Next pit stop: Villefranche-sur-mer

Thursday, 27 August 2015
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Outfit: Isabel Marant Étoile Gemma dress (sold out but similarly priced options below), panama hat, Miu Miu sunglasses, K.Jacques St Tropez sandals and Hermes Cape Cod GM watch







From Royal Ascot to vacationing in the French Riviera, this little black dress from Isabel Marant Étoile is getting quite a lot of mileage. Given that the weather in the U.K can be pretty unpredictable, I prefer to buy dresses that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.

Once upon a time, I had my share of blings - a diamond tennis bracelet, necklace, Hermes Collier de Chien bracket etc etc etc and then thought....sod it, I can't deal with putting them on and then taking them all off when I'm exercising or having a shower, baking or traveling. These days, I've pared everything down. No blings other than my watch which cleverly masquerades as a bracelet too.




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What fascinates me about the European continent is the vicinity of one country to another. Villefranche sur mer is a quick 10-15 minute bus ride from Nice along the coastal highway to Monaco and Ventimiglia which sits just across the border in Italy. Nice is PACKED to the gills in August so we decided to escape and head for a more secluded beach where the gentle waves are far more child friendly.

I know diddly-squat about the history of Europe or the U.K. All I've ever studied was the immensely flawed history of Malaya plus several years of analyzing the Treaty of Waitangi to bits. A quick google search on Villefranche (quite literally means free city or in this case, free port) gave a good insight into the historic town which was fought over for many centuries. The Romans, Duchy of Savoy, the Turks and the French all had a go, flip flopping between various kingdoms before serving as a base for the U.S and Russian naval forces.





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Nevertheless, Villefranche sur mer is an idyllic and extremely charming town with lots of character. We hopped off at Octroi bus stop (take bus #100 to Monaco from the port opposite Saint James store) and strolled downhill towards the citadel and harbor. Years ago when we walked over to the citadel, I caught sight of a group of elderly men playing petanque there. They casually gestured us over to join in the game. I had to politely decline. If they'd known what a disaster I am at any ball games, they'd NEVER ever extend an invitation. My last experience involving a ball was at a bowling alley where I'd swung my arm and the ball flew backwards like a torpedo, nearly obliterating an unlucky bloke. My second attempt caused a mass evacuation. Sigh.

We took a stroll along the harbor via a stone pathway that weaved around the fortress, watching the waves crushing against the rocks below and passing a tourist changing his knickers (!!). A seasoned fisherman sat mending his net a few steps away from the restaurants and bars that lined both sides of the main street by the beach.




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I'm officially obsessed with 12th and 13th century terraced buildings with their wooden shutters painted in typical Provençal colors. It might be the peak of the summer holiday season but the Old Town was tranquil and almost devoid of tourists since nearly everyone was at the beach. Villefranche is an interesting town to explore if you don't mind getting lost. There are steps everywhere which extends from the beach to the top of the hill where you'll get a spectacular panoramic view of the bay. 

Despite several visits to the South of France, I'm still relatively unimpressed with the food scene there. They have rested on their laurels for far too long......(I'm sure I'm going to be pelted with rotten eggs here). Unless you know specifically where to go and be prepared to empty your coffers , the average restaurant is rather uninspiring (pizza, mussels, salad and pasta anyone??)





200 Club ultimate culinary experience: 24-Hours 200 courses

Tuesday, 25 August 2015
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What is it?
200 Club presents THE ultimate gourmand experience where you'll be able to sample 200 courses in 24 hours.  It'll be a feast like no other. You'll get an opportunity to savour unique and exotic ingredients that'll tantalize your tastebuds in more ways than one.



When
It will run for 24 hours from Thursday September 3rd at 8 a.m to Friday September 4th at 8 a.m.



Where
The Factory on Tanner Street in Bermondsey, London



How it works

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All 10 meals will be colour coded depending on the time of the day - Yellow Breakfast, White Elevenses, Green Lunch, Blue Afternoon Snack, Purple 5 o'clock Tiffin, Pink Dinner, Red Party Time, Orange Drunchies, Brown Blackout and Multicolour Final Countdown. The world's largest tasting menu is priced at £2000 with only one place remaining at the time of writing.

If 200 courses are a bit too much for you, there's an option to choose from one of the 10 meals. Prices start from £49 to £99. Click here to see further options. For more information, head over to 200 Club for a glimpse of what the one off experience will offer and browse the 200 other foodie offers Bespoke Offers have launched. 



Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Bespoke Offers. 

Sightseeing and street style in St Paul de Vence

Tuesday, 18 August 2015
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Outfit: Panama hat, Miu Miu sunglasses, Love Sam top, 7FAM denim cutoffs (similar), Hermes Cape Cod watch, Birkenstock Arizona sandals and Louis Vuitton Speedy.








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Years ago, I gasped in horror when an acquaintance revealed that she'd spent the last 15 summers at a secluded cove in southern Peloponnese (Greece). I couldn't comprehend the thought of re-visiting the same place, year after year as if it were a habit that had become too ingrained in one's psyche to ever contemplate even the smallest change. Lately, I've had a change of heart about traveling, after having gone on the road with a big group where there was this constant pressure to hurry along and cram every church, gallery, museum or some amazing touristy spot in the shortest space of time. We had to re-orientate ourselves each time we moved from place to place. It felt like work. It was exhausting. Having a vacation in a city that I'm familiar with like Nice was a relief to a certain extent.

In fact, the idea of a familiar place, soaking in the atmosphere, perching my tush on a chair and people watch to my heart's content, wandering aimlessly to explore a new area and stopping to have a chat with a local or two sounded pretty darn close to heaven. Provided that I'm the mistress of my own schedule. In the past, I'd learned so much from elderly residents who were keen to share remarkable oral history of places that had never been recorded in history books. These are memories that I still hold very dear to my heart.



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This was my second visit to St Paul de Vence, a medieval walled town set in the hills, an hour and a half from Nice. It boasts several famous artists and actors amongst its residents but the one that left a indelible mark here would have to be Marc Chagall. The husband nipped into a few galleries and casted longing looks at the signed Chagall lithographs that had way too many zeros on their price tags.

It's impossible not to be enamored by St Paul's beauty as soon as you walk through its main entrance. It's an elegant historic town with uniformed rustic stone buildings, charming wooden shutters, cobbled stairways and cascading flowering vines. Sorry.....I'm starting to sound like St Paul tourism board now.....



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It seemed like half of Britons and Parisians exiled themselves to South of France in the month of August. Who wouldn't if you're getting guaranteed sunshine - perhaps the only dose of Vitamin D you'll be absorbing in summer (Northern Europeans....you know what I'm sayin' ). St Paul, like any other towns in Provence and along Côte D'Azur was packed with day trippers armed with smartphones and cameras slinging on our necks. One middle aged Eastern European woman was so incensed that other tourists (and me) were unknowingly blocking her view while she was trying to capture her holy grail shot with her iPad that she stomped her foot and let out a long string of curses.

It's interesting to observe how the advent of smartphones and Instagram has changed the way we travel. Gone were the days when you'd take in the view and have a chat with those around you. These days, everyone raise their smartphones in silence, much like a Roman Catholic priest as he offers up a goblet of wine during communion. And then frantically snap away and then tap tap tap (again in silence).........to share on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, WeChat, Weibo, Twitter and a million other social media so that everyone and anyone knows we're HERE.



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There were quite a few depot-ventes (secondhand stores) in Provence. I've been to most of them. I haven't found a bargain at any of the depot-ventes including the ones in Paris. I'm generalizing here because I've met a smidgeon of good dealers though they are in the minority. What I've noticed is the resale price of luxury goods here is extremely high despite their poor condition. I've seen a sold-as-new-but-it's-not Hermes Kelly at twice its retail price yet the stubborn owner steadfastly insisted her intel was right despite getting all the facts (retail price, condition and leather) wrong. So buyers beware unless you have done your research well.





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You might see a common thread in these 3 photos. Yes, you're talking to a Hermes fan here. I hope these 3 ladies don't mind but I love their bags and outfits. I adore proper street style of the everyday woman who is well dressed with comfort in mind (casual or otherwise).



Food, fashion and the café scene in Nice, Cote d'Azur

Thursday, 13 August 2015
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Outfit: Isabel Marant Étoile broderie anglaise top, Isabel Marant Étoile skirt, panama hat, Miu Miu sunglasses, Hermes Cape Cod watch, Birkenstock Arizona sandals and Louis Vuitton Speedy 35.










It took me a long time to string intelligible words together to properly thank you all after reading the comments from the previous post. I've only just managed to reply to each and every one of them today. I can't thank you enough for the heartwarming comments which have been a source of strength for me lately. To those who are going through a difficult journey, perhaps one that's even more arduous, I hope there's light at the end of the tunnel for you. I've said this previously.....I wish magazines would stop nominating celebrities for their Women of the Year drivel and highlight true heroes who may lead seemingly ordinary lives but have made enormous sacrifices and achieved extraordinary feats.

We've been on the road and coming back to our rented accommodation in near comatose state everyday. The heat was intense but bearable, thanks to the gentle breeze and constant supply of gelati and iced beverages. By the time the temperature tipped 33˚C, I was ready to dunk myself in a bucket of ice. When day three rolled around, I was starting to wonder if I should even bother with applying make up since the sweltering heat would've melted my BB cream and mascara by early afternoon (as you could probably tell from the two photos above).

It's been 7 years since we've moved to the U.K but I'm still fascinated by how most Europeans actually go for summer vacations abroad regularly which is a rather foreign idea in New Zealand. Given that the average worker in the U.K gets at least 4 weeks worth of vacation days, cheap flights, strong currency and proximity to neighboring countries, I can see why many plan short getaways. I'm not going to complain but I can't help but think what a privilege this is.





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I was sorely tempted to plant my tush on one of these chairs, sipping an iced drink, people watch and just chillin' while the fan blew water mist every few minutes just to get away from the heat and crowd.


We booked an apartment via AirBnB but I've learned a thing or two after my first trip. Air conditioning is a MUST in summer but make sure there are a few feedbacks placed during the hotter months or else you'll turn up only to find out that you're given a tiny air cooler (happened to someone I know) that does bugger all. The A/C was such a godsend after trudging home from a long walk in the hot sun. I've noticed apartments in Italy and France are sometimes windowless but you wouldn't know until you step through the front door. These days, I'm anal about seeing windows in the photos before I go ahead and book. I prefer ones that are airy and bathed in sunshine all day.

I made sure the apartment was smack in the middle of the Old Town (Vieille Ville) which meant getting around took minutes. It was worth paying a little more. But be sure it's on a quiet street because you don't want to hear the pounding bass from speakers, drunken fights or garbage trucks banging about in the wee hours of the morning.

While I don't mind plodding up 2 or 3 flights of stairs everyday, I DO mind when I need to lug suitcases to the 3rd floor. Another reason why I constantly re-iterate to family members who hardly ever listen to me (I need to insert the banging-my-head-on-the-brick-wall emoji here) that roads, pathways, stairs and lifts in Europe are narrow so do not drag out your largest trolley suitcase just because you "need" to use up all of your 20kg weight allowance. Most century old towns have pedestrian only lanes which means you'll end up cussing and dragging your suitcases to the main street to catch a cab or airport shuttle.




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Young kids are such simple and uncomplicated creatures. They don't give a hoot about Chagall, Matisse or Picasso museums nor their genius artwork. They just want to dance around and have their back and butt sprayed by 128 water jets that shoot out suddenly from the concrete floor at Promenade du Pallion. While you gawp at Matisse's portrait of his wife, the kids are thunderstruck by the sight of the wooden climbing apparatus in the shape of a whale vertebra.




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When in Nice, adjust your diet accordingly. Rule number one: Eat a gelato or perhaps 2 a day. If you can't figure out which flavor to pick, then up your intake to 3 a day since Fenocchio boasts 96 flavors in all.  If you're worried about possible weight gain, walk around the block a couple of times, sweat it all out (easily done!) and head then back to the closest ice cream parlor. Repeat this exercise throughout the day.




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Rule number two: A patisserie a day keeps you happy all day. The best one in town? LAC Patisserie. The staff can be unsmiling and curt at times but who cares? You're there to gorge on the best tarte tat in man or woman has ever created - crumbly, buttery with the right amount of crunch, filled with slices of apples cooked to perfection hidden under the pastry dome and then gently glazed with caramel.




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Rule number three: Inhale creatures from the sea. Worry about your cholesterol when you're home. This hole-in-the wall minuscule restaurant, Au Poseidon is located in the Old Town. They have a total of 4 tables on the narrow street of Rue de la Prefecture but serve the freshest seafood in Nice. As for the service? Truly exceptional!




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Rule number 4: Unclog your gut and arteries from gluten and cholesterol overload (check rules 1, 2 and 3) by going clean and healthy. The Planet Sushi's concoctions were a little different to what I'm used to but equally tasty. I ended up eating there twice. The clean and minimalist cuisine thoroughly refreshed my palate after my gluten gorgefest.



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