Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Sportsman, Whitstable

A group of four (two couples) decided to take a little road trip out of London to Seasalter near Whitstable on Sunday. The drive was less than an hour outside of the city and the feeling of the salty air was amazingly refreshing.

The Sportsman pub (where we chose to eat lunch) has one Michelin Star and is well worth this accolade. Surprisingly the pub doesn't look anything special from the outside and the toilets, whilst clean and functional do not give a Michelin Star impression. However, the restaurant has a lovely rustic interior decor and friendly staff. It also has an unusual relaxed concept where the food menu is all written on a chalkboard and you must go up table by table to order! Book well in advance, we waited three months for a lunchtime weekend reservation but this is a great treat and worth the wait.

The restaurant has plenty of parking and is also a short few minutes walk to the beach, which you can wander up and down to help digest your meal! Equally you can drive into Whitstable itself and continue your day in this quaint little seaside town! The other amazing benefit of this establishment is your alcoholic drinks won't have London prices attached to them despite being in a Michelin Starred location! This was a pleasant surprise on our bill as between us we managed three white wine spritzers, three glasses of white wine, two lager shandy's, two pints and an espresso yet including service and the tasting menu at £45 each the total damage was £260. For all the food and alcohol you cannot really grumble at £65 per head!

So, the tasting menu! We started with a little appetizer, which was presented in half an egg shell. The dish was made from egg yolk and haddock and was creamy and delicious. Next up were oysters or salmon with the same toppings for those that weren't up for the challenge! The oysters were presented on a bed of seashells, which was novel. One oyster was poached with caviar in a creamy sauce and the other was raw and accompanied by some chorizo, which was a wicked combination.

Egg Appetizer 
Oysters
Salmon Equivalent
Next up was pot roasted red cabbage with apple and fresh cheese. This was a really interesting concept and the flavors all worked very well together. The cabbage was followed swiftly with a selection of three different home made breads and thick butter. There was a white, brown and a rye bread. I am not sure what the rye was flavored with but it was absolutely mouth watering. The white and brown were soft with a thick crust and baked to perfection.

After our breads we tucked into a delicious sea bass dish with a crab bisque, which was definitely my favorite dish I tried. This was followed by a pork and celeriac concoction with roast potatoes. After a little pause we were brought the dessert board to choose as our tasting menu came with any dessert of our liking. We all went for different things. The boys tried the warm chocolate mousse, which was a generous portion. I went for the rhubarb souffle accompanied by a custard ice cream and my other friend chose a lemon tart with a meringue ice cream. The ice creams are all home made and the meringue flavor was amazing! We finished up with a strawberry ice lolly dipped into cake milk, which was milk with bits of fairy cake and was great!!!!

Rhubarb Souffle with Custard Ice Cream
All in all we were in the pub for almost four hours and loved every single second. The food is brilliant and presented really well. The staff cannot do enough for you and I think the prices are really reasonable. If you fancy an afternoon out of London definitely get on the waiting list and head down for some sea air and a fabulous meal.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Kanchana's Kitchen @ The Kings Arms

Last night a group of three couples headed down to Waterloo to try Kanchana's Kitchen at the Kings Arms. Our first thought was how cute and quaint this little pub is in the middle of a very residential part of Waterloo and also a stones throw from Waterloo East train station. The pub was packed and according to our local friends is every evening from Tuesday onward. There is no outside seating but you can stand outside on the pavement or perch at the bar inside.

After a couple of glasses of beer and wine it was off for some Thai food at Kanchana's Kitchen, which has it's own little room at the back of the pub. They do accept reservations but it's more of a drink whilst you wait establishment. There is plenty of space but equally it was completely packed so get there early and put your name on the list. The dining room itself is really homely and the smells from the kitchen will make your mouth water.

The service is quick and friendly and the food is amazing! We went for four of the mixed platters between six of us, which was more than enough food. The satay were gorgeous and I liked the tempura vegetable. The only issue was this starter was typical Thai deep fried food and maybe we preferred the fish cakes and satay, which were slightly healthier. Also order some prawn crackers with sweet chili sauce as these are great for munching whilst waiting for the main event.

We kind of went for a sharing attitude and ordered a Thai Red Duck Curry with pineapple, which was my favorite. A couple of Thai Green Prawn curry's, a couple of Pad Thai's and the grilled sirloin steak. All of the curries came with steamed jasmine rice as well. The food was honestly great, it was hearty and authentic and we all left full and satisfied. We were also allowed to continue drinking at the table long after we had finished our food.

The Thai is table service but you will still need to head to the bar for drinks but this creates a really relaxed and informal atmosphere, which was great for a casual Thursday night meet up with friends. The best part was the total bill for all of the food INCLUDING service charge was £15 per head! It was a massive bargain for such a central location! Even with some drinks on top it made for a pretty reasonable evening out and we would thoroughly recommend a little visit if you are in the area.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Real cost of a UK Wedding

So congratulations, you are engaged, you have hopefully enjoyed a little time together since the big news was announced, you have told your family and friends and you have set your budget!

However, a budget is almost impossible to both set and stick to without knowing the actual cost of a UK wedding. I appreciate this can vary hugely depending on guest list, venue choices etc etc. I would say mine was quite an average wedding in terms of guest list and luxury and so I thought I would share a little of what I learnt re budgeting.

Wedding Dress:

I got lucky with my wedding dress. I didn't really have a budget in mind as my Dad was kindly buying this separately to the wedding budget. Do be warned that high street stores stock dresses from around £5-600 right up to £3-4,000 so if you do have a strict budget don't let them put you in a dress you cannot afford. Obviously designers will be even more!

My dress cost me £806.40! It was a little over £1,000 and after I left the appointment the boutique offered me 20% off if I purchased within one month so I had a mad dash around other stores and couldn't beat the dress so purchased it at a very good price!

My alterations cost £250 and my veil was £140. I also purchased some amazing L. K. Bennett shoes, which came in at £182.50 including the inner soles. Therefore dressing the bride cost a total of £1,378.90

Bridesmaids & Ushers:

We chose four bridesmaids and three ushers for our big day. The bridesmaid dresses were sold to me at 20% off because I had bought my wedding dress from the same store so came in at a total of £672, however, they were a huge let down despite being made to measure and cost a further £290 to alter. They wore their own shoes but the cost was still a total of £962.

Fortunately the boys were not so bad! We hired suits from Austin Reed, which cost £110.50 per person including the groom so the boys, who also wore their own shoes were dressed for a total price of £442.

Cake:

We chose to buy a cake from Marks and Spencer. A part of me wanted a luxuriously tall, incredible, fancy cake, however, once I realized the price of these structures, which can set you back over £1,000 if you are not careful I decided it wasn't really worth it for that one cutting the cake photo. We spent £229 on a lovely chocolate wedding cake covered in a hard white chocolate casing from Marks. It was three tiers and served 120 guests. There was none left by the end of the evening, I didn't even try a piece myself so it was obviously popular and tasted good!

The only issue with these cakes is you will need to collect them the day before the wedding and you will need someone to assemble. However, they come with instructions and an online video and my Dad managed without any issues.

Photography:

This is a tough one, as it really is the only part of the wedding you are left with after the big day, so do make sure you give a reasonable amount of the budget to this area. We hired a photographer from 1pm for a 1:30pm ceremony as we decided it wasn't worth the cost for the "getting ready" photo's and chose to take these ourselves. The photographer gave us four hours of coverage so captured all the guest arrivals and ceremony, all of the group shots we asked for, some shots of the two of us, the speeches and cutting the cake. Aside from the first dance everything was captured.

Choosing four hours instead of eight hours meant the photography came in at £750. I appreciate this is a very personal choice and you may well want the evening captured professionally. As a result we chose to have a photo booth for four hours during the evening for slightly more relaxed shots. The costs was £495 and was well worth it. People were queuing to go in and we have some amazing evening memories to look back on.

So photography worked out a total of £1,245

Cars:

We got lucky with our cars and found an amazing company very close to our venue. As our church and venue were so close together we hired a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Landaulette for £370. The chauffeur collected my Mum and the bridesmaids for a further £40 and then came back for me, which saved the price of a second car. As my fiance and I couldn't agree on the car the company kindly switched them over during the ceremony at no extra cost so we traveled back as a married couple in a gorgeous open top 1921 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. As a result total transport cost £410.

Stationary:

A lovely friend of a friend who we met at another wedding kindly designed our beautiful wedding stationary. She put hours and hours into perfecting what we wanted and charged a total of £250 for the design. We had day invites and R.S.V.P. cards as well as evening invites and R.S.V.P cards, name places, order of service and thank you cards all mocked up. These were then printed via a friend including envelopes for £200. Eleven months before our big day we also sent out save the date fridge magnets from Not-on-the-High-Street at a total cost of £62.50, however, we didn't send these to everyone as we hadn't finalized our guest list at this point. So stationary cost a total of £512.50 plus postage!

I will blog in due course about our flowers and venue, hair and makeup but I hope this has given you a little insight into what a wedding costs and will enable you to think about what you can afford to be more or less extravagant with or where maybe asking for friends and family help could save you pennies.



Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Fireball Pizza Company

Apologies for another pizza post! However, over the weekend my sister, her boyfriend, my hubby and I headed down to The Fireball Pizza Co in Bromley, South East London as it's owned by someone we know.

It's always great to support a friend in a new venture, however, support was not needed, this place was fantastic! Book ahead as it's not huge and we had to wait for a table. They have been packed out almost every day since they opened a couple of months ago. The decor in the restaurant is really well done and the pizza ovens and preparation station are open for all to watch. They also do take away here! Parking is a bit of a pain, you just have to find a spot on one of the roads nearby but it's worth the effort if you love pizza.

There is a small menu available and a few specials, which change regularly. We went with a garlic bread, which was nice but nothing incredible and a Bruschetta, which was half and half. One side was mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil and the other side was Parma ham, rocket and Parmesan. We loved the concept and the flavors worked very well together. Next up were the pizza's. These are the perfect size for one each, I don't think they are big enough to share!

I went for a plain Margherita, which was great! The boy chose a Ruben, which he said was delicious. My sister thoroughly enjoyed her Neco and her boyfriend polished off a Fireball with no issues what so ever! For dessert there are a selection of different homemade ice creams and also a special cheesecake and maybe one other option. We went for the bake-well cheesecake, which was immensely good! So good in fact we ordered extra to take home with us!

This was a perfect little evening out and I would recommend to anyone in the area to give this place a go. It's always good to support new and local businesses and this one does genuinely deserve your custom.


Monday Dinner - Circle Pizza

Last night a group of friends and I grabbed a quick and casual dinner at The Circle Pizza Company, which is located in Hoxton Square.

This restaurant doesn't accept bookings, however, it's pretty large and has outside dining space. It was quite busy but you would have no trouble getting a table here mid-week. The restaurant joins on to the Hoxton Bar and Grill, which is a shame as you must use their toilets, which aren't exactly the most luxurious when you are eating a Monday pizza whilst sober!

The menu here is very simple, do not come for a gourmet meal. It's just pizza. There are no starters, sides or desserts so this may not be everyone's first choice. However, I believe we often indulge when dining out and as I seem to be out and about all the time recently it was good to just have one pizza and not be tempted into over eating. The selection here is relatively small with only a couple of other pizza specials but sometimes less is more and in this case the pizza's were delicious.

We ordered one each but all mixed and matched. One pizza is enough per person, you won't be stuffed but you will be comfortably full. They come served on large wooden boards and handily already sliced! My favorite was the "Rocket Man", which included prosciutto and was covered in delicious peppery rocket. I thoroughly enjoyed "Capo's", however, it was quite spicy so I am not sure I could have eaten a whole one! My final favorite delight was "The Dark Side of the Shroom", which had a variety of mushrooms and ricotta cream. Chili oil is also in abundance on the tables so no need to even ask!



The drinks menu is varied enough for one evening! We were not rushed and the staff were attentive and friendly. In all, if you want to grab a quick mid week pizza with friends this place is ideal. With one large glass of red, two Corona's, a couple of soft drinks, five pizza's and service the bill was £77; so dinner, a drink and a couple of hours catch up in Hoxton can cost as little as £16, which to me is good value for proper restaurant dining.

There are more varied pizza companies around but these pizza's will compete, what they lack in menu offerings is made up in the taste of the small selection they supply.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Planning a Wedding - You're ENGAGED

Firstly, a massive congratulations if you have just got engaged!!!

Planning a wedding can be quite a stressful experience. Even if you are like me and are super organised you will go through phases of exhaustion and despair! Once you are newly engaged you first need to establish the kind of wedding you want. Very quickly family and friends will get involved and it may well become about the party or others needs rather than yours. This may suit you and the future groom but if not now is the time to establish the ground rules with those that are and are not allowed to help and provide an input.

The other crucial aspect is setting your budget. This is the time to have the awkward financial conversations with those that may be helping and to ask for the firm figure from anyone who does wish to contribute and also establish whether the money is strings attached or not. You do not want to find a contribution from your family means the guest list will be dictated against your wishes months down the line. So just make sure everyone is clear on budgets and what those budgets mean.

Next up is setting a date, do not tell anyone you have a date until you have a venue booked. It's all very well saying I want a Saturday in June the following year but will your venue of choice be able to accommodate you? Equally if you are saving for your own big day be realistic about how quickly you can actually afford to get married, you may need a two year or more engagement to properly plan and fund everything.

Also be aware your time frame may effect who can and cannot attend. For example a very long engagement could mean babies being born or unfortunately illness in the older generation. There could be new couples formed or current couples splitting hence your guest list is likely to change the further in the future your wedding day will be. Equally a very short engagement may stop guests being able to attend as they have pre-booked holidays or cannot get child care or can't make it to the country in time. Just be aware of time scales and do not be disappointed if your dream guest list cannot be in attendance.

Once you have a budget and an idea of when you would like to get married my next suggestion is writing an a, b and c guest list. The a list should be those that 100% will be invited. For example on my list were parents, siblings and partners, grandparents, aunties and uncles. My closest friends from school and university as well as my God parents. Next, have a b list, these will consist of friends other halves as an example and maybe some more distant cousins or some family friends. The idea being if your dream venue only holds your a list you will be OK but ideally you want to find somewhere that can accommodate your b list as well. If not, the compromise may be the a list attend during the day and you have an evening party for the b list as an example. Finally you need a c list, these are those that in an ideal world with an unlimited budget would be included but you have to be realistic. These may be more distant friends, work colleagues and other relatives. This list is also ideal as if anyone on the first lists cannot attend then you already have an idea of who you would like to include instead.

If seems harsh creating these lists but you cannot book a venue without knowing how many people need to be accommodated and you cannot work out if you can afford your dream wedding without knowing how many people you have to pay for. It might be guests are the most important hence you can factor this into your planning or it might be that as long as the people closest to you are there you will be happy, which will equally change what you book venue wise.

Finally you will need to decide on location. Will it be abroad or in the UK? Will you be marrying in yours or your fiance's home town or somewhere completely different and unique to both of you? Having a rough idea of where in the world you would like to marry will help with the venue research!

Once you have a budget, your guest lists, a rough location and a time of year in mind it's time to start venue hunting!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Chapters, Blackheath

Chapters, Blackheath is my current favorite weekend breakfast spot. It's in a great location looking over the heath with parking outside and on nearby roads. Chapters is also only a short walk from Blackheath train station if you don't have access to a car. The restaurant has a small number of tables for outside dining during warmer months but large windows to look at the view even in the winter. The restaurant is light and modern and always busy so book ahead.

I  have had lunch here, which is good but it's their breakfast that I crave every weekend. It is served until 11:30am Saturday and Sunday. Firstly, they serve freshly made creamy milkshakes, which is an ideal shout for a weekend treat. They also have a selection of teas, coffees, morning cocktails, smoothies and juices. It's quite hard to choose your tipple of choice but for me it's usually a vanilla milkshake balanced out by a freshly squeezed orange juice!

They have a specials menu, which changes daily at the weekend so always ask what's on offer on your chosen morning. I can vouch that the Full English here is great. There is no grease on this breakfast, everything is fresh, tasty and as healthy as scrambled egg and bacon could be. Beans also come in a separate side dish, which is novel as it means your meal doesn't get caked in the sauce. I also love the waffles, they are a generous portion but maybe ask for the cream on the side. Equally you can never go wrong with a stack of American style pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.


They do also have healthier breakfast options available and the full menu can be viewed on the website prior to booking. However, breakfast out at the weekend is such a treat I can never resist the naughty delights Chapters has to offer.

The staff here are friendly and helpful and the restaurant is clean. Children of all ages are welcome so feel free to make this a family affair. Bring your morning newspaper and order a hangover curing non-greasy, well-made breakfast whilst peering over occasionally at the heath and you won't be disappointed.

Planning Norway - EEEEEEK

After our slightly unsuccessful attempt to see the Northern Lights in Iceland this January we have decided to try our luck again in February 2016 in Tromso, Norway. We have just booked flights from London Gatwick to Tromso direct with Norwegian Air for £153.50 each including two check in bags between four of us.

We will land early evening so plan to head to the Tromso Cable Car as apparently sometimes the lights can be seen from here.

Whilst in Tromso we will take a tour of the Fjord's and spend an evening with a professional photographer hunting the Northern Lights, which we have already reserved through Arctic Explorers. We will also be booking a day trip to go Ice Fishing and a Dog Sledding ride in the evening to hopefully catch another glimpse of the lights through Tour in Lyngenalps. However, this operator is yet to confirm 2016's schedule so we will wait in anticipation!

Finally we have booked a self catering apartment. I have heard Norway is very expensive for food and drinks so decided self catering would be a cheap and sociable option. We wanted somewhere clean and modern as well as somewhere with two double bedrooms. We finally found Viking Apartments, which had availability for a two bedroom apartment that suits our needs. The apartment was £524 for four people for three nights, which we didn't think was too bad for such an expensive city and country.

We cannot wait for our trip next year and really hope we can see the lights. I hope this little itinerary helps you plan your next winter break and who knows, maybe we will catch up in Tromso!

California Dreaming......

This is also an old post as after graduation the boy and I were lucky enough to spend four weeks traveling around California. I am sure a lot has changed since our adventure but our itinerary was a good one so I thought I would quickly share.

We flew direct from London Heathrow to San Francisco with British Airways and spent our first four nights in the city staying at the San Francisco Downtown Hostel, which was cheap and conveniently located. Whilst here we ate at the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square, we took a drive down the steep and windy Lombard Street. We cycled over The Golden Gate Bridge, we took a boat tour to Alcatraz. We supported the San Francisco Giants during a Baseball game and we rode on a tram. We also made sure to check out China Town and Little Italy as well as ate at the garlic restaurant The Stinking Rose, which was a great experience. Finally we dined on clam chowder on Pier 39 and watched the Sea Lions in action. San Fran can be cold during British summer so consider this when packing!

Next we hired a car and drove to Yosemite National Park where we spent two nights at the Wawona Hotel. The bathrooms here are shared but the atmosphere of the hotel is great. Each night you can sit on a bench on the veranda outside your room and order drinks and nibbles. It's a lovely experience. Whilst in the area we made sure to dine at the Mountain Room restaurant in Yosemite Lodge looking over the falls. We took several hikes and we went to see the giant Sequoia trees. We also took a cute little tram tour, which is a two hour tour around the park conducted by rangers. It's called the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour and is well worth doing to see the major sites.

Next up was an early start and a long drive to Las Vegas. We stayed for four nights and checked out Cirque du Soleil 'O' at the Bellagio hotel. We partied the night away at both Pure at Caesars Palace and XS at the Wynn and ate at the incredible all inclusive buffet at The Mandalay Bay. We also had a couples massage at the hotel and used the spa facilities. Finally we took a champagne lunch helicopter ride over Hoover Damn and the Grand Canyon with Papillon. You will be picked up from your hotel and driven to the air field where you will board your helicopter. After a ride over the amazing scenery you will land in the canyon for a champagne picnic before being whisked back to Vegas. This is an incredible experience and one I would highly recommend.

After Vegas we headed to LA for nine nights with some friends. Whilst in LA we checked out the LA Dodgers, spent a day in the original California Disneyland as well as a day trip to Universal Studios. As we were behaving like theme park junkies we also went to the famous Six Flags Magic Mountain! We spent a day sunbathing in Laguna Beach and grabbed pizza at the famous BJ's. We wandered up the Hollywood boulevard checking out the stars, were wowed at Ripley's Believe It or Not and took a Hollywood Hills tour of all of the famous houses. We even caught a movie at the Chinese Theater. We ate lunch at Mel's Drive In and also snacked on the West Coast only In-N-Out Burger. A day was spent checking out the Orange County Fair and another driving down to Malibu to visit The Getty Villa. We of course didn't miss the opportunity to wander down Rodeo Drive and headed to Santa Monica to see Muscle Beach. On our final night we treated ourselves and our host to dinner at the trendy and packed The Lobster, which is at the entrance to Santa Monica pier.

After a crazy time in LA we took the drive down to San Diego for some relaxation. We stayed for two nights at the charming Half Moon Inn. We took a Duck Tour and also visited the incredible zoo but aside from that enjoined the sunshine. From here we did drive to the trendy and expensive La Jolla for a treat dinner! We only had two nights in San Diego and really regretted not having longer. From San Diego we took Pacific Highway 1 and started the journey North stopping in Santa Barbara for a night of partying with some friends and relaxing on the gorgeous beaches. We stayed at The Wayfarer Hostel, which was pretty good for the price. Next we drove to Carmel-By-The-Sea and completed the beautiful seventeen mile drive. Our final night was spent in Santa Cruz, which wasn't the best. We went to the famous theme park by the beach and had some dinner but it felt a little like Blackpool!

On our drive back to San Francisco airport we stopped in San Jose for some lunch. The drive up Pacific Highway 1 is absolutely breathtaking so make sure you take this windy route and not the quicker toll road. If you can stop off in the Big Sur National Park for a couple of nights of hiking and camping.

I promise this trip will leave you forever dreaming of California. Make sure you take at least three weeks worth of holiday to experience this state properly. We hope to come back one day and finish what we started, including heading up to Napa Valley but until then I will remember the sunshine and the smiling faces and live in hope that one day my dream will again become reality.

A month in New Zealand

I went to New Zealand for a whole month a long, long time ago with the company ISV. I won't blog in detail as the trip is so far in the past, however, it was honestly the best month of my life. I would thoroughly recommend using this company if your new to travelling but want to open your eyes to the world, equally, if you fancy New Zealand on your own and need an itinerary, ours was so incredible I feel rude not sharing.

I was told about ISV during a Geography lecture at Leeds Uni and immediately went home to the boy to book! We chose New Zealand completely at random and had no idea what to expect from the experience. What I can say though is ever since I hopped on that plane I have had the travel bug and just cannot get enough of exploring the world.

We flew from London Heathrow to New Zealand with Cathay Pacific with a four night stop in Hong Kong on the way and in one go on the way back. We chose to spend two nights in Auckland before meeting our ISV group as the tour didn't cover this city. We were actually very naughty here and didn't make the most of our time as we were so unexpectedly jet lagged, however, we did dine at the amazing Orbit 360, which I would definitely recommend for a treat meal.

The first two weeks in New Zealand were spent in a remote cabin with no heating (during their winter time) planting trees on a conservation project with a couple of day trips around the area including a stay with a traditional Maori tribe. There was no alcohol in the cabin and our only entertainment was ourselves. This was an incredible detox from University and an amazing bonding experience where the group genuinely became friends for life. It was great to give something back to the country that provided us with so much and was way more fun than we had initially anticipated.

The second two weeks were spent on our adventure tour. We flew from Auckland down to Queens Town and stayed for three nights. Whilst in the city make sure you grab yourself a Fergburger and don't order sides, the burger is more than filling enough. A stay in the area is also the ideal time to challenge yourself as I did with a bungee at one of the worlds highest sites The Nevis. Book through AJ Hackett at least the night before your intended jump. Don't miss the hilariously fun Shotover Jet and treat yourself to dinner with a view at the Stratosfare Restaurant located at the top of the gondola. Make sure you party the night away at The World Bar, which is full of like minded travelers and serves cocktails in teapots. We also took a horseback tour of the Lord of the Rings sites, which was simply magical. Finally take a day's skiing if you have time.

Next take a coach or drive yourself up to Franz Joseph Glacier and take a hike like we did, which is simply an incredible experience. Make sure you eat breakfast in advance and also take plenty of snacks as you will get hungry. You will be given a warm suit and all of the gear and the guides here are fantastic. You will need two nights in the area to complete a hike so be aware when booking accommodation. Options are also limited so during busy season it's probably best to reserve in advance.

From here we hopped back on the bus and headed to Nelson. This is the ideal opportunity to take a sky dive over the absolutely stunning Abel Tasman National Park. We used the company http://www.skydive.co.nz/ who will also arrange a photo and video pack of your experience. Whilst here also take a kayak or as we did a quad bike ride through the park and have a ride on the world's longest zipline, the Skywire where you can keep in contact with "control" via a radio and must release yourself for the return journey!

Next up was a ferry ride from the South Island to the North Island, which did make me feel a little sea sick but provided some incredible views. Whilst in the capital Wellington do check out the Te Papa Museum as it's well worth a visit. Aside from a bar crawl and taking advantage of the vast array of eateries here we didn't manage anything else during our one night stay! We were soon on the road again to River Valley where we stayed at the lodge complete with board games. The bar will stay open late into the night and the staff taught us some hilarious drinking games. This is the best area in the country for white water rafting and whilst remote it's beautiful and worth the detour.

After one night in the wilderness we drove down to Rotorua. You can also white water raft here but instead we took advantage of a tour and soak in the hot springs. It was great to relax, especially as the night life here is brilliant so be sure to re charge before hitting the town. Next up was Waitomo for the last two nights of our stay. Make sure you visit the glow worm caves and take a Black Water Rafting Adventure. This was the best thing we did during our entire trip. You will be dressed in a wet suit and split into small groups before abseiling down into the cave one by one. Next up is a zip-line in the dark surrounded by the lit up glow worms before a little hot tea and a snack. You will then jump into the freezing water and glide down the underground river by torchlight. There will be swimming under water, climbing up waterfalls, sliding down waterfalls, some mid way tea and dancing to keep warm and some hiking over fast moving water. The trip is amazing and something I have never experienced anything like before. It's exhausting but so much fun and I don't think anyone should come to New Zealand without trying this.

New Zealand is an incredible country with so much to offer, I hope one day we can make it back and experience everything we missed from dolphin and whale watching to the Fjord's and other cities. For a taste of this place I cannot recommend our itinerary highly enough. You will have a fantastic time and will really challenge yourself in ways you couldn't previously imagine. Go and experience the youngest country on earth as soon as possible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl2su4enJhI&noredirect=1

Happy Christmas from Hamburg

Now I know May is a strange time to blog about Christmas, however, it's the ideal time of year to start thinking about and booking your weekend Christmas break so I thought I would share my one and only abroad Christmas market experience.

Having fallen in love with the German Christmas market whilst living in Leeds for Uni and following this on with the likes of Winter Wonderland and the South Bank Christmas offerings in London my sister and I decided it was time to experience a REAL German Christmas market and chose Hamburg as our destination of choice. We flew from London Gatwick to Hamburg direct with Easyjet and then took the train from the airport into the center. Our hotel of choice was Hamburg Centrum, which is less than a five mins walk from the main train station.

The hotel is spotless and the staff friendly and helpful. Our twin economy room was teeny tiny but with comfy beds and a clean en suite shower room so we were happy. We went on a room only basis so I cannot comment on food or drink but the price of accommodation was reasonable and the central location meant everything was walking distance. One very cold afternoon the hotel even warmed up the sauna for us so we could have a free private session sweating it out and basking in the warmth. All in all this was a good little 4* hotel and I would recommend it for those that simply need a base in the city and plan to be out and about exploring.

Our three short days and two nights in Hamburg were mainly spent visiting all of the markets on offer. The markets begin at the end of November so take this into consideration when deciding on dates for your trip. There are also several throughout the city and they are all a little different from one another so it's nice to have a few days to explore and try them all. They are open from early in the morning to grab a waffle or kinder crepe breakfast fix but continue well into the evening, which is the ideal time to visit these lit up, magical places.

The main market is in front of the town hall, make sure you have a little nip into the hall as well as it's beautiful. It is distinguished from the others by a giant Christmas tree and is the biggest market in the city. All types of food and drinks are available here as well as stall after stall of amazing Christmas decorations and other German delights for sale. Santa even rides over head on a sleigh in the evening, which is insanely magical and amazing watching the kids faces light up! Food and drink is reasonable here, which makes your stay much cheaper than if you were dining each night in restaurants. Plus there is something very festive about eating a hot dog with onions in a baguette washed down with a Bailey's hot chocolate in the cold, under the stars and surrounded by fairy lights.

Whilst in Hamburg we did take advantage of some of the culture on offer. We took a little boat tour around the port, which was interesting and the warehouses here are quite attractive in their own right. It's the second largest port in Europe with loads going on, plus there is a cheeky Hard Rock Cafe here! Take a little wander as well through the engineering marvel of Alter Elbtunnel, it was something different for us to do and we weirdly enjoyed this short, free activity. Make sure you also take a trip to the Reeperbahn with it's bars, clubs and restaurants. This place comes alive at night and shouldn't be missed. There is also a quirky more adult themed Christmas market here. Have a quick peek down Davidstrasse for a little eye opener into the legal street prostitution, although women aren't really allowed in! Whilst in this area make sure you queue up for a couple of cocktails at the busy and popular bar 20 UP at the Empire Riverside Hotel, which has smart dress and insane views over the city.

Shock horror, I am not a massive Beatles fan, however, when in Hamburg it seemed rude not to take the tour and learn more about this famous band. We used the company http://www.beatles-tour.com/ who offer experiences in English and German. The guides were great and very helpful. We learnt a lot about the Beatles rise to fame but also a little about Hamburg and what it's like to live in the city. The tours are small groups and take just under 1.5 hours. They are walking trips and you will see all of the major Beatles sites such as where they lived and the clubs they first played in.










Hamburg is a beautiful little city and an ideal place to get stuck into Christmas market heaven. This trip will definitely put you in the festive mood but make sure you wrap up warm as temperatures are very, very cold. Flights, accommodation, food and drink are not too expensive and we rarely needed cabs or transport as most things were walking distance so you can enjoy a weekend without breaking the bank account. This would be an ideal little couples or girls weekend but also would be an amazing stag do destination due to the night life on offer. There is something for everyone in Hamburg and it's well worth a little exploration trip.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Top Ten London Musicals

So, you've found yourself in London for a short city break or you are thinking of treating yourself to a real west end delight but with the number of musicals on offer in the city where do you begin? I have seen plenty of different shows but I will narrow things down for you here to help make your decisions:
  1. The Book of Mormon - this was by far my favorite London musical. It's absolutely hilarious with catchy tunes and enabled me to really sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Tickets are expensive and booked up well in advance but for a splash out night I would definitely recommend this as my number one.
  2. Wicked - this has established itself as quite a long running musical and I loved it. The music in the show is simply amazing and the cast have incredible voices. The story is unique and different and the performance is suitable for all ages.
  3. The Lion King - this has to be in my top three for sheer novelty factor. I love the story of the Lion King, I love the music and the staging for this show is brilliant. Pay extra for good seats for this as you won't want to be straining your neck during this magical performance. Bring the children and bring the grandparents as everyone will appreciate this masterpiece.
  4. Les Miserables - I didn't know what to expect from this musical and had no idea of the plot as I went to see it before the big Hollywood movie was released. There is a reason more than seventy million people in forty-three countries have witnessed this spectacle. It's a classic and still breaking box office records thirty years on.
  5. The Jersey Boys - Again, I didn't know what to expect from this show as was taken last minute by a friend with a spare ticket but the music and acting is both good and funny!
  6. Backbeat - Unfortunately this is no longer on in London but if it ever comes back grab yourself a ticket. It's about how the Beatles formed and is hilarious but also interesting with it's history of this incredibly famous band.
  7. Grease - Being a massive fan of the movie I was bound to love the musical. It's funny, the songs are catchy and everyone knows the story. Be prepared to sing along with the cast and be thoroughly entertained for the evening.
  8. Phantom of the Opera & it's sequel Love Never Dies - This is such an original show and I loved every second. I think I preferred the sequel just because being more modern it had better special effects but the original was also great and comes highly recommended from me.
  9. The Bodyguard - If your a fan of Whitney Houston you will love this show simply for the music. The acting and story line aren't the best but the music is amazing and well worth a watch. This is definitely a trip to take with the girls.
  10. Legally Blonde - Unfortunately this has also been taken off the West End calendar but if it does come back grab the girls and head down. It's funny and heart warming and such an easy watch just like the movie.
I have also seen plenty of the other highly recommended classics such as Cats, Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express and Oliver. A couple of the more modern film adaptation musicals, which have been great on stage such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Shrek. I thoroughly enjoyed the quite different Irish musical Once and can also recommend the currently not showing We Will Rock You, which will hopefully return to the stage one day. I thought the Spice Girls musical VIVA Forever was a complete disaster and am not surprised it was axed so quickly. I also enjoyed but wouldn't count them as favorites both Sister Act and The Sound of Music.

However, I do have one all time favorite but unfortunately it is no longer showing AND I also actually watched this on Broadway in New York but The Little Mermaid the Musical. I am hoping and praying they bring back this delight as it really was amazing! 

Fingers crossed this gives you a little insight and inspiration into the crazy world of London's West End. I hope you find your perfect show and create a magical night out with life long memories. Remember to shop around for deals as there are some great ones to be had in this usually expensive entertainment arena. Also remember that shows come and go so just because something isn't currently playing does not mean it won't ever return. Also be prepared that when someone very famous is starring prices may increase and demand will go up. 

MEATmission

About 4-6 times per year a group of my uni pals get together for a meal in London. Sometimes we really splash out and other times we grab something a little cheaper, however, the idea is always the same to catch up and have some giggles.

The latest meet up of choice was the trendy MEATmission in Hoxton. The main hall, which is where all the atmosphere is, is based on a first come first served basis. However, we turned up at around 7pm on a Thursday evening and found a booth to seat all six of us with no issues. Maybe we got lucky as I have heard of queues but this branch is large so hopefully you won't leave disappointed.

If you like burgers and American grub you will be in for a serious treat here. Our food was all served at the same time on a large tray so we had to get up close and personal to devour our dinner. I went for an old fashioned cheese burger and split a side of fries as well as the highly recommended fried pickles with a blue cheese dip. This was all washed down with a couple of inventive cocktails from the vast list.

MEATmission is loud, dark and large. Service is quick and it's not a place to linger and savor, it's a place to dig in and devour. The burgers here are very good and the atmosphere is post-work fun. There are loads of bars around Hoxton to head to after your meal and with burgers priced at less than £10 you should have enough pennies for a couple of drinks afterwards. There other restaurants in this chain dotted around London so if the East isn't convenient maybe try one of their more central branches!

Hawksmoor & Matilda The Musical

The hubby works towards the West End so I met him for a quick pre-theater dinner at Hawksmoor by Seven Dials.

Hawksmoor is a great steak house with plenty of seating and a few branches across the city. I can recommend the succulent melt in your mouth ribs to start. However, I would maybe share these as the portion is large and you don't want to fill up before the main event. You can order steaks from the menu or depending on the daily available weights and cuts. I always go for rib eye as it's juicy and full of flavor but the boy is partial to a fillet.

You can add extra's to your steak such as eggs or bacon or simply serve it up cooked to order with a selection of sharing sides for the table. It's a tough call between the beef dripping fries and the triple cooked chips but as this was a treat night we went for both! Mac & Cheese is also a must when having steak here as is some creamed spinach for a little greenery! The sauces are delicious and I would recommend the Bearnaise every time! Hawksmoor have an excellent wine and cocktail list but also desserts to dream of. I couldn't manage a full dessert on this occasion but have experienced them in the past! However, I did make sure I left a little room for some of their salted caramel rolos, which are an absolute must try and perfect end to a meal!

We managed to get to Hawksmoor with plenty of time before our musical so were able to eat off of the A La Carte menu at leisure. If on the other hand you are more rushed I can recommend their express menu, which costs £24 for two courses or £27 for three and is served until 6pm so absolutely ideal if planning dinner and a show. The menu choices are good, the service is quick and efficient and they will time your meal perfectly to ensure you eat leisurely but are out and on your way when you need to be. The price is also pretty good for what you get and far cheaper than pigging out like we did.

After dinner we took a short walk to the Cambridge Theater for a performance of Matilda the Musical. The show was brilliant, we absolutely loved it! Having been a big fan of the book and movie as a little girl I could really appreciate this performance. It was well acted and very funny. The special effects were also great. This is such a good musical and thoroughly deserves all of it's awards. People of all ages will enjoy the show as it does have something for everyone. Go and experience it for yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!




In Bruges

My Mum and I took a one night trip to Bruges. The beauty of this visit is you can take the Eurostar so no flying is involved and as the city is so small one night is actually adequate. We chose to stay at the NH Brugge on a room only basis.

The hotel was walking distance from the train station and the main tourist areas of the city. It was clean and functional with good sized rooms. The gym was really a room with a couple of machines but the swimming pool was large and very nicely appointed. The staff are friendly and helpful and the lobby is warm and homely. All in all this is a good little hotel where you will get a comfy nights sleep and be able to experience Bruges in it's entirety on foot.

As we only had two days here we had to get stuck in quickly. Day one was spent in the historic center where we climbed the Belfry Tower, visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood (there is a small piece of cloth, which is believed to be soaked in the blood of Jesus Christ), marveled at The Church of Our Lady, which includes a sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo and took one of the boat tours around the canals. It was a very sunny day in Bruges so we did have to queue for the boat but the ride was quaint and very enjoyable.

Dinner in the evening was Al Fresco on one of the squares and was typical Belgian cuisine. We also ended with the obligatory waffles! Food in Bruges is very expensive, even the chips from the famous carts aren't cheap for what you are getting. Our quite average dinner was well over £100 for two courses and a bottle of wine so do be aware of this when you budget for your trip. As we were room only we also ate breakfast at one of the cafe's, which for toast and a coffee was also an expensive option.

For day two we decided to get active and took a bike tour with Quasimundo. After choosing our bikes and having the seat, handlebars etc etc adjusted and a little safety chat we were off on a 2.5 hour trip around the city. The city is pretty much completely flat so cycling isn't difficult and whilst there are cars these are limited so you don't need to worry too much about them. Our tour guide was amazing and really good fun, cracking lots of great jokes along the way. It was brilliant to see a bit more of the city and learn about some of history whilst getting much needed exercise. You go out to a little bit of countryside to see windmills and also stop in a local bar for a refreshing drink. This was a great little tour and we were lucky enough to be in a small group of four people so felt we got plenty of attention!

Our afternoon was spent wandering the beautiful cobblestone streets and stopping at plenty of beer and chocolate shops picking up souvenirs for family and friends back home. The chocolate shops are expensive but very exquisite and the chocolate is delicious. They also have some hilarious designs, which you must go and see for yourself! Mum and I certainly had a giggle looking in some of the shop windows.









Bruges is beautiful, especially when lit up at night but it is expensive. You do not need long here so why not head out for a little one night excursion, it's great with friends or family but is a very romantic place so would be ideal with your significant other. Enjoy!

Cracking Krakow

My sister and I took a little adventure to Poland by flying direct with RyanAir from London Stansted to Krakow. We took a cheap taxi from the airport into the city center but later discovered there was in fact a train station opposite our hotel, which went to the airport. On our return we managed to buy a ticket back to the airport for a train, which didn't exist due to the language barrier!!!! Taxi's are reasonable here though so if the train times don't work out for you a taxi is still a good alternative!

Our hotel of choice for our stay was the lovely Andel. This is a good, modern 4* hotel, which is within walking distance to the town center. Breakfast here is OK, it's not the best I have ever had but it certainly isn't the worst I have ever experienced. Our room (226) had a lovely en suite bathroom with different lighting options, which was novel. We had a big soaking tub and also a separate rain shower, which was a nice treat on a sisters weekend away. The hotel also has a gym, although, disappointingly we were not allowed to shower here before our flight home.

For our first day we decided to take a wander around the town center and main market square. We also took a little visit into the Church of the Virgin Mary, Wawel Cathedral and the Wawel Royal Castle. We stopped for lunch and a cocktail in the sunshine on the main square and were overwhelmed by how reasonable the prices were! After a quick shower it was time for our first tour. We were collected promptly at about 4pm for our evening tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a short drive from the city. This was such an incredible trip! The salt mines were amazing and the tour was informative and interesting. Our favorite part was definitely Saint Kinga's Chapel, which we both agreed would be an incredible place for a wedding. Be warned you will have to walk down 380 steps to enter the mine, which can make you a little dizzy and it's a rickety lift back up but it's well worth it for the experience.

After a good night sleep it was time for tour number two. We were collected on time from our hotel and we piled into a little minibus for the drive to Auschwitz. In the car we watched a short documentary about the camp and it's liberation to prepare us for what we would experience. You start the trip at Auschwitz itself and are in small groups. You actually wear headphones to listen to your individual guide to preserve the peacefulness and also ensure tours don't conflict. After your visit to Auschwitz it's back in the minibus to reach Birkenau. It's really hard to describe our time here as it's something I don't think you can understand until you have been here. The sheer scale of the operation was overwhelming. Obviously this is not a fun, exciting holiday activity but I do believe it's a very important lesson and a journey one should take if they find themselves in Krakow.

That evening it was back to the main market square for some more dinner and cocktails. You can dine Al Fresco during the summer months and watch the street entertainment. Our favorite was the fire dancers and eaters. Be warned, a vodka and cranberry in Poland is a double shot of cranberry flavored vodka!!!! The food and drinks here are so reasonably priced and they have everything from take out to upmarket dining. All cuisines are also represented. The night life here is amazing and so would be great for a stag or hen party.

On our last morning we took a private Schindler's List walking tour, which lasted around 3.5 hours. We learnt and saw so much on this trip from the Jewish Cemetery and Synagogues to the Old Jewish Quarter. We also saw remnants of the ghetto walls and finally the Schindler Factory. The tour was informative and interesting and very factual. Our guide was great and gave us plenty of chances to ask questions. Her English was also amazing. I would definitely recommend a tour like this to bring the city to life and explain everything you would normally wander past without understanding.

We had no plans for our final afternoon and the weather had turned sour so we nipped into the tourist office to see what we could do. They recommended the communism tour of the area Nowa Huta, which is a short drive away. We were collected in a little old school communist van and driven around the area for 2.5 hours with short stops along the way. We learnt about the socialist movement here and it was amazing to see everything in real life. The area is pretty much the same as when it was built and it was a real eye opener to see socialism in the flesh.















I would thoroughly recommend a little weekend away to Krakow, history buffs will be in their element but also those that appreciate culture, good food and a pretty town. Equally night life enthusiasts will be kept busy and satisfied. This trip is great with a group of friends or a loved one and it would be easy to mix culture and pleasure here. Finally and most importantly the city is cheap compared to London so you can have a great time without breaking the bank.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Brussels and Ypres

The hubby and I decided we needed to get out of London so took a cheeky trip to Brussels. We traveled on the Eurostar from Ebbsfleet direct to Brussels and chose to stay for one night at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Brussels.

We actually upgraded to a business class room as they had all been refurbished and were incredibly modern with en suite rain showers and robes. The reception area was lovely and we were granted early check in at 11am, which is always an amazing perk on a city break. The concierge were helpful and friendly and even lent us an umbrella. Our room was spotless and we also had access to a small lounge providing complimentary coke, water, coffee etc etc. The breakfast here was OK, definitely not the best I have ever experienced. It was very, very busy and service was slow. The continental choices were good with cold meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, juices etc but there were very limited hot options to choose from and there wasn't anything particularly special available.

The location, however, is good and we were quickly on our way to see the sites of Brussels. First stop was the Mannekin Pis! It had to be done. Unfortunately he was naked on our visit, which was a shame as I have been told he often gets dressed in little outfits that change regularly. After this random and amusing siting we headed to eat lunch at Chez Leon, which is the most famous place for mussels in Brussels! The menu is vast and mussels are served in large 1kg pots with a variety of flavors. French bread and french fries are also available for dipping and you will definitely leave warm and full from this delicacy.

Next stop was the sightseeing bus. By this point it was pouring with rain and our time was limited so we felt this was the best way to see the city. The bus has two different routes so we bought a ticket that combined both. On our first route we jumped off at The Atomium for some photos, although we didn't actually go inside and we also headed to Mini Europe whilst in the area, which was a tacky, novelty little place but was fun all the same! On our second route we jumped off at The Parliamentarium. This has free entry and is very interactive so would suit groups of all ages. We actually learnt a lot about Europe here and I would say it's well worth a visit if you are in the area.

After a good nights sleep we hopped on a train from the station, which was walking distance from the hotel to Ypres. For our one night in this beautiful, sleepy, little town we chose the incredible Main Street Hotel, which is about a 15 mins walk from the train station. I can't really sum this hotel up other than WOW. On arrival we had a welcome glass of wine with the owner and another group, discussing our trip and what we planned to do in Ypres. We were then shown to our room called Glory.

Glory was a huge room with a massive double bath and separate rain shower. The bath had a TV so you could sit back in the warm bubbles and literally watch a movie with your loved one. The room had a free mini bar with coke, wine, water, gin, Bacardi, Baileys, milk and mixers etc etc. There were fluffy towels, comfy robes and chocolates at bed time. Breakfast here is an absolute dream. There was a little buffet table containing cheeses, meats, pates with homemade bread and all kinds of coffee, tea, fresh juice, cereal, yogurt etc etc. There was then an A La Carte hot breakfast menu. This contained smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (for the hubby), waffles with fruit and maple syrup (for myself), scrambled eggs with truffles, scrambled eggs with bacon and mushrooms, you get my gist, it was good!

After luxuriating in our hotel room we had whiled away a large proportion of the day so we took a little trip into town, which is walking distance and had a wander before lining up ready for The Last Post. Everyone must do this once in their life time, it's poignant and really hits home the sacrifices that were made for our cushy modern lives to be possible. Dinner was at the amazing Trattoria Alloro, which we had pre-booked. It's not a huge restaurant so probably safer to reserve ahead of time. The setting is romantic with exposed brick and candles and the service is attentive but not intrusive. The food is insanely good, fresh and tasty. All of the Italian flavors shone through and we were very happy with our choices. The best part is the restaurant was also only a few minutes stroll back to the comfort of our Glory Room!

After a good night sleep we ventured out on a tour of the battlefields with Flanders. The tour lasts for around 2.5 hours and you are split into small groups. You will be driven to different sites in a mini bus and then hop off regularly at different stops to look more closely. The guides are great and the tour is very educational. I really didn't know what to expect and was overwhelmed by how vast the area is. We learnt a huge amount on this trip and I would really recommend others to take a similar journey as it's a real eye opener.

After a lovely couple of nights in Belgium it was sadly time to head home. This was a great little weekend away and one that blessed us with lots of knowledge. We enjoyed the food, the scenery and the accommodation and would definitely suggest this trip to others.




Coping in Copenhagen

I took a little trip with my sister to Copenhagen. We flew direct from London Gatwick quite reasonably with Easyjet. We then took the metro into the city center, which was quick and cheap.

Our hotel of choice was a little treat The Admiral Hotel. We booked in on a room only basis to make everything a little more affordable. The location of this four star hotel is amazing and is within walking distance to the bars and restaurants of Nyhavn, which is also where the boat tours start from. You can also walk to the Amalienborg Palace and we took a walking trip back from Tivoli, which was quite a distance but not unmanageable. I cannot comment on food or drink as we didn't try any here.

The rooms (ours was 410), however, were great. We had a twin and had the most comfy bed, pillow and duvet I have ever experienced. It was so comfy I asked the hotel if I could buy a set from them and they kindly put me in touch with the manufacturer. The hotel has free wifi and TV with English channels. The rooms are small but more than adequate for two people. We had a lovely view over the water with a large window that opened fully to allow in the fresh air. The rooms also have wooden beams running throughout so feels authentic and quite different from anywhere else I have stayed before.

On our first day we chose to take the boat tour from Nyhavn around the canals. The tour provides a great view of The Little Mermaid and also the world's number one restaurant Noma. After the boat we took a little wander around the area and helped ourselves to some waffles before jumping on the sightseeing bus. This was a great way to see the city but also learn a little more from the commentary.

After our first day gaining a taster of what Copenhagen has to offer we decided to dine at MASH, which was a great modern steakhouse. The cocktails here are delicious and quirky and the food was very good indeed. This restaurant is expensive but almost all food and drink in Copenhagen is expensive. A morning croissant and bottle of water from a bakery was £8. If you appreciate steak and cocktails I would recommend dining here.

On day two we started with the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace, which was quite good to watch. We then chose to head to Christiania where we spent quite a bit of time wandering and getting to grips with the free town! You cannot really explain the place, you must go and see for yourself. You are very safe there and seeing all the graffiti and usually illegal substances for sale is such an eye opener. Our afternoon and evening was spent at the must visit Tivoli Garden.

Tivoli was apparently the inspiration for Walt Disney's Disneyland. It's a really lovely place with manicured gardens, delightful restaurants and obviously hilariously fun rides. I would opt for a multi-ride ticket if you plan to try the rides on offer as paying individually will add up very quickly. There are rides to suit every taste and every age so you really can have hours of fun here. The restaurants also get packed by dinner time so do bear this in mind for when you plan to eat. I was full on sweets and bad things but my sister fancied a meal so she went for some ribs in one of the little cafes. Tivoli is open well into the night and is so, so pretty when it's all lit up so do try and stay for a little nighttime cavorting as well.

After a lie in to recover from all the previous nights fun we headed out for some more cultural activities. First stop was the beautiful Church of Our Saviour with it's fantastic views over the city. Next up was a bus ride out to the Rosenborg Castle, which is beautiful. We also had a little cheeky sunbathe in the very well maintained gardens so we could rest our feet before hiking back into the center for a climb up the windy Rundetaarn, which has unspoilt views of Copenhagen. Our final stop was Stroget as we had to see the longest pedestrian street in the world! There are hundreds of shops, eateries and loads of street entertainment so it's well worth a little wander up this never ending road!









All in all we loved Copenhagen. The city is clean, the people are friendly, the food is both different and delicious, our accommodation was spot on and it was cheap to get here. However, do be warned, once in the city it is expensive and we did feel a little broken financially by home time so just make sure you budget wisely and enjoy your holiday without leaving in debt.

Weekend country ramble with the doggy

I love a good country walk, which is always better with family, friends and also little four legged, hairy pals! Living close to the Kent / East Sussex countryside we as often as possible grab the pooch and some walking boots and head out for a stroll but always end in some good pub grub.

My three favorite countryside spots, which allow dogs are:

The Vineyard

This pub is cute and quaint with lovely interior decor but also a sprawling, sunny pub garden. Water bowls are available for the dogs and large benches are provided for relaxing. The walks around here are gorgeous and the site is right next to a picturesque vineyard, hence the name! The food here is standard pub grub but cooked very well. I am partial to a Ploughmans and can recommend their offering. The fish & chips and the burger are also very good here. The pub is in the heart of the countryside with beautiful views, walks and drives all around. There is parking available for free and toilets etc are all very clean. There is nothing better than good food, sunshine and some clean, crisp country air to rejuvenate yourself after a long week in the city.

King Henry VIII

This pub has a really lovely garden where dogs are allowed and plenty of people bring them. It's also a stones throw away from Hever Castle if you fancy a wander around the beautiful grounds before your lunch or a cultural visit to the castle itself. The food here is tasty and they have an ever changing specials board. Get here before the lunch rush to ensure a seat outside in the sunshine. We went for a whole baked Camembert, which was delicious before I tucked into a Cajun chicken burger and the boy grabbed a cheeseburger. We were very full by the end, which was unfortunate as I did fancy a cheeky dessert but just couldn't manage. There is free car parking available opposite the pub and again the walks and drives around this area are stunning.

The Chaser Inn

The Chaser is probably my ultimate fav. It has a small garden overlooking the fields and a little village church, which accepts dogs and gets plenty of sunshine. It also has a lovely conservatory to enjoy during the summer months. Equally though this pub is great in the winter time as is homely and cosy and has some lovely decor inside. The food and the service here are very good. Make sure you book well in advance for a weekend visit unless you plan to chance your luck on one of the few outside tables. You will be very lucky to be accommodated here during a spontaneous walk so you will need to be a little more planned. The ham, egg and chips here are good, as is the Chaser Burger. The sandwiches are also excellent with plenty of different fillings and the roasts are delicious. The dessert menu is delightful and I can never decide between the chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pudding or Eton Mess! Parking is more limited here but there are little side roads where you can usually find a free spot.

For our next trip to the countryside we plan to try The Bottle House Inn near the beautiful Penshurst Place, which we actually considered as our wedding venue. You cannot beat a trip to the countryside so grab some friends or family members, take a gorgeous drive, a stunning hike and end in some tasty treats.

Another Date Night

The hubby and I do try to keep the romance alive as we are always so busy with work and friends, it can become hard to find time for each other. As a result we are a big fan of post work date nights! For this occasion we decided to grab a quick dinner at The Real Greek in Covent Garden followed by a performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We love the Real Greek. I know there are more authentic Greek restaurants around but it's good, tasty and reasonably priced. Plus they can serve you quickly if needed so is ideal for a pre-theater treat. They do allow advance reservations, which is always a winner in my book. I can also recommend the Westfield Stratford City branch where in the summer you can sit outside and the Bankside, which again on a sunny day is lovely to perch beside the Thames and eat some Greek delights.

We always over order in this restaurant and leave feeling absolutely stuffed! Our ultimate favorite is the Souvlaki wraps for two. I take the Halloumi, the boy takes the lamb and we split up the chicken equally. We always order chips and a Greek Salad as our sides and for £22 you really just cannot complain at the quantity or quality of the meal. As we are impatient we usually also grab a Tzatziki with their lovely warm signature flat breads so you can see why we end up so full!

I always do my research with the theater and shop around for good deals. We took the 7:30pm showing on a Monday evening as usually seats sell for cheaper prices than the more popular Thursday - Sunday performances. We managed to book a box online through SEE Tickets for £103 between us and were seated at the back of the stalls in row P in our own little compartment. The box wasn't super luxurious but it was definitely more roomy than normal theater seats and it was nice to be private. I always prefer the circle as I think the tiered viewing is better but we did have an uninterrupted view of the stage and I would recommend these seats, especially as they are the same price as the stalls anyway.

This show is absolutely brilliant, there were special effects and hilarious moments. The songs were catchy and I think this show would be ideal for younger children. We knew we were a little too old to appreciate everything going on but we still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and had a great time. London musicals rarely disappoint and I would say I am very pleased I have experienced this West End hit.

Breakfast Club

Breakfast is honestly my favorite meal of the day! Whether it's my work week day yogurt with a banana and dried fruit, a cheeky weekend croissant or a lovely hotel spread, I just cannot ever get enough. The biggest perk of a hotel stay for me is breakfast, I am always disappointed if it doesn't live up to expectations. So, being a breakfast lover you can imagine I am a huge, huge fan of The Breakfast Club.

As I work in the city the Spitalfields branch has become my default location for a breakfast fix. You can come here for breakfast obviously but also lunch and dinner but still order breakfast food! The location also has an after hours speakeasy bar called The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, which is accessed via the giant Smeg fridge in the main restaurant and is a pretty cool underground bar serving good cocktails. So my suggestion is grab a late breakfast and then head for some beverages.

There are locations all over London and you cannot book at any other than Canary Wharf. Usually this is OK but on occasion you will have to queue. Spitalfields has an indoor queuing area but Soho and other branches may be an outside jobby so watch the rain! The clubs all have cool decor and a slight industrial feel. They also host random nights such as film night in the Hoxton branch, which I have attended before.

Obviously I usually order breakfast here. Their Full English (The Full Monty) is delicious with all of the trimmings but it is large so I normally have a Half Monty with a side of their incredible home-style fried potatoes. The posh sausage sandwich is also a winner and a good alternative to a Full English. You also cannot beat a large stack of pancakes with berries and gallons of maple syrup. I have never managed to finish a pancake portion and have even been known to order a side of toast to tone down the sugar content from my excess syrup! Maple Syrup is also on the table so you can add it to anything you like, dipping your potatoes in it is always a brilliant idea!

My veggie friends tell me these breakfast options are good, although I cannot say I have ever tried them for myself. If you are not in the breakfast mood I can recommend the when Halloumi met salad wrap, add some skin on chips for a true pig out. The burrito here is also worth a try! Make sure you check out the juices on offer. I almost always order a virgin apple Mojito but can also recommend the slow boy (apple, carrot, orange and ginger), which are all freshly juiced on site.

The Breakfast Club also offer a take away service for those in more of a rush! If you love breakfast like me then I can guarantee you will fall in love with the Breakfast Club.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Carey's Manor, The New Forest

The boy and I took a little relaxing break to the New Forest. We just went down for a couple of nights of fresh air and chill time. I have been to the New Forest on several occasions before, always opting for self catering cottages, however, this time we felt the need to be pampered by a hotel so chose Carey's Manor.

We selected one of the Oakwood Garden Rooms. This was mainly because being springtime we wanted some outside space, which being on the ground floor these rooms come with a little terrace over looking the garden. Also these rooms are larger and more modern than rooms in the main manor house. Our room was indeed large with a big double bed, flat screen TV, little sofa / coffee table area and a nicely appointed bathroom with obligatory fluffy towels and robes to unwind in.

The hotel itself has plenty of parking and is very pretty. It has lovely grounds and is a short stroll to some fantastic walks and also bike hire. We did hire a bike on one of our days through New Forest Cycle Hire and they are literally a five mins walk up the road from the hotel. The bikes are cheap and well maintained and come with a free cycle tour depending on what route and how long you would like to cycle for. The routes also all have pubs along the way for a lunch and the 13 mile route we chose was idyllic and mainly avoided hills and main roads, which is what we were looking for! We did end up with slightly sore bottoms by the end though but was great to get some country air and exercise.

That evening we chose to dine at the hotels restaurant Le Blaireau, which is a little brasserie themed eatery. The service here is efficient and the food is nice but I wouldn't rave about it. I started with a french onion soup with a generous helping of melted cheese and followed with the cod. For the quality I think it's a little overpriced and I do think the New Forest has better offerings, however, for a quick meal, which meant not driving or leaving the hotel we were happy.

Our second day here was spent relaxing at the hotel's SenSpa. This really is a little treat. We turned up in our dressing gowns and slippers and checked right in. That is the beauty of staying in the hotel you don't even need the changing rooms! The facilities are great. There is a full gym and treatment menu as well as a pool including in water loungers and a Jacuzzi. There are comfy loungers around the pool area as well as steam rooms, sauna, a relaxing suite and different shower experiences. We took part in a Rhassoul mud treatment for two and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

That evening we took an early dinner at the hotels Thai restaurant the Zen Garden and were impressed. We had a mixed starter between us and a curry and rice each. The food was tasty and reasonably priced and the restaurant was busy but not bustling and crazy and had a lovely atmosphere. Again it was nice to wander from the restaurant back to our room without having to even step outside!

Breakfast at the hotel is served in the main manor house. The restaurant has lovely large windows over looking the grounds and the choices are good. There are continental and cooked options available and everything was delicious.

All in all Carey's Manor provided the rest and relaxation we were craving. We desperately wanted an easy UK weekend away with fresh air and pampering service and this is what we received. The New Forest is ideal as it's less than a two hour drive from London so it's more than feasible to take a weekend trip without days off of work. If you need to re charge your batteries and don't fancy a flight I would thoroughly recommend a break at this hotel, they will look after you!