24.5.17

Béziers: The South of France's Best Kept Secret

Ah, the South of France. Just the mere thought of this lust-worthy place conjures up images of endless fields of flowers, picturesque coastlines, and quaint villages teeming with authentically French restaurants. For me, going to the South of France always remained a bit of a pipe dream- Paris was easy enough to get to, and the rest of the country seemed only discoverable by car.

But when the prospect of traveling down to Béziers (wait, where?) on holiday presented itself, I jumped at the chance to finally see the South. Granted, it was pretty easy to "jump" when the flights from London were only £14 roundtrip- pretty good, right?


Visiting a place that I had never (and I really mean never) heard of was one of the great joys of planning out and anticipating this trip. It's something I'd encourage anyone to do, even if you're the most meticulous of planners. I'm definitely not a "throw caution to the wind" kind of gal, but having a less predictable holiday was just what I needed. And it ended up being even more relaxing because there was no pressure to do anything in particular. You know when you go to a major city and feel like you just have to see their most famous sights, and end up shelling out a ton of cash for them? This was not one of those trips.

So I thought I'd use this post to share some snaps from one portion of my holiday, and maybe try to convince you to keep Béziers on your radar for your next trip- after all, RyanAir flies to Béziers from a few major UK cities for very reasonable prices.

Our first impression of Béziers was that it was small. If the airport was to be any indication of what was to come, then we expected to be in for some small town fun. With just one departure gate, Béziers airport had to be the smallest airport I had ever set foot in. But despite our predictions, the city itself was a bit more busy than the airport made it out to be- not major by any means, but perfectly buzzing. 


Because our airbnb apartment wouldn't be ready for us to settle into until 5 o'clock, we spent our morning wandering around the city, taking pictures along the way. Our first stop was to see the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Béziers at the top of the hill. While it wasn't open for visitors at the time we were there, we had a great view of the 13th-century masterpiece. From there, we were able to have a fantastic vantage point to the outskirts of the city below. 



Béziers is not lacking in views. Whether from above or below, there's always something photo worthy. As long as you don't mind walking, that is. Pont-vieux offers the city of Béziers at its most breathtaking angle.


Having walked back up the hill, we decided to settle into the restaurant that faces the Cathedral. Considering its proximity to the city's most popular attraction, it was very reasonably priced and authentic. The plat du jour was the name of the game for us- I mean, when in France, right? I had succulent lamb chops, with cheesy courgette, and pan potatoes. Ben's dish had the same sides, but instead featured crispy sardines. Washed down with a glass of cold white wine, it was the perfect meal to start our trip on. 


Béziers boasts a solid number of fascinating museums for a relatively small city. It was our plan to visit them all on our first day, while we wiled away the time before heading to the apartment, but unfortunately they were all closed on Mondays. Instead, we wandered the city a bit more, popped into a park, and had a drink al fresco. 


After this trip, I am officially airbnb loyal. We couldn't have asked for a more fanastic host couple, nor could we have been lucky enough to snag such a stunning little studio apartment (and on the cheap!) For just £20 per night, we stayed in this quaint, uber-French, apartment just 5 minutes from the main square. Not only was the apartment itself as comfortable as could be, but it was fitted with absolutely anything we could need- including a bit of food, some beer, and all types of skin care products. When you're looking for something a bit more sophisticated than a hostel, but can't quite afford a hotel, airbnb has you covered. 



One of our favorite aspects of having the apartment was having the freedom to cook our dinners, and prepare breakfast in the morning. Not only was it a massive money-saver, but it allowed us to really experience fresh French produce, and spend time together in the evenings doing something we both love (cooking doesn't feel like a chore to me, if you haven't already noticed!) We really took inspiration from our surroundings (aka Ben came up with most of the ideas), and cooked mainly French-style food. From ratatouille to coq au vin to buttery pork chops, all the way to baguettes a fresh strawberries in the morning- our meals were tres French from start to finish.



While Béziers provides a taste of city life in the South of France, it also has great access to the coast. On our second day, we headed toward the bus station to catch a bus down to the beach. At only 50 cents a pop, it was a no-brainer. 45 minutes (and many stops later) we were on a picturesque beach called Valras Plage. During the summer months, this beach can get pretty hectic with tons of tourists (mainly from other parts of France) enjoying the sunshine. Luckily, since we went in mid-May, it was plenty warm enough to go to the beach, but we missed out on the crowds. We packed a picnic and spent the day laying out on the beach, reading our books, and swimming in the ocean.



One thing we had our sights set on doing from the beginning was renting bicycles and going for a long(ish) ride together. Ben's been really getting into his cycling lately, and while I probably can't even be considered a novice, I thought I would humor him by agreeing to go for a ride. After all, cycling is a great way of discovering new places. Luckily, there was a bicycle rental service in the center of town where we could easily rent for just £20 each for the whole day- with all the bits and bobs included. To make matters even better, the owners spoke perfect English (the woman we spoke to was from America). I'm all for immersing yourself in different cultures and languages while traveling, but when doing something as complicated as a bicycle rental, I was relieved to have English speakers around. You can find more info on them here.


Once we set off on our bikes we were free to explore. We headed down the main canal for a smooth and easy ride, bypassing more than a handful of stunning wine vineyards as we rode. It was about 15 kilometers to get to the coast, and this time we went to a less popular beach, Portiragnes. Armed with a picnic of meats, cheeses, and bread (what else?) we settled into the sand and tried not to make our respective sunburns much worse. After lunch, we explored the area, trying to spy flamingos along the marshes, and stopped for an ice cream before heading back.


There's still one day left to write about in our little French saga, but I'm holding out for a bit, as I think the small French town that we visited on a day trip is worthy of its own post. Even so, I hope this post has shown you that the South of France, and the little-known city of Béziers, has a lot to offer- especially if you're traveling on a budget. I mean, it's just too tempting not to book those cheap flights- what are you waiting for?

16.5.17

Discovering Authentic Indian & Bengali Cuisine at Voujon

Voujon is a restaurant that I have passed by countless times. I didn't think much of it. After all, there are practically as many Indian restaurants in Edinburgh as there are stars in the sky. To catch (and keep) the attention of Edinburgh residents and visitors alike, each and every Indian restaurant in town has to find their own way of standing out from the crowd. 

So how does Voujon make its mark on Edinburgh's saturated Indian food scene? Some might say its the punchy purple decor. Others might vouch for the impeccable service. But for me it all comes down to the food. Of course, great Indian food in Edinburgh isn't hard to find. But Voujon prides itself on its ability to seamlessly meld together the flavors of two cuisines which are often thought of as synonymous. Bengali food, while commonly paired with Indian food in restaurants, is often overlooked on menus. Comforting flavours such as butter chicken are likely indulged in over the more unfamiliar spices of Bengali cuisine. But at Voujon, this lesser known cuisine takes centre stage. 


Greeted by crisp white linens (that would soon be dirtied by the likes of saffron and cumin) alongside sleek, modern decor, Voujon impressed from the outset. Surely their food would be as elevated as their decor. 


A plate of crispy popadoms could not be resisted. The perfect way to start a meal- flavourful, guilt-free goodness. With a selection of pairings that consisted of classic mango chutney, spicy pickled lime, and pungent onion relish, Voujon's popadom offerings weren't particularly ambitious, but packed a punch with each crunchy bite. 


Murgh Chatt may not be the most eye catching and exciting dish on the menu, but it's a fan favourite of Ben's. Tender pieces of chicken cooked in a rich but slightly tart tomato sauce makes for the perfect starter if you prefer something that isn't fried. 


I enjoy a good mystery dish from time to time. So even if I don't know exactly what a dish entails, I might just go for it and hope for the best. Wild, I know. After all, what's a good meal without a few surprises along the way? Skipping over the usual samosas and pakora, I sprung for the Voll Puri, enticed by its promise of spicy chickpeas and a tamarind sauce. These delicate spheres of fried air-like bread were filled to the brim with chickpeas and potatoes. My only job was to pour a stream of tart tamarind sauce into each orb, and pop them in my mouth. I'm of the strong opinion that starters should always be fun- and this one certainly did the trick. 


While we felt that we might have been a bit overzealous in our ordering of mains (the wish list seemed to never end!), we were surprised (if not slighty pleased) that the portions weren't as large as we had expected. Most Indian restaurants we've been to offer up massive portions, only for us to attempt to eat it all and leave defeated. But Voujon's menu is a bit more refined than the rest.


Saag aloo is a no-brainer at any Indian restaurant. Even though it's usually pegged as a side dish, I could easily eat it as an entire meal. Tender potatoes cooked in creamy spinach is as indulgent as it gets. For a bit of a change from the usual, we also ordered a side of aloo gobi. Similarly to saag aloo, aloo gobi features potatoes, but has the added bonus of cauliflower- and in a much lighter sauce. The two together? Definitely a winning pair. 


Rice and naan are staples in any Indian or Bengali restaurant. Peshwari naan, being a favourite of mine because of my sweet tooth, was a must-order item. And while I've had my fair share of Peshwari naan in the past, this one definitely stood out. Impossibly fluffy, with a crisp top, Voujon's naan is one for the books. A side of saffron rice also paired well with the mains, adding a touch of flavour without being overwhelming. 


The main events? Well, the blogger rule is to get two very different dishes. Keen to try out some authentic Bengali food, I took a risk and went for the Shatkora chicken. For me, this dish was a standout because of the exotic fruit that featured prominently. Almost like a combination of lime and apple, the  fruity taste was unexpected, but married well with the slightly spicy sauce. Definitely not your average chicken curry. 

Despite my efforts to think outside the box, Ben's main of sag gosht proved to be both of our favourites (yes, we compete to see who orders the better meal!). Juicy pieces of lamb, earthy spinach and fenugreek, and warming ginger all meld together into a dish that has you savouring each bite. 

Just when I thought that I've experienced the best of Edinburgh's Indian food scene, another great spot pops up to add to my ever-growing list. With wholesome Indian cuisine as its foundation, and a passion for introducing its patrons to Bengali food at its heart, Voujon achieves the perfect balance of serving tried and true classics along with new, exotic favourites. 

Thank you to Voujon and Crimson Edge PR for inviting me to the restaurant for a review. You can learn more about Voujon and view the full menu on their website here

8.5.17

Finding Comfort in the Unknown

The unknown is an uncomfortable thing. Especially for someone like myself where planning is a way of life (I am my mother's daughter, after all). But now, as I come into true adulthood, I find myself amidst the most unknown part of my life I've possibly ever experienced.

I may have sought consolation in the odd friend or two about how I don't yet know where I'll be this summer, or what I'll be doing. It's May, and to the average college student not having set summer plans at this point is a nightmare. But the truth of the matter is, my seemingly inescapable apprehension regarding the summer appears to be only a taste of what's to come within the next year or so.

1.5.17

5 Tips for Traveling on a Student Budget

It's no secret that I love to travel. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who instilled the travel bug in me, and continue to do so- my mom is a travel writer after all (talk about goals). But most of the time my bank account doesn't quite agree with the images of wanderlust I have in my head.

I think it's so funny how a lot of my friends from home think that because I live abroad now, that I jet off to exotic destinations every weekend. But that couldn't be further from the truth- most of my weekends are spent happily in Edinburgh, doing work, running, and cooking. But I can't deny that living in the UK does grant me incredible access to the best that mainland Europe (and beyond) has to offer. 

Even if I can technically leave at the drop of a hat for Paris or Rome, I always prefer to be a bit more calculative in my travel. If I didn't plan anything, man would my wallet me hurting. But traveling on a student budget doesn't have to be as boring or limiting as you think. I know I've rambled on about student travel in past posts (like the one I wrote on Venice), but I thought I'd use this post to accumulate my best tips for travel that aren't "duh" obvious. 

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