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The prettiest sight to see…

…is the holly that will be, on your own front door.”

It’s back to the countryside for the run up to Christmas. Making the most of the glorious winter foliage, I spent Sunday afternoon playing around with holly, rosemary, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks and ribbon…

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Tidings of sequins and joy

With the last posting date for Christmas fast approaching (it’s Saturday 20th for those of you who are like me and work right down to the wire), I dedicated this evening to making Christmas cards. I took to the kitchen table armed with a big jar of sequins and my trusty laminator and here they are – I made some Christmas tree shaped ones and a few baubles.

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Brussels

It is a foodie’s paradise. Sat with my friend L, inside one of Brussels’ most understated restaurants, Bonsoir Clara, eating ‘deer country style’ (essenitally venison stew) by the spoonful, I flicked through the photographs that I’d taken of my first day exploring Brussels and noted how I had considerably more pictures of food than I had of any of the city’s impressive Gothic architecture or major landmarks. So, here are my Belgian highlights based around all the fabulous food that we found along the way.

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The good food doesn’t necessarily jump out at you. In the run up to Christmas, the unevenly cobbled streets are lined with markets selling all manner of sugary treats from Belgian waffles to mulled wine. On arrival, this typically Christmassy scene is inviting but after a day, it left me craving meat, vegetables and a bitterly strong coffee. Luckily, our airbnb hostess had left us with an entire list of her favourite restaurants and cafes near to our home-from-home; the beauty of living like a local and having a hostess to point you in the right direction.

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Arriving in Brussels after dark, the streets were lit up by Christmas lights and the markets in full swing. We wandered around the Grand Place, getting our bearings and peering longingly in all the chocolate shops. Defeated, we got one of these hot chocolate stirrers –  a dark orange chocolate one and a white chocolate and raspberry one.

Saturday lunchtime, perusing all the delicately parcelled goodies in a lovely little chocolatier’s called Elisabeth. The shop assistant spoke very good English and, when we asked him where he went for good coffee, he pointed us in the direction of Coffee Company, ‘where all the cool people go,’ he said.

Coffee Company just off Grand Place- a recommendation from a local.

Coffee Company just off Grand Place- a recommendation from a local.

 

The charming streets en route to Upper Town Brussels.

En route to Upper Town Brussels

 

Flea Market at Place du Grand Sablon. Considered to be one of Europe's finest.

Having a good search through the Flea Market at Place du Grand Sablon. It’s considered to be one of Europe’s finest

 

Notre Dame du Sablon. One of Brussels most beautiful Gothic churches

Notre Dame du Sablon – a beautiful Gothic church

 

The Royal Palace of Brussels - there were flowers covering the front lawn this weekend to commemorate the death of Queen Fabiola who died just three days before we visited.

The Royal Palace of Brussels. Flowers were covering the front lawn this weekend in memory of Queen Fabiola who died just three days before we visited

Dinner was at Bonsoir Clara‘deer country style’ was followed by a generous board of French cheeses and then the biggest creme brûlée I’ve ever seen with a thick, crisp lid of sugar, just waiting to be cracked.

 

After our hostess had described her favourite boulangerie, Charli, we were determined to find it and Sunday morning breakfast time seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Rue Antoine Dansaert on a bright wintry morning - our home for the weekend.

Rue Antoine Dansaert on a bright wintry morning – our home for the weekend.

A little bit of to-ing and fro-ing and an emergency google-map consultation later, we located the bakery.

Charli Boulangerie, 34, rue Ste-Catherine. The freshest bakery experience; sip on coffee and nibble on croissants while watching the baker at work.

Charli Boulangerie, 34, rue Ste-Catherine, has to be the freshest bakery experience; sip on coffee and nibble on croissants while watching the bakers at work

 

Our hostess had repeatedly insisted ‘these are the best almond croissants you have ever tasted,’ and, she was absolutely right. Not only that but this boulangerie experience was one of a kind. The cafe is laid out around the bakers’ workspace and separated by a glass wall so you can watch the bakers mix, knead and roll while enjoying their amazingly fresh produce.

 

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Now, back to England with armfuls of Belgian chocolate truffles – it’s a shame that almond croissants don’t travel well!

 

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Ping pong and Pornstar Martinis

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Last night my girlfriends and I celebrated our good friend S’s birthday at Ping bar in Earls Court, London. It was so much fun! The birthday girl had booked us a table so we caught up over dinner and tested the cocktails first (the Pingstar Martini is amazing). After dinner we booked ourselves a few sessions on the ping pong tables – each an hour long. I don’t think any of us will be entering a ping pong tournament any time soon but we laughed a lot – a great idea for a birthday bash!

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Fox and the city

I’ve landed in London once again to begin a two-week internship in the city. I’ll be bed-hopping and sofa surfing; making the most of my good friends who are living and working here.  Suitcase brimming with clothes, home-made chilli carefully packed in Tupperware, wrapped in cling-film and double-bagged, I arrived at my friend L’s front-door on Sunday evening, mulled wine in hand. We lived together for two years when we were at University and so we’ve had a lovely few days catching up in between the working day.

As it’s such a fleeting visit, it has given me a refreshed perspective of working in the city. I’ve enjoyed the tube travel, embraced the constant delays and wondered round London appreciating the oodles of landmarks that line my route into the office.  Having worked in London for a year, I know that sometimes, working full time in the city can make travelling into London monotonous and it’s possible to quickly become immune to the incredible landmarks that you pass everyday, twice a day. So it has been nice for me to return with a fresh outlook.

I’m working in the Blue Fin Building in Southwark and the views from the 11th floor are just breathtaking.

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I plan to take full advantage of London’s cafe culture while I’m here. My Mum sent me on my way with this “Cafe Writing Map” full of little challenges and ideas to get you writing around the city. Over the next week I’m going to attempt to do one-a-day and visit a new cafe spot each time. If anyone knows Southwark well – suggestions are welcome!

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Today, I tested the Tate Espresso Bar. It’s a nice hideaway. You have full panoramic view of the lunchtime rush unfolding along the river but you’re further enough away to not hear it.  Today on the Cafe Writing Map was “A Lunch Poem”- a nice, easy task to ease me into the challenge.

 “Walk into a cafe and, inspired by Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, use the following structure to write a story or a poem: “It’s my lunch hour, so I go for a walk among the…First…Then onto…”

 It’s my lunch hour, so I go for a walk among the high-rise buildings. First to a little card shop on the corner where I find a suitably overpriced birthday card for my Aunty – it’s her birthday on Friday. Then onto the Tate to muse among the masses about what exactly was going through these artists’ heads when they created their ‘masterpiece’.

 Tomorrow’s challenge is called ‘Cafe Windows’…