Where have I been? As some of you will know, we moved to the beautiful west coast of Scotland in May and I've been busy doing up our new flat which just happens to have a stunning view over the Firth of Clyde.
When you wake up to this every morning, it's hard to get into work mode but, a few weeks ago, I realised it was time to get real. But how was I going to get myself motivated?
A trip to Paris maybe?
Sounded like a good idea. And imagine my excitement when I discovered I could combine it with a trip to the world-famous Salon du Chocolat. A few clicks of the mouse later I was booked on a flight and had sorted out my hotels (including one night at my absolute favourite, Citizen M at Charles de Gaulle airport).
I moved to central Paris the next morning and set off for the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre. It was a complicated journey due to a bomb scare so this photo celebrated my eventual arrival.
A feast for the eyes and tastebuds
There was chocolate from every corner of the world, talks by chocolate experts and - la piece de résistance - the chocolate fashion show. I can't pretend this wasn't the real pull. I read about it in the press and social media last year and couldn't believe I was actually there to see it with my own eyes.
The photo isn't great (it was very busy) but will give you some idea of the fabulous chocolate creations which graced the runway. Apparently it can take up to 100 hours to create one outfit. I wonder how much chocolate they eat in the process.
Was it worthwhile?
Apart from eating my way through my own body weight in samples, it was great to chat to exhibitors and get a feel for what's new in the industry. Raw chocolate is big. I listened to a talk by an eccentric raw chocolate maker and sampled raw cacao beans, one totally unadorned and the other coated in a chocolate powder. If I'm honest, it's obviously an acquired taste, but quite possibly the biggest future trend.
Well I couldn't leave without making a few purchases, purely for research you understand. A beautifully-packaged 75% Venezuelan, dark chocolate 'fish' made with olive oil and almonds and - my ultimate favourite - these gorgeous Paris Perles (crunchy caramel balls coated in milk and dark chocolate) by Paris Chocolat.
However, for me, the biggest takeaway was a boost to my confidence. When you don't live in your source language country it is not always easy to find opportunities to test your fluency in the spoken language. I thoroughly recommend you 'go solo' as lots of people will speak to you, although next year I don't think I'll be able to sneak away on my own. I've already had a few offers to keep me company. I wonder why?