Bonjour mes amis! My fiancé and I are off to Paris for 5 nights this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!
We’ll be staying at the beautiful Hotel Emile in Le Marais (my favourite district) and – a huge novelty for two perpetual over-schedulers – we have absolutely no plans. We’re just going to wander our favourite neighbourhoods, visit a few galleries, loiter in tiny bookstores, sit at pavement cafes on the Left Bank, eat too many desserts, have picnics in the park, and take a daytrip out to Versailles.
I’d love to know your tips and suggestions for the best new places to go, or your favourite things to do!
It finally feels like Spring here in England, and I couldn’t be more grateful. In between the weekly rain showers, it’s at last warm enough to throw off the coats, pack away the winter layers and go bare-legged.
I’ve been celebrating the new season by breaking out of my winter hibernation; picnics with friends by the river, Saturday brunch dates with my love, buying bunches of spring flowers for the home, and stocking up on a few new buys befitting the warmer weather.
Given the fact I’d spent the past five months wrapped in layers of cashmere, I’d practically forgotten how to dress for those in-between months of spring. So, as is usually the case when I don’t know what else to wear, breton stripes to the rescue.
I bought this J.Crew dress the other week (I liked it so much I bought the top version as well) and it’s just right for running around town on weekends. I’ve so far teamed it with heels and a trench coat for casual no-meeting days in the office, or white sneakers and a denim jacket for weekend errands and shopping trips with friends. It’s the kind of easy throw-it-on-and-you’re-done piece that gets the most mileage in my wardrobe, and the dramatic sleeves do all the work for you (and so requires little more than some excellent earnings and sunglasses to look ‘done’).
I honestly don’t know where this week went. After a whirlwind trip to The Netherlands for work the other day, my stepmother came to stay from Australia last weekend so I was busy playing tourist after work all week. It’s going to be a rainy weekend here in England (April showers do get me down), so I have a pretty low-key weekend plans of spring cleaning + organising my wardrobe, going to see a movie, and getting my hair done (I’m so very rock and roll).
1. I don’t know about you, but a single red lipstick seems to last me for years. So when you purchase the same one for the third time, you know it’s a winner. My friend Tania first introduced me to the excellence of Tom Ford ‘Cherry Lush‘ – the perfect true red shade – about 8 years ago, and I’ve been loyal to it ever since.
2. I am always on the hunt for the perfect breton striped top; it must be white -not cream – and navy, slim enough that it doesn’t look as though I have literally stolen it from a French fisherman – but not skin tight, and just the right thickness so that it’s flattering and doesn’t stretch out in the wash (I’m so demanding, I know). I ordered this one last week and I think the search might finally be over!
3. Now is the perfect time to pack away all your winter boots and shoes and bring out your summer footwear. While you’re at it, take the time to clean them all and take any which need new soles or heels to the cobbler. If you haven’t worn them at all in the past year, it’s probably time to sell them or donate them on.
4. I just rediscovered this rose beauty balm. I used to use it for years as a cleansing balm (I would take off my makeup and then leave it on in the shower for 10 minutes to work as a treatment masque) but then forgot about it. I’ve been using it every evening for the past couple of weeks and my skin is already so much softer.
5. If you’re in London, don’t miss the ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ exhibition at the Royal Academy (which ends in a few days). I went with my aunt the other week (followed by afternoon tea at Laduree on Piccadilly) and it was just breathtaking from start to finish.
6. Do you have sugar face? I’m trying really hard to minimise sugar (my one vice; though I’m realistic enough to know I’ll never cut it out completely) myself, and if the health benefits weren’t enough of a motivator, this article might just speak to your vanity.
7. I’m more of a proponent for wardrobe classics vs short-lived trends, and there’s no lovelier an icon than the white summer dress. This white cotton + lace version is practically perfect in every way (bonus points for the budget-friendly price tag), and is sure to accompany me on many summer adventures.
Last week, I found myself in The Netherlands for a whirlwind 26 hour trip. Although I was in The Hague for a TED event for work, I managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing around the talks, and booked myself on the last flight back on Friday night so that I could spend the whole afternoon exploring Amsterdam. I hadn’t been to Holland since I was small and travelled around the country with my family, so I was so happy to be back in this beautiful country.
Honestly, I couldn’t have loved it more. I had forgotten just how gorgeous this city was, and each street and canal I happened upon seemed even prettier than the last. I was blessed with the most glorious sunshine on what felt like the first spring day of the year, and had the most perfect two days in Amsterdam and The Hague. I’m already planning my next trip back!
I’m not sure I can really call this a city guide (as I was only there two full days, and much of that was taken up with work commitments), but here’s what I got up to and enjoyed the most in my (far too brief) time there:
Do // Amsterdam:
Culture: It would be rude to arrive in Amsterdam without making a pilgrimage to one of the exceptional galleries which pay homage to the great Dutch artists. Don’t go past the grand Rijksmuseum or the equally spectacular Van Gough Museum nearby (smaller and thus more realistic if on a tight schedule, as I was this time).
Soak up the city: The best way to see the city is just to meander around those beautiful streets or 17th century canals at the most leisurely pace you can manage. Rent a bicycle or just wander along the streets of the negen straatjes (nine streets) – my favourite part of the city – have a picnic on the banks of a canal, or sit outside a little neighbourhood cafe at sunset. My favourite way to do it is to just head to the area and then wander with no particular destination; there is no such thing as a wrong turn here, as each street in the area is prettier than the last.
Day trip: The Netherlands is relatively compact, and there are so many beautiful trips you can take out of town (even if you only have an afternoon to spare). On this trip I spent most of my time in The Hague, but I also remember loving Gouda (famed for its dairies and cheese market) and Delft (my mother went a bit crazy for the blue and white porcelain back in the day) and will make a trip there next time.
The Hague // My first day in the Netherlands was spent in Den Haag; most famous for being the seat of the International Criminal Court, the UN, and more government bodies. They are worthy sites to visit in their own right, but the most spectacular is the Binnenhof – the cluster of buildings that house the Dutch government and wouldn’t look out of place in Hogwarts (I was lucky enough to be inside the old Hall of Knights for one of my events).
Just beside the Binnenhof, overlooking the Hofvijer (a picturesque stretch of water), sits the magnificent Mauritshuis museum (below), which houses all the Dutch Masters – Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, et. al. I snuck away during the lunch break to spend an hour exploring the rooms in here, and can honestly say it is now one of my favourite galleries in the world. As an art lover, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of all those works I had grown up appreciating (not to mention the gorgeous gallery itself), that I was physically moved to tears several times when I would walk into a new room; and that was even before I spotted Vermeer’s The Girl With A Pearl Earring. A must-do for any history buff or art-lover.
If you’re visiting The Hague on a Thursday or Sunday, there is an antique and book market beneath the canopy of trees on the beautiful stretch along Lange Voorhout (during the winter months, it is held on Thursdays on Plein Square beside the Binnenhof). I am powerless against the lure of an antique market, and managed to squeeze in a happy half an hour – though I could have spent triple that – browsing the stalls before a talk, and came away with a couple of antique maps from 1900 for just €10 each.
If you’re making the trip to Amsterdam, then I absolutely recommend a day trip to The Hague. Although most of my time there was taken up with work, I had such a lovely time strolling the streets lined with blooming spring tulips and handsome architecture.
Shop // I didn’t have much time to hunt down the best shops before everything closed at 5:30pm (as it was such a flying visit, seeing as much of the city as I could trumped shopping), but these were the gems I spotted along the way: Frozen Fountain: a design store filled with the coolest decor, art, gifts and things for the home you didn’t know you needed until now.
De Weldaad (below): A veritable cabinet of curosities; brimming with a curated collection of vintage furniture and homewares (I imagine it’s where the Anthropologie homewares buyers come for inspiration). Flea Markets: The city is brimming with markets of every variety, so I will be working through this list of the city’s vintage markets on my next visit. De Bijenkorf: I could have spent an hour on the homewares floor of department store (but as it happened, only had 15 minutes for a speed-lap of the store on the way back to Centraal Station to make my flight).
Souvenir // A tin of stroopwafels (delicious little caramel waffles that are traditionally served with coffee) from the airport, some Dutch tulip bulbs from the bloemenmarkt (flower market) for your windowsill garden back home, a block of Edam or Gouda cheese, or a set of golden tealights shaped like little Amsterdam canal houses by Pols Potten (a dutch interior design label) from De Bijenkorf.
Stay // Because I was there for work, I stayed in a standard-issue Mercure in The Hague, but when travelling for pleasure I always book into a small boutique hotel with character and a pretty location. I’m already planning my next trip back (hopefully this autumn), and plan to stay at either The Canal House, The Andaz, or The Dylan (below; I passed this whilst walking around the nine streets area and it looked so charming; right on a canal with bikes out the front for guests to borrow).
Good to Know //It is a short train ride (20 minutes / €5) from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal station (flights from London take around an hour). Once there, the city is entirely walkable; I walked all over the city without needing to take transport once. The Hague, Delft and Gouda are each less than an hour away by train (trains go every 20 minutes or so and cost less than €10), and are both easy day trips. Everyone can speak English perfectly (it is the second official language), and I found everyone I met along the way to be exceedingly friendly and helpful.
Have you been to The Netherlands? Please do share your suggestions + favourite things to do in the comments below; I’m already planning my next trip back!