Thursday, 29 August 2013

28 AUGUST 2013

So I've been away from the blogosphere for a little while, but I've been super busy! Last week I was in Florence, Italy, taking a long awaited break from the 9 to 5. 

A melting pot of culture, Florence is the art-lover's paradise. Galleries, sculptures and a virtual menagerie of boutique shops surrounds possibly the most beautiful building I have ever seen - the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, know locally as il Duomo di Firenze.

Il Duomo di Firenze - Santa Maria del Fiore

We spent our days exploring the cobbled streets and the artistic offerings of this beautiful city, unearthing picturesque gardens and piazzas tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist attractions. One of my favourite spots was the Giardino di Boboli - a park containing sculptures dating between the 16th and 18th centuries, located south of the Arno river at Piazza Pitti, in the slightly more bohemian and less crowded area of the city. 

Views from the Giardino di Boboli

At night we soaked up the atmosphere at the Piazza Santa Croce. A church with a stunning facade designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the designer of the the infamous Duomo di Firenze. Here we dined al fresco and listened intently to the acoustic tones of a Florentine busker, who performed his own original renditions of classics like The Power of Love, Hallelujah and The Sound of Silence. 

The Santa Croce church at Piazza Santa Croce

We had been warned by friends that Florence was not a cheap holiday, and were given the impression that all our money would be spent on food rather than souvenirs. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking this as competition for tourist business has driven prices in the city centre and north of the river sky high (particularly for leather products and other luxury goods). However, a little research goes a long way in Florence - if you have the time to scout out the cheapest places to eat and shop, you can eat very well for under 20 euros a day and find some real retail bargains. For instance, there are gorgeous vintage shops dotted around the city, and if you know where to find them, you can grab a vintage designer gem for a around 40 euros! Here's my vintage Trussardi bag which I found in Verabis - a true Aladdin's cave of vintage treasures! Follow Vera on facebook -

Our hotel - Hotel Benivieni - could not have been in a more perfect location. Set in the quite cobbled street, Via delle Oche, it was no more than 50 metres from the magnificent Duomo and only about 30 metres from Grom - home of the best tasting (and value for money) ice cream I have ever had! If you are ever in Florence, you have to try it, you owe it to yourself! Find them on Via del Campinole, a small side street off the Piazza del Duomo -

Florence, like most of Italy, is famous for it's leather. If you're looking to browse for leather bags, belts, shoes and gloves you will not be disappointed as there are literally hundreds of boutique shops and outlets. For the more upmarket shoppers, you can pick up some absolutely stunning handmade leather products from the area surrounding the Piazza Santa Croce. A little out of my price range, I decided to purchase some driving gloves from a family run shop just off the Ponte Vecchio for a modest 35 euros. I also purchased a handmade pendant from a tiny but exquisite boutique jewellers called Fiori del Tempo, managing to avoid the allure (and stratospheric prices) of the artisan pieces from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. The lady here hand makes all her packaging and stamps it in wax with a tiny gold Fleur-de-Lys, very cute!

Packaging from Fiori del Tempo - Via di Ginori 27A

All in all we had a fabulous time - we saw Michelangelo's David, climbed the nearly 600 year old, 376ft tall Duomo di Firenze, ate beautiful food, bought gorgeous hand made gifts, and generally absorbed the exquisite bohemian atmosphere and artistic culture of this wonderful city. I highly recommend a visit if you're looking for a romantic city break. X

Monday, 19 August 2013

19 AUGUST 2013

It's about this time of year that I struggle to contain my excitement - I've even been know to let out a squeak of glee or two. Yes, the Great British Bake Off is returning to our screens! In honour of the occasion I thought I'd share with you one of my recent bakes; a delicate, middle-eastern-inspired cake flavoured with rose & pistachio. Absolutely scrummy! Click here for the full recipe. X

Saturday, 17 August 2013

14 AUGUST 2013

This weekend I visited Paris for the first time, in celebration of my mum's 50th birthday. The City of Love beckoned with all it's artistic charm and the promise of cultural (and retail) overindulgence - not to mention the opportunity to sample a pastry...or nine. 

I think it would be safe to say that, with three days stretched out in front of me, I was itching to explore and just a little bit excited to see what Paris had to offer. I was not disappointed.

9 AUGUST 2013 - DAY 1

I must admit I was a little sceptical about how welcoming the Parisians would be, given that they don't historically have a glowing reputation for manners. However, within minutes of arriving, my scepticism dissolved as our airport transfer driver went out of his way to carry my luggage and help me in and out of the minibus. 

After checking in at the Plaza Elysees and changing out of our plane clothes, we took the short walk up to the Arc de Triomphe. Here we stood in awe of the infamous monument, absorbing its artistic beauty before taking a stroll down the Champs Elysees towards the Place de la Concorde and on to one of the most beautiful shopping centres in the world - Galeries Lafayette. Whilst I could never even hope to earn enough to be able to shop there, just being there was an amazing experience - just look how stunning it is!


We finished our first day with a delicious meal at Cafe Hortense on rue Paul Cezanne, an elegantly styled restaurant in two large and separate buildings set across the street from one another and joined in the middle by alfresco dining tables. A novel concept for the English restaurant-goer, but a testament to this restaurant's obvious popularity. The meals we had were divine, and not unreasonably priced for the 8th arrondissment at around 20 euros a head. They also serve the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever tasted - well worth a visit if you're ever in the area!


An 8am breakfast beckoned so that we could make an early start on our sightseeing. The eccentric and bohemian 18th arrondissment was our first stop so we could visit the iconic villiage of Montmatre - ironically, home to both the beautiful Roman Catholic Church; the Bascilica of the Sacre Coeur, and the equally infamous Moulin Rouge; the original and famously raunchy cabaret. These are both must-sees if you ever go to Paris, but beware, when climbing the steps to the Sacre Coeur, we were somewhat harassed by men trying to sell us string bracelets 'for the church'. One particular man actually grabbed me by the arm to physically stop me going any further and force me to wear one of the bracelets which, I must admit, was quite frightening. They are forceful, but stand your ground if you don't want to be taken for a ride, and they shouldn't ruin your day - they certainly didn't ruin ours!

En route between these two fabulous monuments, we found nestled in an alley amongst an array of tacky souvenir shops, the most adorable and elegantly styled chocolate shop: Le Petit Musee Du Chocolat. Not only does this shop boast a vast array of delicious chocolates, truffles and macaroons, but on display are a variety of exquisite models made entirely out of chocolate - very impressive! Of course, I had to make a little purchase...


 After a costume change (and afternoon nap) we headed to the Eiffel Tower where we took the mandatory  tourist photos of this ever-impressive monument. Below is one of my favourites.

Another delicious meal followed before we ascended the Eiffel Tower at sunset, taking advantage of it's twinkling beauty in the fading light. The view from the second floor was unforgettable. Here's one of the pictures I took - a boat on the Seine adorned with lights looked like fire against the night...


Our final day came and we still had so much to see. An early start at the Louvre allowed us to see the iconic Mona Lisa amongst a relatively small crowd. A couple of hours roaming the marble corridors absorbing as much cultural artistry as possible was hungry work, and we left feeling intellectually stimulated but in need of refreshment. On recommendation from a friend, my brother took us to the beautifully quaint and fabulously Parisian Cafe de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Pricey but delicious, I could have sat at our table overlooking the sunny Sunday street all day, but we had so much more to explore.

We slowly made our way towards Notre Dame, browsing the vintage books and artistic prints lining the banks of the Seine as we went. On arriving at the Cathedral home to the infamous Quasimodo, we awed at its beauty, but unfortunately could not sacrifice the time to queue for entry. We did however, stop by one of the many 'Love-Lock' bridges nearby to mark the occasion of our wonderful holiday in one of the most beautiful parts of Paris. And here's what we left behind...

Our break came to an end after one final meal and the purchase of a few vintage-inspired prints, which I can't wait to put up on my bedroom wall as a reminder of our wonderful visit to The City of Love. If you haven't been already, I highly recommend it. I'm planning our return trip already! X

Friday, 9 August 2013

9 AUGUST 2013

I'm off to Paris! Tell you all about it when I'm back! X

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

7 AUGUST 2013

Grrrrr! I hate feeling angry on my way into work, but thanks to you and your bigoted ways, Godfrey Bloom, I am now in a bad mood.

Not only did the UKIP MEP defend his insolent comments about the British government sending aid to 'Bongo bongo land' on Radio 4's Today show, but he had the audacity to wager that most of the listeners would also agree with his criticisms of our government's policies on overseas aid. I can tell you right now Mr Bloom that I was listening, and I think you were talking complete crap.

His insulting and overtly racist remarks, as well as his narrow-minded defence of the 'under-represented' cricket-and-rugby-club-going class in this country were offensive to both those receiving overseas aid and the intelligence of Radio 4 listeners and the British public at large. That this is the sort of man who is 'elected' to be an MEP frightens me - no wonder Europe is going down the plug hole...X

If you would like to read more about Godfrey Bloom's comments yesterday please follow this link: 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

6 AUGUST 2013

The world of mandatory training has little allure, but in an age of laws and European Directives, it has become an essential part of working life. That said, it is generally with little enthusiasm that we complete our online learning modules or attend organised training sessions, as the often tedious and seemingly unnecessary training draws us away from our teeming inboxes and ringing phones.

This was my feeling anyway, until one recent training session on Equality & Diversity revealed to me a shocking statistic: recent research by Pearn Kandola shows that 80% of senior managers talk about a male first when asked to describe a successful manager.

What this shows is that there are either few female managers, or those managers that are female are not considered successful in the eyes of their male counterparts. Either way this statistic is not good.   

I must admit that, since working in the public sector, I have only had good experiences in terms of equality between males and females. Salaries are banded and therefore equal across genders, and whilst there are males in managerial roles, there are also many women leading the way as senior managers and directors. However, whilst my own workplace might be a shining beacon of success in equality and diversity terms, it worries me that this is not the norm.

Indeed, my own experience working as a paralegal in the private sector last year gave me a hint of the inequality which is out there between men and women in the workplace. Not necessarily in terms of seniority of position (I worked within a department with two female partners and only one male partner), but more in terms of mindset. I often got the feeling that that male partners tended to view females as inferior, and regularly heard such partners talking about women and other minority groups in derogatory terms. I won't go into detail, but comments were often vulgar and inappropriate.

What this experience says to me is that the statistic quoted by Pearn Kandola is more a result of an archaic, sexist mindset that manifests itself in the actions of far too many male managers, than a lack of females in managerial roles. Whilst it is good to see females lead successful careers as managers, true gender equality will never be realised until we alter the patriarchal mindset that exists in so many office environments.

I have no idea how to do this, and nor would I attempt to devise a fix-all remedy, but I can think of a good start: do your Equality & Diversity training, embrace it with enthusiasm, and encourage others to do the same. X