Paris in autumn - The Sussex Girl

Back in November we jumped on the Eurostar and headed into the bright lights of Paris.  I’d never visited before (apart from Disneyland) so it was a super exciting trip.  I hadn’t quite anticipated one thing though, Paris is damn expensive. Not just ‘oh Europe is pricey’ expensive, like ‘£18 for one hot chocolate and a lager’ expensive.  It wasn’t helped that it was post-Brexit which meant that the exchange rate was pretty terrible (basically £1=€1) but that aside, Paris was still going to take a little bit of navigating so we didn’t come back with empty bank accounts!

So how can you visit Paris without breaking the bank? Here are a few tips…

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

1. Book ahead

We managed to get our Eurostar tickets for just £29 per person each way.  That included luggage and zips you in utter comfort from the heart of London into the heart of Paris.  We’d have struggled to get flights that cheap and we’d then have incurred luggage costs and have further to travel in each city. We snapped up the tickets when they were released and were completely flexible on the dates.  We travelled out on a early Monday morning train and returned on a Thursday evening during the winter season. Perfect!

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

2. Go self catered

Air bnb is your friend! Being self catered meant we had enormous flexibility and saved huge amounts by doing a supermarket shop that meant we could do breakfasts and dinners at the flat.  We loved popping out for fresh pastries in the morning and having breakfast in our PJs looking out over the rooftops of Paris.  We did have a few meals out but having the option to eat ‘in’ kept the cost down.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

3. Get off the main drag

Like with any popular city, you’ll find that the prices are hiked up for the tourists along the main spots. Walk a few blocks away from the busiest streets and you’ll find beautiful corners just ready for you to discover. Around where we were staying in Montmartre for example is a little catacomb of pretty streets and colourful buildings. The tourist spots are intersected with little explored roads, so jump out of the guide book and into real Paris – you’ll pay a far more reasonable price for your Chocolate Chaud!

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

4. Use the tube

Paris has a great underground network and you can grab a carte of ten tickets for €14.50 which makes travelling across this enormous city much easier, faster and cheaper.  We tended to travel out and walk back via whichever arrondissement we were exploring that day. Save your feet and cash, use the tube!

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

5. Find the bargains

Like London, there are some great places to explore at no or low cost.  A lot of the museums offer free entry for EU citizens under the age of 25 (UK residents better be quick at claiming this before Brexit comes crashing in!) but if, like us, that sadly doesn’t apply any more (damn you 27 years) then do your research and check out the special days when you can get free entry like the first Sunday of each month for the Louvre.  Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur are both free of chrage to explore so make sure you include them in your itinerary.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

6. Plan your days

Get those guide books out, search out intineraries on Pinterest and make sure to ask all your friends for their recommendations.  If you plan your route each day, even if just a rough outline, you’ll not fall into the expensive tourist traps of premium guided tours and taxis to whizz you to the next monument so you don’t miss out.  We spent a little time before we went coming up with our ‘not to be missed’ list and then each day planned out our route to include our plans for food (to make the most of our self catering!).

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

 

7. Grab early bird tickets

When you have your rough itineraries, check online to see if it will be cheaper to buy your tickets online before you turn up at a museum, gallery or event.  There are lots of good deals out there if you have a little time to investigate.  We didn’t use the Paris Pass system as we felt it wasn’t cost effective for the time we had out there but it is often advertised as a good way to get multiple tickets for less than the full price tickets combined so it might well be worth a look for you.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

8. Don’t go inside

Do you really want to go up the Eiffel Tower? If the answer is ‘yes absolutely, it is on my bucket list’ then by all means, go ahead.  If you aren’t that fussed then save your cash! I wanted to get lots of photos of the Eiffel Tower but I realised I was more attracted to the idea of the skyline with the tower in it, not from the viewing platform! We were lucky to have the most incredible view from our Air bnb apartment which definitely helped me feel like we weren’t missing out.  Similarly if you’re not feeling an afternoon with thousands of other people hunting to find the Mona Lisa you can always choose to enjoy the Louvre and the nearby gardens from the outside instead.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

9. Pick up a bottle and grab the set menu

If you are eating out then hunt for the little restuarants off the beaten track that advertise their set menus. We found a gorgeous little French-Italian place tucked away in Montmartre that offered a great three course set menu for less than €27 per person – which trust me, might not sound it but was actually a reasonable price for Paris! The food was delicious, the restaurant owner was adorable and it was all perfect for our final night in Paris.  Whilst we’re talking eating out, lets just chat wine for a moment.  Pop to the supermarket, grab a bottle for €4 and enjoy it in your apartment! It’ll be on sale for €20 in the restaurant next door. Trust me.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

10. Enjoy the romance

Whether you’re visiting with the one you love or your best girl friend, there much atmosphere waiting to be soaked up in Paris.  Wander down the Canal St Martin, mosey along the River Seine, catch the Parisien sunset, watch the street artists perform, have a massive argument in Gare du Nord (no? Just us?!), take 101 pictures of the townhouses, pool your cents to buy one more croissant, throw open the bedroom window in the morning to listen to the city below. Enjoy each one of those moments, they won’t cost you a penny.

Paris on a Budget - The Sussex Girl

My first post about our Paris trip is full of lovely photos if you haven’t already spotted it.

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

A new coffee shop has popped up on the scene in Portsmouth.  Nestled amongst the bright lights of Commercial Road, Harbour Coffee House stands out for all the right reasons.  The glow of its welcoming lights and elegant branding sets it apart from the chain snack bars and high street shops that are more familiar at the heart of the city.

Elsewhere in Southsea and Portsmouth, the independent business rules. I love that!  So its no surprise that there has been much excitement in response to Harbour Coffee Shop opening its doors four weeks ago.

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

I nipped down to have a chat with Jonny, the manager at Harbour Coffee, and hear all about the particularly special reason this coffee shop has opened its doors.

“The story starts two summers ago, I visited Portsmouth with Alex and Ryan. We walked around Portsmouth, looked at the city and the idea of a church plant in Portsmouth. Probably out of that came the idea of how we work with vulnerable young people and that got me started with this.” Jonny used to work for a charity in East London who work with young people between the age of 14-19 who have been kicked out of mainstream education as well as supporting those age 19-24 get back into employment. This social work background gave him a great insight into social enterprise and what an impact work experience opportunities can have on young people.

“I saw a lot of things with social enterprise and how that was run, that I thought we could adapt for Portsmouth and also things that we could develop to really pioneer how the church does social enterprise, what that looks like and how you can create a culture of sustainable employment for vulnerable young people and adults.”

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

It wasn’t until Jonny visited a friend’s cafe, Cafe Fleur, in south west London that he began to formulate a plan for how the project could really work.  Lucy, from Cafe Fleur, just happens to be from Portsmouth and offered the much needed advice and guidance on setting up the coffee shop.  “So we’ve seen a disused retail shop underneath the church get converted into what you see now, with the idea that we’ll be taking on work experience placements as part of a partnership with Harbour Church, Portsmouth Cathedral and a national charity called Volition.”

Volition Community is an organisation that seeks to provide support and skills to those who find themselves long-term unemployed. Volition partner with cathedrals, businesses, city councils and Job Centres to provide a structured pathway to enable those who volunteer to get back into work.

Jonny explains; “The whole idea of Volition is to create sustainable avenues back into employment for vulnerable adults and young people. They do that through an education course, CV writing and mentoring as well as work experience opportunities.  In Portsmouth; the Cathedral and Harbour Church will be partnering with Portsmouth College.  The college will deliver the training and the church will be providing mentors.  The idea of the coffee shop is that from September we will be able to provide work experience placements here. There will also be placements available in the church and the cathedral. We wanted to really create a live working experience for someone so they can come into an active shop with a culture and an ethos which teaches them all the skills they need to know to sustain employment.”  The team that Jonny has gathered into the coffee shop are all enthusiastic supporters of the vision and are working hard to embed an ethos that will mean that the coffee shop becomes the perfect training ground for volunteers on the Volition programme.

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Exciting ey?  But will it work?  So far, the statistics say YES.  The programme that is running in Manchester has seen 50% of those volunteers coming through the Volition pathway finding employment afterwards, where they were then supported by their Volition programme mentors. That’s compared to the 19% success rate that the Job Centre’s work programme cites (according to Nesta).

There are so many avenues to explore with this kind of programme, volunteers are referred on to the scheme by Job Centre Plus and can be facing any number of challenges as they try to get back into work.  As part of the partnership there will be mentoring and support for vulnerable young adults, long-term unemployed and ex-offenders.  Innovative projects like this really do have huge capacity to change lives in Portsmouth.

So aside from all the amazing work we can expect to see from Harbour Coffee, there are a few other questions to tackle.  I can vouch for their amazing smoothies (you have to try the Banana Espresso!) and the cake is mouth-watering but how have the first few weeks really been?

“I’ve come from being an in-house social worker which comes with very different challenges to pouring the perfect flat white, running a business and managing a team.  I never understood how much stuff you’d go through each week, the weather turning can massively affect how much business you get!” Jonny is on a steep learning curve!

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Portsmouth is a proudly independent city with lots of brands, shops and businesses taking root. Is it a welcoming city to start a business in?

“People are really receptive, the one thing we get a lot is that Commercial Road has been crying out for an independent coffee house – that’s been an overriding theme from our customer’s comments.  People are grateful for a nice, warm and friendly environment on the road that they can come to with friends.”

“There are some amazing independents here – just down the road from us we have Canvas, they do fantastic coffee and have been very welcoming and lovely to us. I think the culture in Portsmouth for independents is that it’s not seen as competition, it’s seen as more like two fingers to the establishment!”

I can vouch for how many great brands we have in Portsmouth and Southsea, so it’s amazing to know that they’re all as welcoming as they seem on the surface.

“I think we’ve really noticed that there are lots of great opportunities to work together. It’s been great to get to know the local coffee community. We’ve had some great chats with the guys at Southsea Coffee (remember when I blogged about them?), some of the baristas came in and shared their experiences. They’ve also simply offered friendship which, for someone who is new to Portsmouth is just lovely.  I’ve really appreciated getting to know the other independents out there. Strong Island have also been amazing and we share the same coffee bean roaster as Hunter Gatherer on Albert Road and they’ve been so helpful and encouraging. We get our bread from Bread Addiction who are a fantastic local artisan baker.  The guys from Home Coffee have popped in for coffee. Everyone really supports each other and keeps an eye out for one another”

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Harbour Coffee House - The Sussex Girl

Of all of Harbour Coffee’s new friends, who does the best cup of coffee in Portsmouth?

“Aside from our own?! That’s really hard! I have to say Hunter Gatherer because we use the same beans.”

So the first month down, there are many more things to learn before they have their first Volition volunteers through in September. Jonny’s working on the menu, starting to experiment with different products (he’s developing a Kale smoothie at the moment), the team are amazing bakers so there’s always a different cake on offer.

I’ve been tipped off that a very exciting secret gig will be happening during the afternoon of the 4th March so it’s all go for the team at Harbour Coffee as part of a developing events series that’ll see the coffee shop play host to all sorts of guests.

Keep an eye out on their Facebook page, and Instagram.

To learn more about Harbour Church head to their website and Instagram.

Watch this space for more news on the Volition partnership in Portsmouth!

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Last Saturday I popped my camera into the basket of my bike and set across to Old Portsmouth for my very first Strong Island Photo Walkshop.  The idea is simple, a group of people who explore an area with their cameras, learning as they go.  The walkshop gives the perfect chance to take a first look at a somewhere you’ve never been or a different look at somewhere you thought you knew very well.  It was really lovely to know that I had those two hours set aside to play with my camera, to take some baby steps towards being able to operate it better and to focus solely on getting a great shot!

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

We started outside the cathedral; exploring perspective, leading lines and unexpected detail.  Moving inside we found the most incredible light and shadows to play with. Portsmouth Cathedral is beautiful; from its oldest bits to its newest. From the cherished details of the Royal Navy’s past to moments of history captured for future generations – there is plenty to explore and capture on camera.

Our lovely guides even took us up into the organ loft and into one of the towers where we captured unusual views across the rooftops of Old Portsmouth.

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

I am beginning to get a bit braver with my camera. Whilst it’s a fairly old, basic DSLR, I haven’t used it to its maximum capacity yet as I’m not very good at getting it out of auto and playing with the core settings!  Taking time out on the photo walkshop gave me the perfect excuse to start experimenting a bit more with someone close by who could help me trouble shoot.  The huge amount of natural light pouring into the cathedral gave the perfect backdrop to play with black and white too.

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

The Strong Island Photo Walkshops run throughout the year with all sorts of different themes and locations.  I’ll be trying to book on regularly so that I carve some more precious creative time into my weekends and get some learning in too.  You never know, I might even venture back onto a manual SLR with film…!

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl

Strong Island Portsmouth Cathedral - The Sussex Girl - camera walkshop

Portsmouth Cathedral Camera Walkshop - The Sussex Girl

How do you make time for your hobbies and interests in a busy week?
What is it you wished you had more time for at the moment?

Would love to know!
B x

 

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

January is one of those months where you need comfort food. Warm, filling, full-of-goodness and easy to cook food. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found January came around quickly in a haze of Christmas chocolate and mulled wine, as well as a few cheeky pounds that had crept on in the fun of the festive season.

So I’m picking out a few of my favourite week day recipes that don’t skimp on flavour but which are light on calories and super-low fat.

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

This tasty stew clocks in at just under 280 calories per portion whilst being filling, super-nutritious and generally rather yum scrum.  If you are a Slimming World fan like me, then this is also syn-free if you take out the olives and use your Healthy Extra A for the mozzarella.

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

You’ll need:

1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
2 crushed chillis
2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
Worcestershire Sauce
400g can butterbeans
150g cherry tomatoes, halved
85g pitted green olives, whole
Handful fresh basil
1 ball reduced fat mozzarella
Salt and Pepper
Parsley to garnish

Spray a large pan with oil and heat before softening one chopped red onion. Add three cloves of crushed garlic and one chopped yellow pepper to the pan.  Stir in one teaspoon of paprika, one teaspoon of cumin and two crushed chillis (take the seeds out for a little less kick).  Tip in two 400g cans of chopped tomatoes and add a slosh of worcestershire sauce.  Simmer the sauce for five minutes before draining a 400g can of butterbeans and adding to the stew.  Chop 150g cherry tomatoes in half and pop in the pan with 85g pitted green olives. Continue to simmer the stew for a further ten minutes until the butterbeans have softened and the sauce has begun to thicken.  Shred a small handful of fresh basil and roughly tear a ball of reduced fat mozzarella.  Add both to the stew and give it a good stir. Season with salt and pepper.  Scatter a few parsley leaves as you serve – it should give you at least three good sized bowls of stew ready to keep you going!

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

Tomato and Mozzarella Stew healthy - The Sussex Girl

This is perfect for supper or reheated for lunch and you can serve it with rice, couscous or crusty bread if you like although I enjoy it by itself.

Let me know if you try this out for your January supper – what are your healthy comfort food favourites?