and environmental reasons. In parallel with this we found that our skin improved, our energy levels increased, we recovered faster after exercise and we slept better; all good stuff!

This new way of eating reignited our passion for cooking. Before, cooking at home tended to be a chore, now it is a joy! Most of the free time we have is spent trying new recipes, baking new delights and experimenting with different flavours. And it is this passion that we want to share with you; so we are starting up a pop-up vegan restaurant so that you can experience the joys of plant-based food! We are creating intimate dining experiences with limited spaces, so please contact us directly for availability!

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Central Sweden

This adventure post is long overdue! However, my excuse is that I have been distracted by a new venture that has been taking up more of my time than I thought. (More to follow on that soon!)

It was back in August when the hubby and I embarked on our back-packing and camping train journey from Stockholm to Swedish Lapland and back again. We saw and experienced so much but felt like we barely even scratched the Scandi surface! After flying into Stockholm, we took the Inlandsbanan (an old logging train) all the way up to Gällivare above the Arctic Circle, stopping off at little towns and villages en route. We have so many recommendations from this adventure that we have broken them down into three parts: Central, North and Stockholm.

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We flew into Stockholm Arlanda Airport and immediately started our journey via Swedish National Rail to Mora, which is the first major stop on the Inlandsbanan and is about 300km North-West of Stockholm. (Please note that the Inlandsbanan does officially start in Kristinehamn!). The Inlandsbanan is a 1,364km privately preserved railway route, where one train runs daily between Mora and Östersund, and another between Östersund and Gällivare. It only operates during the summer months and the dates change annually so you are best to check their website for the most current information. The train chugs along at an average speed of 50km/h and will stop at any ‘sight worth seeing’ and conveniently placed track-side restaurants at meal times. We purchased a two-week hopper ticket at 1,995kr per person (approximately £200), which allows you to get on and off the Inlandsbanan however many times you want making each journey unique! There are loads of other options on their website, including package tours which appeared to be popular.

Part 1 – Central

Mora is a cute little town and a real taste of central Sweden. This was certainly one of the ‘larger’ towns on this part of the route, but there is only enough stuff here to keep you occupied for a day. We camped at Mora Parken, which had great facilities (showers, kitchen, etc.) and was very close to town. We arrived mid-afternoon, set up camp and then went off to find dinner!

We had a wonderful first meal at Korsnäsgården which is located across the road from the train station. It’s a beautiful and bright little place, using local ingredients with a modern twist. The following day we had brunch at Konditori Kaffestuga (a chain of cottage cafés in this region) where caramel filled pastries, goats cheese and beetroot toasted sandwiches with honey and walnuts, salt liquorice buttercream topped macaroons and unlimited tea and coffee filled us up! After that we visited Zornmuseet and Zorngården, which celebrates Andres Zorn’s work and his fabulous house (which had more modern conveniences than the royal palace at the time!). Zorn is one of Sweden’s most renowned artists and this little shine to him does him complete justice. Make sure you catch a guided tour of his house in English (tickets can be purchased at the museum) and visit Café Zorn after for some delicious cakes. After walking around the town, take a look at the giant Dala Horse down by the lake; traditionally these wooden horses were carved as toys for children but now the Dala Horse is symbol of Sweden (so obviously, we got a little red one which now adorns the mantle piece!).

Our next stop was Orsa, which was even smaller than Mora but was the closest station to the Grönklitt Björnpark (bear park!). The camping facilities at Orsa were good, with a large kitchen and lounge area for campers. The restaurant onsite served good food, but is expensive: however, you are paying for the views of amber sunsets across the lake. Keep an eye out for red squirrels hiding in the trees there too!

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The bear park is located on the side of a 561m hill, which turns into a ski resort in winter and claims to be Europe’s largest predator park. Grönklitt is mostly filled with loads of native Swedish animals, (the bear cubs and wolves were our favourites!), with a few polar bears and tigers thrown in for good measure! If you manage to make it to the top of the hill then you will have earned your waffles crowned with cloud berry compote and vanilla ice cream, which are available in the Viking-hall-themed restaurant! To get to the bear park from Orsa we booked on to a bus at the tourist office the day before, which runs a few times daily in the summer; we were informed that we would have to pay a small fee but on both the outbound and return journeys the driver refused our money(!??).

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When we were waiting to catch the Inlandsbanan the next day we sat in the dappled sunlight at the Konditori Kaffestuga in town. This branch was located in a delightful wooden lodge, where we stuffed our faces with weird and wonderful sweet treats that we had never seen before! Including a green marzipan log filled with an arak, cookie crumb and chocolate paste (Google tells me this is called a ‘Punchrulle’!).

Our final stop on the Central part of our journey was Östersund. Set on the shore of an enormous lake, this lively and youthful city, had quite a lot going on (relatively speaking)!! Unfortunately, the nearest campsite was located quite far away from the town so we booked ourselves into some self-catering apartments in the city centre: great location, with weird but beautiful buildings and eclectic furniture! We spent our first morning walking around the city and down by the extensive lake and grabbed from breakfast from Törners Konditori, where they had a delicious selection of cinnamon and cardamom buns, blueberry and custard pastries, princess cake and ornate patisserie.

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This fuelled us for our day at Jamtli, an outdoor living museum, filled with Swedish history and enthusiastic actors! We really cannot recommend this place enough; we had a wonderful tour in English where we were guided ‘through time’ by a brilliant hostess, we visited the King’s Inn, the local village where we sampled natural fizzy water imported for its health benefits, sang with sobriety campaigners in the town square, helped pack bags for a camping roadtrip in the ‘60s and sampled fish-finger pasties for a 1970s dinner party! After which we had lunch at the museum restaurant, another tradition building but on a much larger scale, it serves a delicious daily special with hot and cold buffet sides. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering in and out of different periods of time and talking to real people living in that moment: hippies, a wartime farmer’s wife and the richest farmer in the land!

We finished our time in Östersund with a fabulous dinner at Jazzköket. The menu changes regularly to include influences from different countries and the chef uses interesting flavour combinations along with local ingredients to make some very cool dishes: for dessert, we had sweet potato cream pie cookies and pea shoot ice-cream with dulce de leche. All this was surrounded by an awesome atmosphere and a funky setting. Try and time your visit with the live music they have on!

The next morning we got up early to catch the train North towards the Arctic Circle…

French road trip

A good friend of ours moved to Paris with his job a few years ago, and it wasn’t long before he had found himself a gorgeous French girlfriend. The relationship moved along swiftly and before we knew it we’d been invited to their wedding in the south of France in a region called Languedoc-Roussillon.

Lee (Truffle!) had never visited France before, whereas I’d been there nearly every summer of my childhood for camping holidays. So, to explore France with him and introduce him to some of the culture I experienced as a child was great fun. I even managed to teach him a few phrases; although the one that he found most useful was: “can we have some more bread please?”!

En route from the airport to our gîte in Foix we stopped at a cute little town, perched on top of a massive hill, called Carla Bayle. It had a real bohemian vibe, full of artists and bijou cafés. We found a little restaurant for lunch called Auberge Pierre Bayle, (named after the Protestant philosopher who lived there). It didn’t look like much from downstairs but as you climb the spiral staircase to the restaurant upstairs you see why all the locals come here for lunch… the view is incredible!! You overlook miles of green and yellow fields, orchards and in the far distance… the Pyrénées! Plus, the food was delicious, really interesting menu with beautiful presentation. We can’t recommend it enough!

The wedding day was a truly romantic affair and it was interesting to see what the quirks of a French wedding ceremony were! So, after lots of champagne and croquembouche it was time to start our little French adventure! After all it would be a waste to go all that way and not tag on some exploring!

Our first stop was Mirepoix, an old medieval town with rustic charm, it really felt untouched by tourists. We stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast called Demeure de la Carmine. And what a breakfast!! The spread was incredible, everything you could imagine! Our host, Stephane, was gorgeous and could not do enough for us. We visited the famous market the next morning (Thursdays and Mondays only), ate pastries (including the best coffee éclair we have ever had!), sampled cheeses and people watched. For dinner, we went to L’autre Jardin; a gourmet restaurant serving interesting flavour combinations, with its own little wine cellar! Amazing!

The following day we headed over to our next hotel called Le Vieux Castillon, on top of another hilled town: Castillion du Gard, which was pure bliss. The hotel was made from sandstone and all the furnishings and accessories were white. The only colour came from the accent windows of saffron yellow glass, these bathed the rooms in a warm golden light. This hotel was a little bit of luxury with a beautiful swimming pool, an epic breakfast buffet, a nine-course tasting menu and honey-scented Nuxe products in every room!

From here we explored Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct of enormous proportion, and the medieval city of Avignon with its numerous castles and bridges. One castle that is definitely worth the entrance fee is the gigantic Palais des Papes, a UNESCO world heritage site which used to house the Popes in the fourteenth century. And of course, we ate lots of weird and wonderful pastries! Including a ‘Figue’ which had a pale green marzipan exterior manipulated to resemble a fig, and it was filled with a chocolate and fig ganache; the texture is a cross between a cake and cookie dough! Heaven!

Whilst travelling to our next B&B we had a whistle-stop tour of the city of Nîmes, which was soaked in Roman culture… what ancient town would be complete without a mini colosseum and a huge temple?? (The Maison Carrée is probably the best-preserved temple of its kind!) The gardens are definitely worth checking out; the sculptures and fountains are pretty awesome.

That afternoon we arrived in Carcassonne to our B&B just outside the city walls. The Carcassonne B&B was homely and chic, its interior was full of curated antiques and the rooms were named after their colour (we stayed in the Yellow Room). We spent that evening and following day walking around the city walls and castle, and exploring the little alleys and side streets. We had two wonderful meals here: yummy pizza and caramel crème brûlée at La Courtine, and intriguing tapas at the gritty L’Escargot (some delicious local flavours).

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We spent our final day at our departure destination: Toulouse. We had an amazing five-course brunch at La Fiancé and spent the rest of the day wondering around the city people watching and eating random food from kiosks and side street shops, (including the famous rose shaped, nutty flavoured ice cream from Amorino’s).

It was a truly wonderful trip from start to finish, filled with local wine, enormous castles, romance and quirky food. Vive la France!

Venetian elopement

 

My husband and I are recently married, so recently married that it still sounds weird to say that! On the 22nd December 2016 we made our promises to each other in Palazzo Cavalli in Venice. We did this in a near empty room with only the registrar, translator and two witnesses that we had met only moments before! And it was truly the most magical day of our lives!

Only four months previously Lee proposed at Llangennith in Wales, a very special place for his family and us. We had previously spoken about a hassle-free wedding day that was just about us and a couple of our friends had gone abroad to tie the knot and they were totally chilled about the whole planning process as they didn’t have to please anyone expect themselves. Definitely the way to go!

Of course, we had a ‘modern’ elopement, which meant that we told our families that we were disappearing off to get married! Initially there was a little resistance to the idea, however after we explained why we were doing it they understood: 1. We wanted to actually spend time together on our wedding day, 2. We wanted to have an adventure at the same time, 3. It was our wedding day, not theirs!

We had booked our usual pre-Christmas city break earlier in the year. We love Italy (especially the food!), so this year we booked flights to a new city: Venice. After getting engaged in August Lee mentioned in passing: ‘why don’t we just get married in Venice?’, obviously, I said yes immediately which took him off guard! But we soon threw ourselves into planning our intimate Venetian adventure, especially as we only had three months in which to organise everything!!

We found an amazing wedding planner to coordinate everything in Venice: Amber who owns Angel Lion. She put us in touch with our award-winning photographer, Barbara Zanon, who was totally our style: a bit quirky and willing to try new creative ideas and alternative compositions. As it was only going to be the two of us there we wanted to capture the memories so that we could share our special day with everyone back home. (All photos in this post were taken by her, she’s totally amazing!)

The goal in marriage is not to think alike,
but to think together.
Robert C. Dodds


The Wedding Day

We had been in Venice for two days prior to the main event and we were staying at Oltre il Giardino, in a junior suite which had a spacious bedroom with an enormous bed(!), a luxurious bathroom and a relaxing living room. All were decorated in a quirky minimalistic way with eclectic antique pieces and modern comforts.

I prepared myself in the bedroom (with the en suite bathroom) and Lee got ready in the living room which was connected to the rest of the hotel so that he could amuse himself during my three-hour transformation!! I had my hair and makeup done by Letizia Cordella, I wanted a natural boho look that I wouldn’t have to keep adjusting throughout the day.

At half past one the time came for the ‘prima vista’ (the first look!), which took place in the beautiful hotel garden. Luckily the weather could not have been more perfect; clear blue sky, fresh air and sunshine! I was full of nervous excitement as I walked out to meet my husband-to-be, and he was totally gorgeous, especially in his suit! A big hug and kiss helped to relax our nerves and we walked out of the garden courtyard to the canal where our traditional speed boat awaited! In James Bond style, we were transported to the town hall for our two o’clock ceremony. When we arrived, we were greeted by our witnesses who we had never met (the wedding planner’s assistant and her husband – who coincidentally got married on exactly the same day the previous year!), the registrar and the translator.

The ceremony was over in a matter of minutes and before we knew it we were husband and wife! We exchanged rings and were presented with a gift from the City of Venice; a beautiful azure blue stem vase made from Murano glass embellished with daisies and gold leaf.

And then we were off on our first adventure as a married couple: a tour of the city and surrounding islands by speedboat with our photographer. Our first stop was the island of Burano, where winding cobbled streets and palazzos were decorated with jewel coloured houses; we had great fun finding our favourite coloured houses to strike a pose by and exploring the narrow passages between little courtyards.

The next stop was San Giorgio and we arrived here as the sun started to set. We watched the golden peach light dance off the water and as we looked back to the gorgeous views of St. Mark’s Square and Dorsoduro. I had great fun twirling my dress around here watching it catch the light!

We then re-embarked the water taxi and travelled to our final destination: Hotel Danieli. For those of you who haven’t seen the film ‘The Tourist’ with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, this hotel is the most beautiful in Venice! It has the most incredibly ornate staircase you will have ever seen, vibrant stained-glass windows and chandeliers that look like lavish flower arrangements. After the long day walking around we had some hot chocolate and biscuits in the lounge to energise and warm up before heading up to the Terrazza restaurant.

When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by ‘Here comes the Bride’; so embarrassing!! The waiter then took us to an amazing table overlooking St. Mark’s Basilica, and the food and wine was delicious! We had a three-course meal of ‘land and sea’, which drew on traditional Venetian flavours with a modern twist. So wonderful!

After bathing in the atmosphere and filling ourselves to near-bursting-point we took a water taxi back to our hotel, where we spent the next hour removing about one hundred hair grips from my head!!

It was truly a wonderful day and the best thing was we actually got to spend the whole time together, being excited and sharing every moment of the experience. I cannot recommend a modern elopement enough; and if the only reason you are being put off is because you don’t want to upset your parents, then remind yourself that it’s your day not theirs! And after we got back, our parents totally got why we had disappeared off together. Remember: people who mind don’t matter, and people who matter don’t mind!


So, here’s to a lifetime of adventures!!

Spirit guide

I’m a big believer in fate. I believe that everything happens for a reason and no matter what you go through, it’ll all be alright in the end.

You may have already read my blog post about how I ended up here (About us), and this little incident happened not long after I handed my notice in at work…

I had a few errands to run in town and stopped for a bite to eat at a vegan restaurant for lunch, (really cool little place with a modern hippy vibe and delicious food – Amala). I sat myself down on a two-seater table in the middle of the restaurant facing the window, ordered a chai latte and started to browse the menu. I was immediately distracted by a loud voice behind me; a confident middle-aged man who was bragging about his dating exploits to a female friend, gross! I definitely couldn’t listen to that for an hour so I moved to the floor seating area by the window, which was covered with an array of green scatter cushions!

I am not what happened to me,
I am what I choose to become.
C.G. Jung.

As soon as I moved the blonde lady to my left said “it’s much better sitting on the floor, right?”. This initiated a conversation that lasted for about an hour. She explained that she had recently flown over from America on a spur of the moment trip to visit friends, one of which she was having lunch with. The three of us talked about jobs and they asked what I did, I explained that I had recently handed in my notice and the reasons behind it. They immediately got it, agreeing that life is too short to be unhappy and it is really important to do what you are passionate about.

They then asked if my parents had been happy about it, this question caught me off-guard, and before I knew it I was crying (and they were complete unphased by it, and just kept smiling and waited for me to continue). Like I mentioned previously, my career until this date had been heavily influenced by my parents’ aspirations for me and their values of always having a job and being financially stable (all completely understandable!). When I told my parents that I had handed in my notice in without having a job to go to their reaction was the complete opposite of what I expected. I thought that they were going to be angry and disappointed with me for being immature, for leaving a secure, well-paid job to being basically unemployed. But instead they were happy for me, and told me that I should do what I want and that I should pursue something creative because I had always been good at that! It was this unexpected belief in me that brought me to tears in front of these people I had only just met!

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Then her friend said something to me that has stuck in my mind ever since: “we are domesticated”… and it’s so true! Our lives have been a journey of total domestication; by our families, our peers, our schools and our society. We only act the way we do because we are governed by other peoples’ expectations of us. Can you imagine what your life could be like if we weren’t trained to think in a certain way or follow a certain path because “that’s what everyone else has done”?! We weren’t born to pay bills and die; we can be free from that if we open our minds to it! It turns out that these friends had met in Spain on a personal leadership course which expanded and developed on this principle of domestication and how to take control of your life.

We also talked about fate. Being positive about the future and open to new opportunities brings about new possibilities: you create your own luck. He explained that he was going sailing for three months later in the year from Fiji to Bora Bora because he saw an advert on facebook by a couple who were sailing around the world and they needed someone with experience to help them, he responded they replied and it was booked! What if he had seen the advert and thought: they won’t pick me, I won’t be good at that, I can’t go away for such a long time? By opening his mind to new opportunities, he was gonna be living the dream!

By changing seats that day I met two wonderful people with open hearts and minds with whom I felt an immediate connection. Two people who told me that what I was doing was the right thing and helped me to see the bigger picture.

We hugged and said our goodbyes and I left that place feeling so positive about the future. Ready to be wild!

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