The Golden Temple, Amritsar

Hello! I’ve already been back a week and I haven’t had a chance to even look at my blog. I don’t feel festive whatsoever for some reason, perhaps something to do with the 25+ degree weather in Amritsar and Delhi… oh and the fact that I haven’t bought any Christmas presents yet.

Back to the main point of my post… My favourite place in the world (The Golden Temple) was one of the main highlights from my trip to India – if you’ve had the fortune of visiting this amazing place, you’ll know what I mean. It is is overwhelmingly beautiful, breathtaking in fact and my photos do not do it justice.

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The Golden Temple (the holiest Sikh temple) is the pilgrimage destination for Sikhs and is open all day every day. It has a free kitchen, serving on average 100,000 people a day. One hundred thousand people… A DAY!

Lots and lots of worshippers volunteer their time to keep the temple clean and to help in the kitchen, preparing the food and washing the dishes. As with all Sikh temples, people of all religions and backgrounds are welcome. You must remove your shoes, wash your feet in the pool of water before entering and make sure your head is covered at all times (as a sign of respect).

There’s so much I could say about the history but I don’t want to get anything wrong, so all I will say is that I love it here. Each time we visit Amritsar I say I want to visit the Golden Temple more than once but we never manage to. Maybe next time.

Ready for some more photos? We visited as the sun was setting, which meant the light was amazing!

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I’ve got one more post about India in the pipeline… should be ready soon!

Bye for now :)

Cal’s Own

Last night, lots of North East bloggers congregated to say happy 2nd birthday to Cal’s Own :)

You can find this fine Brooklyn Style Pizza Pie establishment at 207 Chillingham Road, Heaton. If you haven’t been to Cal’s in the two years it’s been open then I suggest you stop reading this post and get yourself there quick smart. FOR THE LOVE OF PIZZA GO! I mean just look at it.

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If you’re still reading:

A) Thank you
B) Please go for pizza afterwards.

Although I hadn’t eaten in at Cal’s Own before, I had devoured a left-over slice that my husband brought home after he’d finished work. After last night’s birthday celebrations, I’ve already arranged two pizza nights with friends to take place after my hols (more about that later).

In between all the eating and mild fear of dribbling tomato sauce everywhere, I spent last night trying to take photos of food (I seem to have taken a lot of photos of olives) and chatting to Chloe, Fiona, Sam and my friend Ollie. (Ollie man get a blog so I can hyperlink your name).

Cal doesn’t make ordinary pizza, this is beyond delicious. It comes in pretty close to the best pizza I’ve ever eaten (consumed in excess between September 2000-August 2001 and last tasted in March 2004. Pizza Napoli in Aix-en-Provence if you’re ever in the area).

Last night, the food began with huge green olives and just kept on coming with busy staff bringing plate after plate of deliciousness (whilst also checking we had napkins, plates and drinks – thank you!). After the olives came warm bread, chicken, meatballs in a gorgeous thick tomato sauce, spicy sausages and then pizza! I was already pretty full by the time the thick base pizza came out, but of course had to have a slice (it was NOT small). It was immense and totally floored me. Literally stuffed.

If you’re already hungry after all this food chat, it’s about to get a lot worse for you.

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The most photographed olives in the world

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The atmosphere is super laid-back and the dining area is simply furnished with wooden tables and chairs, it has a cosy homely feel to it and I love the framed posters on the walls.

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On the way out I thought it would be nice to take some photos of the open kitchen and the giant pizza paddles… managed to snap some pizza-making action too!

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Thanks for a lovely evening and Happy 2nd Birthday Cal’s Own!

I’ll be back in December, but for now I’ll just be over here perusing the menu… what are you going to order?

I’d love to hear what you think if you’ve already been!

The Time I lived in Paris… (Part 1)

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Things were very different for me in 2010. I was working in finance (not loving it loads) and we hadn’t started looking for a house to buy, so were renting in South Gosforth.

One cold February morning I was asked into a meeting with my manager’s manager… He was really nice but obviously I was a bit worried about this and had no idea what it was about. He said he had an ‘opportunity’ for me. I was even more worried. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?! What it meant was, there was a big project about to start and France was the first country to ‘go-live’ (apologies for corporate jargon). They wanted me to go and live in Paris for 6 months to support the local organisation. I won’t go into things in too much detail, but I talked about it with Ankush for a few days and came to the decision that I’d say yes. I felt beyond excited to have been given this opportunity (as well as extremely lucky) but also sad to be leaving Ankush behind for weeks at a time. WAHHH.

Time flew by and at the beginning of April, off I went!

People who know me, already know of my love of France and all things French. My love was cemented when I visited for the first time in 1997, on a school trip to Toulouse. I see myself as British, Indian and French. Ha ha. When people ask my (French) friend where in France she’s from, I like to interject to tell them I’m from the South. I’m sure that’s not annoying at all. I studied French (and business) at university and completed a year abroad in the beautiful southern city of Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille. I can’t believe this was 14 years ago. Terrifying. In short: best year ever where I met some of my favourite people in the world. Maybe I’ll go into more detail about this another time…

For the first two weeks, while I hunted for apartments, I resided in the very fancy Méridien Etoile at Porte Maillot because it was close to where I had to take the train to the office. The RER C train was not as glamorous as I’d envisioned. Also, it was almost impossible for me to say RER in French. Try saying AIR-UH-AIR quickly and you’ll see what I mean. It was smelly, old and always jam-packed, but it was quick and relatively painless. Oh except for the time I had a run-in with a very scary mean man and no-one helped me… or if there was a strike meaning it would take hours to get to and from work. (I quickly learnt to work from home on strike days).

The search for a suitable apartment was intense, I had no idea where I wanted to live. Luckily, my cousin had worked in Paris for 6 months (we JUST missed each other. Typical) and gave me some advice, as well as a friend from school who was living there (she still lives there). I also had help from a relocation agency through work, who sent me through options. Apartments go quickly in Paris, so I accepted one in the 17th arrondissement based on photos alone. Somehow I still have the word document the agency sent me. Here are the pics I saw:

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It was on the 7th floor of a beautiful building on Rue Rennequin, complete with narrow spiral staircase and no lift. I moved in and really quickly changed my mind. It was super tiny (and foisty), despite the agency saying there was plenty of room for guests to sleep. This was a lie. I decided to view the next apartment they offered me, which was in Neuilly sur Seine, Rue d’Orléans. It didn’t have anywhere near as much character as the first place, but it was much bigger and really convenient for work as the metro was less than 5 mins away. I also have the word document for this place:

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I loved it as soon as I moved in. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that it was above a bakery, so each morning I awoke to the smell of freshly baked croissants! Not too shabby.

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My apartment was the third (top) floor of the building on the right

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The first month was really tough. Everything was different. Paris was not like the other places in France I’d been to and Parisians were not like other French people I’d met (nice generalisation there). I missed home & Ankush loads. I didn’t know many people although a guy from Germany was also in the same boat as me, he was also in Paris for 6 months working on the project, so we became friends (and I am ever thankful for him carrying my heavy suitcase up 7 flights of stairs… and then down again a few days later when I left Rue Rennequin). I also made friends with a lovely girl from work called Natalie who’d been living in Paris for a while.

It was about 3 or 4 weeks in and I’d been invited to my friend from school’s apartment for dinner – where I’d also meet her husband for the first (or second) time. Unfortunately for him, my rush-hour journey on the metro was not a good one and the beautiful pastries I’d purchased from the bakery below my apartment barely survived the experience. He opened the door and I burst into tears as soon as he asked how I was. NOT COOL SHIVANI. NOT COOL. My friend hadn’t got home from work yet, so that was embarrassing to say the least.

Things got easier though, especially when friends and family decided to come and stay for the weekend! I will go into this more another time with lots more photos. It’s not really possible to fit 6 months into one blog post. I could try, but I’m not going to. I do promise however, that the next instalment will be far more cheery than this one :)

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

À plus tard mes amis!

St Mary’s Inn

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St Mary’s Ale has been brewed by local Wylam Brewery

St Mary’s Inn is a newly opened gastropub in St Mary’s Park just outside Morpeth and is the brand new venture by the Jesmond Dene House family. I was lucky enough to be invited along with Chloe to sample the menu and have a peek around the place.

We drove up on Monday evening, encountering lots of lovely fog along the way which resulted in us getting a bit lost and me having to jump out of the car to ask for directions (only to be told to go back the way we came from but just ‘keep going’).  We made it eventually… only 5 minutes later than we’d expected. I’d call this success. It was really dark so I have no photos to show you of the beautiful building (a former hospital) from the outside, but if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I have plenty of photos of the interior to show you!

We were greeted by smiling staff (always nice!) and were shown around by a lovely young chap whose name has escaped my useless brain (SORRY). He knew lots about the refurbishment of the building and told us all about the artwork by local artists, hanging on the walls.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that you can book a room to stay overnight at St Mary’s Inn have I?! Upstairs there will be a total of 11 rooms, 4 of which were ready for us to view. The beautiful paintings of Northumbrian landscapes in the hallway are by Judy Appleby, with each room being named after a Northumbrian reservoir.

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The first thing I noticed as soon as we walked in was the beautiful fragrance, as we went round each room I kept repeating how much I loved it. The rooms have been furnished very tastefully, they’re simple, elegant and spacious. There’s something about crisp white bedding that just makes me want to climb into the bed and hibernate. I didn’t do this, obviously.

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Downstairs there are 3 main bar areas, with wood burning stoves and the most adorable wire dog sculptures – you might recognise them from Jesmond Dene House, created by sculptor Gary Tiplady. The photos might not convey just how cosy this place is – you have to see it to believe it.

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Then there’s the area where breakfast and afternoon tea will be served… I love the walls in here so much!

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Most of the art downstairs is by Norman Cornish, these paintings have been given to St Mary’s Inn by the Northumbria University Gallery.

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There are also cartoons by local cartoonist David Haldane who lives in Morpeth. You might recognise his name as David creates the daily cartoons for The Times and has also featured in Punch Magazine and Spitting Image. I particularly liked this cartoon:

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We then sauntered over to the restaurant area… there’s also a private dining room (which seats 20 people). It wasn’t quite ready to be photographed but we had a peek and it was lovely. As there were other diners, I didn’t take too many photos in the restaurant area.

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After reading the menu approximately 100 times, I opted for a true pub classic (I’m so predictable), Cumberland Sausage, Mash and Roast Onions (£11.50) and a side of Cauliflower Cheese (£3.00), while Chloe opted for the Ricotta Dumplings with Winter Squash (£10.50). Next time I visit I am definitely getting the Salt Cod Fritters with Tartare Sauce from the Snacks section of the menu. In fact I quite fancy that right now. Produce is locally sourced and there is a really good variety of menu options to choose from, as well as a children’s menu.

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Look at that cheese sauce!

Look at that cheese sauce!

Both of us loved our meals, they were well presented, piping hot and most importantly, totally delicious. The cauliflower cheese was AMAZING. The cheese sauce was perfect. I’ll probably order it with any of the mains I choose in the future. Is this acceptable?

Chloe knew before we’d even looked at the menu that she would have the Banoffee Doughnut (£3.50) for dessert and although it was a tough choice, I chose the Brewer’s Malt Profiteroles with Hot Chocolate Sauce (£7). LOOK AT THEM! You’ll notice that they’re slightly more biscuit-y than your normal profiteroles… I was very pleasantly surprised by this twist on a classic dessert. Extremely tasty and very (very) generous with the amount of hot chocolate sauce – enough for Chloe to pour a dollop or two on her banoffee doughnut!

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I enjoyed the relaxed, cosy atmosphere at St Mary’s Inn as well as the emphasis on providing good food and ingredients being locally sourced. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to get very busy here, so if you fancy popping in, do ring to book in advance so you’re not disappointed. The phone number is 01670 293293 or email hello@stmarysinn.co.uk. It’s only 20 minutes away from where I live, so will definitely be popping back for more tastiness with Ankush.

I’d love to hear what you think if you visit, do let me know!

* Our meals were provided free of charge for review purposes, but as with everything on my blog, my opinions are 100% honest.

Bels Flowers

At my best friend’s (read more about that here) I couldn’t get over how beautiful the floral arrangements were. They were all created by the very talented team at Bels Flowers.  I sent Helen (who owns and manages Bels Flowers) my photos for her to put on her Facebook page and thought I’d ask if she’d like to feature on my blog. I was over the moon when she said yes!

It turns out Helen has been responsible for the gorgeous arrangements at quite a few of my friends’ weddings over the years and has also been booked up by another friend for next Autumn!

Here’s a sneak peek at the beautiful flowers I got to photograph at the weekend… just before you read all about Helen and Bels Flowers.

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 1. Tell us a bit about yourself and Bels Flowers… how did it all begin?

I originally started out doing Marketing, after going to University in Leeds and working there after I graduated, then I decided to move to Newcastle to be near my sister, who had gone to University up here. I also met my boyfriend (now husband) through her, so I decided to make the jump and come and live in Newcastle! After working in PR and marketing roles for a year or two I decided that career really wasn’t for me, my husband adores his job and genuinely loves going to work, so I thought, there must be more to life than dragging myself through the working week; I really wanted to have the job satisfaction and passion he had, for what I was doing in life! So I went to college and trained to be a florist! It took a year on an intensive programme, which was quite hard work as I was also working in events at the time to bring in some income! As I learnt about flowers and the different business options I decided I would much rather do event and wedding flowers than opening, or working in a shop as it gave much more flexibility of organising my own work pattern and I got to be part of creating very special touches for peoples special occasions.

2What inspires you to create such beautiful arrangements?

I LOVE flowers! I just love the English Country Garden style; full, abundant, effortlessness all pulled together to create natural finishes. My mum was an amazing gardener when I was growing up, and our garden was full of beautiful scented roses, hydrangea; wild areas with blue bells and ferns, all sorted of beautiful silver birch and eucalyptus trees…so I take a lot of inspirations from my memories of that garden and all the happy times I spent there. I also just adore creating arrangements which I know are going to add that extra special feel to the occasion, I really think flowers can create such a lovely ambiance to an occasion.

3Hard question coming up… do you have a favourite flower?

I adore hydrangea, stocks and garden roses… I know that’s not one! But hydrangea for their full, round shape and all the colours they come in, garden roses for the scent and shape and amazing petals, and stocks because the scent is heavenly.

 4. Has there been one event that has stood out more than others?

Although there’s massive pressure, I’ve loved doing my friends’ wedding flowers, creating someone’s special vision of their wedding flowers who you love dearly is quite an emotional, but highly rewarding task! And of course doing my own wedding flowers was amazing; to be getting married, loving my job and being able to create exactly what I wanted myself (I’m a total control freak!). And of course when doing peoples flowers you make friends along the way, which is a privilege to have that opportunity, I’ve made some lovely friends through my job.

5. Can you give us a quick insight into a day in the life at Bels Flowers?

Wow… every day is so different! Some days are spend meeting clients and getting admin done, providing quotes and sorting out orders and final details and some days I’m literally up to my ears in flowers! Getting ready for a Saturday wedding I generally get the flowers to the market on a Thursday to check them all and start preparing them, in spring and summer you need to get some flowers earlier (like peonies) to check they’ll be at the right stage of opening for the big day. The Friday before the wedding is spent doing arrangements and getting everything ready for the early start on the Saturday to get to the venue/church/house early and do any other final bits and bobs to the flowers – like adding trailing foliage, binding bouquets, making buttonholes and then doing anything which can’t be done prior to the big day, like in situ flowers – arches, pew ends etc. The key is being super organised and setting off very early! But I’m an early bird so that works for me!

6. Do you have any tips for keeping flowers looking their best for as long as possible?

Flowers like to be cool and out of the sun so that would be the best advice for keeping flowers at their best. Also regularly cutting the stems and refreshing the water (in a sparkly clean vase) will make them last longer for your to enjoy.

Helen invited me along to photograph her setting up a beautiful Autumnal wedding at Jesmond Dene House at the weekend, of course I jumped at the chance… Photo time!

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The master at work! Helen adding finishing touches to the bride-to-be’s bouquet which contained pheasant feathers!

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Helen gave me these beautiful flowers as it was my birthday yesterday when I popped to Jesmond Dene House. LOVE!

Helen gave me these beautiful flowers as it was my birthday yesterday when I popped to Jesmond Dene House. LOVE!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and thank you Helen for agreeing to feature :)