Why It’s Painful to Watch The Handmaid’s Tale

I went to Bucharest and can see how the entrepreneurs of this lovely country are doing whatever they can to encourage prosperity in their country Romania after such a rigid and horrendous regime.

Source: Why It’s Painful to Watch The Handmaid’s Tale

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Bucharest and Southern Romania



It is hard to imagine what the people of Romania endured under the Communist regime. Whole areas of the city were destroyed, and people moved out of their homes, on the orders of their former dictator Nicholae Ceausescu to create the People’s Palace. Not only did it have to be the biggest and the best but leading up to it he had created for him Romania’s longest boulevard, wider than the Champs Elysees in Paris with numerous fountains. Visitors are only permitted, with a guide, to see a small part of the interior. Everywhere, the floors and the walls, are covered in marble with magnificent chandeliers. Apart from the auditorium with its curved seating and raised stage, now the seat of the Romanian parliament, it is hard to imagine what the other rooms, a lot identical to each other, were used for.

Bucharest is a sprawling city and its important to consider where you stay as the majority of things to see and do are centred around the Old Town. I stayed at the boutique Hotel Domenii Plaza which, although it describes itself as being in the centre, isn’t. It is however, near a lovely park and the city’s Arc de Triumph. www.hotelarchdetriomphe.ro


Staying at a hostel isn’t my logical choice but the owners of the Pura Vida Hostels, Anda and Tudor are such great fun, and I was particularly impressed as their dog goes everywhere with them. One of their properties the Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel is in the centre of the old town where the live entertainment takes place every Saturday night. I saw a photograph of one of their double, private rooms and was pleasantly surprised, much nicer than I had expected. In summer, the Sky Bar on its roof is a social hub and ideal for watching the sun go down, as well as for the view. http://www.puravidahostels.ro

Taxis are very cheap. However it is important to either ask your hotel to order their known reliable one or if picking one up in the street either negotiate the price before getting in or make sure the driver puts on his meter. This is a city where taking #UBER could well be an option.

Barbecued meat can often be found on restaurant menus. Doughnuts served with sour cream is one of their traditional desserts. Romanian wines have come a long way.  Look out for the brand Liliac.


To read a full account of my trip to Bucharest with included a visit to Dracula’s Castle, check out http://www.justabouttravel.net/2017/06/03/bucharest-a-happening-city/

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Food Trends WITH NATASHA BLAIR published by The Magazine Connection



Olive oil is one of those products that should be in everyone’s store cupboard. It is not only beneficial for a healthy diet but can also be used to replace butter, margarine, and other spreads. While butter may taste delicious it is made from saturated fat while margarine is likely to have been chemically treated, and is often combined with other ingredients.

Virgin olive oils are made solely from the fruit of olive trees, and are produced through natural extraction that won’t change the oil. The oil can, however, be a blend of refined olive oil and virgin / extra virgin olive oils.

Countries with regions that have mild winters and dry hot summers are likely to have olive trees, and plantations can be found as far away as Israel, China and India. The label identifies where the oil is from, and it is worth noting that colour is not an indication of quality.

Olive oil doesn’t last forever, and when shopping it is worth considering how much you are likely to use. Shelf life, once opened, is anywhere from eight to twelve weeks as it degrades over time. The fresher the oil the better but it can be kept sealed for up to two years so it is important to check the ‘best by’ date.

Enemies are heat, light and air. Store your oil in a dark bottle or tin. Putting oil in a bottle with a spout may look lovely but if left exposed to the air it is likely to oxidise and become rancid. Avoid plastic bottles or metal containers made from iron or copper as they could cause a reaction. Store in a cool, dark place, never near a stove.

Olive oil tastings aren’t as common as wine tastings but are a fun way to learn about di erent extra virgin olive oils. Arrange a tasting with friends, asking each person to bring a bottle, making sure that they are all di erent. This may include oil where

the producer has infused di erent herbs. Pour a little into a glass, cupping the glass with your hands to warm the oil, and then sni it. Drink

some sparkling water between tastings to cleanse your palate.

For a quick starter or light lunch, where extra virgin olive oil isamust,one of my favourite recipes is Italian Bruschetta

  • Ciabatta bread cut into thick slices
  • Large ripe beef tomato(s), the redder the better, chopped finely removing the centre pith
  • Garlic clove
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Salt & PepperPreheat the oven to 200o C. Put the slices on a tray and bake on both sides until the bread is a golden colour. Take out, and immediately rub the garlic over the hot bread so it sinks into the toast. Drizzle the olive oil over each slice. Stack the chopped tomato on top and finish with a leaf or two of basil. Drizzle over some more olive oil and season. Delicious eaten warm but can also be served cold.The Magazine Connection is a group of four high quality magazines delivered to 23500 homes on the North Hampshire/Surrey borders. Designed to help local businesses promote their products/services to residents the magazines (the first of which was published in 2005) have a truly local feel, with local photos on the covers and lots of Community Content. They also include interesting articles among which is a regular column “Food Trends” written by Natasha Blair. www.themagazineconnection.co.uk
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Giacometti Retrospective Opens at the Tate Modern

Giacometti Retrospective Opens at the Tate Modern

An exhibition of works by Albert Giacometti opens today Wednesday, 10 May at the Tate Modern. Considered one of the great sculptors of the 20th century this is the first large scale retrospective of his work in the United Kingdom for twenty years. As well as the bronze figures for which he is largely associated there are also plaster sculptures, decorative objects, portraits and drawings.
Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognizable works of modern art. A number of items on display have not been seen before including key plaster sculptures which have undergone extensive restoration and which provide a new perspective on Giacometti’s working methods.

Born in Switzerland in 1901, he moved to Paris in the 1920s where he became engaged with Cubism and latterly joined the Surrealist Group. He subsequently became interested in scale and perspective and began to work on much smaller sculptures in a more realistic style. Part of the Avant Garde movement, his works move seamlessly from decorative to fine art. Each room has a different focus.

One room has small sculptures created in his hotel bedroom in Switzerland where he set up a studio during the war. Another focuses on portraits demonstrating his intensely observed images of the human face and figure. A film shows him at work in his studio in Paris.

The exhibition finishes on 10 September 2017.
Look out for events relating to the exhibition www.tate.org.uk
Tel. 020 7887 8888
Open 10.00 to 18.00 and until 22.00 Friday and Saturday
Adult £18.00 Concession £16.50
Tate Modern, Eyal Ofer Gallieries (Nearest tube Southwark)

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The musical ‘An American in Paris’ comes to the West End

I was fortunate enough to go to a preview of the musical ‘An American in Paris’, based on the American film of the same name which has now officially opened at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road.

The music, dancing both classical and modern, and sets are all visually inspiring and its no wonder that the evening finished with a standing ovation.

The theme is a romantic one with three guys falling in love with the same girl in post World War Two Britain. The film starred Leslie Caron as Lise Bouvier and Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan features many of George and Ira Gershwin’s most iconic songs, and has been used again in this production. These include I Got Rhythm, It‘s Wonderful, I’ll Build a Stairway To Paradise and They Can’t Take That Away from Me.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI pursuing his dream to become a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love. Intertwined with the story is rich art collector Milo who wishes to add Jerry to her collection!

The cast is headed by award-winning Broadway stars Robert Fairchild (as Jerry Mulligan) and Leanne Cope (as Lise Dassin).

Monday to Saturday 7:30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinees 2:00pm until September 30, 2017
Dominion Theatre,
268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7AQ
Box Office: 0845 2007982
Website: AnAmericanInParisTheMusical.co.uk

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Food Trends

The Bread Explosion

Gone are the days when you could only buy white sliced bread or maybe a pale brown loaf if you were lucky. Today there are lots of choices, and with so many varieties experimenting with di erent recipes can be a lot of fun.
Organic bread has also become increasingly popular over recent years. Aside from the fact that organic bread just tastes great its increase in popularity can also be attributed to the fact that many of us prefer not to eat pre-packed loaves containing arti cial additives, some of which may also have been sprayed with chemicals to slow down mould. Even factory-made bread promoted as ‘healthy’ may not be, so if this is important to you it is always worth checking that it does not contain improvers or arti cial additives and is made with organic grain.
Essential ingredients for making bread are our, water and salt. Use naturally occurring airborne yeasts, fresh baker’s yeast or dried yeast. There are two types of the latter, dried active and instant. The latter is easier as you literally just add it to the our while the former has to be activated with water and sugar.
To make the bread more interesting, vary the type of our that you use and add ingredients such as nuts, seeds and raisins. Dough needs a lot of muscle, kneading can be fun if you want an outlet for your aggressions but it can also be messy! If you have a good electric mixer the results can be as good as doing it by hand. Some people prefer to use a bread machine that does the kneading and proving (resting) for you but this calls for instant or fast acting yeast and the bread is unlikely to taste as delicious.
Practise makes perfect and this particularly relates to making bread. Start with an easy recipe:
• 1kg strong bread our (organic if preferred)
• 30g fresh yeast or 20g instant yeast
• 30g salt
• 650 ml. tepid water (make sure it is not too hot as the dough won’t rise)
Put the salt in your mixing bowl rst then add the our with the yeast on top. Pour on the water and start mixing or kneading immediately. The trick here is to make sure the salt doesn’t touch the yeast before you start mixing as the dough won’t rise if you do. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 -15 minutes.
Leave the dough to rise in a draught-free place until it doubles in size. Then de ate it by punching it down with your knuckles to let out the air and create an even texture.
Shape the dough either putting it in a tin or on a greased baking tray. You could shape it into what looks like a French baguette. It should then be left for an hour or so to ‘prove’ (rise).
To give it a golden look, glaze with a beaten egg that has had a pinch of salt added. Put in a hot oven, 200C for 20 – 25 minutes. You know the bread is ready if it sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
Nothing can beat the aroma and taste of freshly baked bread. Enjoy!

The Magazine Connection is a group of four high quality magazines delivered to 23500 homes on the North Hampshire/Surrey borders. Designed to help local businesses promote their products/services to residents the magazines (the first of which was published in 2005) have a truly local feel, with local photos on the covers and lots of Community Content. They also include interesting articles among which is a new regular column “Food Trends” written by Natasha Blair. www.themagazineconnection.co.uk

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Little Venice Dog-friendly Cafe in Garden Centre

Clifton Nurseries

Dog-friendly Quince Tree Café at Clifton Nurseries

The Quince Tree Café, hidden away in an otherwise residential area bordering on Little Venice, is where you are likely to find many of the locals. Walk down a passage way where on either side are huge plants, and you are in Clifton Nurseries, one of Central London’s leading places to buy flowers. Rows upon row of flowering plants are on display just waiting to be bought. On the left in what looks like a large greenhouse/conservatory are a huge selection of houseplants. Here curled up on the counter you are also likely to find the resident cat!

On the far right, half hidden by plants is another glassed airy conservatory. This is the Quince Tree Café. Open throughout the day, the menu is small but there are always a few extra dishes of the day. They claim to only buy British meat, support local suppliers, and use responsibly sourced ingredients. Even more important for me, a bonus is that Poppy, my Coton du Tulear is welcome and even supplied with her own bowl of water.

My free-range scrambled eggs(£6)were served on sourdough toast as was my friend’s smashed avocado with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes (£7). A full English will set you back £11. Freshly pressed juices range from £3.95 for orange to £4.75 for strawberry, orange and pear.

Open Mon – Sat: 9am – 5.30pm
Sun: 10am – 4.00pm Breakfast is served until 12pm and 12.30pm on Sunday.

Address: 5A Clifton Villas, London W9 2PH.
Phone: 020 7432 1867

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Revolution: Russian Art at the Royal Academy

Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, Bolshevik, 1920

Oil on canvas, 101 x 140.5 cm

State Tretyakov Gallery

Photo (c) State Tretyakov Gallery

Running until April 17, 2017 an interesting and extensive exhibition at the Royal Academy Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932 focuses on the period of Russian history which ended Tsarist rule. A time when both Lenin and Stalin were in power.

The exhibition features Avant-Garde artists including Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich. The artistic landscape of post-Revolutionary Russia and the emergence of photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain are on display alongside paintings. The arts thrived until the end of 1932 when Stalin’s brutal suppression drew the curtain on creative freedom. Socialist Realism defined Communist art as the only style acceptable by the regime.

With over 200 works, the exhibition includes loans from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow as well as some from the most significant international private collections. Many of the works have never been seen in the UK before.

I was fortunate enough to visit on a day when one of the 45-minute incredibly informative introductory tours was being held. Worth trying to visit either on a Wednesday at 2.30pm or Friday at 7pm to 31 March when these free tours take place.

Open until 10pm Friday also includes late night weekends
Related events include an art history and theory course on 25/26 March 10am – 5pm
Admission £18.00 Children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

Marc Chagall, Promenade, 1917-18

Oil on canvas, 175.2 x 168.4 cm

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Photo (c) 2016, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

(c) DACS 2016

Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
Piccadilly, London W1J OBD.
T. 020 7300 8090

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Stylish 3* Hotel in Champagne

Le Marius Hotel

img_2153I enjoy hotels that have character and the stylish family run hotel Le Marius at Ricey Bas in the Champagne region fits the bill. On the Burgundy border, in a small village the 16th century Le Marius is made up of four houses from the region. All the eleven bedrooms are different in size, and stylishly decorated. Mine had a large bed and timber rafters with a mezzanine floor with a further two twin beds. The en-suite bathroom was modern. They also have one bedroom available for people bringing dogs with a supplement of €15.

In its stone cellars, formally used to store wine, there is an atmospheric restaurant where dogs are welcomed to accompany their owners for a meal.

The vineyards surrounding the village have three appellations Champagne, Rose des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois. Champagne producers are everywhere. In this village alone there were 65!

Le Marius
2 Place de l’eglise, 10340 Ricey Bas, France
T. 00 33 (0) 325293165

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Hockney at Tate Britain


Mr and Mrs Clark (Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark) and Percy 1970/1

A major exhibition of two hundred and thirteen works spanning nearly 60 years of David Hockney opens at the Tate Britain on Thursday, February 9. This is a unique opportunity to see early classic paintings alongside more current work in a variety of media. Paintings, drawings and photography include a collage of images taken on his i-pad and i-phone transporting the viewer through different seasons. Throughout his life Hockney has frequently changed his style and ways of working, embracing new technologies. Except for the first room, most of the works are in chronological order, tracing his development from his time as a student through his iconic works of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the present day.

The accompanying audio which Hockney contributes to, is very comprehensive and worth listening to, to maximize on understanding and enjoying his compositions.


Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

A selection of related events are taking place during the exhibition including Festival No. 6 on the evening of Friday, March 3 where there will be live music, poetry, comedy and pop-up theatre performers.

9 February – 29 May, 2017               Open daily 10.00 – 18.00

Tate Britain, Milbank, London SW1P 4RG.

Tel. 020 7887 8888      www.visittate.org.uk

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