Naples, Italy

 

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Naples is a city in Southern Italy, sitting in the eye line of the imposing still-active volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
I spent 4 days in Naples, and if I’m being totally honest, I would not return for this length of time again. For a stopover on the way to the Amalfi Coast, its perfect and two days here would be enough to do it justice.
There are a few reasons why I would not return in any hurry. Firstly, I found the city to be very dirty. The Italian economy is under a lot of strain and this is certainly evident in Naples. The streets and pavements were very unclean, not helped either by many also being in disrepair. As well as this, there is a great deal of pollution in Naples. There appears to be far too many cars for the city to cope with, resulting in a lot of traffic jams and fumes, which, after a day in the city, leaves you with a headache. I found there was just a lack of green space to escape from it all.
Finally, there is A LOT of construction. Everywhere. The city of Naples is currently installing a new metro system but when digging down, they keep stumbling onto new archaeological finds. This means walkways are often hard to navigate as they are covered in boarding.
However, it does have charm, particularly on the waterfront, and I would recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, even if its just for a night. I have rounded up the highlights of my trip for you so you can pick and choose the best bits.

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There are of course the classic ‘must-visits’ in any city. The palace in the Piazza del Plebiscito is one of these. Inside, you will find beautiful ceilings and paintings, and even a theatre. The theatre is quite a statement as the Teatro di San Carlo is just a few metres from the palace, and yet the royals felt they needed one of their very own.

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The monastery is definitely worth a visit if you have a bit more time on your hands. To get there I would recommend taking the funicular from Toledo. Well, you can if it’s working, unlike when I was there when it was under repair. No surprise there… If it is still broken, you can catch the metro from Toledo to Piazza Montesanto where you can then pick up a funicular to the top.
The monastery has a stunning chapel as well as the most incredible nativity scene on show. They also have the old royal boats on display, another quite astonishing exhibit.

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If you haven’t got time to visit the archaeological sites of Pompeii or Herculaneum then a visit to the Museo Nazionale is a must. Here you will find the excavated pieces from the sites which will take you back in time to to that fateful day when the cities were buried under the ash from the Mount Vesuvius eruption. The ash preserved everything as they were, including perishable items such as bread. A history trip worth pursuing.

If you have a day to venture outside the city but don’t have access to a car, then I can recommend the Tramvia. There are numerous Tramvia stops across the city and you can buy your tickets at any newspaper stands advertising the trip. Having done Pompeii on a previous visit to the Amalfi Coast, we opted for a trip to Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. This cost just €20 a person for a bus from Naples to Herculaneum and then from there to Vesuvius and then back to Naples. At each pickup they were bang on time. We opted for this trip as we were not tied to a tour, it was simply just the transport to the sites.

Herculaneum was a fascinating site. It’s much smaller than Pompeii, but this made it much less daunting and meant that you could wander the whole site in a couple of hours unlike Pompeii, which, if you’re short on time, are left just picking a few bits out to visit. Herculaneum is better preserved than Pompeii, with many roofs still standing. There are also many stunning frescoes on the walls in the houses reflecting the wealth of the inhabitants.

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After Herculaneum we made our way to Mount Vesuvius. The drive up the mountain was beautiful and you could see out over the whole bay of Naples. The bus drops you at the closest car park to the top of the volcano, where from there you commence up the final part by foot. I recommend wearing a good pair off trainers for this last part. The walk takes about half an hour, up a rocky path. However, it is totally worth it for the view you get from the top and to peer into the volcano which has smoke coming out from it due the build up of sulphurous gases inside. It is an amazing experience and was my highlight of the trip.

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Of course no blog post would be complete without a recommendation of food! For a cool snack when you’re out and about exploring the city, I can recommend Venchi who do delicious ice creams and sorbet, or Gay Odin. This is a family run chocolate business, and have a couple of small shops in the city. They serve up the most fantastic chocolate ice-cream and I would highly recommend them.

For food, the best place to head at night is the Via Partenope. This is along the waterfront and is where you will find a whole host of restaurants. If you’re looking for a gluten free meal as I do, ‘Fresco’ does a scrumptious gluten free pizza, so good I couldn’t tell the difference. It certainly wasn’t the usual cardboard affair I’m used to.

For lunch I would recommend Gran Gusto on Via Nuovo Marina. This is perfect if you’re near the University or have come in from the port as it just a short walk away from both. Gran Gusto is a food shop similar to WholeFoods, however it has a restaurant upstairs serving up some fabulous foods, and the locals seem to opt for the pizzas. Make sure to give it a visit if you’re in the area.

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Gran Gusto

The best restaurant we found was on the Borgo Marinari. This is a tiny island connected by a cobbled path from the Via Partenope that has an old castle on. Here you can find a smattering of restaurants around a square that feels like a movie set it is so quaint. The restaurant we ate at twice in a row as it was so good, was the Hotel Transatlantico. You can have dinner outside overlooking the marina and they serve up fresh fish. Here I had my favourite meal which was clam spaghetti (gluten free), and I’m still dreaming about it….

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Borgo Marinari

 

All in all, although Naples has its flaws, it is still worth a visit and I hope this post has given you a small insight into the worthy parts to visit.

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Raspberry porridge

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With the recent bout of chilly mornings, there is nothing better to set you up for the day then a good old bowl of porridge. Here is my fruity take on the classic:

Ingredients:

Handful of frozen raspberries
1 cup of gluten free oats
1 cup of Alpro unsweetened unroasted almond milk
1 handful of berries (optional)
sprinkle of nuts/seeds

Method:

1. Put the oats, frozen raspberries, and almond milk into a saucepan on a low heat. Stir slowly
2. Once the milk has been absorbed, remove from the heat. (Keep on the heat and add a little water if its not quite ready)
3. Pour into a bowl and top with berries and seeds
4. Enjoy!

Sticks’n’Sushi, London

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Sticks’n’Sushi is a small chain of restaurants, with four in London, and one in Cambridge, serving sushi and yakitori sticks. What’s not to love? I have visited the Covent Garden restaurant on numerous occasions, and from the moment you walk in, to the last bite of dessert, this restaurant ticks all the boxes.

Upon sitting, I can highly recommend one of their delicious cocktails, or for a non-alcoholic option, the rhubarb fizz from Denmark. Food choices are obvious. Of course it going to have to be both a selection of sushi AND sticks. I mean the clues in the name! If you’re sitting downstairs you can watch your meal being prepared in front of you, or alternatively you can salivate over the choice of your neighbours selection… Easy way to avoid this, order everything.

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Once your feast arrives, you won’t know where to start as it all just looks so delicious. When ordering from the menu, I was sure that the sushi element would obviously be my favourite part of the meal, with sushi being my guilty pleasure. All this changed though upon receiving this platter of heaven. The sushi was perfect, but in strong contest were the yakitori sticks. Once the chicken meatball stick had reached my tastebuds, all thoughts of sushi had slipped my mind, it was just so simple, yet so incredibly scrumptious.

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And if the sticks’n’sushi weren’t enough, the desserts just tipped it off. After the overdindulgence in the previous courses, these were the perfect size. However I recommend ordering a selection, strictly for taste testing purposes.Obviously.

So all in all, I cannot recommend Sticks’n’Sushi more highly. It works as a restaurant you can just drop in to after a hard day of shopping in your jeans and jumper, but equally, if you want dress up, you won’t be out of place at all. After all, ‘sushi is just fish in haute couture’.

(You will need to book this restaurant in advance as it does get very busy, particularly on Friday and Saturday night)

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Pie

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I love when Autumn finally comes around, as it means I can indulge in one of my favourite dishes, blackberry and apple. I used to have it every morning in Autumn, blackberry and apple compote on top of Greek yoghurt, or my mums blackberry and apple crumble in the evening. However since been diagnosed with numerous food intolerances, these dishes have become a thing of the past. This week I decided to challenge myself to make an equally yummy dessert with blackberry and apple, which as well as being gluten and dairy free, is refined sugar free as well, and I have to say I’m over the moon with the result. So here it is, my healthy and intolerance friendly blackberry and apple crumble pie.

 

Ingredients:

Filling:

2 cooking apples (peeled and cored)
450g blackberries
1 tablespoon maple syrup
150g dates (pitted and chopped)
1 teaspoon mixed spice

Pastry:

200g gluten free oat flour
50g ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g coconut oil (plus extra for greasing)
pinch of xanthum gum
pinch of salt

Pie dish: approx 2cm x 24cm

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C

2. Blitz the oat flour, ground almonds, cinnamon, dates, and xanthum gum together in a food processor.

3. Add the vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt and blitz. If the pastry is still too dry, add more coconut oil until it is less crumbly.

4. Grease the pie dish with a little coconut oil.

5. Take 2/3rds of the pastry and roll out into a circular shape, about 2mm in thickness. Line the pie dish. (Don’t worry if it is a little crumbly, you can press bits in to fill the holes)

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6. With the leftover pastry, crumble it into a bowl, and then place this and the lined pie dish into the fridge.

7. Whilst the pastry is chilling, chop the apple into chunky slices.

8. Place the chopped apple plus all the other filling ingredients into a saucepan, and leave to stew with the lid on over a low heat for about 15 minutes.

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9. Once the apple has softened, take the lined pie out of the fridge and pour the filling in until it is just below the rim of the dish. Take the crumble mixture and sprinkle it over the top of the pie.

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10. Place the pie into the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the pastry starts to brown. Enjoy!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Amsterdam has to be one of my favourite cities to visit, just because there is so much to do and see. It is a city that I would find extremely hard to get bored in, and I know I will carry on returning to for many more city break trips.

I thought I would compile a list of things to do in Amsterdam that differ from the ordinary touristy attractions such as the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Hermitage, etc. Although they are must sees, there are so many other things that you can do to pad out a week in Amsterdam, so here are a few ideas for you.

One of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam, that I make a mission to do everytime I visit, is to stroll through the ‘Negen Stratjees’. These are nine shopping streets in Amsterdam, side by side, that contain individual and unique shops and cafes. You won’t find any chain stores along here, which in my option is fantastic. You can easily while away an afternoon flitting between the shops, and if you need a break from all the browsing (and of course purchasing!), I can highly recommend a cafe called ‘Pluk’ which serves up delicious juices, salads, and cakes. The best thing of all? They have lots of little interior items that you can peruse whilst you wait. Perfect.

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Pluk

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If you have an hour to spare and fancy something a bit different, you could head to the Museum of Bags and Purses on the Herengracht. It is only one of three museums in the worlds specialising in this field and its collection is the largest, with over 4,000 items, with handbags, purses and suitcases dating back to the 16th century. It also has exhibition changes, and at the time of writing, the current one is exploring the use of beads in the craftsmanship of the pieces.

If the weather is good, the best thing has to be to hire a bicycle and head to the Vondelpark. My suggestion is to pick up a few lunch items from Marqt (the BEST grocery store) so that you can spend the day picnicking in the park and taking in all the sights. If you are there during the summer months, check out the Vondelpark website, as there is often entertainment on that you can go and watch for free.

 

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‘Ticket to the Tropics’ in Vondelpark

Another lovely thing to do if the weather is good is to hire a canal bike (pedalo). If it is a first visit to Amsterdam, I would say that a boat ride is the best option as you will travel most of the canals and hear lot of information about them and the canal houses. However if you’ve done the canal boat tour, then the canal bike is a must. It’s likely you won’t get very far, but its just great fun to be out on the water, trying to avoid crashing into all the boats, with the added bonus of getting a workout!

If you have a week in Amsterdam, I would say it is also worthwhile taking a day trip out of the city. Trains run regularly from Amsterdam Centraal, and there are many places to see within an hours travel. Den Haag is 50 minutes away, and although nice, I would not return here as it just didn’t have the same buzz as Amsterdam. However if you do find yourself here, a trip to Hop&Stork is a must a they have the most amazing slabs of chocolate that you can break off and mix and match.

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Hop & Stork

The day trip I would recommend is to Delft, with a train time of 55 minutes. Delft is the perfect size for a day trip, in that it is small enough to walk around and there is enough to visit. Delft is renowned for its blue and white pottery, and there are three factories still producing this in the Delft area. On Thursdays there is also a market held in the main square of Delft and craft stalls set up on the banks of the canal. A visit to a Delft factory is a must, and of the three, I would visit the Royal Delft factory (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles). This is located just outside of Delft, so you can purchase a shuttle bus ticket from the information office for €2. At the factory you can visit the museum which shows the history of Delft pottery, as well as see how it is made and painted. A the end you will face the conundrum over which pieces of pottery to buy!

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Delt Painter

If eating and drinking in Amsterdam, you will probably face a similar dilemma of where to choose, as there are hundreds of places to pick from. However it is very easy to fall into the tourist traps, so here are a few places I would go.

I’ll start with breakfast, and for a good price, you can eat at Toon. This is a small cafe which has juices, pancakes, eggs Benedict and a scrumptious granola. For a fresh juice and main breakfast dish, the bill will come to under €15. The service here is also very good, with friendly staff.

For ‘elevenses’ nothing quite hits the spot like a little tart from ‘Petit Gateâu’. They have two stores in Amsterdam, one on Haarlemmerstraat, and one on Bellamyplein. There is a great selection and you can see them being made as the kitchen is in store.

Lunch is an easy choice for me. Any place serving frites and bitterballen is after my heart, however one restaurant which really impressed me was ‘George Loves Martini’. This restaurant/bistro is packed full of locals, and is a good alternative to a picnic in Vondelpark, as it sits just outside the gates. Expect simple dishes, done well.

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If you’re in the Dam area, then lunch at the Bijenkorf is always a winner. They have a selection of different cuisines, all cooked fresh in front of you. The added bonus is that if it’s a good day, there is a roof terrace to enjoy your lunch on.

Pre dinner there is always time for a cocktail or two, and the bar at the Hoxton hotel certainly gets my vote. They have an interesting list to choose from and the atmosphere is great. Although dinner here at Lotti’s is good, it was fairly basic and in future I think I would just come here for a cocktail and then go elsewhere for dinner.

For dinner there are so many places to talk about but here are are my favourites.

The first is Cuarenta y Tres on Rembrandtplein. Although this area is full of touristy restaurants, this one really serves up something quite different. The few times I have eaten here, I have left fully satisfied. The risotto I had this time was simply delicious. They also do some great cocktails. (I can recommend the Moscow Mule)

For something a bit different you could try Ali, located just at the end of Utrechtsestraat. This is a turkish restaurant who offer the most amazing hummuses and dips, as well as their hot pillow-like flat breads, that you’ll be thinking about long after you leave.

My best dinner though has to have been at Guts and Glory. This modern restaurant has no menu. When you arrive all your are given is the theme, which changes every three months, and the option to order 5, 6, or 7 courses. You are asked if you have any allergens, but apart from that, the rest of the evening is a complete surprise! When we visited the ‘chapter’ theme was Italian, however expect no pasta. Instead we were delighted with dishes such as osso-buco with saffron risotto, melon granita with parma ham, and plenty more to tickle your tastebuds. Be prepared to book this restaurant in advance though during busy seasons.

After dinner, Door 74 is a great place to venture to. You do need to book in advance as it is speakeasy style where the outside looks like a rundown building, but inside you are greeted to a small cosy cocktail bar. However if you are after a bit more atmosphere, you cannot go wrong with having a couple of post dinner drinks on Rembrandtplein, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night when it really gets busy and there is a great buzz.

All in all Amsterdam is a city where there is always something going on and there are always new and exciting places to visit. I hope this has given you a couple of ideas of things to do, if, for some unknown reason, you find yourself with nothing to do. Highly unlikely I know..

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(Oh and if you’re really looking to push the boat out on your city break, why not book a room at the Waldorf Astoria as it mean you can relax in their pool after a hard day out exploring the city.)

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Chelsea Flower Show, London

A very belated post, but I thought I would post just a few floral photos from this years RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  There were some truly beautiful gardens and designs on display, all made better by the predominantly sunny week the show managed to be granted with this year.  The favourite show garden of mine was the ‘Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden’ headed by Nick Bailey and his garden team of 42 people. This garden just had a natural elegance, with the seating area beneath a canopy of foliage, inviting you in to relax and enjoy the garden.

Another favourite of mine was the ‘Hartley Botanic Garden’, designed by Catherine MacDonald. The reason this caught my eye was because of the seamless blend between the very modern glasshouse, and the wild and natural element of the wooded garden.

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The Hartley Botanic Garden

Another spectacle that cannot be forgotten, is the Phillip Johnson poppy display. This poignant exhibit was displayed at the front of the Chelsea Royal Hospital and consisted of  300,000 individually crafted crocheted poppies as a memoriam to those who fought in WWII.

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Inside the Great Pavilion were also some beautiful exhibits. I fell in love with ‘The Story of Phalaenopsis’, a stunning archway made up of all different varieties of orchids, culminating in a visual crowdpleaser of exotic colour.

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The Story of Phalaenopsis

The glass house below also features in my list of favourites due to the fairytale aura that surrounded it. The choice of plants and flowers culminated together to create the ‘dream glass house’.

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I will finish this post on the ‘Behind Every Great Florist’ display, quite suitably as today marks the Queen’s 90th Birthday. This exhibit was certainly amongst the most popular at Chelsea this year, down to the celebrations surrounding Her Majesty’s birthday and long rein, but also because it was simply a wondrous display of colour and symbolism of Great Britain.

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Flower Power

Banana & Goji Berry Loaf, Gluten & Dairy Free

 

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I have been playing around with a few recipe ideas this week, in a bid to get a flavourful breakfast loaf. I think I’ve managed to crack it with this recipe, and the best thing of all? This scrumptious loaf cake is dairy, gluten, and refined sugar free! A year ago I would have probably clicked straight past this recipe as any sweet bake that is free of all those things, I assumed, would taste pretty horrid. However, give this recipe a go. It is so sweet with the banana and the only tell tell sign that it’s not your bog standard banana bread, is that its just a bit denser. Other than that, you won’t be able to tell the difference! I’ve added goji berries to the recipe to balance out the sweetness of the banana with the slight sharpness these berries have. Feel free to leave them out though, or substitute them with other berries or raisins.

Ingredients:

225g gluten free plain flour (I used Glebe Farm)
50g ground almonds
1tsp vanilla extract (or seeds from 1 vanilla pod)
3 ripe bananas (the riper the better)
2 eggs
half a cup of gluten free oats
2 tablespoons coconut oil
150ml almond milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
50g goji berries
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C

2. Put all the ingredients apart from the goji berries into a food processor, and blitz until smooth

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3. Add the goji berries to the mixture and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a lined loaf tin. (I used a 24cm tin. However you can use any tin, loaf or round, and just adjust cooking time accordingly)

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4. Bake for about 1 hour or until golden. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out fairly clean when cooked, however there will be a slight stickiness to the loaf due to the berries.

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5. Leave to cool, or serve warm (the best way!) topped with your favourite spread. I love mine with Pip & Nut honey cinnamon cashew nut butter. Enjoy!

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