Tag Archives: vacations

A Special Trip to Paris – May 2014

During May half term, we headed off on the Eurostar to spend a few days in Paris. Our buddies are living there for a year, so it was wonderful to see them and share in their amazing adventure! We stayed at their fab apartment in Issy for two nights, then moved to the heart of the city and spent two nights in Montmartre.

Me & Lil' L on the Metro

This photo makes me chuckle! 😀

We were determined to make the most of our short visit and packed a lot into each day. We visited the classic Paris sights – Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Galerie Lafayette – as well as a contemporary art market and Marvel Super Hero Expo (much to Lil’ L & M’s delight!)

Sightseeing in Paris

Most of my visits to Paris have been in Autumn/Fall, so I’d forgotten just how busy the city can be during the summer months. After quick stops at the tourist hotspots (which were heaving with people), we took up our favourite activity which is to simply wander the streets (or “flâner” as I think they say in French). For me, this is the best way to truly experience Paris.

Street View of Sacre Coeur
As well as soaking up the Parisian atmosphere and admiring the stunning architecture, we had lots of fun spotting street art by the infamous French Invader.  Apparently, there are over 1000 pieces of his art in Paris alone!

Invader Collage

I also loved spotting all the love graffiti that’s sprinkled across the city. I wish all graffiti had this sentiment!

Love Graffiti Collage

Lil’ L has never been to Paris before and he was most excited about seeing the Eiffel Tower. I was keen to take him at nightfall so he could see the tower lit up. I didn’t tell him about the hourly ‘sparkle’ as I wanted it to be a suprise 😉 We were on a bus heading to the tower when the 10 o’clock sparkle happened. Luckily, the bus turned a corner just in time, and we caught the whole show. I loved watching Lil’ L’s face as it sparkled. It was really special

Eiffel Tower Collage

We also caught the 11 o’clock ‘sparkle’ from the Trocadero. As an added bonus, the Paris Slalom World Cup Inline Skating battles were taking place and we got to watch the top three men in the world battle it out for first place. The Korean guy that came first was totally awesome! He wasn’t even phased when some idiot kept flashing a laser in his face. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might even spot me, M & Lil’ L in the background 😉

We made sure to balance the walking and sightseeing with plenty of chill-out time at cafés, parks and the apartments.

Lil L in Paris Collage

If the sun’s out, Jardin du Luxembourg is a great place to spend an afternoon. I loved watching the sailboats gliding across the pond. Very relaxing indeed!

Jardin du Luxembourg Collage

And of course, we spent a fair amount of time eating too 😉 I was amazed at the amount of veggie options that are now available in Paris, catering for all kinds of dietary choices from raw, macrobiotic, gluten-free through to hamburger joints and fast food. There are also ‘Bio’ (organic) supermarkets where you can stock up on health foods.

If you’re planning a visit to Paris, I highly recommend checking out the restaurant reviews on HappyCow and Trip Advisor. We tried a few places (including M.O.B. vegan burger joint and Pousse Pousse), but there were two clear favourites. For a quick lunch option, we loved Maoz Vegetarien near Notre Dame, which serves falafels stuffed in pittas to which you add salad and dressings from the self service bar. There was a great selection of salad options, including yummy beetroot and cumin-spiced carrots.

Veggie Restaurents in Paris Collage

In the evening, we enjoyed a visit to Vegebowl which serves Asian cuisine. We arrived as it opened and the place quickly filled up (always a good sign!) 90% of the dishes are vegan and those including dairy are clearly marked. A 3 course meal cost 12 euros, which is cheap for Paris. The dishes are named after their meat counterparts (which me and Lil’ L found a bit creepy) but the ‘meat’ was essentially tofu. We tried a whole range of dishes and all bar one (the Lemon “Chicken”) were really tasty. We especially loved the Basil Stir Fried Tofu, ‘Cashew “Chicken”’ and ‘Sweet and Sour “Pork” balls’.

After reading Vegan Miam’s review of the Gentle Gourmet Café, I’d really wanted to check out their vegan French desserts. Unfortunately, the two occasions we happened to be nearby it was mid-afternoon and the café was closed. Next time!

Finally, to round off what was an incredibly special trip to Paris, in the departure lounge at Gare du Nord, we spotted Hannah and Dan from our favourite band, London Grammar. They were on their way home after playing at the We Love Green Festival. I’ve listened to their album ‘If You Wait’ hundreds of times and it still sends shivers down my spine. I couldn’t resist popping over and saying hi to Hannah. She is so lovely!

I’ll leave you with ‘Sights’. Enjoy! xx

 

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Filed under Vacations, Vegetarian & Vegan Cafes

A Visit to Lanzarote Easter 2014

During the Easter school holidays, we were fortunate enough to be able to escape wet England and spend a couple of weeks on the volcanic island of Lanzarote. This is is our fourth visit to the Canary island. There’s clearly something special about this place that keeps drawing us back 

Lanzarote Hols 2014

Regardless of how busy the main resorts are, within a few minutes you can get away from it all and find complete peace and solitude.

Lanzo 5

All three of us ‘unplugged’ for the trip (no phones, iPads, computers, video games) and it was utter bliss! Lil’ L never run out of things to keep him occupied. In his ‘down time’ he sketched and read (the NERDS series by Michael Buckley was popular this holiday) …

Lanzarote Hols 2014 2

… while the rest of the time he was swimming, playing tennis, exploring, rock climbing, or playing on the beach.

Lil' L Lanarote 2014 Collage 1

When I asked him to name his ‘top three’ holiday highlights he said ‘swimming in the sea with the beautifully coloured fish’; ‘the Aqua Park’; and ‘spending time as a family’

Lanzarote Hols 2014 3

It’s funny how the littlest of things can totally captivate me….

Lanzo 3

… like finding this tiny yellow flower happily growing on the beach in a volcanic rock shelter

Lanzo 2

During our time away, I was studying for a Buddhist exam but luckily I could do this anywhere – at the cafes, on the beach, sitting on a rock, in a lava tunnel.

Cueve de los Verdes Collage

Most days I went for a morning run along the sea front which was totally exhilarating (the winds were seriously strong!) M also hired a mountain bike and went exploring in the volcanic national park.

Lanzarote Hols 2014 6

Once he’d pedaled to the top, he paused for a moment to take in the views…

Lanzarote Hols 2014 7

Lanzarote Hols 2014 8

… then munch his box of home-made trail mix (see even he’s started taking food photos now!)

Trail Mix in Lanzo

Talking of food, we ate really well this holiday. Most days, we prepared our own lunches. We ate lots of fresh salads, accompanied by six-seeded multigrain bread that was so fresh from the bakery that it was still warm

All the restaurants we visited had veggie options on their menu or were happy to accommodate us. I’m so grateful for this as I don’t think demand for veggie food is very high in Lanzarote! Pretty much everyone I saw was tucking into meats – steaks and racks of ribs the size of plates (literally!) – and chips. Not a veggie in sight!

Lanzo Lunch

In the Italian restaurants we asked for vegetarian pizzas without cheese, and they were utterly delicious! When you ask for a cheeseless pizza, they tend to substitute the cheese with lots of extra yummy grilled veggies 🙂

Another favourite was the veggie fajitas at the Mexican restaurant. A huge plate of sizzling veggies came accompanied with a bowl of chilli beans, rice, salsa, guacamole, sour cream (which I left) and tortillas. While M and Lil’ L ate a small amount of eggs and dairy this holiday (mainly ice creams), I chose to stay 100% plant based. It just suits me better.

Lanzarote Hols 2014 4

All three of us agreed that this trip was easily as good as our previous trips to Lanzarote, if not better! I think we all cherished every moment of it

Back home, life’s returned to its usual level of ‘busyness’, but I’m still determined to strip back and ‘declutter’ my life in pursuit of the ‘simple life’ that I yearn for. I’m still very far from that place but if I keep steering myself back on track, hopefully I’ll get there one day.

Lanzo 7

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Goult, Provence, Summer 2013

Last month, we were lucky enough to visit the beautiful region of Provence in France. We travelled by car, stopped overnight in Fontainebleau, then headed to the historical village of Goult, which was to be our home for two weeks.

Goult Provence France 2013 2

We stayed in a sweet little cottage, which we rented from Eva, a very kind and welcoming Swedish lady that had lived in Provence for many years.

The cottage had everything we needed for a comfortable stay, including a fully equipped kitchen.  Whenever we stay in France, we tend to prepare our own meals. It’s way cheaper (we would easily have spent £60 per day if we’d eaten out), plus I’ve found it near-on impossible to find vegan cuisine outside the big towns and cities.

La Joliette Goult Collage

I did bring a few supplies from England with me (mainly bags of raw nuts as these tend to be expensive in France). We bought fresh bread, salad, fruits and veg from the shops in Goult and did our main grocery shops at the hypermarche in Apt. The big supermarkets often have a ‘bio’ (organic) aisle which stocks health foods, wholegrains and ‘free from’ products. We found non dairy milk (including Alpro) in the long life milk section, and soya yoghurts (such as Sojasun) on the chilled yoghurt aisle. We also found big tubs of ready-made houmous, much to Lil’ L’s delight 😉

Lil L at La Joliette, Goult France 2013

All the meals we prepared were quick and easy. For lunch, we’d have big plates of salad and crudites, served with freshly baked ‘6 cereales’ bread. We also found Heinz baked beans on the ‘International’ aisle of the hypermarche, which made a tasty quick lunch served on toast.

For evening meals, I’d stir fry a big pan of veggies with spices, then use them as a basis for Mexican fajitas, Moroccan couscous or Indian curries. We also made tomato & basil pasta dishes, red lentil dals and French bread pizzas.

While we were out and about, the boys did eat the odd ice cream, crepe or patisserie but I stuck to nuts, seeds and dried fruit snacks. My stomach appreciated it.  Normally on vacations my stomach feels very unsettled but not this time. I didn’t have a single stomach ache whilst we were away 🙂

We enjoyed so many activities on this vacation! In the mornings, there was tennis playing and frisbee throwing in Goult; swimming at nearby St Saturnin; exploring in the Foret des Cedres in Bonnieux; paddling in the crystal clear waters at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and plenty of biking 😉

Provence Activity Collage

After lunch, we would often go exploring by car, hiking up to hill-perched ancient remains…

St Saturnin Provence France 2013 4

and visiting nearby towns and cities, including the historical and vibrant Avignon.

Avignon Summer 2013

Back at the cottage, we would chill out in the ‘cave’, reading, drawing, playing cards and watching films.  Early evening, I also enjoyed going for runs up and down the hills round Goult, taking in the beautiful scenery 😀

Goult Provence France Summer 2013

Biking was a big part of our vacation this year. We took our own bikes (strapped to the top of the car) and enjoyed exploring Goult and the surrounding countryside. We cycled past vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields and through cedar forests. It was such a feast for the senses!

Lil' L Biking back from Bonnieux, Provence, France 2013 2

Often, in the mornings, we would cycle to neighbouring villages, which tended to be perched on top of a hill.

Bonnieux Provence France 2013 3

It was challenging at times for Lil’ L …

Lil' L Biking in France 2013

… and there was the odd injury :/ …

Lil' L Biking Injuries in France 2013 3

… but it was worth it.  In addition to the great sense of achievement he felt at having ‘conquered’ another hill, there were the rewarding refreshments at the village cafes…

Lil' L in Roussillon France 2013 2

and spectacular views to take in

Me Biking in France 2013

I also took on my own challenge this year and decided to ride a section of Mont Ventoux.  I hadn’t done any hill training on my bike this year, so I knew I wouldn’t be in shape to ‘conquer’ Ventoux, but I thought I’d at least attempt the last 6.5km section.

I left M and Lil’ L eating nutella crepes at Chez Reynard…

Lil' L eating crepes Summer 2013

… and set off on my Marin full suspension mountain bike (much to the amusement of the ‘roadies’) ….

Me on Mont Ventoux Summer 2013 2

… praying that my 13 year old gaffer taped shoes would hold out!

The final 2km seemed more like 20km, but I eventually made it to the summit.

Me Cycling Mont Ventoux

It was a fantastic experience. I’m so glad that I did it!

The two weeks flew by and it was soon time to pack up and head back home, feeling refreshed, revived and fitter than when we’d arrived!

Lil' L leaving France Summer 2013

Provence is such a beautiful area of France.  Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to return one day

Me & Lil' L in Goult France 2013

 

Do you choose to cook on vacations? If so, what are your favourite dishes to make? Do you have any tips for quick and easy meals?

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Filed under Biking, Holidays, Vacations, Walking & Hiking

Lanzarote 2013 & Three Ingredient Pineapple Cake

Hi everyone!

I’m back at long last!  Sorry I’ve been away so much longer than expected.  I hope you all had a wonderful Spring break.  While I’ve really valued my ‘unplugged’ time, I’ve been looking forward to my return to blogging world.  I’ve missed you guys!

So what have I been up to?  Well, over Easter, M, Lil’ L and I were very fortunate to escape the freezing cold weather in the UK and head to the Canary Island of Lanzarote.  It was wonderful to spend some quality time with my boys, without all the distractions and ‘busyness’ of life back home.

We enjoyed chilling out on the beach and at cafes, chatting, reading, playing card games and sketching (cartoon drawing was particularly popular this holiday!)

We’re huge fans of Cesar Manrique, and we loved spending time at the sites he designed, including Los Jameos del Agua, Jardin de Cactus and his own house (now a charitable foundation) which is situated in a lava field!

Lanzarote - Jardin de Cactus

Jardin de Cactus, Lanzarote

During the holiday, we also got to spend some quality time by ourselves.  M really enjoyed biking in the volcanic national park…

Biking in Lanzarote - 500

while I loved my daily runs along the coast path and meditation by the sea.

Meditating in Lanzarote 1 - 500

Lil’ L loved playing on the beach, rock climbing…

Playing on the Rocks in Lanzarote - 500

Lil' L at Los Jameos del Agua Lanzarote 2 - 500

and leaping!

Lil L at Los Jameos del Agua 2 Lanzarote - 500

However, in contrast to all this boisterous activity, sometimes you’d walk round the corner and find him meditating!

Lil' L Meditating in Lanzarote - 500

He also spent a lot of time reading.  He got through about seven books! (‘Big Nate’ was a popular read this holiday).

Beach Reading in Lanzarote - 500

We did some great walks along the coast and in the volcanic national park.  Away from the resorts and towns, you could easily start to feel like you were on another planet!

Lanzarote Volcanic National Park 2 - 500

To be honest, when I saw the newspaper headlines about the freezing temperatures and chilling winds in the UK, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to our return.  However, we seem to have brought the good weather back with us.  Perhaps Spring has finally arrived for sure (fingers crossed!)  I’m loving the lighter mornings and evenings too

Inspired by the sunshine and warm weather, I chose to make a pineapple cake for my study class this week.  It was no ordinary cake though… it was fat free, dairy free and egg free!  A friend gave me the recipe a few years ago.  She’d spotted it in a newspaper, but I believe it was originally published by Kim and Rachael of the 4 Ingredients phenomenon.

Fat Free Pineapple Cake - 500 copy

Since it has no fat, its texture is different to other cakes, but it’s delicious none the less.  It’s one of my all-time favourite cakes and I’m happy to report that it got the thumbs up from my study group friends too 😀

Here’s how to make it…

Fat Free Pineapple Cake 2 - 500 copy

I wonder if this cake will work with crushed mangoes too? I’m definitely going to have to give it a try 😉

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.  I hope the sun is shining wherever you are xx

Link of the day: Orange and Almond Cake

Orange & Almond Cake 2

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Filed under Baking & Desserts, Vacations

What we got up to in Italy

As promised, today I’m going to show a few pics of what we got up to in Italy.

Poffabro, the village where we were staying, is situated on the edge of the Friuli Dolomites Nature Reserve, so we enjoyed lots of hiking. Some routes could be accessed directly from the village…

 … whilst others began a short car ride away.

The terrain was much trickier than anything I’ve ever experienced before, involving steep, uneven climbs and sharp descents on scree. I was often way behind the other two, but I just took my time and concentrated hard on each step so that I didn’t fall. Can you imagine breaking your ankle out here? I have no idea how you would access help!

At times I had to resort to climbing on all fours (very elegant), while Lil’ L’s favourite way of descending was skidding on his bottom. It was very effective, but I’m amazed he didn’t wear a hole in his shorts! 

Some of the paths were no more than a foot’s width… right on the edge of a crag next to a sheer drop. It was a bit scary, very challenging, but all good fun and we thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂

 We also visited some beautiful villages and towns within the region, including Pordenone, Spilimbergo and Barcis, with its stunning lakeside promenade.

We took a day trip to Venice, which was only 1 1/2 hours from Poffabro.

It was beautiful to see but, for me, the Venice of today seems to have lost its ‘heart and soul’ to tourism. After a quick walk round the crowded city centre, we were happy to spend the rest of the day walking round the quieter backstreets.

We also took a day trip to the beach at Lido di Jesolo, where Lil’ L had hours of fun playing in the sea. Have you ever seen a boy wearing socks and crocs in the sea? Well you have now. 

Lido di Jesolo was absolutely buzzing with people and I’ve never seen so many sunbeds in my life. They seemed to go on for miles!  The Lido was only a 2 hour drive from Poffabro, but what a contrast in scenery!

Closer to Poffabro, we found a hotel in Fanna that had a fantastic swimming pool and  beautiful gardens.

For a small fee, non residents were able to spend the day there. We must have gone there at least 5 times. In the morning, the pool was pretty quiet, but it steadily filled up as the day went on. 

We all did a lot of exercise this holiday. As well as the hiking and swimming, M and I did a fair amount of running. Poffabro is situated on a hill and I would run down to the bottom of the village and back up, then back down and up again. The ladies sitting outside the church found this pretty amusing and would wave and call out to me each time I passed them.

Of course, being in Italy, there was a lot of ice cream eating to be done. I believe Lil’ L had an ice cream every day… that’s 15 in total! His favourite flavours were pistachio and bacio (nutella).

Apart from the ice cream, we ate pretty healthily on this break. We ate pizza for the first couple of days but, by day 3, we were all craving something healthier (even Lil’ L was asking if he could have vegetable soup instead of pizza!) From then on, we made our own simple vegetarian meals.  The fresh produce tasted out of this world! We thoroughly enjoyed our home cooked meals and they weren’t a chore at all to make. As well as leaving us feeling good inside and full of energy, they also saved us a small fortune.  

And finally, in addition to all these wonderful activities, we had lots of time chilling out, reading, drawing and, for me, Dharma study & practice. Total bliss! Lil’ L loved to meditate for 10-20 minutes every night before he went to bed and I often joined in. 

After such a refreshing break, I’m on a mission (again!) to ‘declutter’ my daily life back in England. I’m pretty sure I start this mission every time I come back from a break yet, within a week or two, I’m on the slippery slope back to ‘busyness’ (a lot of which is self-created). Time once again to seek the ‘simple life’ (well, as simple as life can be with school runs, lunches to pack, after school activities, uniform washing & ironing, and so forth) 😉 

Summer’s over. It’s time to embrace the new season. And what a lovely season it is 🙂 Have a wonderful September everyone xx

 

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