I'm very lucky that I get to call Ireland my second home because it really is one of my favourite places in the entire world, especially the north of Co. Antrim where my family have a house. Every time I visit I get to check out favourite locations from my childhood, as well as visiting something new.
It's also given me the unique perspective of experiencing how Game of Thrones has had a dramatic impact on tourist numbers, something I have very mixed emotions over. Once quiet and tranquil spots where I spent my summers running around are now overrun with coach tours. The surge in tourism has had an amazing impact on the country's economy but does it come at a price? Cities like Amsterdam and Dubrovnik have complained about the growing stress of tourism, and this uncomfortable mass of people is something I recently experienced in Lisbon. Northern Ireland has a limit as well and I really hope we don't reach a point where the magic of this country is spoilt by vast numbers of visitors. That being said, Northern Ireland is still full of stunning scenery and I am forever encouraged to find new spots and hidden gems amongst the usual sights. One of my very favourite areas is the Causeway Coast, a 120 mile stretch of coast from Belfast to Derry. To me, this area of the country holds everything I love so dear about Ireland. Rolling green hills make the perfect backdrop to dramatic landscapes, lush coastlines, and a myriad of folklore and fantasy. The route can be easily driven in one day but that won't give you enough time to get out of the car and properly look at everything. Instead, give yourself two or three days as the real beauty of the coast is the landscape you see on foot.
For all the best things to see en route, enjoy my guide to Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast. And, if you're interested in snooping around my Irish home, Michelle has a brand new In The Kitchen With post from our Dream Team Northern Ireland getaway last summer.
Belfast With so many flights in and out of the two airports in Belfast, Northern Ireland is a very easy place to get to. Start in the capital and slowly make your way along the coast to Derry, Once you reach Northern Ireland's second city, you can cut across in-land and save yourself some time as you drive back to Belfast.
Despite calling Belfast home for the first couple years of my life, I haven't spent a great deal of time here since. Other than day trip here and there, it's not a place I know incredibly well. When I go to Ireland my priority is the great outdoors, plus none of my family are actually based in the capital. That being said, Belfast is a fantastic place, steeped in history and tell tale signs from Northern Ireland's turbulent past. And now this historic city has become one of the UK's most exciting places to visit thanks to burgeoning food scene and an impressive selection of cultural activities. Whether you're visiting the incredible Titanic Belfast museum in the Titanic Quarter, or the lovely Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens in the University Quarter, there's a lot to keep you busy for a day or two. For food and drink I like Home for comforting meals, Pablos for burgers, Oh Donuts for sweet treats, and Boundary Brewing for craft beer.
There's plenty more things to keep you busy in Belfast, but my advice is to get out of the city as quickly as you can and focus your time on the coast.
Belfast to Waterfoot When you're ready to leave Belfast head to the coast via the A2. This part of your Causeway Coast journey isn't the most dramatic but it will give you some insight into Northern Ireland's past as you drive through a variety of Unionist and Republican towns. The first major stop is Carrickfergus Castle but despite dating back to 1177 it isn't the most impressive place to visit. Continue driving until you reach Ballygalley. From here you can take a little detour inland, via Cairncastle, to the Antrim Hills Way car park for a lovely view over the surrounding valley. Back to the coast let the A2 lead you to Glenarm where you can visit the beautiful Glenarm Castle and Walled Gardens. The castle has been home to the Earls of Antrim for 400 years, and whilst it's not usually open to the public, you can explore the beautiful walled gardens. As you continue along the coast you'll pass picturesque Carnlough Harbour before arriving at the beach side village of Waterfoot.
Glenarrif Forest Park When you reach Waterfoot you absolutely have to take a diversion inland on the A43 to the glorious Glenarrif Forest Park. Known as the Queen of the Glens, Glenarrif is the largest, and most beautiful valley in Antrim. Driving from Waterfoot towards the park offers stunning scenery as the glen cuts dramatically through the countryside. Once you reach the park you'll be able to embark on a series of walks. The 1.5 mile Waterfall Walk, and 0.6 mile Rainbow Trail detour, begin with a very steep descent from the car park to the bottom of gorge. You'll pass spectacular waterfalls as you follow the boardwalk to the Manor Lodge, returning to the car park up a steep forestry track. The walk up and down the gorge are steep but the short hike is more than worth it.
Waterfoot to Cushendun Once you've had your fill of waterfalls, head back to Waterfoot along the same road and follow the coast further north. Look out for the ruins of Red Bay Castle on top of the hill as you leave Waterfoot, pass through the cute village of Cushendal, and follow the directions for Cushendun. The scenery here in this part of the country is stunning as you pass through the various glens of Antrim and the coast becomes more dramatic. Park up in Cushendun to spend an hour checking out the mysterious caves and traditional Irish pub, Mary McBrides.
Cushendun to Ballycastle Instead of taking the A2 out of Cushendun, take Torr Road, signposted 'Scenic Route', a narrow road that tightly follows the coast. You'll ascend to the top of the glen, and whilst thia cliff top route isn't for the faint of heart, the views are absolutely worth it. Smaller roads lead off to various points of interest.
The first side road will bring you to Torr Head, a rocky headland where you find the ruins of a 19th- century coastguard station and views over to the Mull of Kintyre.
The second side road will bring you to Murlough Bay, one of my favourite places along the coast. You will approach Murlough Bay via a narrow road that brings you to the top of the cliff, which you'll be able to drive down. The drive is steep, winding, and not for nervous driver buts the views are spectacular. It's the sort of place that pictures don't do justice, especially if you only ever manage to visit when the weather is crap like me. As you ascend to the coast you'll come across some ruined miners' cottages; coal and chalk were once mined in the cliffs above, and burned in a limekiln to make quicklime.
The third and final road will bring you to Fair Head where you can embark on a 5km return hike across the dramatic cliffs that make this part of the coast so spectacular. Back in the car continue along the Scenic Route until you reach the charming town of Ballycastle.
Ballycastle and Rathlin Island If you were able to leave Belfast bright and early for the first day of your Causeway Coast adventure, you should be able to get most of these activities done therefore making Ballycastle a great place to spend your first night on the road. This charming little town has a lovely seafront and picturesque high street that'll keep you busy for a couple of hours. Brunch at sourdough specialists Ursa Minor is a real treat plus you'll find the best chips in Northern Ireland at Morton's and locally made ice cream at Mauds.
If you have time, a day trip to nearby Rathlin Island is great. The ferry leaves from Ballycatle Marina and only takes 40 minutes. Day trippers aren't allowed to bring cars onto the island but there is a local bus. Once on the island you'll be able to explore the main village around the harbour, discover the puffins at RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, and hike to the east and south lighthouses. With a population of approximately 150 people, Rathlin is super secluded compared to the mainland, helped in part by the dramatic cliff that snake around the island. The views from the bus en route to the west lighthouse are really breathtaking.
Dark Hedges Northern Ireland's famous tree lined avenue is only a ten minute drive inland from Ballycastle but thanks to Game of Thrones tourism it's usually heaving with tourists. Visit first thing in the morning, or just before sunset, if you want to avoid the crowds. The impact of Game of Thrones tourism is most prevalent at the Dark Hedges, of the 150 beech trees originally planted in the late 18th-century, less than 90 remain. A combination of bad weather, increased traffic causing pressure on the roots, and graffiti from visitors has caused many of the trees to fall. The road is now closed to cars but that doesn't stop vandalism from visitors. Despite the damage, the avenue is still extraordinarily atmospheric and it's worth spending some time walking the full length of the road. Most visitors congregate at the end by Gracehill House but if you spend a couple of minutes walking to the far end of the avenue (it's not very long) it's a lot quieter.
Ballycastle to the Giant's Causeway Once you're ready to hit the road again, leave Ballycastle via Whitepark Road, signposted 'Causeway Coastal Route' and follow the coast. This is when the coastal attractions really start to amp up as there is so many wonderful things to see.
First stop is the ruins of 16th-Century Kinbane Castle. A long staircase will take you from the car park right down to the water's edge where you'll discover these incredible located ruins. There's even a lovely waterfall which took me by compete surprise on my first visit. The climb back to the car park takes a little effort..
Long time, no blog. I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I last published something. But it's not without trying, I have plenty of half finished drafts in varying degrees of completeness sat in my posts folder. I haven't fallen out with the blogging world so to speak, but I have found that updating my blog has dropped off my list of priorities. This makes me sad. I love writing here and I have so many things I want to share. Perhaps I'm overwhelmed, so many blog posts but so little time. But I want to do better. I still love food, travel, and life in London and I want to continue talking to anyone who'll listen. I'm not promising anything other than I will try to be better, for my own sake.
So an update on my life. The end of 2018 was a busy one for Steve and me. We travelled a lot, Norway for my birthday in October, Lisbon in November because why the hell not, Amsterdam in November for a gig, Prague in December for our anniversary, and Paris for a few days after Christmas because I love to visit Paris every year. And that's not even talking about the half of 2019 we've just experienced. Two trips to Ireland and weekends in Glasgow and Bristol. Doesn't sound too busy but that's because our holiday quota is about to begin. Stockholm, Dublin, a week in the Faroe Islands and Copenhagen, Geneva, two weeks in Mexico, Ireland again, and Germany. Maybe even a day trip to Paris, because I love to visit Paris every year.
Phew, I feel exhausted just typing all of that. But of course I'm not complaining, it's been wonderful, except Lisbon but that's a story for another day.
Norway was a particular highlight. My last visit had been 2013, just before I met Steve, and I couldn't wait to show him the fjords and the idyllic Nordic landscapes. Scandinavia really is my favourite part of the world. But to top of the year, Steve had a surprise for me. On the evening of our fifth anniversary, whilst we stopped on a hill overlooking the beautiful city of Prague, Steve got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Obviously I said yes. The date is set for June 2020, in our home city of London, and I am 100% determined to make this planning process as stress free as possible. We're booking things little by little, including our six week long honeymoon across Canada.
As for 2019, I'm not one for big resolutions, plus it's a bit late for that now, but I'm determined to finally wear in my Dr Martens, go for more runs than I did in 2018 (I did one run in 2018), and continue to cut down my waste and live a more sustainable life. Thanks for staying with me, despite my sporadic blogging, and here's to not going another nine months blog free.
There was only ever one contender for where we would stay in Bali, and that was Canggu. My sister Helen has been living there for over two years and her stories of beach bars, cool cafes, and relaxed vibes instantly sold the town to me. Bali was never a huge wish list destination for me, the tales of drunk teenagers and raging beach parties isn't really the holiday vibe I go for, but Helen assured me that Canggu is not like this, and she's absolutely right. Once a secluded surfing spot, the town is now a busy haven of local businesses, whilst still retaining that relaxed and easy-going energy that makes SE Asia such a wonderful part of the world to visit.
Canggu, pronounced Chan-gu, is most definitely Bali's current slice of cool. It lacks the overrun resorts of Kuta and the hecticness of Seminyak, whilst boasting excellent surfing conditions, beautifully secluded accommodation, and some of the best food on the island. If I ever return to Bali I'll be back to Canggu in a blink of an eye.
Here's my guide for everything you need to know about this great, little town.
Where to sleep
There's just something about Bali that makes you want to stay in a private villa and fortunately Canggu has plenty of lovely, affordable options. We headed straight to Airbnb and found this beautiful two-bedroom villa for less than £100 a night. With our own private pool, and daily cleaning schedule, we had all the perks of a hotel whilst enjoying a huge amount of space and privacy. Our pool was just the right temperature and made for a refreshing dip after a day in the heat. The beds were a dream plus the mosquito net canopies made us feel like royalty. Washing in an open air shower was a beautiful experience and one I wish I could recreate on all my future holidays, and don't worry, you have complete privacy whilst doing this. And the lounge area, with it's sliding glass doors, was the perfect space for evening relaxation and enjoying takeaway from a local warung.
The villa's location was perfect too, being only a stone's throw away from the main street and a short walk to the beach. People don't really walk in Indonesia. It's very much a scooter dominated country, and Canggu is no exception. The roads aren't built for pedestrians i.e. there are no pavements, and due to the heat, walking isn't a pleasant experience anyway. However, the location of our villa meant we could quickly and easily walk to the local cafes and bars without too much of a worry, or turning into a puddle of sweat.
There is an enormous amount of choice for eating in Canggu, whether you're after Aussie run all-day cafe vibes, or local cuisine. I knew I wanted to indulge in the western style brunches during the day and Indonesian food come the evening and Canggu was the perfect place to make this happen. Canggu is also incredible for vegetarian and vegan food. Many cafes are strictly vegetarian, and those that aren't serve a huge amounts of meat-free options. Even Indonesia food is a very vegetarian affair. Non-dairy milk is available everywhere which makes Canggu extremely accessible for most diets.
Smoothie bowls are synonymous across Bali for their fresh taste and photogenic appearance, and it is all thanks to Nalu Bowls. Originally sold as pre and/or post surf fuel in Hawaii, Nalu opened the very first smoothie bowl shack in Bali and still remains one of the best on the island. The Canggu cafe is charming with it's beach shack style appearance and quiet roadside location. The menu offers a ton of different options with the Uluwatu being a firm fan favourite. The dragoon fruit, banana, papaya, raspberry, and apple juice smoothie is topped with homemade granola, banana, dragon fruit, strawberries, mango, coconut flakes, and honey. All the bowls are named after famous surfing waves.
Jl. Batu Mejan No.88A, Canggu Open 7:30am - 6pm daily
The Shady Shack
Shady Shack is an all-day vegetarian cafe situated next to a picturesque rice paddy in a quiet part of Canggu. The cafe is is an assortment of little canopies and even though you're technically outside, the canopies provide ample shade, hence the name. The menu is extensive with options ranging from classic style brunches to veggie burgers and more substantial meals. I thoroughly enjoyed our meal here and would recommend getting down early for breakfast as it's a popular spot.
Jl. Tanah Barak No.57, Canggu Open 8:30am - 11pm daily
Crate is top of the list for hipster hang out spots in Canggu. It was probably the cafe I was looking forward to visiting the most, before turning out to be my least favourite breakfast spot in town. With an exceedingly cool industrial vibe and a menu offering 'grammable smoothies and big plates of tasty food, things are going to get busy. And that was my problem with Crate, it was hectic as hell. It took us two attempts to visit as the first time we tried there wasn't a free table in sight. I did enjoy our meal but I found the place a little too busy. I think the key to enjoying your time at Crate is to get there very early or very late as brunch time is when the cafe is at it's busiest.
Jl. Padang Linjong, Canggu Open 6am - 5pm daily
Betelnut was situated right around the corner from our villa and was the very first place we visited for brunch. We grabbed a table on the upper floor so we could look out across the main road and watch the world go by. The menu is full of delicious, traditional brunch options with a Bali twist. I loved the avocado on toast and tropical smoothie bowl, although this was the moment I realised I'm allergic to almond milk. The cafe is the perfect spot to chill out and people watch, it feels positively tranquil compared to other brunch locations in town.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.60, Canggu Open 8am - 10pm daily
Poke Poke and Roti Canai
Poke Poke is a cute little cafe and takeaway spot that sells wonderful poke bowls. They share a space with Roti Canai who, you've guessed it, serve roti wraps. We managed to grab poke bowls just before we left Bali for Lombok and I'm glad we did because they taste great. With a variety of toppings you can choose from a range of different recipes. The bowls are hearty, fresh, and make a perfect lunch in the heat. They also do the cutest looking poke donuts but were unfortunately out of stock the day we visited. We didn't try anything from Roti Canai but both my sisters assure me that the wraps are delicious.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.58, Canggu Open 10am - 11pm daily
When it comes to Indonesian food, the best place to pick it up is from the local street food vendors, known as warungs. Each warung specialises in a dish, they're cheap and tasty, and the perfect thing to take back to your villa or eat on the go. We visited a great suckling pig warung in Canggu but it didn't really have a name, nor can I remember where it is. Suckling pig is a Bali delicacy, Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, except Bali which is a Hindu island, meaning it's one of the few places in the country you can buy pork. If you're after a 'proper restaurant' to grab some local food then you must absolutely check out BarK. The restaurants sells everything from fried chicken (ayam goreng), sate, fried rice (nasi goreng), and tempe to name a few dishes. We ordered a bit of a feast to takeaway so we could relax in our villa that evening and it was a lovely experience. Tuck in with your hands, the Indonesian way, and enjoy. If you like your food spicy you're in for a treat as the sambal that comes with most Indonesian dishes will blow your head off if you're not careful.
Jl. Batu Mejan No.1, Canggu Open 8am - 11pm daily
Found down an alleyway on the eastern side of Canggu, Pasta Grage is one of those places that only locals know about. It's one of Helen's favourite places for dinner so I knew we had to visit. Despite the first half of the menu covering Italian classics, you'll want to avoid anything Western and head straight for the beef rendang and/or grilled aubergine in the Indonesian section. Both are delicious, slightly spicy, and absolutely moreish. Even with the Italian decor, it was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets and find a spot that the locals enjoy.
In a town as trendy as Canggu of course you're going to find a vegan ice cream parlour. I've been a little hesitant about non dairy ice cream in the past (I had a bad soya experience) but once I tried the coconut milk ice cream from Mad Pops my previous bad memories quickly flew out the window. Not only does the parlour look the part with it's neon signage and pastel colour scheme, but the ice cream tastes fantastic. I'm not a huge fan of coconut, and I'm also pretty basic when it comes to ice cream flavours, but my scoop of multi coloured vanilla was honestly a dream. I'm gutted we saved Mad Pops for our last day in Bali as I would have loved to visit many more times.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.48, Canggu Open 11am - 10pm daily
Things to do
Canggu is very much a chilled out town where's there's not too much to do other than eat, drink, and surf. And when it's 30 degrees plus you don't want to be doing much anyway.
Surfing at Batu Bolong
Bali is a surfer's paradise and Canggu is one of the best places on the island to learn. The beach, Batu Bolong, is a really active spot, whether it's people learning to surf, playing football, or having a stroll, there's lots going on with a real sense of community. If you want to learn to surf, or improve on your previous surfing knowledge then I cannot recommend Pineapple Surf School enough. Agus is one of the nicest people I know and his two-hour long surf lessons are fantastic.
Contact Agus here, or visit Warung Sila on Batu Bolong beach (look out for the surfing pineapple stickers)
Love Anchor Weekend Market
During the week Love Anchor is a nice place to grab a bite of food, or relax with a drink, but come Saturday and Sunday the site opens with a huge market full of souvenirs, clothing, jewellery, and other Bali made trinkets. It's a great place to do a bit of shopping, whether your after some bamboo straws, a Bintang vest, a rattan circle bag, or the latest Bali must-have. Compared to other markets, the stall owners leave you to it for the most part, so even though the market is busy, the experience is not super hectic.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.56, Canggu Open 8am - midnight daily
Drinks at Old Man's
Bali is renowned for it's beach bars and whilst Seminyak might be famous for the likes of Potato Head, Canggu has several of it's own on offer. Old Man's is Canggu's favourite beach side bar, it's not fancy by any means, it is literally a massive bar next to the beach, but it's where everyone hangs out come the evening. The drinks are cheap and the music is loud, but Old Man's somehow manages to skirt away from 'raging beach party full of teenagers'. Be thankful that Canggu seems to attract a slightly older crowd because Old Man's really is a fun place to come together with locals, expats, and tourists alike.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong No.117X, Canggu Open 7am - 1am daily
Sunset at La Brissa
Sunset is a big event across Indonesia and thanks to Canggu's westerly location, it's the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. There are so many beach bars lining the west coast of Bali, perfectly poised for sunset, but La Brissa in Canggu might just be my favourite. Situated on Echo Beach, which is slightly north of Batu Bolong, this huge beach club is the most picturesque of spots. As you enter from the road, canopies, twinkling lights, and hammocks galore unfolds before your eyes. It's a dream. Spend the evening, or a full day, watching the waves from the sea below and enjoying a slice of chilled Bali life. If you're visiting for sunset make sure you get there early to grab a prime location by the beach, or book in advance.
Jl. Pantai Batu Mejan, Canggu Open 7am - midnight daily
There are a ton of day trip options to do from Canggu making it the perfect base to explore more of Bali. Whether it's the Ubud rice terraces in the north, the tranquil beaches of the Bukit Peninsula in the south, or the quiet islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Cennigan just off the south-east coast. Rent a scooter, or hire a driver, and explore as much of the island as possible.
Steve and I have been living in our flat for a year and a half now and I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by. Despite our tiny little space only comprising of three rooms, it's taken a while to get just right. I'm definitely not finished with the flat yet, there's a few things I'd like to add to the living room / kitchen area, plus we're still using a spare bed and bedside tables from my parents that I'd eventually like to replace. But aside from those extremely minor details the flat is more or less a finished article.
The nice things about living somewhere so small is having the ability to spend a little more than I usually would on furniture. Steve and I haven't had to buy much so when we have, we've splurged a little on investment pieces. We've taken our time to make sure we've really thought about what works with our needs and the space. When furnishing a new home I think an important thing to bear in mind is that you don't need to furnish the place right away. You can start with the essentials and move on from there. Take your time to save up, research, and really think about what you want. Once you've lived in a new space for a few months you might realise that your original ideas aren't actually that practical.
When we first moved in we were lucky that we were able to borrow a bed and a sofa, that left us with bar stools at the top of our must have list. I gave these a lot of research and we splurged on a pair from Normann Copenhagen which I still adore 18 months later. It took us a good six months to finally settle on a sofa and rug but we ended up with a DFS x French Connection Zinc three seater and La Redoute afaw berber style rug, both firm fan favourites. The coffee table is a West Elm number that I coveted for almost a year before purchasing, and even our extremely extra Branbantia bin took over a year to settle on. I've also splurged on a few designs pieces that I've loved ever since taking an interest in interior design. The Uten.Silo, Artek E60 stool, and String pocket shelf were a Christmas treat to myself after dreaming of owning these pieces for years. However, with all that in mind I am still a huge fan of the highstreet and have been able to pick up many accessories from the likes of H&M Home, IKEA, Tiger, and independent sellers on Etsy.
My original dream of a minimalist, Scandinavian inspired home isn't quite how the flat is looking these days. As hard as I try I am a maximalist at heart and as you can see my cookbook and house plant collection is out of control. As much as I love the flat we just don't have an awful lot of space, or storage, so it gets busy. But I try hard to keep everything in a place and not let it get too cluttered.
An area of the flat I've really had to be careful with is the kitchen. Whilst we have a huge amount of worktop space, which I adore, we don't have a lot of storage underneath, which means I'm very picky when it comes to choosing kitchen appliances. I'm a huge fan of KitchenAid, and I use my blender and mixer all the time when cooking one of the many recipes from my cookbook collection. I've been interested in trying one of their food processors for quite some time and fortunately JD Williams sent me the Classic Food Chopper to try out. I love how small this appliance is, it looks cute whilst not taking up a huge amount of space, perfect for those with a small kitchen. But don't let the size fool you, the chopper is powerful and can easily reduce your vegetables to small chunks. I've used it in recipes that require a lot of chopping and it's worked a charm, plus it's much quicker than manually chopping everything with a knife.
I love my little flat and whilst I wish we had more space I think we've done a great job with what we've got. I love having guests over and despite being one of those annoying people who doesn't allow people to walk on the rug with their shoes on, I think the space is cosy and welcoming.
My hair has always been an important part of my image. For a third of my life it was bleached blonde and when your hair is white, it's hard to not make a big deal of it. I loved having bleached hair, it really suited me and I enjoyed playing around with temporary colours. But it came with plenty of problems, the damage and upkeep being two of them. Eventually I got to the stage where I'd had enough of the straw like condition and frequent trips to the salon. I decided it was time to start growing out my roots and embrace my natural hair colour, whatever that turned out to be.
Growing out my hair has certainly been a process. I stopped bleaching it in 2015 but a year later I had a relapse and dyed it again. I ended up not being happy with the colour and after a couple of root touch ups I decided to grow it out for good.
I liked the idea of having non dyed hair, getting back to my roots so to speak, so instead of covering up the blonde with more dye I just let my hair grow out naturally. During this process I became more and more interested in giving up hair products entirely. From an environmental point of view I wanted to consume less, and from a scientific view I wanted to see if I could actually do it. My Dad gave up shampoo over five years ago and I've not met anyone with hair in better condition than him. Could my hair feel as silky soft as his?
The first thing I needed to do was cut off the final dregs of bleach, which brings me on to the first half of this hair tale. I'd been having my hair cut regularly in an attempt to get rid of the bleach quickly and I was enjoying the freedom shorter hair brings. But I was nervous about going properly short. It was something I'd been wanting to do for a while and despite never usually being precious over my hair I was suddenly a little scared. I'd had a bad experience at a local salon so I knew I wanted to find someone that would understand what I wanted, whilst giving me the advice and expertise need to make my idea a reality. In steps Rush Tower Bridge* and my wonderful stylist Dom.
As soon as I sat down with Dom in the brand spanking new Rush salon near Tower Bridge he put me at ease. I explained what I wanted, long on top and short on the sides, and he instantly understood the sort of look I was going for. He reassured me that the style would look great and it wasn't long before he started snipping. By the time he had finished I was beyond thrilled with my new look. The length on top meant my hair remained curly but the shorter sides helped keep my thick locks in check. I absolutely adored it.
The next stage of my hair journey was to give up shampoo and conditioner. With all the bleach gone, and the fact I didn't use any other products, the challenge seemed feasible, so I washed my hair for the last time the morning before we flew to Indonesia. Everyone said the first few weeks of going shampoo free would be the hardest so it made sense to trial this stage during a three week holiday where the 30 degree heat was going to make my hair look shit no matter how many products I used.
During our three weeks away I really didn't notice my hair feeling or looking greasy, but that's probably because I was so hot and sweaty the majority of the time. I'd wash my hair with water everyday whilst in the shower and give it a brush with my tangle teaser in an attempt to brush out the grease. I've always let me hair air dry so I'd just brush it into place and let it do it's thing. Returning to the UK was a challenge. After our holiday I was expecting my hair to not feel greasy but alas, I was so wrong. The lack of sweat made me realise that my hair still felt 'not clean' despite it looking absolutely fine. However, I was determined to keep going, I'd made it this far so it seemed silly to start using shampoo again.
It's now been over two months since I last used shampoo and whilst my hair isn't 100%, it's still great. My hair still feels a little tacky, but nothing compared to how it felt a month ago. But the best thing is, it looks so shiny and soft in contrast. When my hair was bleached it felt so dry and frizzy all the time so it's wonderful to feel like I finally have a healthy head of hair. Plus it's curlier than it's been for a long time which is an even bigger bonus for me. I'm excited to see how my hair will improve over the next couple of months and I'm determined to never use shampoo again.
If you have easy going hair that's free from dye I 100% recommend giving the shampoo free life a go. I've always been wary about having to rely on hair and beauty products and my shampoo free journey is proof that I can have clean and healthy hair without using anything other than water.
I'm not long back from a two and a half week trip around Indonesia, and boy what a whirlwind it was. The country is huge and we did our very best to see as much as possible, but now I'm yearning to return and see even more. Whilst we did travel around a lot, I found the trip pretty relaxing compared to our previous holidays, especially as the heat forces you to slow down. Island hopping isn't the most demanding of activities and save for a few treks and early starts I didn't return home feeling exhausted, which is quite often the case with the type of holidays I plan.
Indonesia has always been a place I've wanted to visited. When I went travelling around SE Asia in 2010 we planned to visit Bali but ended up visiting Malaysian Borneo instead. At the time I told myself I was more likely to visit Bali again, than I was Borneo, and I guess that thinking paid off. However, the country was never top of my travel wish list because Bali became less of an interest to me the older I got. However, rewind two year, and my baby sister ended up moving to Bali of all places, which brings me to this year's choice of holiday destination. I don't know how long Helen will be there but it made sense to visit and see the place through the eyes of a local. For the grand total of 3 seconds I thought we'd just do a two week holiday to Bali. I then reminded myself that I hate the beach, Indonesia is huge, and I've always wanted to see Komodo dragons, so our whistle stop tour of the country was born. I did a search online for suggested two week itineraries and modified them accordingly to create our perfect trip, and I think I did a pretty great job.
1. The Bali food scene
Normally I am very much a 'local food only' type of holiday person. But my strict mantra went flying out off the window on this trip and I have absolutely no regrets. Before arriving in Bali I knew the food scene was going to be good. I'd heard countless tales about the incredible Australian style brunches, the delights of suckling pig (a Bali delicacy), and the famous Jimbaran fish market. And in all honesty, my expectations were exceeded.
The brunch scene is bonkers, especially in Canggu the town we were staying in. Aussie owned all-day cafes line the streets serving wonderful assortments of eggs, smoothie bowls, and exotic juices. The concoctions are beautiful but it's definitely not a case of style over substance as everything tastes as fantastic as it looks. Indonesian food for the most part is casual affair and food vendors, known as warungs, line the streets. The offerings are cheap and tasty and each stall usually specialises in one thing. Being a country of islands fresh fish is a real staple of the Indonesia diet. One evening we visited the Jimbaran fish market where you pick your raw fish and take it to a restaurant on the beach where they cook it up for you. This meal was one of the most memorable of the holiday, mainly because we accidentally bought an absurd amount of fish, but also because it was an amazing, and delicious experience.
2. Exploring Bali
First thing you need to know about Bali is that it's a huge island with so much to see. Unless you live there for an extended time it's impossible to see it all during a short holiday, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. During our time in Bali we visited several different regions, from the beautiful beaches in the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island, to the stunning rice terraces outside of Ubud in the middle of the island, and the tranquil island of Nusa Lemongan. Bali is a huge, diverse island and there are so many different landscapes to explore. Had we spent more time in Bali we could have visited the volcanoes, waterfalls, and world class surfing sports. Alas, four days is not nearly enough to see it all, but we did our best. We based ourselves in Canggu, which is where my sister lives, and it was perfectly located to visit everywhere via a day trip. Bali is the sort of place where you can have many a different a style of holiday. From a tranquil honeymoon, a group party holiday, a cultural retreat, or a surfing paradise, Bali has it all.
3. Volcano trekking
After our four days in Bali we travelled to East Java to explore two of the countries most famous volcanoes, Mt Bromo and Mt Ijen. Our two-night, three-day volcano excursion was certainly memorable and in such a short space of time we experienced the very best and very worst moments of our Indonesia holiday. Our trek to Bromo was an incredible experience. We watched the sun rise over the volcano from a nearby peak, before driving through the sea of sand and hiking to the crater rim to stare into the rumbling centre. It was an amazing, yet terrifying sight to behold. The next morning we hiked for a gruelling two ours to the crater of Ijen where we saw the world's largest sulphuric acid lake. The views weren't really worth the horrendous hike but at least we can look back and laugh about the experience now.
4. Relaxing in Lombok
Lombok was the next stop on our trip and most definitely one of my favourites. The island is a 30 minute plane ride from Bali and whilst it's a similar size it's a lot less developed, which means less people, less traffic, and more beauty. We had a couple of days to explore the beaches in the south of the island and whilst we didn't get to visit the waterfalls and volcano in the north like we had planned to, we still had a wonderful and relaxing time. Unlike Bali, the beaches here are safe for swimming and extremely picturesque.
5. Island life
The Gili islands were our next port of call. Situated on Lombok's north-west coast, this tiny trio of islands are famous the world over for their idyllic location, minuscule size, and good times vibe. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most famous of the islands due to it's party reputation. Of the three islands it is located the furthest from the Lombok coast but it still only a 20 minute journey away via the high speed boat. Gili Meno is situated in the middle of the trio and is the smallest island. It's referred to as the honeymoon island due to it's small size and relaxed nature. Gili Air, which is where we stayed, is only a five minute boat ride from the coast and is the perfect mix of the other two. There isn't a huge party vibe but there's enough going on to allow you to have a good time. During the few days we spent here we had a chance to visit all three islands. We snorkelled in the crystal clear waters, swam with turtles, explored the islands on clunky old bikes, and had an opportunity to relax and recuperate, it was a truly blissful couple of days.
6. Flying over Indonesia
Indonesia is the country of a thousand islands and unless you have an extended time to travel between them via the boat, the most efficient way to travel around the country is by internal flights. We did a lot of internal flights but fortunately all of them were under an hour long. The short journey time meant the planes never flew that high so you could easily see the magnificent views of Indonesia from the sky. Spotting the tiny clusters of islands we had just visited, from dozens of the 139 volcanoes that line the country was an impressive site. You could see many of the craters poking out above the clouds, they looked vast from thousands of feet high I can't even imagine what they must look like on ground level.
This evening Steve and I are off to Indonesia for just under three weeks. Obviously I'm excited. I'm excited to see my sisters, my friends, and to discover a new country. But I'm also a little scared. I'm scared of falling into the sulphurous blue lake of Mt Ijen, of being bitten by a Komodo dragon on Komodo island, and of not being able to protect my skin from sunburn. But hopefully I'll be ok and everything will go to plan.
Beach holidays aren't really my bag, I'm so pale and sun sensitive that I'd rather not put myself in a risky position when it comes to sun exposure, one of the many reasons Steve and I are such big fans of Scandinavia. That being said, I've been to SE Asia before, as well as other sun seeking spots, so I'm fully prepared to tackle the high heat.
Compared to most of our holidays I haven't done a huge amount of research, but I feel prepared nevertheless. This isn't a city break so there aren't ton of different attractions I want to visit, both my sisters live in Bali so I'm relying on them for the best local foodie spots, and I'm also aware that the heat means things will move slowly and I'm totally OK with that. Even though we're visiting a lot of different cities, our plans are relaxed. From visiting different beaches, to splashing around in various waterfalls, to seeking out beautiful rice terraces, I think we've found a nice balance between slow travel and seeing the best Indonesia has to offer.
We start our trip with five nights in Bali, staying in a lovely villa I found on Airbnb, in Canngu, the town both my sisters live in. We'll be visiting all the usual spots, from Ubud to Uluwatu, and even making it over to Nusa Lembongan one day. From there the trip becomes a little more budget which is fine by me as I'm visiting Indonesia to see the country, not the inside of a private pool. We'll be visiting East Java to seek out two of Indonesia's famous volcanoes, Mt Bromo and Mt Ijen. Followed by a few days in Lombok to explore the beaches in the south of the island and the many waterfalls plus Mt Rinjani in the north. We'll relax for a couple of days on Gili Air before heading over to Flores where we'll visit the Komodo dragons on Komodo island, and explore the area surrounding Labuan Bajo. From there we fly back to Java where we'll visit Yogyakarta and Borobudur, the world's largest Hindu temple, before spending the last few hours of our trip in Jakarta.
If you've been to Indonesia before please do leave your recommendations in the comments as I'm excited to delve into the heart of this beautiful country.
I love an early morning flight, it means you arrive at your destination with an entire day of exploring ahead of you. However, I am not a morning person in the slightest and despite my 31 years of existence, I have yet to embrace the habit of waking up early feeling fresh. Fortunately for me I am willing to put myself through the discomfort of an early alarm if it means I get to jet off somewhere exciting. Nevertheless a 7am flight still fills me with a little dread so I've started to look for ways to make the experience of break of dawn travel a little easier. Say hello to airport hotels.
A recent trip to Zurich was coupled with a ridiculously early flight so I decided to book a room at YOTELAIR*, located in the South Terminal at London Gatwick to save myself some time in the morning. Being located around the corner from the check-in desks at the South Terminal, and the North Terminal shuttle station, we didn't need to leave our room until an hour before our flight took off. This made such a huge difference to our day as the extra couple of hours in bed meant we arrived in Switzerland feeling somewhat fresh, and ready for a long day of exploring.
There are three types of rooms available in the hotel; a standard cabin for one, a premium cabin for two, and a premium cabin twin. We had a premium cabin for two where a big squishy upright sofa transformed into a very comfortable double bed at the press of a button. Modelled on the capsule hotels in Japan, the rooms are small, but when you're in them for only a few hours before a flight you don't really need much space. There's plenty of luggage storage next to, and under the bed, plus there's lots of cubby holes to hide things away like coats, and handbags. Once the bed is folded out there's still enough room to walk around in case you need to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. And speaking of the bathroom, the monsoon style shower was powerful and hot, another key ingredient for an early start.
All rooms come with aircon, wifi, a telly, and a fold out desk in case you need to get some work done. The reception even supplies complimentary tea, coffee, and bottled water throughout your stay. Our room was located at the end of a corridor which meant a quiet night's sleep as the foot traffic was minimal so if you're a light sleeper I'd definitely recommend requesting something similar.
Our stay at YOTELAIR really did help make the first day of our holiday as stress free as possible and when you factor in the cost of the taxi we would have had to book, the hotel room only cost about £20 extra. If you hate early mornings as much as I do, but you're a big fan of stupid o'clock flights, then I definitely recommend booking yourself a stay at YOTELAIR.
Locations include London Gatwick, London Heathrow, New York, Boston, Singapore, San Francisco, Pairs Charles De Gaulle, and Amsterdam Schiphol Rooms from £39 for a 4 hour minimum stay
Maastricht was the final stop on our whistle stop tour around the Netherlands. Despite it being a couple of hours away by train from Utrecht, it was en route to Brussels which is where we caught the Eurostar back to London. Maastricht is very different from the other cities we visited. Cultural similarities here are much more in tune with Germany and Belgium, compared to the north of the country which feels more Nordic in comparison. Because of this Maastricht ended up being my least favourite city but that's not to say I didn't enjoy our time here because I absolutely did. The city is traditional, picturesque, and full of history. Whilst you won't find concept stores, street food markets, or pretty canals like the rest of the country, you will find some excellent attractions and a sophisticated foodie scene. We spent just under 24 hours in the city and it was the perfect amount of time to see everything that took our fancy.
Here's my Maastricht city guide.
Affordable boutique hotels
As with the rest of the Netherlands, Maastricht is no stranger to the boutique hotel scene. Fortunately there are several affordable options and Townhouse absolutely gets my seal of approval. Situated around the corner from Maastricht station, and a 15 minute walk from the historic city centre, the location couldn't have been more ideal. The rooms are on the minimalist side but have pops of colour and design details that make them feel homely. The lobby area is a mid century modern design haven and oozes that contemporary hip hotel vibe. The bar serves complimentary soup to all residents each evening, unfortunately it was mushroom during our stay and you all know how I feel about that.
Sint Maartenslaan 5, 6221 AV Maastricht, Netherlands Room from €70
Maastricht's trendiest cafe
Maastricht doesn't really do hipster but if it did Cafe Zondag would be the place to get that fix. All-day cafe and bar vibes makes this the perfect location for a stop any time of day. We popped in for breakfast and whilst our bagels might not have been the most exciting things we ate in the Netherlands, the atmosphere was buzzing.
Wycker Brugstraat 42, 6221 ED Maastricht, Netherlands Open various times daily
Explore Maastricht's trendiest neighbourhood
On the east side of the river Maas you will find the Wyck neighbourhood of Maastricht. This is where aforementioned Townhose and Zondag are located. This is a reasonably small and quiet area compared to the historic city centre but don't let that fool you into thinking it's not worth your time. Wyck is full of independent boutiques, exciting restaurants, cosy bars, and lovely architecture. It's the city's trendy little sister. It's great for a stroll but do be warned that many of the shops are closed on Sunday. We did manage to visit De VerwonderinG (Hoogbrugstraat 21), a lovely concept store perfect for gifts, interiors pieces, and fashion. The area down by the river is charming with it's cobbled streets, pretty houses, and colourful shop fronts.
Get your art fix at Bonnefantenmuseum
On the edge of the Wyck neighbourhood you'll find Bonnefantenmuseum*, Maastricht's premier art gallery. Displaying early European painting and sculptures, as well as contemporary artists and large scale installations, the museum is a real joy to walk around.
If you've visited Bonnefantenmuseum, cross over the river Maas via ultra modern Hoge Brug. The views across the city area beautiful. You'll have a great view over to the 13th century arched bridge, Sint Servaasbrug, as well as Stadspark on the western bank. You'll be able to see the towers of Basiliek van Sint Servaas and red Sint Janskerk. When it's time to head back across the river, make sure to cross via Sint Servaasbrug.
Explore the historic city centre
The historic centre is bustling with people but as the city is relatively small it doesn't take long to see all the key spots. Once you cross over the river it won't be long until you stumble upon the picturesque Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw (Onze Lieve Vrouweplein 7). The church is located on a cafe lined square where locals go about their day to day life. As you meander through the busy streets that are lined with narrow houses you'll soon come across Vrijthof, the city's large central square. Cafes and museums line the expansive space and two beautiful churches stand proud in the south-western corner. During the week you can climb the incredible red tower of Sint Janskerk for view over the city and next door you'll find the stunning Basiliek van Sint Servaas (Keizer Karelplein 3).
Delicious lunch at a Maastricht favourite
Enjoy traditional Dutch food with a contemporary twist at super cosy Cafe Sjiek. The cafe is a favourite amongst locals which is no surprise as our simple lunch was definitely one of the most enjoyable meals we had on our trip, and whilst it took a bit of effort to translate the non-English menu, it was absolutely worth it.
Sint Pieterstraat 13, 6211 JM Maastricht, Netherlands Open various times daily
City centre shopping
Despite its small size, Maastricht still has plenty of shopping options. Boekhandel Dominicanen (Dominicanerkerkstraat 1), once a church and now a bookshop and coffee shop, is absolutely worth a visit, even if it's just to take in the incredible use of space. For ladies fashion check out Kiki Niesten (Stokstraat 28-32), LB Lena Berens (Witmakersstraat 1), Le Marais (Morenstraat 11), and Nina's Boutique (Rechtstraat 58). For interiors and gifts check out Conflict (Minckelersstraat 14), Nolabel (Minckelersstraat 10), and Le Marais Deux (Maastrichter Heidenstraat 6) which also has an on site coffee shop. Living Room (Heggenstraat 7) is a cool coffee shop when you're in need of a afternoon pick-me-up.
Traditional Dutch dining
When it comes to food Maastricht has a stellar restaurant scene, especially if you're interested in traditional cooking. Located in the heart of the Wyck neighbourhood, Eetcafe Ceramique provided an excellent location for a traditional Dutch dinner. The food definitely felt more German compared to everything else we'd eaten on our trip around the Netherlands. Think lots of meat, big stews, and generous portions.
Rechtstraat 78, 6221 EL Maastricht, Netherlands Open 5:30pm - 10pm daily
Utrecht was the city that surprised me the most on our trip around The Netherlands. I didn't know much about it, except that it's the home of Miffy and my friend, Sarah. She always gives the city high praise and that was enough for me to add it to the itinerary. We had 24 hours to explore but it was not enough time, I definitely could have done with an extra day. But we squeezed a lot in and I'd love to visit again. Now that direct trains are running from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, The Netherlands is even more accessible. Utrecht is lovely, it's a small city that combines the the charm of the Amsterdam canals, with the alternativeness of Rotterdam thanks to a big student population.
Here's my Utrecht city guide.
Rest up in the most gorgeous hotel ever
Utrecht has some lovely looking boutique hotels and for a long time I was torn between booking Mother Goose or Mary K, but I am so glad I went for the former as Mother Goose is quite possibly the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The vibe is modern with a slight rustic twist; think exposed brick work, neutral tones, and lots of wood. As we were only staying for one night, I decided to upgrade our room from a standard double to one of the suites. We had so much space. From the biggest, comfiest bed I've ever slept in, to a lovely seating area, and an open bathroom with an enormous tub. Our room looked out onto the city's central square and the staff were extremely helpful. We only had about 12 hours in our room which was such a shame because the hotel was beautiful. As affordable boutiques hotels go, I don't think Mother Goose can be beaten.
Ganzenmarkt 26, 3512 GE Utrecht, Netherlands Rooms from €110
Perfect Dutch pancakes for breakfast
Pancakes are synonymous with The Netherlands, and the cheese and bacon ones at organic cafe Gys make the perfect breakfast. Gys is a lovely space; bright and airy with ample seating, it's the perfect location for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee stop.
Voorstraat 77, 3512 AL Utrecht, Netherlands Open 10am - 9:30pm daily
Climb the tallest church tower in the Netherlands
Utrecht's gothic Dom Tower stands proud over the city in all it's 112m high glory. If you join a tour you can climb the 465 steps to the top for bracing views over the city. We didn't manage to do this as our timings didn't quite work out but I hear it's absolutely worth the effort. Dating back to the 14th century, the tower was once part of the city's cathedral but a hurricane blew done most of the building in 1674. North of the tower, a row of paving stones mark the location of the original cathedral. The tower is iconic and once you see it up close it's easy to realise why it's Utrecht's most famous landmark. The area surrounding the tower is charming; cobbled streets, double tiered canals, and the cutest narrow houses.
Domplein 21, 3512 JC Utrecht, Netherlands Open 11am - 5pm Tuesday to Saturday Midday to 5pm Sunday Tours on the hour (€9 for adults)
A big reason for me wanting to visit Utrecht was to visit the home of Dick Bruna, the creator of Miffy. The cute bunny first appeared in 1955, in a picture book based on a story Bruna had told his son. Miffy is adored universally, especially in Japan, and Utrecht, the birth place and home of Bruna for 40 years has done a wonderful job of celebrating it's success. Bruna's studio is now located in the Centraal Museum* and it is here you can find out about the life of Bruna and how the character was developed.
Agnietenstraat 1, 3512 XA Utrecht, Netherlands Open 11am - 5pm daily (except Monday)
Across the road you'll find the Miffy Museum, which is basically a Miffy themed indoor playground. I felt a little silly walking around without having a kid of my own but it was nice to see Miffy's world brought to life. Entry is included with the Centraal Museum ticket but you need to book a time slot as the museum can get very busy.
North of the city you'll find a Miffy sculpture (Nijntje Pleintje) which was created by Bruna's son, Marc.
1e Achterstraat 1, 3512 VL Utrecht, Netherlands
Not too far from the sculpture is the Miffy Traffic Light, where the rabbit shaped lights and a rainbow pedestrian crossing will help you across the road. It's pretty random but also quite cute.
Sint Jacobsstraat 1A, 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands
A spot of lunch
Steve and I didn't have firm plans for lunch so when a local mentioned that city centre Rabarber was his favourite place to eat we decided to take his advice and mosey on over come the afternoon. The restaurant, called rhubarb in English, serves all day breakfast, lunch, and drinks. The menu changes depending on what's in season, and they try to support local, and sustainable businesses where possible. The menu is eclectic and I can very much recommend the Turkish eggs which were delicious and the perfect size for lunch when all you need is a little pick-me-up.
Zadelstraat 20, 3511 LV Utrecht, Netherlands Open various times daily (except Monday)
Shop till you drop throughout the city
Utrecht is fantastic for shopping, there are so many independent businesses and interesting boutiques scattered across the city that you could spend an entire day just checking out the shops.
Slightly north of the central square, you'll find the area Breedstraatbuurt which is a haven for fashion, design, and everything in between. Studio Ayqido (Jansveld 39) is a small boutique run by a Dutch couple who make their own Japanese inspired clothing. The colour palette is predominately black and white and very androgynous in design. Showcasing independent international designers, The Domestic Botanist (Jansveld 49) stocks a range of styles for women. Many of the styles are feminine with a contemporary twist so do pop in if you're on the lookout for something a little different. Plato (Voorstraat 35) is the local record shop. It stocks new releases and second hand gems so be prepared to spend a bit of time browsing as there's a lot on offer. Puha (Voorstraat 48) is a lovely store that stocks all manner of items, from clothing, footwear, and interiors. Everything is made by local designers and the owners have even produced an independent guide to Utrecht so make sure you pop in to pick one up to see what else is in the area. Revenge (Voorstraat 6) sells clothing for men and women and whilst the style isn't strictly street wear, some of the brands to edge on that direction.
Heading into the central core of Utrecht you'll find my favourite Dutch concept store, Hutspot (Vinkenburgstraat 19), it's full of the usual Scandinavian lead fashion and lifestyle. Daen's (Minrebroederstraat 3) is another city centre concept store that specialises in Dutch and Scandinavian labels for men and women, plus there's a lovely cafe on site for a coffee stop. Daen's also has one hotel room, yes you read right, just one room. It's more of a bed and breakfast as there isn't even a reception. Maybe next time I visit we'll stay here. Nearby Live Today (Minrebroederstraat 6) is a nice furniture and lifestyle shop with a strong focus on sustainability. Swordfish and Friend (Oudkerkhof 43) is a small curated record shop. Workshop of Wonders (Domstraat 25) specialise in retro and mid century furniture, it's a really great shop if you're interested in design.
If you head a little south you'll come across the street Zadelstraat where's there a ton of great shopping options. Quadrat (Zadelstraat 11) is a Scandinavian fashion lifestyle shop, Nukuhiva (Zadelstraat 36) sells fair trade clothing, Spruyt and Ko (Zadelstraat 41) sells a wide range of women's clothing, All the Luck in the World (Zadelstraat 15) is perfect for jewellery, lifestyle pieces, and gifts, and nearby Cris (Mariaplaats 3-A) is good for men's fashion.
Heading further south along the Oudegracht canal you'll come across Waar (Lijnmarkt 21) which is a good option for gifts. Cacao (Oudegracht 179) a deliciously delightful chocolate shop, and Jason King (Oudegracht 201) a boutique that specialises in small independent labels for men and women. Cross over the canal and keep heading south and you'll stumble across even more shops. Emma B. (Oudegracht 218) specialises in Scandinavian home and design pieces, Hinderickx en Winderickx (Oudegracht 234) is a charming second-hand bookshop, Vaen (Oudegracht 246) sells vintage clothing, and Things I Like Things I Love (Oudegracht 364) is great for contemporary fashion and lifestyle pieces.
Right in the south of the city, next to the Centraal and Miffy Museum, you'll find another handful of delightful shopping gems. Mooi en Bell (Twijnstraat 37) is the go to place for charming interior pieces,De Bierverteller (Twijnstraat 47) is an excellent craft beer shop that specialises in Dutch brands,Transit (Twijnstraat 36) is another fashion store, and It all starts with a postcard (Twijnstraat 38) is perfect for gifts and cards.
The Netherlands really excel when it comes to cafes and Utrecht is no exception. No matter where you are in the city, there's always a place to great a cup of something hot and rest your feet. Right in the south of Utrecht you'll find KEEK (Twijnstraat 23), a modern and airy cafe that does lunch, sweet treats, and plenty of things to drink. A short work north, along the Oudegracht canal, will bring you to De Keuken van Keek (Oudegracht 362), an outpost of KEEK that serves drinks and smaller edible things to takeaway. Further north, and closer to the city centre is Blackbird Coffee and Vintage (Oudegracht 222), a cute little cafe that makes the perfect canal side stop when you've had a long day of exploring. North of the city centre you'll find The Village Coffee and Music (Voorstraat 46), a fantastic cosy cafe that doubles up as a record shop as well.