A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Autumn Neutrals

How lucky have we been with the weather this autumn?
It's not quite cold yet and layering seems to work just fine. I'm not sure I'm ready for all those dark colours either, so here are some seasonal neutrals to keep you going!
Have a great Halloween weekend!

Sundays in Rome

Thanks to one of my favourite bloggers, Hither & Tither, I found out about a wonderful café on the Campitoglio Hill,  that overlooks the whole of Rome, from the edge of the roman Forum to St Peter's in the Vatican and the Pantheon. So what better place to start our second day in Rome?
See our first day in Rome here - yummy food picts and all.

Bright and early on Sunday morning circa 9:30ish we strolled down Piazza Campitelli in the Old Jewish Quarter and 2 minutes later we found ourselves at the bottom of the impressive Campitoglio Hill.
The sun was glistening on top of the renaissance buildings and we climbed up the broad steps, stopping every now and then to take pictures and take it all in.

On top of the steps we stood in the middle of the impressive Piazza di Campitoglio, designed by Michalangelo. The piazza is surrounded by three palaces, one of which still houses Rome's Town Hall. 
A wedding was already underway on the other side of the square, Roman women spotted in all of their glory, sequins and heels! You have to love the way they wear colours and red lipstick, first thing in the morning nevertheless!

The most wonderful feeling was sneaking off to the right of the Piazza, to Palazzo Caffarelli's café. The café isn't anything special, but the café doors open to this wonderful balcony with great views over the rooftops of the old city. It was all ours! There was hardly anyone there, apart from the Palazzo's carabinieri, who were having their morning espressos.

We had breakfast on the balcony: cold cofees, spumante di arrancia and cornetti with chocolate and cream. We really wanted to stay there and chat away but we had to check out so we returned to the flat. As we were leaving the café at 10:30am, groups of tourists started arriving at the Piazza. Time to run away...

After checking out, we took a taxi and drove to the Spanish Steps.
Our hosts at AirBnB were kind enough to let us store our bags at the flat, because our flights were later in the evening. After the tranquillity and uninterrupted views on Piazza Campitelli we were shocked with the amount of people crowding around the Piazza di Spagna.
How had we managed to avoid these crowds the whole weekend? Anyway, we were grateful we did and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.

We walked towards Fontana di Trevi, popping into the lovely boutiques on the way. I love this about Italy, so many independent shops, supporting smaller suppliers, not less stylish than the high-street brands, nevertheless.

I wasn't too fussed about seeing the Trevi fountain, I thought it was just another creation of romcoms. But the size and complexity of the sculptures are actually impressive.
There was scaffolding all over them, because they are being cleaned at the moment, so I can only imagine how impressive all these figures will be with water running throughout and light glistening at night-time.

We didn't stay long, we headed down Politi Road to Angelina di Trevi, for lunch.
Angelina is a restaurant with fresh whitewashed walls and rosemary plants. We camped there for the next couple of hours. The food was wonderful, we finally found Fiori di Zucca: fried zucchini flowers filled with ricotta.

The Pork Saltimbocca with Polenta mash was light and velvety, perfect main!
And then came my sister's carbonarra in the deepest bowl ever, we lost her for a few minutes as she was diving into it.
Everything was served in lovely old-fashioned white china with a curved trim, it's a good Sunday feeling, especially if you are away from home!
You cannot go without dessert, the tiramisu is quite a good choice!

As the taxi drove past the bottom of the Campitoglio Hill on our way back to the flat, we couldn't believe the amount of people that were climbing up the stairs.
We felt so privileged to have had the place to ourselves earlier this morning.

So!  Word of advise: if you want to experience the popular monuments without huffing & puffing, do it very early in the morning or later in the evening, it's all so charming either way!

There were tears and hugs as we were all parting to the three separate directions we came from, but we promised that we'll make an effort to have a weekend away altogether, once a year.
Life gets busy, you feel caught up in the flow of things and only this lovely support system called "best friends" can keep you grounded and centred, so you can re-align your path every now and again.  

Girlie Weekend in Rome

Wake up after 4 hours of sleep, pack, unpack, get angry about not been able to decide what to pack.
Go to work, pray for the day to go smoothly, rush to Heathrow through Friday traffic, text sis catching the plane from Athens, text friend meeting our Airbnb host in Rome, text friend again to get a pizza for later, sit like a duck on the runway at Heathrow for 45 minutes.

Being told by taxi driver in Fiumicino that not marrying an Italian "is a tragedy", arrive at the old Jewish Ghetto, leave the bags at "home", run to the Tiber, walk over to Tiberina and Trastevere, chocolate & rosemary ice cream at 1:30am with bestie, eat the cold pizza, chat, giggle.

Benvenuto a Roma! 

Ponte Sisto circa 1am
Stracciatella and Chocolate & Rosemary ice cream, circa 1:30am 

Our girlie trip to Rome had one rule: no planning. 
In the less than 48 hours that we had to spend in the eternal city, the only plan was to chat a lot, eat a lot and drink a lot. 
Then, I stumbled across posts about the best aperitivo bars in Rome, and the best coffee places in Rome and before you know it I had the whole Saturday planned out on an eating and drinking spree.

Girls night-in essentials: Una Margarita, una Quattro Fromaggi & bubbles! 
We stayed in an AirBnB flat in the old Jewish Quarter. What a great location!
If you are going to book a flat in Rome look for two things: location and air condition.
Even towards the end of September, Rome gets hot. Especially, if you are staying in the older part of town, where the old blocks of flats are built so close to each other that there isn't much breeze, even when the tall windows are wide open.

Location off course, is paramount because you'll end up walking a lot, so it's a wonderful feeling to be able to pop back into your flat, have a quick shower, rest in the AC and then go out again.
And be sensible with your shoes, the pebbly roads are gorgeous but very uneven, with gaps in-between the pebbles, so flats and wedges will be your best friends, forget about stilettos.

Old buildings of the Jewish Ghetto, intertwined with the Roman city walls in Rione St'Angelo

The old Jewish Ghettoor Rione St'Angelo, was the perfect location.
2 minutes from Tiberina island and right across from all the trattorias and bars of Trastevere, perfect for our carefree Saturday evening.
We even got to walk around and have ice cream at Punto Gelatto in Via dei Pettinari at 1:30am, without giving it second thought on the night we arrived!
On the other side of the flat, 5 minutes away was Piazza di Capitoglio, with amazing views over Rome. Also 10 minutes walk to Piazza Navonna and the Pantheon, or a 5 euro taxi ride if your feet have had it!

Teatro di Marcello amongst the old Roman city walls
On Saturday morning I ventured out to see Teatro di Marcello, the predecessor of the Colloseum, which is at the edge of the old Jewish Quarter.
My sister had to go back to Ciampino to pick up her luggage, which arrived from Athens with the morning flight, compliments of Ryanair. She could have had it couriered to her...possibly in 15 days or so, we were told by the airport staff! So I was left alone to stroll around.
It is free to walk around Teatro di Marcello, but you cannot go inside. Funny enough the top floor has been converted to apartments! I tried to peek through the stone archways and I thought of gladiators walking through these dusty and dark corridors to fight, would they have been scared, or determined? What a contrast to this peaceful, sunny day.

Via Giulia

Then, I headed to Campo dei Fiori through Via Giulia. Seeing the Roman city walls intertwined with old blocks of flats and Kosher delis around Via del Portico d'Ottavia, was an unexpected sight, which made me smile. Cultures and eras intertwined.
Via Giulia is crowned with arches and greenery cascading down from the Palazzi that housed Roman aristocracy in the 16th century. The most impressive is Palazzo Farnese, "lent" to the French government for 99 years!
Campo dei Fiori wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be, some flower vendors and food vendors and lots of tourists: time to return to the flat for a rest.

Look up! The Pantheon's impressive dome

After a quick rest in our AC cooled apartment, I met the girls and we walked to the Pantheon. 
It has so many different sides: approaching it from the back, it looks like an old reddish church made of mud, you don't realise how impressive it is straight away. The front is so different too, much grander with the white columns and triangular portico. Inside, a third style, Roman orthometry and perfect lines.
The hole in the ceiling allows glimpses of the sky and if you continuously look up while walking, you get dizzy. It's spectacular, I wish it was empty, so I could sit there cross-legged, in the middle of the room looking up. But it was busy.

I had read about this trattoria in the Observer, just around the corner, the "Armando al Pantheon", with great regional dishes with a twist. I was on a mission to try fried artichokes and fried zuchinni flowers stuffed with ricotta. Sadly, we were turned away.
It was old school, with wood panelled walls and a quitter ambience than your average trattoria. It looked a bit more grown up and we were in our touristy mode, so I think that's why they said they didn't have tables, although we could see some free ones;
we said "we'll wait a bit", but they were not very accommodating. Peccato!
Raviolonne al Tartuffo and a lovely antipasti spread to get us going

We walked up and found Trattoria del Ghatto Bianco instead, we went in because we were hungry.
It was your average trattoria, very quaint. The food was wonderful though. Let's be honest, you have to know what to order in touristy places and you'll be pleasantly surprised. We had capresse salad, and bufalla mozzarella. Now, that mozzarella was different to anything I've tied before, quite salty and very creamy.

I see how people that don't speak Italian would find the service a bit on the bad side in local trattorias. I prefer to call it "locally appropriate". I had read on other blogs that some tourists feel like locals "don't want you there". Off course they want you there, Italians love having guests, it's just their way; even in our case, when two of us were clearly speaking Italian, the waitress didn't change her tone, but we were determined to have a good time, so we ignored the attitude for a while, kept sipping on wine and in the end, she was joking along with us. 

New favourite dish: Cacio e Peppe

My friend, who lives in Italy, said I should try the Cacio e Peppe, cheese and pepper pasta in other words, one of Lazio's own dishes. I'm glad I did, it was quite salty, but delicious.
I was wondering what's in the sauce...butter? cream? eggs maybe? nope! Just the cooking water from the pasta and Pecorino Romano! What a revelation! I actually got Pecorino Romano from the airport and made this dish for my husband back home. "What do you mean just cheese and pepper?"
He was impressed in the end and you'd know what an achievement this is, if you've met people with Indian-cooking background.

Aragostini at St Eustachio's

It was hot in the mid-afternoon, so we thought we'd stop for a coffee on the way to Piazza Navonna. St Eustachio's café is one of the popular ones around there, where if you are lucky, you can grab a table outside and watch the world go by.
We all had cold coffees and I went for the coffee granitta. It's supposed to be the cafe's speciality. Interesting, but doesn't beat actual cold coffee when you really need one!
We also had the aragostini filled with chocolate, lemon cream and white chocolate...not really what we needed after a full-on pasta lunch, but heavenly nevertheless!

On to Piazza Navonna, where for 10 euros my sister and I decided to have a caricature made together, to send off to our mum as a little joke. We were prepared for exaggerated facial features, long nose for my sis, big cheeks for me, but the result was totally unexpected.
A little crowd had gathered around the artist's head and we were quite excited to see what he had created.
Well, our very old and frail looking Italian artist decided to add a bit of sex-appeal to his creation, where my sisters bosoms were pictured bare and my lips kind of reminded male...anyway! Enough said, we were not very happy at the time, a little bit angry even, especially when we realised why the crowd had gathered above the artist's head.
But when I actually showed my husband the picture later, he fell back laughing, so I guess it was funny for one, but certainly not what I want my mum to hang on the wall back at home!

Castello St Angelo

Although we had all agreed that there was no urgency to see the Vatican, what do you know, after Piazza Navonna we are walking towards Castello St Angelo and right there in the distance stands St Peter's Basilicca. 
On the way we were talking about the power of religion and how the Pope must feel, since he has really noone else to relate to, on earth.
My friend said that last week, the Pope had the Swiss Guard in panic, looking for him for a whole hour, because he decided to dress in normal clothes and go out for a coffee, without informing them. Isn't it great? Good for him!

Rome is so gorgeous and with good company you just don't realise how much you walk.
My app said that I had walked 12 miles that day, already. I must say, after that, I wasn't feeling bad any more about all that pasta, ice cream and the rest that I had -and was yet to- consume.
It was 5ish by that time and there were only a few hundreds of people around St Peter's square, which I gather is quite good, if you want to look around.
There was still a queue for entering the Basilica, but this was due to security checks, the queue was actually moving fast.
We wanted to go back home and rest a bit before dinner however, so we opted out.
Got to leave something to see when I come back with my husband too, I did promise!

Around 9ish, we walked to "Alle Fratte di Trastevere", a trattoria famous for its fish dishes, across the river, in Trastevere.
We called and booked in advance, especially after our lunchtime fiasco at the Armando al Pantheon. Funny enough, both my sister and friend opted for meat, in the form of Saltimbocca for one and Tagliata for the other one. I went for the penne with salmone, not the most original recipe but it was quite comforting!
A bottle of Lambrusco for 12 euros? Why not? When I came back to UK, I declared my newfound love for Lambrusco and my husband said: "you know, that's what students drink in this country to get drunk?" No I didn't know that, and I am not very happy about snobbing the lovely and lightly bubbly Lambrusco either.
If you want to sit outside in Alle Fratte, you must go early, because it fills up quickly. We sat inside, but it was actually quite pleasant with lovely paintings and frescoes on the walls and AC blowing! 
Oh! they make their own desserts here, so do save space in the end!  

Our dinner in Alle Fratte di Trastevere: Pannacotta with forest berries, yummy! 

After dinner we walked down to Freni & Frizioni by the river. It's supposed to be one of the coolest cocktail places in Rome.
All the way from the restaurant to the river you'll find yourself in crowds of people standing outside in the little pebbled alleyways, drinks in hand, chatting.
The bars around Piazza San Calisto and Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere are tiny, but the thing to do is grab a drink and stand around in the street mingling! It was so busy and vibrant around there, but may I stress again: this is simple, normal Saturday night in Rome, don't turn up overdressed and leave your heels at home.

Bar hopping is the thing to do, till you get down to the river, where you can lounge on the outdoors couches of Freni & Frizioni and watch the world go by. The cocktail list reminded me of Goat in Chelsea, back in London. A lot of Earl Grey and egg-white based cocktails.
My sister wasn't too impressed with our choice of place, she was up for something more luxurious. If you find yourself in the mood for something a bit more refined try the Stravinskj Bar at Hotel de Russie. My friend and I were perfectly happy on the other hand, so we sat there till 1ish and then walked home (how cool is that?) because we wanted to be up early next day, to soak in more of this gorgeous city.

The beauty of Rome is that you can pack your bags and just go. It's beautiful, safe and full of mind twisters, especially if you are up for a bit of history and architecture. 
Buona Notte!

Pierre Victoire Bistro, Oxford

I'm falling in love...with Oxford! 
I've always had a soft spot for this enlightened city. 
Lately, we've had the chance to take more impromptu drives to the area and I couldn't be happier. It's grand and cosy at the same time. It's academic and serious, but quite artistic too.
Not to talk about the diverse wining and dinning scene that we are slowly discovering. (aka: our Atomic Burger & Rooftop Cocktails evening)
Lovely drawing spotted on www.pierrevictoire.co.uk

Last Sunday, after a not so fruitful attempt for a shopping spree in Bicester Village, my boy took the executive decision to drive to Oxford for dinner. 
We were in the mood for a French bistro. We were craving that Sunday night, cosy, candlelit atmosphere; you know!  
We picked Pierre Victoire in Little Clarendon street. What a cute little alleyway! It was all lit up with whimsical strings of bright bulbs and it's also home to the first "Duke of Cambridge" pub I've ever seen too, with Prince William's painting above the front door. 
"Go Wills" I thought, "we are the same age and you already have pubs named after you; what am I doing wrong"? Joking aside, this sight for some reason made me smile. 

Anyway, Pierre Victoire's Bistro is exactly what we had wished for: 
Candlelit, with dark round tables set up for intimate chatting, retro tiny vases with carnations on each table, blackboards with the day's specials and a very keen and chatty French waiter!
Now let's hope the food will complete the picture. 
Ooh, it so did! 
The duck parfait we had for starters was smooth and light, almost like foam - no, no fancy-schmancy. It was served very simply with slightly toasted baguette, voila! 
A glass of red wine and this little girl is very happy! 
The mains were spot on, too, we had lamb and duck, served with fries. French fries!  
"Rare"? Asked the waiter. "Medium rare" said I. "What a waste" said he! 
"Thanks for the honesty monsieur, much appreciated!" ...thought I.
We couldn't get upset with him though, he meant it honestly and we certainly admire people who are ready to take a stand for their food! 
Evening stroll past Balliol College
© Life Love London

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