Valencia, historic city with an edge

This summer my family and I did a house exchange with a lovely family in the city of Valencia, Spain. It was the second time we swapped our house for the holiday and we love this concept. It’s personal, you get free accommodation (and pet-care!), insider information and you get to live in a real neighbourhood for a few weeks, rather than a hotel. We even swapped cars. It’s not for everyone (if you are particularly sensitive about your house or people sleeping in your bed!) and it does require a deep-clean beforehand, but I would thoroughly recommend it. It’s great fun.

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Renting bikes and cycling through Turia park to the City of Art and Sciences

 


Valencia seems to be a city of many layers. At first sight, it’s just like any other big city: lots of high-rise buildings, busy traffic and not an awful lot of beauty about it when you first arrive on the outskirts of town. It is after all Spain’s third largest city and has just under one million inhabitants. But when you dive into it and stroll around – or rent a bike – you discover a wonderful, laid-back, colourful place full of art, parks, cafe culture and last but not least…the beaches. Did we love it? Oh yes, we did.

Street Art

The Ciutat Vella, including Barrio del Carmen, is the old town. Now as any old town this one too has plenty of little streets, old buildings, cathedrals and historic squares, but what makes Valencia different is the street art. What? Graffiti and historic buildings? No way! Yup. And it looks pretty good. Definitely a big hit with my 5-year old who loves drawing (why are they allowed to draw on walls, mummy? Erm…).

Now I would use all of my own photos in this blog, but unfortunately my dear husband left our camera on the plane to Madrid. Ouch. Fingers crossed we’ll get it back. In the meantime, you’ll get my iPhone shots and some beautiful images I found around the net.

 

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The mural in the image below must have been one of my son’s favourites. “It’s a mummy! Did you now that mummies have toilet roll wrapped around them?” Image: Travel and Lust


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Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies

The City of Arts and Sciences is a world in itself. This impressive part of Valencia, whether or not you end up actually going inside any of the buildings, is worth visiting. It consists of the Oceanographic (Europe’s largest sea aquarium), The Science Museum, the Palau des Arts and the Hemispheric. Plenty to keep you occupied. More info here: www.cac.es

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The City of Art and Sciences is an amazing complex of white contemporary architecture (by Calatrava) and blue shallow water all around the buildings. The kids couldn’t wait to get their clothes off for a dip after a visit to the Science Museum!


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Turia gardens

Rerouting the river Turia and turning the old riverbed into a 9km long park must be one of the best decisions ever made by city planners. What an asset to have for the people of Valencia. Full of play parks, fountains, cultural events, free outdoor gym equipment and cycle and footpaths. We rented bikes from Valencia Bikes (although there are many rental places everywhere) which kept us entertained all day and was great to move around quickly from A to B with the kids. Valencia is super kid-friendly by the way. Mini play areas next to the cafe terrace, why doesn’t anyone else think of that as standard?

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The beaches

One of the great things about Valencia is the proximity to the beach. Different from what most people think when they hear the words ‘beach’ and ‘Spain’ in one sentence, the ones in Valencia are nothing like the package holiday type. We experienced some fantastic beaches, quiet and more lively, but never overcrowded or lined by tacky bars and souvenir shops. A breath of fresh air. You can easily reach them by public transport, bike or car.

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Valencia has some great beaches all along the coast, many of them quiet. This is the beach at El Saler, just south of the city. It’s 8.15pm…kids still playing. Spanish routine!


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A little gem of a place on Patacona beach is La Mas Bonita, cafe and beach bar. Fantastic food and stunning location.


Swap report

So how did the Valencian family get on who came to stay in our house in Aberdeenshire? They had a fantastic time too. Glad to be getting away from the Spanish August heat (it was VERY hot and humid at times – no wonder most of the city had escaped), they enjoyed the Scottish fresh air, being outdoors, climbing hills, watching seals on the beach, visiting castles and whisky distilleries. They even saw the queen at the highland games. A win-win for us all.

One day…my dream house in the sun

Living in Scotland is great and we are lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside, lots of space, nice people and generally a good quality of life. But oh, how I curse the climate, even though we do get the odd wonderfully hot day in summer which makes you appreciate it all the more. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your winter clothes put away in April – and wear your summer clothes…like, all summer? Today I am posting about dream houses in the sun! Yes, because, well, you can dream, right? I have been collecting some gorgeous inspirational images again, making us all wish we lived in the Med. I guess we could always try and replicate the ideas…in our summerhouse or glass extension. Or just book a holiday. Perhaps you’re already there.

Enjoy, get inspired, imagine the sound of lapping waves as you lounge on your bohemian veranda full of plants and floaty drapes, sitting in your white linen dress, sipping a mojito. Bliss.

(To enjoy this post even more, I suggest clicking on this Youtube link and use the calming lapping waves as a background sound…Done it, yes? Told you it was good.)

And…relax.

 

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AirBnB

A fabulous way to experience – or pretend you own – a house in the sun, is to rent a house through AirBnB. Much more interesting than a boring self catering apartment in a complex within a resort, often off the beaten track and certainly more personal. Have a look for some stunning places in Greece or Spain.

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Not an outdoor space, but I love the interior and how the light comes into the house. Image source

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Beautiful shadows and shelter created by the roof made of branches. Image source

Urban cool on Easter Sunday in Aberdeen: street art and vintage

There are a zillion things to do when  you’re looking for Easter themed activities around here. Egg hunting at every castle estate around the Shire is one of them! If you fancy something a bit different this year – or you’re just not that much into chocolate (is there such a thing?) – here’s a suggestion for an alternative itinerary for a pleasant Easter Sunday in Aberdeen. Once you have polished off plenty of hot cross buns at your Easter brunch, put on your comfy shoes and head into town.

NUART Aberdeen 

The team behind Stavanger’s street art festival NUART has come to Aberdeen this Spring and is adding some much needed colour and art to the granite city. Eleven international artists have worked hard over the past week to create their works of street art and the results look impressive. The drab looking exterior of Aberdeen’s indoor market has been improved greatly with a huge, gorgeous drawing. Numerous other grey walls, old doors and forgotten corners of the city have also been used as canvases by the artists.

Street art in progress by Martin Whatson

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Street art by Alice Pasquini

The festival starts on the 12th of April and continues until Easter Sunday with lots of events including talks, film screenings and creative workshops. On Saturday there is the UK premiere of Saving Banksy at the Belmont cinema. For this Sunday however – and to keep in with the Easter spirit – I recommend the Easter Sunday Street Art Hunt: find six hidden artworks around the city centre by following the hints provided (pick up a paper sheet from Cafe 52 on the Green). You win an Easter Prize if you capture the art on camera and return to Cafe 52 to show it.

If you’ve got kids with you, you could start off early and also take part in Chalk Don’t Chalk, to create your own chalk street art pieces, with professional artists on hand to teach and guide children on their designs (at 11am on the roof garden of St Nicholas shopping centre). For the full programme of events and other info please visit www.nuartaberdeen.co.uk.

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Old Togs New Tricks Vintage Fayre

Then, of course, it wouldn’t be Nina’s Apartment if there wasn’t a bit of vintage thrown into the mix. My favourite local vintage fair is back this spring at Underdog, with lots of quality traders bringing their gorgeous unique wares to this quirky little venue. Whether it is an original floaty seventies dress you want for your summer wardrobe or a sleek mid century design collectable to add to your home, there is plenty to see and buy and rummage through.

Traders include The Closet, Peapod, Vi Vinyl, Louis Little Haven, Very Vintage, RetroriginalUK, The Vintage Collection, Black Cat Vintage, Heather D, Re-Store, Quinneys Antique Jewellery & Marcia Wilkes MUA – Glitter Bar.

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Vintage clothes by The Closet

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Cool retro kitchenalia and glassware by Very Vintage

Being held in a nightclub with low lighting and an industrial interior gives it a great vibe and makes it stand out from any other vintage fair you’ve ever been too. Oh, and there’s a bar, perfect to finish off your Sunday with a tasty craft beer or two, which you’ll definitely deserve after all that walking. Happy Easter!

Old Togs New Tricks Fayre. Underdog, 1 Union Street, Aberdeen. Sunday 16 April, 12-5pm. Entry free

 

Treasure hunting in France: brocante!

I am just in my second week of a four-week long trip through France and boy, am I loving it! It was a long drive, but it’s great to have the car with us to go wherever we want. I am thoroughly enjoying the warm climate, the food, the old villages full of character and oh yes – the brocante. What’s brocante you say? Well, it’s basically French old junk with some real gems amongst it if you look for it. You can find rural barns, town shops and Sunday fleamarkets full of vintage, antiques or just second hand, usually advertised by a hand painted sign on the side of the road.

Brocante market near Auch,  Midi-Pyrenees

Brocante market near Auch, Midi-Pyrenees


You come across plenty ‘brocante’ signs while driving across the country, but if you really want to plan your treasure hunting while in France there is a useful website listing loads of local markets by area called www.brocabrac.fr

I have just downloaded the app that goes with it. An app? A brocante hunting app. Amazing. 

Wish I could bring home some more of the fabulous pieces I have spotted so far. Shame the car is packed full of camping gear, two kids and my husband’s racing bike in the roof box. Quelle dommage! Need to plan a future trip with a large van – on my own next time. 

Au revoir, I will keep you posted!

Vintage and retro brocante shop in Mirande, France

Brocante shop in Mirande, Midi-Pyrenees

Travel blog post: colours of Cyprus

I have just come back from Cyprus and had a great time. I wanted to share a few interesting photos of things that caught my eye while walking around in various places, especially of the rich colours and patterns on buildings and in textiles. Cyprus has a rich history of different cultures all putting their stamp on the island, and of course at present it is still divided in a Greek and a Turkish part. The Greek side is more modern and developed with many large hotels and plenty of activity along the many beaches, while the Turkish side is quieter with less of that going on and more strips of beach all to yourself, though there are lots of villas being built for foreigners wanting their own place in the sun. At times it can be hard to look through all the ugly building developments, noisy bars as well as rubbish left on beaches, which unfortunately you see, but if you venture away from the beaten track you’ll soon come across the real beauty and authenticity that Cyprus has to offer – both in the South and the North. A great island all around.

 

Beautiful colours in this carpet in  the Halan Sultan Tekke mosque, Larnaca, South Cyprus
Some true vintage furniture in Bellapais, Kyrenia, North Cyprus
Glorious bougainvillea growing in an old plastic barrel, Kyrenia, North Cyprus
Various street scenes in Nicosia
fantastic handmade lace in Lefkara, South Cyprus
Rich colours, blue paint and red geranium in Lefkara, South Cyprus
Lace shop in Lefkara, South Cyprus
Striking blue wall at the local museum of Lefkara, South Cyprus

 

Sunlight and shadows on a beautiful yellow door in Bellapais, North Cyprus
Great selection of carpets in the Halan Sultna Tekke mosque in Larnaca, South Cyprus
Blue, blue blue….in Lefkara, South Cyprus
Bright yellow flower and blue furniture on the beach in Larnaca

Travel post: Sleeping in a Grand Design home: Dime House, lake Windermere, Lake District

We’re just back from a lovely two weeks’ holiday in the UK. I guess you could call it a ‘stay-cation’ since we decided to stay in Britain this summer, but with a long drive of about 1500 miles in total you can hardly speak of ‘staying local’!

The good thing was that on our epic journey from the North East of Scotland all the way down to Cornwall we stopped for three nights in the beautiful Lake District. You could pick any of the many B&Bs dotted around this area, but we picked the Dome House, a stunning piece of architecture overlooking lake Windermere and a place that added a real bit of ‘designer flair’ to our trip.

It comes as no surprise that it featured in the BBC TV programme Grand Designs, and with its domed roof and facade of wood and glass it really stands out from any of the historic homes and cottages in Bowness-on-Windermere. Although very ‘grand’ on approach, the guest rooms have a lovely, welcoming feel to them, with their open plan living space, vintage furniture and view to die for. Our room, the ‘Green Suite’ also features a rather unusual and very large wooden bath, which was a real winner – even our 7-month old baby loved scooting around in it. Rather than having to rush to a communal breakfast room, at the Dome House you are provided with a well stocked ‘breakfast hamper’, which makes your stay even more pleasant and relaxed.

We really enjoyed staying here and would recommend this place any time, whatever the weather. A thunder storm and torrential rain shower never looked more impressive than from the window of this grand design house.


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View from our room after the storm


The fabulous wooden bath and my fabulous baby boy

Travel post: Italian vintage in wonderful Tuscany

I was lucky enough to spend all of last week on holiday in beautiful Tuscany, Italy. If you’ve ever been there you will know how the area is steeped in history. Cities like Florence and Siena are like fabulous outdoor museums with churches and ‘palazzos’ around every corner (as well as gelaterias and equally mouth-watering bag and shoe shops).

I didn’t have much time for treasure hunting (too busy eating, drinking and catching up with my mum and sister who joined us on the trip!), but did find a great little shop in sunny Siena I wanted to tell you about: Aloe & Wolf.

Hidden away in one of the charming side streets off Piazza del Campo, this little vintage shop is packed with the most fabulous treasures from the 50s, 60s and 70s – although mostly clothing rather than home decor. I am not a great vintage fashionista (I often find the clothes are sort of just not ‘it’), but I tell you, Italian vintage clothing is something else! Glamourous, well fitting and great-looking.

The shop also sells handmade, ‘upcycled’ designer bags by 2Periodico, a lady in Rome, and guess what: I bought one. Re-using pages out of vintage fashion magazines, covering them with plastic and combining them with recycled pieces of soft Italian leather, these funky bags were just to much of a temptation…

If you need a great place to stay in Tuscany, I can thoroughly recommend Borgo San Benedetto, a country resort, hidden away to ensure rest and relaxation, but well placed between all the big and small tourist spots too. Lovely apartments, bed and breakfast, pool and a fabulous restaurant on site too. And yes, that cute guy on their homepage is real – I’ve seen him with my own two eyes ;-).

Borgo San Benedetto, apartments

Here are some other impressions of my lovely week.

Duomo, Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena
Picturesque street in Siena

The yummy ‘Panforte’ cake

Palazzo del Campo, Siena
Me doing the relaxation part

From countryside Loppis to city design: on tour in Sweden

I have just returned from a fabulous two weeks holidays in lovely Sweden and am totally rested and inspired (and even a little tanned!). What a totally cool and laidback country….aaahhh…I want to live there. We shopped, sauna’d, sailed, canoed, shopped some more, read books, drank very expensive wine (not by choice – and only a sip for me!) and took heaps of photos. Below I will share some of what inspired me most.
I saw these upcycled cupboards in a shop window in Stockholm’s trendy area Sodermalm. It’s not an actual shop, but the designers used it as an advertising space. Very clever!

 

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An atmospheric picture of a street and bicycle in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan:

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Needless to say, Stockholm is fabulous for shopping and sightseeing. Plenty to see for the vintage fan as well as the design conscious. You can explore different neighbourhoods on foot or take a ferry across the many bits of water that divide up the city.A nice area to explore is Sodermalm, full of trendy cafes, independent boutiques and galleries.

Here are a few snap shots.


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One place we spent quite some time in was the department store P.U.B. Apart from serving an awesome lunch and home bakes, the store features many great brands and shops. The home interior department was wonderful! I wanted to buy everything with the result that I didn’t buy anything because my brain could not take all the beauty…and I would have to ship it all back by at least three large containers . So I just took lots of photos.

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And of course there were plenty high end designer furniture shops with the familiar names of Arne Jacobsen, Eames, Vitra and many others. Always nice to have a wander around these stores although some times I must admit I get a bit bored by them, as they always look a bit ‘sterile’ to me. Where’s the junk?! Gimme me some junk!

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Well, junk galore once you’re in the countryside, I tell ya. At first I had no clue what the word ‘Loppis’ meant. I thought perhaps people were selling strawberries or something at their farms, so I paid little attention. But soon we were enlightened by our landlady who told us they were nothing less than mini fleamarkets! Hey-ho! So as you can expect, I soon shouted STOP! LOPPIS! at every Loppis sign at the side of the road, driving my husband bonkers. Some barns were full of total rubbish and didn’t have much to offer, but I did find three lovely ‘characterful’ (i.e. cracked) Swedish blue plates though for the grand sum of 30p.

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We also found some more junk: the vintage car cemetery in Båstnäs,Värmland, which has become a bit of a tourist attraction. Hundreds of rusty cars from the 1940s-60s scattered in the field and forest, piled on top of each other with trees growing through the roofs. Bizarre but fascinating! 

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Last but not least, we brought back some plastic rugs from Swedish brand Pappelina and one unknown make but equally cool. In Arvika, a provincial town in the province of Värmland, we came across a fabulous rug shop with rugs in every colour and pattern under the sun. In addition to cool rugs, Arvika also had a rather large amount of crazy old cars in town with dudes driving around in circles trying to look cool. Hilarious. I was told that this is apparently a well known thing in rural Sweden.

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Shame the holidays are over, but it’s a country I definitely want to go back to. Even if it was only for the evening swims in the quiet lakes.

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Inspiration from Japan…cups, bowls, fabric and a kimono flea market!

 

Karaku Pottery
Aaaah! Look at this! Shopping heaven! A shop called Kanzando in Kyoto. Image: www.savoryjapan.com
A country I have never been to but is high on my wish list is Japan. I heard so many good things about it and the aesthetics are amazing. I just love the absolute beauty of Japanese ceramics such as the ones pictured from Karaku Pottery in Tokyo. They also have a shop on etsy and ship internationally (yay!). 
And what about this delicate chop stick set from Wasabi World… not that I’d be using it daily, but isn’t it pretty?
Image: Wasabi World

I also adore vintage kimono fabrics, which I discovered are for sale on eBay for very reasonable prices. Perfect for cushion covers or other small projects – or to upholster an old chair with, like Anna Troupe did.
The best discovery I made however was the website of Ichiroya, or the Kimono Flea Market. A Japanese flea market!!?? Man, that sounds like serious heaven to me. I must go. I think our next holiday destination needs to be Japan. 
Do check out the Ichiroya website by the way, as it’s charming (as is their newsletter http://ichiroyanewsletter.blogspot.com/ ).
Upholstery in vintage kimono fabric by Anna Troupe
Image: catwalkthreads.wordpress.com

Kimono fabric buttons! Image: puchimaiko.blogspot.com
Image: Fluffbuff 

Image: Ichiroya

Portugal: going on holiday in style…

We’re off for a week on holiday soon and I can’t wait. We wanted to catch some last Autumn sun before diving into Winter and picked Portugal as our destination. It’s promising to stay sunny and warm, so that’s perfect.

Always looking for beautiful places that inspire me, I found a lovely guesthouse in the Algarve, close to the coast. I hate going to big chain hotels and places for mass-tourism – of which there are unfortunately plenty in the Med –  and so I was chuffed about this one. Of course, we haven’t been yet, so we’ll have to wait and see what it’s really like, but the photos look promising! www.tapadadogramacho.com


 

 
I’ll be chilling out by the pool or on the beach I think, while my man is trying out some kite-surfing (oh dear). I’d rather relax, read a book and indulge in some delicious ‘Pasteis de nata’ or Portuguese custard tarts. Don’t know these tarts? Let me introduce you to them with this recipe…Yum!

I am also planning to look for some nice Portuguese antique tiles, or ‘azulejos’ as they call them, to take back home. I saw them some years back when I was in Portugal for the first time and they’re so beautiful. I’ll probably only be able to take a few back, due to airline restrictions, but perhaps that is not such a bad thing, budget-wise…

I got plenty of creative ideas for what to do with them anyway…using them in bathroom tiling, making coasters out of them or simply displaying them as pretty objects.

Or actually, you could do as the Portuguese and stick them on the outside of your house!

Até a vista ! (see you soon!)

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