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Madrid: Where to go and what to bring back

It’s been a while since I had a destination review here. The last one was about Amsterdam (find it here) which many of you found useful (there are also gift guides about ParisMarrakesh and Bali, if you have a bit of time). Today, I’m going to introduce Madrid with all its stunning architecture, culture and, of course, gifts to bring home.

Places to visit

Mercado de San Miguel (website)

It’s featured in every recommendation/city guide I’ve read about Madrid, and it really is worth it. Head there for an early dinner – the typical dinner is after 9pm, but things do sell out fast there, especially sea food, so 7pm is better. The choice is limitless, so simply indulge. The portions are small enough to try quite a few things (well, we still ended up going there twice). My personal top recommendation would be oysters and champagne.

oysters champagne

Just opposite the oyster bar is a tiny stall where they serve vodka and caviar (insider tip: if you are Russian, they give you an extra shot).

vodka caviar

Real Jardín Botánico and El Retiro Park (website)

These botanical gardens are right next to the Prado museum and you’d expect it to be packed. Instead, it’s a relaxing sanctuary that smells heavenly and has unique plants from all over the world. When we were visiting in April, it was full of tulips. After a day at the museum, it’s simply perfect.

giant tulips

trees at botanical gardens

After some rest at the gardens, head to the nearby Retiro park for a bit on panting (prepare to queue, it’s popular).

panting in madrid

Opera brunch at the Westin (website)

Now this one was a true find. I would recommend this experience to everyone who loves opera and good food. Held every Sunday at La Rotonda restaurant at the 5* Westin Hotel, it combines opera classics (the standing couple below are professional singers from Teatro Real) with amazing service and fantastic food (think unlimited lobster and free-flowing vintage cava).

opera singers

And the desserts!!!

desserts at the opera

It’s not cheap at €78 per person, but we were completely blown away. Book a few weeks in advance.

Things to Buy

Customise a t-shirt at the official Real Madrid store (website)

This is a must for any football fan – two floors of everything Real Madrid, from their full kit to things like watches and toys.

real madrid shop

The best part is the customisation area of the store, where they create t-shirts with any player’s name on right in front of you. Just pick a name from the catalogue (we went for Ronaldo) and let the magic happen. The stickers are heat-pressed, and it takes a few minutes only.

collection of football tshirt stickers

printing ronaldo tshirt

Get a book at Desperate Literature (website)

On the way back to our hotel (it was approaching 11pm) we stumbled upon a small shop which was still open and where everyone spoke English to each other. It got us curious enough to walk in and discover Desperate Literature – the cosiest, most intelligent book shop I’ve ever visited.

desperate literature storefront

It’s much more than a shop – it’s a place to meet, have a conversation and play a bit of chess, all whilst being surrounded by hand-picked books. Go there to immerse yourself in the world of paper books you thought disappeared when Kindle took over.

desperate literature bag

rum diary description

This shop just celebrated its 1st anniversary, so come say hi and buy a book to support their enterprise. Every book you buy gets a stamp, so it reminds you where you got it from – a nice touch.

desperate literature stamp

Buy unique tea at Tekoe (website)

Yep, that’s right. Not ham, not a flamenco dress, TEA. Forget English Breakfast and Green Tips, here you’ll find such things as yellow tea and Wasabi-flavoured tea. There’s even Japanese tea that is infused with gold, which is sold for over  €100 for 50g (that would make one very luxurious gift to a tea lover).

tekoe gift

tekoe teas

The shop is a café too, so stay a bit longer to try their red velvet cake – it’s sublime.

A few extra tips

The best meal we had was at Casa Perico. Apart from top notch food, don’t forget to ask the owner why they have a giant Playboy chandelier – it’s quite a story (no spoilers) 🙂

playboy casa perico

We spent 4 night at Dear Hotel, which was central enough to walk almost everyone. During summer months they have a rooftop pool (one more reason to get back).

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

Origami bow: Having fun with gift wrapping

Most people dread gift wrapping. I get it – it’s much more fun selecting a gift than figuring out how to wrap it.  Took me a while to make my first decently-looking bow out of a silky ribbon that’s just not meant to stay in place (use two knots, not one), or to cut wrapping paper straight (there’s still no magic solution there!).

But, it can be fun! If you have a bit of time (and if you like YouTube tutorials) – read on. This was my first attempt to create an origami paper bow. For that, I found some double sided wrapping paper (from Waterstones on Piccadilly, sadly they don’t sell it online) in funky summery colours, bright green and raspberry pink. You can happily use standard one-sided paper too, but having both sides gives you a bit more wiggle room to be creative.

paper bow close up

I didn’t take pictures of my progress (I was concentrating too hard on the task itself), but here’s the video that shows it perfectly step by step.

For the extra pop of colour, I cut a bit more paper than needed for wrapping and used it to make a few extra folds at the front, similarly to how Jane Means does her gifts.

Wondering what’s inside? A double-sided belt by Paul Smith (see a theme?), which is perfect for most outfits. Navy goes with most colour combinations and burgundy can spice up an outfit that needs a bit of colour (like grey). Their boxes are already luxurious and you can get away with no wrapping at all (it’s not a crime).

paul smith double sided belt

You can find it on Paul Smith’s website in black and purple, which I think is another fantastic choice.

Stay tuned and check out my Instagram for more gifting inspiration.

Ilona x

 

Meet Mike, the cutest night light

“This is Mike, and he’s going to be your new friend, especially in the dark”, – this is how I introduced this uber-cute night lamp to a 2-year old son of my good friends. Not only entertaining, it’s also useful – it’s designed to teach kids to be comfortable in the dark.

As a small child myself, I remember being afraid to walk around my room in the dark when I couldn’t sleep. And the worst thing ever was to have a nightmare, wake up and then be afraid to open my eyes, in case “the monsters” were still nearby!

I wish I had something like this back then –  it would have saved my mum a lot of sleepless nights, like when I would force her to come in to my room (after shouting pretty loudly “M-o-o-o-o-m”) and wait patiently till I fall asleep again.

This lamp is portable and made from soft plastic, which is durable enough to withstand years of “abuse” (dragging it around, bashing against the hard floors…you get the idea), but it’s also nice to hold, hug and sleep with. All you need to do is remember to put it on the charging dock from time to time.

To switch the LED light (LED is important, as it’s cool, so you don’t need to worry it might overheat), you simply tilt it from side to side. If you’re not as polite to follow the tilting instructions, just shake it – that’s what we did!

If you’re not into monsters, there are many other choices from favourite Disney cartoons (think Frozen, Mickey Mouse and Winnie-the-Pooh). Check out Philips’ website to see the full range.

I got mine from Amazon – it’s also on sale at the moment, from £24.99 to £13.68. You can buy direct from Philips too, but you’ll have to pay the full price, so up to you!

Both the paper and the bow are from Paperchase. I decided to follow the cartoon theme and picked the colour of the bow to match the toy – I always try to match the gift wrap to the present, I think adds a nice touch to the overall experience.

wrapped toy gift

What toys do you miss from your childhood? And what toys that are available now you wish you had back then?

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

V&A Museum Shop: Treats for your jewellery box

I have a peculiar relationship with my jewellery boxes. There is a small leather box on my bedside table for things I wear daily, like diamond studs and a few pendants. But then I own a “secret” (and rather large!) brightly-coloured wooden box, hidden in my wardrobe, dedicated to different pieces I purchased during my travels or while out and about in London. I open it from time to time to simply relive those happy moments. And despite not wearing these “secret” jewels very often, I like looking at them and knowing they belong to me 🙂

My girlfriends also have similar hidden treasure boxes, so I’m not alone – I remember spending entire evenings dressing up together and sharing stories about our possessions during our teenage years (well, back then those were mostly plastic bracelets and an occasional silver necklace from grandparents).

The one place I come back over and over again to get inspired and buy something new for my collection and as gifts for my girls is Victoria & Albert Museum. Known globally for their fashion exhibitions, their shop takes jewellery very seriously. They commission emerging and well-established designers to produce items for them, using quality materials and even precious stones. Some jewels at their Gift Shop go for thousands of pounds!

Here are a few of my favourites from my recent trip there.

geisha earrings v&a

These ceramic earrings, inspired by Japan, can elevate an all-black outfit without forcing you to have any other oriental items on. I’d simply pair it with red lipstick on a night out.

eco friendly wooden watches

I’d recommends gifting these statement wooden watches to your eco-conscious friends.

button textile earrings v&a

Textile earrings are having a bit of a moment this spring, so I’d buy these for my fashionista friends for a bit of Instagram fun.

V&A also sell wrapping paper and cards, inspired by their museum collections.

3d card v&a

wrapping paper v&a

I wrapped my gift in the jewels paper (I loved the colours and the variety of gemstones), using ribbons and the tape from Jane Means.

V&A cover 1

the bow

I made the bow myself  using two matching ribbons and decorated it with three transparent gems for a bit of sparkle.

close up of the gift

And I’ve finally taken a close up photo of the gift wrapped using the double-sided tape, so you could see how immaculate it looks compared to the standard tape you’d put on top. Jane Means makes a thin and easy-to-use version, especially for wrapping gifts, and it’s really handy.

double sided tape jane means

If you’re in London in the coming weeks, visit the Al Thani exhibition at V&A that showcases the most stunning jewellery, ranging from intricate ornaments owned by Indian royal families in the 17th century to the unique pieces from Cartier inspired by the Indian culture.

v&a jewellery

Stay tuned,

Ilona x

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How I got my gift wrapped by Jane Means

Last week Paperchase organised a gifting event at their flagship store in London – free Valentine’s Day gift wrapping by Jane Means.

In case you don’t know, she’s one of the most prominent trend setters in the gifting world, and has wrapped presents for the Royal family and countless celebrities.

Her journey in gifting began 20 years ago, designing cards and wedding stationery. Fast-forward two decades of hard work,  and she now manages her own line of wrapping accessories (think luxurious ribbons, tissue paper and boxes), regularly presents on television, travels around the world for masterclasses and has even written a book titled “Giftwrapped”.

Here are a few things I learnt from her that day:

1. Get a decent pair of scissors

Cutting paper and especially silk ribbons is an unrewarding experience if you don’t own a decent pair of scissors. Now that I wrap my gifts more regularly – and most importantly share it with you – I think it’s time for an upgrade. Jane recommended these Scotch titanium scissors which apparently are up to 5 times sharper than stainless steel.

jane means cutting the ribbon

I would not be able to cut two silk ribbons with my cheap paper scissors without making a huge mess

2. Use double-sided tape

This is not new to me – I’ve recommended it to you before. But Jane has improved it further by creating  a “skinny” version of this tape. I always find the conventional 1 cm tape to be too wide, so I end up cutting it in half anyway. Now I won’t have to, as Jane sells this “skinny” tape on her website. Gifts sealed with double-sided tape look infinitely neater and more luxurious, so it really is a no-brainer investment at £2.50.

3. Don’t be afraid to try origami

I’m not super creative with wrapping paper (all my efforts tend to focus on bows), but Jane demonstrated how creating a few extra layers by folding one side of the paper can result in stunning designs. As this gift was for my boyfriend she folded the paper in a way that made it look like a men’s dress shirt. He was well pleased 🙂

jane means folding the paper

You can’t even call it proper origami, that’s how simple it is: fold excess paper a few times before sticking it to the other side

In case you are wondering what’s inside – A4 Moleskine notepads in navy. Very handy if you like taking notes freely – I hate small notebooks that run out of space after a few words in a line – I need space to express myself and not be distracted by borders.

A big thank you to Paperchase for a wonderful evening.

jane means and ilona sediha

Jane, me and the gift 🙂

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Stay tuned,

Ilona x

 

Valentine’s gift ideas: Classics with a twist

I will probably surprise you here a bit – I don’t actually mind Valentine’s. Yes, it’s overly commercial (like every other holiday), a bit pretentious and sometimes awkward, as brilliantly summarised by Debrett’s.

But hey, it’s there, and it’s big, so avoiding it all together seems as much of a statement as embracing it, and I’m always an advocate of embracing everything that makes people happier.

With us girls, it’s such simple things as flowers and chocolates (which we’d take any day, if given the opportunity!) that have the power to make us feel wonderful.

What I am going to advocate here is to approach this celebration with a small dose of creativity – it’s silly to deny that something can beat flowers and sweets. What you can do, however, is to go for gifts beyond red roses and chocolate truffles.

Flowers

I like roses. I really do. But red roses won’t impress your woman (unless it’s a 1,000 of them, but that’s more of a shock, really). Instead, go for trendy ombré roses, like this beautiful bouquet here, which I purchased at Columbia Road Flower Market.

ombre roses

Actually, it’s pretty perfect if you live in London – it’s a Sunday market, so what you can do is wake up early on the 14th, head there (the market is not far from Old Street station) and get a bunch of fresh flowers for her. Added bonus: It will cost you considerably less, compared to your local florist (or, God forbid, an online flower service).

If you’re really after the wow factor, try more exotic flowers like these miniature pineapples. Extra brownie points for being original are guaranteed 🙂

pineapple flower

Sweets

Last year I explained why small boxes of luxury chocolates are a much better investment for Valentine’s than a standard supermarket box of Cadbury’s (check it out). This year I’ve done further research and discovered some other amazing options for you.

For example, these chocolates from Dark Sugars (Brick Lane, London) are full of raw goodness and cater for everyone, including vegans. I’m not a vegan myself, so I headed straight to their alcoholic selection 🙂 The photo below shows a truffle with a little white tube on top (full of Irish Cream), which you pour over your truffle just before eating. If that isn’t blissful food heaven, I don’t know what is!

dark sugars chocolates box

Other more traditional flavours include pink champagne, hazelnut crunch and sea salt, so you really can’t go wrong with these.

But, there are other ways to show how sweet you are by selecting a mini cake or even a meringue. For luxury cakes, Cocomaya are unmatched (unfortunately, these cakes also come with a lot of calories, but I personally don’t count, especially on Valentine’s).

cherry madeleines

pecan caramel cakes

For cute small desserts, Selfridges food hall is the best.

raspberry meringue

Be loved this Valentine’s!

Ilona x

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Underwear for Valentine’s: Your man deserves an upgrade too

I see this post as my humble attempt to bring equality to gifting. It’s very common to see all sorts of promotions for female underwear around Valentine’s Day. Men spend hundreds of pounds on bras, babydolls and stockings, inspiring their women to embrace this overhyped romantic holiday.

I think it’s about time we treat our men too. You can get fantastic male underwear from such established designers as Versace and Hugo Boss for a fraction of what women’s items from the same brands would cost. That’s because this market is not as developed as luxury lingerie – after all, very few sane men would splash out £40 on a pair of boxers.

It’s simply not fair we get to look and feel fabulous every year without allowing our boyfriends and husbands to parade in front of the mirror in shiny new trunks. Let’s change that!

Head to Mr Porter or Harvey Nichols for a selection of premium quality underwear that will make your man feel desired too. Obviously there are other websites that sell fancy underwear for men (don’t even get me started on animal-themed G strings), but I would urge you to avoid anything that could be deemed vulgar. Choose a piece that you know will make him feel good, something comfortable that he would enjoy wearing on a date with you.

I found this low rise trunk in rich burgundy at Garment Quarter.

My gift is wrapped in very stereotypical paper with hearts, but to add some personality I’ve put a little bow tie on top (for a bit of manly glamour, if there’s such a thing!).

wrapped gift.jpg

Have fun shopping 😉

Ilona x