The Last Three Weeks

I’m writing this ensconced in a booth at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast. Two days home from Paris and I’m already craving baguettes, croissants and all things unhealthy.

I’ve just come from my US Visa interview (approved – I will be flying out to the States this weekend after all) which was scheduled for the ungodly hour of 8am on a Monday morning. No-one in their right mind would want to accompany me, so I am consoling myself with baked eggs with salmon and an iced “americano” because I have a sense of humour. I’m also surrounded by people I recognise from the interview waiting room – including the guy who chose to whip out War and Peace then spent more time waving it in people’s faces than actually reading it.

This post is so delayed because the last three weeks of my Parisian dream were a whirlwind – I can hardly remember the ongoings the working week because it was happily interspersed with dinners, drinks, sunsets on the Seine, yoga classes in Marais attic rooms, cinema trips and pilgrimages to the weekly flower market. I also had the girls to come and visit, over a month ago now! In the meantime they have graduated and become (semi-) serious adults.

We started with a Sunday brunch, hosted at mine. I discovered previously untested quiche-making skills, and that 15 people is too many in my little studio. From there, we went on to the Marais, where after a restorative cocktail at Le Mary Celeste we nipped in and out of boutiques and I proudly showed off Paris’s beautiful garden squares.Photo 04-06-2015 19 18 13Monday meant back to work for me, but I met them later to go to the Luxembourg Gardens for a stroll in the warm weather. All a little weary from a long day, Anna then proved her unquestioned claim to being “The Fun Mum Friend” when she whipped out the Lindt 70% dark chocolate with sea salt – my drug of choice.Photo 04-06-2015 19 25 18Photo 04-06-2015 19 22 28We returned via Ladurée, before a picnic dinner in the bohemian AirBnB the girls had found themselves in. Followed by drinks and people-watching at Le Comptoir Général, my all-too short time with the girls did not disappoint.Photo 04-06-2015 18 46 18Photo 08-07-2015 09 52 58Cressida and I also made time to visit the Musée de l’Art Ludique, where the current exhibition is none other than a showcase of Aardman productions: most famous as being responsible for such classics as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Creature Comforts. The exhibition featured original sketches of ‘Shaun le Mouton’, and clay models from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You could say it was A Grand Day Out.

The following weekend, Pip and I finally got the opportunity to try a restaurant that had been on my wish list since before I even moved to Paris. After a (rather heavy but no less brilliant) French film, and a stroll rough the Palais Royal at dusk, we settled into our spot by the window at Ellsworth and enjoyed six courses of true culinary art. Once again, we see the last ones in the restaurant when we finally finished our two desserts.Photo 14-06-2015 10 35 12Photo 14-06-2015 10 29 13Photo 14-06-2015 10 26 12Later that week, Pip and I had another stunning meal; this time of foie gras, chilled asparagus soup, squid risotto and veal. We dined a stone’s throw from Les Invalides at Bistrot Belhara, a tiny restaurant so intimate it feels vaguely like you are sitting in the proprietor’s front room.

All too soon, my final weekend in Paris was upon me.After a disastrous trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, I promised myself that I would really take advantage my final couple of weeks in Paris and not spend it indoors unless I was eating, sleeping, or in a museum. Fortunately, the heatwave enabled me to do that with relative ease.

Saturday morning was spent sunning myself in Parc Monceau, before heading to Les Invalides to beat the heat in the Musée de l’Armée, an enormous exhibition space stocked with ancient weapons, suits of armour, military uniforms and one rather dodgy taxidermy of one of Napoleon’s Arabian horses. I imagine he was beautiful in real life, but two hundred years later, his glass eyes had a rather uneven look and his once-palomino coat now looked an undignified dusty grey. I also paid my respects to the Emperor himself, whose tomb occupies the spectacular space under the recognisable golden dome of the Invalides. Buried in six coffins of six different materials, each more elaborate than the last, it is no surprise people suggest he suffered from an inferiority complex.Photo 10-07-2015 12 26 00Photo 10-07-2015 12 06 17The museum was fascinating too – with ornate jousting armour, mother-of-pearl inlaid pistols, and even a recreation of Napoleon’s camp on his ill-fated Russian campaign with his original briefcases and – my favourite detail – his hat.Photo 10-07-2015 12 20 45I cooled off at Café Coutume with an iced chai latte before wandering to Le Bon Marché to brave the seasonal sales. Despite my best attempts, I walked away empty handed after I was informed by my mum via Snapchat that I was not allowed to spend triple figures on silk and lace pyjamas. The beautiful bright weather even at seven in the evening meant I couldn’t resist walking home, but not before resting my feet in the Tuileries as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Cliché? Moi?Photo 10-07-2015 11 44 33Then, on a baking hot dry Sunday, my last in Paris, I decided on a whim that I would go and visit the Chateau de Chantilly, most famous for its spectacular grand stables. It was a beautiful day, and after reading and picnicking at the temple of Venus, I returned to the stables where two of the chateau’s famous riders gave a demonstration with two stunning and very obedient stallions.Photo 08-07-2015 10 01 52Photo 10-07-2015 10 25 03Photo 10-07-2015 10 43 46Photo 10-07-2015 11 07 18Finally, after a peach ice cream and one last wander around the moat, I returned to Paris in the early evening, sleepy and “sun-kissed”.

My last week raced past in a heat haze of 37° sunshine and leaving parties on the banks of the canal, before my final move on Saturday. While it’s lovely to be home, and I have plenty to look forward to, I have left a big part of my heart in the world’s most romantic city, and cannot wait to return in the very near future.

In the meantime, though, Selfridges has opened now and I am spending the afternoon at Wimbledon – Siena out.

Bisous, S. X

Chanson du jour: Great Summer – Vance Joy

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The Weeknd

Work has been great for my French, horrible for my social life. Sounds superficial, just means I live for the weekend.

Unfortunately, last Friday at around 6.10pm, one of my bosses called down to reception asking me to go see her for a bit. I headed up, and in about five minutes I headed back down about ready to die of shame. Turns out I made a bit of a blunder doing a complex spreadsheet and had to redo it urgently. All. Of. It. Lines A1-J78.

So it was that I didn’t leave work last week until 8.00pm. In a horrible mood, I headed straight to the metro, and feeling sorry for myself, opted to treat myself to a packet of Oreos from the platform vending machine. Murphy’s Law: they got stuck. I actually hit the machine and can confirm that swearing loudly in your second language is even more satisfying than in your first. So it was that I found myself crying over confectionary in front of a considerable number of people on the station platform. Classy.

After eating Pringles in bed for dinner and napping in front of CSI: New York, I got a text from Lauren who was eagerly awaiting my arrival at our French friend Boris’s. To prevent myself moping around and feeling sorry for myself, I prepped some Journey Juice, put something other than my PJs on, and made my way out. Boris was hosting a number of visitors to Paris, and purely coincidentally he lives with a Durham graduate – after spending hours swapping stories of mutual friends, we headed to La Villa, a cavernous club just metres from the Arc du Triomphe. Standing on a table and waving sparklers until the early hours of the morning is one way to forget the woes of the weekday, that’s for sure.

After sleeping late, I met Sophie and Camilla for brunch and walkabout on the most beautiful, bright, bitterly cold day. We had hoped to get in at Holybelly, my favourite brunch spot, but an hour and a half wait was a bit excessive even though I know how good their dippy eggs are. Instead we went for bowls of warming soup and delicious open sandwiches at Poilâne, before Soph and I strolled through the Marais to Ile Saint-Louis. The perfect lazy Saturday, we then wandered down the Faubourg St Honoré past Colette, the incredible couturiers and some of the most gorgeous hotels in the city.

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I finished up my fantastic day with a stunning sunset walk among the Pyramids of the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. Views like this make living and working in this city worth it.

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Bisous,

S.X

Chanson du Jour: Often – The Weeknd

Date Night(s).

Moving to Paris has undoubtedly been less daunting and less stressful than moving to Barcelona was last year. Here, at least, I understand the language almost fluently. What is a daunting prospect, though, is the First Official Girl Date between new friends. Moving in with Lucie in January blessed me with a handful of her friends, and I have spent the past week cementing those friendships with hilarious and often slightly inebriated suppers.

My first was with Pip, delightful Aussie friend of Iso, who put us in touch over our shared love of food architecture. We had met briefly after my first brunch at Chez Alain, but we stayed in touch and last week, finally made dinner plans. Pip suggested Bouillon Chartier, an old former worker’s hall turned cavernous traditional French bistro. Coincidentally, as soon as I arrived I spotted Pete and Jordan (on a Bro Date) who, also, are new friends courtesy of Lucie. The restaurant was big, but boasted a vibrant atmosphere to match, and we spent much of our time people-watching and spying on what other people had ordered, rather than paying attention to the menu. In fact, we got so distracted and excited to see each other that the poor waiter had to come back three times before we were ready to order. The best part about Chartier, unquestionably, is the fact that you sit on shared tables of six people – as a couple of girls, we happily sat on the end next to a sweet Dutch couple who enjoyed their meal in relative silence.

Then, just as we were tucking into our mains, the Dutch couple were replaced by two French gentlemen who politely smiled as we shuffled to make room for them, before studying the menu intensely. As Pip and I simultaneously expressed our satisfaction with our meal (steak for her, perch fillets – Dorning family, I’m thinking of you! – for me) they politely enquired as to our choices before we both returned to our respective conversations. After some delightful and hilarious chatter washed down with our little carafe of wine, Pip and I looked longingly at their desserts – a little too longingly, it seemed. Without hesitation, they pushed over their pineapple platter and ice-cream profiterole before ordering the waiter to bring us more spoons for us to share. Safe to say, that was the beginning of the end. Another two whole bottles of wine, an internship organised for Pip by our new friend Sam, and an offer to fly over Paris for me (that I fully intend to capitalise on) from Serge the pilot, and mine and Pip’s First Official Girl Date was undoubtedly a resounding success. We even took photos.

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My second, last Thursday, was with Michi, a Durham-ite I hardly knew before Nick introduced us. We opted for Cambodian food (rogue but delicious) and ventured to Le Petit Cambodge for a bite to eat. Other than the fact that I was forty minutes late, the rest of our date passed without a hitch. It transpires Cambodian food is amazing – fresh veg, warming noodles with rich broth and marinaded meat – but we decided to top it off with a bottle of wine between the two of us (my John’s College Formal credentials are failing me, it seems I am no longer fit for wine consumption), and so anything would have seemed pretty amazing that night. Including the idea to go for cocktails afterwards. Unwilling to walk particularly far because of the tundra-like conditions outside and bitter gale-force winds, we discovered a heated patio opposite the restaurant that promised us 5€ caipirinhas. Anyone who knows my family knows we are all incapable of refusing a caipirinha if it’s on the menu and so we ensconced ourselves in the warmest corner and started the rounds – alco-blankets are a thing, no?

So, two incredibly successful First Official Girl Dates down, I deemed it officially time for the real deal. Tuesday night, Lauren and I went on a blind “Smeeting” date, with Julien and Elliott, two fun, charming Frenchmen. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails before moving on to something much, much more serious: table football. Let’s just say that in the future, I will never reveal competitive edge on the bébé foot table on a first date again…

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: So Lost – Ady Suleiman

November Weekends – A Picture-Heavy Post

Okay, so it turns out I’m really not great at keeping this up to date. It’s been another three weeks since my last post, and so much has happened since then I’m probably not going to be able to fit it all into just one blog post. But, naturally I thought I might as well try.

So the first weekend in November marked my return to Durham for Bailey Ball. While the night didn’t exactly go according to plan – still sheepish – I had a wonderful weekend catching up with all the familiar faces. After a post-ball recovery brunch over England-New Zealand and Wales-Australia, I headed out for a Flat White (where else) for a lovely coffee with Sam to swap stories of life outside of Durham. After the Grey College fireworks Saturday evening, Anna cooked us a delicious roast dinner (my first in months!) and fully warrants the title of domestic goddess after plying us all with copious quantities of Ben & Jerry’s.

my main "men"

my main “men”

all the laydeez

all the laydeez

Sunday morning I was treated to brunch at Nikki’s before the Remembrance Service in Durham Cathedral, which really was quite something. We were lucky enough to be seated surrounded by police and armed forces personnel and the service itself was very humbling. I’ve never been that big a fan of our national anthem (can I say that? Is that treason?) but hearing it sung by over a thousand people in a space like the Cathedral was inspiringly patriotic. We also watched the parade of armed forces walk from Palace Green to Market Square, where the new centenary statue stands.

Limes House girls like plaid and polos

Limes House girls like plaid and polos

Sunday evening, after a lovely drink and all-too-brief catch up with the Benenden girls (we did all turn up in the same outfit, completely by coincidence), Ed and I took a trip to Whiskey River and topped a great weekend off with some Urban Oven – I finally got my pizza. The next morning, after a slightly teary Starbucks with Flo and Paddy, and some complete miscommunication with Anna that left her stranded in the cold on Newcastle station platform – sorry, AJ – I hopped on my train south and returned to Gatwick for my flight. To console ourselves after our return, Liz and I made a beeline for Bacoa, for beers and burgers and a good, old-fashioned gossip.

I slotted right back into Barcelona life very easily – I’m a serious creature of habit and so having a fixed daily routine is fairly easy for me. That said, I haven’t been getting out of work until gone 7, so the weekend after my trip to Durham was incredibly leisurely. Liz, Alicia and I enjoyed cocktails and red velvet pancakes on Thursday evening, then on Friday after the gym I managed to pass out at 10.00 – great success. I had planned to spend Saturday ticking off all the food places I’d flagged up, but only made it to two, having slept late and eaten too much at the first to continue my food tour of Barcelona. Pathetic.

La Glace, for breakfast, because I forgot to eat

La Glace, for breakfast, because I forgot to eat

Copasetic, for lunch on my food tour

Copasetic, for lunch on my food tour

La Donuteria, second stop on the food tour

La Donuteria, second stop on the food tour

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Claudia, Danielle, their American friends from uni out here, Monique and Mikaela (from, of all places, Montana), and an extra special surprise, Bean! We had such a lovely meal at Copasetic (possibly the new Brunch & Cake, but that’s a bold statement) just catching up and swapping stories. The rest of the week passed fairly uneventfully, except, of course, bumping into Hot Guy From Work at the gym, post-beating my personal best time for a 7.5k. I have learned a new French phrase: je ruisselle de sueur – I’m running with sweat. Gross.

Friday we were blessed with the return of Luce from her exile at home while she’s been poorly, so we celebrated it in very appropriate style that is very much not appropriate for the internet. My intended leisurely Saturday was slightly corrupted, in the best way possible, so rather than take it easy and make a dent in my book (still The Goldfinch, still would recommend) I headed out to meet Liz, Maddy and Edris, from John’s, for some recovery churros. We spent a lovely afternoon taking the piss out of Renaissance art at the MNAC and tucking into a Spanish-style late lunch of pintxos and restorative beers.

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I had the added excitement of plans to see Emma, at dinner with Danielle and Hen. While I had absolutely no intention of going out, after two glasses of white wine and the most incredible dinner at BarcelonaMilano – out of the way but sensational, cannot emphasise enough – all of a sudden going out seemed like a brilliant idea. Made it to the hilariously named “Sutton”, which the Spanish pronounce like “futon”, which transpired to be a Mayfair-wannabe club with champagne girls and middle-aged men. Nevertheless, after not paying a thing to get in, we danced like freaks in the flamenco room then called it a night after raiding a 24-hour bakery – never has a pastel de nata tasted so good.

A dreamy Sunday was spent strolling Ciutadella Park with Luce, and Anna and Steph, who were visiting from Toulouse. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as we swapped woeful stories of our Bridget Jones-esque antics and watched an Adonis on a bike try to impress us with his BMX skills. Safe to say, it worked – Luce didn’t quite curtsy this time, but she did manage to stumble her words trying to say “Adios”, which was embarrassing enough to set all of us off in fits of giggles. It was like we were thirteen again.

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Then, Luce spontaneously whips out four tickets to a daytime party at Shoko, down on the beach. After convincing us by saying “Guys, it’s just like Gospel Project!” we swapped comfort for sparkles and headed down to Barceloneta to discover no, it was not at all like Gospel Project. Instead, Luce had negotiated us access to a salsa party – never have I felt so embarrassingly out of place in my life. We capitalised on the free cava and extraordinary people-watching, before calling it a – very early – night. An all-girls sleepover at Luce’s topped an excellent weekend off, watching chick flicks and eating macaroons. Just don’t tell them where they were from…

This week was slowwwww – after possibly my favourite weekend yet in Barcelona, returning to real life was a bit of a blow, and I spent much of Monday completely distracted, watching the window cleaner on the building opposite mine and pondering the legitimacy of pathetic fallacy as the first raindrops in quite some time struck the windows.

Fortunately, I’ve been treated with another amazing weekend this week – Mama Morrell was visiting from London, and we celebrated Hamish’s birthday, too. I’ll try and write a post about it, but don’t hold your breath; it might be another three weeks.

Bisous et besos. S. X

Adventures in Girona

We spent Sunday, October 19th in Girona, a small city north east of Barcelona. Having planned to get on the very exciting Alta Velocidad Española network, which runs at over 200km/h, we managed to turn up a the station two minutes late for the last train for two and a half hours.

We toyed with the idea of renting a car (such adventure!) before the boys got distracted in the FC Barcelona store and ended up buying match tickets for the AFC Ajax game. Sufficient time wasted, we bought our tickets for the slow train and hopped on fairly hassle-free.

Once we arrived in Girona, we realised quite how half-baked our plan was. We had no idea what was actually in Girona, let alone a map of the area; all we had was Dave reassuring us, “It’s supposed to be the Venice of Spain!”

Safe to say, when we finally came across the river, we were less than impressed: a dribble of water about five feet wide does not a Grand Canal make. Nevertheless, we powered on, and started climbing the wall that surrounds the city.

From here, we began to understand what there was to see in Girona: stunning views over the city and neighbouring mountains. I regularly made the team pose for cringe-worthy group shots. They endured them. What troopers.

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From where we started, the wall is modern and purpose-built, with rather lovely typical Spanish villas set into the hills behind it, but the further we walked, the older the wall became. On the inside of the wall, Girona sprawled out higgledy-piggledy in front of us: apartment blocks from all eras and in all shapes and sizes squeeze in next to countless ancient churches along hilly, winding streets.

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The main attraction in Girona is its spectacular cathedral, and we came across it almost by accident. Following the old wall (sounds like Game of Thrones, looks like Game of Thrones…) we wound up in a cool, shady garden.

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Photo 19-10-2014 23 50 23After following steps up, down and in all directions, we finally came to the cathedral. From the back, it is impressive in scale, yes, but not beauty. Then we made it to the sides and front of the building, and were blown away.

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Inside it was a bizarre mix of sombre grey stone and vast blank spaces and the ornate, decorative Catholic shrines with flickering candles reflecting in the gilded ornaments. Unsurprisingly, no photos were allowed inside – a crying shame because the stained-glass windows were spectacular.

I spent more time than others in the cloisters partly because I love a good cloisters – they always remind me of my favourite spot at school: lame, I know – and partly because the others managed to lose me and so while I was peacefully snapping pigeons drinking from the fountain, they were getting ready to eat their own arms off on the sun-warmed steps in the square outside.

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When I realised I was abandoned I had that horrible lost-your-mum-in-the-supermarket feeling and had to do that awkward brisk walk characteristic of an English person in an uncomfortable situation. Fortunately I didn’t have to look far, but by the time we were reunited we were all ravenous, signalling it was time to make the difficult decision of choosing a place to eat. Settling on an incongruous Mexican restaurant, we greedily tucked into nachos loaded with chilli con carne, guacamole, and sour cream. I’ve learnt a new phrase this week which is “J’ai un coup de barre” which literally means ‘I’ve been struck by a bar’ but the French use it to explain a carb coma or food baby – that sleepy sensation you get after a delicious meal.

Thus sated, we wandered the streets for a while, before rediscovering the river. All right, it is *slightly* Venice-y.

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After a quick ice cream pit-stop, we wandered through the streets in the early evening, and like any Spanish city, the town began to buzz with after-hours activity, which added to its charm. Plus, we got to take the AVE back to BCN. Such a good day.

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Brunches & BFFs

I was pretty relieved Wednesday night was a relaxed night – I had big plans for the weekend: Imy was coming! I picked her up from the airport on Friday evening (yes, I did cry) and we headed straight for La Rosa Negra for a catch up over margaritas and Mexican food. Look at how happy we are! (No margaritas consumed at this point.)

We’d both dressed intending to make it to The W for a cocktail, but by the time we’d finished dinner it was 1am – tea, presents and bed were a much more appealing prospect!

Having slept in until midday, food was obviously a priority. I knew exactly where I wanted to take Imy, somewhere I’d walked past regularly on my way to the gym (ironically) – Brunch & Cake.

Look at this:

That’s banana, Nutella and fruit compote on pancakes in the foreground, then wonderfully soft eggs Benedict on turkey and a waffle. Sounds so wrong, tastes so right. I promise I’ll take everyone who comes to visit.

We spent the afternoon strolling round El Gotico, peering into hidden courtyards and finding bargains in the boutiques. Safe to say, I’m not the greatest tour guide: with the winding streets and identical balconies, I got lost pretty quickly, and we ended up walking along the same street probably three or four times. Sorry, Imy! Luckily it’s pretty scenic, and we managed to find an incredible interiors store. It took every effort to walk out without buying anything.

After dinner at home, we headed out to meet the Durham gang again, but only stayed long enough to watch the boys to a Tabasco-laced shot, and watch American tourists drink themselves into a stupor at Le Cyrano. Cyrano is a bar where you pay a flat rate for a drink and then are given the bottle to serve yourself. Sounds great, is great.

The problem in Barcelona is that everything is shut on a Sunday, so I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, Imy and I are design nerds (her especially) so we made our way to the Mies Van der Rohe Pavillion, up on Montjuïc hill. It was so peaceful – we both walked away wanting to live in it.

Having walked back into the city and up La Rambla, stopping occassionally to look at interesting buildings or exciting food stores, we made our way up into L’Eixample, to an exciting destination.

That’s right, we went to Brunch & Cake’s sister restaurant, Cup & Cake, for the biggest donuts I’ve ever seen and frosty iced lattes.

All too soon, it was time for me to return Imy to the airport. It had been such a lovely, relaxed weekend, but I promise that the next time someone comes to visit me I will actually have an idea of what to do in the city…

S. X

Birthdays & Burgers

First things first:

Let me just say a massive thank you for all my birthday texts, messages, wall posts, cards, emails, tweets, and Whatsapps. It might not have been the wildest 21st birthday celebration ever, but I certainly felt a lot of loving, so thank you.

Along those lines, I just want to apologise to those of you who bought me presents and gave them to me early – I wasn’t able to bring out my birthday pressies so didn’t open them until this weekend. Thank you to everyone who helped prolong my birthday just a little bit longer. I feel very lucky.

The actual day was very, very laid-back. I baked a millionaire’s shortbread for the office, spent the day at work, and then headed to Bacoa for incredible burgers with the incredible gang. Look at this baby.

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That’s a pork burger with Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, and caramelized onion. And it was delicious. After dinner we headed to L’Ovella Negra, a vast tavern in El Raval for drinks, but the photos were a little blurry (for no reason whatsoever, I promise).

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A lovely surprise was having Claudia there (not pictured!), who I haven’t seen since leaving school. We had such a fab time catching up that I went round to her gorgeous rooftop terrace for a barbecue on Thursday night – grilled sausages, chicken skewers and my favourite Don Simon Sangria: of course it was going to be a good night!

S. X