UK Fashion, Lifestyle and Travel.

Friday, 24 October 2014

For The Love Of Autumn!

Shoes, necklaces and coats; these three things are consistently the focus of my (many) shopping trips.  I know that I'm supposed to say that I have an abundance of jeans in my wardrobe that are ready to be showcased this season, however the cold truth is that I despise jeans/trouser shopping and can instead be found lurking by the rails of coats whilst dangling various necklaces from my fingers.  With this in mind, it goes without saying I entered Autumn with the mindset of 'new season, new coat'..



I found this gorgeous wool duffle coat with fur hood in a Zara store a few weeks ago, however at the time didn't do anything about it as I had a feeling my purse would be facing total annihilation on my upcoming city break in Barcelona. Little did I know that whilst shopping at Barcelona's La Rambla, I would encounter the buckled coat again whilst wandering around the gloriously massive Zara store there and so this time, welcomed the stylish coat to my collection without a moment's thought as to whether it would fit inside my suitcase (thankfully, it did)!  This wasn't the only coat I excitably purchased whilst exploring one of Barcelona's Zara stores, as I also fell in love with a grey fur coat that somehow managed to squeeze it's way into my suitcase - I'll be sure to share that with you as well sometime in the near future!





















I have always seen Autumn as the opportunity to find the most interesting coats and jackets as I possibly can, for it would be far too easy to fall into the mistake of opting for 'plain' options that do little more than cover your clothing and suit the season's colour palette.  Buttons, buckles, fur, embellishment.. you name it, I search for it!  Although the wool duffle coat is available in black and oatmeal as well, I chose to invest in the khaki option as the brown and gold buckle detailing really stood out against the colour - and besides, I have enough black coats to clothe a small country by now!
























As far as fur-trimmed hoods, this Zara example (that I've just noticed was featured in The Times magazine) is the cream of the crop.  Is there so much fur that it's near impossible to keep it up on your head without holding it?  Possibly.  Does this bother me?  Not in the slightest!  There's nothing more disappointing than a beautiful coat that is accompanied by a measly fur-trim that resembles a furry centipede wrapped around the circumference of the hood.. so thank you Zara, for constantly providing us coat-enthusiasts with a mass of beautiful fur to wrap around our heads and pretend we're in a Christmas music video's winter wonderland.  Whilst walking through this array of beautiful rust-coloured leaves and surrounded by the bright green tunnel of trees, I couldn't help but appreciate all that Autumn has to offer and wonder why I've spent so much time disliking the season in recent years!  Once you look past how it replaces Summer and drowns us in ten tons of rainwater, it's not all that bad - it'll be providing me with the opportunity to dress up like a cat whilst eating a tub of ghost-shaped jellies in a little over a week's time, after all!  Oh, and not forgetting the chance to buy more coats under the umbrella of 'new season, new coat'!

     

I hope that you're all enjoying Autumn as much as I am and from what I've been reading on your blogs, it certainly looks as though that's the case!  So, three cheers for Autumn.. and fingers crossed for an even more beautiful white winter (and Christmas)!
















With love,

Gabrielle x


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Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Chocolate Show, London's Olympia

Yesterday, I had the total pleasure of attending The Chocolate Show at the Olympia in London, with no preconceived ideas of what to expect as I had intentionally avoided all photos and accounts of the show online beforehand.  The public event that claims to be 'perfect for any chocoholic' is still in place at the Olympia West for one more day after being put in motion yesterday (17th - 19th October).  The show offers access to some of the UK's most loved brands as they showcase their indulgent treats at one of the many stalls there, along with various other forms of entertainment including the fashion show featuring couture outfits designed by chocolatiers/designers made out of - you guessed it - chocolate!

Chocolates brought home, Goufrais


My first impression upon arrival was that this was clearly a place for chocolate fanatics and therefore, I was well and truly at home.  Walking through Olympia West, enthusiastic conversations about 'bean to bar' chocolate and regional specialties could be heard at every turn, along with appreciative 'mmm's as ticket holders would place chocolate samples in their mouths.  Opening times on the first day of the show were from 10am until 7pm, meaning that our early arrival allowed for room to breathe, although by the time we left during the early hours of the afternoon, that had changed considerably.  I could never have anticipated how popular The Chocolate Show would be, however it doesn't at all come as a surprise considering the show boasts names such as Hotel Chocolat, Rococo and Lindt.
















Along with household names that are known both by chocolate enthusiasts and complete novices, we stumbled across various brands that weren't as well-known.  Just as when blogging about other areas such as unearthing new beauty products or clothing labels, discovering a brand unknown to me before at The Chocolate Show proved to be thrilling at times.  An example of this was Bad Brownie, a brand that speaks to the side of us that craves something devilishly indulgent at half past one in the morning - never have I wanted to live in London so badly before!





Out of their extensive selection of jaw-dropping creations available at their food markets around London (see their website for more details on locations), ten million points go to the Peanut Caramel Balls, as also seen on my Instagram.  The presentation of their sweet treats was impeccable and if I didn't have so many irritating allergies, I would have needed a dozen burly guys to help me carry my brownie haul back home with me!  I hadn't realised it was possible, but the brand seem to have made brownies borderline edgy and before you think I've gone mad, check out the company's developing website for a background on their brownie revolution.  As a side note, Bad Brownie welcome ideas for new brownie flavours and so if you fancy yourself a brownie connoisseur, head over to their Twitter account to share your genius!

Anybody else envious of his dazzling white teeth?!





Once I'd managed to get over my newfound brand love, I continued on in the search of chocolatey goodness and soon found myself listening to an endlessly fascinating talk at the Chocolate Theatre by Maricel Presilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate, on Latin American cacao and chocolat.  The informed talk packed full with information by Presilla drew in a considerable crowd and especially so when delicious samples of chocolate were passed around, with tips on how to recognise certain traits that distinguished one type of cacao from another.

My experience of The Chocolate Show introduced me to other interesting brands including Demarquette, a company founded by master chocolatier Marc Demarquette, a man who prides himself on creating 'timeless recipes and entire collections that inspire'.  Most certainly, inspiration is the first thing that springs to mind when being introduced to Demarquette's collections, including The Great British Orchard and The English Garden, a beautifully fragrant collection featuring hand painted chocolate flowers that conceal caramel within.  Another brand I familiarised myself with yesterday was The Brownie Bar, a company based in Newcastle upon Tyne and one of the brands I purchased from.  If there's one thing to know about me, it's that I adore salted caramel and so when the opportunity arose to indulge in a deliciously gooey salted caramel chocolate brownie, I welcomed it with open arms!    


As I mentioned earlier on, some very well known and loved brands were showcasing some of their latest additions at Olympia West, Hotel Chocolat included.  There are few things as wonderful as chocolate, besides Christmas.. and so combine the two and you've got an incredibly excitable blogger on your hands.  Hotel Chocolat's 2014 Christmas selection was on display from decorative wreaths to oversized crackers and I even managed to pick up a couple of sweet stocking fillers whilst admiring their festive collection!

Hotel Chocolat's Gingerbread Truffles
A highlight of The Chocolate Show is undoubtedly the fashion show as mentioned at the beginning of this post, however in a bid to make our journey home that little less hectic, we left before the show took place.  Thankfully, the awe-inspiring creations were on display for all to see throughout the day, allowing me to capture the most magnificent design to share with you here!  Surprisingly, Harvey Nichols also made an appearance at the event directly next to the Chocolate Theatre and were on hand to provide a fabulous selection of cookbooks as well as the opportunity to have your copy of Maricel Presilla's book signed by the lady herself!  After a Christmas-themed cookbook featuring a recipe for Speculoos spread had been purchased and gift wrapped, one last lap of the show was walked before stumbling across a low-key stand that was both modest and unobtrusive.  The stand belonged to the German brand 'Goufrais' and after sampling one of the chocolate treats on  offer, I was immediately hooked and proceeded to purchase a golden bag of Goufrais goodies of my very own to enjoy back at home!  For me, Goufrais ranks right up there with my appreciation of Green & Black's chocolate!     

Looking a little dishevelled by now!

Just seconds before leaving, I spotted a display of photos and bunting promoting the musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Needless to say, I've added the flamboyant musical to my theatrical wish list and will hopefully be blogging about it at some point in the near future!



I am so pleased to have attended The Chocolate Show at London's Olympia, as from beginning to end it was constantly enjoyable and informative.  The standout brands for me were the luxurious Goufrais and the self-confessed 'deliciously bad' Bad Brownie.  With regard to entertainment, I'm thrilled to have been reminded of booking my seat to see the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical and it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to listen to Maricel Presilla.  Considering the event has just one day remaining, the short notice may not be ideal for you to check it out tomorrow.. however it's one date that I would recommend placing firmly on your 2015 calendar!

With love,

Gabrielle x



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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Barcelona: Part Three

What do you mean part three? You're still talking about Barcelona?  Hell yeah!  This post will be pretty photo heavy to avoid the continuation of my travel posts colliding with Christmas.  Part One covered day one of my Spanish experience, Part Two covered day two and Part Three here covers day three and day four, the final day spent in Barcelona.

Our third day in the beautiful city of Barcelona started with an incredibly generous breakfast served at H10 Casanova, including chocolate muffins filled with buttercream icing and classic glazed doughnuts!  After a little time was spent exploring the hotel (and tidying our hotel room), we headed out towards La Rambla.  We were stopped in our tracks by the calls of our favourite cupcake cafe in the area, Deya's Cupcakes.  Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate icing and red velvet cupcakes followed whilst sat by the window watching people go about their business.  There's something very interesting and comforting about observing others - from behind a wall of glass, that is.  Morning cupcakes isn't something that I do on a daily basis and so understandably, this started day three on a high and not just because of the sugar intake!





Pumped up with white chocolate icing, I was ready to do some serious shopping because after all, we were on a city break and if city breaks guarantee one thing, it's shopping.  My biggest hit was undoubtedly Zara, just as I had intended for it to be.  The ambience of the store was electric and I can surprisingly say that everyone who entered the store was dressed impeccably and for some reason, that was exhilarating to witness.  As part of the competition's prize, I was given some play money to add further sparkle to the experience and I knew immediately that I had to get my mitts on the Wool Khaki Duffle Coat With Fur Hood, which I'll be doing an outfit post on sometime in the near future!  As you can tell from the photo I instagrammed whilst away, I didn't leave things there by also adding an irresistibly adorable Fur Jacket by Zara to my wardrobe!  Prices provided were understandably different at Barcelona's Zara stores than of those in the UK, however I couldn't have anticipated how significantly better they would be, with both of my purchases being 20-35% less expensive than if they were bought in the UK.  Thank goodness they squeezed into my suitcase..

























I mentioned on Twitter that I had discovered the brand Oysho whilst visiting Barcelona for the first time, but I didn't mention that I had fallen head over heels in love with the store and spent over an hour admiring their latest collection, trying on impossibly soft loungewear pieces and generally soaking up the calming atmosphere the store provided.  The music was relaxing, the staff were constantly warm and welcoming and the spectrum of choice was incredible!  The pink fluffy Structured Robe seen in the photo to the right has has been placed firmly at the top of my Christmas wish list, however I've also got my eye on the luxurious navy Mini Cashmere Print Pyjama Set that could easily pass as designer.  I found one million and one items of nightwear and loungewear that had my heart leaping out of my chest, however I had to draw the line somewhere and opted to purchase a small quantity of lingerie, before immediately jotting down the names of my desired items in preparation for writing up my Christmas wish list!  This girl knows what she's doing..


Much more shopping was done whilst walking the entire length of La Rambla, however my attention was captured by the many well presented window displays and eclectic styling choices by both locals and tourists, meaning my camera very rarely emerged from it's case!  Having said that, I was a tourist through and through and so therefore the opportunity to take the occasional flower-infused photo didn't go amiss, nor did the chance to pose in front of the Columbus Monument, close to the ocean.  It was at that point photo requests began filtering our tourist moment, so we made a quick dash for it before total disappointment had sunk in once they had realised I was indeed not whoever they thought I was!
































I wasn't a massive fan of the beach area, for there were many more groups of people there including stag weekends, which isn't surprising considering Barcelona is ranked the seventh best destination with regard to that, however it caused the general atmosphere to become much more rowdy.  After finding a quiet bench out of the way to admire the ocean's horizon and rest our feet for a moment, we walked the length of La Rambla through the delicious aroma of churros, stylish stores and beautiful palm trees once more to return to the comfort of our hotel.. although we didn't stay there long.  On the last evening of any trip, the last thing you want to do is close your eyes and mind to to the beauties of your surrounding area, so after sprucing up (and wrapping plasters around my feet) we wandered out to locate an idyllic restaurant for our final dinner in Barcelona.  We knew that it needed to be refined with a buzzing atmosphere and we were definite on eating like Kings on our final night - and we certainly weren't met with disappointment!


















































I loved the quirky feature wall consisting of lined up empty wine bottles, it's something I've never before seen and it certainly served as an impressive sight from my seat!  Both my mum and I ordered club sandwiches, although due to allergies the crisps were left behind on my plate to fend for themselves (sorry, crisps).  By the time we had finished eating, the time was nearly 11pm and so it made perfect sense to make our way to the illuminated fountains near our hotel to see them in all their glory.  There is something indescribably magical about glowing water by night and it's something I've always appreciated ever since viewing the shining swimming pool at midnight in a villa we stayed at in the South of France many years ago.  I find it hard not to be impressed and perhaps even a little moved.



After a reluctant night's sleep, we awoke to the realisation of our last day in Barcelona looming.  We managed to snap ourselves out of it in time to enjoy another muffin and doughnut infused breakfast at the H10 Casanova's breakfast room on the first floor.  With a late check-out time for a very reasonable fee, we left our suitcases at reception and headed out to squeeze one last drop out of the city.  As we made our way to the famous Casa Batllo, we found many people looking up at one point and to our total surprise, as an advertisement to a rather 'cheeky' show taking place in the area, hilariously (although my mum found it less amusing) we found two ladies' legs stretching out from the top of one of the buildings!



We stumbled across Gaudi's intricate redesign, Casa Batllo, much sooner than expected, only to find that the queue would have taken an overwhelming chunk out of our final day.  After soaking up the exterior beauty that Gaudi's 1904 redesign had to offer both with our eyes and through the lens of a camera, we moved on in our search for culture and beauty in the direction of the Gothic Quarter.  The entrance to the endlessly fascinating sector was marked by live music in the form of angelic Cimbalo notes, followed by a Spanish flamenco guitar performance around the corner (both of which gained considerable crowds and quite rightly too)!



The architecture transforms almost immediately upon entrance of the Gothic Quarter and you find yourself resembling the environment to other places that possess an abundance of history, such as Germany's Rothenburg and at times even the city of Belgium's Bruges.  After we had taken a couple of photos outside of the impressive Cathedral located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter (and made the mistake of placing myself next to rather petite people), we made our way inside the awe-inspiring Cathedral that attracted flocks of people by the minute.  Note: no shorts allowed!  

It just so happened that the day we chose to visit, was the first anniversary of my granddad's death, which although saddening, was also particularly moving as he was a very religious man.  Looking up at the high, beautiful ceiling that the Cathedral boasted, I couldn't help but feel as though of all the places to be in the world, this was the perfect place to say a prayer for him.







Whilst exploring the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic), we came across a small cafe providing an extensive range of chocolate cakes and treats.  We peered in to find that the clientele was predominantly female which was something we hadn't seen in Barcelona since leaving feminine cosy tearooms back in the UK four days earlier.  For the first time in my life, I experienced the taste of a biscuit ball.  I'll call it a biscuit ball anyway, as I still have no chance of knowing what on Earth this creation was.  If anyone knows anything about this sweet treat, please do let me know?!  Regardless of my lack of information on the tasty snack, whilst it was smothered in chocolate the delicious bundle of biscuit was eagerly devoured and yet can you believe that the state of the dessert in the photo was all I was able to manage!

Biscuit Ball 1 - 0 Gabrielle 



After experiencing much of the wonders of the Gothic Quarter and purchasing a small painting there of La Rambla, we walked back to our hotel with a sense of premature melancholy.  We were pleased to had such a fantastic time in Barcelona, but this always makes going home that little bit more difficult.  Whilst waiting for our transfer we had two hours to kill, during which time we took the lift up to the hotel's eight floor and found a corner seat within their Sky Bar Terrace.  The modern, refreshing design was stylish and yet comfortable featuring a Plunge Pool and reclined seating.  Let's face it, if you're going to end an unforgettable trip, let it be like this..

With love,

Gabrielle x



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Saturday, 11 October 2014

Barcelona: Part Two

I was overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback received on the first instalment of my Barcelona posts and so before I continue to throw more bouquets of flowers at Barcelona, let me thank you all for your continued support - it really is heartwarming!


The first day spent in Barcelona was full of excitement and a healthy amount of uncertainty, for as much travelling as I have done over the years, Spain was new territory for me.  The anxiety of what to expect was obliterated after wandering around in the evening and soaking up the infectious nonchalance that seems to counteract Barcelona's electrifying atmosphere.  So, we returned to our hotel room at the H10 Casanova feeling assured, fortunate and excited for the new day to start..










We packed our first full day spent in the city with numerous activities to ensure we made the most of the trip.  As part of the competition's prize, I was able to select the tour of my choice and considering there are very few people in the world who would actively opt out of being driven around with the wind in their hair, I chose the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Tour.    There was quite the queue for the tour, although we weren't deterred for when it comes to tourist activities, popularity is rarely a bad thing!  Though something that can be a bad thing, is burning your shoulders - guess who forgot to use sunscreen?!  A tip I could provide by drawing from my own experience of using the City Sightseeing Bus service, would be to accept the option of sitting downstairs on the tour at first as there is a consistently high turnover of sightseers on the open air section of the bus, meaning you can make your way upstairs for a better view within a stop or two!  By exercising our 'little grey cells' (any Agatha Christie's Poirot enthusiasts out there?) and cunning, we were able to glide past two dozen people standing before us in the queue!

The first stop that interested us enough to excitably scuttle off the bus, maps in hand, was the La Sagrada Familia, an architectural masterpiece that is still in the process of being created.  We killed two birds with one stone at this stop by enjoying a chance to sit down and enjoy some delicious churros dipped in a pool of dense warm chocolate..  although my mum dominated the churros scene, leaving me to enjoy my white chocolate ice cream after sampling a bite or two of said churros, that is.











I'm not sure that this will apply to many people, however as a general rule I feel much more comfortable when surrounded by crowds and especially so when it's been made apparent that the crowd has gathered to celebrate the same thing, put it down to a sense of comradery?  Anyway, the La Sagrada Familia had a definite sense of warmth that connected the crowd, achieved both through the sheer beauty and size of Antoni Gaudi's vision, as well as the knowledge that positioned in front of the crowd was the incredible, laborious continuation of a masterpiece started two centuries ago, back in 1882.





























Back onto the bus, six postcards heavier, we continued our City Sightseeing exploration until we reached our next desired destination, Park Guell.  It seems that whatever Gaudi turned his hand to materialised as a shining example of the highest standard of design and architecture, making it not at all difficult to understand why so many architectural students flock to Barcelona.  This destination had an unusual ambience that was close to suggesting opulence or at the very least, well-deserved patriotic pride.  As soon as we laid eyes on a small cafe within the idyllic setting, we immediately ordered cheese-smothered 'Baguetinas' and found ourselves a table.  Fate was on our side, as though many tray-bearing tourists were hovering around awaiting free seats, a view-facing table opened up just as I was standing beside it, allowing us to enjoy our lunch whilst admiring examples of Gaudi's work from afar with a backdrop of the ocean's horizon in the distance.  Due to time constraints, we just scratched the surface, however I fully intend to revisit at some point in the future to discover all that Park Guell has to offer!






















Our last adventure of the Friday spent in Barcelona, was to get dolled up and make our way to the Hard Rock Cafe!  I Instagrammed my outfit for dinner out on this evening, however the main attraction was of course the venue.  We chose to dine outdoors, for although the calendar insisted it was October, the weather suggested otherwise by providing us with 22ÂșC heat and a comfortable corner table surrounded by inviting bushes.  After a long day of sightseeing, a meal three times the size of our stomachs was needed and the Hard Rock Cafe certainly never disappoints when it comes to challenging your limits!

I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with a side of chips that I most likely never even glanced at in fear of fainting after conquering the burger, but the real treat came when dessert was served; chocolate molten cake.  The dessert is described by the Hard Rock on their website as a ''dense, chocolatey cake with a lava-like center of rich, oozing molten chocolate'' - can you see why I ordered this?!

















Another post, another day covered and there's no point in denying that I'm thoroughly looking forward to sharing the next day of my Barcelona experience with you in part three.. coming soon!

With love,

Gabrielle x

  
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