Last weekend a gaggle of us girlies headed on a packed train to Bath (the same that took me to Bristol) for Rachel’s hen weekend… and what a weekend we had! Bath is a beautiful city and we had lunch in a hotel on the world famous Royal Crescent, a must see in the city especially for a former architecture student! Over the past few months I’ve come across some of the greatest buildings in the country, from the contrasting details at St Pancras station, the hotel possibly being my favourite building in London, to the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and across the river gazing upon the city. Further north my dear friend Jess visited Edinburgh and I can’t wait to check out her Bath snaps on her blog here. So with all these British beauties… where will we visit next…?
A birthday is a great excuse for me to get baking (although simply bringing in baked goods for my colleagues seems to be too at the moment!) For Louise and Mike's birthday I decided to bake a lemon and poppy seed cake, adapted from this Mary Berry recipe. I simply added the poppy seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice. The decoration was inspired by the Lovecrumbs Bakery in Edinburgh which I came across this week. Their flavour combinations sound magical and visually the cakes are beautiful. If ever I'm up in Edinburgh I'll be sure to go.
Back to the birthday cake, it went down a treat so I think this is a recipe to be replicated again and again!
On Sunday the school girls had dinner round at Fran's place, a flat in the iconic Balfron Tower. For an archi-geek, which you inevitably become after over 6 years of studying, seeing one of these dilapidated yet well-designed flats in the flesh was fantastic. The flat is shabby chic especially with the hand-made furniture and painted murals on the walls. We enjoyed the feast and a light post-dinner competition in the form of Linkee - great game, we'll be playing that again for sure!
Today my "little" brother Alex turns twenty-two (the secret's out!!) As I write he's somewhere in the United States enjoying the last few weeks of a three and half month road trip which has taken him on a figure of 8 shaped route around the country. Aside from the odd Skype call from all manner of destinations, we have been keeping up on his progress via his online journal, seeing landscape changing from east to west and north to south and reading anecdotes of the adventure. Envious is an understatement, but I look forward to a catch up on his return to see all the photos and hear all the tales of this once in a lifetime experience. Happy Birthday Al!
Images by Alex Dowle
The final destination on our tour of Italy was the capital. We stayed in a studio apartment with a vast roof terrace in the neighbourhood of Monti, an area off the tourist trail but only a 5 minute walk from the Colosseum. Two days wasn't enough time to explore the city but we had an incredible taster... from the Trevi fountain, to a tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica, a morning visit to the Colosseum itself, walking through the incredible ancient ruins of the Roman Forum (a favourite of Dan's) and absorbing the architectural triumph of the Pantheon. In the evenings we had dinner in Monti and also made our way across the Tiber to Trastevere. A gorgeous bohemian part of the city with narrow streets bustling in the evening with restaurants, cafes and bars, we sat and enjoyed a drink whilst watching a cardinal and a rabbi walk by!
Our next stop, now in our trusty Fiat 500, was high in the hills of Tuscany in the town of Montepulciano. This place played host to two more of our culinary highlights. Osteria Acquacheta harks back to the Italian dinners of old when everyone sat together to eat and big long wooden tables, and we munched our way through 1.2kg of T-bone Tuscan steak. Best ever perhaps? We also tried our hand at cooking our own Italian dishes when we had a cookery class with Giorgio, whose flat we were renting in the town. We made potato gnocchi and tiramisu and then sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour. During the day we visited Siena and San Gimignano.
On from here we stayed for two nights at Forestaría, a gorgeous farm house in the hills above Lucca converted and run by Eleanora and Marco. Our full day was spent exploring Lucca, possibly the least touristy city on out entire trip, where we climbed to the top of the tower with trees on top and cycled round the city walls (twice!) One of my happiest memories of Italy...
We arrived in to Florence's Art Deco station and walked just 5 minutes til we arrived at our next abode, Anna's place, a typical Florentine apartment. Our initial evening wander around the outskirts of the city wasn't fruitful but we headed back into the centre collecting ingredients for a homemade carbonara dinner from various delicatessens on the way home.
Our time in Florence was one of climbing - the top of the bell tower (well, I got most of the way up, Dan carried on), up the steep slopes of the Boboli Gardens, and to the top of the Duomo's cupola (again, I didn't go all the way, but to stand outside you have got to be crazy!!) Even though my legs were shaking and my palms were clammy, the views from the top were fantastic whether seeing Florence and its surroundings or getting up close to the dome's painted ceiling. Our evening was spent at the not-a-restaurant Teatro del Sale. The premise is that it's infact a theatre with a pre-performance buffet from the kitchen of Fabio Picchi, which we sat next to and watched the action inside... chickens being spit roasted, bread being baked, potatoes being roasted. After we drew up our chairs to the stage and the evening was finished off with a quirky, one woman show in Italian by Maria Cassi - an off-the-wall way to end our brief time in Florence...
Here we stayed at Lola's place, a lovely family apartment just a 10 minute stroll from St Mark's Square. As soon as we arrived, we were mesmerised by the water, the canals, the vaporettos, the bridges giving glimpses of views, snapping away on our camera. Venice is truly a feast for the eyes, so different as the light changes throughout the day, and we spent most of our time wandering, aiming to just get lost. On our first evening we explored the streets of the Dorsoduro area and spotted a charming place to return to for dinner the following night, Al Vecio Marangon. The food was typically Venetian and delicious. Our full day in Venice started early; we were in Piazza San Marco as the sun was creeping up from behind the buildings - the light was incredible. Later we headed up to the Rialto Market, stumbled upon a canal side protest march after lunch and stumbled upon my favourite square, Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio. In the dappled sunlight children were playing football in amongst vegetables growing in boxes. After an exploration of the quiet Arsenale area, including a walk over the sea, the following morning, we were now heading to Florence...