Monday, 7 April 2014

Game of Thrones- 'Get the look'

Apologies for people who don't care about Game of Thrones, but the new series has inspired me to publish a post I actually started at the end of the last series. Sadly some of the dresses I wanted to link to are no longer for sale- this should teach me a lesson for being a lazy blogger.
Daenerys is basically my new style icon. Luckily for our generation, rather than having to try and replicate stuff we see on screen with tin foil and bedsheets, there is Etsy. You can get the necklace above here- it can be worn in both the different ways you see it in the show, plus two more variations.

I LOVED this dress. Have it made here.

Or you can often find similar, Game of Thrones stuff on the brilliant D&ME's site. Christ, it's spendy though. Maybe back to the bedsheets.

Having a dragon on your shoulder's got to be dead itchy. So you need to get yourself some good armour. It's also handy when people are trying to kill you all the time.

You can read my old interview with the costume designer for Game of Thrones here.
There are also some fantastic GoT inspired features out there at the moment- I especially enjoyed this Game of Thrones 'makeover' from The Guardian- get the wildling look!
Enjoy the new series.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Head in the Clouds

Despite having been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling, (my mum was actually an air hostess when I was little so we used to get lots of lovely cheap holidays) I'd never been further East than Jordan before November last year. But an old university friend of my boyfriend's is currently posted out in Kathmandu with his wife and their twin toddlers, so we decided to go and visit them.
There had been a religious festival recently and so many of the decorations were still up- multicoloured flags and garlands of marigolds threaded onto string, decorating doorways.
It's always strange to see familiar brands in foreign places, especially when the characters in the adverts look so different to the western ones- I loved the ladies in the Coca Cola ads!

When we arrived at the British Embassy, there was instantly evidence of some of the cultural differences we could expect:
After loading up the family's jeep, we all set off to stay in the ambassador's lodge in the mountains. We ended up having what we'd come to learn was a characteristically Nepalese journey- the jeep broke down half way up the mountain and we had to hitch a lift to the next village with a local truck driven by strawberry-pickers. The twins enjoyed stuffing strawberries in their mouths whilst sitting on our knees, whilst the men squeezed in the back of the truck with all our luggage!
Our rescuers could only drive us a certain way as they had to get back to town with their strawberries, so from where they dropped us we had to trek the last bit of mountain, loaded with luggage, in pitch darkness! Luckily the moon was out and their were even glow-worms along the road.
The next morning we got to see how beautiful the lodge's location was- this was the view of the Himalayas from our garden:
The lodge was nestled next to a tiny village which was probably my favourite part of the whole trip- the colourful houses were so beautiful and it was great to see the way the locals lived, with their cows and chickens in their yards and little shops in their living rooms to sell tea and other basics to travellers. They were very friendly and welcoming and fascinated by the twins who are blonde and gorgeous- I seem to only have got a good picture of Girl Twin, Emily; here she is with my other half!

We spent a couple of idyllic days in the mountains where the weather was gorgeous- still warm for November even up at that altitude.
Back in Kathmandu there was some sort of strike on associated with the forthcoming elections, so many tourists had been advised to stay in their hotels in case of violence. We were told that it should be fine as long as we stayed away from any crowds, so we set off into town, roughly following the walk in The Lonely Planet guide book. This actually turned out to be really good timing, as it meant that due to the strike, most of the shops and vendors were closed and there were virtually no tourists around so we got to explore in peace. 
Generally I don't like trying to follow set walks, but the city is so full of incredible stuff that's hidden around every corner, I didn't want to miss anything given that we were on a flying visit and so didn't have time to explore slowly. Here's a great example- the little door in the wall above led through to a square being used as a motorcycle parking lot- but if you look up there were ancient balconies with the most intricate wooden carvings.

There were so many amazing details around the winding streets- we even spotted one of the little space invader mosaics that have popped up all over the world- there used to be one on our street in London.
Here you can see more evidence of the recent religious celebrations- marigolds, streamers and shrines.

I really wish we'd had luggage space to bring back some of the gorgeous things we saw- these Nepalese quilts were so gorgeous- we had them on the beds in the mountain lodge and they were so cosy, then we saw some being made on the streets of Kathmandu; they seemed to be stuffed with rags and strips of fabric.
I'd also have liked to buy some of the pots, but again, not great for travelling with!
We did, however, buy one of the national 'Tiger Moving Game' boards with little, carved brass tigers and goats.

In the main Durbar square you can see the 'living goddess' Kumari Devi- we weren't there at the right time of day to do so, but we saw some of the beautiful paintings of her, like the one above.
Durbar square was full of incredible architecture alongside locals selling food, drink and souvenirs. The carving on the buildings was spectacular- and in some places, rather raunchy...see if you can spot the Rude!

One evening we went to the really beautiful Baber Mahal Revisited, a group of shops and restaurants in the converted courtyards and cow sheds of the old palace. I bought some handmade playing cards for my brother from Paper Moon.
We ate in Baithak restaurant which was full of gorgeous black and white photos and portraits of old Rana maharajas.
We also managed to find time to visit Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple- for obvious reasons...

The view from the top was fantastic, and the monkeys were charming, but we had mixed feelings about this place, as well as Kathmandu as a whole. It's a steep climb up to the top via a long staircase, and there you're cornered by a lot of beggars, including small children and mothers, as well as sellers who can be quite pushy. It's hard to avoid feeling a lot of 'white guilt' especially when you see all the western tourists around and realise how rich we must seem to the locals. But the way they're trying to make money from tourists doesn't feel very sustainable- taxi drivers tried to rip us off a few times (we'd been told by our hosts what it was reasonable to charge) and even though the amount they're asking for only equates to a few pounds, it gets depressing constantly being asked for more than something should cost and having to haggle it down. Similarly, we weren't really into all the touristy tat that they were trying to sell at the top of Swayambhunath- stalls and stalls all selling virtually identical stuff.

But the monkeys were great fun to watch- they took no notice of the crowds of tourists and just went about their business climbing on ancient statues and monuments and enjoying the view. Visiting places away from the traffic made us realise quite how polluted it was down in the centre of Kathmandu- the car fuel is dirty so the fumes are terrible and the air is thin anyway as you're so high up, so it can sometimes be hard to breathe- carrying a scarf to put over your nose and mouth is advisable.
The one refuge we found from the pollution in town was The Garden of Dreams, a stunning neoclassical garden which has a great restaurant and little luxuries like wifi, which make it the perfect place to go and relax or do some work.
Whilst the garden is in the heart of the city, once you're inside it's easy to forget you're somewhere urban. In fact, even on the main streets of Kathmandu, nature is never far away- we were walking along one day when our hosts told us to look up and pointed out to us bats the size of small dogs hanging from the branches above our heads!

There was an exhibition of pictures of the gardens before they were restored, all overgrown with broken statues covered in plants- proper Secret Garden stuff. You can read about how it was restored here, but sadly I can't find any of the exhibition photos online.
And that was really all we had time for- we only stayed for a week so I think we managed to fit quite a lot in. If I went back for longer I'd definitely want to spend more time exploring places outside Kathmandu like the hillside village we went to. The city is fascinating, but not somewhere I really felt comfortable as a tourist- which is perhaps just because it was my first time visiting that part of the world. I'm so glad we did though, as it was unlike anything I've experienced in the western world. 
I'd love to hear about any of your travelling experiences in the region- as always, do please leave comments or links to your blog posts below.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Say it with flowers...

Call me old fashioned, but I am always happy to be given flowers or chocolates- for Valentine's Day, birthdays or even Christmas, these gifts work because they're lovely little indulgences that you don't normally treat yourself to.
 Now, add a bottle of rum to the equation, and you've got one kick-ass present; Kraken Rum have done just this by giving away flowers and booze in their pop-up 'Think Ink' florist.
The link, of course, is between the inky black flowers and the ink produced by the legendary kraken monster- the shop is bedecked in tentacles and giant eyeballs in jars, as well as glorious flowers. I went to pick out my bouquet and nab a bottle of rum today, but they're open to the public from 8am tomorrow, you get flowers and rum for a £5 donation to charity until they run out! It's on the ground floor of Kingley court, just off Carnaby street.
For the more conventional amongst you, I thought I'd also recommend some of my favourite London florists- The Flower Appreciation Society are wonderful, run by the lovely Ellie and Anna.
I also love the look of Grace and Thorn's arrangements- especially this box of succulents, perfect for planting in your terrarium.
You may have noticed, I'm slightly obsessed with terrariums. I'm still waiting for Hermetica to launch their website properly, but I've also found some nice ones for cacti through A Rum Fellow.
And for those living south/west, there's the fairly new Battersea Flower Station.
My other half and I have just moved house, so we're feeling quite romantic as it's the first flat that's been 'ours' which is a nice feeling. There won't be any fancy dinners though as the kitchen is still in a state and we're too poor from paying movers to afford to eat out, so it'll probably be a takeaway and a movie, but you know what? That's really what we enjoy the most anyway.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gateway to the East

Back in November my boyfriend and I travelled to Nepal to visit friends- more on this to come- but we had to stop off in Istanbul on the way. I've always wanted to visit the city, so rather than just changing flights there, we arranged to stay for the night both on the way to and back from Nepal.
I'd heard how amazing the city was from many friends and it lived up to all my expectations. Much like Morocco, which I also only visited for the first time last year, Istanbul was a real melting pot of cultures- I was amazed to see so much European influence, even in the Sultanahmet; inside Agia Sofia and the Topkaki palace, both of which are must-sees.
  (Huge thanks to Amber Butchart who gave me some tips on places to visit in Istanbul- you can actually read some of Amber's fashion tips and anecdotes in her forthcoming book, I took my copy on the tube the other day and missed my stop, I was so engrossed. The ultimate London seal of approval)
The town is full of fascinating history- including the second oldest tram which runs from the Western side of the city over the river into the East. The bridge is a wonderful place to watch locals fishing and selling fresh pomegranate juice, roasted chestnuts and baked goods smothered in nutella.

We only had two half-days to spend in the city, but even in those few hours we walked by so many places we'd have loved to explore- like this 300 year old Turkish baths.
Here is some of the beautiful tiling from inside the tombs around Agia Sofia. I love the mixture of Arab script, almost Spanish or Moorish colour schemes and then, renaissance style European murals like the one below!

The Topkapi Palace was a real highlight of our visit, full of stunning tiles, carved wooden doors, elaborate fountains, luxurious gilding and rolling gardens.

The only other place we really got to explore was the grand bazaar- I could have spent hours here but the boy got a bit bored by all the shops- which to be fair, did mainly all seem to be selling the same thing- until we found the centre, the oldest part of the bazaar, where the shops seemed to be have more unique products, often vintage or antique- so slightly pricier but much more interesting than the rest of the mainstream, tourist tat.
Even if you're not shopping though, the corridors of the Grand Bazaar are worth exploring just for the beautiful tiles and marble everywhere.
 I made sure to buy some rose flavoured turkish delight for my sister who loves it!
 I wish I'd had time/money/luggage space to do some proper shopping- I would have loved to fill up my tea and spice cupboards, and I was also lusting after all the gorgeous ceramics and cashmere scarves. There were some lovely bathroom shops selling hammam towels, soaps and robes which were also tempting- but the problem I often find with shopping on holiday is that you can get carried away by how great stuff looks in situ, surrounded by all the right props and in its natural location, only to get home and find out that actually one Turkish towel looks a bit lame by itself on your bathroom shelf. I guess I have to wait until I can afford to travel with an extra suitcase and fill it with a whole set of new towels or bowls or whatever so they can have the same effect at home as they do on holiday. Apologies- that is probably the most first world problem I've ever written about.
The other wonderful thing about our trip was the hotel we stayed at in Istanbul. It was called the Empress Zoe and, like the city, was a real mix of modern turkish culture and ancient history from the days of Byzantium. 
The hotel's location was ideal- within the Sultanahmet itself, with views of Ayia Sofia from the rooftop. Next door was a disused hammam from the 18th century, backing onto the hotel's courtyard, full of marble sculptures and fountains. It was November when we visited, but I can imagine that this must be a glorious retreat from the heat and bustle of the city in the summer months.

As with all the best boutique hotels, each bedroom is different, all unique and reminiscent of a very stylish friend's home rather than the clinical, impersonal hotel feel you can get in chains.
This was our gorgeous bed- lying there and listening to the call to prayer felt like a truly authentic Istanbul experience. The bathroom was tiny but built from impressive huge, solid marble slabs and touches like the hand-made olive-oil soap really made all the difference. The soap was so lovely I actually bothered bringing it home with me-apparently it's been made by the Muftuoglu family for 4 generations and contains only natural organic ingredients from ancient Antioch. You can read more about the soap here, though it doesn't seem like you can buy it online yet..
We had delicious homemade muffins for breakfast in the restaurant downstairs where there were wonderful old photos of the city on the walls, and artwork like this charming Turkish boat.
The hotel reception was also full of fascinating artefacts- from old saddles to mosaics to some ancient fixtures still remaining from the building's past.
A number of cats also inhabited the hotel- this fellow below didn't budge from his comfy cushion for one whole afternoon! There's something terribly reassuring about seeing ordinary things like pet cats when you're away from home. You're in this amazing city, where everything is new to you, everything's exotic and different, and yet this little cat is completely oblivious to the fact that he lives in this incredible place- it's just his home, and he'll still be here when you get back from exploring the sites. A cat really does make a hotel feel like a home away from home to me.

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