travel

we make a little history, baby, every time you come around.

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In Athens, oranges litter the streets. When you’re from England, it’s hard not to notice that – and point to it – every time you see it. Instantly, I wondered if I’d ever see an orange fall – and then one morning I heard a thud. So, I didn’t see an orange fall, but I heard it.

There’s not much that will endear me to a place more than nonchalance. Athens has it in spades. On Friday afternoon, I handed a €10 note through the window of a nondescript cabin – to a lady in her 50s, probably, smoking – and then wandered freely up the ακρόπολη. I would’ve paid more and waited longer for the privilege, but adore the fact that I didn’t have to. No fuss, no fanfare, no unsightly fences – just cold, hard, greater-than-you-can-comprehend history.

And then there’s the pie of the day. Spinach, feta, filo. What’s not to love? And Greek salad for two that would feed many more. Souvlaki from a carefully sought hole-in-the-wall, so fresh that the bread keeps it bite and so perfectly seasoned that you keep exclaiming it so. Lamb κλέφτικο baked in parchment, delivered quickly to your table on a cascading terrace in the sun. Coffee – freddo cappuccino – like an Athenian. House wine by the jug; cold tins on the climb down from λόκκα λυκαβηττού. An early-morning run along the Διονυσίου Αρεοπαγίτου – so surreal you have to pinch yourself. The juice of eight oranges for breakfast, squeezed over ice. (Do Athenians ever buy oranges?) Bright white, square buildings set against brilliant blue skies that leave no doubt in your mind: I’m in Greece now.

In Athens, more than anywhere, I’m conscious of what it is to be human. To exist in civilisation. To be just passing through a much bigger expanse of time. Eating, drinking, trading our wares, making our livings, loving each other – and trying to make each other laugh.

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food, travel

will these city streets remember us? we walked them, long ago.

Back in August, we found ourselves with a handful of hours to spend in Bergen. And so it rained – and rained. Accustomed, as I am, to the Mancunian way, we raised our hoods and carried on, ducking straight into Bergen Kunsthall, then hopping next door to Kode – the highlight being an unassuming collection of works by Queen Sonja herself. Babe.

With time pressing, we reluctantly skipped Lysverket and/or Marg & Bein, making do, instead, with a quick smaksplanke – beer-flight, to you and me – in Apollon, a pit-stop in Pepper AS, followed by a super-trad lunch at Pingvinen (think meatballs, entrecôte, lashings of gravy – and a side of just-because lapskaus). I say making do, but there wasn’t a bite or sip we didn’t adore. We didn’t get to see the coloured houses (Bryggen) for which the city’s famed, but we did take the Fløibanen up for a better view of the rain. Despite – or because of – all of this, we well and truly fell for it. In a bit, Bergen.

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fashion, food, travel

…they’ve all come to look for America.

Leaving politics at the door for the next ten minutes: I’d been to New York three times before we went again at the end of last month. We’re talking aged 10, 12 and 21 – so let’s just say: it had been a while. Despite my three-timer status, I’m still a novice and I still get caught out by $22 G&Ts and tasteless breakfast grits. That said, my city-break skills have improved with age, so I like to think I really got some things nailed, this time. Things like:

The beer. Hands down, it’s got to be Brooklyn’s Tørst – largely thanks to its drinking vessels, but also thanks to its delightfully Danish-inspired interiors, an extensive and varied beer list, knowledgeable staff and tasty bar snacks (plus a seasonal tasting menu offered out the back to those in the know – but you don’t need to splash out in there to make the most of the rest). Meanwhile, over on the edge of Manhattan’s East Village, nip into McSorleys Old Ale House for a taste of the real thing.

Pizza to die for. You know what they say: if it’s good enough for Beckham and Beyoncé, it’s good enough for me. With that in mind, get yourself to Lucali on Henry Street in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, don’t be late, and order everything (I mean it). Without doubt: my favourite pizza experience ever – and I’ve been to Naples. We also happened to be staying around the corner from Roberta’s which doesn’t rival Lucali but beats anything I’ve been lucky enough to find in London.

The steak. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be steak in NYC if you didn’t a) eat it in Manhattan and b) have to dive into your savings to pay for it. Tick and tick at Keens. Perfect service & perfect food served to our white-linen clad table in the cosy booth we didn’t even have to ask for. For the win. My only regret is that were off to a gig so I couldn’t take my leftovers (there were many) with me.

Falafel. Sorry, we’re still on food. But if you’re crazy for a bit of the chickpea good-stuff (who isn’t?), head to Taïm and watch the Nolita (or West Village – there’s one there too) world go by. We found it to be the perfect lunch-time pit-stop – for those times when you’re ravenous from all that shopping, dinner’s still hours away and you’re after excellent, tasty value for money.

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The bridges. Okay, okay. So Brooklyn Bridge just has to be done. I’ve trod its boards four times now and it’s true – it’s iconic and makes you feel like you’ve really arrived. However, can I just bang on about the Williamsburg Bridge for a moment? It may be long, but it’s also gun grey and bubblegum pink and all kinds of brilliant industrial mastery. Aka: love at first sight.

A view. Controversial though it may be, Top of The Rock still wins for me. It’s a great view of Central Park from the Empire State, granted. One World Observatory would’ve been a better view on a better day (hello, haze) but overall feels like one big up-sell. It’s Top of The Rock, I’m afraid. There’s something about that fresh air, all the way up there, and those uninterrupted views that the glass surround allows. Meanwhile, for a Brooklyn → Manhattan view, while you’re actually sipping a Brooklyn View (Greenhook gin, Velvet Falernum, grapefruit, bubbles), I know just the place…

The Wythe Hotel. Unfortunately a bit out-of-my-league when it comes to being an actual hotel – but that doesn’t stop me soaking up the frankly breathtaking view from the Ides Bar (as mentioned above), dropping in for brunch at the Reynard, and picking up a (very sturdy, can I just say) tote bag from the shop in the lobby. I can at least pretend.

The shopping. Far too many to mention, so I’ll make it quick. The totally delightful, wanted-everything In God We Trust in Brooklyn. Shout out to the super-helpful staff in the Williamsburg branch. And in Manhattan: The Frankie Shop – which apparently has a Parisian pop-up sister. Far closer to home and the perfect excuse for nipping to Paris ASAP. À bientôt!

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life, travel

this love of life makes me weak at the knees.

We stayed at the Town Hall Hotel last week – partly for a birthday and partly just because. It’s an original Edwardian town hall turned hotel in Bethnal Green, so it was, of course, non-stop swooning. Ours was the Feature Suite, which turned out to be code for a very fancy bedroom door and oodles of character within. I even went for an uncharacteristic dip in the hotel pool. Our stay also meant a drink at the Peg & Patriot and dinner in The Corner Room, where my food was off-the-scale tasty – though I must admit the absence of side options left me hankering for a potato in any of its guises. Sadly we gave the incredible-looking Typing Room a miss – because they only offer a tasting menu [and have you met me and risk]. We also went for a couple in the very nearby Mother Kelly’s Tap Room [before dinner] [and after dinner]. I loved it all. Bethnal Green, you don’t half scrub up well.

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life, travel

there are places i remember, all my life.

Last Monday, we were in Paris. We walked along the river, lit candles in Notre-Dame and lunched at Holybelly – a few steps away from the Canal Saint-Martin and moments away from a future tragedy. Then we caught the train home. Cut to this Monday, and we’re starting the week a little sadder. Feeling connected, but disconnected; weak, but strong; despondent, but proud. I took the photograph below this time last week on the Rue Lucien Sampaix. I like to think it speaks – in its own little way – of beauty, community, tradition, love and unending hope.

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food, music, travel

i ain’t saying i loved you first – but i loved you best.

We nipped to Paris over the weekend, mainly to see Joanna Newsom at the Salle Gaveau, but also because – well, why not? We stayed in South Pigalle (SoPi if you’re in the know), generally lapped up the 20-degree, blue-skied November days and may even have bumped into Steve Coogan in my favourite jazz club. Oh, Paris. May I recommend Buvette for breakfast, Miznon or Holybelly for lunch, and Le Bon Saint Pourçain for dinner. Of course we left with a to-do list longer than the one we arrived with. Always the way/must nip back.

   

   

   

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music, travel

she was electric blue, catching the last of the light.

…and then we went to Festival No.6 in Portmeirion. It’s been years since I’ve been to what I’ll hesitantly refer too as a ‘smaller’ festival, and I had the loveliest time getting reacquainted with it. We made friends for life and discovered some sublime new music – both of which tend to evade me when I surrender myself to those hectic few days a year on Worthy Farm (not that I’d change that for the world) – and on top of those accidental perks, we saw Badly Drawn Boy in the woods (who closed with the Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored), made it into two 100-capacity Town Hall sets with the No.6 Ensemble (Gaz Coombes and James, no less), caught Steve Coogan and Chris Gifford in the Central Piazza, watched our beloveds – Belle & Sebastian and King Creosote – headline, and fell in love with the Brythoniaid Choir daily. All that’s left to say is: be seeing you.






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travel

if I could have a second skin, I’d probably dress up in you

So we made it up to Edinburgh for the last week of the Fringe Festival in August and the conclusion was: I continue to bloody love that place and I continue to be in awe of Daniel Kitson. Besides Kitson’s Polyphony, which won the week for me, we also caught James Acaster, Stewart Lee, Lolly Adefope and Tom Basden’s Party – and lots more. Naturally we booked dinner at the Scran & Scallie (it never fails), but were also recommended the brilliant Ting Thai Caravan, from which, it turned out, we couldn’t stay away. Throw in long afternoons of folk at Sandy Bell’s, all-the-beers at Brauhaus, coffee and truck toasties at Cairngorm Coffee Co. and all-too-frequent night-caps in the Thistle Street Bar – and you have yourself one very sad-it-was-over logsy. Just don’t talk to me about the wind on Arthur’s Seat.

  

  

  

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food, life, travel

i look through my window so bright.

Well, we stepped into May in Naples. Also known as the place where: I discovered my new favourite pasta dish (which I’ve vowed to recreate at home, but more on that another day), ate the best arancini and pizza of my life (the best – effortlessly), explored what felt like an extra city of underground tunnels, marvelled at the sublime Museo MADRE, and stayed in the most divine converted gallery space (thanks again, airbnb). It really is a city of superlatives. And that’s without mentioning Pompeii. Here’s some phone snaps.

    

    

    

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