Hello from Cambridge! Sincere apologies for the sporadic posting around here; this month is proving extra hectic between election campaigning (don’t forget to vote today!), wedding planning (and my inability to delegate anything), and trying to finish all my work projects in time to be be able to take a couple of weeks off to spend with friends and family (who will soon be arriving from all around the world).
Although these are all excellent reasons to be busy, it hasn’t left much room for downtime. Feeling overwhelmed and knowing my tendency to keep going until I burnout, I knew I needed to carve out a little time for self-care in the form of Vitamin D and switching off (read: ignoring my 7 inboxes for just a moment). So on the weekend amidst wedding admin at our venue, I grabbed my boyfriend, threw together a hasty picnic, and headed for the river to spend even an hour reading a book in the sunshine together.
In summer I love those sunny, lazy days where you just switch off, throw on something that makes you smile, and spend the entire afternoon lazing in the park. And while this wasn’t quite one of those gloriously leisurely days, it was still exactly what I needed.
While it’s all too easy to wax lyrical about the importance of making room for fun (and I know blogs – including my own – can perpetuate this myth that everyone else is having the time of the lives whilst we’re chained to our desk / doing laundry / running around after children / etc.), sometimes even taking time out can feel like just another task on an already manageable ‘to do’ list.
But as our mini afternoon picnic reminded me, no matter how hectic things are – indeed, especially when things are hectic – it is so important to take an hour or two to just ignore everything you should be doing, get outside (instead of admiring the sunshine through your office window), and do whatever makes you feel happy. You’ll help avoid that dreaded feeling of ‘overwhelm’, make some new memories (because no amount of email-replying will do that), and come back feeling more calm and refreshed.
So here’s to us all remembering to put self-care at the top of the ‘to do’ list and carving out some indulgently lazy time every day.
Between all our recent European travels, I feel as though my feet have barely touched the ground the past few months. But one of my big New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 was to take more frequent small trips and explore Europe more (rather than eschewing the cities on our doorstep in favour of the extended long-haul trips we usually take).
Although I frequently travel to Brussels for work, I only ever get to see the Government district and the inside of the European Commission buildings while I’m there (with an occasional detour through the Grand Place on the way back to the Eurostar station if the weather is behaving). Given how easy it is to get there from England, I decided it was about time we properly explored all the city had to offer (which is so much more than just the seat of the European Union).
So when Alcatel asked if I’d like to put together a city guide in conjunction with their current promo (get return flights to one of eight European cities when you buy the new Pop4handset), it was the perfect excuse to finally explore this grand old city. It was my first time trying the handset, but I have to say it was the ideal phone for travelling; because of the dual-SIM function I could put both my UK and travel SIM in at the same time, and the camera and maps were excellent for navigating our way around town without getting lost (and snapping everything along the way, of course).
Brussels is the perfect size for a weekend city break; small enough that you feel you can cover a decent chunk of it in two days, large enough that you’ll have no shortage of things to do. These were the best things we covered during our stay:
Do // For a dose of culture, start with the magnificent Grand Place. A large cobbled square bordered by the opulent Town Hall and guildhalls which marks the centre of the old town; it is a Unesco World Heritage site and surely one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
Afterwards, walk over to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (around €8) on Rue de la Régence for a morning with Rubens, van Dyck and all the Flemish greats. Afterwards, head to the Royal Palace next door; it is free to visit from July-September when the Royal Family go away, and the spectacular rooms are worthy of any Disney princess (I’m not sure I have ever seen quite so many chandeliers in once place). Afterwards, we bought an ice cream and happily lazed beneath the canopy of trees in the Parc du Bruxelles across the road.
Shop // Treasure hunt for antiques: We visited both the Sablon (every Saturday and Sunday at the Place du Grand Sablon) and Les Marolles (every day on the Place du Jeu de Balle) flea markets and the surrounding antique shops. On the first Sunday of every month there is also a vintage market at Halle Saint-Géry. I picked up vintage postcards from Paris and a set of 1960s cocktail glasses at the Sablon, and an antique bust of Marie Antoinette and a pair of golden pheasants for the dining room table at Les Marolles. During a sudden downpour at Les Marolles, we dashed into the Cafe La Brocante on the corner of the square for coffee, which was charmingly stuffed with locals and antiques in equal measure.
Grand arcades: Don’t miss the beautiful Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert near the Grand Place. Built in 1847, it is a beautiful glass-roofed passageway housing luxury shops and cafes. We loitered for nearly an hour in the magnificent Tropismes Libraires bookstore in the Galerie des Princes section.
Hip boutiques: For the best small, independent fashion, design and lifestyle boutiques, head to the Rue Dansaert / Rue des Chartreux district. We made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday morning when many stores were closed, so visit on a Saturday or weekday instead for the best range of options.
Eat // It would be positively remiss to go to Brussels and leave hungry. From the famous chocolate and waffles to the traditional carbonades flamandes (beef stew) and moules frites (mussels and fries), there is no shortage of gourmand delights on offer.
For brunch, head to Peck 47 on Rue du Marché aux Poulets for eggs + savoury waffles or the original Le Pain Quotidien on Rue Dansaert (both a short walk from the Grand Place).
For lunch or dinner, make for local-favourite Le Fin de Siecle on Rue des Chartreux. We had dinner there on Saturday night and the atmosphere was lively and cosy; the food a delicious offering of Italian and authentic Belgian dishes.
Craving something sweet? Head straight to haute chocolaterie Pierre Marcolini for the best chocolate the city has to offer (not to mention glorious macarons and ice cream pops dipped in the chocolate of your choice). For a snack on-the-go whilst sightseeing, the chocolate-dipped strawberries at Godiva and the cheap as frites nutella-topped waffles (find them beside the Manneken Pis fountain) both earn an honourable mention.
Souvenir // I’m sure it’s obligatory to return home with a stash of Belgian chocolates in your suitcase. Pick up a box from Pierre Marcolini, Mary or Elisabeth (all have several locations dotted around the city), and a few blocks of Dolfin from the convenience store (I’m especially taken with their Earl Grey-infused dark chocolate tablets). A tin of Belgian waffles or speculoos (traditional cinnamon-spiced biscuits) from Maison Dandoy will also make a marvelous gift for friends back home. For something more unique, hunt for a vintage copy of Tintin or an antique tchotchke from the Les Marolles or Sablon flea market.
Good to Know // Brussels is small enough that you can walk just about everywhere, but if the weather is bad or you want to save your feet, the subway is clean, easy and goes everywhere you need to go (aside from hopping on the subway to get to our hotel, we walked the entire weekend). Everyone speaks English perfectly, but otherwise it’s the perfect excuse to practice your French.
One sunny Bank Holiday weekend last month, my friends Liv and Joe were visiting Cambridge for a spring staycation. Of course, I did what any self-respecting Cambridge-resident would do: rounded up my favourite Cambridge girl Caroline and her boyfriend, Oscar, and insisted on a picnic and an afternoon of punting on the river to kick off the summer.
I cycled across town to meet the gang at St John’s, where we all traipsed through the Bridge of Sighs towards the river to borrow a punt from Caroline’s college. We all piled in, the bottles of champagne outnumber the crew, and set off on the Cam with dashing Oscar and his master punting skills at the helm.
The sun was shining gloriously, so the afternoon melted into dusk as we floated up and down the river more times than I could count until it was time for dinner. It is quite simply the best way to see all the grand colleges along the Backs, and the three of us recounted all the marvellous historical tales we could think of as we passed each college, and made up our own stories when we couldn’t think of anything better.
It wouldn’t be a Cambridge summer without at least a few adventures by the river, and there’s no place I’d rather be on a sunny Sunday afternoon than messing about on boats with friends.
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’).