August 2015: This month I have mostly been…


Feeling: Overwhelmed

It’s been one of those months when I’ve been trying and failing to do everything. I have a massive backlog of stuff I need to do and none of it is getting done at the moment, every time I think I’ve caught up with something, about a million other things pop us as needing my attention. If I could have two or three days to just catch up then I might be back on track, but I don’t so I’ll just keep plodding on.

Reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


Surprise! It isn’t Brick Lane again! I love themed reading based on locations and so upcoming travels meant a trip to Daunt Books in Marylebone to check out their selection of travel-fiction. I honest to god love that shop. Not only is it gorgeous but it makes it so easy to find reading that will complement the place you’re visiting. So a Fred Olsen mini-cruise calling at Guernsey and Honfleur meant I needed a book with Guernsey connections. People have raved about it on Twitter and feel so affectionate towards it, so it was definitely a must-buy, along with two books for our upcoming holiday to Portugal – Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier and Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabbuchi (the later was very positively commented on by the sales assistants in Daunt which is always a great sign for book purchases).

Watching: Orange Is The New Black


I know I am horrendously behind on this one as we are not watching season 3 but are instead only just starting it for the first time. At the time Orange Is The New Black launched onto Netflix we were in the middle of Breaking Bad and I really couldn’t commit to anything else, so it’s only now that we’re getting into it. I must admit that from the first episode I knew things were going to click for me when the theme tune started and I immediately recognised it as being performed by Regina Spektor. There are two songs in particular that take me back immediately to my time as a student, one is Objects of My Affection by Peter, Bjorn and John and the other is Us by Regina Spektor, so I was particularly pleased to see her reaching a wider audience.

Planning: A house purchase


I am trying not to get too excited as it’s still very very early stages but I have definitely started the process of becoming a DFL (Down From Londoner). So far it’s proven to mostly be about jumping through hoop after pointless hoop. I’m hoping it gets smoother and quicker but I suspect it won’t.

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Benedicts, Norwich

It was only about a week before we went to Norwich for the weekend that I actually turned my mind to the question of where we were going to eat. I did my usual trawl of Tripadvisor, the internet generally and of course, Twitter. It was doing a search of Twitter that I came across Benedicts, a new modern British bistro in Norwich that, at the start of August had only been open for five or six weeks but which had already been awarded two AA rosettes. I was lucky that they had had a cancellation which secured us a Saturday night table for two.

Benedicts is the first restaurant of his own for Richard Bainbridge who, for seven years, was the Head Chef at the Michelin starred restaurant at Morston Hall in North Norfolk. Benedicts makes for a more relaxed dining experience, unassuming from the outside, its simple facade gives way to clean white wood panelled walls and cosy warm lighting. No table cloths or pretension, just a warm inviting atmosphere.

Benedicts offers two options for dinner, either a six course £50 tasting menu or a short a la carte menu with three choices for each course (£29 for two courses or £36 for three courses). We decided to go a la carte and were pleasantly surprised to be served initially with two little snacks, I would love to be able to tell you what they were but I really can’t remember specifics as they weren’t on the menu but they were contrasting snacks – warm little cheesy croquette type things and a fresh and clean tasting spoonful that included little apple julienne sticks and I vaguely recall being told there might have been some sort of scallop involvement. Whatever they both were they were delicious little palate teasers for what what to come.

We agonised over which starters to pick as they all sounded delicious and I even offered to forego a meat option so we could share the veggie and fish dish. In the end, we did what we always seem to do and I had the meaty starter and also got to sample my boyfriend’s dish. He chose the Norfolk Peer potato with Baron Bigod cheese, buttermilk and chive. Our starters were served by Richard himself who explained that his restaurant manager, when given the dish had remarked that it tasted like a cheesy jacket potato. It was reminiscent of a cheesy jacket potato, but the best fancy pimped up and tricked out deconstructed cheesy jacket potato ever. Over the course of the evening Richard made his way round every table, which I thought was a lovely touch.


My starter was farmed rabbit, carrot, cauliflower and tarragon. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice but it was delicious and the carrots were beautifully presented in a sort of terrine style. A lot of care and attention had clearly gone into each dish.


Mains were locally caught wild sea trout, new season turnip, yoghurt, Jersey Royals and passion fruit for my boyfriend and truffled guinea fowl with pistachio pilaf rice, seared local shallots and white port shellfish bisque. Benedicts is keen on using local produce as much as possible and I love that emphasis on supporting local producers. I also love that although this is beautifully cooked food that is carefully presented, the portion sizes (unlike some restaurants in a similar style) aren’t stingy, it’s a meal rather than just a taste experience where you get two delicious mouthfuls costing a small fortune but you’re left craving a McDonalds the minute you leave for something to fill you up.


For dessert, my boyfriend was ogling the cheeseboard on the menu but I managed to persuade him that when the food that is being made is so good, it makes absolutely no sense to choose a cheeseboard (however carefully chosen the cheese may be). I managed to convince him, mainly because we asked the waitress serving our table whether it might be possible for us to pay extra to have the cheese to share as an additional course following our dessert. I’m not one to usually start messing around with menus or ingredients in dishes but her cheery ‘of course’ response settled our decision and we chose the cheese to follow the other two desserts – gooseberry and ginger egg custard tart with ginger beer sorbet and Nanny Bush’s summer trifle with milk jam. Both were delicious and it was definitely the right decision to order both with the cheese to follow.

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The final cap in the feather of a wonderful dinner was the delivery of the bill in a cast iron acorn together with a mini roll of Love Hearts which we shared on our walk back to the Maids Head Hotel where we were staying. There’s more on Norwich to come, but if you’re nearby (or even if you aren’t, it’s worth the trip), get yourself booked in for a meal at Benedicts, it’ll be worth it! I predict great things for them and I definitely expect to be hearing more about them in the future, not least because Richard Bainbridge is due to compete in the Great British Menu on BBC Two for the Central region in the next few weeks.

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Love locks and a panoramic view of Cologne

The night before our final day in Cologne we’d had a wonderful meal out at Zippiri Gourmetwerkstatt & wein bar and if you’re in Cologne I cannot recommend it enough, the food was delicious, beautifully presented and good value and the staff and the place itself were warm and inviting. Don’t be put off by the fact that you’re wandering seemingly miles away from the city centre and into a more residential area or the fact that it looks like nothing from outside, it is completely worth a visit. Unfortunately my photos didn’t really do the food the justice it deserved, so you’ll have to pay it a visit yourself!


We had a Eurostar back to London from Brussels booked late in the afternoon and so we had part of the day to enjoy our last few hours in the city before catching a train to Brussels, the fact that it was drizzling a bit was not going to deter us. We grabbed our umbrellas and waterproof coats and set off to get high, with an aerial view of the city.

Hohenzollern Bridge carries both trains and foot traffic across the Rhine and has become somewhat of a magnet for love locks. Putting Paris to shame by the sheer scale of the bridge and its length, it was amazing to see so many of them. I was particularly pleased to see a little tribute to my own adopted German home, Hamburg (meine Perle), with its city coat of arms. The locks came in every shape and size and our favourites were the tortoise shaped ones.


Our destination was KoelnTriangle Panorama, a building across the river that promised a great view of the city. Although it’s possible to climb up several hundred steps to a viewing platform in Cologne Cathedral, I thought it would be a bit like going up the Eiffel Tower, ie. the one thing that is iconic about the city is the one thing you can’t see. So, feeling lazy and wanting a view of the Cathedral itself, we decided that a lift up the 100 metres to the top of the Cologne Triangle was a better plan. Plus, at only €3 for adults, it was a bargain.


The glass barrier helpfully has diagrams of the various Cologne landmarks and points of interest. I spent a lot of time having fun and trying to line up the various diagrams with their real life counterparts.

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Now, I know that Deutschlandfunk is a radio station, but this particular landmark had me channeling my inner lyrical gangster to create my own Cologne-inspired version of Uptown Funk.


And so ended our weekend in Cologne. We hopped on a train back to Brussels, enjoyed an hour or so in the business class lounge abusing my Carte Blanche status (gained through many many early morning work trips to Brussels and totally worth it) before whizzing back to London on the Eurostar, ready to get back to work and reality.

Now my boyfriend thinks our next German trip should be to see a Borussia Dortmund match so we can join the yellow wall for my first ever real life football match. I’m keen, so we might be returning to Germany quicker than I had imagined!

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Cologne: the Cathedral and Koelner Lichter

After an afternoon getting lightly sunburnt in Dusseldorf I made my way to the train station to get a train to Cologne. With trains every 15 minutes or so I just about had enough time to buy a ticket and find the platform before speeding through the countryside to Cologne. It’s an easy 30 minute train ride and the train was soon pulling into the station. Our hotel, the Lindner Dom Residence was only a short five minute walk from both the station and the Cathedral (which is surprisingly right by the train station and is the first thing you see when you exit the station). My boyfriend had already found it and checked in as he’d caught the train from London earlier in the day. After a quick shower to freshen up we headed out to explore Cologne and get some dinner.


The next morning, after a good night’s sleep (restorative for me after very little sleep the night before) we were keen to explore more widely than we had the evening before when we had pretty much walked over the Hohenzollernbrücke to get a view back at the Cathedral. It’s impossible to convey the scale of the Cathedral but it’s so imposing and impossible to get a sense of from anywhere nearby, you really do have to be across the river to get a feel for it.


Continuing the beautiful weather that we’d had in Dusseldorf, we treated ourselves to ice-creams as we wandered the streets of Cologne. I’ve heard it said that Cologne is mostly about the Cathedral and to a certain extent that’s true, in the sense that there isn’t a list of ‘must-see’ sights to check off a list. We were quite content with this and enjoyed pottering around, looking in shops and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

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Of course one thing that was on our ‘to do’ list was to sample the local beer – Kölsch. I never used to like beer but a few years ago I decided it was ridiculous that I didn’t drink it as there are some situations when a beer is more appropriate than either wine or a G&T, so I decided to teach myself to like it. I once read something that said that you had to try something at least ten times before you could begin to like it (if you didn’t already). So I embarked on a quest to start drinking beer. It started with fruit beers – raspberry to mask the beery taste before I moved onto proper beer. I still have a preference for light beers over darker ones, so, I have to admit, that I favoured Kölsch over the Dusseldorf local beer – Alt, which I’d sampled on my first night in Dusseldorf.


Recharged after a very German lunch we decided to pay a visit to the Cathedral.


A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cologne Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in 1248 but the Gothic cathedral wasn’t completed until 1880. The Cathedral is home to The Shrine of the Three Kings, a shrine that apparently houses the remains of the Three Wise Men, which has always attracted pilgrims to Cologne and which led to the construction of the current cathedral. The cathedral now attracts over 20,000 visitors a day.


The construction of the Cathedral took place in stages and one of the most modern additions was only added in 2007 – a new stained glass window created by artist Gerhard Richter. The original window was destroyed in World War II by one of the fourteen bombs that hit the Cathedral and plain glass has filled the space since then. The new window is made up of around 11,500 pixel-like squares of glass in over 70 colours which were arranged randomly by a computer programme.


For a weekend that was planned to follow on from my work trip to Dusseldorf, the timing was perfect as I found out that the Saturday night was Kölner Lichter, an annual firework display set to music. It’s apparently a big event with all the boat companies running special evening party trips out on the river before mooring up to watch the fireworks. I was too late to buy tickets for either a boat party or the grandstand (which both offer great views of the fireworks) and so we contented ourselves with heading to the Rheinpark with a picnic.

Although I’d read on the website to get there before 8pm (the fireworks kick off at around 11.30pm), we got there slightly earlier, maybe around 7.30pm, after picking up some goodies at the local Rewe, and found ourselves inching along with what felt like the rest of Germany (apparently around 800,000 watched the fireworks that night, albeit not all from the Rheinpark) as we hit a bottleneck going into the park as bag checks were being carried out. It had been a beautiful day and so I think most of the people in the park, and certainly those who had the best spots, had been there for much of the afternoon, but we weren’t going to waste our time in Cologne sitting in a park just to get the best view.


Once we’d found a spot of grass with, what we hoped was a view, we settled down to have our picnic and to wait. Within the park were plenty of food and drink vendors for those who hadn’t brought a picnic or for a cold Kölsch.


We whiled away our evening just snacking and chatting and soaking up the atmosphere as the light gradually faded and the skies darkened and, as promised, at around 11.30pm the music started and the first fireworks lit up the sky. The music was a lovely addition to the firework display and we snuggled up together and watched the fireworks burst overhead. It was beautiful and a lovely way to spend a warm evening.


As the fireworks only started at around 11.30pm it was late (or rather, early) by the time we had packed up and made our way out of the park. However, we found ourselves delayed by a closed bridge, for no apparent reason and it was only when a few rebels decided to push past the barrier that the security guards in place decided they had to let the crowds across. Our delay did at least give me the chance to get a few shots of the Cathedral at night with the bridge all lit up and the lights of the returning boats caught going under the bridge. I love the effect of long exposure shots and so this Autumn as it starts to get darker earlier I want to carry my Gorillapod around more and try and get some more night shots of London.


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