How To Bring Spring In

How To Bring Spring In

How to bring spring in

After a long winter, the sight of spring bulbs, buds on the trees and the smell of hyacinths in the kitchen will make anyone smile! When the Christmas Decorations are put away and the house feels a little bare, it’s a perfect time to learn how to bring spring in.

Spring floral displays

Whether you have flowers to pick at home or you buy from the store, the beauty of spring flowers is a must for your home. Spring bulb arrangements are the one time where you can really enjoy a mix and match of both colour and types of flower and it still looks stylish! Keep the container simple and let the flowers speak for themselves. Hyacinths add that amazing smell filling the house with sweet scents for days.

How to Bring Spring In with a spring floral display in jug

How to fix drooping bulb displays

One problem I often find with indoor bulbs, is that as the greenery grows it has a tendency to droop and look – well a little messy! A great way of overcoming this issue is to create a twig nest around the bulbs as they grow. The twig nest keeps the bulbs upright as well as adding an informal spring like touch and interest. I’ve foraged our hedgerows and garden for pretty twigs that have a good number of horizontal branches. Beech or willow work particularly well, and twigs with forming buds or catkins make a pretty addition.

Hyacinths in cream container with twig nest

Pretty blossom

There’s not much prettier in spring than blossom. Frothy and delicate – blossoms can appear from early spring right through to early summer. Pick a branch or two for a simple and classic display.  Enjoy just a twig or two to put in a tiny jar on your work desk. Make sure to make you stop and appreciate the beauty of spring at your next coffee break.

Pretty spring blossom

Beautiful bulbs

On a springtime visit back to Colorado, I fell in love with this eye-catching tulip bulb display in my good friend Teresa’s beautiful home. 11 tulip bulbs, simply planted in a cylindrical glass vase, their roots creating an interesting base.  With each day that we stayed, the bulbs opened up with a stunning effect. Reuse the vase again next year for another display or use at other times of year with a simple candle.

Indoor tulip bulb display

Prepare for the season

Each year in early December I spend a few hours in the greenhouse preparing for spring. It’s a satisfying time, preparing for the months of January and February when the Christmas decorations are down and all we want is spring to be here. I plant various containers with narcissus, hyacinth or muscari bulbs. Part of the fun is to be creative about the vessels to plant the bulbs in. I’ve experimented with jugs, mugs, metal containers or simple terracotta pots.

Bulbs and twig nest in blue jug

Prepare for next Spring

When spring is in full force, it’s a great time (and a good excuse) to take a mindful stroll around your garden space. I like to notice the bulbs that have come and gone, and take photos and an inventory of how many colours and varieties were in my spring showing and if there were plenty to pick to ‘Bring Spring In’. Add a diary note for November or December of what you’d like to buy and where you’d like to plant them. Don’t forget to set aside some time to do some planting in the weeks ahead. Your future spring will thank you! 

Small daffodils in a border

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin

Quirky Berlin is a city with a gritty exterior and a heart of history and culture. It’s easy to tick off the top sights of which there are many – but look deeper and you’ll find hidden gems and things to taste, drink and try. Here’s a guide to some top Berlin quirks that you might not otherwise find or know about!

Berlin Wall - quirky berlin

Look Down

So often our eyes are drawn to a city skyline – but some of Berlin’s history is literally at your feet.  Across Berlin, you might notice a double line of cobbles with an occasional brass plaque. This immortalises where the Berlin Wall once stood and starkly reminds us of how the city was literally split overnight.  Another quirk of Berlin is the vast amount of cobbled footpaths. These cobbled paths are amazingly simple and traditional for a city full of concrete. Built with only 3 ingredients – cobblestones, sand and a hammer.  Watch out for the tell tale signs of recent repair by noticing any small remaining piles of sand on the pathways.

Touch the wall - quirky berlin

Touch the wall

Remember when you were young and visited somewhere like a museum, castle or historic site?  I was always being told ‘Don’t touch anything’.  For once you don’t have to worry, for as historic as the Berlin Wall is – you can touch it! There are plenty of places to see and touch the wall, to look up and imagine the powerful restriction on your life that the Berlin wall was for so many.  If you visit the East Side Gallery (a must in my opinion), then look out for the ‘Touch the Wall’ mural.  It’s an incredible place to feel part of living history.

Cross the road in Quirky Berlin

Travel like locals

At pedestrian road crossings in Berlin you’ll find a push button to stop the traffic safely for you – except, as I found out – the buttons don’t push! You simply wave your hand over the sensor and that is enough!

Bikes are very popular in Belin too – and there are certainly many bike tours and bike hire venues.  The public transport system is also excellent – plus it’s a flat city so walking is a popular mode of transport.

Graffiti

Graffiti

Graffiti is everywhere in Berlin, but ask a Berliner about it, and they will probably say they don’t notice it.  Unlike in other cities, graffiti isn’t just for underpasses or derelict buildings.  In fact, you’ll find it on the building walls of high end housing blocks and public park structures.  You can take graffiti tours in Berlin, and I even learnt a little about tags, throw ups and murals on my Eating Tour!

Quirky Berlin

The famous Trabi

The Trabant car (meaning companion) is one of the most iconic symbols of Berlin. This small, inexpensive vehicle was manufactured from the GDR since 1949. It was loud, slow, run by a 2-stroke engine and with wings and doors made of plastic. With wait lists of up to 10 years, some citizens signed up their newborn children to the waitlist.  The Trabi’s are a long way from what we drive today, but it’s amazing to think that a car can be such an icon for a city.  If you are looking for something fun, different and traditional to do in Berlin – why not take a self-drive Trabi tour around Berlin.  You can find out more on the Trabi-safari website.

Pipework in Berlin

Pipework

Another quirk of Berlin is the pink overground pipework – 60km of them to be exact! As Berlin is built on swampy land, these pipes pump ground water away from building and construction sites to the River Spree and other canals. Why pink? The pipes supplier Pollem wanted to make a statement with the pipes. After discussions with psychologists, pink was chosen as the most popular colour choice of children and because it seems a fun and youthful colour to adults.

Food in Berlin

Eating around the city

Two of my passions are travel and food – so an eating tour of Berlin was a must for me!  Focussing on the East of Berlin, I wandered streets filled with Turkish and Syrian influence.  My guide Clara, taught me the difference between a Shawarma and a Donna and I tried a delicious hummus-style dish called Mutabal.  There were some Berlin classics too like a Flammkuchen and a Currywurst. We sampled beers, a Fritz Cola and a Berliner Weiss Cocktail (I think I prefer a cosmopolitan more!).  Scattered with history and explanations of modern-day life in Berlin, the tour was a great way to spend an afternoon eating and learning on the go! I booked a tour with Eating Europe.
Beer in Quirky Berlin

Drink like locals

Set amongst most small rows of shops in Berlin, you will find a Späti.  They are small shops filled with chillers of beer and soft drinks, a few snacks and the obligatory bottle opener on the side of the cash till.  This is where you stop as a local, anytime of day, to pick up a cold beer.  There’s often a few chairs outside or a small bench seat.  Or of course, you can carry on your way drinking your beer en route, because unlike in other cities, it’s not forbidden to drink alcohol while walking around the city.  Spätis are cheap, practical and a really local quirk of Berlin.

RAW nightclub

The smallest nightclub in the world

The RAW Tempel in Berlin is definately a quirky venue. It’s a sprawl of abandoned hangars full of graffiti and huge murals, mixed with a contemporary art exhibition, restored furniture shops and biergardens. You can climb an old bunker transformed into a climbing wall or skate at an indoor skate park that is enjoyed by famous skaters. My favourite suprise? – the Teledisko, the smallest nightclub in the world built inside a telephone booth complete with disco ball and fog machine. It’s an edgy part of town and I’m not sure I’d venture there on my own after dark! but it’s fun and certainly quirky.

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande

Discover the captivating old-world charm of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, nestled along Florida’s stunning Gulf Coast. This hidden gem offers a truly unique island experience and it will leave you enchanted. From its 7 miles of pristine beaches to the charming town of Boca Grande, it’s a haven of natural beauty and tranquility. Breathtaking sunsets paint the sky, gentle waves lap the shore while dolphins play out in the gulf waters. Whether you seek relaxation, adventure, or a taste of local culture, Gasparilla Island has it all. Explore the rich railroad history, indulge in delectable coastal cuisine, and embark on unforgettable outdoor activities. Come and experience the magic of this enchanting island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Gasparilla Island Statistics 

An island on the Floridian Gulf Coast roughly halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers.

Beaches, Wildlife, Outdoor Activities and Dining.

Visit between October and March to avoid the humid and hot summer months.

The average yearly population of Boca Grande is only 1130, tripling during Jan - April.

No gas stations, traffic lights or chain restaurants but plenty of natural beauty and old world charm.

Home to Osprey, Pelicans, Dolphins, Tarpon, Iguana and many more...

Island History

The Calusa Indians, well known as fishermen, were the first inhabitants of Gasparilla Island back in 800 AD/CE.  By the 1870s several fishing ranches started operating in the area run by Spanish and Cuban fishermen.  Boca Grande also became known as a mecca for sport fishing.  When phosphate became popularised as a farm fertiliser in the mid-19th century, Boca Grande’s deep water location became important for loading tug boats heading to Charlotte Harbour.  By 1912 the island flourished and had a railroad, ferry, an Inn and even a golf course and then wealthy winter ‘beachfronters’ started to move in.  However in 1958 when the bridge opened, the economy and community declined and the car ferry, train school and even lighthouse sadly closed down. Gasparilla Island is resilient, so from the late 1970’s, beach-loving second homeowners gave the island a new lease of life.  

Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande - lighthouse
Kappy;s
$6 to be a millionaire for a day

It’s only a $6 car fee to cross the Boca Grade Causeway bridge and it’s  worth every cent.   When you cross the causeway, look out for the old railroad on your left. To your right, you will see several picturesque islands like Little Gasparilla Island that are now only accessible by boat.  Stop at North Village on your left and hire a golf cart at Kappy’s Island Shoppe to get a true Boca Grande day trip experience.  Then, drive a few pretty miles along a purpose-built and mangrove-lined golf cart and bike lane into the historic district of Boca Grande.

Downtown Boca Grande

Downtown Boca Grande has a nostalgic and relaxed feel.  Quiet streets are lined with pretty, picture postcard houses with immaculate and manicured gardens and white picket fences.  Dotted around the town are historic buildings telling of a bye-gone era of a prosperous railroad community.  There are scenic bike and golf cart lanes and tiny parks like The Sam Murphy Park, all tended with love and care

Sam Murphy Park
Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande
Pristine Beaches

The island offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Florida. The sand is white and powdery and there are huge varieties of shells and even prehistoric shark teeth to go hunting for (TIP – they are small and jet black!)  Keep an eye on the flags at the state park areas to keep you alert to any danger to swimmers. There are options for renting paddle boards, kayaks and boats or maybe head out on a fishing trip! Choose from public beaches with restrooms, showers and parking to smaller, quieter sections “off the beaten path” – there’s something for everyone. 

Banyan Street

One of my personal highlights of Gasparilla Island is Banyan Street – it’s totally captivating.  The trees were planted in 1915 by the original builder of The Gasparilla Inn.  Over the years, the banyan trees have intertwined and formed a beautiful canopy over the street. The huge gnarly roots and trunks are like something from a movie and this is a fantastic spot to take some memorable family photos. 

Banyan Street
Pink Pony
Eat and Drink

It’s not a trip to Boca Grande without an ice cream at the Pink Pony. Choose from exciting and iconic flavours including Hurricane Charley or Gator Trail (chocolate, peanut butter, pretzel peices, YUM). The Temptation has been a popular restaurant for decades and Miller’s Dockside is a great choice for lunch.  One of my favourite eateries is currently closed for refurbishment post hurricane Ian but hopefully, you’ll soon be able to enjoy a seafood strudel and rum runner at the South Beach Bar & Grille!

The Boca Beacon’s Visitor’s Guide

Pick up a FREE visitor guide produced by towns weekly newspaper, the Boca Beacon.  It’s full of useful information for locals and visitors alike.  You’ll even find spotters guides including some for fish, marine life, shells, plants, birds and reptiles.

Want more information on Boca Grande? You can download the Boca Grand mobile app now too!

Island Landmarks

Tick off these Island classics on your trip to Gasparilla Island.  There are the two iconic lighthouses – Port Boca Grande and the Range Light which are a lovely 40 minute beach walk apart.  There’s the Lighthouse Museum, Fugates department store and Hudson’s Grocery.  Whidden’s Marina is a one of a kind – and the Pink Pony Ice cream shop is legendary.  You have to walk down Banyan Street and take a golf cart along the length of the island. Stop by the beautiful Gasparilla Inn and you’ll be stepping into the same hotel frequented by US legends, J P Morgan, Henry Ford and even President Bush.

Hudsons Boca Grande
Gasparilla Island Birds
Nature at its best

Gasparilla Island is home to some very special creatures.  There are massive osprey with a wingspan averaging 180cm.  You’ll spot plenty of pelican and anhinga birds that you might see swimming with their elegant necks exposed.  Watch out for Iguanas and on occasion an alligator or two.  It’s a beautifully green island with palms, mangroves, railroad vines and sea oats lining the shore.  If you look out to sea, you are likely to see dolphins at play.  A beautiful island full of nature ready to be explored!

My top 10 things to do on the island:

1. Visit the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum

2. Set up your beach chairs on your own patch of beach paradise

3. Go seashell and shark teeth scavenger hunting

4. Have the ultimate ice cream at the Pink Pony

5. Stroll around the shops and eateries downtown

6. Enjoy a beach sunset

7. Explore the island by golf buggy

8. Take a selfie or family photos on Banyan street

9. Drop a penny in the Sam Murphy Park fountain

10. Up for a challenge? walk the length of the island!

Church on Boca

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande with my family for over 15 years.  It’s a wonderful place that simply feels like coming home.  Elegant yet laid back, it’s full of natural beauty and old-world charm.  Gasparilla Island has to be one of the hidden gems in the USA.

Easy Pumpkin Pie

Easy Pumpkin Pie

Easy Pumpkin Pie

About this Recipe

Pumpkin pie is wonderfully nostalgic for me.  It brings back happy memories of our time living in Colorado and all the fun, tastes, smells and sights that fall and Thanksgiving offered.  Up until very recently, it was really hard to buy a simple tin of pumpkin pie mix in the UK shops – but to my delight, it’s now possible!  I love to make this pie when our girls come home for a visit as nothing says ‘I love you’ more than a pumpkin pie!  There will be the Scotty McCreery song ‘ Back on the Ground’ playing when they walk into the kitchen – and even though it’s a pumpkin and not a pecan pie I’ve been putting the final touches on.. the sentiment of the song is perfect for us empty nest mumas.  Give it a listen!

Now if you’ve read or tried many of my recipes, you’ll know I generally love to cook from scratch. This pumpkin pie is a wonderful exception that I’m happy to embrace.  The pre-prepared ingredients make for a simple but delicious pie.

I hope it becomes a much-loved November tradition in your home.

Ingredients

Ingredients:

Yields 1 pie
Preheat the oven to 220℃ (425℉)
  • 1 pastry shell (Shortcrust pastry)
    (I use a 215g shell)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 x 425g can of pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice. 
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (I use about 300g of a 397g can)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg – You could add ground cloves and ground ginger as well or instead.

Many traditional US recipes use evaporated milk instead of the condensed milk that I prefer.  I love the creaminess of condensed milk, and because it’s so sweet I don’t add any additional sugar to my recipe.  Feel free to vary the spices too – for example, our family LOVE cinnamon, so I use lots, but we aren’t so keen on ground ginger so I omit that.  Nutmeg also gives a great smell to the final pie and I like to grate some on top of the pie when baked.

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1

Simply mix the pumpkin puree, eggs, salt, spices and about 300g or 3/4 can of condensed milk in a bowl.

 

Mixed pie
Easy Pumpkin Pie

Step 2

Spread the pumpkin pie mix inside the prebaked and bought pastry shell.  Don’t overfill – you might have pie mix leftover.  Pop in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until set and slightly golden.

Step 3

Remove the pie from the oven and leave it to cool before serving.  You could serve it with ice cream, whipped cream or drizzle with a spoon of the leftover condensed milk.  It’s delicious with a mid-morning coffee too!

Pie ramekins

Extra pumpkin pie mix

If you have leftover pumpkin pie mix that won’t fit in the pastry shell, spoon it into small oven-proof ramekins or dishes and bake in the oven alongside the pie.  You can top it with granola for an autumnal breakfast or squirt on cream for a simple dessert. 

 

Top things to see and do in Rome

Top things to see and do in Rome

Top things to see and do in Rome

Rome is the ultimate bucket list city!    There are iconic ancient wonders, movie-worthy backdrops, incredible cuisine, fountains and architecture.  It’s a city I could happily return to time and time again.  You will keep finding new hidden gems and you’ll never tire of the Rome classics. For a first trip or to make every moment in Rome count, here are my top things to see and do in Rome.  It’s your ultimate Rome bucket list.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is the essence of Rome and often of Italy itself.  Its size and atmosphere are immense and the emotions when you step into this ancient amphitheatre are overwhelming.  With over 2000 years of history, the Colosseum was started in 72 A.D and finished in 80 by Emperor Titus.  The 188m long and 156m wide Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheatre as known back then) allowed more than 50,000 Roman spectators to enjoy exotic animals, gladiator fights, recreated battles and executions.  It remained active for 500 years before lootings, earthquakes and even bombings undeniably took their toll.  Despite this, the Colosseum is now one of the seven wonders of the modern world and over 6 million tourists visit annually.

Top things to do and see in Rome

Top Tip

Book in advance! and take a guided tour.  I’d recommend one of the ‘Full experience ticket’ tours with entry to the arena of the Colosseum or arena and underground if available.  You can also get combo tickets to include The Forum and Palatine Hill.

The Forum
The Roman Forum

Symbolic and gloriously atmospheric, the Roman Forum is a large rectangular plaza surrounded by ruins of important ancient government buildings.  It was the heart of ancient Roman life – where speeches, trials, processions, elections and gladiator battles took place.  Walking around the Forum is a wonderfully immersive experience.

Palatine Hill

The most famous of Rome’s 7 hills, Palatine Hill offers wonderful views of the graceful ruins of the Roman Forum some 40m below.  It was an impressive location for the homes of aristocrats and emperors.  The area housed Roman palaces, a vast complex of pools, saunas and even a gym for the Emperors.  Find a shady spot to sit and enjoy panoramic views across the city.

Palatine Hill
Top things to see and do in Rome include the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

La Fontana di Trevi (The Trevi Fountain) is perhaps the most famous fountain in the world.  This Baroque fountain on the piazza was built between 1732 and 1762. At 20m high and 26m wide, it’s Rome’s largest fountain.  Its name – La Fontana di Trevi, comes from the fact that 3 (Tre) roads bisected this point back in Roman times.  The water glistens turquoise and the stonework is a crisp, cool and clean backdrop for wonderful photos.

Want to return to Rome? With your back to the fountain, throw a coin with your eyes closed over your left shoulder using your right hand.  Over a million Euros are thrown into the fountain each year going to charities.

TOP TIP: For the best photos and to experience the fountain without the tourist hustle, visit before 7 a.m.

Enjoy local foods

Testaccio is the original foodie neighbourhood of Rome. Less busy than other popular food areas, you can enjoy Testaccio Market as well as a wonderful choice of restaurants.  Pretty Trastevere with its cobbled streets and alleys is another lovely place to dine.

What should you try? These are some of my favourites…

  • Amaratriciana Pasta  – a sauce of tomato, pecorino romano and guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl – which tastes better than it sounds)
  • Pasta alla Gricia – a sauce of guanciale, pepper and pecorino romano
  • Carbonara – a sauce of guanciale, egg and parmigiano reggiano
  • Cacio e Pepe – a sauce of pecorino romano and pepper
  • Carciofi alle gudia – deep-fried artichoke
  • Suppli – breadcrumbed and deep-fried rice and tomato spheres stuffed with cheese
  • Porchetta – slow roasted pork with garlic, sage, salt and rosemary

 

things to eat in Rome Carciofi-alle-giudia
Granita de cafe
Coffee – the Rome way

Look out for Italian coffee bars, rather than cafes.  Don’t sit to drink your coffee, instead order at the bar, stand and drink it in a few gulps.  Milky coffee is generally only deemed acceptable at breakfast.   For something cooling in the summer Rome heat, try a granita de cafe topped with whipped cream – Delicious!  If you are heading home after dinner you might like to stop for something ‘stronger.’  Try a caffe corretto – a shot of espresso with a liquor of your choice to ‘correct’ the coffee. 

Admire the view

With so many historic landmarks, ruins and fountains – admiring Rome from above allows you to appreciate the immense scale of Rome.  Palatine Hill offers a wonderful view but there’s a way to get higher and see more.  The Vittorio Emanuel ii Monument is on an epic scale in a striking position next to the Roman Forum.  A super cool bonus is the glass-walled elevator that can take you to the rooftop.  Aptly named ‘Rome from the Sky,’  there are the most amazing views over the city and surrounding areas.  Although it’s a relatively expensive ticket for an elevator ride – the view is really worth it and generally the rooftop is extremely quiet by tourist Rome standards.  The ticket will also give you a museum entry – so you may want to allow extra time.  

View from Vittorio Rome
Things to do in Rome include Piazza Navona
Spend an evening in a piazza

Resting your weary walking feet in a piazza restaurant as sun sets is a pure joy.  Piazza Navona treats you to three grand fountains and you can enjoy street performances from one of the restaurants that line the square.  From the Piazza della Rotonda, you can take in the wonder of the Parthenon which is beautifully lit at night.  So many piazza’s and so little time. 

Enjoy a real Gelato

So here’s the scoop… (sorry I couldn’t resist)

Is gelato different to ice cream? Yes – because gelato uses much less fat than ice cream and it’s churned at a slower speed giving it a denser texture and more intense flavour.  It’s also served at a higher temperature than ice cream so the flavour pops more.  But as the word gelato and artisanal are not regulated in Italy – how do you find the real deal? You can look for:

  • Natural and muted colours
  • Seasonal flavours
  • The use of a metal space, not a scoop
  • Gelato that isn’t piled too high but is stored in a lidded metal container
  • Gelato that isn’t shiny

 

top things to do in Rome
Parthenon
Pantheon

    One of the most recognisable buildings in Rome, building work commenced in 27 BC and its original use is still unknown. In 609, the Pantheon started to be used as a church.  To this day, it’s one of the best preserved monuments of ancient Rome.  You can buy entrance tickets online here including tours and audio guides.  This opulent building is also beautiful to enjoy from a pretty piazza restaurant.

    Rome is a heady mix of history, archaeology, architecture, culture, art and food.  It’s a romantic, exciting and atmospheric city to visit and explore – one you just can’t get enough of.  I hope this list of top things to see and do in Rome will help get your adventures underway.

    Ciao!

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