Exploring Barbican Conservatory

The other week I finally got to visit the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of…” – no not NYC, but a real concrete jungle hidden within the walls of the Barbican.

Ok, ok the Barbican Estate itself isn’t a secret or hidden spot: the brutalist gem is home to an art gallery, theatre, cinemas aaaaaaaaand the botanical conservatory. It’s actually one of my favourite bits of London and whenever I’ve visited I’ve had sneak peaks of the greenhouse, but it’s taken me far too long to properly visit it. Main reason being is that it used only open on selected Sundays and you had to prebook – but recently they’ve flung open the doors to all each Sunday and on some Bank Holidays, with no booking required (plus it’s free!)

So what does London’s second biggest conservatory have to offer? Though its smaller than the expensive and rather remote Kew Gardens, you’ll find over 2000 different species of trees and plants as well as a special cacti and succulents corner. I’ve been to a number of botanical gardens and what makes this one stand out is the concrete backdrop which gives it a feel of a derelict place or setting for a dystopian world. It’s a great way to spend an unhurried hour being closer to nature without having to take the trek. If you’re a big fan and want an excuse to stay longer, they also offer Afternoon Tea amid the greenery.

Big shoutouts to the two little turtles that were chilling in their own private pool and the many colourful fish jostling with each other to get a massage from a water pipe. Plus the many, many photographers you’ll get to spot in their natural habitat. And who can blame them really? I mean look at it…

Overall, the Barbican Conservatory is small, cute and a lovely little reminder that even the greyest concrete can be beautified by nature.

London - travel

To Shoot Or Not To Shoot + Where To Take Guiltfree Photos In London

From Notting Hill in London and Rue Cremieux in Paris to Rainbow Row in Savannah, residents everywhere are complaining about people disturbing their day-to-day lives while holding photoshoots outside their front door. We’ve all been guilty of a snap or two in front of a colourful house, street art or cute doors. But who’s actually crossed the line and walked into someone’s porch, done a yoga pose leaning against a front door or even filmed a dance routine? And while it’s not exactly someone’s house, is trampling through flower fields for that perfect pixie photoshoot really worth it?

Is this an increasing phenomenon? We can all agree that articles like 12 Instagram Photo Spots in Paris That You Have To Visit, 15 Best Places to Take Pictures in London and 7 Pretty Cafes in New York are more and more ever-present, whether on blogs, or even bigger sites like CN Traveller and Visit London. I even recently read that 37% of Dutch people look for Instagrammable places to visit during a city trip – that’s quite a lot!

Now, of course this isn’t a new thing, remember picture postcards, seaside photo boards, and of course photographs in general (we’ve all got our horror stories of Auntie and Uncle bringing their holiday snaps to share), plus famous pop culture photo spots like the Beatles on Abbey Road and any movie set in Paris, New York or London. Today, the latest flavour is Instagram or your favourite social media platform of the month.

So why do we all want to snap ourself while on our travels? Is it for the memory, immortalising that moment, or for the likes? Either way, layouts, arranging people and composition can be a tough cookie to crack, especially if you’re in a bit of a rush, meaning it’s often so much easier to replicate something than to think of one yourself. Have you ever found a nice photo spot and suddenly found quite a few other people want to join and see what the fuss is all about?

William Shewell Ellis via Eastman Museum

This is definitely something Kodak must have realised when they introduced Kodak Picture Spots in the 1920s. Interestingly, the Kodak signs started as roadside markers across the US highlighting general points of interest to photograph, which helped popularise picture-taking behaviour. Then they found their way into Disney theme parks, national parks and historic landmarks. But now we’ve gone from helpful signs saying ‘Why not take a photo here?’ on landmarks and tourist sites to ‘No photos allowed’ to protect against people’s houses getting a tad overrun by influencers. So what’s the answer? Shooting-guilt free I reckon.

instagram photo spot Covent Garden London

Want to keep your shoot guilt-free?
How about keeping these in mind?

Covent Garden is frontrunner when it comes to curated photo opps that don’t invade people’s porches. It recently started off with flower-decorated swinging benches, but now includes seasonal curated corners as well as the Covent Garden Infinity Chamber, as well as sponsored sections which pop up from time to time. If you want all of these to yourself go out and explore it on Christmas Day, when it’s all empty.

The red phone boxes are the ultimate London landmark and as no one uses phones anymore, you’ll free as guilt-free as a zero-calorie ice-cream (but beware their aroma if you step inside!). You can find the famous red ones in Covent Garden (the market, and nearby Broad Court), Bloomsbury (Byng Place), Parliament Square and Smithfield Meat Market. There’s also a sponsored phone booth in Spitalfields Market that’s designed and placed with the aim for everyone to take a photo and display the big DW in the background.

Street art murals are perfect backdrops if you’re looking for something colourful. Some of the best examples include the Redemption Bar angel wings near Old Steet, the colourful Lakwena mural right behind Liberty in Carnaby Street, or pretty much all of Brick Lane. Don’t forget to credit the creator when posting these, it’s the least you can do.

For an overdose of photo-spot cuteness head to cafes like created-for-the-Gram Peggy Porchen, flowery heaven Dalloway Terrace or the pink perfection that is Sketch. They’ve built their identity around creating the perfect photo setting. So get yourself those overpriced scones or eclairs and take as many shots as you like.

Shall we make make an unwritten pact to not disturb, distress or bother people (or nature) in their natural habitats, even if it means missing out on that perfect snap?


Some Really Good Barcelona Food I Can’t Stop Thinking About

Last month I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Barcelona, most of which was spent enjoying food…lots of food. Here are some dishes I had which I still can’t stop thinking about!

Bunyols de Vent
Bunyols de Vent is Catalan’s answer to the doughnut…and it was one answer I couldn’t get enough of! All the more special was the fact I’m not a fan of deep-fried desserts – be that doughnuts, Dutch olliebollen or Spanish churros – but these deep-fried delicacies filled with custard and fennel seeds did the impossible and converted me…well just a bit.

Calçotada and sangria at Vinitus
The evening we walked into Vinitus I had my doubts about the place as in the middle of a busy street and looked too hip for tapas. But everything was so delicious, from the veggie croquetas and various potato dishes to the fried mini peppers and everything else I could cram into my mouth. But most of all two things stood out for me: the roasted spring onion/leeks that gave my taste buds pure joy and their Sangria with its secret ingredient that I’m still trying to track down for my own tipples back home.

Cheese and baguettes from La Boqueta Market
This market was fill to the brim with things I wanted to chow down on and take home in the bucketloads, but my pick had to be the three cheese mix and baguette that made my sunny picnic complete.

Croquettes at Sagrades Tannines
As croquettes are traditionally made with pork they’re usually off limits to me, so I was super happy to see chicken and cheese versions at Sagradas Tannines that I finally could order. The place also did a raclette type of potato dish that had my mouth watering.

Patatas Bravas at Enkel
Now Enkel isn’t a traditional place and offers everything your hipster brunch place back home has, so feeling obligated to order something local I opted for their patatas bravas with green chili sauce and garlic mayo … and boy I was happy I did! They were without a doubt the best ones I had in Barcelona and possibly even the world!

What holiday meals and treats do you still dream about?

Sustainable & Green

Slow, Ethical and Sustainable Fashion: A Quick Guide When You Don’t Know Where To Start + Affordable Sustainable & Ethical Clothing Brands

Sharing My Ethical Struggles with Anyone Who’ll Listen | Top: Ethically Made Jeans: Second-hand Sandals: Greenish

You’ve seen the ethical/sustainable fashion documentaries, you’ve read the facts and finally decided you’re done with fast fashion, but there’s still a few questions on your mind. I know, because I’ve been there, so here’s my quick guide to delving into the world of slow, ethical and sustainable fashion.

Sustainable? Ethical? Fair trade? I don’t know where to start…

You have to prioritise what you stand for. Do you want the clothes to be made under fair working conditions, from sustainable materials or all vegan? All three is possible too, no judging here. You set your borders dependable on where you are in life and what you can accomplish.

It’s a time-consuming, not convenient or shops don’t offer next day delivery.

Every change takes time, you’ll try, fail and learn but it’s really not as hard as you think. Even ASOS has green brands on their site – you just need to know which ones they are. To start with there’s Faithfull for boho style dresses and skirts, Matt & Nat for bags and even Monki jeans use 100% organic cotton so if that’s one of your priorities there you go. Zalando is one step ahead and has actually tagged their sustainable clothes. But you’ll need to do some research as they’ve tagged 100% ethical brands like ArmedAngels, Underprotection and Patagonia and slightly less green brands like Mango and GAP who are on there because they’ve done some kind of greenwashing (little ethical steps mainly used for marketing purposes).

I want to, but it’s too expensive.

Maybe it was a few years ago, but these days there are enough affordable brands out there. It’s not supposed to be super cheap, fast fashion has warped our values. With ethical and fast fashion you have to keep in mind that you’re paying for workers’ wages and for resources to be sustainable.

The Fine Art Of Slow Fashion | Jacket: Really Old Dress: Pre-loved & Altered Shoes: No excuse

Do I need to throw out my wardrobe?

Of course not, it’s about making things last. I’m wearing out my basics and replacing them with ethical versions as I go. And yes, some of the new items may cost a bit more but I’m hoping they’ll last longer. I also prioritise choosing for UK brands as I think it’s important that items don’t come from far away. I love what Everlane in the US is doing and have ordered from them, but now I stick to UK and Europe-based brands first.

What brands are the best?

Here’s my experience with some of the UK’s affordable sustainable and ethical brands:

People Tree – sustainable fashion brand you’ll see top every list as they are pioneers and offer everything from shirts to dresses and basic tops.

Lara Intimates – comparable to cheap ASOS lingerie, £20 for panties and £48 for a bra can be a bit more pricey, but if you keep in mind that it’s all produced in London using deadstock (leftover) fabric in an all female factory you can justify it. Go Lara!

Sisterhood – the UK answer to Reformation with dreamy dresses, boho shirts and flowery skirts … all made under fair conditions – but no sustainable materials are used – which may be a dealbreaker for some.

Thought – my go-to place for the softest basics. From socks to tights and tops all made from cotton, bamboo, and hemp.

Green on Green Action | Top: Ethically made Skirt: Vintage Shoes: Really old.

What about on trend items?

While you can purchase the latest trends with sustainable and ethical brands, this might hurt your bank balance as each season adds up. Why not opt for second hand, vintage or preloved? You could argue this is the best option in terms of waste, as the items are already in circulation. High street charity shops are your best bet for this option and thanks to Marie Kondo they should be full to bursting at the moment. Or if you prefer online, try DePop, eBay and Etsy. At the time of writing there are over 8000 results on eBay for slip dresses, all between £0.99 and £12. Also, most of them look like they’re original 90s garments, making them more unique and less likely for you to turn up at party with the same dress as your bestie. I do have some issues with second hand shops – but I’ll save that for another post.

It’s not making a difference

Don’t you dare! According to a recent study by Thredup, 56 million women bought second-hand products in 2018 compared to 44 million in 2017. That’s an increase of 12 million new second-hand shoppers! Now this is US data but we’re all copy the US, so I’m sure it’s the same (Western) world round.

What other worries do you have?

Travel Architecture

Architecture 101: Travel Edition

Ever looked up during a trip, possibly with a camera in hand and wondered why buildings look the way they do? What might surprise you is that a hell of a lot of how buildings look is due to the building process and materials available at the time, plus whatever was in the fashion of course!

To explain all this, here’s a chronological cheat sheet on the main types of European architecture, why they’re like that and, most importantly, where you can see them!


In Ancient Greece and Rome, the heavy weight of stones meant big thick pillars and walls were necessary, with rounded, circular arches to distribute the weight; plus, buildings adhered to classical proportions (golden ratio), meaning they never got too tall compared to their width, and let’s not forget an obsession with straight lines, including the pediment – the triangular front of the roof. While they did stick to tradition In Ancient Greece and Rome, the heavy weight of stones meant big thick pillars and walls were necessary, with rounded, circular arches to distribute the weight; plus, buildings adhered to classical proportions (golden ratio), meaning they never got too tall compared to their width, and let’s not forget an obsession with straight lines, including the pediment – the triangular front of the roof. While they did stick to tradition, However, the Romans also had incredible innovations – such as concrete, which allowed for the Dome at the Pantheon; but sadly, the recipe for it was lost, and concrete wouldn’t resurface again as a major building material until the 14th century. You’ll recognise the rounded, circular arches in places like the Colosseum in Rome, the Aqueduct of Segovia in Spain and the Arch of Hadrian in Jordan, while the huge columns adorn temples like the Parthenon in Athens, Pantheon in Rome and the Temple of Augustus in Pula, which also have triangular pediments on the front.



After the fall of Rome, most major pieces of Western European architecture were based on designs dating to the Classical period, often called ‘Romanesque’. They kept the circular arches, big columns and thick walls as there weren’t any better ways to build and Classical styles were held in high esteem. Some great examples include the Church of St George in Sofia, Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi, Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and pretty much any old church in Eastern Europe!

Further East, however, Roman Byzantine architecture saw influences from the Middle East plus a new building method (pendentive) which allowed big domes to be placed atop rooms, put to great effect in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (537AD). Speaking of the Middle East, Islamic architecture probably deserves its own post, but it includes pointed arches, large domes and courtyards, with an emphasis on flat decorations as religious sculptures are prohibited. Some fine examples include The Alhambra in Granada, the Taj Mahal and the Uzbek city of Bukhara. As we head towards the turn of the century, aided by better materials and designs, European designers began to throw off classical proportions and ratios to reach for the skies, which would eventually result in…


Now as we move past the turn of the century, the next big step in Europe was a name you may familiar with…Gothic! We’re not talking eyeliner, died black hair and Evanescence on repeat but Gothic architecture. Named for the Goths who ruled parts of Western Europe after Rome fell, this style was all about new building methods, allowing for even taller towers, thin walls and big windows, allowing for more stained glass than you can shake a stick at. These amazing new building methods were:

  • ribbed vaults – now they aren’t ribbed for pleasure, but rather enabled buildings to reach greater height and even held up part of the weight to the ceiling, allowing for thinner walls (before ceilings were held up nearly entirely by the walls and interior pillars).
  • pointed arches – possibly influenced by Islamic architecture, the pointed arch, as opposed to the Classical circular ones, reduced stress on the walls, allowing them to be reduced in side.
  •  buttresses (often flying) – sadly they don’t allow the building to fly, but these are outdoor wall supports help hold up support the walls of the building and the flying ones are special arched versions.
  •  tracery – these are stone-works which support the glass in windows, the most famous being the intricate circular ‘rose’ window – one of the most famous being at Strasbourg Cathedral.

All of these building methods meant the walls could be thinner and have a lot more glass windows as they no longer had to support the whole weight of the ceiling, meaning a lot more light, plus big giant interior pillars weren’t needed anymore so there was a lot more space, especially as buildings got taller and taller. On top of these features, ornate details were also added, like pinnacles/spires, finials and stone sculptures, including those famous Gargoyles we were all scared of as kids. While the most famous early Gothic church was the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris, other ones you may have snapped or spotted include Westminster Abbey in London, Notre-Dame in Paris and St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague


As we hit the 1400s, the Renaissance style began to flourish – it looked back to Classical/Roman styles with columns, domes and enclosed courtyards, plus an emphasis on symmetry and flat exteriors returning – out went the pointed windows and rounded circular shapes for arches and windows returned. You may recognise famous examples like the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Tempietto di Sann Pietro in Montorio and Antwerp City Hall.
Fun factthe Dome of Florence Basilica actually combines both Gothic and Renaissance – which makes sense as it was built from 1296-1436, yes it took 140 years!

Baroque and Rococo

Baroque and Rococo were next on the scene in the late 1500s, becoming more grand, provocative and over the top and coinciding with the Counter-Reformation and celebration of Catholicism, so we’re talking the return of lots of ornaments, curved exteriors, double columns, and broken pediments (pediments broken with a gap and/or ornament). Great examples include Palace of Versailles (1682), Karlskirche Vienna and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Rococo was similar to Baroque, but with less heavy-handedness, resulting in less imposing buildings.
Fun fact St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City – mixes both Renaissance and Baroque, having been built from 1506-1626 – 120 years! Talk about a lot of builder tea/coffee breaks…]


As we near the last steps on our architectural journey through time, we reach the modern era, which featured the return of two old favourites – Classical and Gothic. Helped by the popularity and public interest on the excavations of ancient ruins in Rome and Greece, classical architecture returned in full force – referred to as Neoclassical. So again, we were faced with blank stone walls, free-standing columns, domes and temple like structures, as well as square windows and lots of symmetry. Places in this style you might know include the White House in Washington DC, the Pantheon in Paris and the British Museum in London.

Gothic Revival


Alongside this resurgence was another comeback kid – Gothic, or Gothic Revival as it was known. Seen as a return to an idealised religious past, in the face of fears of modernity, industrialisation and the age of enlightenment, this saw ribbed vaults, pointed arches, buttresses and tracery all back in force, with as many ornaments as you could stick a place. You might recognise this style at the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, St Pancras Station, and Brussels City Hall, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Perth Town Hall and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai.
Fun fact – Cologne’s Cathedral began as Gothic when its constructed started in 1248, but was finished in Gothic Revival when it was finally fully completed in 1880, some 612 years later! Milan’s Cathedral was very similar too, having taken some 600 years to build. Both took so long to be completed, they saw their initial architectural design come back into fashion.


Modernist architecture is a bit all over the place, so there’s quite a bit to explain. Industrial architecture, with its plain, functional style, was dominant from the 1750s onwards, with factories and warehouses still visible today (though likely converted into expensive apartments). Iron-frames, often with glass, became the in thing, used on bridges, train stations, shopping arcades and greenhouses, though the Eiffel Tower is probably the most famous. Iron was then chucked out in favour of steel, which allowed for early skyscrapers, like NYC’s Flatiron and the Tribune Tower in Chicago, both of which took on influences from Gothic/Renaissance.

In contrast to the sleek towers, Art Nouveau grew in popularity (1890-1910), with over the top decorative designs, with curved walls, balconies and ornaments inspired by nature. While Barcelona has the best examples (Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and Casa Mila), you can also spot this style at the Majolikahaus in Vienna, the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest and The Old England House in Brussels.

Shunning the natural forms of Art Nouveau, Art Deco rose for a brief spell in the spotlight, returning to classically-influenced straight lines and plain, clean geometric shapes, taking influenced from everything from Cubism, Baroque and Asia. New York is the place to be for Art Deco, with the Empire State, Rockefeller Center and Chrysler Building all giving you an eye-full of architecture. Elsewhere, the Parkinson Building in Leeds, Senate House, Florin Court and Tate Modern in London are worth catching.

Next up was Bauhaus, which understandably grew out of Germany – Weimar, Dessau and Berlin to be specific. It aims for the plain so no ornaments, and often features intersecting horizontal and vertical lines, intending to fuse function and design. The best example is the Bauhaus building in Dessau, followed by Fagus Factory in Lower Saxony, and the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart.


As we’ve said many times through this, building materials and methods are the main things which dictate how buildings look, and this is no better shown in Postmodern architecture – where the technology finally allowed buildings to pretty much do anything they wanted in any style. You want an inside-out building? You got it (Centre Pompidou, Paris and Lloyd’s Building, London). In the 1970s, the rise of Brutalism, which used a lot of concrete, saw bold, stripped back geometric designs back in fashion, though even today they are controversial – people love ’em or hate ’em! Brutalist gems you may want to see include NYC’s Guggenheim Museum, the Southbank area in London, and Les Étoiles in Ivry-sur-Seine in Paris.

At the moment, new buildings tend to be focused on as much glass as possible, and as far into the clouds as you can reach (the Shard, the Burj, 1 WTC, etc) but who knows what will be next!? My bets are on giant edible buildings, just like Hansel and Gretel!