Saturday, 26 September 2015

Siddhartha- Hermann Hesse

I stumbled across 'Siddhartha' whilst perusing the India section of Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street and what a find it was. 

The introduction by Paulo Coelho perfectly encapsulates why this story is so appealing to so many people, he puts in a way that is far more eloquent than I ever could: 

'It's simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generations that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth- their own truth.'

Siddartha is a story of discovery and acceptance. He experiences everything, from the discipline of becoming a brahmin, the harsh reality of asceticism, the sensory pleasures of love and attachment. He loses everything, sometimes by choice and sometimes not, all in order to find out what is most important in life. I loved the dream like narrative of the novel and the very human experiences of Siddhartha despite his status as an (on/off) holy man. 

This summer I have been reading through the Buddhacarita by Aśvaghoṣa, a Sanskrit work on the life of the Buddha. Of course, these are completely different works, one depicting and honouring the life of the Buddha and the other following the journey of one of Buddha's contemporaries. But there are obvious parallels between Hesse's 'Siddhartha' and the actual story of the Buddha-apart from the themes of going from home to homelessness, renouncing worldly goods etc, both aim to depict of a journey of discovery. (If this a discovery of the Self or not is debatable.) What I found most interesting is that despite the Buddhacarita being an epic, written in the second century CE and 'Siddhartha' being a work of fiction from the 1920s, I felt far more touched by Hesse's writing. Perhaps this is because I have read too much kavya (for my liking) so wasn't able to connect with the text in the same way that I was able to with the somewhat modern novel, written in a style that is familiar to me.

All of my favourite books have depended entirely on the time and frame of mind that I was in when I read them. I'm so glad that I decided to go downstairs to the travel section of Daunt on that rainy Monday because 'Siddhartha' came to me at the perfect time. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Best Flat White in West London

And so the the pursuit for the best flat white continues. I must add a disclaimer here that I have a soft spot for a few of these coffee spots. I love the west end and I love coffee- here's how these overpriced milky coffees fare compared to their east end counterparts.

Let's start with Tap Coffee, just off Oxford street. They have a minimalist wooden interior with a big sink for cold drinks and sandwiches and pastries at the front. An interesting combination of up-cycled objects and wooden slabs. You order your coffee on one side and get given a little playing card as a number so they can bring you your drink or you can go to the takeaway bar on the other side to watch their coffee drips and get your coffee to go. I really like the ambiance of this place and think it's great for going with a friend to chit chat away or take along your laptop and blend in with all the other solo Mac book users who are busy working on their latest internet start up company as they sip on a cold brew coffee. The coffee itself is fine. There is no wow factor for me but it's very drinkable and not acidic at all. A fine flat white. 

193 Wardour Street

Next up is Caravan coffee. A bit tucked away behind Kings Cross Station but a short walk away from Camden Market, Caravan had its own in house roastery. The set up of Caravan is very industrial- the coffee bar is partitioned off from the rest of restaurant with the exposed roastery on the other side, scattered with bags on bags of fresh beans. The price of a flat white here is a bit of a shocker and the size of it is rather small. For some reason everything inside me wanted to dislike this coffee but I just couldn't. I really liked it. Smooth, creamy and rich- my perfect trio. This ticked all of the boxes for me.

1 Granary Square
Price: £2.60

And then we move on to the Monocle Cafe. There are l only two- one on Chiltern Street, just off Marylebone High Street and one in Tokyo. I am particularly fond of the Monocle Cafe, not just because of the All Press beans that they use here but also because of happy memories I've had there. My family and I would go every Sunday before going to the farmers market (which is in a car park and not very glam at all). I also went to the Monocle Cafe the day before I set off to university and I can remember sitting outside with a flat white and a humungo cookie and thinking about how my life would have changed by the next time I would be back there. The cafe is a physical manifestation of all the components that make the Monocle magazine so chic- this place is a haven for monocle readers and coffee lovers alike. Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away here. Back to the coffee. All Press beans are consistently good- they produce a rich flat white, undoubtedly pleasant and a strong staple. 

18 Chiltern Street
Price: £3 (I know... I know.)

So here is my tiny sample of West London's finest flat whites. Taste wise I'm going to say that I enjoyed the Caravan sample the most but in reality I will always go back to the Monocle Cafe because I love the familiarity of the place. But this is not the end! My ULTIMATE favourite flat white deserves a whole post in itself. Watch this space. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Travel Diaries: Lari, Italy

Lari is a small town in Tuscany which we ended up visiting three times. A quiet enclosed hamlet which gave off a local but welcoming feel, Lari felt a little different to the other Tuscan towns we had visited. 

The houses were crumbling a little and the bricks were worn but this only added to the charm of the place. I loved the colour of this blue door- the old man living inside the building started shouting something when he saw me taking a photo but I have no idea what he was saying.

The view from the town centre in Lari.

I had my favourite coffee that I had in Italy here in this little local cafe. A rich Americano which I ended up adding a little bit of milk and sugar to for the perfect coffee pick me up.

I also got a snack here from this local deli- you go up to the counter and choose what ham or cheese you want and they make a sandwich for you. This set up reminded me a lot of afternoon papa secos that I've had in Portugal. 

Lari is a small and quite secluded town. We were there in September so perhaps it gets busier during the summer months in the peak holiday season but I can't imagine what it must be like to live there. Going to the same couple of shops and restaurants that are open there and seeing the same people every day. We went for dinner in Lari and saw the youth of the town sitting around playing on their phones and riding around on their bikes- even though they live in the most beautiful part of Italy with the rolling Tuscan hills just outside their window, I couldn't help but think that life here might get a little mundane. 

But back to that dinner in Lari.

I started with the warm ewes milk cheese with fig jam and walnuts. Creamy and delicious, the fig jam was a perfect a compliment  to cut through the heavy cheese.

A selection of local Tuscan meats. We were particularly impressed by the fennel salami (don't want to sound like THAT person but Carluccios do a very good fennel salami which my family always get at Christmas time). 

Then I had the spicy tomato spaghetti with ricotta cheese. This cheese was unlike any ricotta I have ever tried before. It doesn't look like much but this spaghetti certainly cleared the sinuses with its hot peppery and chilli sauce. The spaghetti used at this restaurant is made in the pasta factory next door- you can buy this pasta all over Tuscany. 

For the secondi we shared a caprese salad with capers. I can't say that I'm a massive fan of capers, they are a little too salty for me but the mozzarella here was lovely. 

And then for dessert. A warm ricotta and chocolate tart. This was so good but I was reaching bursting point by now from the countless number of courses. I would love to know what modern Italian families eat at home everyday. Surely they can't have a starter, primi, secondi and dessert!? If I lived in Italy I would most certainly be obese because how can anyone resist the overwhelming temptation that comes with Italian food!?

If you are staying in Tuscany then Lari is well worth a visit. There isn't too much to do apart from walk up the castle and look around it but it makes for a nice morning or afternoon visit if you are on the way to Pisa or Volterra. Lari is easy to over look but it felt like the most lived in and homely town we visited.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Travel Diaries: Florence

I've been in Italy for a week now! We're staying in the beautiful Tuscan countryside but have had a couple of day trips to Siena and Florence. I went to Florence with no real expectations and left ictching to go back. The combination of ancient Roman relics, wonky old buildings, unreal food and the hustle and bustle of a modern city drew me in.


Naturally, our first pit stop was at a coffee bar to get a cappuccino and a pastry before we set off to explore the city. 


None of us felt like standing in the heat for three hours to get inside the cathedral so we admired it's beauty from the outside. The architecture in Florence is so completely different from the concrete jungle that I'm used to in London. As a self confessed London lover it felt strange to fall a little bit in love with another city. 

Can anyone really say no to gelato? We tried out this organic gelato shop which made their own fresh waffle cones. I chose a scoop of chocolate&hazelnut and coffee. If I had to describe this gelato in one word it would be: creamy. 

The view from the bridge overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. 

LUNCH TIME! This Frutti Mare spaghetti was delicious. Fresh clams and mussels tossed into fresh pasta with a garlicky sauce- havenly. 

Then to the Uffizi gallery. I've been spoilt by countless trips to the V&A and The National Portrait Gallery as a child so I always feel like I've seen the same artifacts again and again. Going to museums and galleries in other cities is so exciting because you get to see everything for the first time. I fell in love with Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' and 'Primavera'. I'm not gonna go into pretentious art speak because I'm no art historian but I really did love them. The Uffizi is way to big to conquer in one visit and I didn't get to see the statue of David- so I suppose that means I'll have to make another trip back to Florence at some point.