In the centre of London, just a few minutes walk from Covent Garden station and the bustle of the Seven Dials streets packed with shops and restaurants and cafes is a pocket of serenity. I first stumbled upon Phoenix Garden many years ago when I was wandering around with my camera and spotted a Stik face staring out at me from a bright yellow wall down a side street. That piece of street art is still there and and well protected, at the very end of the garden.
The site used to host the old leper hospital of St. Giles-in-the-Fields that was set up in the 12th century. Later, it became a WWII bombsite as a result of the Blitz and then was turned into a car pack. So, this is very much an improvement (as any garden in the middle of an enormous city would be) and the garden has existed for more than 30 years now. It even won the first prize for Best Environmental Garden in the “Camden in Bloom” competition six times.
Meet Virginie, one of the most stylish women I know, who has worked hard to turn her passion into a successful business (in another country, no less!). Originally from France, she has set up her shop Mushi Mushi in the heart of Barcelona where she sells beautiful women’s clothing and accessories. Recently, she’s collaborated with a local artist to create a line of t-shirts and another project is in the works now with an artist based in Madrid. Below, Virginie shares the story of Mushi Mushi, some of the challenges she’s faced as an entrepreneur and a bit about Barcelona itself.
LO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. VF: I am French, Breton specifically. I have always lived close to the sea which explains why I chose Barcelona to start my business. This is a very cosmopolitan and vibrant city, packed with artists.
LO: You run Mushi Mushi in Barcelona full-time. Share the story of the shop’s beginnings. VF: It was a huge adventure when I arrived in Spain. I didn’t know anyone! I moved into a flat in Gracia and I started looking for a job right away. Slowly but surely, the idea of starting my own women’s clothing shop became clearer to me. After a few years of very tough recession, I decided to move the shop to a new spot and freshen up the image. I finally managed to have my Parisian boutique in Gracia.
The highlight of this week was the short hour I spent at the Chelsea Flower Show for a sneak peak on press day! I also got to have a girly night with Thai food and drinks at Azteca, catch up with one of my university professors (who has been a mentor and a friend over the years) on her stopover in London and spent some time finishing up some projects before I head off to the States this weekend. Haircut tonight, manicure and packing tomorrow, flying on Sunday. I’ll be in Boston for a week to tweet my way through an international education conference and then it’s up to New York to spend a week with family and friends, hopefully enjoying plenty of time on my parents’ front porch and taking lots of bubble baths too.
It was 7am. An earthy scent of freshly-shifted soil and scented blossoms hung in the heavily overcast sky. Photographers, journalists, judges, designers and workers strolled around the sprawling grounds of the Royal Hospital. It was press day at London’s famous Chelsea Flower Show and I had one hour to whirl around with my camera before rushing to work. As always, I took far too many pictures and am going to attempt to cram as many as I can into this post!
I am hopeless with plant names, not to mention keeping them alive, but I love this show. This was my third year visiting Chelsea on press day and it’s so nice to be there without the crowds for a little sneak peak. As I don my fluorescent RHS Press vest and head toward the entrance to scan my wristband, I can’t help but think about what an incredible feat this whole show is and how much work, creativity and effort from so many people has gone into making it happen. The big show gardens are built on the grounds from scratch in just 19 days and they’re taken down as if nothing happened just five days later.
We’ve walked up to the modernist cemetery of Lloret de Mar and onto the lush green grounds of the Gardens of Santa Clotilde, overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea. Now – in my last Costa Brava post – I’ll take you round the town a bit more and along the beaches.
Priorities: When the sky is so perfectly blue it melds with the sea and there’s sand stretching out in front of you glistening in the sun, it’s ice cream time, right? I opted for a cone toped with “mango y sandía (watermelon)” in a cone. Before I even stepped foot on the beach, it had begun to melt!
I walked along the beach as far left as I could go without hiking into the hills, toward a castle and Sa Caleta – a small fishing cove. The beach was dotted with small boats clustered together under the sun.
A footpath led up to D’en Plaja Castle that was commissioned by the Girona industrialist Narcís Plaja and was completed in the 1940s. So while it’s meant to look mediaeval, it’s actually new in castle terms. It’s privately-owned and not open to the public, so I couldn’t go inside.
At the base of the castle, you walk through a short dark tunnel which opens to another view of the sea and a pathway that probably requires quite a bit of time and better hiking shoes, so I stopped around there before turning around again.
All the way at the opposite end of the main beach, up through a forest of evergreens (which smelled so fresh and outdoorsy – a scent I love but don’t have much of in the city), I reached the 11th Century (that’s more like it!) castle of Sant Joan. Of course there are amazing views from here as well, but it was closed at the time to visitors.
On the way up, I passed by the Seafarer’s Wife, a tribute to the women who, over the year, kept a lookout to the men in their lives who were working out at sea. I had to wait a while to get a decent shot of the monument when there were no other tourists posing.
The railing surrounding the monument are packed with love locks that seem to show up in quite a few Instagram photos.
Bright yellow flowers, cacti and long windswept grasses grew along the sea path, on the edge of the cliffs.
Further up there was a restaurant with a tiny staircase that led to the forest.
At the top, I found myself at a completely residential area, quiet, full of locals and pretty back gardens, away from the tourist resorts and the tacky clubs that line the streets of the town. Eventually, it circled back to the center of Lloret de Mar.
I tend to wander a bit randomly when I travel (and on days out in London, for that matter). This is partly because I have a terrible sense of direction and partly because it’s how I discover a lot of things I would’t have found otherwise. Although I might have a general destination in mind, I usually let my camera lead the way – if there’s something interesting in the complete opposite direction, down an alleyway or around a corner, I go.
And so it was that I ran into the most bizarre scene all weekend: the cats. There we, no joke, about 20 stray cats all gathered together at the edge of a park – some sleeping, some stalking, some just sitting. A few people were gathered around taking pictures when I guy came wandering in with a bag of food, whistling. The cats all gathered around him.
As I headed back into the center of town, the impressive Parish Church of Sant Romà caught my eye with its striking colourful mosaic dome – a reminder to look up!
It could have been in the middle of Istanbul, but it actually was used at some point as a refuge for people of Lloret de Mar during raids by pirates from Turkey and Algeria.
A few other bits and piece that caught my eye in Lloret de Mar’s center were the food trucks outside of the Casa de la Cultura and a Haribo store!
It had been three years since my last trip to Barcelona, but I managed to spent a whole three hours there before my flight back to London enjoying the company of Jorge’s brother and his family, a short walk around the outside of La Sagrada Familia and through the plazas of Gracia.
It’s definitely time for a proper Barcelona trip soon!
Happy Friday! Is it just me or does every week seem to go by in a blur? We had a beautiful Sunday last weekend and Jorge and I ventured (more like adventured with our London transport fiasco) out to Blackheath to see the RHS at the farmer’s market. It’s all about the journey sometimes, right? On the plus side, we did have a nice sunny walk over Greenwich Park on the way there. I also made some blueberry custard pie that we managed to devour in all of two days as well as a delicious summery fish recipe that I’ll share eventually. There’s some fun interviews coming up soon too.
Tonight, I’m hoping to get back to my running if the weather is decent and if it stays that way, head out on some sort of yet to be decided photo adventure tomorrow. I’m hoping to try to get ahead of myself on some projects this weekend since I’ll be traveling for a few weeks at the end of the month and perhaps a haircut!
As I write this, there’s a piece of pie next time me, the blueberries, burst from baking, are seeping their purple juices into the creamy custard. I’m trying to savour every bite because otherwise I could probably eat another few slices before I finish my cup of tea.
Turned out to be an excellent choice. It was super easy to make and it has a lot of blueberries which makes it healthy, right??
1 cup of soured cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Pie crust (you can either buy this pre-cooked or make your own. I took the middle route and bought shortcrust pastry from Waitrose)
Ingredients for streusel topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour (note: have a bit more on hand to create the texture you want)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Pre-heat the oven to 400F / 204C.
Prepare your pie crust first if you haven’t bought one pre-cooked.
Mix together the cream, sugar, egg, flour, vanilla and salt.
Fold in the blueberries.
Pour your filling into the crust.
Bake for 25 minutes.
While your pie is baking, prepare the topping. Stir the brown sugar and flour together. Then, using your hands, mix in the butter. I added more flour than recommended by the recipe until I created a grainy texture. Add in the chopped pecans.
After your pie has baked for 25 minutes, pull from the oven and sprinkle on the topping. I didn’t use the full amount, leaving a bit of blue showing through, but the original recipe spreads it on quite thickly. It’s up to you!
Before you stick the pie back into the oven, either use a crust shield or do what I did and create one with tinfoil wrapped loosely around the edge.
Bake for another 15-20 minutes until the filling sets and topping has browned.
Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or chill and serve cold with a few extra blueberries. We thought it might be extra delicious with a little scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Ah yes, in the modernist cemetery, gazing out over the coastal town of Lloret de Mar in Costa Brava, Spain. Isn’t it a pretty view? Well, it’s about to get even more stunning.
Atop one of the wild cliffs near the sea, I entered the Santa Clotilde Gardens which turned out to be a green hideaway with curving pathways, ivy-covered staircases, plenty of fresh air, the sweet scent of springtime blossoms and the most breathtaking views.
TBEX in Spain last weekend was both productive and inspiring. I shared a bit of the experience in Wednesday’s post, but there’s more to come next week. As usual, I took way too many pictures.
(Spare me a moment of geekiness and frustration: I decided that to edit these photos, I should finally give in and buy Lightroom which was recommended by so many people at the conference. Done. Of course, this didn’t work on my current operating system so I had to download Mac’s latest Yosemite 10.10.3 update. Fine. In order to do that, I had to clear off a bunch of old photos so there was enough memory available. Now I have lightroom, Yosemite and plenty of memory, but my wi-fi craaaaawls. Has anyone else had this issue? Any advice much appreciated!)
In happy news, on Wednesday I made my way to Stoke Newington to meet for the second time with the lovely bunch of Etsy creatives that I first met at the Chelsea Arts Club at the end of March. Lots of exciting stuff to come! I also signed up for one of the last tables at the SE20 Craft Fair on Halloween.
Tonight is a leaving party for Jorge who starts an exciting new job on Monday. Saturday is for playing catch up and relaxing. Sunday we’re heading down to Blackheath in the far reaches of the earth for a garden show and to catch up with some long lost friends in Greenwich.
What are you up to this weekend?
Photo: The Circle, London, from a trip to Borough Market I will write about eventually…
I pressed my bare feet against the coarse, wet sand and watched as the dark nighttime waves rolled toward me, crashing onto the shore with a great ocean roar. The sky over the sea was nearly black now. It smelled only faintly of salt and seaweed, like one of those luxury candles you find in Liberty.
Behind me, the party city of Lloret de Mar had sprung to life. Hen and stag parties were welcomed with open arms into the hollows of thumping clubs that lined the streets beneath the hulking resort hotels. Drinks were served in fishbowl-sized glasses, in shades of electric blue and pink, pineapple slices adorning the edges, six straws to share if you like. This is a small coastal city dedicated to the pursuit of true holiday debauchery in all its forms.